Teaching and learning Gem #35 – Ted and the Peppercorns (or telling a story)

This idea comes from Suzanne East, who I saw teach a great Year 12 Biology lesson this week. She told the story of when her son, Ted, dropped an entire box of peppercorns. To add extra impact, she proceeded to enact this with a large box of beads. Needless to say, they spread everywhere, much to the shock of the students. Of course, my summary of this lacks the real humour and panache with which this unfolded. However, this story was the starting point of much debate about whether or not this story acted as a reasonable model for the process of diffusion, or not. Their discussion was filled with scientific terminology and deep thought.

Suzanne’s anecdote about Ted used the principle that learning about complex ideas is itself a bit like understanding a story. Stories are not just for literary narratives but can be used to illustrate even the most complex and abstract concepts (e.g., math and science).

I really liked the process of Suzanne’s storytelling, because apart from being memorable, personal and fun, as a teaching and learning technique storytelling can:

  • Organise information, developing a student’s schema and clear network of ideas;
  • Incorporate cause and effect, helping students to consider causal links and thus aid memory;
  • Have impact and therefore facilitate remembering;
  • Enhance discussion and debate;
  • Promote problem posing and problem solving.

Here is a screenshot from Tom Sherrington’s blog ‘Great Teaching. The Power of Stories’ about this:

Tom Sherrington goes on to link to a video by Brian Cox, who is a master storyteller when he is explaining the workings of the universe. He weaves narratives, rather than starting with facts… just like Suzanne at the start of her lesson.

What stories could you tell?

Friday Gem #33 – What’s My (nuanced) Mistake? Promoting self-awareness and resilience through metacognition

Spring Focus: Metacognition

Teaching and learning Gem #33 – What’s My (nuanced) Mistake? Promoting self-awareness and resilience through metacognition

This idea comes Priscilla, who shared it at our TeachMeet this half term and has written up the process below:


‘What’s my mistake?’ is a light-hearted but highly effective strategy which encourages a mindset promoting self-awareness and resilience through metacognition. By using this strategy, pupils can become more independent learners allowing them to self-regulate when faced with mistakes. It replaces their negative inner voice helping them to accept that making mistakes is part of the learning process and to find ways to manage challenges.


The idea can be used in a variety of contexts such as:

  • after an assessment to consolidate learning or
  • as a method to revise key terms and concepts at the end of a unit of work or
  • as a tool to critically think about misconceptions.

At WHS, I have used this strategy with Key Stage 5 pupils as part of an end of unit assessment.

How does it work? 

Following feedback on a key terms and diagrams test, pupils are set a homework task to prepare 5 questions and their respective answers, but with the proviso that each answer must include at least one mistakeThe more nuanced the mistake, the better. These mistakes can be a combination of ones made by the pupil in the test and on potential misconceptions highlighted in lessons.

During the lesson, pupils work in pairs to find mistakes in each other’s work as ‘mistake detectives’. They then choose some questions with the ‘best’ mistakes to share with the whole class on the collaboration space in OneNote for all pupils to solve.

Why is it useful? 

  • It gives pupils confidence in, first of all, accepting that making mistakes is part of the learning process. Personal reflection enables pupils to critically analyse their performance in relation to the task and to consider that when they make a mistake, they can learn from it and, most importantly, fix it.
  • By explaining their thinking and mistakes out loud helps pupils to focus and monitor their cognitive processing and to develop a deeper understanding of their own thinking processes.
  • Through sharing and discussing their mistakes it promotes metacognitive regulation that is what can pupils do to further their own learning. They may decide to try a different strategy if a particular one is not achieving the results they want.
  • It encourages pupils to actively monitor their own learning and make changes to their own learning behaviours and strategies which enables them to develop from tacit learners to become aware, strategic and reflective learners.

Friday Gem #32 – a method for ‘thinking out loud’

Spring Focus: Metacognition

Teaching and learning Gem #32 – a OneNote method for students to ‘think out loud’ and make their thought processes transparent

After so many brilliant Friday Gems from colleagues, this Friday Gem comes from me! It is an idea I tried for the first time with my Year 12s last half term. I wanted each student to ‘talk’ me through their thought processes at different points of their essay. The idea was for students to make clear to themselves (and me) the decisions they had made before I took it in for marking. In engaging with this sort of metacognitive activity, students were having to evaluate their methods and purposely think about their thinking.

  1. At the top of a OneNote page, I put a series of metacognition prompts about the essay writing process. I asked students to copy and paste them to the top of their essays:

2. Students chose three of these prompts and drag and dropped them to relevant parts of their essay. They wrote a response about their thought processes at that point. Here is a brilliant example from one of my Year 12s. As you can see, she is really mature and considered in her reflections:



3. When I marked the work, their comments formed the basis for my own feedback, allowing me to have a ‘dialogue’ with the student


This is effective because:

  • Students are being self-reflective and critical of their own thought processes, promoting self-awareness, self-questioning and self-monitoring.
  • It demystifies the essay writing process, making it clear to students how they are thinking at different stages in the process.  
  • It encourages students to take ownership of their own feedback, having to comment on their own work before I mark it.
  • It makes my feedback more focussed and purposeful.

Friday Gem #31 – metacognition, confidence and the pandemic

This Friday Gem comes from Richard Finch, who thinks about the academic and pastoral benefits to metacognition as part of the EPQ process. Metacognition gives students the flexibility to take control. This boosts confidence and reduces anxiety, vital in the time of a pandemic.

Metacognition is vital to the EPQ

The independent approach students must take to complete the EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) is daunting for most. Students are guided by a supervisor who is there to act as a sounding board for ideas but the student must ultimately decide for themselves how to research, compile and produce a 5000 word report on an area of personal interest. Self-reflective thinking must be documented at these key milestones and forms an important part of the assessment. Developing new skills is also a key element of the qualification and again, girls are actively encouraged to reflect and document which are appropriate for their particular project.


Metacognitive Planning Tools are empowering and are a confidence boost

One student reflects here on a new tool she was encouraged to use to organise her time. “Another hurdle for me was planning out when to do my research, having heard that Gantt-chart was an indispensable tool and thinking therefore that I absolutely had to use it. I tried to use it for my initial title with limited success, and then thought I had improved and even mastered it for my second. However, I was eventually forced to admit that Gantt-chart was not for me, and that I was far better off sticking to a simple bullet point list of dates and deadlines. Therefore, I did not acquire the skill of using Gantt-chart, but I did learn that sometimes it is just much more effective to stick to what I know works and have confidence in my own methods, rather than thinking that because a resource worked for someone else it will work for me.” Effective self-reflection is empowering for EPQ students. Everyone learns differently and those, like the student quoted above, that can assess how effective a new method or skill will be for them better able to overcome challenges. The alternative is that students blindly follow a suggested method without questioning or adapting it to what works for them. Achieving more flexible thinking and skill in choosing how to apply the most appropriate method is a real confidence boost for many girls.


Metacognition to help face pandemic related challenges.

A student commented in their EPQ that “I have encountered numerous setbacks during my project which mostly related to the COVID-19 pandemic which severely curtailed my access to the hospital. I have learned not to lose heart when setbacks occur and to continually try to find ways around problems in order to complete tasks. I have appreciated that being flexible is critical to this.” She went on to document how she intends to adapt her research to complete the project. Documenting the change of approach reduced anxiety and motivated her to take practical steps to move towards completing her project.

Self-reflection is a skill that is overtly assessed on the EPQ. This motivates students to engage with the way they think about learning and assess their own meta-cognitive development. Documenting self-reflection and incorporating it into the assessment criteria is something that could be beneficial to learning practice at all levels.

Teaching and learning Gem #30: Computer Science Practical Work and Metacognition

Spring Focus: Metacognition – Computer Science Skills

In this gem, I will be looking at the thinking skills that are taught as part of the Computer Science Curriculum and the ways in which they are taught. I hope that by sharing our ideas, we can start to think of problem solving as a set of skills involved across a range of subjects.
Metacognition skills are key to the study of computer programming. When encountering a new task, novice computer programmers are likely to concentrate on the superficial details of the problem, failing to break it down into manageable sub tasks and trying to solve the whole problem in one go. We often see this in our lessons and I’d be really interested to hear if any other colleagues encounter similar issues or use similar skills in their subjects.

Metacognition Skill 1: Decomposition
Decomposition is the process of breaking a large problem down into progressively smaller “chunks”, making it easier to solve. By the time they complete the GCSE course, students should be comfortable with these steps. In order to promote this at GCSE, students develop this skill in three ways:

Computer Science

At the start of the course:

 After introducing the concept of decomposition, students are asked to create an overview of the parts of their favourite board game. This gets them to take an algorithm (set of steps, as defined by the rules) and gets them to think about them in a different way.

Computer Science Further on in their learning, the class will be asked to attempt a decomposition diagram, working collaboratively to spot the key components of the problem. This work is not marked, nor do they have to follow a set format; it simply acts as their plan for the task.
Computer Science

Finally, at the end of a project, the class is given a solution prepared by the teacher. Their task is then to reverse-engineer the decomposition diagram, so that they can follow the thought process used and begin to do it by themselves in the future.

Metacognition Skill 2: Abstraction

Abstraction is the skill of removing unnecessary detail, allowing the programmer to focus on the important parts of the problem. A famous example of this is tube map, where Harry Beck realised that the geographical positions of the tube stations was unimportant; his map focused more on the order of stations and highlighting interchanges, using approximate locations (click here for a geographically accurate tube map and see how much hared it is to follow).

In this activity, students are paired, with one partner blindfolded. The partner who can see is given a photograph (of a bird, for example) and has to get the blindfolded “artist” to recreate the picture as accurately as possible. The results are often comical, occasionally hilarious and always excite some sort of comment. After a couple of iterations, the class is asked to reflect and discuss how they made it easier to describe the image to their partner. Many of them will respond with ideas such as “I told her to draw a circle the size of a 10p” and this can lead us in to the concept.

Metacognition Skill 3: Mental Mapping

In creating larger software projects, it’s important to consider how users will interact with the solution; the user will create a mental map of software, giving them an idea of where they are, where they need to go and the way back to the beginning. The class are asked to close their eyes and count the number of windows in their house (some of the numbers shocked me when I first asked this in a private school). After asking for their responses and writing them on the board, they are asked to forget about the number and to describe the process they went through. Were they inside or outside? Which room did they start in if they were inside? Did they fly around the outside? This allows us to explore the idea that they have a mental model or map of their house in their heads. This can be broadened out into directions to their nearest train station or supermarket. Then we look at the steps involved in performing everyday computer tasks, such as writing a letter in Word. Using these examples, the students then design their solution.

Why these ideas are Useful…

  • By introducing the skill in a non-technical and familiar situation to begin with, we can avoid overwhelming the pupils with new terminology
  • Instead of this being something new that the students feel they have to acquire, we can give them the idea that these are skills that they already possess and with practice can develop
  • It allows them to develop their confidence in the face of unknown problems and to draw out the similarities between tasks
  • Although these are Computer Science examples, they can be applied to other subjects:
    • Planning a project or research by splitting it into easy to achieve tasks
    • Describing concepts to others in a simple and concise way
    • Designing the layout of anything


Friday Gem #29 – Revision Planning using Confidence Rating

Spring Focus: Metacognition – students selecting and organising the whole class revision plan

Teaching and learning Gem #29: Planning the Revision Process/Logging Progress


In this gem, I will be taking you through the way in which we use the girls’ own confidence ratings to plan the revision and teaching schedule in Computer Science, as well as promoting the idea of tackling your weakest topics first.


This Friday Gem was, in part, gifted to me several years ago on a course. The Chief Examiner for Computer Science at the time (pre-Govian A-levels) claimed that it should be possible for a student to fully revise for the A-Level in a single hour, as long as the students prioritised their revision effectively. Although I never did subscribe to that timeframe, I noted that students often simply start at the beginning of the specification and waded their way through to the end, rather than targeting the trickiest topics before fatigue sets in!

  1. First Review

After the Computer Science exam classes have finished the specification (this is usually just after Autumn Half Term), they have a single lesson where they are asked to give their gut reaction to the topics on the syllabus, in order to inform our planning of revision topics going forward.

They are provided with a grid, containing all of the spec points from the syllabus and a booklet full of revision questions which they can use as a stimulus for discussion. Working collaboratively, they discuss the specification points, look at the questions and rate their confidence on each topic (a score out of 5) by completing their column in the table:

Why it’s useful…

Taking these numerical snapshots of the students’ confidence lets the students:

  • Understand their areas of strengths and weakness
  • Discuss the topics and practice exam questions with their peers, to further their understanding
  • Feel more confident about the approaching assessment, as they look at more examination style questions and understand the types of questions and skills required
  • Find reassurance when all of their peers rate a topic with a low score

It also allows us to put the scores in a spreadsheet:

  • We can calculate an average student understanding for each topic
  • Sorting the syllabus from lowest to highest average, we plan our revision lessons to tackle those topics which the students are most concerned about first


  • We can also take an average per student and use this to identify anyone who needs a pep talk or who may need extra support:

Towards the End of Revision
The class comes back to the table again and we repeat the process again. Students are able to see their progress, having hopefully driven all of their confidence scores higher, which should help to prove to them that their hard work has paid off.

Friday Gem #28 – exam/assessment wrappers

Spring Focus: Metacognition – students driving their own learning through reflection


Teaching and learning Gem #28 – exam/assessment wrapper

Lots of us are promoting metacognition in the self-reflective reviews we are setting for students following the Spring Assessments. By reflecting on their own performance, we are encouraging students to think about their skills/understanding and become self-regulated learners.

I’m aware that for self-reflection to work, students need to take it seriously, realise its impact rather than pay lip-service to it. We can help them do this in the way we approach this sort of task. Additionally, the first minute of this video is great at helping students realise that self-reflection is an important part of life for all sorts of people: it’s not just something that happens in the classroom. 

Right now, there is lots of great practice going on around the school, so I thought I’d share five different approaches from five departments to give a flavour:

  1. Flipgrid for powerful, verbal self-reflection (Claire Baty)

Claire used Flipgrid as a way for students to send her a video of their self-reflection. This was quick to set up and powerful in its impact. Using a moderated Flpgrid board meant that students couldn’t see each other’s video reflections, so it felt like a personal one-to-one discussion with their teacher. Claire could then easily video a response back to the student using the platform. Claire says, “I am convinced that verbalising their self-reflection helps students to clarify their ideas and take on board their own advice more readily. I think they give more thought to something they have to say out loud than they would if I’d just asked them to jot down their ideas on OneNote.” Here were her instructions posted on Flipgrid.

NB: on a technical note, if you set up a moderated board and then want students to rewatch their video submission and see any video feedback from the teacher, they need to go to my.flipgrid.com 
Watch out for a video about this from Claire.

  1. Redrafting with students noting why they are redrafting (Judith Parker)

Giving students the time to redraft is an invaluable metacognitive process. This is a slow/deep activity and cannot be rattled off quickly – it’s worth the lesson or homework time in gold. Judith asked students to engage with their assessment responses and think carefully about how to improve their own work. She increased the metacognitive challenge by asking student to note down why they have chosen to redraft a particular section. Making their thought processes clear to themselves helps them drive their own learning.


  1. Students categorising the questions into skill type and reviewing their performance in these different skills (Clare Roper)

This is one part of a self-reflection worksheet that students complete on OneNote. By identifying and categorising the skills in each question, Clare is asking students to think in a structured way about strengths and to identify for themselves next steps in their learning. Spotting patterns in their performance makes clear to students how to approach further learning, and helps them see the sorts of skills they need to employ in future assessments/tests.   


  1. Microsoft Forms for targeted reflection on specific skills/questions (Suzy Pett)

A questionnaire of focussed, self-reflection questions can be created using Microsoft Forms. Of course, these questions could easily be completed by students in OneNote, too.

  1. And here is another example of a self-review for students at KS3 (Steph Harel)

I really like this metacognitive question on the below worksheet, “If you could go back in time before the assessment due date, what advice would you give yourself.” Encouraging a ‘self-dialogue’ is really valuable: the more students can ‘talk’ to themselves about what they are doing, the better.

Friday Gem #27 – start of term reflection on prior learning

Autumn Focus: Metacognition – students driving their own learning through reflection

Teaching and learning Gem #27 – start of term reflection on prior learning


This comes from Mary and Yvonne in Chemistry, who used digital RAG forms at the start of this term to help students reflect on their learning. This is such a great method to develop metacognition. Whilst we have done a Friday Gem on RAG forms before, I thought it would be useful to share how colleagues are using them to great effect with the current T&L focus.


  • In creating the Microsoft Form, Mary and Yvonne used statements from the specification to break down the topic (great for helping students’ mental schema about the topic)
  • They asked the students to complete the form after a holiday, allowing students to realise what has stuck in the long-term memory, and what has not.
  • This drew the students’ attention to the nature of memory, and the need for regular, spaced practice.
  • In rating their knowledge Red, Amber, Green, students were having to recall ideas and concepts and reflect on their own confidence.
  • As well as being a great metacognitive task for students, it also allowed for Mary and Yvonne to get really quick feedback about the class at a snapshot, but they could also zoom into the detail to see the confidence of individuals.
  • It has helped them plan for revision/interleaving/revisiting areas.


What did the students think of this?

“The girls said they found it really useful. They particularly liked it at the end of a topic with the spec statements as it really helped breakdown the content of the units and identify what they felt uncertain about when they had time to think about it. They advised me that they want me to do more and definitely at the end of units.”

Teaching and learning Gem #26 – using Teams conversation space for student self-reflection and visible improvement on prior learning

Autumn Focus: Metacognition – students driving their own learning through reflection

Teaching and learning Gem #26  – using Teams conversation space for student self-reflection and visible improvement on prior learning

This Friday Gem comes from Andrea Croucher, Claire Baty and Suzy Pett, who all tried out this idea with their classes over the past two weeks.

  • Students start a ‘New Conversation’ in the general channel, writing down what they already know about a topic/answering a question.
  • At the end of the lesson – or a later lesson – students review and reflect on what they have written. They hit ‘reply’ and directly below their first comment they write a new comment, either thinking about how their learning has progressed, or improving upon their original answer.
  • You could use star emojis for students to rate how much their learning/understanding has developed.


This is effective because is because students are thinking explicitly about their learning:

  • Recalling prior knowledge is an important metacognitive skill.
  • Students evaluating their original understanding at a later point makes it clear to them what new learning has happened.
  • Students having a conversation with themselves allows them visibly to see their progress.
  • Thinking about what they still don’t understand or what they want to follow up allows them to drive their own learning and understand themselves better as learners.


Example from Andrea’s Year 10 RS lesson about Jewish beliefs and the nature of God. Students responded to an initial starter question. Then, next lesson, they reviewed what they had put and added to it with their new learning:

Example from Suzy’s lesson. Year 12 English students wrote down their initial understanding of what modernism means, and then after completing an independent project, reflected on how much their understanding had developed using star emojis. They thought about what they found particularly interesting, and what they would like to pursue further:

WHS Classwork Example

Example from Claire’s Year 8 French class. They wrote a sentence about where they live as a starter, and then improved at the end of the lesson:
WHS Classwork example

Friday Gem #25 – harnessing the self-reflection of Motivational Maps and R&R

Autumn Focus: Metacognition – students driving their own learning through reflection

Teaching and learning Gem #25  – harnessing the self-reflection of Motivational Maps and R&R

This Friday Gem comes from Clare Duncan 

One clear example of student self-reflection is their termly Review and Reflection session, and none more so than this year with our holistic approach. Using the Motivational Maps tool, students completed a series of questions which generated a report detailing their top motivators. They reflected on what these motivators meant to them and how they could harness them to develop strategies for success in every aspect of school life: academics, co-curricular and friendships.  These thoughts were captured during R&R and their report has been transferred to their profile page on Firefly.

So how can we use these in our T&L to encourage students to take control of their learning and reflect on their progress?

Well, each student reflection was captured in a report on Firefly. If there is a student in your class who you feel is not connecting with your subject, why not look at their self-reflection and discuss with them their motivators: together, plan how the student can use those motivators to drive their progress in your subject.

By way of an example:

Take Ceri, her top motivator is a Director: she has a need for power and influence. Here is her reflection:

I am struggling with finding my feet in class and in the Sixth Form. This is particularly true in Politics and English as I feel that the more confident girls always speak over me and when I do say something; they challenge what I’ve said and I am unable to speak up or share my opinions.

Through Ceri articulating this, you and she can discuss and plan an approach to her having a voice. For example, giving her a lead role in an initiative, you will be addressing her motivational need. This is a great way of using a student’s self-refection to help them to flourish in your subject.