21st Century Design for Life

Rachel Evans, Director of Digital Learning & Innovation, considers the impact of this year’s CPD on 21st Century Learning Design, evaluates the Social Robots project against the rubric and reflects on the value of this approach for teachers and students.

During the last term of this unprecedented school year, groups of teachers have been lifting their gaze beyond the challenge of the pandemic to reflect on the way we teach and learn. Since April, colleagues from the Junior and Senior Schools have been considering 21st Century Learning Design.(1) An academic research programme funded by Microsoft in 2010, the Innovative Teaching & Learning Research Project described and defined this pedagogical approach. Collaborative research was carried out across ten countries, with the Institute of Education in London as one of the partners. The outcome formed the basis of a framework for evaluating and designing schemes of work, and subsequently a programme of study for teachers.(2)


The six components of 21st Century Learning Design (21CLD)

21CLD is a lens through which we can view the planning and delivery of the curriculum – as broadly as across a whole topic, or down to the level of an activity within an individual lesson. The rubric-based approach across the six topic areas prompts teachers to think about how to effectively build skills which are not necessarily well understood or embedded by other pedagogical approaches. Whilst we may not accept the popular discourse about the necessity of ‘21st century skills’, the framework addresses the need for students to beopen to new ideas and voices, direct and be accountable for their own work, and conduct effective and meaningful collaboration: all skills which are valuable in a swiftly changing world.

A collaborative professional development opportunity

Teachers were assigned a module of the course to work through independently, and then came together in study groups to discuss the concepts and teach each other the module they had studied. This has proved an exciting way to learn about 21CLD and apply it to our own classroom practice. Mixed group discussions outside the silos of departments and key stages revealed how this pedagogy is applicable across different subject areas and age groups, and identified where there are connections with existing approaches, such as Kagan structures or Harkness method for communication and cooperation, and our STEAM+ interdisciplinary work.

The discursive approach allowed teachers to be candid about their experience. Delving into the detail of the rubrics brought self-reflection: one teacher saying “I thought we’d be brilliant at collaboration, but actually we often co-work rather than collaborate.” Teachers evaluated existing activities against the rubrics and considered how they could adjust their lesson plans and projects to create deeper engagement and more agency for their pupils, and substantive and meaningful work as a result. New plans for a science project about pollution and the revision of a history research topic are among the outcomes of this period of study. Junior School teachers investigated how different levels of the rubric might appropriate at different Key Stages: they plan to create examples of suitable activities to inform the planning of lessons which will develop skills over the pupil’s time in the infant and junior years.

The process was not uncritical, with much debate in both parts of the school around the knowledge construction module: balancing innovative approaches with the needs of the examination system and our own belief in the value of scholarship made for interesting conversations.

A real-life example of real-world problem-solving

As I studied the course myself and designed the programme for teachers, I evaluated one of my own projects.

The Social Robots Club, which the Head of Computer Science and I began two years ago, is an excellent example of real-world problem solving and collaboration within the 21CLD framework, which has arisen organically through the interests of a group of Year 10 students. You can read about their work in this week’s WimTeach[link], where the girls have written about their project and experiences.

The purpose of the club was to experiment with our Miro-E robots (3), in order to plan their inclusion in the curriculum. It is the students who have driven the project forward. From our early brainstorming about uses for the robots, they chose a goal, defined their project and set to work. How does this activity measure up as an example of 21st century learning?

Collaboration

Students work as a team, assigning roles for each task, and making their own decisions about the process and product. The work is interdependent – for instance, dividing up the writing of code into segments which will be later combined.

Skilled communication

Students have produced presentations for Junior school staff, a lesson plan for Year 5 pupils, surveys and a leaflet for parents and an assembly for the school community. They carried out academic research including writing to the authors of papers with further queries.

Knowledge construction

We had never used such sophisticated robotics at school previously, but the group are already competent coders, so are applying their knowledge. Research for the project has covered psychology, pedagogy and computer science – certainly interdisciplinary.

Self-regulation

This group of students have worked on this project for a year and are clear about their aims, and what success will look like. They plan their own work – in fact, Mr Richardson and I joke that we are superfluous! – but we are there, of course, to offer feedback and guidance to help the team make progress when the project stalls.

Real-world problem-solving and innovation

The project is problem solving on a macro and micro level. The real-world problem is about improving reading progress for primary age children, but every week is micro problem-solving as we navigate a new and unfamiliar coding interface and sophisticated but temperamental robots. The project will have a real-world implementation when the robots are used by Year 1 next year.

Use of ICT for Learning

Technology is crucial to the project, obviously, but most significantly, we will create a product for authentic users – a robot creature who will respond with encouragement to a child reading – a great deal of code will lie behind those simulated behaviours!

The benefits of 21st Century Learning Design

On a practical level, 21CLD offers teachers tools for creating learning activities which promote skills that we would all agree are essential for study, work and life – to communicate clearly, collaborate well and solve problems. When combined with our emphasis on scholarship and our interdisciplinary STEAM+ philosophy, I find three further important outcomes:

Building knowledge and appreciating complexity

In a fast-paced world, the experience of going deeply into a topic or project for a sustained period will develop sound knowledge and critical thinking skills. Grappling with complexity brings an appreciation that not all problems are solved or ideas best expressed with a sound-bite response. All fields of study are rich with nuance once we go beyond the superficial.

Identifying unknowns, living with uncertainty and resilience

The deeper students go into complexity, detail and a wealth of knowledge, the more aware they become of what is unknown, either to themselves or to others. In a year which has been filled with uncertainty, an awareness that what we understand of the world is not fixed or fully known is, at first, unsettling. Sitting with that uncertainty – whether academic or otherwise – can build resilience. As the students write in WimLearn this week, persevering through difficulty brings its own joys.

Curiosity and exploration

Having appreciated complexity and experienced uncertainty, where do we go next? We have the answer enshrined within our school aims: Nurturing curiosity, scholarship and a sense of wonder. To achieve sufficient mastery of an area of study that we can begin to push at the boundaries is where exploration and innovation happens; or, as we wrote at the start of this year (4), in the spaces and connections between traditional subject areas with our STEAM+ philosophy. Depth of study, knowledge and skill is a firm foundation for exploration.

In conclusion, the exploration of this course on 21st century learning design has been incredibly valuable. At a time when we have been caught in the weeds of logistics and change, the programme of study and our collaborative approach has opened up big ideas and new conversations between teachers, which we will continue to explore next year. This feels like the start of a new conversation about the way we use technology in the classroom.


References

(1) 21st Century Learning Design, Microsoft Educator Center, https://education.microsoft.com/en-us/learningPath/e9a3beec

(2) You can read the original research papers and other references here, within the Microsoft CPD course. https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=91F4E618548FC604%21300&authkey=%21AOE-MnST_ZCMc1Q&page=View&wd=target%28Embedding%2021CLD%20in%20practice.one%7C2989f197-22e1-42a9-b2d5-2a71628825c1%2F21CLD%20Readings%7Ce58d3c47-38fa-47da-9077-18571f525580%2F%29

(3) Miro-E are programmable social robots designed for us in schools. http://consequentialrobotics.com/miroe

(4) Bristow & Pett, STEAM+, http://whs-blogs.co.uk/teaching/steam-2/, September 2020

What progress has been made this year towards creating a diverse curriculum at WHS?

WHS Classroom

Miss Emily Anderson, Head of History at WHS, evaluates the progress of the diversity in the curriculum working party since September, and reflects on our next steps.

It has been both a challenge and a privilege to have been leading the working party examining diversity in the curriculum since the Autumn Term. Ensuring that our curriculum is fit for purpose in both empowering our students to be active citizens of the world in which they live, and reflecting both their identities and those they will live and work alongside in their local, national and global communities could not be a more vital part of our work as teachers, individually, in departments and as part of the whole school. Such a curriculum would simultaneously support our students and ensure they feel that they belong in the WHS community, and would empower them to understand and champion diversity in their lives beyond school. The curriculum is not a fixed entity, and the constant re-evaluation of it is one of, to my mind, the most challenging and important parts of our professional lives as teachers.

As members of the school community will be aware from his letters and assemblies, in the autumn Deputy Head Pastoral Ben Turner asked staff, as part of our commitment to systemic change, to scrutinise three different areas of our work as a school in order to better inform our future direction. Alongside our scrutiny of the curriculum, colleagues have been looking at our recruitment of students and staff and how we reach out to a broader and more diverse range of communities, and at our work with our students beyond the curriculum, in our pastoral, super-curricular and extra-curricular contexts.

WHS Partnerships

Examining the curriculum were staff from the arts, sciences and humanities, bringing a variety of perspectives. I wanted to make an ambitious but absolutely necessary distinction from the outset – that we cannot approach the curriculum by diversifying what is already there, but need to create a curriculum that is inherently diverse. We discussed the need to broaden our collective understanding of different identities (the GDST’s Undivided work has been very valuable in this regard), and to model open, honest and often difficult dialogue. The difficulties of the process of change were also considered, especially the transition from an old to a new curriculum, and the fear of being labelled knee-jerk or tokenistic until it became embedded and normal. This is, however, no excuse for not trying. Doing nothing is not an option. Three areas for evaluation emerged for us to take to departments:

  1. The day-to day – teachers’ understanding about different types of diversity, our use of language and resources in the classroom, encouraging more challenging and reflective discussions in the classroom.
  2. The medium term – creating a diverse curriculum at WHS – looking again at KS3, and evaluating our choices at KS4 and KS5 to identify more diverse lines of enquiry or exemplars in existing specifications, or opportunities to move to other boards.
  3. The bigger picture – joining the growing national conversation with exam boards to make changes to GCSEs and A Levels to better reflect diverse identities, critically evaluating the cultural assumptions and frameworks through which our knowledge is formed and which privilege certain identities over others, to problematise and ultimately change these in our teaching.

The reflections that came back from discussions at department level showed that much carefully considered planning is being undertaken across departments, in terms of the individuals whose voices are heard through study of their work, the enquiries that are planned to broaden our students’ horizons and the pedagogical implications of how we create an environment in which diverse identities can be recognised and understood.  

My own department (History) are completely reconceiving our curriculum. My colleague, Holly Beckwith, wrote a beautiful rationale for this in WimTeach last year which I would highly recommend reading.[1] We have been preparing for major curriculum change for a number of years, firstly through trialling experimental enquiries to pave the way, such as a new Y9 enquiry on different experiences of the First World War. Our choosing of a unit on the British Empire c1857-1967 at A Level – a unit whose framework could, if taught uncritically, be problematic in terms of what it privileges, but which enables us to at least explore, understand and challenge such power structures and give voice to some of the people it oppressed through the study of historical scholarship – also helps facilitate changes further down the school as it demands significant contextual knowledge about societies across the world before the age of European imperialism.[2] Now, we are in a position to put in place major and increasingly urgently needed changes for September 2021 at Year 7 and Year 10, which will lead to a transformed KS3 and KS4 curriculum over the next three years.

To pivot back to the whole-school context, I also met with student leaders from each year group who had collated ideas from their peers to feed back. These were wonderfully articulately and thoughtfully put, often critical, and unsurprisingly revealed a great appetite for change. As teachers and curriculum designers, there is a balance to be struck here between taking students’ views into account, and creating coherent and robust curricula where knowledge and conceptual thinking builds carefully as students progress up the school – areas of study cannot simply be swapped in and out. As I have alluded to above, for example we start sowing the seeds of contextual understanding for GCSE and A Level at Y7. Furthermore, this process will take time, as meaningful change always does, and so managing expectations is also something we must consider. In and of itself, modelling the process of systemic change is such a valuable lesson for our students so this must be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate this.

So far, this process of evaluation has prompted profound and necessary reflection by teachers not only on what we teach in the classroom, but on how our own understandings of our disciplines have been conditioned by our experiences and educations. As well as educating our students, we are also continually educating ourselves, often unlearning old ideas. There is still a significant way to go in creating the inherently diverse curriculum we are aiming for, and I look forward to continuing to challenge and be challenged as we work together as a community to, ultimately, try to do right by our students and our world.


References:

[1] http://whs-blogs.co.uk/teaching/vaulting-mere-blue-air-separates-us-history-connection/

[2] Akala, Natives, London, Two Roads, 2019; R. Gildea, Empires of the Mind: The Colonial Past and the Politics of the Present, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019; P. Gopal, Insurgent Empire, London, Verso, 2019;

The hurts and highs of play: how can promoting play help children process the pandemic?

Ms Claire Boyd, Head of Junior School, considers what we have learned about young people since schools reopened on 8 March 2021.

It is just over two months since schools reopened their gates to pupils and, some semblance of normality, returned to classrooms across the country. From next Monday, the mandatory requirement for face coverings to be worn in schools expires and trips and visits will also be able to resume. Planning for ‘in-person’ events is now underway and many schools now look forward to rounding off the academic year by welcoming parents and guests back into school halls and auditoria. In short, it feels like the cloud of covid, that has loomed large over our schools for the last 18 months, is slowly passing with sunnier days forecast ahead.

Like all school leaders, alongside the practical and logistical implications of running a school during a global pandemic, one of my biggest preoccupations has been working out how best to respond to the impact covid has had upon the development – both academic and social – of our children. Whilst much has been made of lost learning, digital deficits, growing inequality in pupil experiences and a deterioration in mental health and wellbeing, far less has been made of how we can best react and respond to what we have seen and what our children have experienced.

In the short term, like many schools, we have worked hard at WHS to devise a bespoke programme to respond to the full opening of schools and support pupils through the aftermath of an unprecedented period of closures. Launched back in March, Relate, Reconnect and Restore, reflected an acute awareness that the third lockdown affected families in different ways; it resulted in our girls feeling a range of emotions about returning to normal routines after so long at home and such limited opportunities for social interaction.

Watching Relate, Reconnect and Restore unfold across the Junior School over the past few weeks has been affirming and, in many ways, humbling. The seemingly infinite capacity of children – in this case, our 340 girls aged 4 to 11 – to adapt and adjust to new expectations, routines and ways of working together has shown us that few barriers stand in the way mixing up way we teach and learn if the desire and willingness to flex is there.

In many ways, it is still too early to quantify the impact of these new initiatives on development, progress and attainment; they have only been up and running for a short period of time and school-life continues to be curtailed by the need to ensure covid security. Nonetheless, from a qualitative point of view, there are already early indications of the impact these new approaches are having upon our charges. Observations of our girls in action in the around the school, alongside discussions and conversations from with girls and teachers from across the Junior School, suggest there is one stand-out factor that is making a real difference: play.

Play; the act of engaging in an activity for enjoyment or recreation, sits at the heart of the experience of childhood. Universal in its reach, the act of play transcends cultures, continents and time. The impulse to play is innate; it is a “biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well-being” (King & Sturrock, The Play Cycle, 2020) of both individuals and communities. It requires nothing at all except a willingness to engage; either with those around you or just merely in the spectre of your own imagination. Since returning to school on 8 March, the profile and prominence of play across all our Junior School year groups has been remarkably – and gloriously – high. The extension of play time for all, and the extension of the school day for our youngest girls, has provided more space and time for social reconnections to take place. The return of peer-to-peer interactions has stimulated an appetite for play, both structured and unstructured, adult-led and pupil-intimated.

Reflecting on it now, it seems eminently logical that, after a period of disruption and upheaval, where social interactions have been so very limited, that our children are using play as a way of recalibrating and reestablishing themselves as individuals beyond the home environment in which they have spent so much time.

Where formalised programmes of targeted teaching and learning can deliver valuable academic yields, play and the act of playing cultivates an important way of ‘being’ which, over time, shows “superior developmental gains from social, emotional and cognitive perspectives” (King & Sturrock, The Play Cycle, 2020). It provides the opportunity to be lost in the ‘flow’ – the holisitic sensation that people feel when they act in total involvement – of invention, improvisation and adaptation and creation. It generates a helpful landscape to explore the more formal experiences, skills and concepts of the classroom in the free and unstructured landscape of the imagination.

It also provides fertile – and sometimes febrile – ground to learn to navigate friendship and negotiate challenges with a broad range of peers and their personalities. The playground often acts as a microcosm of what lies beyond the school gates and Michael Rosen writes emphatically about what play can do to “help us cope with change and learn flexibility…[as] our lives, our ‘fates’, are always wrapped up with the fates of other, whose lives are constantly changing too” (Rosen, Book of Play, 2019). It seems, after so much time away from the forums of social play, children are instinctively seeking out this the time and space to explore the social order around them.

Play promotes both adaptability and order; it opens up pathways for discovery, for opportunity, for greater self-knowledge and understanding of those around us. In the formative years of a child’s life, it is a big part of how we define ourselves. In essence, it is the hurts and highs of play that gives us an understanding who we are and how we want to take up space in the world around us.

As we continue to seek to carve a strong and steady path out of the experiences of the last year, let us not overlook the art of play and its intrinsic capacity to toy with ideas and feelings, to form new connections, ask questions and find answers. Whilst we can devise programmes to provide catch-up and systems to gap-fill, space and time must be preciously ringfenced for all children to play, to be playful and luxuriate in their own imaginations.

Deb McDowell, Head of Drama at WHS, reviews Andy Williamson’s podcast on the importance of developing autonomous intelligence

Deb McDowell, Head of Drama at WHS, reviews Andy Williamson’s podcast on the importance of developing autonomous intelligence in order to fulfil our potential as learners and navigate our lives with confidence. Deb reflects on how embracing metacognition could help us dismantle some of the more unhelpful and outdated aspects of our educational tradition.

‘Children should be taught how to think not what to think’ – Margaret Mead

Andy Williamson is an Oxford graduate, academic and founder of the Hampton Tutors, a US based academic coaching and tutoring agency. In July 2020 he launched the Hampton Tutors Podcast Network. In the first episode in his series of talks, (confusingly Episode 2 of the podcast series), Andy reflects on what it means to be ‘intelligent’ and the skills and tools we can develop in order to maximise our own learning and operate more effectively in an educational context and the world more broadly.

His clear and straightforward approach to this topic is refreshingly unpretentious as he asks the listener to consider the different ways we judge intelligence. He reminds us of various types of intelligence so often underappreciated within a competitive academic environment and uses comparisons with physical and sporting development to illustrate his points.

Williamson asks us to recognise that our educational system rewards depth of knowledge over breadth; how well we can zoom in on one narrow area. While this requires a great deal of hard work, what we are actually rewarding is diligence and memory rather than developed intelligence. I was minded to consider how much this reinforces cultural inequality and also discourages the kind of cognitive risk-taking and creative thinking we want to to see at WHS.

Andy applauds the breadth and depth of knowledge which is borne of hours of study and hard work, but proposes that true intelligence is applied when a person has the ability to adapt to a range of situations, and any test of intelligence should be measuring your capacity to learn. When faced with a challenge can you work out how to work it out?

I enjoyed how Williamson connected with the College students in his audience by using his Oxford interview as a good example of how he was taken out of his comfort zone; being purposely asked questions about a specific area of History he had never studied in order to test whether he could extrapolate, make connections and apply knowledge from other areas whilst all the time conscious he was almost certainly making errors.

This was a timely reminder that, particularly at A level, we must resist the urge to soothe away all the anxieties of those students who come to us seeking support; waving their mark schemes and asking for exemplars. What they really need is greater autonomy and we should be facilitating this – not attaching stabilisers to the bike they would otherwise be able to enjoy riding just as fast, if not faster than everyone else.

To reinforce the need to encourage learners to use metacognitive skills to become more autonomous as learners Williamson references Todd Rose’s ‘The End of Average’ which reminds us that using a statistical mean as the basis for any system is most likely to lead to something which ‘best fits’ very few. At this point I was minded to reflect on which learners are best served by our current education system, and more importantly, which are seriously disadvantaged.

Any Williamson outlines seven skills to have in a toolkit to support the development of autonomous intelligence. He asserts that by focussing on developing these skills we will improve academic outcomes and this will also help us re-frame how we see ourselves.

  • Metacognition: Knowing how best you learn.
  • Executive Function: Knowing how to manage tasks, time and people to learn better.
  • Growth Mindset: Being willing to push boundaries and get things wrong in order to learn.
  • Resilience and Endurance: Being able to endure disappointment and uncertainty.
  • Enjoyment: Finding an angle that interests you in what you are doing.
  • Communication: Ensuring your ideas are as precisely understood by someone else as they are by you.
  • Mindfulness: Using strategies to avoid over thinking and find contentment.

Williamson promises to talk in more detail about each of these in subsequent podcasts in order to identify what we can do to build our toolkit to become more efficient and effective learners and be more confident operating outside our individual comfort zones.  (Metacognition and Executive Function are already available as chapters 4 and 6 in the podcast series).

As statues fall and monuments are being re-evaluated in the light of much needed cultural change, it’s time for a radical re-think in Education. Perhaps, rather than relying completely on the traditional regurgitation of increasingly narrow spheres of knowledge – a system which arguably restricts diversity and reinforces inequality – we should be putting the acquisition of metacognitive skills at the forefront of what we do in schools.

Listen on Apple Podcasts here

 

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.

Lucia Flaherty, Teacher of English, reviews the podcast ‘Trialled and Tested’

Lucia Flaherty, Teacher of English, reviews the podcast ‘Trialled and Tested’, in which Jamie Scott and Alex Quigley explore how students must learn to verbalise the process of metacognition early.

 

https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/news/trialled-and-tested-podcast-metacognition/

 

‘Metacognition is intuitive […] We just need to give it a language’ – Alex Quigley

 

This week, in a bid to think about metacognition off screen, I have been listening to the podcast ‘Trialled and Tested’. In the first episode, Jamie Scott and Alex Quigley explore what metacognition and self-regulation is and how it can be implemented in the classroom. There was more food for thought in the podcast than a review can cover so I’ve focused on what resonated the most with me: the type of language we can use to talk about what metacognition looks like in the classroom.

Alex Quigley is quick to note the values of metacognition with the impressive statistic that it can provide ‘7 months of additional progress in 12 months’ when students use metacognitive strategies effectively. The problem is that a surprising amount of students are rather poor at metacognitive skills. Consider the default revision method (even used by university students) of reading over and highlighting notes when this has been shown to be a very ineffective strategy.[1]

To help solve this, Quigley believes that students must start metacognition early and learn the language to verbalise what is an intuitive process. To start, he defined a 3-stage process that he refers to as ‘metacognitive regulation’.[2] It is simply:

  • Plan
  • Monitor
  • Evaluate

These are things we do in our daily lives such as planning to take an earlier bus so that we are not anxious about being late to work. We monitor what the traffic is like and whether we should change to walking instead. We then evaluate whether our journey was a success. Did we arrive on time? Would we take that bus again?

This is a process that both teachers and students do in lessons all the time but Quigley says that the trick is to verbalise it. He noted how the same process looks in ‘the best Art lesson he ever saw’.[3]

  • Plan: The teacher verbalises the planning process by introducing the task and discussing the strategies needed to draw a self-portrait. What tools should we use? Why is a pencil best? How did I prepare for this drawing?

 

  • Monitor: The teacher would model a self-portrait and monitor what he was doing to create the art in real time. What shapes are being used? How should the pencil be held? How did I know where to start?

 

  • Evaluate: At the end, students and teachers evaluated the drawing done. What are the successes? What would you change? Was it a clear process? Did you struggle or was it a seamless process?

 

Coming from the land of teacher training that talked in ‘starters’, ‘objectives’, ‘main activity’ and ‘plenary’, I rather prefer Quigley’s language for the process of learning and how to structure a lesson that puts metacognition at the heart of it.

Lucia Flaherty


[1] Jeffrey D. Karpicke, Andrew C. Butler & Henry L. Roediger III (2009) Metacognitive strategies in student learning: Do students practise retrieval when they study on their own?, Memory, 17:4, 471-479, DOI: 10.1080/09658210802647009

[2] Jamie Scott (2018), Metacognition and Self-Regulation [Trialled and Tested], 8th September, Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/news/trialled-and-tested-podcast-metacognition/#closeSignup, (Accessed: 09.02.21)

[3] Ibid.

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.

John Gunn, Teacher of Religious Studies at WHS, emphasises the importance of “being careful to think about thinking” as teachers

Have you ever walked into a classroom and made an initial judgment which you can’t see to amend? Perhaps when we make initial observations, we are comparing two things and judging their similarities? If our judgments are distorted by perception, how can we be sure that our decision making is having a positive impact on teaching and learning? This is why it is so important for us to think first about why we think the way we do. Not only will this reflection allow us to consider how we come to make judgments, but also make us factor in the unknown in our decision making.

 

The Undoing Project – Michael Lewis

On each round of a game, 20 marbles are distributed at random among five children: Alan, Ben, Carl, Dan, and Ed. Consider the following distribution:

Type I   Type II  
Alan 4 Alan 4
Ben 4 Ben 4
Carl 5 Carl 4
Dan 4 Dan 4
Ed 3 Ed 4

 

In many rounds of the game, will there be more results of type I or type II?[1]

If you have spent a moment looking at the above example, I wonder if you thought why you chose type I or type II. What are we doing when we make judgments? How do we take pieces of information, process them, and come to a decision or judgment?

For one or more answers, I recently read The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis in which he tracks the careers and lives of two of the greatest psychologists, Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

The above table is taken from Lewis’ book, chapter 6, The Mind’s Rules. Questions such as, ‘when/where was human judgment likely to go wrong’, ‘why do people often say that they were doing one thing when they were actually doing another’ ‘what are people doing when they judge probability’ are examples which Kahneman & Tversky try and tackle. In their paper Subjective Probability: A Judgment of Representativeness[2] Kahneman & Tversky attempt to ‘demonstrate people make predictable and systematic errors in the evaluation of uncertain events’. If nothing else this should get you thinking about thinking. Part of their approach comes from the premise that when people make judgments, they compare whatever they are judging to some model in their minds. “Our thesis is that, in many situations, an event A is judged to be more probable than an event B whenever A appears more representative than B.”[3] So, take a look again at the above example. Do you know why you chose type I or type II? If you think that the uneven distribution of type I is more likely than all the children receiving four marbles each, then think again. Just because type II “appears too lawful to be the result of a random process…”[4] it doesn’t mean it is wrong. This is something worth thinking about, “if our minds can be misled by our false stereotype of something as measurable as randomness, how much might they be misled by other, vaguer stereotypes?”[5]

Throughout the book there are questions raised about our understanding of how hard it is to know anything for sure. Kahneman himself favoured Gestalt psychology which sought to explore the mysteries of the human mind. The central question posed by Gestalt psychologists was, ‘how does the brain create meaning?’ Look at the two parallel lines below.[6] Are you really going to insist that one line is longer than the other?


If perception has the power to overwhelm reality in such a simple case, how much power might it have in a more complicated one?

For those of you of a more medical persuasion you may prefer Chapter 8 which tracks the impact Kahneman & Tversky had on Dr. Don Redelmeier, an internist-researcher. Working at Sunnybrook, Canada’s largest trauma centre he says, “You need to be so careful when there is one simple diagnosis that instantly pops into your mind that beautifully explains everything all at once. That’s when you need to stop and check your thinking.”[7] This is not to say that the first thing that comes into our mind is wrong, but because it was in our mind, we become more certain of it. How costly may this be in school life? This I think is highlighted in an example of a maths problems in which we can check our answers to see if we have erred. In comparison to education it highlights an interesting thought. “…If we are fallible in algebra, where the answers are clear, how much more fallible must we be in a world where the answers are much less clear?”[8] This is certainly a book to read from cover to cover even if it doesn’t give you all the answers why we should be careful to think about thinking.

[1] Lewis, P176

[2] Published 1972

[3] Lewis, P182

[4] Subjective Probability: A Judgment of Representativeness, p5

[5] Lewis, P184

[6] Lewis, P76

[7] Lewis, P214

[8] Lewis, P221