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 mistake. The 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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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’. It is simply:
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’.
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.
 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
When contextualising, students are encouraged to reflect on their own thinking process – how has the context in which they live influenced the conclusions they come to in the classroom? This metacognition is essential when tackling some of the more controversial and difficult topics in history. But the importance is broader than this. As Holly shows, this sort of thinking is crucial in our current climate.
Huijgen, T. & Holthius, P. (2018) ‘Man, people in the past were indeed stupid.’ Using a three-stage framework to promote historical contextualisation, Teaching History 172 pp30-38
‘Many students may not explain or interpret historical phenomena successfully because they tend to interpret the past with their current beliefs, value and knowledge.’ (Huijgen and Holthius p30)
Tim Huijgen and Paul Holthius present an argument for the importance of historical context both as something for students to be taught, and as a potential barrier to learning. I certainly agreed with their emphasis on the importance of contextualisation. Historical contextualisation is crucial for students to interpret the past successfully, but also has broader benefits, such as the opportunity to build empathy and compassion, and for students to reflect on their own thinking process – how has the context in which they live influenced the conclusions they come to in the classroom? It also has benefits across the subjects – how can Oliver Twist, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring or a painting by Vermeer be interpreted successfully without historical context?
Huijgen and Holthius used a three-stage framework to teach contextualisation:
Create historical tension in order to discuss the limitations of present-oriented perspectives. This would usually be done with posing a provocative statement to the class, with examples such as:
‘Nowadays you have to be 18 years old to drink a beer in the Netherlands. However, in the Middle Ages even very young Dutch children drank beer regularly, even at breakfast. Moreover, the average consumption of beer was around 300 litres of beer a year. Did these people not know any better?’
‘View the picture. The beach patrol was measuring bathing suit length in 1922 in the USA. If the bathing suit was too short, a woman was asked to leave the beach. Is that not ridiculous? Should women not decide for themselves what to wear?’
Construct historical context. This could be chronological, spatial, political, economic, or socio-cultural.
Use historical context to enable historical reasoning. They argue that historical contextualisation only feels meaningful when students have an opportunity to explain, interpret, compare, or evaluate historical phenomena. This could be done by reviewing their initial responses to the question from the beginning of the lesson, then using their acquired contextual knowledge to improve their answer.
Huijgen and Holthius’s investigation is clearly relevant to our focus on metacognition. Encouraging students to reflect on what factors may have influenced their ideas and adjusting those ideas as they acquire more knowledge allows them to reason and form judgements more effectively. However, what stood out to me when reading this article is how crucial contextualisation is when discussing the more controversial, difficult topics in History.
‘To promote historical contextualisation is not to promote the condoning of what we now consider unacceptable historical events and agents’ actions’ (Huijgen and Holthius p30)
In our current climate, this point is absolutely crucial. Students are not wrong to argue that racism or misogyny is awful, but they must acknowledge that the different beliefs, values and knowledge held by people at the time if they are to understand why events happened the way they did. Year 9 historians are currently completing an enquiry investigating ‘how revolutionary were the suffragettes?’ It would be impossible for them to answer this question successfully without considering how different views about gender were a century ago. That being said, Huijgen and Holthius could also acknowledge that historical sources often give prominence to particular social groups, which can potentially skew our understanding of values at the time. For example, low levels of literacy and violent intimidation of African-Americans in the Deep South in the early twentieth century means that sources from the region expressing opposition to the racist Jim Crow laws are few and far between, which could lead historians to reach the lazy conclusion that ‘racism was seen as more acceptable back then.’ For historical contextualisation to be most successful, we must understand what views were held at the time, but also consider how easy it was for people to express those views.
The results from this study showed that students taught using this framework more consistently demonstrated historical contextualisation in their writing. I would have liked to see further analysis considering to what extent using historical contextualisation improved the quality of their work, and their ability to answer a range of questions set. Nevertheless, I found this article tremendously valuable as it highlighted the importance of context and the consideration of perspectives different from our own when forming judgements both in and outside the classroom.
Nazlee Haq, teacher of Maths at WHS, looks at the book Teaching Backwards and what it says about the teacher as detective and the power of metacognitive questioning
“Over a series of lessons, students should be asked metacognitive questions. These can be posed at any point in the lesson.”
Reduced face-to-face contact with students due to Covid-19 restrictions has highlighted how vital it is to get questioning right in the classroom to assess students’ understanding of the curriculum.
In ‘Teaching Backwards’ we learn that questioning is a tool for “looking for proof of learning”. The role of the teacher detective is to establish the quality and depth of learning that has taken place over a period of teaching. Teachers should also be able to forecast the types of questions students will ask, using the lesson plan as a prompt to do so.
As a teacher you know what you want your students to have learned by the end of the lesson, so that when they are assessed they can demonstrate a clear understanding of the concepts.
The right questions can act as proof as to whether students are on the right track to understanding content. Questions can take several forms:
To check for weak understanding
To create deliberate confusion to see how students deal with the challenge, although this tangential approach may not be appropriate for all students
Ask students to provide evidence for their answers
Help teachers to understand whether the students’ thinking process is robust and on track or not
Initial questions might be open, but also require students to provide support for their verbal answers. For example, “Tell me what you have learned so far about …..?” followed by, “Can you provide evidence for ….?”. By setting this type of expectation in questioning students, Hattie argues that teachers establish academic rigour in the classroom.
However, others have argued individual, pair, group or whole class that giving students ‘wait time’ is also valuable. By giving this allocated time students become increasingly skilled at giving detailed answers, enhancing the quality of their reflection.
Over a series of lessons, students should be asked metacognitive questions. These can be posed at any point in the lesson.
At the start, ‘Have you seen a problem like this before?’. Or during, ‘What part of this is easy/difficult to explain to someone else?’ and ‘What stages are crucial in explaining this concept?’ At the end, ‘How will you remember this learning?’ or ‘If you did this again, how could you do it better?’
I particularly liked this last set of questions as they prompt students to think about how they are working through problems.
Mr Ian Richardson, Head of Computer Science at WHS, examines the broader transferrable skills that pupils can develop in the subject, and how these can help pupils to prosper in life away from the screen.
Computer Science is a unique subject which is developing at an incredibly rapid pace. In many conversations with parents, it seems that everyone grasps the importance of understanding how computers work and of being able to bend them to our will. However, since the change from the Information and Communication Technology syllabi, a number of parents and colleagues are still unsure as to what it is we, as Computer Scientists, do in our classrooms.
The simple principle is that our pupils should be able to sit down at a computer and be presented with a problem. They should be able to start from nothing but a blank page and then design, implement, test and evaluate a program which solves that problem. The scale of the challenge is significant, whether at A Level or Year 7. The little victories and celebrations along the way are what get students into coding and make teaching the subject so enjoyable. In this article, I am going to look at what I think are the key transferrable skills for the subject.
The Essential “Tools” for Computing
The curriculum for the subject is designed to promote thinking skills and metacognition. The first key skill with which pupils become acquainted is abstraction. A simple everyday example of abstraction at work is the map of the London Underground; the map does not depict the geographical placement of stations, but simply the connections between them. Abstraction is the skill of seeing the woods, despite the many trees that could obscure the view. By teaching our pupils the skill of abstraction, we can teach them to think beyond the details of a problem and to think about the patterns and the connections which in turn teaches them to make generalisations to help solve a problem.
Next comes decomposition; breaking a large problem down into increasingly smaller sub-problems until they can be solved easily. It is instinctive for most pupils, when presented with a problem, to worry about the entirety of it. It takes practice to learn to develop a structure, to work out the key parts of a solution and to build from there. Students learn to “Divide and Conquer” for success and this approach can help students to solve problems in any future learning tasks which require design skills.
Finally comes the programming itself. It can seem that there are simply huge numbers of confusing commands to learn within programming. However, it is the structure of the program which is of the greatest importance and in this respect there are relatively few things to learn. As a student continues, they may become familiar with subroutines, classes and modules but on the whole, it boils down to sequence, selection, iteration. Individual commands and keywords can be looked up in reference books, but the skill of structuring program takes time and practice to develop. It takes time to master (think Anders Ericsson and 10,000 hours) but encourages pupils to approach problems methodically.
As well as those all-important subject skills, Computer Science has the capacity to help us grow and develop as individuals.
Failure as a Stepping Stone to Success
Coding is a discipline which gives us unparalleled opportunities to conquer our fear of failure. It is often estimated that the industry average for errors is “about 15 – 50 errors per 1000 lines of delivered code.”. It can be daunting to receive error messages when you first start to learn to program and it seems like you struggle to type a single line without making a mistake. Over time, pupils can learn to:
1 – Accept that they have made a mistake
2 – Accept that they have the capacity to put it right
3 – Analyse their own work to find the error (often as simple as a missing parenthesis or extra space)
Exposure to lots of low-stakes risk-bearing situations through programming and debugging can teach resilience, independence and curiosity. It also helps to develop patience and a sense of humour can go a long way too.
Creativity and Curiosity
Computing can be easily overlooked when thinking about creative subjects. Computer programmers use the tools at their disposal to solve challenges every day. Successful computing students learn to master the simple techniques at their disposal and begin to apply them in new scenarios. Over time, they start to think up their own projects and to investigate their own ideas. Perhaps they start to see ways in which a project in another subject might be enhanced with some automation.
Programming can become an all-encompassing activity. There is always one more bug to fix, or one further improvement to make. Along the way, there are also small moments of joy and times when a pupil can make a computer do something fun or exciting. Between the two extremes of frustration and celebration, it is easy to lose track of time. The ability to focus on details and to deliver with precision are yet more useful skills that pupils can develop through the subject.
Whilst the theory aspects of the subject can be taught in a more traditional manner, the practical elements of Computer Science have to be learned rather than taught. Whilst individual students require more or less scaffolding to come to an answer, the PRIMM model for teaching (Predict, Run, Investigate, Modify, Make) encourages independence of thought and a structured approach to tasks and trains the student to analyse and learn from what is presented to them, rather than expecting a teacher to impart knowledge.
One of the key skills that pupils are taught in computing is to evaluate. It is one thing to know how to understand or to build a program, but quite another to be able to compare two different algorithms for completing the same task.
Pupils are taught to look at algorithms such as “Bubble Sort” and “Quicksort”, to understand the differences between them and to make judgements as to which is best in a given situation. As they continue to study, they learn formal language for explaining the comparisons, as well as how to spot patterns in code that may lead to inefficiency.
In addition, given the impact of algorithms on everything from advertising to politics via driverless cars, it is also crucial for students to be able to articulate the ethical arguments for and against the use of technology. Students of the subject learn to understand the potential and the limitations of computers and have the potential to lead the debate in the future.
There is more to studying Computer Science than people first think. Students can equip themselves with a whole host of transferrable skills ranging from abstraction to patience, all of which will positively impact their school studies, their further education and beyond. To assume that Computer Science is simply about computers would be wrong.
 S. McConnell, Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction, Microsoft Press, 2nd Edition June 2004, p521