Becoming a (Metacognitive) Teacher – Part 2

26 May 2017

Author: Dr Susan Smith

In a recent EEF focus group held in school we spent some time trying to define metacognition and what it looks like in practice. It became clear that what teachers wanted was an example of what this actually means in practice. In order to provide some insight on this I wanted to share what I have been doing with metacognition over the last two years…

(Read Part 1 HERE)


Crafting the answer – improving organisational ability

Another barrier to students’ ability to write clear answers is their differing ability to organise their thoughts (Wellington & Ireson, 2008). Students therefore need to be taught organisational tools such as mind maps, flow diagrams and bullet points.

Some years ago, in my role as a TA, I developed colourful, clear, simple tools for SEN students which use these metacognitive strategies.

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The “don’t panic” sheet encompasses the principles of metacognition; asking them to read the question, think about what they have been told and what they know. The rainbow mind map helps students to order their ideas using the colours of the rainbow to help structure their answers.

With my adult students I used the same basic approach – to get the students to adopt a process of asking themselves questions.

  • Don’t Panic. Calm down and read the question carefully.

  • What does is the question about? Use thinking aloud to underline science keywords and command words.

  • What does the question tell me? Use thinking aloud and underline key facts and phrases.

  • What do I know? Link to knowledge (mind map, bullet points, mnemonics, flow diagrams)

  • Plan (bullet points/mind maps).

Initially, I concentrated on improving my students’ ability to answer the 6 mark questions. Because I teach this course in one year, 2 hrs a week, there was little time to use the “thinking aloud” technique in class, so I decided to extend this by developing a video and audio enhanced Power Point tutorial to provide a personalised tutoring resource that students can access in their own time through the VLE.

I kept this simple, using the free “Mix” add-on to Power Point (Office-Mix, 2015). This enables users to record video and/or audio additions to standard Power Point slides. This package is familiar to students and can be easily up-loaded through their Office 365 accounts or onto a VLE.

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I took the “pistol shrimp question” and used the thinking aloud approach to illustrate how to work through the problem.  I decided to use the video recording function because, although I hate seeing myself up there, for students who struggle to understand the style of answering, it effectively gives them a 1:1 personal tutorial. Using a digitising pen and tablet, I recorded pen strokes as I talked, changing colours to show planning and thinking-related text as distinct from the final answers in black ink.    I highlighted important facts including the marks awarded and wrote a bullet point plan to make sure all the important recall points are written down. I then showed them how to construct the model answer.

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This strategy worked very well and I soon saw students like this middle level student using these tools to improve their marks- she ended up with a B grade overall. I found middle level students and above benefitted the most from this technique but some of the weakest students, with very low literacy skills, failed to effectively implement these strategies.

I see this also with SEN students in school (often with very low literacy levels in school and reading ages from 7-12 years). Many are unable to pick out words from text and do not have the memory capacity to retain knowledge nor the general understanding of science to link ideas. In support of this Craig and Yore, (1992) suggest that students with low ability find metacognitive tasks hard to develop and need a considerable investment of time before progress is seen.

Overall, though, the grades improved from the previous year with more getting their C grades or higher (2015- 95.8% pass, 67.4 % A*- C to 2016 100% pass, 77.1% A*- C).

This year, I wanted to tackle the problem of the lowest ability students not engaging so quickly with the technique. As the lead teacher on the course, I took the opportunity to completely re-write the course (power points and lesson plans, practical sheets-the lot!) and embed metacognitive techniques throughout my teaching.

Power points were made dyslexia-friendly with suitable blue font (Twenty First Century MT) and buff backgrounds. I used red bullet points, flow diagrams and tables to summarise essential learning and red boxes around things they have to memorise like definitions. I used memory hooks, such as providing derivations of scientific words from the latin or greek, relating concepts to everyday experiences, actions rhymes and mnemonics and pictures as visual hooks.

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The VLE system has also enabled me to record every lesson using the mix add-on. This has enabled an Asperger’s student to revisit the lessons at her leisure and for absent students to catch up on missed work. All these resources are uploaded easily using the Planet-E-Stream package.

I have continued to model exam answering techniques through the viewer in real time and have now also built up a resource of video tutorials on how to answer, not only 6 mark answers, but also numerical calculation questions, graph and table analysis questions, describe and explain questions etc.

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I also record feedback for all the exam questions I set as homework and the termly test feedback in the same way. Students can access these along with their written and aural feedback to learn from their mistakes and to keep learning the technique.

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However, just providing these resources is not enough to embed metacognition. Throughout the year I have continually overtly taught skills in how to make flashcards and use mind maps e.g. making students take an entire lesson notes via mind mapping, using bullet points to summarise ideas on whiteboards and using techniques like “teach it to a friend”. This enabled me, half way through the course, to do a lesson where I brought all these techniques together.

At the EEF focus group it was felt that an example of a metacognitive lesson plan would be useful so I include the lesson plan and the outcome of the lesson.

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In this lesson the students were to learn all four methods of cloning in one lesson. I divided them into four mixed ability groups and made each group take one technique. They had to investigate their technique with the resources I provided (brief notes and pictures) and a laptop and make a flow diagram with pictures of the techniques. They had to summarise it in the form of a bullet point list. Then they had to teach it back to their colleagues and make similar notes from each other’s presentations to complete their notes. A full power point lesson was also available on the VLE and the students posters were photographed and added to the VLE after the lesson.

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This year I had a very wide range of ability of students ranging from some who had not yet attained functional skills 2 maths and English, to those who already had degrees. At the time of writing I expect these students to get grades from D to A* and hope the percentage of those above C to be at least comparable to last year (hopefully even better!). What is more important to me is that one of my students who was one of my weakest students, who is doing FS level 3 maths and GCSE English, has already gained a B in the ISA exam and is on course for C grade over all. So, despite my concerns that metacognitive approaches might not be applicable to the weakest students, perhaps the embedding of metacognitive practice in the structure and delivery of a course can lead to even these students gaining a C grade! Here’s hoping!


Dr Susan Smith, Science TA, Huntington School and Biology Tutor, York College


References for both blogs: 


Some of this work was presented at Huddersfield University ‘Subject Specialist Conference, Easter 2016’ as part of my PGCE. Some of this work has been presented as part of my QTLS work for the ‘Society for Education and Training’.

AQA. (2015). Our exams explained.   Retrieved from

Dunlosky, J., & Metcalfe, J. (2008). Metacognition: Sage Publications.

Dweck, C. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential: Hachette UK.

Gunning, T. G. (1996). Creating reading instruction for all children: ERIC.

Higgins, S., Katsipataki, M., Kokotsaki, D., Coleman, R., Major, L., & Coe, R. (2013). The Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit.

Meyers, J., Lytle, S., Palladino, D., Devenpeck, G., & Green, M. (1990). Think-aloud protocol analysis: An investigation of reading comprehension strategies in fourth-and fifth-grade students. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 8(2), 112-127.

Mockel, L. J. (2013). Thinking Aloud in the Science Classroom: Can a literacy strategy increase student learning in science?

Norris, T (2016) Let’s Get Visual! Huntington learning Hub Huntington Research School Retrieved from

Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (1994). Self-regulation of learning and performance: Issues and educational applications: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Tinzmann, M., Jones, B., Fennimore, T., Bakker, J., Fine, C., & Pierce, J. (1990). The collaborative classroom: Reconnecting teachers and learners. A guidebook for the teleseries: Restructuring to promote learning in America’s schools. Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.Tomsett, J. (2015a). This much I know about…the merits of students copying from the board. Retrieved from Tomsett, J. (2015b). This much I know about…The Sutton Trust/EEF Toolkit and the

Golden Thread from evidence to student outcomes, via deliberate intervention. Retrieved from Tomsett, J. (2015c). This much I know about…what REALLY WORKS when preparing students for their examinations! Retrieved from

Wellington, J. J., & Ireson, G. (2008). Science learning, science teaching: Routledge.


Posted on 26 May 2017
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