Developing Metacognitive Evaluation Skills

By Nathan Burns


Welcome to the fourth article in this run of metacognitive pieces, which began with an overview of the theory, and continues with another set of strategies, ready to introduce into your classroom.

If you haven’t done so already, read the first article in this series on metacognitive theory. If you don’t understand the theory, then you won’t be in the best position to introduce these strategies into your classroom. And if your understanding is not quite there, then the benefit of the strategies for your students will be reduced.

The aim of this article is to place a focus on the evaluation skills of our students. This is perhaps one area where more focus has been placed than others (for example, monitoring skills, which were covered in the previous article), and so it is likely that you will already have a repertoire of strategies, or whole school expectations, which help to develop student evaluation skills. Having said that, there is always room for improvement, and I’m sure that there will be something in this article that you can take, to improve your own practice and hence the metacognitive evaluation skills of your students.


Metacognitive evaluation tool #1: Exam Wrappers

I would be quite surprised if you had not come across an exam wrapper in some format at some point in your teaching careers. These ‘wrappers’ (I believe so named as they can literally be wrapped around a booklet) are typically used after an assessment, often a Year 10 or 11 mock assessment. The aim of the wrapper is to evaluate, in depth, every aspect of the assessment, from preparation for the assessment, all the way through different aspects of the assessment, and changes to future assessment preparation.

What so often happens with assessments is that they provide us with some decent data, and allow us to inform our teaching, especially for exam classes. They also provide some helpful information for students, such as topics that they are strong with and areas that they really need to work on. However, there is so much more than can be gleaned from an assessment, which is what the wrapper helps us do.

To begin, several questions can be asked about an individual’s preparation for an assessment, including how long they revised, what methods they used for revision, and the environment in which they revised (three crucial factors that we are aware of, but students typically are not, especially the latter two). The wrapper then homes in on the assessment itself, and is often presented as a table, including columns such as question number, question topic, and then columns including common reasons for losing marks, such as failing to show method, misreading the question and running out of time.

This added depth allows students to really pinpoint why they have dropped marks. Though often it is due to not revising or understanding a topic, it helps students identify patterns of lost marks from, for example, not reading the question criteria carefully enough.

Finally, the wrapper goes on to evaluate what the student ought to do for the next assessment. Again, directed questions can be used such as ‘what will you do differently next time’. This section really helps to evaluate the previous two, providing students with an action plan of what they need to do next time.


Metacognitive evaluation tool #2: New Strategy

This is one of my favourite methods – perhaps because I am a teacher of Maths, a subject in which this strategy likely works better than most.

As we will all be aware, there are often multiple ways in which a student can approach a question or task. As we are also aware, there is often one approach, strategy/method which is more efficient that the others. We wish that students would use this one, but they often use methods which are possibly easier to understand or more generalizable across multiple different questions or tasks.

One way in which to force students (nicely) to explore alternative strategies is to get students to repeat a task that they have just completed, but this time with one of those alternative methods. As students have already completed the task once with a method that they are confident with, the difficultly of answering the question should be reduced, and so students can really focus in on how to use the alternative strategy and begin to consider the relative benefits (and drawbacks) of that alternative strategy for the given question or task.

Though this may seem as though it will take a lot of time (it will, especially to begin with), the benefits of students being exposed to multiple methods, and forcing them to consider the relative strengths, weaknesses and efficiencies of both, outweighs the time taken.


Metacognitive evaluation tool #3: PMI Grids

A PMI grid is a very quick form of evaluation which takes absolutely no planning time whatsoever for you. The PMI grid focusses on a positive, minus and interesting piece of information, and can be used at the end of a lesson, string of lessons or at the end of a topic.

All students need to do is record down one positive, one minus and one interesting piece of information – from their own thinking rather than what their friends say! The caveats on this can be increased by you, as the teacher, too. Rather than getting students to write down any sort of positive, you can instead get them to write down one positive of the method they used, one minus (or as I like to say, negative), and one future consideration.

So this method may not be the most in-depth form of evaluation for students, but, with certain caveats, can force a certain depth of thinking. The beauty of this method is it has very low barriers for entry (not just in terms of your planning, but also in terms of how complicated the method is – I.e. not very – so students can easily access it). Because of this fact, this strategy can be used frequently (even every lesson, should you so wish), and does not take a long time for students to complete, either. It can also be used in conjunction with the previous method very easily, too.


Metacognitive evaluation tool #4: Learning Diaries

This strategy is often used in primary, but can also be adapted for the secondary classroom, too. The learning diary is self-explanatory – students quite literally keep a log of their learning. However, the focus here, of course, is on the evaluation. This means that you are unlikely to get students to use their learning diaries each lesson, or even each week, but after crucial events in their learning where you want students to carry our significant evaluation and be able to refer to it in future.

One example may be through the evaluation of end of topic tests. These typically, will be every couple of weeks in secondary, especially for the core subjects. Often, students complete these, have them marked, possibly do a little evaluation, and then move on. This means, though, that students do not make future plans or have a record of their previous evaluations.

Rather, in this situation, students could keep little learning diaries that they complete after each of these end of topic tests. Perhaps 5 consistent questions could be posed to students after each test, including topics that need future revision, strategies that need to be worked on, and the links certain topics have with each other? When students come around to an end of term or year assessment, they have their own, personalised revision book, guiding them in what they need to revise, their difficulties and things that they have successfully done before.

So, that’s it for this metacognitive article. Hopefully a further set of helpful strategies which you will be able to implement into your classroom with ease! In the next strategy article, the focus will be on metacognitive processes – somewhat fiddly, but hugely beneficial!


You can read more articles by Nathan Burns here.