Developing Metacognitive Planning Skills

By Nathan Burns

This is article 2 in a series of 9 articles exploring the theory and application of metacognition. The aim is to provide you with bitesize chunks of information on metacognition, and metacognitive strategies, for you to start implementation in your classroom.

 

If you havent yet read the first article in the series, then it will be worth reading that first. Once that is done, you are ready to get started on the first strategiesarticles, homing in on metacognitive planning. This piece will provide you with a range of strategies, to complement your current practices, leading to improved metacognitive planning abilities from students.

Knowledge ofGrids

Metacognition has its processes, including the knowledge of process – knowledge of task, knowledge of strategies and knowledge of self. For successful planning, it is crucial that an individual consciously works their way through each of these aspects. One way in which to ensure that this occurs with students is to provide them with a knowledge ofgrid. Simply provide students with a table with three columns, titled (knowledge of) task, strategies, self. As part of the planning for a task, students must work their way through each of these columns, making key notes, before they are allowed to move on to the task itself.

As with many (if not all!) of these strategies, you will need to take time to both model this strategy to students, as well as scaffold their first few attempts. For example, take time to explain to students what each of the three knowledge ofareas mean:

Task:

  • What am I being asked to do?
  • What are the marking criteria?
  • What format must the response be in?

Strategies:

  • What different approaches do I have to a task such as this one?
  • Which strategy is likely to be most efficient?
  • Have I had previous experience using these strategies with a similar task?

Self:

  • What content do I need to know for the task?
  • Do I know all of the content required for this task?
  • How are any gaps in knowledge going to be filled?

Comprehension, connection, strategies and reflection

This strategy is perhaps more focussed on STEM subjects, but equally could be adapted to all subjects, I am sure. This strategy complements the previous one, in that it requires students to focus on different key areas in their planning, prior to beginning a task.

This strategy would again be based upon a template, perhaps with four columns, or four boxes, with each section labelled, in turn, comprehension, connection, strategies, reflection. As with the previous strategy, students would be expected to work through this planning template before beginning a task.

So, what do these areas mean? In the main, they are similar to the previous headings, but there are some subtle differences.

Comprehension:

  • What is the question asking you to do?
  • What are the key command words?
  • What limitations are there for your response?
  • What format should the response take?

Connection:

  • When have you seen a similar task before?
  • How did you approach the similar task previously, and what went well (and not so well)?
  • What strategy have you used previously, and how effective was this?

Strategies:

  • What are the different ways of completing this task?
  • Does one strategy appear superior to others? Why?
  • What strategies have you used previously (linking with connection), and how effective were they?

The final section is that of reflection. This is, naturally, a stage completed once the task itself has been completed. The purpose of including reflection on this planning grid is to allow students to revisit what it was they had planned, and evaluate both the effectiveness of their plan (what helped? What didnt help? What would they do differently next time?) as well as the approach that they took to the task itself.

Reflection:

  • How successful was your planning? How do you know?
  • Did you complete the task?
  • Was your comprehension of the task correct? How do you know?
  • How effective was the strategy that you chose? Is there a more efficient or effective strategy that you could have chosen?

As this part of the process is that of reflection or evaluation, there are a significant number of other questions that you may wish to pose to students. Equally, as this is a reflection of the approach taken to planning, it would be wise to use these reflection, and challenge students to replan for the same or similar task, taking their evaluations and instantly using them in order to improve their approach. This avoids the pitfall of evaluating, but not taking any actions thereafter (a missed opportunity at best, a complete waste of time at worst).

Exam Answer Analysis

This strategy, more so than other, may appear to be one that you have come across time and time again. However, in this situation, an exam answer analysis is undertaken in order to support the planning of a student, before they themselves complete a similar exam question. (Note, the similarity of exam question later completed by the student is crucial. You are looking to limit the cognitive/content load, and instead focus on the planning process and what is learnt through the exam question analysis).

For this strategy to be most successful, you need to ensure that you chose three (ish) exemplars which are similar in their levels. For example, if we took answers at GCSE grade 1, grade 5 and grade 9, not much would be gleaned about the subtleties that improve an answer. Instead, reflection on answers within a grade or two of each other (for example, a grade 7, 8 and 9 piece, or, even better, a low 7, high 7, and middle 8).

The focus here then is not necessarily on the significant differences in quality of answer, but rather the subtle differences between the pieces. Students, with your support, should glean small nuggets from this that they can then put towards their own planning, and later completion of the similar exam question.

Knowledge Organisers

One thing that is common across multiple secondary schools now (and perhaps primary as well), is the use of the knowledge organiser. Putting aside questions over their worth and quality (areas I have debated and written about extensively previously – so dont get me started again!!), knowledge organisers provide a high-quality tool to support students when they are planning.

Students are often taught how to use a knowledge organiser to support their revision (for example learning key dates or definitions), but instead, through teacher-led guidance, students can be shown how they can synthesise key information from a knowledge organiser into their plan for a given question or task. For example, if students were producing a plan to respond to a question on the causes of the Second World War, they would utilise the knowledge organiser to identify the key events, dates, and figures. Each of these could be bullet pointed into the plan that students are making for their question response.

Through use of this strategy, not only are you ensuring that knowledge organisers are become a live (and useful!) document, but we are also helping to ensure that students do not miss out any key information required for the completion of a task. Through bullet pointing all of this key information, students will instead focus on the write-up of their question, rather than trying to also recall key dates, events and figures. Consider the significant reduction in intrinsic load that this approach will bring!

So, that brings us to the end of planning strategies. As you will see, none require significant changes to your teaching approach, but small tweaks can lead to significant improvements for students in their planning abilities. Good luck using them!!

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