Tag: understanding

Metacognition Series: 2 of 6

Metacognition Series: 2 of 6

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This is the 2nd blog post of a 6-post series on Metacognition. You can find post 1 here.
(If you’ve read post 1, skip straight to the key themes below. I’ll keep the intro the same at the top of each post.)
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INTRO
In my recently-appointed role as a Lead Learner, I have been charged with delivering a series of six enquiry sessions for teachers on the theme of Metacognition*. Both a challenge and a privilege to lead such a great, diverse group of teachers with varying levels of experience and responsibility, I’ve been taking my research very seriously. (*For more information on our CPD Programme, designed by my colleague, Phil Stock, see his blog post here.)
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The sequence of posts I intend to write over the course of this year will 1. outline key areas addressed in sessions, 2. share questions that have arisen from our group discussions (sometimes as a result of the pre-reading that has been set), 3. offer points of interest from research studies that I continue to contemplate at each stage.
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I should make it clear from the outset – I have no doubt in my mind that metacognitive strategies can significantly enhance the learning of an individual, be they 5 or 95. With a grandparent of 89 who recently completed a BA degree in Humanities, I (and I know he does too) fully adhere to the notion that a high dose of metacognition and self-regulation can vastly improve the educational journey for a learner. It is the whos and whys and whens and hows that I believe need further thought.


8 themes from session 2:

  1. We recalled session 1 themes
    Teachers were presented with a challenging multiple choice quiz in order to familiarise themselves with themes from the first session, putting metacognitive strategies into action from the start. These were completed in silence (I know what a bunch of cheaters some of them are*). Following that, answers were shared in pairs and then “official” answers were revealed and discussed as a group.
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    *Joking. It’s all of them.
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  2. We grappled with the complexities of the pre-reading
    Engaging in a superb reflective conversation regarding the pre-reading material**, we discussed whether some of the research available on self-regulation might cause a teacher to feel somewhat impotent in attempting to promote metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies. One teacher questioned what impact we have as educators in developing a learner’s metacognitive skills, since the role of genetics appears to play such a significant part in this area. This was a heavy but fruitful discussion and, as the session progressed, many of the questions that were raised at the beginning were responded to in one way or another, thus leading us to resolve that we do have a big responsibility in this area – particularly with regard to:
    a) nurturing a calm, focused learning environment,
    b) modeling thinking strategies we expect our students to use, and
    c) continuing to establish effective teacher-student relationships, all of which can greatly enhance the learning journey.
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    **Pre-reading list:
    1. Daniel Willingham, Can teachers increase students’ self-control?
    2. John Hattie, Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, Ch. 9: Acquiring complex skills through social modelling and explicit teaching
    3. Education Endowment Fund, Metacognitive and Self-Regulation Strategies
    4. Research Leads Improving Students’ Education (RISE), “Metacognition Short RISE Case Study” (not available online)
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  3. We observed a metacognitive strategy in action
    Soon after the first session was over, one teacher informed me that they had completed the pre-reading and had planned to explicitly model a metacognitive strategy in their lesson the following day. Being the eager soul that I am, I requested that we filmed it and used it to share in Session 2, to which he kindly agreed. As a group, we watched a short clip of this strategy in action. The footage demonstrated the breaking down of a paragraph structure into smaller steps, with the students and teacher together verbalising the process before attempting to write. We considered the strengths of this model, with the teacher commenting on their lesson and expanding on details of the actions that followed.
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  4. We contemplated our current education system
    The question was posed to teachers regarding how much space we allow for thinking to take place in our education system. When we are planning and researching as teachers, we think. Of course we think. I’m certain that any half-decent teacher will be thinking when preparing for an upcoming lesson or series of lessons. I’m also pretty sure, though, that a good teacher will go one step further and think meta-cognitively about how to deliver an idea to a class full of pupils, structuring their lessons in accordance with that. Those good teachers are characterised by their initiative, prompting them to consider these questions when planning:
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    What should I teach? Why is this important? How will this connect to previous sessions? What prior knowledge do my students already have in order to make necessary associations with this new information, to enhance memory storage and future retrieval? What hurdles do I need to anticipate in the learning process? Which questions should I plan to ask that might lead to a greater understanding of this concept? What positive learning outcomes will we see if this is a successful lesson?
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    It is the difference in the thought processes between those half-decent teachers and those good teachers that matter.
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    As a profession, we need to be asking,
    ‘Does [our education system/my school/this unit of work/the lessons I plan] provide enough opportunities for learners to think deeply about ideas and concepts? Are we fostering a culture that recognises the value of independent thinking? Or have we taken the burden of thinking away from our students who wait at the ready, through no fault of their own, to be fed from the metaphorical spoon? <- Definitely a loaded question.
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    Two relevant clips from the same TED Talk by Dr Derek Cabrera, a cognitive psychologist in the US, were shared. The intention was to offer teachers an opportunity to contemplate how vital the process of deep thinking is for learners.
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    Metacognition Session 2b
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    Clip 1: Watch from 3.40m-5.13m
    *Spoiler alert*
    Clip 1 Summary
    Cabrera: “We are, as curriculum designers and teachers and educators, over-engineering the content curriculum, and we’re surgically removing the thinking so that our kids are simply following instructions, painting by the numbers and getting the grade.”
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    Clip 2: Watch from 7.45m-11.50m
    *Spoiler alert*
    Clip 2 Summary
    The 4 universal thinking skills Cabrera insists are essential for learners to engage in are:
  1. Making distinctions: the ability to define terms and create more sophisticated, nuanced ones. If learners can grasp definitions and take ownership of meanings and distinctions, they are “bringing something into existence”.
  2. Looking at the parts and the wholes of systems: the ability to identify the smaller parts that make a whole and that a whole is a combination of smaller parts – “they can construct new ideas and deconstruct old or existing ideas”.
  3. Recognising relationships: the ability to make connections between subjects. Our education system pockets learning into discrete subject areas, isolated from one another. Cabrera acknowledges the stark contrast between this format and the rest of the world. He argues that, “the world is a very interconnected place”.
  4. Taking multiple perspectives: the ability to view a situation/idea/relationship from a number of different perspectives. Cabrera suggests that, “everything looks different when you take a new perspective” and advises that this skill leads to increased empathy, increased compassion, increased pro-social thinking and emotional development.
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  1. We considered the infamous ‘Marshmallow Test’
    Studying the complexities of Walter Mischel’s notorious experiment on self-regulation and its findings, we acknowledged the vast contribution to education that this study and subsequent similar replications have made. Accepting the high correlation between those children who were able to deny themselves one marshmallow in the valiant effort to wait for another (after a substantial amount of waiting time) and their positive SAT scores/ healthy BMI scores/ lower rates of addiction or divorce etc., we agreed that this study did demonstrate plausible helpful findings in the area of metacognition. However, as a result of much research from later studies and the analyses of cognitive psychologists who have publicly critiqued the Marshmallow Test, it remains unclear whether we can safely assume that the results really did demonstrate different levels of self-regulation or not. Critics who find fault with Mischel’s early findings question whether the test revealed less about self-regulation and more, in fact, about an individual’s respect for authority or their response to a reliable stimulus. From this perspective, it could be argued that children who have greater respect or trust in authority are more likely to wait longer in a timed trial, in comparison with those who have lesser respect or trust for authority and are, therefore, less likely to wait.
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    In order to provide a balanced overview of the Marshmallow Test findings, one subsequent research study in particular was shared. In 2010, Rochester University in the USA replicated the study with one additional stage prior to the marshmallow test.
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    Metacognition Session 2aa
    Participating children were asked to sit in a room on their own, where the marshmallow test would be carried out later on. Before the test, each child was asked to wait in the room and decorate a piece of card that would be used to make a personalised plastic cup. All of the children were told by an adult that they could begin decorating the card with the few measly pencils available. The adult promised to return with a much better range of art materials in a few minutes, but the children were encouraged to make a start while the adult was gone.
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    Group 1 (the ‘reliable environment’): After a few minutes, children in this group received the better resources, as promised.
    Group 2 (AKA the ‘unreliable environment’): After a few minutes, children in this group were visited by the adult again but without the resources, apologising that they did not have the art materials they had promised.
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    It was after this additional stage that the original marshmallow test was then carried out. The findings were astounding. The average wait time in the marshmallow test for both groups are shown below.
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Metacognition Session 2 (1)

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Average wait times:
Group 2 (the ‘unreliable environment’):   waited 3:02 secs
Group 1 (the ‘reliable environment’):      waited 12:02 secs
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This is big stuff.
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If these studies reveal what they appear to reveal, this depth of understanding of our learners could offer some serious insight into the influences that shape self-regulatory behaviour. It is this contextual information that teachers could then lay as a firm foundation on which to establish the most effective pedagogical approach for a particular group of students.
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  1. We learnt that self-regulation is not inherently individualistic
    According to John Hattie, educational researcher and author of ‘Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn’ (2014), one’s capacity for self-regulation is not predetermined by their genetic make-up, but is more a result of the social constructs to which they have been exposed.
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    In his book, he states,
    “What has emerged over recent years is a conception of the individual placing self-control, determination and willpower, at the core. But there is a twist: the ability to use self-control is not an inherently individualistic matter. It is neither stoicism nor moral rectitude. Instead, it is a matter of social development and learning.”
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  1. We identified four possible categories of self-regulation
    A meta-analysis of self-regulation studies carried out in the Netherlands (2012) identified four key headings under which a plethora of self-regulation strategies could be grouped.
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    These are:
    1. Cognitive
    2. Metacognitive
    3. Management
    4. Motivation
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    Metacognition Session 2aaa
  1. We compared ‘self-regulated achievement’ with ‘self-regulated learning’
    Acknowledging the pressures of an education system where teachers have been continually judged on student performance rather than a more natural, steady progression of a much deeper learning, we engaged in a very civil but stimulating debate, where contrasting perspectives on the overall purpose of education were discussed.
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    I’m paraphrasing, but this was the general gist:‘What is our ultimate goal as educators? Are we teaching self-regulation simply for our students to then reach the work force and become exploited by employers? Or do we have a responsibility to guide and support them in their thinking as independent and mindful citizens?’
    ‘But don’t you have to demonstrate compliance in order to fit into the social construct of a workforce?’

    ‘Is an understanding of social norms, then, the same as churning out factory-educated children who are incapable of thoughts?’

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Questions prompted by this session:

  • In light of the research around the huge influence of those early formative years, what strategies can we employ to enhance the self-regulation habits of our learners?
  • How can the social constructs within a school environment (adult-student, student-student, adult-adult) positively model the power of metacognition and self-regulation?
  • Do we allow our learners enough time to think deeply about new ideas and concepts on a daily basis?
  • Do we offer opportunities for learners to make distinctions/ identify the parts of a whole and the whole as parts of a system/ recognise relationships/take multiple perspectives?
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    It was another energising session, fuelled not only by the research but also by the minds and experience of the teachers present. Following next week’s session (3 of 6), each member of the group – myself included – will have roughly six weeks to trial a number of recommended strategies, deeply rooted within their own subject domain, ready to share feedback on early observations when we meet for our 4th session in February.
Vocabulary Matters – My contribution to ResearchED Literacy, 7th Nov 2015

Vocabulary Matters – My contribution to ResearchED Literacy, 7th Nov 2015

Next Saturday, I will be one of a number of gathered teachers and researchers who share a common aim – hopeful that, through organic grass roots events like @researchED1, it might be possible to reduce the considerable chasm between educational research and classroom practice.
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Attending this event for the first time last year, I was surprised by the number of delegates present who had sacrificed a day of their weekend to travel, ready to participate in the workshops on offer and be willing to engage in educational conversations with others there. It was refreshing to experience an approach to teaching and learning so rooted in research and, after a powerful day, I left feeling positively challenged.

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That’s why this year I’m really pleased to have been invited to lead a workshop at the @researchED1 Literacy event on Saturday 7th November at Swindon Academy, run by event directors David Didau, Tom Bennett & Hélène O’Shea.
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As Literacy Leader in my school, and also recently appointed as a Lead Learner in research too, I will be delivering a workshop on the importance of teaching vocabulary in order to enhance students’ understanding across the curriculum. Incidentally, the session itself is far more interesting than the somewhat tedious title I gave it: “Improving students’ understanding through direct vocabulary instruction”.
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Many months ago on my blog, I wrote Part 1 of a 2-part post on the new vocabulary programme we were soon to implement in my school as a result of the research we had carried out called ‘Root Planner’. See here. It was always intended that the second part of the duo (‘Root Map’) would be published soon after, outlining the implementation of the programme. For a number of reasons this failed to transpire and, so, albeit a year later, I will be posting Part 2 of this post following my presentation next Saturday.

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A great colleague of mine, Phil Stock, has shared the journey of this whole-school language intervention with me and has recently written about this on his blog here, following the presentation he gave at #TLT15 earlier in October.
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I’m very much looking forward to the day; to hearing some super speakers, to reflecting on my own practice and to embracing the possibilities an event of this nature can bring to teaching and learning.

Hope to see you there!

WARNING! There’s a Pattern Emerging…

WARNING! There’s a Pattern Emerging…

It’s that time of year again when thousands of exhausted teachers find themselves aimlessly pacing up and down the staffroom at 3.30pm, too tired to talk or sit or check their pigeon hole, managing to communicate with colleagues only through a series of synchronised puzzled looks, shoulder shrugs and a selection of appropriate nods and grunts. September welcomes the start of the new academic year; a second chance at a January 1st -esque renewal for both students and teachers.

 

Where I’m currently based, in the SEN department of a super local secondary school, it’s no different. The buzz in the air around the new baseline testing data and information from feeder schools offers a welcome sense of optimism, as we work as a team to number crunch and meet with students to identify those needing additional support. Aware of debates around data and levels and ways to effectively measure progress, I agree that there are huge drawbacks in the over-assessment of our students and the over-reliance on data. There are clearly flaws to be found here. However, for us it is crucial.

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In order to best scaffold the learning for our students who need additional support on entry to this daunting brand new world of secondary school, at least until we know individuals within the new Y7 cohort better, we have to rely on our baseline data and historical information sent up from our feeder primary schools. It is through the initial testing and then further investigation into particular scores that we can identify students who have learning weaknesses in particular areas of the curriculum – be that in literacy (e.g. in reading or spelling), in speech and language, or in maths. I’m confident we have a strong assessment process in place that prevents students slipping through that all-important metaphorical ‘net’. It is from here that we then stream pupils into the most appropriate targeted support to meet their specific need(s), be that at Wave 1 (in class support), Wave 2 (group intervention support), or Wave 3 (1:1 support).

 

As Literacy Leader, it is naturally my priority to scrutinise the testing results of our students’ performance in reading, writing and spelling. Through the standardised tests we have invested in since I have been in post, we identify those performing at a level significantly below that of their peers and address needs on an individual case basis. Our tests provide a detailed breakdown into reading accuracy, comprehension, reading rate and processing speed. The method we have followed this year has remained much the same as previous years. However, something has changed. And it’s something I predicted might happen a couple of years ago.

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While the reading accuracy scores at the point of intake of our new Year 7 cohort seem to be rising year on year, comprehension scores are dropping. I can only talk of my experience where I work so this may not be seen among other schools across the borough/region/country. However, it’s a consistent change and one that is worth exploring.

 

At this point, I’m keen to declare my support for the teaching of synthetic phonics* in primary schools. I have seen, both through classroom experience (at primary and secondary) and through data analysis that this strategy for teaching reading accuracy works. I am an advocate, as outlined in a previous post here, so please be clear that this post is in no way a concern around the teaching of synthetic phonics itself.

*Note:
‘Analytic phonics’ = the teaching of a word within context (i.e. analysing what the word as a whole could be based on the words around it)
‘Synthetic phonics’ = the teaching of individual sounds, irrelevant of context (e.g. ai, ee, aw, igh)

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I am confident that phonics works. I personally rely on it as a method of teaching many of our intervention groups or 1:1 sessions, working with students who reach us at KS3 and still cannot read. I am concerned, however, that as educationalists in both primary and secondary, we need to recognise the many demands that reading brings and should therefore not only explicitly teach reading accuracy, but comprehension strategies also. My fear is that in improving reading accuracy across the nation through the implementation of synthetic phonics, we may be masking an issue around reading comprehension.

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Phonics was introduced to schools as statutory in September 2007 following the Jim Rose review in March 2006. His ‘Independent Review of the Early Teaching of Reading’ in the UK was revealing and its impact great in changing the national pedagogical approach to teaching reading. Rose insisted that the government’s rejection of phonics in 1997 as a valid method of teaching reading was a very bad mistake and, in light of his findings in this 2006 review, succeeded in influencing those in power to change their minds.

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The diagram above shows the interdependence between two key features of reading:

a) word recognition processes
b) language comprehension processes

The act of reading is simply impossible without the ability to:

  1. read words accurately
  2. understand the meanings of words

If a student shows poor reading accuracy and poor comprehension processes, they will undoubtedly struggle to read a text. Similarly, if a student possesses a good reading accuracy ability but poor comprehension around the words they are able to read, they will still struggle to grasp the meaning of a text. Take the word ‘comprehension’ itself. Phonetically, it is a word that can be decoded relatively easily = com/pre/hen/sion. However, since there are not many semantic clues within the word itself, without the direct teaching of what this word actually means, students may be left confused.

In his review, Jim Rose explains,

“Comprehension occurs as the listener builds a mental representation of the information contained within the language that a speaker is using. The comprehension processes that enable the mental representation to be built up occur at the word, sentence and utterance (text) level. Individual word meanings are identified from phonological input. Parsing of the language occurs. This ensures that meaning is mediated through grammatical structure. A number of inferential processes are also used. These all happen simultaneously and the resulting information interacts with the listener’s general knowledge to enable as accurate a mental representation of the spoken message as the listener is capable of at any particular stage of development. It is important to bear in mind that the extent of the listener’s general knowledge and level of cognitive development will have a bearing on the comprehension of the message. To generate an accurate mental representation of this the listener has to process the language and the concepts.”

Rose reminds us that learners need to be able to assimilate new words that are suitable for their own personal level of cognitive development. He goes on to advise that,

“Teachers also need to be brought up to date with research into reading comprehension. As reading comprehension has now been shown to depend crucially on language comprehension, teachers also need to have good knowledge and understanding of oral language development, and of ways to foster language comprehension.”

Rose acknowledges that language comprehension (ie. the explicit teaching of words and their meanings) needs to be taught within the classroom. I see this as vital in both primary and secondary, since language acquisition takes place at any, and every, age. There is great enjoyment to be had in sharing this depth of knowledge with students, hopefully stirring an interest in language and word etymology in the process.

If students are able to access language at a more advanced level since their accuracy is improving, teachers of all key stages should bear in mind that even though a student may sound fluent and can read more challenging texts, their comprehension of what they are reading may not match up. It is therefore essential that teachers continuously check students’ understanding irrelevant of age, key stage or ability, through the use of targeted questioning and regular low-stake formative assessments.

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This diagram from the Rose Review demonstrates, quite obviously, the importance of a learner’s general knowledge and language system in the acquisition process of any new vocabulary encountered. Rose states,

“It is widely agreed that phonic work is an essential part, but not the whole picture, of what it takes to become a fluent reader and skilled writer, well capable of comprehending and composing text. Although this review focuses upon phonic work, it is very important to understand what the rest of the picture looks like and requires. For example, nurturing positive attitudes to literacy and the skills associated with them, across the curriculum, is crucially important as is developing spoken language, building vocabulary, grammar, comprehension and facility with ICT.”

Students should be actively and constantly engaging in the process of reading. In my opinion synthetic phonics is, without a doubt, essential for students to develop an independence in reading accuracy but, of equal importance, there needs to be an explicit teaching of vocabulary to students within the classroom too. This is a responsibility of primary teachers and secondary teachers too, across the broad spectrum of curriculum subjects taught. As a result, students will not only be able to phonetically decode an unfamiliar word, but will know the deeper semantic significance behind the words they read too. Language development begins at an early age but has no limits to its growth. A love of vocabulary is something we need to nurture in the learning environment, and the explicit teaching of new words is one way this can be achieved.