During my years working with learners resitting their GCSEs, one thing became particularly clear: they might struggle with some of the specifics of English or maths, but more broadly, almost all of them need support with the fundamentals of learning. They may find it challenging to work independently, to reflect on their own work, to revise effectively, and to deploy many other fundamental study skills that underpin successful learning. In short, they lack the metacognitive skills that would enable them to take control of their own learning and really drive their own progress, not just in English or maths but in their education in general.
Very broadly, we can describe metacognition as “thinking about thinking”. Metacognitive skills include the ability to:
- recall the skills and knowledge needed to complete a task
- adapt approaches to tasks when needed
- stay motivated through challenges and setbacks
There is clear evidence that students possessing these skills have higher levels of achievement, but also, encouragingly, that it is possible to support learners to develop these skills. An excellent summary of this evidence is available from the Education Endowment Foundation.
In a recent training with our tutors, we looked at three high-impact strategies that tutors can use alongside our tuition resources: goal setting, self-explanations, and self/peer-assessment. These techniques can also be highly effective with larger groups in classroom settings. See below for very brief summaries of the research underpinning each technique, for suggestions for delivery, and for examples of resources that can be developed to support them.
The research: There is promising evidence that mastery goal setting brings a raft of benefits, including higher achievement, an increase in self-regulated learning, an increase in self-efficacy, and an improvement in intrinsic motivation.
In practice: Setting long-term goals linked to personal aims can be particularly effective at the start of a programme of study. Week-by-week, goals can be linked to objectives at the start of a session with a review at the end. In our English resources, we have recently introduced a new approach in which students are asked to reflect on the fundamental skills underlying each tuition topic and to measure their confidence in that area. They can then set a goal for the session based on where they think they need to develop.
This is how we support learners to self-assess their skill levels:
The research: The evidence relating to the power of self-explanation, particularly in maths, is compelling. The “Self-Explanation Effect” leads to improved memory, comprehension, and transfer of knowledge to new contexts.
In practice: Students tell themselves what they are doing (or planning to do), step by step, as they work through a problem. They can also self-explain problems given to them to look at, including those with errors. Tutor- or peer-checking of the steps later on in the process can help address potential errors.
This is how a student might self-explain how they will answer a descriptive writing question in English:
The research: further systematic reviews have demonstrated the potential of peer- and self-assessment to improve attainment, self-esteem, and engagement with learning.
In practice: Proofreading, checking work against models, and checking against lists of criteria can all be highly effective. Spot-checking and asking students to show where they have achieved something can be effective for making sure that they assessing correctly.
Here is one example of the criteria we use to support student self- and peer-assessment in English:
There is clear evidence that metacognitive strategies can support the retention and recall of knowledge but perhaps most compelling for those of us working with resit learners, they also have the potential to support self-esteem, engagement with learning, and motivation. While there is no single metacognitive strategy that can support student achievement, a combination of approaches within an environment in which metacognitive skills are valued, modelled, and promoted can be highly effective.
Further reading: Jennifer Webb, The Metacognition Handbook (2021). A really helpful book exploring the research base for metacognition and providing dozens of practical strategies and examples.
Written by: Dr Alice Eardley
If you would like to discuss how Get Further might help you to support your students through small-group tuition, curriculum resources, or CPD, please complete our contact form and someone will get back to you.