Feedback and meta-cognition
Feedback and meta-cognition

Feedback and meta-cognition

Most recently we have released a Scheme of Learning form / template that presents a year plan, through to unit or lesson outline plan, which feeds either a lesson plan or Lesson Observation form. I was asked by a number of teaching colleagues to explain the inclusion of a “feedback / recap / relearn lesson” in the “Scheme of Learning” (SoL) and how we envisage it will be used. Especially as in some subjects this would represent 1/7 of the delivery time.

In constructing the year plan, six assessment cycles are defined. In turn the assessment cycles feed the termly data entries, which in turn feed the reporting to parents cycles and whole academy mentoring on “Attitude to Learning” and “Academic GROW model” mentoring. Though we must make it explicitly clear, these termly assessment must be supported by regular feedback and dialogue (at least fortnightly) evidenced in the students exercise books, portfolios, folders or the like.

There is concrete and compelling evidence that feedback and responding to feedback is one of the most potent learning activities students can be involved in, to accelerate learning. When combined with meta-cognitive (learners planning, monitoring and evaluating their own learning) – a powerful learner focused routine or learning cocktail can be established.

Setting aside a lesson for students to digest and respond to your feedback is the very least your hard efforts to mark and feedback promptly deserve, and I would not wait until the final week of the unit for this activity. DIRT (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time through assessment AS learning) is quickly becoming the marking acronym of notoriety here, and here and over here. What is more, in marking the assessment, you may also discover a key question, topic, or skill that the class or group of students have under performed on. The DIRTY feedback / recap / relearn lesson(s), presents itself as an excellent opportunity to address this – though this must be planned for. This term already, I have witnessed some very DIRTY lessons (Science, Health and Social Care) where teachers were engaging in this process, and very likely missed many more examples.

Meta-cognition is less understood and practiced. Somewhat crudely described as thinking about thinking, meta-cognition and self-regulation is a powerful teaching strategy. Another way to think about it (ironically) is, if teaching can be conceived as constructing a bridge between the subject matter and the learner, then meta-cognition is keeping both ends of the bridge in view.

Activities that encourage a reflective and strategic stance toward learning should be embedded in the regular activities of a classroom. Too often, such reflective activities are an add-on or afterthought – box filling or tick tasks. This nullifies the impact of reflection, evaluation, revision even. Reconstruct learning as “problem-solving” only clearly define to problem. Then help learners identify and apply their own strengths and strategies, success (or even failures) in this model can have a lasting impact on how their students learn and approach future problems.

The point here is this, feedback is high impact for low cost, based on moderate evidence.  Meta-cognition and self-regulation is high impact for low cost, based on extensive evidence.

What we need to know about feedback?

Providing effective feedback is challenging. Research suggests that it should:

  1. Address faulty interpretations, not total lack of understanding.
  2. There is more impact from telling students when they got it right than wrong. Alternatively, compare what a learner is doing right now with what they have done wrong before.
  3. Comments, not grades, impact on future learning (scores can be shared after comments have been read or acted upon). Why read the comments, if your have a grade? Even better, get the students to respond to the comments, to get the grade?
  4. Cues, prompts and questions help the students think about ‘how to’ progress. Even better, get them to do it.
  5. Give sparingly (needs to be meaningful).
  6. Timely (assessment week is followed by feedback tasks). I could not find the research on optimum feedback returns.
  7. Specific and clear (relating to learning goals).
  8. Focus on task and process; not praise for the general performance. Feedback with grade references helps.
  9. Self and peer assessment are valid assessment processes. You grade, peer grade, teacher grade. Mean grade – is the grade. (Numeracy – checked)

What we need to know about meta-cognition?

  1. Students identifying “what they know” and “what they don’t know” should form part of the every ‘Scheme of Learning’ and each lesson. Even better is they can tell you ‘how they know.’
  2. Teach learners to plan, monitor and evaluate their own learning. Checklists through to reflection comments.
  3. Teach learner how to evaluate their learning and that of their peers, and give them opportunities to use these skills. See point 9 above.
  4. Ask learners to identify the different ways that they could best approach for a particular task (specific technique) – considering theses options, leads to more thinking.
  5. Promote monitoring – it is an important skill, it involves identifying when you are on / off track. This can be within a single lesson or series of lessons. Keep this process focused on the success criteria. Challenge students self imposed grade ceilings. OR remove the grade references.
  6. Predicting outcomes can help students understand what kinds of information they might need to successfully solve a problem. Great for enquiry based lessons or lessons with a storyline / timeline.
  7. Predicting their own performance outcomes, this may steer up energies to achieve them or find / avoid solutions to possible short falls.
  8. Evaluating can be part of the process of checking, so that it feeds into the current task as it nears completion. Improvement cycles, TOWER (Talk, Organise, Write, Edit, (what has gone well, improvement, critique) Reflect (rewrite), “drafting work” as a phrase is so much more powerful than “writing work,” as it suggests “a work in progress.
  9. Evaluating can also feed forward. Learning loops set targets for the subsequent tasks. For example, missing capital letters at the start of a sentence should be more sternly dealt with in a second assessment piece, if it was highlighted in the feedback from first assessment.

(Bold is optional, though I always recommend that teachers emphasise the learning skills students need to apply. When it becomes a whole school process, students can see how learning in one subject or lesson, supports the next.)

This post was written partly with David Fawcett (@davidfawcett27) in mind, who I knew was knee deep in the middle of writing at feedback policy, when I started the post. Sadly, its taken nearly two weeks to complete, with other ‘priorities’ taking precedent. We will be getting to feedback and marking in my current school very soon (as if we ever get away from it).


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  1. Pingback: Feedback and meta-cognition | KristianStill/Blog | Learning Curve

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