My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Metacognitive Wrappers

All a metacognitive wrapper is a task that is completed at the beginning and at the end of an activity or lesson, that is designed to help students plan or at the very least consider their thinking over a lesson. The positioning of these tasks is importan, firstly the integration of teaching thinking skills in real content is well documented in John Hattie's Visible Learning. He also highlights a couple of studies that back up the wrapper nature. Lavery states that strategies aimed at forethought and that encourage evaluation have the biggest impacts on learning. While Huang when studying the metacognitive behaviour of self questioning measured the biggest effect before the lesson, and slightly lower after the lesson. It was much lower during the lesson. Common sense would suggest that trying to be self questioning during a lesson could be distracting to all but the most able learners.

I always field a few responses and record them on the board, and thereby make their thinking visisble. There is no need to sanction any responses as right or wrong at this point. I stumbled across these a while back, and instantly saw their use in engagement and in the development of true metacognition. It is essential that student metacognition goes beyond just thinking about their thinking and actually facilitates them being able to control their thinking.

So what prompts or questions are useful, through trial and error I arrived at the kinds of things to ask, and have recently began to discover the research that explains why this strategy works. I always make a point of making it absolutely clear what they are about to learn. This gives the gives the scope to ask something about what they might already know? I purposefully leave it as might as this makes all ideas to be valid, at least at the beginning of a session. I think it is important not to close any thinking avenues in the first five minutes of a lesson! It also gives students the chance to come back to their original ideas at the end and see if it has changed, have they added new knowledge, modified an existing idea or become more confident about what they knew. (Although becoming less confident in their knowledge is just as valid a response, as they could either be unlearning a misconception, which is a difficult process or be questioning why they believe something rather just accepting something is right.)

The phrasing of the questions is vital, it must embody the kind of thinking you require of them and phrased in such away that its sounds mutable or learnable. So adding phrases like at this point in time or today, are useful signals.

The next element is a target setting one that could be the visualisation of a success criteria, the setting of a self reward for success (could this be a way of tapping into the intrinsic learner motivation? Findlay and Cooper demonstrated that those students who are internally motivated perform better than those who delegate this responsibility). This element could equally be determined by the usefulness of what is being is learned.

Strategic thinking is an essential part, helping students structure not only their thinking but their work too. So getting students to plan out a step by step method on how to solve a problem or planning out an assignment are two of the top four in Hattie's list of most effective metacognitive strategies. In fact a properly planned wrapper will hit all four.

The final element to a wrapper is to focus on a learner attribute such as motivation or being resourceful in their learning is probably the quickest win for the students and for the teacher . Even if at the begin if they say "I'm not motivated today " they have already engaged in the type of thinking you require. I have been surprised by the consistency of improvement at the end of each session when returning to this question. By indicating these attributes within a specific learning activity adds importance to them and makes them visible. It makes them metacognitive.

So to conclude, learners must return to the task, I change the tense to things like Was the knowledge you had useful, or did your plan help you structure your work etc and I again discuss their responses, looking for and praising them controlling their thinking or changing their mind. As change is learning.