Meta-cognition and the evaluation of historical skills

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

I became interested in the concept of meta-cognition as a learning skill a few years ago when undertaking some research to support the creation of a 'Learning Wall' in the school I work at.

In a nutshell, meta-cognition relates to the concepts of 'learning how to learn' and 'actively thinking about thinking'. If we do not know (as teachers) how our pupils learn; and if pupils don't know how they learn either, it is nigh on impossible to improve learning and teaching.

The first step is for pupils to become aware of the factors that influence their own learning and then develop a collection of strategies to support their learning. Pupils need to be taught how to plan, set goals and adapt to different learning situations. They need to be able to monitor their learning, to actively self-regulate and evaluate their learning to ascertain whether it is working for them.

Meta-cognition is all about pupils having an awareness of how they learn, an evaluation of their learning needs, generating strategies to meet these needs and then implementing these strategies. (Hacker, 2009)

I think of meta-cognition of self-awareness.

Meta-cognition in practice

One component part of the Higher History course is the Labour welfare reforms, 1945-51.

I taught a lesson with the following objectives:

1. Pupils will make connections with their prior knowledge and understanding of the reasons to explain the introduction of the Beveridge Report.

2. Pupils will critically analyse a range of primary source material assessing purpose, provenance, context and content. This is corresponds to:

Higher Assessment Outcome 1.1 Interpreting complex historical information.

Higher Assessment Outcome 2.1 Describing, in detail, and with accuracy, the context of a British historical issue.

3. Pupils will deduce, reason and seek supporting evidence to evaluate the effectiveness of one of the Labour welfare reforms . This is corresponds to:

Higher Assessment Outcome 1.1 Interpreting complex historical information.

Higher Assessment Outcome 1.2 Synthesising information in a well-structured manner.

Higher Assessment Outcome 2.3 Analysing a British historical issue.

The class was mixed ability and the following differentiation strategies were built in:

1. All pupils should be able to make basic deductions about the political cartoons’ messages. Some are more complex to analyse than others.

2. Pupils will be able to support each other by working collaboratively.

3. Teacher will move around the room offering prompts and stretching pupils with higher-order level questions. Whole class feedback will enable all pupils to benefit from the views of their peers.

In addition to the teaching of the required content and exam skills, I decided to make meta-cognition the focus of this lesson. I used deliberately and pointedly the meta-cognition terms so that I could model to the pupils the strand of meta-cognition that they were actively encompassing.

The activities flowed in the following manner:

I began with a short exposition and questioning to draw out prior knowledge. I used the following Prezi presentation which can be accessed freely by clicking on the image below. and I linked these questions to the skill of Meta-thinking (Strategy-planning). I explained to the pupils that this is what they were doing in this process.

Pupils were then required to access the resource booklet below:

They began the first task that required them to work in pairs to elucidate the message within the first political cartoon from the 1940s. I monitored the progress of the pupils by acting as a facilitator by prompting and stretching (academically!) where appropriate. This task linked to the meta-cognition skill of Creating (Fluent thinking). Again, I explained to the pupils that this is what they were doing in this process.

I led a feedback discussion as whole class forum on the pupils’ interpretations of the political cartoon. I followed up with higher-order level questions and pupils added extra annotations to their cartoons. I linked this activity to the meta-cognition skill known as Linking (Connection finding). I explained that connection finding was an important process in the learning journey for all subjects.

A whole class discussion followed about the final three political cartoons. I used a range of low and higher order questioning techniques to encourage pupils’ critical analysis of the sources. I linked this to the meta-cognition skill of Analysing (Critical thinking). I explained to the pupils that this is what they were doing in this process and that critical thinking is a higher order thinking skill. I told them that it is not sufficient to just state facts; they need to ask 'why?' and 'what are the consequences of this?'

I then gave a short exposition on the Giant of ‘Squalor’. Pupils consulted their resource book (p.7). I went on to explain the reading task and pupils worked independently as they extracted the arguments. This activity is linked to the meta-cognition skill of Analysing (Precision).

Pupils completed the lesson by writing up their findings in the table and then evaluated their findings. This is linked to the meta-cognition skills of Analysing (Logical thinking) & Linking (Seeing alternative perspectives). Again, I explained to the pupils that this is what they were doing in this process so that they could see the flow of their learning.


Further reading and resources on meta-cognition:

If you are interested in finding out more about the concept of meta-cognition, take a look at the Cambridge Assessment International Education here.

The Global Metacognition Institute has a fantastic range of meta-cognition strategies that can be applied to a vast range of subjects.

The Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning offers some great insights and links to research on meta-cognition.

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