QLC “Same Page” TeachMeet: Independent Learning and Metacognition

I recently attended a TeachMeet at Severn Vale School in Gloucester. The purpose of this was to meet other teachers from across our partnership of schools who are interested in developing the same areas of practice and pedagogy, to make connections, share ideas and perhaps come away with some new ones along with some contacts with whom to collaborate! I was part of the group that discussed Independent Learning and Metacognition. Here is a picture of some of the points discussed:


The literature review produced by Meyer et al. was of great use and helped with some questions we had. Independent learning is described as self-regulated learning with students planning, self-monitoring, controlling, and evaluating learning activities. We found it closely linked to an alternative discussion group findings around Growth Mindset with delegates attending both sessions suggesting we should combine forces in our efforts.

The skills required of independent learners are (again from Meyer here):

  • Cognitive skills such as memory and problem-solving
  • Metacognition skills – learning to learn
  • Affective skills such as motivation (and closely linked to a growth mindset and how to develop)

My own experience of teaching metacognition comes from Building Learning Power (BLP) which was introduced during my NQT year in my first post. I still talk about the fours R’s (Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reciprocity, and Reflectiveness) with my students today and many aspects of identifying steps in learning have been part of the reflecting aspect of KS3 Science in Wales since 2006:


Advice was shared when talking about developing independent learners within the classroom – that teachers must move from being the sage on the stage and aim to be the guide on the side was felt to be a great way of describing the shift in thinking about lessons. It was pointed out however that the recent Sutton Report concludes that quality of instruction (including effective questioning and assessment) is one of two factors with the strongest evidence of improving pupil attainment. (It’s ok to be the sage sometimes).

Primary colleagues already discuss the challenge of any particular task in terms of how students cope: If it is easy then they are in the green zone, too hard and it is in the red zone – if the challenge is enough to stretch but not to cause panic then they are in the purple zone and they are purple learners. This explains why year seven students have been talking about being purple learners!

Currently, our year seven team and students are focussing on how to be resilient learners, what to do when you get stuck (4Bs), and that getting stuck is part of learning – to expect it in fact! My own year seven class appear confident, as a group, approaching any task and support each other very well in lessons.

A great aspect coming out of the discussion is that we are already doing a great deal to develop independent learners, in both the primary and secondary phases, and that pupils going through QLC are developing into independent learners giving them exactly the springboard for college and beyond that they need to be a success. A common “language of learning” used by our teachers needs to be shared and staff will be sharing activities that will help develop some of the skills discussed. I personally would like to observe primary colleagues developing purple learners and their use of success criteria.

Developing life long learners is really what teaching is all about – its only content that gets in the way! This was a feeling within our group, that time was so precious, using it to develop the skills of independent learners may impact on covering all material (especially following recent changes). Many delegates felt there are activities that do both – students cover content whilst developing the skills. These activities are what our group intend to develop – I will share successful activities here.

Angry Birds Investigation

I am sure I’m not the first to hit upon the popularity of the Angry Birds as a teaching hook but I wanted to share this investigation as it has proven popular and I have got some great Science out of the Year 6 (transition) students in previous years and current Year 7s.

On entry to class the angry birds music is playing and I choose several students to have a go at one of the multitude of Angry Birds games I have installed on my iPad. Whilst playing I get students to describe the factors they can control to alter the trajectory of the bird. From there we go to the homemade “catapult” I have set up using an upturned stool, elastic material, and a sponge ball.

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We identify all of the factors that could effect the distance the “Angry Bird” will travel and elicit making a fair test by only changing one of these variables, and identifying what we can do to control the others. The booklet I have made to accompany this investigation can be found here  and this is the PowerPoint. We spent one lesson planning and making preliminary trials with students experimenting with Newton meters, rulers, and protractors to determine the best approach to ensure consistency.  2014-10-02 13.01.43 2014-10-02 12.49.33

The following lesson pupils collected results (developing in booklet) – we stopped several times to discuss issues arising and how to make changes (and to not be scared to) to the method they had decided on. Our success criteria concerned collecting a full set of results (with repeats) whilst controlling as many variables as we reasonably could. Some students focussed on the angle as the independent variable, with force / distance of pull a close second.

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Lesson 3 was centred around analysis of results and drawing conclusions, although some groups still needed to collect further data. I provided students with the axis and scale drawn onto graph for them but in retrospect this took away the challenge for some and I need to stretch my more able students in this aspect.

Reflection was the focus for lesson 4 and identifying what went well and changes that would / should be made if repeated are the usual questions we ask. This is also the area where most are usually given least time to develop and this is apparent at GCSE level during the ISA – I am determined to develop this with the new KS3 curriculum.

Metacognition or learning to learn (from Building Learning Power (BLP)) strategies are attempts to get students to think about their own learning explicitly – what strategies or steps did they take in their own learning to complete the investigation? They identify their strengths in completing a task and build a range of methodologies they can call upon when completing another. In the booklet I include some possible ways to encourage students to start this process. It’s effectiveness, as reported by The Sutton Trust (http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/), is high (+8 months by their measure).