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.


The Sutton Report – Spreading Research in Education

The recent report by Coe et al. discusses What makes great teaching? and in 57 pages (including references) covers three key questions: What makes ’great teaching’?; What kinds of frameworks or tools could help us to capture it? How could this promote better learning?

It’s an interesting read with a lot to take in – my advice for the classroom is to read from page 45 starting at Best bets to try out and evaluate. Point 1 of their quick wins list identifies spreading awareness of research in education and in this vein I would direct you to the Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning toolkit. This toolkit summarises 34 (currently as it is updated) topics – for each the toolkit reports on the effect on attainment, the strength of evidence supporting, and the cost for each strategy to improve attainment for disadvantaged pupils.

The toolkit estimates progress in months of progress where 6 months is equivalent to an effect size of 0.45-0.52 which equate to a whole grade improvement. The strategies with the biggest impacts (6-8 months) for secondary phase are:

  • Feedback – To learner about performance and relative to a learning goal.
  • Meta-cognition – Learning to learn / developing strategies to help with learning.
  • Peer tutoring – Learners work in pairs to provide each other with teaching support.

I have summarised the toolkit as a mind map here.


Moderate impact strategies (progress of 3-5 months) which can most readily by utilised within the classroom include:

  • Collaborative learning – working in small groups so all can participate.
  • Digital technology – supporting learning.
  • Homework
  • Mastery learning – break subject into units with clear objectives which are pursued until achieved.

How will this look in the classroom?

As teachers we are trained to be reflective practitioners – this was ingrained for me as a PGCE student, filling in endless evaluation forms / sheets after each lesson, or feedback following observations, peer teaching, and lesson study. We pull apart our lessons daily and think about how we can improve or what we would do differently for our students to make progress. With enough time each teacher would use their own intuition for what works with their classes and many would use the strategies outlined and identified by research. But would all teachers use all strategies? Evidence based teachers (described by Geoff Petty) would use the research to identify strategies (such as above), they would try them out, and critically evaluate the impact in the classroom. Keep the strategies that work and throw away those that don’t.

For more detail into research in education look to the work of Prof Hattie in Visible Learning where 138 influences are discussed and ranked according to effectiveness.

Further reading I would recommend is Evidence Based Teaching by Geoff Petty which critically assesses and importantly shares resources and practical examples for how these strategies will look in the classroom.  His website corresponds to the book and is packed with resources to download.

Starters to calm OR Starters to energise

In my previous post Well begun is half done I presented three starters aiming to get students on task and engaged quickly. These starters could be described as energisers, great for classes that require that input of energy to get them going but not perhaps the best choice for a class who are already energised and require a more calming start to a lesson.
So, at the start of the lesson you can decide if you need to energise (resisting a Star Trek quote here) a class or to calm them down (resisting Harry Enfield reference here).
If energise is the answer then look to my previous post or try this one from Talk Less Teaching another great book from Osiris Educational.
The Walking Chocolate Bar as described by the authors Wallace & Kirkman requires students to fill in an eight square table with facts about the topic under discussion by circulating in the room and speaking to peers. This is great to ascertain prior knowledge or to review at the end of a topic. My year 9s used this to great effect this week for the topic of Respiration, although they were mightily peeved on discovery that no chocolate was actually involved.
Another example works especially well if your lesson involves a diagram – in pairs ask one student to look at the diagram on your computer screen, they have to memorise and describe to partner back at desk to draw. They are allowed up to the view the diagram a total of five times. Then compare drawn picture to actual. The activity can also be done with students back to back where one student has the diagram and the other draws.

If calming is your choice then Talk Less Teaching has another suggestion: Students imagine the lesson as a flight – at the start they fill in their boarding pass identifying three key things they learnt last lesson and one thing they need / want to find out. Follow this up at end of lesson with the landing Card as a plenary. This activity worked very well with my Year 7s work on Forces (balanced / unbalanced forces) recently.
Another example is to use an errors list – produce your own set of common errors identified by marking books or use examiner’s reports for GCSE and A level. List common errors in a list and mix in correct statements relating to the topic. Students have to identify and correct the errors.
Finally, from the classic The Teacher’s Toolkit by Paul Ginnis is the activity Hierarchies. Here, get students to draw a pyramid – ask students to read a text, watch a video, or a Science demonstration – they have find the big idea and write this in the peak of the pyramid. The main points go in the next layer down and then the real details in the base of the pyramid. This stops students being passive during these type of activities.

Learning Cycle Lesson Plan

Following on from some fantastic CPD delivered by Alan Jervis, a colleague (Mr Robinson) and I were inspired to develop the learning cycle that was discussed into our own lesson planning tool. This has been well received in both interview lessons and recent lesson observations. I have a copy in my planner to help remind me of some of the aspects it is far too easy to forget. Forgive the wine / alcohol references in the plan but most teachers like wine 🙂


The cycle: Every lesson should include / start with assessment of prior knowledge, which can easily be combined with a starter activity as found in a previous post, they can be used to energise a class, or calm them down depending on the class being taught.

The learning outcome may take various forms such as WALT, WILF, All Most Some, or if appropriate, success criteria – my advice is to follow your own school policy. However, always share what you are trying to achieve in whatever form it may be. I have always found Blooms taxonomy helps and when possible try to hang a grade against what we are trying to achieve i.e. if we can do this you will be working at A grade.

The first three parts feels like any other lesson plan I have used but what makes this stand out for me are the next steps: Pouring In, Fermenting, Pouring Out, and Decanting. Pouring in is any activity which imparts knowledge, or allows students to access the knowledge, such as an information hunt (Teachers Toolkit pg 118). Next, students follow an activity to use the information in some way – this corrected practice (Geoff Petty) is an opportunity to develop their skills, and the teacher can get feedback on whether the pouring in has gone as expected. This corrected practice allows Pouring Out to take place – students demonstrate what they have learnt. And finally, decanting where misconceptions and blind spots are identified to inform future planning. Questioning should play a big part in this.

Around the cycle my colleague and I (clearly influenced by the 5 min lesson plan) built areas that we felt were useful or necessary because it is required e.g. we include literacy and numeracy because these are a statutory requirement in Wales.

I include a ppt of the lesson plan if anyone wants to use / adapt for their own use: learning_cycle_lesson_plan_2

I hope you find it useful.

Well begun is half done – Three Engaging Starters

This week I contributed to a session entitled “Engaging Starters” at my school by sharing three activities to start a lesson. These activities are started as pupils enter the room, require minimal explanation (indeed when used a second time they require no introduction), encourage pupils to collaborate, to peer teach, self and peer assess, and is engaging and enjoyable. The task Switch Switch I picked up on an NQT course run by Alan Jervis of Dragonfly Training back in 2004, and Linking just last year when Mr Jervis came to my school.


The task: You write keywords relating to the topic onto flip chart paper and fix to walls (enough for pupils to work in pairs ideal but three’s if space an issue). Each pair is given a pen and challenged to draw links between keywords with the tricky bit they have to write on the line why they have made the link.

This can be used at the start of a topic to assess prior knowledge, or at the end of a topic, but it is best used with both so you can demonstrate progress. I have also used this as starter and plenary to show progress in a single lesson.

Here are some examples:

IMG_0983 IMG_0982 IMG_0981

You can extend this activity by having pupils move to the next pair’s page to assess, improve and feedback (especially at the end of a unit where each group has a different topic), or pupil A from each pair moves on to be taught by pupil B. Pupil As then return and teach pupil B.

This can be set up in previous lesson by having pupil identify the key words and create the sheet themselves. Alternatively you can put the keywords onto A4 to do individually or even provide list and ask pupils to scatter them onto page in book and start linking.

Switch Switch

The task: Pupils are each given a card with a key question and answer on entry to class. They circulate and who ever they meet ask their question – they should allow the pupil to attempt an answer but then read out the correct answer. The pupil answering then asks their own question in the same manner and they switch questions. This continues and potentially pupils can experience 30 key questions and answers in a very short space of time. It really encourages pupils to remember the correct answers as they want to get it right and they may see the same questions several times. As the teacher you are free to circulate and listen to responses, encourage pupils to expand answers, and even deliver some additional questions based on responses.

This can be used to assess prior knowledge, at the end of a topic, prior to an assessment, or as a three minute motivator as featured in Engaging Learners. The only issue I have had with this is when pupils are not keen to venture outside friendship groups but some chivvying along helps. Pupils who would rarely answer questions in front of the whole class often thrive with this activity as the audience is so small.

Here are some examples for GCSE Diet & Exercise; GCSE Respiration; and Year 7 topic What is Science?

Homework: Give pupils a template and ask them to make three questions each (this should cover any pupils absent when set or failed to complete). They are even more motivated when they have made this resource although you have to check answers are correct!

This activity can be used repeatedly during a topic (although too often would be boring) but its a great activity and my favourite of the three here.

Peer to Peer

The Task: Students collaborate on answering a key question on a topic which you have written onto flip chart paper and fixed to wall, they then either move in pairs to the next (different) question and read / correct and add to the answer, or you can split the pairs into A and B to have Bs teach As from different pairs.

Here are some examples:

2014-10-08 16.40.39 2014-10-08 16.40.20 2014-10-08 16.40.27

I do not give pairs enough time to completely finish the first question so each group definitely has to assess another groups work and add to complete the question. I have found this activity especially good at producing model answer for the dreaded 6 mark questions in Science.

To take this further you can take pictures of the completed work and create a video on YouTube as I have done here: http://youtu.be/TNiLITyyYEQ

Pupils are then given a QR code to view this which they stick in books (this at the end of Year 9 topic Photosynthesis).

Learning Grids

This is my first blog…..

Professional reading is really taking off in my present school, it counts towards CPD providing an impact can be shown in the classroom, and a book club started by a colleague is well attended. The book we have started with is called Outstanding Teaching: Engaging Learners by Griffith and Burns (http://tinyurl.com/o9re4eu). The book is full of activities that can be used in the classroom with an aim to creating flow – becoming lost in learning. Flow is defined in the book as the state when high skill levels meets high challenge – students lead their own learning and teacher input is minimal (the book recommends three minutes to provide instructions to the class)!

With this in mind I have focussed initially on the use of learning grids as an activity to create flow. The example grid here What is Science? was created for my Year 7 Science class. I filled each cell with either a key word, safety symbol, or example science equipment. Students worked in pairs during the activity, rolling the dice to determine which cell in the grid they land on. On reflection I would recommend foam dice (as the book does) as the clatter of plastic dice was not ideal. In my first lesson with the class, after establishing the seating plan, I gave out the grids and a dice for each pair – the instructions were to explain as fully as possible the contents of the cell they landed on. If a student could not explain a particular cell then the old adage of the 4Bs (brain, book, buddy, boss) was used and the resources available to look answers up were explained. I considered the activity a success as the class enjoyed it, I could establish prior knowledge, and it immediately set the tone of student lead, peer teaching which I am trying to develop.

I have produced other grids for Year 8 Geology, Year 9 Photosynthesis, and GCSE Immunity & Disease and they have also gone down very well with each class although the simple definitions I am asking for is not as challenging as I would like and differentiation is not there! It worked well when I asked each pair to role for a cell twice – they were challenged to define / explain each cell but also to explain how one cell linked to another – this could be compare and contrast or a cause and effect relationship. This added more challenge to the task.

More recently, I have created grids (the students are getting used to using them making teacher talk even less) to include cells containing a question mark (students have to select a past paper question and answer in pairs), and a cell with EXAMINER (students have to peer assess using the marking criteria another groups answers). Here is an example Learning Grid where these are included in the Immunity and Disease topic from AQAs BL1. I am impressed with the number of GCSE past questions my KS4 classes are being exposed to and their confidence in answering them is really growing already.

I will be trying out some of the other uses of learning grids suggested by Engaging Learners. Next week I will challenge students to create a concept map using the learning grids – they role for a cell and they have to add the contents into a concept map for the topic – it seems a great way to build links in their understanding.

HOMEWORK – Providing students with a blank grid Template and tasking them with creating their own grid on a topic strikes me as a suitable homework activity and one that will build up a bank of resources to use with other classes and of course to share in this blog.