Met a What?

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Metacognition

I have spoken many times to individual parents about the importance of preparing our children for the future and for life beyond school – preparing them with the skills they will need to be future ready, not just senior school ready.  Your children will be entering the workplace in the late 2030s early 2040s and it will be a very different place to the workplace that we have now.  We only need to look at the enforced changes brought about by the pandemic to see what potential there is.  Effectively, schools are preparing your child for a life that we cannot yet imagine.  Quite a challenge!

With the growth of artificial intelligence in all aspects of life there is a great uncertainty about how this will affect not only future job prospects but also what skills will be needed to carry out those jobs.  We are not even certain what roles there will be and, excitingly, we must acknowledge that there will be roles that we cannot yet imagine.  Never before have children needed the ability and resilience to adapt and flex, to change and reflect on their learning and behaviours, more than they do now.

I spent years as a teacher hearing children say, prior to any attempt was made, “I don’t get it.”  Children too afraid to even try because they did not want the perceived failure of getting it wrong. Mistakes were the worst thing to happen – in their minds.  This was very frustrating for me, to see children put up barriers to their own learning and development.  Convincing themselves of their inability, because their constant internal voice of “I can’t” was more powerful than my lesson time voice of “You can.”  What was needed was a change of mind set, to change that internal narrative.  

For every failure, there’s an alternative course of action. You just have to find it. When you come to a roadblock, take a detour. 

Mary Kay Ash

Enter, metacognition. 

Children need to be able to make the transition from, ‘I can’t’ to the proactive, ‘How can I?  At the heart of everything we do as educators, we want to teach our students not what to think but how to think and how to apply their learning.  We are aiming for that mastery and metacognition is the key to its success.

Metacognition is a very teachable skill and it is key to other many of the other skills that we embed in our curriculum such as critical thinking, problem solving and effective decision making. From the moment your child steps into school, they are taught these fundamental skills and they is not aware of it – I like to think of it a guerrilla, or covert, teaching.   Activities such as “Show and Tell”, having a questions board, discussions in form times, assemblies and PSHE, the debating of issues in humanities, Drama lessons and scenario building, presenting ideas to the class and explaining thinking.  At every one of these moments, the children have the opportunity to articulate their thoughts and questions and are developing their confidence to think and ask these questions for themselves rather than simply being told.   Our pupils present themselves well

When they have to do this in class, in examinations for LAMDA and ESB and also at interview for senior schools – Head teachers remark to me when feeding back about our students – “What do you do to make your children so engaged and engaging, so confident when they speak?”  Well now you know, it is about encouraging them to have a voice, their own voice, from the very start, listening to them and valuing what they say.

That is why, at my school we weave, like a shining golden thread, the skills of metacognition into all aspects of our curriculum. The aim of this is to enhance the pupils’ awareness of their own abilities and their reflectiveness on how to improve and move their learning forwards. At school we have spent a lot of time in classes, and assembly, explaining about obstacles to learning and how we can get through or over barriers.  Explaining that it is ok to feel anxious before embarking on something new, the students know that it is normal to have that cognitive wobble, the pause before the jump just as long as you don’t stop and sit at the first hurdle.  If we didn’t have that wobble and that determination, we would never move forward.  To stay still is to go backwards.  We are working to give your children a growth mindset, so that they believe not only that they can, but that their ability to achieve is in their hands.  They really are the masters of their own destiny. 

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The children need to be unafraid in their learning and must be empowered by the way that they think.  They must acknowledge that the only way to learn is in fact to make mistakes.  To embrace those mistakes as a learning opportunity.   If no mistakes are made, then no learning happens.

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One of the things we do is to give the children “Success Criteria” against which to self-assess and discuss their work with their peers and their teachers.  Perhaps we will ask a child to talk about the aspect of learning of which they are most proud, and explain why; or point out to a child that there is an error in a calculation but ask them to check and to find the error, and ask them to explain what it was and how it can be resolved.  This not only demonstrates to the teacher that the child understands but reinforces the child’s learning.  Explaining is the first step to mastery. Then we will ask them to consider how they can apply that learning to other contexts – that is mastery.   

Through their time at school I would hope that children become active, unafraid and engaged learners rather than passive recipients of knowledge.   They should be learning to be reflective and proactive, they should be encouraged to be questioning and creative.  They ned to be resilient and confident learners, striving to self-improve where they can, but knowing that they can confidently seek help when they need a helping hand over that cognitive hurdle.  All of these are the skills that I believe they will need in the workplace of 2040. 

Who would you employ – a passive follower or a proactive innovator?  School really should be a place where futures are made.

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”

Confucius

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Published by headshipjourney

A teacher of thirty years, and mother of twenty seven years, I think I've learned a great deal - about children, about teaching and learning and about myself. We never stop learning and we should never be afraid to ponder new ideas, to roll thoughts around in our minds, to voice our opinions and have healthy debate. We should never have the arrogance to believe that we know it all but we should remain open minded ready to receive inspiration from those around us. And for me that inspiration comes from my own children, the children in my schools, parents and my wonderful team. I firmly believe that I am a privileged soul to be in the role that I am and I embrace every day and the challenge and joy that it will bring.

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