What is the Metacognition Cycle, and how can we use it?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Accompanying video:

I’m a great believer in passing-on information about strategies that actually work: things that we, as teachers, can actually deploy in the classroom right away.

The Metacognition Cycle is one such thing.

Great for project work, or for transforming any task we set in-c;ass; the Metacognition Cycle can be used effectively to draw out extra richness and depth from any content our students are required to understand.

So, what are the stages of the cycle, and how does each stage work?

Stage 1: Assess the task

What does the task actually involve? What do we have to do, or understand? What’s the desired outcome?: a Google Slides, a written price of homework, a Kahoot! Quiz?

These are the fundamental questions that students must know the answers to before the task can even begin. You may wish to try the following approaches:

  • Create a concept map on the whiteboard and ask students to come up and write down what they think they need to do, and what the task may involve.
  • Have a quick group discussion.
  • Explain the task as clearly as you can, and follow-through with extension questions in a quick-fire manner: “Jessica, what does ‘Describe the process’ mean?”
  • Try some spatial-learning techniques to draw-out the answers from the students. For example, try asking true/false questions and ask students to walk to positions in the room that represent those two options. Try a human graph.

If the students are not REALLY clear about what the task involves (or what the task is), then how can they begin the task correctly?

Stage 2: Evaluate Strengths and Weaknesses

Our students need to be encouraged to honestly evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses so that:

  • They can utilize their strengths in the completion of the task (especially good for group tasks)
  • Work on practicing skills that will improve their areas of weakness

A suitable example might be a group of three students assigned the task of creating a news report about a chemical explosion. One student might be the best at art, and could be assigned to produce the graphics. One student might be great at verbal communication in front of an audience, and could be the ‘news anchor’. One student might understand chemical calculations really well, and could provide the script for the news anchor for that particular part the task.

It’s important that students delegate carefully in groups, and work on personal targets whether in groups or working individually.

Stage 3: Plan the approach

Flow charts are great for this, as are concept maps. Where possible, it’s great if the students can CHOOSE the approach they take (e.g. for a news report, perhaps a choice between a written article, a filmed on-site report and web-based report could be given).

When students have some degree of autonomy over what they can choose to do, this will make the planning process more useful and fruitful for them. This stage of the Metacognition Cycle is designed to work on critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as providing the opportunity to be creative.

Stage 4: Apply Strategies

This is the ‘doing’ part – the part in which the students are actually getting ‘stuck-in’.

My advice to teachers is to supervise well (walk around and check on the students, or ask group leaders, groups or individuals to come to your desk to report on progress). Also, be sure to remind students that they can change their approach along the way if a particular strategy isn’t working).

Stage 5: Reflect

As teachers, we should be providing feedback, but why not also get the students involved in that? Ask groups to evaluate groups, provide a self-reflection form to fill in or even get groups to add a reflection on the process at the end of their project.

Three (bare minimum) questions that students should be asking themselves are:

  1. What did I learn during this task?
  2. What did I do well?
  3. What would I do better if I were given the opportunity to do this task again?

Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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