Teaching pupils to plan, monitor and evaluate their own learning can improve outcomes

7 simple rules for science teaching

Every Wednesday from now until September, we’ll publish a new article and resource supporting the evidence-based principles in the EEF Improving secondary science guidance.

Students who can plan, monitor and evaluate their own learning are more metacognitively aware and are therefore more successful learners. The metacognitive cycle and exam wrappers are evidence-informed strategies that build metacognitive knowledge and regulation in our students, supporting them on their journey to being more self-regulated.

Illustration of a female student reading, whilst also mentally taking notes and making lists

Source: © Claudia Flandoli

What is metacognition?

Metacognition, commonly referred to as ‘learning about one’s learning’, includes two main areas, metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive regulation. Metacognitive knowledge refers to the learners’ knowledge of their own cognition and the strategies they have available to them. Metacognitive regulation comprises three important skills: planning, monitoring and evaluation. Metacognition can be enhanced with subject specific tasks which focus on improving both of these areas.

Building metacognitive regulation: The metacognitive cycle

7 simple rules to boost science teaching

Click to expand and explore the rules

Build on the ideas that pupils bring to lessons

  1. Understand the preconceptions that pupils bring to science lessons
  2. Develop pupils’ thinking through cognitive conflict and discussion
  3. Allow enough time to challenge misconceptions and change thinking

Help pupils direct their own learning

  1. Explicitly teach pupils how to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning
  2. Model your own thinking to help pupils develop their metacognitive and cognitive knowledge
  3. Promote metacognitive talk and dialogue in the classroom

Use practical work purposefully and as part of a learning sequence

  1. Know the purpose of each practical activity
  2. Sequence practical activities with other learning
  3. Use practical work to develop scientific reasoning
  4. Use a variety of approaches to practical science

Use structured feedback to move on pupils’ thinking

  1. Find out what your pupils understand
  2. Think about what you’re providing feedback on
  3. Provide feedback as comments rather than marks
  4. Make sure pupils can respond to your feedback

The metacognitive cycle compliments tasks by taking students on a journey through planning, monitoring and evaluating their own learning. Take the example of a student needing to answer the question: Design an experiment to find the specific heat capacity of an aluminium block. (6 marks)

For a student to successfully complete this question they need the following things: a solid foundation in the scientific content relating to SHC in general; knowledge of how the practical activity should be conducted; a good understanding of how to work scientifically; and the ability to form a coherent answer that would lead to a valid outcome. You can use the metacognitive cycle to support students in answering this in class. Students will work their way through the plan, monitor and evaluate cycle throughout the task by reflecting on a series of questions shown; download them below.

The questions in the planning phase focus on the strategies necessary to complete the task and getting students to reflect on their understanding of the scientific knowledge needed. The monitoring phase requires students to continually review what they have completed, if they are following their plan and answering what the question needs. Finally, the evaluation phase guides students through reflecting on their performance, whether their chosen strategies were successful and whether any changes need to be made for next time. Initially this process may be heavily structured, reflecting as a group and sharing the strategies and knowledge needed, but over time, this resource can be woven into a variety of different tasks so that students are able to follow the cycle more independently.

In your class

Download questions for student-led planning, monitoring and evaluation as MS Word and pdf and an exam wrapper template as MS Word and pdf

Building metacognitive knowledge: Exam wrappers

Following an assessment, it is important for a student to understand what subject content they need to review but also whether the strategies used in preparation and throughout the exam were successful. An exam wrapper guides students through reflecting on these key areas; download an example below. Firstly, students will review their mark from the exam and then look at the topic areas that went well and those that need to be revisited. They then move on to reflect upon their revision, in particular what activities they did and how long they spent doing them. One aspect of this is to review previously answered exam questions. Students can reflect at this point whether they addressed any conclusions made from the evaluation phase of metacognitive cycle completed in class – essentially are they making the same mistakes twice. Next, they will reflect upon where they lost marks. For example; recalling an equation correctly, accurately recalling a definition, or errors in data analysis questions. Finally, they create their own next steps. This almost needs to be a to-do list addressing both subject content and strategies they will use next time; this can then be reviewed before their next assessment.

As with all strategies aimed to make students more metacognitively aware, initially a great amount of teacher support and modelling is needed to ensure the greatest impact. However, over time students will be able to complete these more independently, gaining an in-depth understanding of their own learning processes.

This article is part of the series 7 simple rules for science teaching, developed in response to the EEF’s Improving secondary science guidance. It supports rule 2a, Explicity teach pupils how to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning.