12 June, 2023

Metacognition at Dover Court International School

Metacognition at Dover Court International School - Metacognition at Dover Court International School
Thinking about Thinking
Dover Court takes an innovative and structured approach to equipping students with metacognition skills driving self-awareness, adaptability and ultimately academic progress.

As a non-selective school, Dover Court International School is delighted with the improvements that the secondary school cohorts have produced over the last few years in their exams. A key driver of this success is the school’s emphasis on enhancing the metacognitive capabilities of the students. 


Metacognition can be loosely defined as ‘thinking about thinking. Being adept at this process results in improvements in how we think and subsequently, learn. 


There is an old Chinese proverb that states 授人以魚,不如授人以漁”, which roughly means “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. This is true not only in feeding oneself but also in learning, particularly in our current information age.


Learning is an active process; a student staring out the window during an algebra lesson will not improve their ability to manipulate equations. Traditionally, teachers take a leading role in telling students exactly what action to take and when to do so. For even the best teachers, this approach has limitations.


The growing body of research around metacognition, coherently articulated by the Education Endowment Foundation, outlines that, with ownership and understanding of their learning, students are more motivated to independently engage in actions that will enhance their academic attainment. This should be obvious to those of us in employment, as studies regularly find that perceived job autonomy is highly correlated to high job satisfaction. Perhaps this explains the evidence that the teaching of these skills can lead to an additional seven months’ progress


It is important that students are explicitly taught how to undertake what is often called ‘a metacognitive cycle’, and that it is integrated throughout lessons to give context to these skills. Nord Anglia Education recently published an article on metacognition, whereby they outlined three simplified steps to this cycle:


  1. Practice being aware

  1. Adapt

  1. Apply


Metacognition at Dover Court International School - Metacognition at Dover Court International School


Metacognition in the Secondary School at Dover Court

Throughout the secondary school at DCIS, when students receive feedback on assessments or marking, we use the acronym DIRT. Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time emphasises the importance of the metacognitive cycle. No work should be returned to students without there being adequate time for them to reflect on the feedback so that they practice being aware, and understand how they should adapt their work. 


Students then use purple pens to actively apply improvements to their work. The differentiated font allows students to identify how they have enhanced it and further re-enforces their awareness. Peer and self-assessment modes are also used, alongside teacher assessment, to encourage students to practice being aware in the most direct manner. In Key Stage 3, this may take the form of a post-it note carousel of feedback, guided questions, confidence ratings or tick sheets on success criteria to help them to evaluate the work. In all I/GCSE subjects, enabling understanding of specifications and mark schemes is a key responsibility of subject teachers, who are experts in interpreting these using their experience of past examinations. 


Developing these skills with students provides key insights into how they can adapt their work to improve it and knowledge which they can apply to future work. Often, teachers conduct ‘walking-talking mock examinations’, whereby they complete past exam papers live in class, in front of students. This is to model their analysis of the question and approach to forming an answer.


A fundamental part of my role as Progress Leader for Year 11 is to enable students to attain the best possible outcomes. During Year 11, students follow a structured programme of activities that supports them to undertake these steps during the key stages of this crucial academic year



Structured preparation for successful mock examinations

At the start of the year, I help students establish a ‘healthy routine’ to enable them to manage their workload alongside things that will promote their overall well-being, such as exercise, social activities, family time, spirituality, diet, and sleep! They are directed to audit their behaviours to identify which are adding value and which are detracting from their goals. They then plan out their weekly routines, which are reviewed during ‘academic check-ins’ with their form tutors a few weeks later.


Next, students are introduced to a novel Venn diagram visual model, which aids student interpretation of their knowledge, understanding, and skills required for each subject. They then practice being aware as they are tasked to identify where they are on the diagram, in each subject, to build their learning profile. A summary of independent learning strategies, which will have been explicitly taught in lessons throughout their time in secondary school, is provided along with information on what facet each will enhance. For instance, if you are lacking subject knowledge then repeatedly completing practice questions will not be most beneficial – you might instead employ ‘SQ3R’ (a reading comprehension method named for its five steps: survey, question, read, recite and review) to research and revise content.


The goal is for students to determine how they can adapt their study so that they can maximise progress, based on their Venn diagram learning profile for each respective subject. Students summarise these in a table with an understanding of which facet they should work on and targeted strategies they should apply during independent learning for each subject.

 Metacognition at Dover Court International School - Metacognition at Dover Court International School


Progress through active reflection

You may remember opening the envelope to receive your examination results…it can be a daunting experience, but receiving feedback, in the correct manner, is vital to improvement.


I remember being told by my teaching mentor as he gave detailed feedback on a lesson observation thatFeedback is the breakfast of champions”. During the first few weeks of Year 11, with the aid of an image of an ostrich burying its head in the sand, I outline to students that it takes courage and honesty to practice being aware, particularly when it is related to something you have invested time, energy, and passion, into. A session encouraging students to re-frame negative self-talk is essential before they receive results, but they are also requested to complete a form that has questions structured to support reflections on their preparation and completion of the examinations. 

This year, we arranged for all Year 11 students to have a one-to-one mentoring meeting with a senior member of staff on the days before school opened for Term 2. This was to encourage them to reflect on Term 1, the mock examinations, and their implementation of weekly routines, so that they could adapt for Term 2 - motivated and empowered to succeed. Students are issued with a document to collate feedback across subjects in a consistent manner, which teachers support during DIRT lessons. Once the reflection has occurred, students then need to apply their feedback. To do this, they are introduced to SMART target setting. After demonstrating the process, structured questions guide them to construct these before a further academic check-in with their form tutor to review them.


The skills of metacognition can be applied not only in learning but across all pursuits. This means that we can equip young people with the tools to evaluate and improve themselves not just as learners, but as global citizens. Our overriding goal as a school is to prepare students to be able to flourish in our dynamic world and I believe that these metacognitive skills truly allow students to do this.


Matthew Tuckley

Year 11 Progress Leader