Metacognition and Academic Growth

Originally posted on Psych(ed):

What do we mean by ‘meta-cognition’?

Meta-cognition relates to the process of actively thinking about our own learning. It’s often referred to as ‘learning skills’ or ‘learning to learning’ and is centered on one’s ability to evaluate and monitor one’s own learning and to readjust as necessary through continual self-monitoring. It also includes the ability to self-regulate one’s own learning in terms of managing motivation.

Meta-cognitive Regulation

This refers to the adjustments people make in order to help them control their own learning and includes:

  • Planning
  • Information Management Strategies
  • Comprehension Monitoring
  • ‘de-bugging’ strategies
  • Evaluative and Progress Goals
  • Knowing when and where to use particular strategies for learning and problem solving
  • How and why to use such strategies
  • The use of prior knowledge to plan a strategy for approaching a learning task
  • Taking the necessary steps to:
    • Problem Solve
    • Reflect on and/or evaluate the results
    • Modify the approach as needed


View original 483 more words

Can teachers stop believing in nonsense?

Originally posted on Evidence into practice:

I’ve written before regarding the prevalence of pseudoscientific ideas within education. Whenever I start to become a little optimistic that our profession can move out of the dark ages, something pops up to prove my hopes are premature. Just such a case emerged this week when I happened upon a report of a motion at the ATL conference back in April.

The ATL should be cautious in using neuroscience in teaching and education

Pete Etchells, a lecturer in biological psychology, described a motion encouraging the implementation of applications of neuroscience into the classroom. He highlighted a quote from the teacher proposing the motion which concerned him:

According to the person who proposed the motion, Julia Neal, “neuroscience could also help teachers tailor their lessons for creative “right brain thinkers”, who tend to struggle with conventional lessons but often have more advanced entrepreneurial skills”.

It seems that this claim comes from a document…

View original 1,416 more words

Book Chapter: Dialogism and Technology.

I have written a chapter for a new book coming out this winter on Dialogic teaching and technology.


The concomitant shift in terms of the traditional teacher within the new technological age then is one of ‘arbiter of knowledge’ to ‘facilitator of learning.’ This seismic shift in pedagogical dynamic has not divided teachers along the lines of age, but rather along the lines of technical proficiency and ambition with many older teachers showing the kind of patience and ambition required to master new technological literacies. The current trend is certainly one which ‘valorizes the virtual‘  but this has often has the effect of polarizing discourse on technology and creating a reductive ‘either/or’ mindset among many English teachers.

Using Hegel’s dialectic in the English classroom

I have been thinking recently about how writing something effective is often about a structure and how I could get students to be more confident and assertive in their writing and decided to try something different.

A good essay for me is often one that provides multiple, often conflicting perspectives and then offers some kind of possible synthesis. Too often I read stuff that just sounds like something the students think I want to hear or a very linear essay which contains a ‘right’ answer. In order to combat this I tried formalising a possible essay structure by invoking Hegel’s dialectic model of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

So using Hamlet, I gave students various critical positions or ‘theses.’ I then asked them to discuss an opposite view or ‘antithesis’ and then finally a possible ‘synthesis’ of the two concepts. (If one is possible or relevant.)

I wrote out 5 possible critical positions relating to Hamlet in triangles,  gave them a bunch of post-it notes and then asked them to discuss possible ideas.

The type of ideas that students came up with really interesting, and in small groups they were easily able to adopt/review various different critical positions.

Then when it came to writing about their ideas I gave them a few basic sentence starters to frame their ideas:

  • Initially it appears that…
  • It could be argued that…
  • In direct contrast to this it could also be argued that…
  • Conversely there is much evidence to suggest that…
  • However on balance, it is clear that…
  • Ultimately, it is clear that Hamlet is neither…..but actually…

It ended up being one of the most interesting lessons I have ever had. The various lines of enquiry opened by this simple little model proved very fruitful and their essays were far more confident, thoughtful and reflective than what they had been writing before.

Bakhtin, Wordsworth, Eric Cartman and why Google Should Replace the Dictionary.


The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company:

- William Wordsworth


“That’s F’ing Gay as hell.”

-Eric Cartman

Earlier this year I was teaching ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ by William Wordsworth and when I came to the line “A poet could not but be gay,” I put the book down, looked at the class and waited for the inevitable giggling to ensue.

In a Bakhtinian sense of course these pupils were not engaging in an act of sedition so much as responding to a socio-cultural signifier in the form of the word ‘gay’ which has been radically transformed since Wordsworth employed the word. For Cartman and many kids today the word ‘gay’ has a negative connotation, for many (idiots) the word represents a moral transgression yet for many others it is a proud badge of identity. Where then does the ‘meaning’ of this word lie? All this got me thinking about how the notion of a monologic definition of a word is fast becoming obselete and that at a time when student literacy is reportedly worse than ever we surely need a better framework for students to access meaning than the dictionary.

For Bakhtin, the ‘word’ is not where the locus of meaning resides. Words are imbued with meaning depending on the speaker, the tone used or the prior relationship between the speakers. The determining factor is the context around which the word or utterance is created which is why I have such a problem with giving students dictionary definitions of words. If they do not have the frames of reference with which to comprehend them, then what use are they?

Bakhtin writes that

When we select words in the process of constructing an utterance, we by no means always take them from the system of language in their neutral, dictionary form. We usually take them from other utterances, and mainly from utterances that are kindred to ours in genre, that is, in theme, composition, or style. (p.87) 

Another example of this is when I heard one of my students utter the phrase “uhhhh, that’s peak!!” Although I understood the word ‘peak’ in terms of its dictionary definition I had no clue what the hell she was talking about and thus had a lessened understanding of my students. I was captivated by the possible alternative meaning of ‘peak’ and asked them to explain it to me. It was subsequently explained to me as meaning ‘severe’ or ‘harsh.’

Every time I hear students use language in this way I always make a point of asking them to teach me their meaning of the word and the right context in which to use it. I have actually spent whole lunchtimes in my classroom being ‘taught’ by my students alternative meanings to words such as ‘soggy’ and ‘moist.’ This particular process proved very confusing for me and required multiple explanations of the word in different contexts. The nearest approximation I could find for the word ‘moist’ was pathetic. (For some reason negativity is equated with dampness.)

Instances like this really made me reflect on how difficult it must be for students to construct meaning with a limited vocabulary, who are not exposed themselves to an expansive vocabulary or who have come from another country. Add to that the fact that words are in an increasingly rapid state of flux depending on their temporal and spatial parameters and also the limitless contingency of the internet of you really have to look at the validity of dictionaries today in the English classroom. Bakhtin writes:

“In any given historical moment of verbal-ideological life, each generation at social level has its own language; moreover, every agehas as a matter of fact its own language, its own vocabulary, its own particular accentual system that, in their turn, vary depending on social level, academic institution…and other stratifying factors.” Bakhtin (1981d, p.290)

So last week I tried an experiment with a year 10 class. (14 year olds) I thought instead of using the monologic exchange of dictionaries to ‘expand’ their vocabulary. I would try and create a broader contextual framework for students to construct meaning and more importantly to get them into the habit of teaching themselves and ‘owning’ the word.

I gave them a chapter from Jonathan Franzen’s new book that I hoped would not only give them access to new words but also stimulate their thinking. One word that came up for a student was ‘resonance.’ The said student asked me what it meant and I resisted the urge to tell her and asked her to use the internet as an experiment to see if she could determine the meaning herself.  She of course then went to and go the following definition:

Resonance: The quality or condition of being resonant.

Brilliant. She now didn’t know two words. Why define a word for someone who doesn’t know the word with a variant of the same word they don’t know?? So I asked her to not focus on the word but focus on words around the word and try to create meaning by using a combination of different Google searches such as ‘That idea resonates with me.’ or ‘The book had a real resonance…’ etc. And I also asked her to be persistant and to do at least 10 searches and try to build up a ‘gradual meaning’ of the word instead of the solitary and (for her) confrontational dictionary definition of it.

The results were amazing. Within a few minutes she had not only completely understood the word through seeing in a dialogic exchange with texts she could relate to, but could now apply it in her own vocabulary and had learned it in a way that had far more consolidation than the monologic exchange a dictionary provides. More importantly, she also felt better about herself.

Ot of this experience, I decided I would create a series of lesson starters aimed at improving students vocabulary called ‘Dialogic Dictionary’ where instead of giving students dictionary definitions of words, I would instead subvert that process and give then 10 instances of the word in context and then leave a blank space at the end where they then have to write a standard dictionary definition in their own words, and then a final task where they write a sentence using the word incorporating an instance in their own life where the new word applies. Anyone interested in this, or (in the spirit of Bakhtin’s dialogic principle) anyone with ideas to improve this please email me.

The danger of course is that ultimately you will end up like this. 

Mikhail Bakhtin, Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Trans. Vern W. McGee. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1986.

A.A. Gill ‘A worthy fool.’

‘That fools should be so deep-contemplative,

And I did laugh sans intermission An hour by his dial.

O noble fool! A worthy fool! Motley’s the only wear.’

‘As You Like It.’ Act II, scene VII

So I went to see A.A. Gill last Sunday morning give a talk on education entitled ‘A Broadside.’ The basic premise of the talk was to wind up teachers and he did that with some considerable aplomb. Within the first 10 minutes he made the following pronouncements:

“Schools steal the best years of our lives and put them under a picture of the f***ing Duke of Wellington”.

“The best bits of school are the bits when you manage to get away from school,”

and my personal highlight:

“Dyslexia now encompasses people who are simply bad at catching things.”

At this point I have to admit I was laughing as it was clear that he had nothing serious to add to the education debate and thoroughly enjoyed myself, yet several teachers took him very seriously. One lady stood up and pronounced that her father had worked down a coal mine for 40 years so she could have an education etc. to which Gill retorted “I am not going to swap sob stories with you.”

Another teacher asked him “If you are so against education then why are you sending your own kids to school?” to which he paused and then responded “Because I dont want them at home any more than they do!!”

A very funny and mischievous man and a ‘worthy fool.’