Growth Mindset, Metacognition and Memory
The term ‘Growth Mindset’ was coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, whose research identifies the following key aspects;
- Celebrating mistakes – we can learn from them
- Never giving up – perseverance is the key to success
- Learning from each other
- Not comparing ourselves with others
- Challenging ourselves and taking risks
- Remembering that our brains are making new connections and growing all the time
We want all our pupils to relish challenges and embrace their mistakes as part of the learning process. We encourage them to value the importance of effort, to respond carefully to feedback and to take inspiration from others.
Across the Three Schools we actively encourage a ‘Growth Mindset’, aiming to instill in our children a belief in their own intelligence and abilities, and an understanding that with effort and the right strategies we can grow and learn more. We encourage confidence and resilience, and a realisation that making mistakes is an important part of learning. We believe that consistently encouraging a growth mindset leads our pupils to positively approach challenges both inside and outside the classroom. It's never a case of I can't do that, just that I can't do that 'yet'.
'Metacognition is actively monitoring one’s own learning and, based on this monitoring, making changes to one’s own learning behaviours and strategies.’
Metacognitive strategies are the strategies learners use to plan, monitor and evaluate their own learning. For example, when learning spellings for a test, a pupil might choose to ‘say words as they are spelt’. During the test, they notice a number of words use the -ssion and -tion spelling patterns. After the test, they decide to use both strategies to learn their spellings next week.
At the heart of metacognition, pupils are guided to make these decisions themselves. Of course, the decisions are not always effective (the pupils above may find that the spelling test the following week is on homophones) but pupils can use mistakes to improve their choices next time.
To be successful, pupils need to be taught a range of strategies to tackle tasks. These are the cognitive strategies. Metacognition happens when pupils reflect on which strategies were successful and what they might change.
To facilitate metacognition, teachers make time for pupils to decide what will help them next time they tackle a similar problem.
How do we develop Metacognition in our pupils?
Jeavon Leonard suggests a seven-step teaching model which transfers the ownership of the learning from adult to pupil and we practise these techniques across units of work:
- Activating prior knowledge
This is where pupils retrieve previously learned strategies which are relevant to the task
- Explicit strategy instruction
How to complete the task is explained
- Modelling of learned strategy
An aspect of the task is modelled by an adult or peer
- Memorisation of the strategy
The teacher checks that information has been understood and remembered, including in different contexts
- Guided practice
Collaboration with peers to complete the task
- Independent practice
Task is completed independently
- Structured reflection
Collective and personal evaluation on what went well and when else this strategy could be useful as well as what didn’t go well and what could be done differently next time
As the ownership for learning is transferred above, the proportion of teacher talk reduces whilst the proportion of pupil talk increases. Pupils’ reflection on their learning through these seven steps is key to acquiring metacognitive strategies.
Questioning is a useful tool to support pupils to develop their metacognitive skills. Different types of questions may support pupils at different points in the teaching sequence. At the planning stage (stages 1-3 above), consider asking questions such as:
- What am I being asked to do?
- Which strategies will I use?
- Are there any strategies which I have used before that might be helpful?
To encourage pupils to monitor their learning pupils should be encouraged to ask themselves:
- Is the strategy that I’m using working?
- Do I need to try something different?
The part of the cycle which is key to pupils transferring their metacognitive skills, but which is often given least time is the evaluation stage. Questions to consider might be:
- How well did I do?
- What didn’t go well? What could I do differently next time?
- What went well? What other types of problem can I use this strategy for?
Pupils also benefit from seeing metacognition modelled. Teachers model their own thinking processes when faced with a task by asking questions aloud such as ‘What do I know about problems like this? What ways of solving them have I used before?’.
For some pupils, sentence stems can support metacognitive talk and self-reflection in the classroom. Stems such as ‘… approach has helped me to understand …’ or ‘I’ve tried… and this isn’t working so what else could I try?’ can support pupils to talk together about their learning and eventually support pupils to reflect themselves.
How we support pupils to know and remember more
When pupils learn a new piece of information, they make new synaptic connections. Two scientifically based ways to help them retain learning is by making as many connections as possible—typically to other concepts, thus widening the “spiderweb” of neural connections—but also by accessing the memory repeatedly over time. The following learning strategies, all tied to research, have been deemed effective is supporting pupils to know and remember more and incorporated in our practice:
- Peer-to-peer explanations: When pupils explain what they’ve learned to peers, fading memories are reactivated, strengthened, and consolidated. This strategy not only increases retention but also encourages active learning (Sekeres et al., 2016).
- The spacing effect: Instead of covering a topic and then moving on, revisit key ideas throughout the school year or ocross key stages. Research shows that pupils perform better academically when given multiple opportunities to review learned material. For example, we plan for pupils to revisit key concepts in spatial geography and art reptedly across key stages, teachers review previously taught content into ongoing lessons, and use homework to re-expose students to previous concepts (Carpenter et al., 2012; Kang, 2016).
- Frequent practice tests: Akin to regularly reviewing material, giving frequent practice tests can boost long-term retention and, as a bonus, help protect against stress, which often impairs memory performance. Practice tests can be low stakes and ungraded, such as a quick quiz at the start of a lesson or a trivia quiz. Breaking down one large high-stakes test into smaller tests over several months is an effective approach, (Adesope, Trevisan, & Sundararajan, 2017; Butler, 2010; Karpicke, 2016).
- Interleave concepts: Instead of grouping similar problems together, we provide opportunities for pupils to be exposed to them mixed up. Solving problems involves identifying the correct strategy to use and then executing the strategy. When similar problems are grouped together, pupils don’t have to think about what strategies to use—they automatically apply the same solution over and over. Interleaving forces students to think on their feet, and encodes learning more deeply (Rohrer, 2012; Rohrer, Dedrick, & Stershic, 2015).
- Combine text with images: It’s often easier to remember information that’s been presented in different ways, especially if visual aids can help organise information. For example, pairing a list of countries occupied by German forces during World War II with a map of German military expansion can reinforce that lesson. It’s easier to remember what’s been read and seen, instead of either one alone (Carney & Levin, 2002; Bui & McDaniel, 2015).