Before I begin, a special mention has to be made to Darren Mead for introducing me to this really effective idea back in July at The Big Learn. Since then, I have been using meta cognitive wrappers with all of my classes (where appropriate) to help students map and make sense of their learning journey.
Put simply, the way that I create a meta cognitive wrapper is by carefully creating three questions that will start and end my lesson; the questions link directly to my learning outcomes. The first question is about the current knowledge of the student (where are you right now in your understanding of this topic?). The second should embody the type of thinking that they are going to be doing in the lesson which could be along the lines of: multi structural (gathering evidence to build knowledge), relational (analytical about gathered knowledge) or extended abstract (evaluation of current knowledge excellent knowledge leading to the creation of own ideas). My final question asks pupils to think about the processes they are about to undertake: how will you prove your learning this lesson?
Putting this into the context of my English classroom looks something like this: The outcome for my year 12 English class was to be able to evaluate the author’s intention in the latest chapter of Frankenstein. I wanted them to recognise that exploration and close examination of the text is imperative in developing understanding of the text and that just reading the chapter through once or twice is not enough to secure the level of understanding required. The first three questions in the meta cognitive wrapper were:
- What do you know about the writers’ intentions in chapter 7?
- What SOLO level do you feel you could reach if asked to answer a question on this chapter and what steps would you need to take to increase that to extended abstract?
- How will you physically prove that you have reached extended abstract today?
Pupils answered the first question with not bad, if slightly hasty guesses sounding something like: “The writer wants us to be frightened that the monster is killing; he is not only killing with his hands but also through the courts too because people are getting the blame”. Most felt that they were at a multi structural level already and could explain how to get to extended abstract as we practice often with this as a class. They struggled most on the last question as they didn’t know what I had planned for the lesson. However, they thought about the possibilities and the most common answer provided was “written work”.
After our close textual analysis (involving question balls), the pupils wrapped their lesson up by looking back upon their starting position and reflecting with this new set of questions:
- What do you now know about the writer’s intentions?
- What SOLO level did you reach in your thinking and how do you know?
- How can you physically prove to me that you have met this level of thinking today?
The difference between the beginning and the end is clear to see. The exploration tasks had created their progress and physically seeing their progress written down highlighted to them the importance of the exploration that we had just completed. Pupils recognised that reading a chapter was not enough to create an excellent understanding and only though close exploration of a text could you truly see the writer’s intention.
As well as physically demonstrating the merits of exploration, using the wrapper helped to create ownership over the learning for the pupils. Although the outcome had been created by me, they were deciding on the level of progress that they felt they were able to make. They were reminded of the final question at key points in the lesson (points where they may have the opportunity to physically demonstrate their thinking level) and this spurred them into thinking carefully about the tasks and their outcomes.
My top tips for using meta cognitive wrappers are: Think carefully about the level your pupils are already on and how much progress they are able to make in the lesson. Get pupils to write down their answers and give them plenty of time to do this; that way, they will be able to clearly see the progress that they have made from the beginning of the lesson to the end and you can also use this written work for reflection. Finally, don’t over use the wrapper or it might become as dry as the learning outcome on the board; variety is the spice of life.
Once you have written your lessons, it does not take long to add the wrapper. It is an excellent connect and review activity (or starter and plenary if you are not up to the six part lesson yet).