This is an extract from The Metacognition Handbook which was published by John Catt Edu in June 2021.
Very often, we show students how to create a successful piece of work, but we don’t always show them how to quality assure it when they have finished. Students sometimes hand work in which is very obviously incorrect, or clearly missing a key ingredient. They have come to the end and are no longer interested in regulating themselves because they see it as ‘finished.’ Maths teachers will be painfully aware of this – students handing in work where a small but significant error has been made, a slip of a decimal place, a division instead of a multiplication, a positive instead of a negative number, a calculator mistake, and suddenly the student is producing an incorrect answer, even though they understand the topic and process perfectly well. It is important to model to students that they check their work afterwards, using metacognitive questions like:
“Does my solution make sense?”
For example, a simple maths problem might say:
There are twice as many girls in the class as boys. If there are 9 boys, how many girls are there?
This seems very easy, but if a student mis-reads and divides instead of multiplying, they might put an answer of 4.5
Asking themselves, “does my solution make sense?” helps them to identify their error – no, you can’t have four and a half girls. I must have made a mistake.
Most of what we do in the classroom is far more complex than this. We need them to be able to review substantial pieces of work in a meaningful way, and it will take time for them to develop this skill. As with everything else, using question prompts is the best strategy:
Does this make sense?
Does this fit the brief? Does this answer the question?
Does this match the success criteria I have been given?
Have I checked my work for my personal common errors?
Am I satisfied that this is the best I can do right now?
Are there any elements of my work I am uncertain about or have questions about?
I find it very useful to get students to consider key questions like this before handing in their work. You might start training them in this method by using talking partners at first – get students in pairs and have them ask each other these questions about their work.
- Students complete their work
- They use the prompt questions to review their work
- They have a conversation with their partner where they discuss those questions and any changes they think they should make
- They make the necessary changes
- They write a short reflection to make those changes explicit:
I identified X error(s) in my first draft, so have made improvements by…
I noticed that I had forgotten to include… so I have added this…
These changes have improved my work by…
Next time I’m going to ensure that I…
I also often ask students to review their work and write any remaining questions or uncertainties in the margin where appropriate. Students ask themselves: What do I still need to know? What knowledge would have made this work even better?
They might write questions in the margin such as:
Is this the right way to use this word?
Could I have used a more appropriate quotation?
Is there another Shakespeare play where something similar to this happens?
What did you say last week about this, Miss?
By identifying these questions for themselves, they are acknowledging the work they still need to do. They are also explicitly saying that, even though they are handing in this piece of work, it’s still really a work in progress.