Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 21 Jan 2010

At a parent-teacher evening our sonís form teacher kept saying he used Ďmetacognitioní in teaching. What was he talking about?

Hillary's Advice

I donít think this is a query about vocabulary. I think this is a yelp of embarrassment and annoyance at being made to feel small and stupid at a parent-teacher conference. But, believe me, it is this teacher who is small and stupid.

Any teacher who cannot talk in jargon-free prose to parents is not up to one of the fundamentals of the job, and is probably poor at communicating to pupils as well. In addition, any teacher who clutches onto one, single idea about teaching and parades it around as if it the answer to all things pedagogical is an idiot. Good teachers always keep up to speed with new ideas about teaching and learning, they incorporate the best ones into their teaching practice, and monitor them to see how well they are working. But they also understand that teaching is as much an art as a science, and that they will always need a whole toolbox of tricks in order to help every child in their classroom learn and grow.

For the record, metcognition means not only knowing the answer to things, but also knowing how you know the answer. Pupils are helped to be aware of their thinking processes, and how they research, evaluate, analyse, select, synthesise and conclude. Itís a useful and confidence-building approach to learning, and one that really helps pupils understand things properly, but it isnít the secret to the universe and this teacher is absurd to talk as if it is.