: Wisdom in ambiguity The evidence is clear: We should prioritise promoting good learning behaviours alongside dealing with negative behaviour.


Wisdom in ambiguity

The evidence is clear: We should prioritise promoting good learning behaviours alongside dealing with negative behaviour.

by Cornwall Research School
on the

Luca HS

Luca Owenbridge

Deputy Director of Cornwall Research School

Luca Owenbridge is History and Maths teacher based in Penzance, Cornwall. He came to teaching after working as a Policy Analyst for the Department for Education in London

Read more aboutLuca Owenbridge

The EEF highlights the fact that establishing a culture of good behaviour in schools is complex, that it requires careful implementation and the layering of the EEF’s comprehensive guidance in a number of areas. These include Improving Behaviour in Schools, Social and Emotional Learning, Metacognition and Self-Regulated learning, Special Educational Needs provision and how we work with parents.

To do this, the evidence is clear that we should be promoting good learning behaviours as a priority alongside dealing with any negative behaviour where necessary. Too often, the promotion of learning behaviours is left implicit where instead it should be being coached explicitly across the curriculum.

This blog will explore the importance of a focus on Metacognition to developing successful learning behaviours. It examines the role of explicitly embracing and interrogating multiple ways of answering a question and the need to promote reflection in the learning process.

Section 1 – the classroom

Can somebody read me the following using words to describe the relationship implied by the question?”

62 63 6 2 6 3

A student responds

Six 𝑥 over two take six equals three”

I thank the student but ask for an improvement which tells me more about the deeper structure of the question and the relationships it shows.

Six lots of something, divided into two which then has six taken away from it will be the same as 3.”

This verbalisation of multiple ways of talking about algebra aligns with the EEF’s call to encourage students to verbalise their thought processes and explicitly discuss multiple ways of thinking about a problem.

After wait time, I ask students for a solution and a justification.

One says, 3… I just tried a few numbers…” pause and just knew it”.

Another suggests we use inverse operations to slowly unpack the equation making sure to do the same thing to both sides until we get a solution.

Maths inverse

Crucially, I then ask students to turn to one another and debate the competing merits of both approaches asking questions like

Which is most efficient?

Which is most accurate and why?

What challenges might you face in using this method?

What mistakes are others likely to make in using both methods?

These questions allow me to teach learning behaviours as well as how to solve equations. They fall neatly into the EEF’s three categories of learning behaviours.

Emotional learning behaviours text box

They turn teaching solving equations’ into teaching reflection on the learning process’, teaching students how to choose an approach to any question’, teaching empathy for other learners’.

Section 2 – the evidence

Metacognition is part of the fabric of successful learning, but it can prove both complex and subtle. Recommendation six of the EEF guidance on Metacognition calls for us to explicitly teach pupils how to organise, and effectively manage, their learning independently”.

To do this we have to recognise, plan for and explicitly coach students in all three areas highlighted in the metacognitive process; planning, monitoring and evaluating. In an expert learner these processes are automatic and unconscious, however, in novice learners it can be valuable to make them explicit. The evidence suggests that a focus here can raise attainment beyond that predicted by prior attainment and that it can have a particular positive effect for disadvantaged pupils.

Metacognition Cycle

The EEF provides this useful ranking of techniques, and we can see that approaches which encourage a focus on either planning, monitoring or evaluating see a higher utility.

Screenshot 2024 03 11 at 12 00 11

In particular, as explored in the vignette above, we can see that both elaborative interrogation and self-explanation are valuable.

Self ‑explanation gives the student agency over their thoughts, empowers and encourages them to be discerning and thorough in unpacking their methods and any biases or mistakes, whilst elaborative interrogation celebrates the educative richness of ambiguity, the importance of multiple approaches, encourages openness to new solutions and empathy for other learners.

The focus on questioning also links to recommendation five, promoting and developing high quality metacognitive talk in the classroom. Mercer and Dawes suggest that teachers asking challenging questions — guiding pupils with oral feedback, prompting dialogue, and scaffolding productive exploratory’ talk where appropriate — is an ideal way to share and develop effective learning”1. There are many ways to structure this from Dialogic Talk, to Socratic Talk, debating or using talk partners but the implication of the evidence is clear. The questions we ask and how we manage a classes’ response are crucial to development of learning behaviours.

Back in the classrom

His method is faster than mine, but I prefer mine because I know if I apply the inverse operations I will always find a solution and sometimes I find it difficult to just see’ an answer.”

Yeh, mine was quicker but I suppose I might find challenging questions more difficult in the future so having multiple approaches is useful.”

This response from two students confirms my conviction, borne out by evidence from maths to learning behaviours and metacognition. They have embraced ambiguity, shown empathy, open mindedness, reflection, self-critique and articulacy. If we want students to develop successful learning behaviours we must promote and facilitate all these traits across our curricula.

Related Events

Show all events
Conference - 14th June 2024 9:00am - 3:30pmin-person


One-Day Conference
Multiple ticket options available
Network Settings
Read more aboutMetacognition

More from the Cornwall Research School

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more