Education Quandary: At a parent-teacher evening our son's form teacher kept saying he used 'metacognition' in teaching. What was he talking about?

Hilary's advice

Hilary's advice

I don't think this is a query about vocabulary. I think it's a yelp of embarrassment and annoyance at being made to feel small and stupid at a parent-teacher conference. But, believe me, it's 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 with pupils as well. In addition, any teacher who clutches a single idea about teaching and parades it as if it were 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 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 to help every child in their classroom learn and grow.

For the record, metacognition means knowing the answer to things, and 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. It's a useful approach to learning that builds confidence, and one that really helps pupils understand things properly, but it isn't the secret to the universe and this teacher is absurd to talk as if it is.

Readers' advice

Metacognition generally means that the teacher keeps at the forefront of the cognitive processes involved in learning and designs lessons that will help students to be aware of how they learn best.

Metacognition involves ''thinking about thinking''. For example, teachers show students how to question themselves as they read a text. (Why did this event happen? What might the character be thinking). This is using metacognition to help to understand the text.

In easier terms, it just means that the teacher will be using higher-order thinking skills and activities to help the students learn and achieve best.

Shannon Dipple, Dayton, Ohio, US

Your son's teacher was talking about an important idea in modern teaching, but he should have explained it properly and not just used the professional term. Metacognition means helping pupils to think about how they are thinking, and all the different techniques they can use to acquire and apply knowledge. Pupils who are taught in this way are much better equipped as learners than those who are simply taught traditional stuff.

Mike Winterbourne, Guildford

My last head always talked about "scaffolding" learners. It was her favourite term. We actually started calling her Mrs Scaffold behind her back. She had got hold of this term like a dog with a bone, and used it to everyone, all the time. I can't imagine what parents made of it. Some teachers hide their inadequacies behind important-sounding jargon and I suspect that this is what has happened here.

Ginny Clayton, Essex

Next Week's Quandary

We have objected to our daughter’s school showing Disney films during 'wet play'. The head has suggested setting up two rooms for the children, one showing films, the other with play activities. We think this is unacceptable and ridiculous. Children will always choose films if they are offered. What can we do?

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet. com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at www.hilarywilce.com. They can be searched by topic

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Reach Volunteering: Would you like to volunteer your expertise as Chair of Governors for Livability?

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

Ashdown Group: Payroll Administrator - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + substantial benefits: Ashdown Group: Finance Admin...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada