Image via Michael Scott

Image via Michael Scott

Anyone who has had any contact with the world of Education or Psychology will be very familiar with the word ‘metacognition’.  Metacognition is ‘thinking about thinking’ and involves the capacity to think about our cognitive processes. It also involves monitoring, controlling and organising our own mental processes.

There are two types of Metacognition: Metacognitive knowledge and Metacognitive control. Metacognitive knowledge is a person’s knowledge of cognitive states and learning processes. This involves information about how we learn, specific strategies and when and why we use a particular strategy. Strategies might include concept mapping, PQ4R method, creating analogies or mnemonics and self questioning.

Metacognitive control is the management and regulation of learning. These two components interact in a dynamic way to produce strategic learning. This involves planning (selection of strategies) , regulation ( monitoring)  and evaluation (how did I go).

This is what metacognition can look like when writing (through student’s eyes)

Nettlestone Primary

Nettlestone Primary

  • What is the essay question asking me do?
  • What do I know about this topic?
  • What else do I need to know and how am I going to get that information?


  • What strategies do I need? Concept maps?
  • How many paragraphs am I going to write?
  • What do I need to do to stay on task? Minimise distractions?


  • How am I going?
  • What am I doing well?
  • What do I need to change?
  • Am I answering the question?
  • How am I going for time?


  • How did my strategy work?
  • What will I change next time?
  • What worked well for me?


Why is metacognition so important in the learning process? Metacognition develops the ability for a learner to self-reflect and direct their learning. This aligns well with a growth mindset as learners will reflect and change their behaviour based on those reflections. Metacognition is an essential ingredient in critical thinking. To think critically one must correct their own thinking, ask questions and problem-solve. Metacognition directs attention, manages working memory load and utalises information in long term memory.

I recently read about an idea called wrappers’ Here is an example of a ‘wrapper’ for homework

“Before beginning a homework assignment, students answer a brief set of self-assessment questions focusing on skills they should be monitoring. Students complete the homework as usual, and then answer a follow-up set of self-assessment questions. For example, for a homework assignment about vector arithmetic, a student may be asked (beforehand) “How quickly and easily can you solve problems that involve vector subtraction?” and (afterward) “Now that you have completed this homework, how quickly and easily can you solve problems that involve vector subtraction?” Student reports from the homework wrappers ranged from noting that the practice exercises were helpful to them to commenting that they were probably overconfident before doing the homework problems.”  Ormond, C. (2013). Teaching Metacognition. Retrieved from:

This process makes thinking visible and activates prior knowledge allowing the student to be more in control over the learning process. In a similar vein ‘just in time’ response papers  get students thinking about what they need to know and how they will manage their learning.

How good is your student’s metacognitive knowledge? Do they know how their brain processes information and what strategies help them manage that information process? How well do students manage and evaluate how their learning is going and how are these processes visible to students, teachers and parents?



When students have knowledge and control of their own cognitive processes, learning is enhanced: Metacognition:

Developing Metacognition

The wrapper idea for teaching metacognition

Teaching students to plan: Plan/set goals. Apply strategies/moniter. Adapt /evaluate.

Good slide share








Despite the egalitarian ideals of modern democratic societies such as New Zealand, some educationists believe that educational attainment is largely determined by socio-economic class position.  It is a society’s hope that educational institutions will provide equal opportunity to succeed and produce democratic citizens.  But are schools providing equal opportunities for attainment or are they simply reproducing inequalities in society?

Schools can reproduce inequalities by reproducing society’s economic structures, through socialisation and reproducing and reinforcing existing cultural differences.

Marx’s analysis of society gives us clues as to the schools role in social reproduction (reproducing characteristics of our social structure).  Marx believes that societies and cultures are structured around how we produce the things we do.

In historical materialism Marx uses the image of a ‘base’ and a ‘superstructure’. The base is the economic structure of society, which includes the forces (means) of production and the relations of production.  The means of production involves all the things you need to produce (machines, land etc..)

The relations of production are where who owns, controls and operates the ‘means’ gets cashed out.  This is where inequalities of wealth and power are born and class distinctions perpetuated.

In a capitalist society it is predominately the middle class who own the ‘means’ of production. The superstructure consists of the cultural and political life of society.  It includes family, art, religion, education and so on. The base influences activity in the superstructure, however the superstructure’s influence on the base is limited.  So what happens in education will be largely determined by what goes on in the base or so Marx thinks.

Marx thought that capitalism seems to be fair, but there is something about the relations between worker and employer that presents as being unjust.  Marx seems to think this has something to do with prevailing ideologies with the social classes and the long-term process that produces social relations. Ideologies are false ideas or beliefs about the world and they can have harmful consequences.  Ideology appears in education in what is taught and learned in the curriculum that is informed by dominant ideologies in society.  There are also ideologies that emerge from the day-to-day life in school that appear in behaviours, attitudes and dispositions.

While ideologies are dangerous and can go unnoticed, I’d argue that they don’t always go untested. Teachers are not mere transmitters of the consensus view.  Learners are not passive receivers of social messages. Teachers in New Zealand for instance are unionized and frequently contest ideologies that they feel are not in the best interest of their students and equality. Furthermore, geographical and socio-economic barriers are dissolving with connectivity from the Internet and students are savvy in this brave new world. Gramsci (1971), argues that it is the prime task of intellectuals to expose the meaning of prevailing ideologies and create some unity of shared values.  Teachers and educationalists have this responsibility and as such should not accept the status quo of reproducing inequalities in their institutions.

Enculturation is the term used to describe the process of individuals learning the norms of the culture they are living in.  Culture would be found in Marx’s superstructure and encompasses things like gender ethnicity, age and popular culture.  Culture is important to education as it can give individuals power or likewise disadvantage them.  Because culture is found in the superstructure it is also ideological and this is bad because differences in culture can present as being natural, all the while benefiting some groups and not others.

Individuals from different socio-economic class position have different levels of social capital and this can disadvantage certain groups.  Social capital refers to assets that promote individuals up the social ranks.  Social capital involves dispositions, cultural goods and educational credentials.  This matters because pedagogies tend to make assumptions about the ideal pupil and the ideal teacher pupil relationship.  These assumptions are more compatible with the middle class than the working class dispositions.  For example, middle class children have access to extensive dialogue and worldly experiences that allows them to identify with the teachers expectations and demands of the curriculum.

According to Young (1971), knowledge is highly socially stratified.  He argued that our curriculum that is characterised by written work, is abstract, individualistic and favours the working class over the middle class.  The school curriculum then, becomes a mechanism by which knowledge is socially distributed.

One could argue that if culture is learned and can be shaped, then the curricula can be adapted to give the working class equal access to its content.  In order to do this, educationalists would need to be committed to teasing out all the bias that lurk in pedagogies and the curriculum.  This is no easy task especially when some beliefs are ideological in nature and present as the ‘norm’.

Bowls and Gintis are two educationalists that think schools do play a significant role in social reproduction by reproducing society’s economic structures.  They argue that despite there being equal opportunity for students to succeed, we still see inequalities in society. They give the example of the progress being made in closing the gap in the number of school years attended between blacks and whites in the USA.  Despite considerable progress being made over the past fifty years in closing the gap, there has been virtually no effect on the distribution of income between blacks and whites.  Bowls and Gintis suggest one reason for this is that the school system lacks power to affect the economic structure. This mirrors the Marxian view that the superstructure has limited power to affect the economic base.

Another reason is that the structure of school overlaps with the structure of the economic life in the factory and office.

Image by William Gill

Image by William Gill

Bowls and Gintis refer to this as the ‘correspondence principle’.  They argue that schools develop patterns of behaviors and puts forward its beliefs essential to the smooth operation of the economy. For example, grades in school correspond to wages in work.  The motivation to get paid roughly corresponds with the motivation to get good grades – the focus is on the reward and not the process of learning.

School is hierarchical just like the office or factory.  Rewards are given out in the form of money and praise, just as rewards are doled out at school in the form of grades, certificates and praise.  Bowls and Gintis looked at how the rewards are distributed in schools and found that educational attainment (achievement) relies on more than just what you know. They found that the traits that are rewarded by getting good marks are punctuality, tact and predictability.  The traits that are negatively rewarded are creativity, aggressiveness and independence – this corresponds directly with what it takes to get approval from your supervisor at work.  Teachers praise and reward certain traits that correspond with supervisors in the workplace.

I’d like to suggest that in the current schooling climate Bowles and Gintis have overlooked the influence of progressive education.  21st century learning is awash with the principles of progressive education.  Learning is student driven, with a high degree of autonomy being promoted.  Furthermore, it is not implausible to suggest that schools can be independent sites of reproduction, with their own values, principles and possibilities.  At the vary least we could say that Bowles and Gintis’s deterministic position is questionable.

These are philosophical and sociological musings from those who look from afar at education. Nevertheless, they raise points that should, at the very least, raise consciousness around ideologies and structures that can perpetuate existing inequalities in education. We should question these covert influences and challenge the status quo where ideologies and structures and practices don’t yield equality for our students.



Bowles, S. (1975). If John Dewey Calls, Tell Him Things Didn’t Work Out… Retrieved from Radical Education Dossier 1, 4–11.

Dale, R. (1995). Social Class and Education in Aotearoa/New Zealand, in James Marshall, Eve Coxon, Kuni Jenkins and Alison Jones (eds), Politics, Policy, Pedagogy: Education in Aotearoa/New Zealand (107–37). Palmerston North: Dunmore Press.

Marx & Engels Collected Works: Volume 35 Retrieved from





Confirmation bias is one of the most common biases we humans are subject to. Confirmation bias is the tendency to select and perpetuate information that aligns with our existing beliefs or practices. One can see immediately how problematic this can become for our growth and interactions with others. One example of this noxious bias, is denying climate change exists despite the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that suggest that it does. Confirmation bias also affects our interactions with others as well. We naturally gravitate to those who share similar mental models and goals and it is easy to fall into the trap of feeding echo chambers and promoting similar views to our own. A leaders job is to ensure that there is equal opportunity and that every voice is heard. Sometimes though, it is not enough to provide opportunity. There are many reasons why people may not speak up or take opportunities you present them with.  A leaders job I think, is to help remove the obstacles and blockers that people experience that stop them from reaching their full potential.  We can’t assume that just because a person has not shown interest in something that they are not interested in it (it may just be that for them there are too many perceived obstacles in the way for them to put their hand up). We need to be asking ourselves along the way if everyone is reaching their full potential. If not why not and how am I contributing to that deficit? We need to be reflective practitioners always checking to make sure our time and interest in people is not weighted to those who affirm us or make things easiest. To help avoid falling prey to confirmation bias, leaders can remove hierarchies and encourage a culture of critique and feedback. Confirmation bias is particularly resistant to self correction and so we need others to respectfully challenge our beliefs and mental models. Spend time with people who have very different views and dig deeper into why they hold these views. Invite dissonance in and learn to sit with it, it is in that discomfort that new ways of thinking emerge. Finally, question everything – especially yourself!

Being a board member in a school, it is hard for me not to worry about protecting our kids from harm. As a board we comply with all MOE requirements with digital technologies, but I can’t help but feel like as a sector we are now more than ever vulnerable to corporate influence (Take the recent example of Google being taken to court for using student data without the permission of the students or teachers).

It worries me that we are not asking enough questions or thinking critically about what products we are using in schools. This is an easy trap to fall into due to the speed at which technology is moving in schools and lure of ‘free’ products. But as Aral has shown us in his talk ‘free is a lie’ nothing is ever free, it always comes at a cost.  The question we need to be asking is: what is that cost and are our parents and children aware of that cost?

We are teaching our kids to produce more and more content online. We are teaching our kids to blog, program and create their own apps and this is fantastic, but I’d argue that if we are going to teach our kids to create online then we also need to teach them how to secure their content online.

Netsafe have some great resources for teaching digital citizenship and basic security. But I wonder if we could be a bit more proactive in the current technological climate.

There are two issues that are on my mind:

1. The school online environment is very different to the home environment. We are teaching our kids in a very heavily protected online environment at school which doesn’t reflect the open Internet in homes. Given educationalists advocate the wall-less classroom and 24/7 learning, how then are our kids learning to create safely and ethically outside the classroom. Not my problem you might say, we can only control what happens in school time you might protest. That may well be true, but I can’t help but think that we probably could do more in schools.

2. I wonder if there needs to be more conversation around privacy, security and creating ethical digital products. After reading this document on ethical programming, I wondered to what benefit this would have if our kids thought about creating online through an ethical lens. If our kids thought about who they were creating for and what harms could come from the products they are creating/developing, then hopefully they will go on to be better designers and creators of products as adults. I know that there are schools out there starting to do this where students as young as 11 are creating online material in authentic contexts. In room 11 At Taupaki school, students are creating maths games for the juniors to play using Scratch. They need to consider the age and appropriateness of the games, they need to listen to feedback and make sure they are attributing and licensing  their work according to Creative Commons and copyright law. They have the benefit of a teacher who can get them thinking about what goes on beyond the surface of computer and the digital environment.

If our kids had a better understanding of privacy and security issues they would be better-equipped digital citizens. Do our kids understand what they are giving away when they click ‘I agree’ to the terms of use for apps and products? Do they understand what goes on behind the scenes of a website and security vulnerabilities?

At NetHui privacy and security were hot topics with lots of great minds thinking up solutions to ensure people are better protected from privacy breaches. Raising the general public awareness of privacy and security issues was one way of achieving this. In my view it is much easier to raise awareness at a younger age than to try to change people’s behaviour when they are older. This article explains why security is a mindset not a product.

We have some wonderful people who work in IT and information security that are willing to work with schools to deepen understanding in these areas. There are also an increasing number of resources available and I have listed some below. I guess the real question here is are these concerns warranted, doe this stuff really matter? That is for each and own to decide I suppose, but if we don’t think about these things and talk about them, then we are all vulnerable to influence and control by corporate companies. (Karen Mulhuish Spencer writes about this far more eloquently than I in this blog post). The last thing I want for our kids, school and society is for one day to look up and realise that we no longer have any choice or control over our digital environment.




Netsafe blogs


Getting kids thinking about infosecurity