Developing meta-cognitive strategies in my teaching of English Language

21 January 2018

Author: Amanda Simpkins

Amanda Simpkins, Head of English at Samuel Ward Academy shares her current thinking around an issue in teaching English Language

English Language Paper 1 and Paper 2 are equally-balanced papers assessing reading and writing (see fig 1 below).

AQA Enhanced Results Analysis 2017 shows students performed better in writing than reading (see fig 2 below).

Many centres follow the advice of AQA representatives, encouraging students to attempt the writing sections first in a bid to gain more marks, rather than follow the chronological order of the exam papers.

AS 3

fig 1


AS 4

fig 2

Having taken part in PiXL’s Curve 2.0 (2017 cohort) a sample of underachieving SWA year 11 students reported that they lacked confidence during examination when approaching the reading questions.  They felt overwhelmed by the technical phrasing of the questions and subsequently entered a default mode ‘throwing’ answers without discernment.
In addition, during Curve 2.0 department moderation and standardisation meetings, we noted that in general our students were not secure in ‘attempt to comment on effect’ (Level 2) and clearly fell short of ‘explains effect’ (Level 3), Level 4 being the maximum.
I therefore wanted to devise a strategy that all students could learn, practise and confidently apply as they moved between the reading questions.  A strategy that would:

• require as little tweaking as possible as students moved between questions and only according to the foci of each question e.g. structure or language;

• trigger students to ‘attempt to comment on the effect’ and then progress to ‘explain the effect’ (now coined as ‘drill down’); and

• scaffold the attempts of the least able but aid the most able to secure the highest outcomes.

AS 1

Feedback January 2018

Debbie Coad (SWAT Lead Practitioner)
“Using the flow chart has helped the students recognise what the component parts of an answer at various levels should comprise. Students know they should be using a method words and trying to use subject specific terminology. After that, students find the next layer of how to move into explain from simple attempt a little more tricky (these students are currently operating at level 4 or below.) On a wider note, I have used the flow chart To direct the metacognition sessions I am running on AO2 in period 7 this week.”
Nic Eley  SWA English teacher
“Mid level students like using it as they find it prompts them to go back to the quote and dig deeper. I found it was helpfuI colour coded, so that in an example it is clear to see the different elements. I’ve then encouraged the kids to similarly colour/highlight all – or targeted elements-  in their own response. My low prior attainment set Year 8 group seem to have more success in it being presented in a linear style with sentence stems alongside it. I’ve also experimented with splitting it into a structure strip to stick in books, but I found this constrained some students as they tried to fit their ideas into the space allocated. I really like it and think it has been useful.”
Paul McKenna (SWAT Lead Practitioner)
“I think that, for boys in particular, it is very useful to have a clear structure like this for answers to be constructed around.  It makes planning much easier, and I (and the students) appreciate the fact that I can explicitly link the key terms (terminology/textual detail/comment etc.) to the relevant AOs.  I can prove they’re doing exactly what the question needs. I’m a big fan of flow charts and planning grids in general…as I know the boys can attest to!”
Susan McGregor SWA English teacher
I think it’s great – I think it sets out the paragraph structure clearly for the students and fits well with what we have been teaching for years – i.e. the PEE or PEEZE approach – so it doesn’t cause any confusion.  It also helps them understand what subject specific language to include in their answers (although it appears the exam boards are not as bothered about this as we initially thought!) The recent slides sent have been a good revision help just before the exam for Year 11s.

Jo Milton SWA English teacher
“I love the flow diagram – I am using it with all years – set 2 year 11 have found it very useful and they now know where in the exam to apply it.   I have found that some students want to switch things around and I have said it is fine – encouraging them to ask themselves ‘what are the ingredients?’ regardless of order. I also think ‘go with the flow’ (as it is affectionately known as in M1) makes them much more aware when reading answers – in terms of being able to identify levels. Thanks for flow!”

AS 2

Impact so far …

  • SWA English department, this academic year, has embraced this strategy; teacher and student feedback has been largely positive (see feedback word.doc).
  • AQA Enhanced Results Analysis data from a sample of SWA resit students, suggests an improved performance using the strategy in English Language Paper 1 Q2, Q3 and Q4

Interested in finding out more? Contact Amanda at

Posted on 21 January 2018
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