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Project Reset: A principle-led approach to initial teacher training

Written by: Paul Maiden
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Paul Maiden, Curriculum Leader, King Edward Vi Sixth Form College, UK

Inspired by the EEF’s (2018) findings on the effectiveness of metacognition, and hoping to draw positives from the disruptions of the last two years, I initiated ‘Project Reset’ with my classes. Research by Quigley and Stringer (2018) addressed three misconceptions to argue that metacognition should be taught within subjects, alongside content, with a grasp of subject content being necessary to understand the skills needed to apply this learning, and that metacognitive discussion was vital at all ages and levels to develop a shared language of learning across subjects. Instead of using subject content as the basis of lesson plans and objectives, I used eight over-arching principles, mapping subject content to these as a means of enabling the principles to be demonstrated or developed. These principles were prominently displayed and discussed within each lesson, with students periodically being asked to comment on their progress against each of them. Inspired by the work of Quigley and Stringer (2018) on defining metacognition in the classroom, these principles are listed below:

1. Learning is infinite. Einstein, Turing and Lovelace were never done.
2. Embrace the challenge of the difficult. Climbing Everest feels better than climbing the stairs.
3. I won’t teach you stuff. I’ll teach you the skills to learn stuff yourself.
4. I am teaching you to be critical and creative thinkers for life, not just to sit an exam.
5. Talk to me about how you learn, and I’ll talk to you about how I teach. We can help each other be better at what we do.
6. Face-to-face lessons are precious. They’re for the things that couldn’t be done another way.
7. We set the highest standards for each other. Setting high standards shows that you trust someone will be able to meet them.
8. Grades will be avoided where possible. They show where you are, not how you move.

The principles were designed to introduce metacognition into the classroom in a way that could work for any subject. Feedback on written work, for example, could be delivered in the context of infinite learning for principle one, while the need to strive for the highest standards could be adapted to any individual teacher’s behaviour management practices. These principles formed the basis of action research specific to my role as trainee teacher coordinator. The DfE (2020) note that less successful teacher training providers favour superficial coverage of the eight teachers’ standards over an in-depth grasp of concepts, so I made these principles, rather than the standards, the basis of my professional conversations with trainees, and designed a means to test the effectiveness of using the principles, rather than the standards, as a basis for lesson planning. Working with trainees across multiple subjects allowed me to test on a small scale whether the principles I had designed could be truly cross-curricular, and therefore used in future by teachers of all subjects and levels of experience.


The research took place in a mixed, state-funded sixth form college, involving the four trainees whose placements were of sufficient duration to allow participation.

To choose criteria by which the effectiveness of different approaches to lesson planning could be measured, I asked all staff and students which qualities they felt were most important for teachers to demonstrate, grouping ideas into a list of 13 criteria, which were put to small groups of students to test whether they were easily and objectively understood. These criteria were then put to a vote of all staff and students, with each criterion rated on a scale of one to five based on its importance to each stakeholder. Mean scores were calculated from the 43 teacher and 72 student responses, before taking an overall mean of these two scores to decide on the top seven criteria overall, used as the headings in Table 1. These criteria were not shared with the trainee teachers at any point in the study to maximise their usefulness as an objective measure.

After initial discussion of the ‘Project Reset’ principles with all trainees, I asked each to select one class that they felt would offer the most honest feedback, and choose one two-hour lesson with this class for the research. One hour was planned with an aim of demonstrating that the teaching standards had been met, and trainees could use existing planning materials from their training provider if they wished. A plan provided for the other hour asked them to reflect on when they could demonstrate each principle within the context of their subject content. There was a short break between each hour of the lesson to signal to students when the style of the lesson had changed. At the end of each hour, the trainees distributed a link to an online form to their class, which asked students to score that lesson on a one-to-five scale for how effectively it met each criterion. A total of 38 students responded to both surveys, allowing their views on both styles of lesson to be compared. Trainee teachers also completed a separate online form to offer more qualitative feedback and gauge the impact of each style of lesson plan on their motivation, satisfaction and workload.


For each criterion, the mean score awarded by students to the principles-based lesson was slightly higher than the standards-based lesson, with a more significant difference for certain criteria, as seen in Table 1.

Table 1: Student survey responses ranking the standards-based and principles-based lesson out of five for effectiveness in demonstrating each of the chosen seven criteria

Criterion Mean score for standards-based lesson (out of five) to three significant figures

(38 responses)

Mean score for principles-based lesson (out of five) to three significant figures

(38 responses)

Difference between mean scores
Care about students and make sure it shows


4.55 4.61 0.06
Create a culture of mutual trust between all students and the teacher


4.42 4.59 0.17
Be passionate about the subject and show that you enjoy your job


4.50 4.68 0.18
Be unafraid of covering difficult topics and keeping high standards, while supporting students to get there


4.39 4.5 0.11
Listen and give time to everyone


4.55 4.76 0.21
Keep checking students’ understanding and welfare, acting on the feedback received 4.47 4.57 0.10
Build students’ motivation to enjoy the subject for its own sake, rather than just chasing a grade


4.08 4.5 0.42

The biggest difference between the lessons was found in the criterion of building students’ intrinsic motivation. When the longlist of 13 criteria went to a vote, this was ranked as the most important of all by students but only the seventh most important among teachers, making it not only the criterion by which the two lessons were most different, but also the one with the biggest variation between students and staff in terms of perceived importance.

In feedback from the trainee teachers, the principles-based lesson was unanimously rated as most enjoyable to plan, most enjoyable for students and most effective in preparing students for life after college. Commonly stated reasons were increased critical thinking for students, more open communication and collaboration, and, in one case, less planning time being required for the lesson, suggesting that this approach could also meet a key aim of the DfE’s ‘Recruitment and retention strategy’ (2019) for early career teachers. An important cautionary note is that the one measure by which the standards-based lesson was seen as more effective by trainees was in preparing students for formal assessments. This may explain why development of intrinsic motivation rather than focusing on grades, which the principles-based lesson was most effective in achieving, was rated so differently by students and teachers.


The project has limited scope, but suggests that adopting a more principles-led approach to teacher training and as part of the introduction of the early career framework for new teachers is worth further investigation. In particular, the metacognitive style of the eight principles appear to have developed students’ intrinsic motivation, as well as trainee teachers’ enjoyment of the planning process, without increasing workload. If the study were replicated on a wider scale among teachers with varying levels of experience, it may reveal the extent to which schools and colleges taking time to define their own metacognitive principles and plan lessons around these can have a positive effect on both intrinsic motivation for students and job satisfaction for teachers.


Department for Education (DfE) (2020) Building great teachers? Initial teacher education curriculum research: Phase 2. Available at: (accessed 23 April 2021).

Department for Education (DfE) (2019) Teacher recruitment and retention strategy. Available at: (accessed 23 April 2021).

Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) (2018) Teaching and learning toolkit. Available at: (accessed 23 April 2021).

Quigley A and Stringer E (2018) Making sense of metacognition. Impact issue 3. Available at: (accessed 21 April 2021).

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