Metacognition – what is it? by Sarah Izon, Evidence Lead in Education for Aspirer Research School

8 October 2018

Every so often a new buzz word crops up in the world of education and everyone jumps onto the latest bandwagon. In this blog, I will look at metacognition and decide if it is a bandwagon I want to jump on.

The dictionary defines metacognition as an awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes. But what does that really mean? Jamie Scott discusses metacognition with Alex Quigley on the latest Trialled and Tested podcast. 

In this podcast, Alex helpfully explains metacognition as sitting under the umbrella of ‘self-regulated learning’.

Self-Regulation ­– what you know about your own strengths and weaknesses and an understanding of the strategies that help you to learn and your own motivation to learn.

Cognition – what you know and your subject knowledge.

Metacognition – the strategies and choices that you take with your subject knowledge.

Alex uses a mathematical equation as an example of how this might work. The student needs to select the right method for the question. If it is a division question, they might select the bus stop method. Selecting this method is metacognitive as is evaluating whether it was the right method for the task and if it helped them to find the right answer. It is simply thinking about your thinking.

He continues to talk about how we are always using our metacognitive skills but we need to start being more explicit with how we use them in order to support the students to better monitor and evaluate the learning they are doing in the classroom so they keep improving.

Alex describes a 3 step approach to use to develop metacognition in pupils.

1)   Knowledge of the task

2)   Knowledge of strategies for the task

3)   Knowledge of yourself (abilities and emotions)

Really effective learners follow the above approach implicitly and often without even realising. Our challenge as teachers is how to explicitly model this approach to students to enable them to become more aware of their own metacognition and to start to regulate their own thinking.

The EEF Guidance Report on Metacognition and Self-Regulation contains 7 recommendations for teachers, found here:

None of these recommendations sound new, in fact, I’m sure many teachers use aspects of most of them in their lessons already. However, I think the key to embedding metacognition into your classroom is by fully understanding yourself as a learner first. Start to question yourself – What do I know about this task? What are the different ways I could approach it? What knowledge do I already have that could help me? By unpicking your own, normally subconscious, thoughts you can start to regulate your own metacognition and put yourself in a better position to demonstrate this process to the students in your classroom. The recommendations that focus on modelling and explicit teaching will then fall into place more effectively and the students, and yourself, will become better learners for it.

I’m starting to think that this is the bandwagon for me, however, if you are still unconvinced the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit reports that interventions linked to these areas show consistently high levels of impact with students making 7+months average progress.

As with all strands on the Toolkit, you do need to dig a little deeper. The evidence shows that these strategies are more effective when used with a group because discussions can be a great support for students. However, the overall outcome is down to the motivation of the students to really engage and take more responsibility for their own learning and a desire to develop their own understanding. An approach like this is not something that you can start to utilise without spending some time thinking about your students, their needs and the best way to implement the ideas for them. As always, context is key and you know your students better than others.

As teachers we often explicitly model actions that we complete without real thought: forming letters when writing, making meaning when reading, using a range of strategies to complete calculations. We understand how important it is for students to see us demonstrate the process of these rather than just seeing the end product; why should the process of thinking and learning be any different? In fact, surely they are the 2 most important processes we can model in the classroom as they underpin everything else we do. It is for these very reasons that I believe metacognition is worth further investigation; it is a useful bandwagon to jump on because it will benefit the students we teach and that is the most important thing to remember.

Sarah Izon, Evidence Lead in Education for Aspirer Research School

Posted on 8 October 2018
Posted in: Latest Research Evidence