How can teachers help support student metacognition?
This research, published by the Education Endowment Foundation was developed by Rosendale Primary School to improve pupils’ metacognition—their ability to think about and manage their own learning. This includes the skills of setting and monitoring goals, assessing progress, and identifying personal strengths and challenges.
Firstly, we need to understand what metacognition is. Simply put, metacognition is thinking about thinking. Or in practical terms, developing an awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes. In the classroom, this will look like ‘how to revise’ or ‘what/why/how to best learn in XYZ’ situation.
Professor Derek Bell says “The growing evidence in support of metacognitive approaches to learning is very powerful but our understanding of why and how some strategies work and others don’t is far from understood. In short, our knowledge of what is going on in the brain during learning is still very much in its infancy.”
The programme – called ReflectED – consisted of 28, weekly, half-hour lessons, which teach pupils strategies they can use to monitor and manage their own learning. Pupils are supported to apply and practise these strategies throughout the rest of the curriculum; reflect on their learning; and record audio, photographed and written notes of their reflections on a note-taking app.
Pupils are then encouraged to review and reflect on these records over time, so that they can observe their progress and consider which strategies seemed to work well. Teachers can also look across these records to get an overview of the areas that pupils are enjoying or struggling with, and identify specific pupil needs. The impact of the programme on the attainment of pupils in Year 5 was evaluated using a randomised control trial involving 1858 pupils.
How does it work in the classroom?
The ReflectED approach involves weekly metacognition lesson plans for every year group that teach children how to break down the learning process, including topics such as growth mindset, failure and perseverance. Alongside this children learn how to reflect on their curriculum lessons, saving these reflections in a digital portfolio using SeeSaw.
- Pupils who participated in ReflectED made an average of four months’ additional progress in maths compared to pupils who did not.
- Pupils who participated in ReflectED made an average of two months’ less progress in reading compared to pupils who did not.
- The findings for the schools in this trial have moderate to high security. However, the analysis conducted suggests that we cannot conclude from this trial alone that the intervention would have a similar impact in other schools.
- Most schools were already teaching metacognitive and reflective skills similar to those encouraged by ReflectED. This might have limited the additional impact that ReflectED had on teachers’ practice and pupils’ outcomes.
- Teachers suggested that ReflectED would work best as a whole-school programme, and that they could deliver the programme more effectively after the first year of delivery. Future research could examine the impact of implementing ReflectED across all year groups in the school and allowing more time for the programme to become embedded.