Metacognition: Thinking Deeply About Learning

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How can teachers get pupils to think about their own learning?

The EEF has published a guidance report, designed to support teachers in changing their classroom practice to improve their pupils’ metacognitive skills.

Learning About Learning

This is a super piece of research that needs to be shared widely. Teachers want to know how to support pupils with their learning, but with a lack of time and access to research, accessing the latest information and practical strategies is rare and difficult.

The Education Endowment Foundation has published a “Metacognition and self-regulated learning” which is 30 pages in length, but is full of wonderful metacognitive strategies for teachers. It is vital to stress that these should be taught with specific subject content as pupils find it hard to transfer these generic tips to specific tasks.

This overview is superb and accessible.

Metacognition and self-regulation

Go Deeper With These Questions

These questions are posed for teachers on the EEF toolkit:

  1. Which explicit strategies can you teach your pupils to help them plan, monitor, and evaluate specific aspects of their learning?
  2. How can you give them opportunities to use these strategies with support, and then independently?
  3. How can you ensure you set an appropriate level of challenge to develop pupils’ self-regulation and metacognition in relation to specific learning tasks?
  4. In the classroom, how can you promote and develop metacognitive talk related to your lesson objectives?
  5. What professional development is needed to develop your knowledge and understanding of these approaches? Have you considered professional development interventions which have been shown to have an impact in other schools?

What is Metacognition?

Alex Quigley has written a blog for the EEF and asks, ‘What is metacognition?’

Quigley highlights that the topic “… has been accessed over 120,000 times. Clearly, there is a hunger to know more about metacognition than the well-used, but obviously limited, definition of it as ‘thinking about thinking’.”


A new survey published by the Sutton Trust has shown 59% of senior school leaders now use the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit, up from 11% in 2012, with 23% of classroom teachers saying they use the Toolkit – the figure was just 4% in 2012. This is excellent news! The EEF will publish a more detailed research review exploring the subject in more depth.

Download the full report.

6 thoughts on “Metacognition: Thinking Deeply About Learning

  1. The report says they came up with these conclusions by looking at lots of “evidence”. Are we to just take this on trust? It all sounds very plausible but then so did VAK and Brain Gym.
    They say that teachers find it difficult to teach metacognition. So how did they get the evidence that teaching it actually works?
    When Brain Gym came out hundreds of schools devoted hours of CPD to teachers rubbing their stomachs and pressing their brain buttons. We now think that was ridiculous but at the time we all went along with it.
    Is metacognition the latest fad? How many hours of CPD will be wasted on it?

  2. Greetings Ross,

    I am definitely no expert on educational policy/research as I am only an undergrad just beginning to dive into this world but I wonder about the validity of trying to treat metacognition so separately in presentation from cognition/motivation. I feel as if this review is sort of putting the cart before the horse or at least is a horse without a cart. I definitely think that this is a super important topic to communicate to educators yet I feel as if it really can’t be sufficiently communicated separately from cognitive and motivational constructs/paradigms.
    For example, the review mentions the Cognitive Load Theory and how it is essential to monitor and use metacognitive strategies to lessen the burden. Yet, just looking at it meta-cognitively is not looking at the whole picture. I remember reading some research by Ashcraft et al. that found the relationship between test anxiety and academic achievement could be explained by cognitive load theory through the intrusiveness and cost of anxious thoughts on WM. To try and remedy this with purely metacognitive strategies discounts this very complicated and perhaps not quite figured out interaction. I’ve been doing a little research into academic self-concept and found some research that suggests ASC mediates this relationship of test anxiety and achievement. How I understand it, ASC is more of a motivational/cognitive based construct and is relatively left out of the discussion in this report save a small section on the related topic of self-efficacy.
    To make a long-winded comment short, I worry that reports such as this would not be a sufficient enough form of communication for educators. I know this report acknowledges that it is only a small piece in the puzzle but I feel that without a more integrated approach in reporting educators won’t know how to put all of these puzzle pieces together to form a cohesive body of understanding. I also recognize there is probably an extreme difficulty in attempting to integrate this stuff in form that is succinct enough for educators. I would love to hear your thoughts! I could just be raising unnecessary red flags.

    Thanks so much for your time,


    1. Hi Josh – thanks for the detailed comment. As much as I welcome research like this, it’s important to remember the conditions in which the research is conducted – not all the results of this study are favourable. The difficult as ever for school and for teachers, is we lack time to not only be able to read it, but then filter out the key messages and have the time to apply and trial the strategies within our own setting. The graphic is a helpful overview – but the details are important to interrogate – without this, we end up with soundbytes, fads and lack of understanding. In essence, I agree that without support to puzzle all this together back into the classroom, as much as I welcome the report, it’d be good to see a PDF or a ‘what next for teachers?’ summary to adapt – or perhaps a set of training materials to disseminate.

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