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Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning

Seven recommendations for teaching self-regulated learning & metacognition

Evidence suggests the use of ‘metacognitive strategies’ – which get pupils to think about their own learning - can be worth the equivalent of an additional +7 months’ progress when used well. However, while the potential impact of these approaches is very high, particularly for disadvantaged pupils, less is known about how to apply them effectively in the classroom.

This guidance report reviews the best available research to offer teachers and senior leaders practical advice on how to develop their pupils’ metacognitive skills and knowledge. The report has recommendations in seven areas and ‘myth busts’ common misconceptions teachers have about metacognition.

For example, some teachers think they need to teach metacognitive approaches in ‘learning to learn’ or ‘thinking skills’ sessions. But the report warns that metacognitive strategies should be taught in conjunction with specific subject content as pupils find it hard to transfer these generic tips to specific tasks.

EEF Guidance Report
1

Teachers should acquire the professional understanding and skills to develop their pupils’ metacognitive knowledge

Self-regulated learners are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and can motivate themselves to engage in, and improve, their learning.

Developing pupils’ metacognitive knowledge of how they learn—their knowledge of themselves as a learner, of strategies, and of tasks—is an effective way of improving pupil outcomes.

Teachers should support pupils to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning.

EEF Guidance Report
2

Explicitly teach pupils metacognitive strategies, including how to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning

Explicit instruction in cognitive and metacognitive strategies can improve pupils’ learning. A series of steps—beginning with activating prior knowledge and leading to independent practice before ending in structured reflection—can be applied to different subjects, ages and contents.

While concepts like ‘plan, monitor, evaluate’ can be introduced generically, the strategies are mostly applied in relation to specific content and tasks, and are therefore best taught this way.

A series of steps—beginning with activating prior knowledge and leading to independent practice before ending in structured reflection—can be applied to different subjects, ages and contents.

EEF Guidance Report
3

Teachers should support pupils to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning.

Modelling by the teacher is a cornerstone of effective teaching; revealing the thought processes of an expert learner helps to develop pupils’ metacognitive skills.

Teachers should verbalise their metacognitive thinking (‘What do I know about problems like this? What ways of solving them have I used before?’) as they approach and work through a task.

Scaffolded tasks, like worked examples, allow pupils to develop their metacognitive and cognitive skills without placing too many demands on their mental resources.

EEF Guidance Report
4

Set an appropriate level of challenge to develop pupils’ self-regulation and metacognition

  • Challenge is crucial to allow pupils to develop and progress their knowledge of tasks, strategies, and of themselves as learners. 
  • However, challenge needs to be at an appropriate level.
  • Pupils must have the motivation to accept the challenge.
  • Tasks should not overload pupils’ cognitive processes, particularly when they are expected to apply new strategies.
EEF Guidance Report
5

Promote and develop metacognitive talk in the classroom

As well as explicit instruction and modelling, classroom dialogue can be used to develop metacognitive skills.

Pupil-to-pupil and pupil-teacher talk can help to build knowledge and understanding of cognitive and metacognitive strategies.

However, dialogue needs to be purposeful, with teachers guiding and supporting the conversation to ensure it is challenging and builds on prior subject knowledge.

EEF Guidance Report
6

Explicitly teach pupils how to organise and effectively manage their learning independently

Teachers should explicitly support pupils to develop independent learning skills.

Carefully designed guided practice, with support gradually withdrawn as the pupil becomes proficient, can allow pupils to develop skills and strategies before applying them in independent practice.

Pupils will need timely, effective feedback and strategies to be able to judge accurately how effectively they are learning.

Teachers should also support pupils’ motivation to undertake the learning tasks.

EEF Guidance Report
7

Schools should support teachers to develop knowledge of these approaches and expect them to be applied appropriately

Develop teachers’ knowledge and understanding through high quality professional development and resources.

Senior leaders should provide teachers with time and support to make sure approaches are implemented consistently.

Teachers can use tools such as ‘traces’ and observation to assess pupils’ use of self-regulated learning skills.

Metacognition shouldn’t be an ‘extra’ task for teachers to do but should be built into their teaching activities.