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Developing effective learners

Supporting pupils to become effective and self-motivated learners.

Introduction

‘Developing effective learners’ refers to approaches that support pupils to plan, monitor, understand and manage their own learning, in order to develop inquisitive, self-motivated learners. These approaches include peer tutoring, collaborative learning, feedback, and metacognition and self-regulation strategies. 

Evidence emerging from EEF evaluations and the wider evidence base suggests that when used and implemented correctly, alongside good teaching of content and skills, these approaches provide powerful ways to raise pupil attainment.

This page is an overview of current evidence on how to support pupils to become effective and self-motivated learners. It draws on: relevant topics from our Teaching and Learning Toolkit; findings from the EEF-funded projects that directly relate to supporting pupils to become effective and self-motivated learners; and other evidence-based resources we hope will be useful.

Guidance Reports

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Toolkit strands

Evidence Summary

Those four approaches in our Toolkit – peer tutoring, collaborative learning, feedback, and metacognition and self-regulation – all show moderate-to-high impact on pupil attainment for very low cost. This means they are approaches which schools are right to consider very seriously when deciding how to improve pupil attainment most cost effectively.

While many of these practices are used in classrooms to some extent, the evidence shows that high impacts shown in the Toolkit can be difficult to achieve in practice, and that teachers need specific skills to be able to help pupils develop these effective learning capabilities alongside content knowledge. Our evidence suggests that simply telling teachers about an approach is unlikely to be effective; they will need sustained support to apply them in the classroom. Likewise, teaching pupils about generic learning skills, but not helping to apply them in specific contexts, is less likely to improve outcomes.

Metacognition and self-regulation: A number of EEF-funded projects which employ metacognition and self-regulation approaches have found positive impacts on attainment:

  • Thinking, Doing, Talking Science and Using Self-Regulation to Improve Writing – two of the EEF’s Promising Projects – both show how improving students’ abilities to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning can be effective when the skills are developed alongside specific subject content.
  • Dialogic Teaching and Philosophy for Children – both EEF Promising Projects – demonstrate that improved classroom dialogue and supporting pupils to engage in reasoned discussion can be used to develop pupils’ learning skills.
  • Changing Mindsets and ReflectEd – the latter an EEF Promising Project – aimed explicitly to develop pupils’ understanding of what effective learning looks like, with ReflectEd then supporting pupils to apply these skills in lessons. Both showed some promising results on attainment..

These findings are broadly in line with the wider UK and international evidence. 

In contrast, the EEF evaluation of Let’s Think Secondary Science (LTTS), a project which aimed to use principles of metacognition to improve science attainment, provided no evidence of improved outcomes for students by the end of the programme. Because previous evaluations of CASE – the programme on which LTSS is based - suggest that it had a long-term impact on academic attainment, the EEF will be measuring the longer term impact on GCSE results once they are available for the participating students. 

Our 'Big Picture' pages on ScienceMathematics and Language and Literacy provide more subject-specific findings.

Peer tutoring: The findings of two EEF-funded peer tutoring projects, Shared Maths and Peer Tutoring in Secondary Schools, suggest that effective independent learning can be hard to achieve. Despite the international and British evidence collected to date on peer tutoring being very positive, both projects failed to find evidence of impact on attainment outcomes.

These surprising findings may reflect the fact that these particular approaches to peer tutoring are not effective, that the projects were not well-implemented, or potentially that there are some contexts in which peer tutoring is not effective. This EEF blog discusses the results in more detail.

Collaborative learning is a high potential approach based on the wider evidence, but we have not found many programmes which effectively introduce such approaches and improve outcomes.

Feedback can also be used to support pupils’ development of effective learning skills. The Feedback and monitoring pupil progress 'Big Picture' page describes the evidence in more detail.

Promising Projects

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ReflectED Metacognition

Rosendale Primary School

grade promising project

Using technology to teach pupils strategies they can use to monitor and manage their own learning

Cost
Evidence Strength
Impact (months)
+4
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Projects

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IPEELL: Using Self-Regulation to Improve Writing

Calderdale Excellence Partnership

Using memorable experiences and self-regulation to support struggling writers

Cost
Evidence Strength
Impact (months)
+9
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Thinking, Doing, Talking Science (re-grant)

The Oxford Trust

Testing the impact of a programme that aims to make primary science more practical, creative and conceptually challenging

Cost
Evidence Strength
Impact (months)
0
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IPEELL: using self-regulation to improve writing (re-grant)

Calderdale Excellence Partnership

Testing a scalable model of a programme that uses ‘Self-Regulated Strategy Development' and memorable experiences to improve pupils’ writing

Cost
Evidence Strength
Impact (months)
+2
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Resources

The EEF believes that this is a promising area, but one that is difficult to define and implement. Our Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning guidance report, with seven clear and actionable recommendations, is available here.

Our subject specific guidance reports include recommendations about supporting pupils’ skills in these areas. For example, our two guidance reports, Improving Literacy in Key Stages 1 and 2, both recommend using modelling and monitoring skills to develop comprehension and writing skills.

Other evidence-based organisations have produced relevant guidance, such as the US Institute of Education Sciences’ 2007 practice guide on Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning

Another US organisation, Deans for Impact, published a brief summary on the The Science of Learning in 2015