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Metacognition in the updated EEF Teaching & Learning Toolkit

Metacognition in the updated EEF Teaching & Learning Toolkit

4 min read
  • Metacognition

Earlier this month, the Education Endowment Foundation updated their Teaching & Learning Toolkit with the latest research. To find out what has been updated, see our handy summary about the most important changes.

But there is one aspect we particularly wanted to focus on: the EEF’s Toolkit continues to highlight metacognition as one of the most effective ways of supporting student learning. It is one of the most impactful and cost-effective teaching approaches to optimise student learning.

Let’s have a closer look at what the 246 research papers included in the Toolkit say and how metacognitive strategies can be applied in the classroom…

What is Metacognition?

Metacognition is the process of thinking about your thoughts. It is a type of self-regulation, where students are able to decide which learning strategies are the most effective for enhancing their personal learning. Teachers can and should encourage their students to adopt and apply metacognitive strategies by getting them to think about their learning in 3 ways:

  1. Plan effectively – Did the strategies I used allow me to plan my learning effectively?
  2. Monitor your learning – Do the strategies I am using allow me to learn efficiently?
  3. Evaluate your ability – Have the strategies I used allowed me to learn the content to the best of my ability?

Self-regulation involves metacognition along with two other components:

  • Cognition, which is the mental processes involved in comprehension and learning
  • Motivation, which is the drive that enforces goal-oriented behaviours.

When combined, these three elements play a crucial role in optimising learning. 

What does the research say?

The EEF summarised 246 research papers to make the claims we mentioned earlier about the effectiveness of metacognition as a learning strategy. Here are some of the most interesting findings:

  • Encouraging students to use metacognition by implementing learning strategies results in academic improvements equivalent to up to 8 months of progress for primary school students, and up to 7 months of progress for secondary school students.
  • Strategies that are specific to planning, monitoring and evaluating specific elements of learning can be particularly effective.
  • Metacognitive approaches are most effective when used during challenging tasks that are still related to the regular school curriculum.
  • Teachers can lead by example and demonstrate metacognitive thinking by expressing their own thought processes.
  • Metacognitive approaches are effective across many subjects, but research suggests that they are particularly effective in mathematics and sciences.
  • The use of digital technology, such as intelligent tutoring systems, have been shown to enhance the benefits of using metacognitive strategies in the classroom.
Develop your students’ self-regulation, emotional control and independent learning with a Metacognition CPD workshop.

How can we apply this in the classroom?

Metacognition heavily relies on students having the motivation and the cognition to implement learning strategies, and teachers play a vital role in making these strategies accessible to their students.

Here are some ways you can encourage your students to adopt a metacognitive mindset…

Teach students about Metacognition

Teaching students about the benefits of planning, monitoring and evaluating the ways in which they learn will increase their motivation to apply metacognitive strategies.

Lead by example

Demonstrating your own metacognitive processing is a great way to show students how they can apply metacognition in the classroom practically.

Encourage students to identify their strengths and weaknesses

Identifying their strengths and weaknesses allows students to not only know what they need to work on, but may also show them what they could do to improve. For example, if a certain studying strategy is not helping them achieve higher grades, they may think about using a different strategy. Encourage your students to recognise their strengths, but also come up with practical strategies to combat their weaknesses.

Challenge your students

Make sure that you are setting your students tasks that are challenging enough without being too difficult. Overly simple tasks don’t stimulate students’ cognition as much, and overly difficult tasks reduce their motivation. Finding a middle ground is essential to enhancing student learning.

Final thoughts

It’s no wonder that the EEF identified metacognition as such an important point to focus on: implementing it in the classroom has proven to be a highly effective learning strategy, with no to low costs associated. Training educators to use metacognitive strategies in the classroom is important to ensure that students are absorbing as much knowledge as possible.

Teaching students about metacognition, identifying strengths and weaknesses, and ensuring a challenging academic environment are all key strategies to optimising student learning. Need help with this? Get in touch for Metacognition CPD training.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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