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Teaching pupils how they learn boosts progress by seven months

New guidance sets out common misconceptions teachers have about metacognition

metacognition, thinking, learning, skills, lessons, research, EEF, Education Endowment Foundation, Kevan Collins

Getting pupils to think more about how they learn can boost their academic progress by seven months, according to new guidance.

The government-backed Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today published advice for schools to help teachers develop the metacognitive skills of their pupils. (There is also an in-depth investigation into metacognition, incorporating this report, in the 27 April issue of Tes).

The charity said that using metacognitive strategies would support teachers in helping their pupils meet the challenge of the harder school curriculum.

Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF, said: “On a very basic level, metacognition is about pupils’ ability to monitor and direct their learning. Effective metacognitive approaches get learners to think about their own learning more explicitly, usually by teaching them to set goals, and monitor and evaluate their own academic progress.

“But teaching metacognition is easier said than done. It’s not just about ‘thinking skills’ and there’s certainly no simple method or trick. We know that learners will develop some of these skills naturally, and most teachers will be supporting metacognition in their teaching without realising it.”

The Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning Guidance Report reviews the best available research to offer teachers practical guidance on how to develop their pupils’ metacognitive skills.

It has recommendations in seven areas and sets out common misconceptions teachers have about metacognition. 

One misconception is that teachers often 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.

For example, teaching pupils metacognitive planning strategies for drafting a GCSE essay about Shakespeare can give them an edge. But without an understanding of Shakespeare’s plays, language and the relevant social context, they’re unlikely to get top marks

Another misconception focuses on the belief that metacognition can only be developed in older pupils. According to the report, children as young as 3 can engage in a wide range of metacognitive and self-regulatory behaviours, such as opt out of tasks if they think they’ll be too difficult for them. 

In the 27 April issue of Tes, there is an in-depth investigation into metacognition and a full review of the latest EEF guidance paper. 

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