EEF publishes guidance to help develop pupils’ metacognative skills

The EEF has published new guidance for teachers to help them to improve pupils’ ability to plan, monitor and evaluate their own learning, faculties which can boost academic progress by seven months

Getting pupils to think more about how they learn is an effective way of improving pupil outcomes and evidence suggests that when they are supported to apply this metacognitive knowledge to their schoolwork, they learn more and get better results.

New guidance today from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) offers practical evidence-informed strategies to improve pupils’ ability to plan, monitor and evaluate their own academic progress so they become better at learning and studying. The report is designed to support teachers to help pupils meet the challenge of a bigger, harder school curriculum head on.

This means that in primary school, pupils should – for example – learn different strategies for remembering different English spelling patterns so that they’re able to spell more difficult words. In secondary school, pupils should be able to develop effective revision strategies so they can test themselves with flashcards – for example – and keep track of the subject areas they need to work on.

The use of such ‘metacognitive strategies’ – which get pupils to think about their own learning – have been shown, when used well, to boost pupils’ learning by the equivalent of an extra seven months. However while the potential impact of these approaches is very high, particularly for disadvantaged pupils, less is known about how to use them well in the classroom.

The EEF’s new 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. The report has recommendations in seven areas and ‘myth busts’ 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

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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.

Today’s report is aimed at teachers and senior leaders in primary and secondary schools, as well as in early years and post-16 settings. The EEF and its network of Research Schools, will be producing a range of supporting resources, tools, and training to help schools implement the recommendations in their classrooms.

Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation (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.

“But with a large body of international evidence telling us that, when properly embedded, these approaches are powerful levers for boosting learning, it’s clear that we need to spend time looking at how to do this well.

“This is why we’ve produced this report. It offers seven practical, evidence-based recommendations to support teachers to develop metacognitive skills in their pupils. It brings clarity to an area of teaching and learning that holds so much promise, but that can be difficult to implement.”

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £96.3 million to 160 projects working with over 1,000,000 pupils in over 10,000 schools, as well as early years and post-16 settings, across England. The EEF and Sutton Trust are, together, the government-designated What Works Centre for Education.

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