Research School Network: Learning Behaviours from EYFS to post 16. Teaching Metacognition and Learning Behaviours throughout the years


Learning Behaviours from EYFS to post 16.

Teaching Metacognition and Learning Behaviours throughout the years

by Aspirer Research School
on the

Margaret Daly, Director of Aspirer Research School, reflects on 33 years of teaching learning behaviours to children and young people from 3 to 19 years of age.

Throughout my long and varied career, traversing mainstream primary education to special education and back again, I have had the privilege of teaching learning behaviours to more children and young people than I care to admit! Reflecting on my early days as a teacher, which began in 1991, I recall a time when my appetite for educational research was limited. In those days, the World Wide Web had only just been invented, and educational research was not as readily accessible as it is today. As a young and busy teacher embarking on my first year in an inner-city Manchester primary school, I found myself consumed with the day-to-day demands of the classroom. I neither had the time nor the foresight to delve into the evidence surrounding learning behaviours. Concepts such as metacognition were unfamiliar to me, despite their existence at the time. Instead, I relied on my instincts, observations, and reflections, hoping that my approach was effective.

As time progressed, I came to the realisation that while some young people possess a natural ability to manage and optimise their learning, the majority require explicit instruction on the skills, techniques, and attitudes necessary to become effective and reflective learners. This understanding formed the foundation of my teaching practice as I worked to equip my students with the skills, knowledge, and understanding necessary to excel as learners.

Diagram 1

Although I was not consciously aware of it at the time, and certainly would not have referred to the process in these terms, I found myself inadvertently teaching young people metacognitive practices. This included guiding them on how to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning while being mindful of their knowledge of task, strategies, and self. This realisation often resonates with delegates when I deliver training on the metacognition and self-regulated learner guidance report. Indeed, many teachers already incorporate metacognitive strategies into their teaching, naturally modelling their own thinking processes and setting appropriate levels of challenge for their students.

However, the opportunity to delve into the evidence surrounding cognitive science and be given time to fully digest the guidance report enables us to go beyond instinctive teaching practices. A thorough understanding of metacognitive processes will support a well-thought-out and considered implementation throughout the school.

Seven recommendations

The evidence unequivocally indicates that teaching metacognitive practices can result in improved learning outcomes for all students, with a particularly notable impact on those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

All recommendations are indeed fundamental to effective teaching, but historically, some have been more prevalent in certain key stages. For instance, modelling and verbalising metacognitive thinking are often emphasised in Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and Key Stage 1 (KS1) but may not be as widely utilised in Key Stages 3 and 4 (KS3 and KS4). Conversely, recommendation 6, which involves explicitly teaching pupils how to organise and effectively manage their learning independently, has traditionally been viewed as a strategy more suited for older children.

In my experience, I’ve found that young children often exhibit a remarkable level of independence, relish challenges, and are unafraid of making mistakes. As educators, we sometimes unintentionally stifle this enthusiasm rather than nurturing it. By modelling strategies, articulating our thought processes, and fostering perseverance through recognition and encouragement, we lay the groundwork for developing reflective and independent learners.

While we may hesitate to verbalise our thinking process when teaching KS4 students, it’s worth noting that we have all benefited from this approach in our own adult lives. After all, we cannot know what we do not understand, and verbalising our thought processes serves as a highly effective teaching strategy for all students. Therefore, it need not be reserved solely for early years and primary education; it holds value across all educational stages.

Margaret Daly
Director of Aspirer Research School

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