02 May 2017

Unveiling the Mystery of Metacognition

Unveiling the Mystery of Metacognition

Metacognition is the buzzword in education currently, yet how this actually applies to our classroom practice and how it can be used to improve progress is unclear.

What we do know is that metacognition is a three step process where students 1) Plan their learning, 2) Monitor their learning and 3) Evaluate their learning.

At Huntington School, we decided to offer training to teachers with a specific focus on developing practical techniques to develop students’ evaluation skills, as we feel this is something our students do not currently do especially effectively, and that improving this could have a positive impact on their outcomes. Our minds are not well suited to thinking hard, so it’s no surprise that students find it challenging to engage in this process!

Evaluating progress effectively first relies on students being able to accurately self-assess. Research involving primary school children in Portugal shows that this is more productive than when they are given feedback by the teacher (or a peer). Students who are provided with regular opportunities and encouragement to engage in self-assessment are more likely to attribute their learning to internal beliefs and to recognise the real causes of their academic success, such as learning, effort and hard work (rather than attributing success to luck). They are also more likely to develop a feeling of empowerment and a sense of autonomy, which prove life crucial skills for our students to develop.

We know, however, that when students check their learning and what they know, crucial steps in metacognition, that they are overconfident. We need to be aware of this when we train students to self-assess.

Research evidence also indicates that delayed students’ judgement of their own leaning also increases their accuracy of judgement, thereby dampening overconfidence. In short, students are overconfident, especially just after studying something, so delaying it helps to reduce that overconfidence and improve self-evaluation. Just being familiar with what they have learned has students think they know and understand it. so thinking hard about our feedback, and the metacognitive processes students undertake as they monitor and evaluate their learning, really matters.

However, training students to self-assess is a challenge. Students need to be totally honest and not overly harsh or negative whilst also not bring overly optimistic or confident.

Interestingly, there seems to a gender difference in judgments of learning (people’s estimates of how well they learned something), with boys having a tendency to be overly confident, whereas girls tend to be more self-critical. Helping students understand this, while adding in delays etc., can prove helpful. Having a short delay and asking for justification of their self-assessment can help them to become more accurate in their self-assessment.

Strategies for effective evaluation of learning

Recipe for success

Giving students have access to success criteria for a task ensures that they are clear about what is expected from them and understand what they need to do to improve. These function as a ‘recipe‘, or map, showing students precisely how to progress in their learning. These criteria can be stuck in their book or they can have them in front of them whilst they complete a task. Put simply, it offers up a checklist to define the steps toward expertise.


Students start by seeing an example of an end product and work backwards from there, which provides them with the opportunity to watch and listen to experts, whilst understanding the steps needed to reach success. This is more effective that simply seeing a high standard model, as it makes them actively dismantle it and think about how the components work together. Students can deconstruct not only the knowledge and skill demonstrated in the exemplars, but also the learning behaviours and metacognitive strategies on show.

Metacognition handout

In ‘How To Read Philosophy’, Professor Hugh Wilder describes the basics of how to read philosophy. He outlines the four-step reading process (‘pre-reading the assignment‘, ‘fast-reading‘, ‘reading for understanding‘ and ‘reading for evaluation‘). For each step there are key questions that students should be asked to consider. These could be adapted by any subject in order to create a series of questions that progressively make students analyse the content in greater depth. Only once they have mastered one step should they move on to the next.

Any strategy we adopt for students to evaluate their learning will be most effective if it is used on a regular basis, thereby building habits. The more that these processes are practised the more efficient the students will become at recalling this knowledge and turning it into action.

Julie Watson, Head of Psychology, Head of Year 13 & Teacher Coach at Huntington Research School

For more information about our Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning programme please click here: https://huntingtonschool.co.uk/calendar/metacognition-and-self-regulated-learning/.

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