Research School Network: Engaging with the evidence on metacognition and cognitive science

Engaging with the evidence on metacognition and cognitive science

Kirsten Mould, Content Specialist for Learning Behaviours’ with the EEF talks to Chris Tay, Primary Headteacher at Longden CE Primary School about his experiences in engaging with research evidence.

There is a wealth of professional dialogue around metacognition and self-regulation. The EEF metacognition guidance has been well-received and Research School training is proving popular. We know that a persistent challenge for teachers and school leaders is how they convert such evidence into practice within the busy school environment. 

With the daily bombardment of new approaches, innovative resources and quick wins’, how do we retain the complexity of messages from the research and ensure the impact of local professionalism?

Chris Tay is Headteacher at a primary school in Shropshire. With an attached nursery, it is an over-subscribed school with over 150 on role. For Chris, the surface has never been enough”. He actively engages in research and wants to understand underlying complexities for all of his pupils. He feels that we should be talking about a principled view of teaching grounded in the best understanding of learning from science and made philosophically significant by a proper regard for the pursuit of knowledge and truthfulness in our decisions about curriculum. This means not only taking account of how curriculum is enacted but also allowing how curriculum is experienced to demonstrably shape breadth and balance. 

Chris is conscious of removing barriers to a surface engagement with research evidence. This includes removing unnecessary managing activities, involving every member of staff and more. Then they are able to focus on what matters: how best children learn. 

What does a self-regulated learner look like in Chris’ school?

Chris describes pupils absorbed in their work, able to reflect, asking for help, and with time for their minds to wander. They are able to see themselves and their learning with new eyes, imagining better routes to take next time. Chris describes this as an iceberg and challenges us to be able to have a shared language to describe all that is underpinning what is purely visible: We spend so much of our time and energy on the thinking that is visible, but the research suggests that the bigger story is what happens introspectively and spontaneously in the brain. That’s the pedagogical challenge for our times.”


Of course, once you engage with the research, where do you stop? Here is some further reading from Chris:

  1. Pattern completion and the predictive brain – understanding these basic ideas about the neuronal processes that underpin cognition enables us to see the complexity within learning and learning difficulty. And so, read:

    Goswami, U. Ed. (2013) Introduction to Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Childhood Cognitive Development. Wiley-Blackwell.

  2. Tensions with privileging one kind of thinking over another – consider a range of approaches. Decisions about curriculum are decisions for the kind of thinking children will be doing. And so, read:

    Eisner, E W. (2004) The Arts and the Creation of Mind. Boston: Yale University Press

  3. Neurobiological evidence regarding the role of emotion in cognition could hold the potential for important innovations in the science of learning and the practice of teaching. Immordino-Yang proposes a useful definition of creativity when thinking about teaching and learning. And so, read:

    Immordino-Yang, M.H. and Damasio, A. (2007) We Feel, Therefore We Learn: The Relevance of Affective and Social Neuroscience to Education’, Mind, Brain and Education, 1(1) pp3-10

What two priorities are you working on in school right now?

  1. There is a growing literature on the connections between resilience and spiritual thinking. What is it? What does it look like? What does it feel like? Why is it important? How can we give children the tools to connect with and communicate their spiritual thinking as a way of validating subjective experience of the world as they know it? (This work is supported by a research scholarship from the Farmington Institute, University of Oxford.) See: Roehlkepartain, E., Ebstyne King, P., Wagener, L., & Benson, P. (2006) The handbook of spiritual development in childhood and adolescence. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications. 
  2. Using Guided Practice (Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction) in developing the quality of teaching and learning. What are the challenges? How do we critically theorise this principle for our own practice and our own classrooms?

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