Research School Network: Making the most of metacognition Chris Runeckles explains how teachers can use metacognition to their advantage in teaching and learning.


Making the most of metacognition

Chris Runeckles explains how teachers can use metacognition to their advantage in teaching and learning.

by Research Schools Network
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Metacognition has been ever-present on the educational scene for several years ago now. However, in the current climate, given missed lessons and the crucial important of effective independent study in particular, many senior leaders are asking how best to integrate metacognition into daily teaching practice to benefit pupil outcomes.

The evidence-base for metacognition is strong, sittings proudly at the top of the Education Endowment Foundation’s recently updated teaching and learning toolkit as the strand rated highest by the additional months progress” measure. It also is the focus of an EEF guidance report, published in 2018.

However, there is still some confusion around what metacognition looks like in practical terms in schools. The EEF guidance report gives teachers seven recommendations as a sturdy starting point, but despite this, something often gets lost in translation.

Julie Kettlewell’s recent blog examines a key element of the guidance, a framework designed to support teachers in transferring responsibility for learning over to the pupil. It illustrates how to explicitly teach new concepts in accordance with metacognitive processes. Further narrowing and contextualising of these different approaches can support teachers in getting started with this somewhat slippery concept.

Getting to grips with Metacognition

Having grappled with the implementation of metacognition for several years, the mist has started to clear, and I have been able to see both why metacognitive approaches are tricky, and where perhaps we should be concentrating our efforts.

For it to be genuinely metacognitive, then students’ thinking needs to be purposeful, directing their choices in relation to learning. Our challenge therefore as teachers is to help shape that thinking.

With this in mind, two approaches connected to metacognition that are among our best bets in creating a step change in how our students think, are metacognitive modelling and metacognitive questioning. These strategies also have the benefit of being relatively low-cost in terms of planning time and are easily integrated into everyday practice.


Getting metacognitive talk happening in our classrooms is an essential part of embedding self-regulated learning with our students. This is discussed in detail in recommendation five of the EEF’s guidance report. Part of this is using the language of planning, monitoring and evaluating regularly.

However, it is also about refining our questioning to include metacognitive questions amongst the everyday higher and lower cognitive questions we ask as a matter of course. These questions structure the sort of reflections we need to elicit if students are to self-regulate. Some examples to try are:

Metacognitive questions


When modelling, we must ensure that we model our thinking as well as the process. So, not just ​“and next you do this”, but instead ​“my next thought is …. So, from that we need to”. Below is an example and non-example of what this might look like in a secondary history classroom:


In many ways, metacognitive talk and modelling are integral parts of high quality teaching. As such, it is worthwhile for teachers to invest their time in better understanding metacognition. Given the challenging circumstances of the past couple of years, maximising the effectiveness of teaching and learning in the classroom, and beyond the school gates, it a good bet.

To meet the challenge of implementing metacognition effectively takes a shift in our approach that adds an extra nuance to our teaching. However, the rewards of getting this right make it worth the effort.

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