Research School Network: Working with parents to help support the development of metacognition

Working with parents to help support the development of metacognition

Julie Kettlewell, Assistant Director of Huntington Research School in York

The EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit shows that metacognition and self-regulated learning strategies can have a significant impact on children’s attainment and many teachers are acting upon this and aiming to develop pupils’ metacognitive strategies. However, children are only with us at school for a limited amount of time and we know the importance of what happens at home. So, at Huntington Research School, in York, we developed an approach to engage with parents in order to show them how they can support their children to be effective independent learners.

We have found in our school that a lack of independence has proven a key trait in many of our disadvantaged students and that there is a trend with poor or no homework completion. This links to studies, including Callan et al. (2016) and Rani et al. (2013), that have explored factors that link students being disadvantaged and having poor metacognition and self-regulation. Recommendation 6 of the Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning guidance report refers to the need to explicitly teach pupils how to organise and manage their learning independently and, so, we wanted to give parents the tools to support their children in order to help them to develop these strategies:

Metacognition Recommendation 6 text

We aimed to support parents in providing the best home learning environment and give them the confidence and knowledge about how to best support their child’s independence by delivering two information sessions with a gap task where they were encouraged to reflect on their child’s home learning habits. 

The following scenario from the Metacognition and Self-regulated learning guidance report shows the impact that parents can have on home learning and student independence:

Nathan knew that to revise properly he would need a technology black out’. With a little help from his father, Nathan made his bedroom more like an office than a games room during his GCSE revision.

Each evening at seven o’clock, just after dinner, Nathan would switch off his phone and go upstairs to revise. First, he’d check his revision plan and get out what he needed before steeling himself to do some hard work. Strategy number one was always a quick flashcard challenge, mixing up his cards from his different subjects, before testing himself. Then Nathan would test himself on different topics, with past questions or simply seeing what he could recall with a blank piece of paper, before ticking them off his revision plan.

Expecting his usual lull after forty-five minutes, Nathan would grab a drink and a biscuit (or three) before getting back to his revision. At the end of his revision session, he would end with the nightly ritual of returning to his revision plan to chalk up his victories and losses.

We often praise students like Nathan who demonstrate metacognition and self-regulation; however, these skills are not innate and often these students have just been fortunate enough to have role models who have taught them how to effectively engage in independent practice. Nathan is lucky to have a father who has the time to spend organising his room as an office. He also has his own room and space to enable him to do this, unlike some of his peers who will share a room with siblings and be unable to create this office’ space. 

Often as teachers we assume that parents know what an effective learning environment looks like and that they will know how to support their child’s learning at home. However, the feedback from the parents we worked with shows that for many of them this isn’t the case. When asked why they attended the sessions we put on many parents explained that they wanted to make homework less stressful and explained that it is a constant source of conflict at home. They weren’t clear on what the expectation was from school in terms of how they should support their child and were very keen to help but didn’t know how. 

The Working with parents to support children’s learning guidance report shows that tips, support and resources can make home activities more effective, and this is what we provided parents with.

There was an audible sigh of relief in the room when we explained that there was no expectation for them to help with the homework itself but more to do with developing metacognitive strategies:

The evidence suggests that schools should encourage parents to know about homework and support their children to do it rather than get directly involved in the actual assignments.

Supporting their child to structure their time and plan when to complete homework, and helping them to work in an appropriate environment without distractions, can be highly effective, while helping their child see the value and importance of completing homework. Parents can also usefully support by discussing strategies with their child when they are struggling with homework (e.g. looking back in their book to see when they have done similar tasks in the past or suggesting they go to ask a teacher for help before the homework is due).

A couple of months after the sessions we contacted parents to ask if they had done anything differently at home as a result of the information they had received and of those who responded the majority said that they had. Although we still need to monitor to see if this has an impact on the quality of their child’s homework and their attainment, it does show that there is value in working with parents as well as teachers to give them an understanding of how to develop their child’s metacognitive knowledge.

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