12 Jun 2018

Marvellous Metacognition – A reflection on the EEF Guidance workshop

Marvellous Metacognition – A reflection on the EEF Guidance workshop

This afternoon we were delighted to welcome delegates from across the region to our first workshop on the EEF Metacognition and Self-Regulation Guidance Report. In two hours we provided a whirlwind tour through the report with a range of practical strategies that delegates could implement in their own schools and classrooms. In this blog, we are just going to provide you with a quick flavour of the workshop itself and some of the key ideas discussed.

After much debate and discussion, we decided to structure the workshop sequentially, looking at each recommendation in turn.

Section 1: Explicitly teach pupils metacognitive strategies, including how to monitor and evaluate their learning.

This section underpins the understanding of metacognition. Key to this is the metacognition regulation cycle. We are very used to thinking through the ‘cognition’ involved in a task and how we can guide students through a task. We are perhaps less likely to think about the ‘metacognition’ involved in the lesson or task; how a student thinks through a problem or task to be able to complete it. Both concepts are critical to the learning process and the three steps of planning, monitoring and evaluation are the means to achieving this. A key question posed during discussions was surrounding the ‘monitoring’ stage. We are used to planning activities carefully and evaluation is also an area that a lot of us think through. However, we rarely pause to explicitly think through self-monitoring of a task.

Section 2: Explicitly teach pupils metacognitive strategies, including how to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning.

In this section, we illustrated how the planning-monitoring-evaluation cycle could work using a practical example from geography. We have constructed a grid with key questions associated with each of the three areas, the questions explicitly question the students at each stage of the process, to help them think about their own thinking. This was trialled in a Geography A level lesson to lead students through a 12 mark exam question. During the monitoring stage, I set them off on the answering the question but timed 5 minutes and stopped them after this time. They then referred to the monitoring questions to check on their thinking and answer. They discussed this in a group and then we did another 5 minute chunk before another pause and review. This very staged and reflective scaffolding technique was successful in enabling the students to think and discuss their own strategies for answering the difficult task.

Another strategy discussed in this section was the use of graphic organisers, such as a fishbone diagram, to help students to think through their learning. We shared an excellent website which generates a variety of graphic organisers within seconds, as well as blog about the ‘Frayer Model’ written by Alex Quigley.

Section 3: Model your own thinking to help pupils develop their metacognitive and cognitive skills.

We have discussed modelling in a previous blog here, so we thought it might be useful to focus on scaffolding in this blog. The Guidance Report suggests that it is important to have some deliberate difficulty when scaffolding tasks, to ensure that pupils do have to do some thinking for themselves and become increasingly independent. As such, guided practice should move to independent practice, with scaffolding eventually becoming ‘internal’.

Some examples of scaffolding strategies that we considered during the workshop included simple ideas such as checklists to strategies such as slow writing advocated by David Didau.

Section 4: Set an appropriate level of challenge to develop pupils’ self-regulation and metacognition.

The message at the centre of this section was the necessity to set ‘the sweet spot of challenge’, as identified by Willingham in his book ‘Why don’t students like school?’. We looked at the importance of considering cognitive load, which was covered in detail in our course ‘Maximising achievement in linear exams’. Intrinsic load needs to be managed, in terms of thinking through the order that we teach our content and considering the load placed on students; we may need to put in place some extra content to enable them to understand new key concepts, or be very mindful of common misconceptions. The extrinsic load needs to be managed, to ensure that students are not overloaded and can convert learning into the long-term memory. This can be aided through careful consideration of what sort of information is displayed on a slide, as well as through techniques such as quizzing and using structured templates for common tasks. This means that students can concentrate on content rather than having their cognitive load taken up with the structure or skills involved in a task. There is more information on this in our blog ‘Reflections on the challenge of linear exams’.

Section 5: Promote and develop metacognitive talk in the classroom.

The section of the guidance highlights the use of classroom dialogue to develop metacognitive skills and the importance of this dialogue being purposeful. Much of the discussion of this in the Guidance Report is underpinned by the work of Professor Robin Alexander and his work on dialogic teaching, with learning talk and teaching talk being identified as most relevant for developing metacognitive skills. Learning talk involves narrating, questioning and discussing; teaching talk includes instruction, exposition and dialogue.

During the workshop, we looked at the three different talk strategies to better structure and organise talk in your classroom. Clicking on the links below will take you to more information about each:

Section 6: Explicitly teach pupils how to organise and effectively manage their learning independently.

A key consideration here was Zimmerman’s strategies to support the development of effective and independent learners:

1.Setting specific short-term goals.

2.Adopting powerful strategies for attaining the goals.

3.Monitoring performance for signs of progress.

4.Restructuring one’s physical and social context to make it compatible with goals.

5.Managing time efficiently.

6.Self-evaluating methods.

7.Attributing causation to results and adapting future methods.

We focused particularly on exploring strategies 1, 2, 3 and 6 during the workshop, using the work of Dunlosky to identify those ‘powerful strategies’ that could be used. We shared work we have been doing here at Sandringham on flashcards, which we have previously blogged about here, and our Memory Clock, additional resources and information about this can be found here.

Section 7: Schools should support teachers to develop their knowledge of these approaches and expect them to be applied appropriately.

This section highlighted the need for teachers to consider the strategies and climate which needs to be in place to successfully implement and embed metacognition and self-regulation in their context. There needs to be high quality professional development plan to help others to understand and plan for processes and changed. We also discussed the possible monitoring strategies for teachers to self-assess or work with others to look at how strategies are working in reality. These can include key questions or areas to look for in a classroom, such as looking at how students are employing techniques to learn for themselves such as underlining a passage or making effective notes. It could also involve using student surveys or focus groups which look in detail about aspects of self-regulation and the strategies being used by students.


So there we have it, two very intensive hours which only start to scratch the surface of the complex and extensive area of metacognition and self-regulation. We hope this is just the start of some exciting developments in classrooms and we look forward to hearing about ideas and outcomes over the next few months.

If you are interested in this area, our second twilight event this term is full. However, we are scheduling further events about metacognition in our 2018-19 programme. Please see our website and sign up to our Newsletter to receive information about our training courses and workshops as they are scheduled.