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Research School Network: Metacognition in Mind: Core Model Thinking Encouraging stronger relationships to learning for pupils using a core model for metacognition.


Metacognition in Mind: Core Model Thinking

Encouraging stronger relationships to learning for pupils using a core model for metacognition.

by Unity Research School
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An impact of the ongoing pandemic sees schools once again supporting remote and in-school education. Everyone working with pupils is striving to adapt practice and refine approaches to meet the needs of pupils and support them in their learning. In this blog I describe how a core model for metacognition can help us encourage stronger relationships to learning for pupils, especially those facing the most significant disadvantage.

In her recent TES article, Why research on remote learning offers hope’, EEF Chief Executive, Prof. Becky Francis outlined how research into best practice for remote teaching highlights that pedagogy is more important than the teaching format’.


‘Pedagogy trumps format. This should be welcome news to teachers and something that guides everything they do. Whether teaching happens live online or through recorded video lessons, or a mix of both, what matters is that the key elements of effective teaching are present, with explanations building clearly on what pupils’ have already learned and how their understanding will be assessed.’

Prof. Becky Francis, EEF Chief Executive

As one of five findings in the Education Endowment Foundation’s Rapid evidence assessment on distance learning, this emphasises how the quality of teaching is crucial and much more important than how lessons are delivered. When viewed in conjunction with another of the recommendations, supporting pupils to work independently can improve learning outcomes’, a compelling case for embedding metacognition and self-regulation within our work is evident. And so it is no surprise that this month we’ve been exploring and exemplifying metacognition within a variety of contexts with teachers and leaders.

‘Pupils learning at home will often need to work independently. Multiple reviews identify the value of strategies that help pupils work independently with success. For example, prompting pupils to reflect on their work or to consider the strategies they will use if they get stuck have been highlighted as valuable. Wider evidence related to metacognition and self-regulation suggests that disadvantaged pupils are likely to particularly benefit from explicit support to help them work independently, for example, by providing checklists or daily plans.’


Metacognition and self-regulation rank very strongly in terms of impact in the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit. Rated as high impact for very low cost and based on extensive evidence, though not a panacea, the associated approaches are a very good bet for embedding in our teaching. These approaches aim to help pupils think about their own learning more explicitly, often by teaching them specific strategies for planning, monitoring and evaluating their learning.

Further reinforcement of this comes from the third recommendation in the EEF’s recent review of the evidence on Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools . It found strong evidence that explicit instruction, scaffolding, flexible grouping and cognitive and metacognitive strategies, are key components of high-quality teaching and learning for all pupils. Right now, considering how we can strengthen pupils’ relationship to learning through supporting their metacognitive regulation and metacognitive knowledge seems a good bet’ to be investing time and energy into, be it in the classroom in person or via remote education.

Definitions are important and helpful here – the EEF use the following:

  • Cognition - is the mental process involved in knowing, understanding, and learning. Cognitive strategies are skills like memorisation techniques or subject-specific strategies like methods to solve problems in maths. Cognitive strategies are fundamental to learning and are the bread and butter’ of effective teaching. Cognition is an essential and a pre-requisite in learning upon which we can develop metacognition.
  • Metacognition refers to the ways in which pupils monitor and purposefully direct their thinking and learning.
  • Metacognitive strategies are strategies we use to monitor or control our cognition, such as checking whether our approach to solving a mathematics problem worked or considering which cognitive strategy is the best fit for a task.

The EEF guidance report Metacognition and self-regulated learning is a valuable resource which we reference regularly. However, the core model diagram below is not included in the report, and is one we have been utilising with colleagues:

Metacognitive Knowledge auto large

The cycle illustrates what assured and confident learners do without thinking – applying elements of their metacognitive knowledge to problems through their metacognitive regulation … with a high degree of automaticity it becomes sub-conscious and implicit in problem solving.

Less secure learners (‘novices’) will not experience the same ease in deploying metacognitive regulation within problem solving or as wide a repertoire of metacognitive strategies. For this reason, making the implicit, explicit becomes a fundamental aspect of our teaching. Activating prior knowledge, explicit strategy instruction, modelling of learned strategy and guided practice by teachers and TAs all supports this making the implicit, explicit and so adds to the pupil’s toolkit. 

A Useful Core Model

Models help us structure our approaches and frame our thinking. Unpacking the core model opens up a nine-step framework. By linking the elements of metacognitive regulation and knowledge in a systematic way we are able to identify where to add support for pupils in their learning …. especially during periods of remote education when we are not on hand to offer support in person.

The table below illustrates how simple self-talk’ questions can be utilised as prompts for each of the nine stages. Having this framework and such questions narrated with clarity and regularity within teacher/​TA talk’ will model to pupils what otherwise might be hidden, making the implicit, explicit and in doing so encourage greater metacognitive regulation and increased metacognitive knowledge … so strengthening their relationship to learning and resilience within learning.

AS table auto large square

Three notable associated take-aways we have found to be helpful this month in our conversations with teacher, TAs and leaders are:

  • Cognition matters: metacognition is not a panacea or silver bullet – it relies on cognition … subject knowledge matters and provides pupils with the building blocks of knowledge to utilise in their learning
  • Strive to make tasks crystal clear: clarity for all pupils, especially those most disadvantaged in the context, will boost knowledge of task’ and provide a firm base within metacognitive knowledge
  • Seek to provide timely feedback: making opportunities to provide pupils with constructive feedback will not only reinforce all important relationships but will help them secure ever greater knowledge of self’ and grow a sense of agency at a time when physical connection to school may be missing.

Future blogs will be extending this theme, exploring other associated frameworks and exemplify how metacognition and self-regulated learning can be translated into practice.

Andy Samways
Director of Research School

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