Metacognition strategies for educators | NCFE

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Metacognition strategies for educators 

Developing children’s metacognition skills empowers them to take ownership of their own learning, which then leads to improved learning outcomes. Here’s how you can encourage metacognition from a young age. 

Metacognition is awareness of one’s own thought processes and is often referred to as ‘thinking about thinking’. Understanding your own cognitive processes and anything related to them is part of metacognition.  

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published guidance to support teachers to improve their pupils’ metacognition skills with classroom practice. When educators focus on metacognition, pupils improve their ability to monitor their own learning, and plan accordingly. As a result, learners develop sustainable knowledge acquisition skills that will serve them throughout life. Although the EEF advises that improving metacognition skills is invaluable for all pupils and particularly those who are disadvantaged, further study is needed to know how to effectively foster their development in the classroom.  

Learners who can self-regulate typically have a better aptitude for reflection, which produces an understanding of their own strengths and weakness, and how to apply them. Developing children’s metacognition skills respectfully recognises their autonomy, which empowers them to take ownership of their own learning, to further their investment in it. Then, learning outcomes improve.  

Pupils who can self-regulate are better able to adapt their own behaviour in the pursuit of goals. These learners will develop better planning skills as they’re able to identify targets that are realistic in relation to their ability.  

Research indicates that self-regulation is the most important characteristic for school readiness. Early years learners who can self-reflect will likely have a greater aptitude towards learning and a positive attitude toward education – which impacts upon attainment and achievement (Bodrova, Elena, 2006). Vygotsky’s (1934) work on sociocultural theory reminds educators to always consider the sociocultural context which children are in. This is essential to effectively develop learners’ metacognition in the classroom.   

Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory suggests that individuals learn more successfully through collaboration with others who are more successful than themselves. To put this into practice effectively, teachers must create an environment where learners fluidly collaborate, by sharing knowledge and skills. As a result, learners will develop metacognitive skills through self-reflection on what knowledge they can share, and what they can receive from others.  

These strategies will help to encourage metacognition in children from a young age:  

  • Open-ended questions help develop the ability to discuss and explore new intellectual avenues 
  • Sustained shared thinking is when two or more individuals collaborate intellectually to solve problems, clarify concepts and evaluate verity (The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project, 2004) 
  • Develop a solutions focus by engaging the ability to think, plan and problem solve 
  • Become process-orientated by applying learning contextually and learning from the experience 
  • Develop an understanding of the world through learning experiences outside the classroom and investigation  
  • Allow time for children to have quality interactions with their peers, including with collaborative learning practices   
  • Practise and repeat learning experiences in new situations to consolidate existing knowledge 
  • Educate children about brain plasticity, metacognition, and their own ability to develop self-regulation strategies that will serve them throughout life 
  • Give children time to reflect and explain how they can use reflection to further their own personal development.