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Metacognition and self-regulation

High Impact for very low cost, based on extensive evidence.
cost
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7

What is it?

Metacognition and self-regulation 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. Interventions are usually designed to give pupils a repertoire of strategies to choose from and the skills to select the most suitable strategy for a given learning task.

Self-regulated learning can be broken into three essential components:

  • cognition - the mental process involved in knowing, understanding, and learning;
  • metacognition - often defined as ‘learning to learn’; and
  • motivation - willingness to engage our metacognitive and cognitive skills.

How effective is it?

Metacognition and self-regulation approaches have consistently high levels of impact, with pupils making an average of seven months’ additional progress.

These strategies are usually more effective when taught in collaborative groups so that learners can support each other and make their thinking explicit through discussion.

The potential impact of these approaches is high, but can be difficult to achieve in practice as they require pupils to take greater responsibility for their learning and develop their understanding of what is required to succeed.

The evidence indicates that teaching these strategies can be particularly effective for low achieving and older pupils.

These strategies are usually more effective when taught in collaborative groups so learners can support each other and make their thinking explicit through discussion.

The potential impact of these approaches is very high, but can be difficult to achieve as they require pupils to take greater responsibility for their learning and develop their understanding of what is required to succeed. There is no simple method or trick for this. It is possible to support pupils’ work too much, so that they do not learn to monitor and manage their own learning but come to rely on the prompts and support from the teacher. “Scaffolding” provides a useful metaphor: a teacher would provide support when first introducing a pupil to a concept, then reduce the support to ensure that the pupil continues to manage their learning autonomously.

How secure is the evidence?

A number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses have consistently found similar levels of impact for strategies related to metacognition and self-regulation. Most studies have looked at the impact on English or mathematics, though there is some evidence from other subject areas like science, suggesting that the approach is likely to be widely applicable.

The EEF has evaluated a number of programmes that seek to improve ‘learning to learn’ skills. The majority have found positive impacts, although smaller in size (around 2 months’ progress on average) than the average seen in the wider evidence base. For three of these programmes there were indications that they were particularly beneficial for pupils from low income families.

A 2014 study, Improving Writing Quality, used a structured programme of writing development based on a self-regulation strategy. The evaluation found gains, on average, of an additional nine months’ progress, suggesting that the high average impact of self-regulation strategies is achievable in English schools.

What are the costs?

Overall, costs are estimated as very low. Many studies report the benefits of professional development or an inquiry approach for teachers, where they actively evaluate strategies as they learn to use them. Most projects are estimated as costing under £80 per pupil.

What should I consider?

Teaching approaches which encourage learners to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning have very high potential, but require careful implementation.

Have you taught pupils explicit strategies on how to plan, monitor and evaluate specific aspects of their learning? Have you given them opportunities to use them with support and then independently?

Teaching how to plan: Have you asked pupils to identify the different ways that they could plan (general strategies) and then how best to approach a particular task (specific technique)?

In the classroom, how can you promote and develop metacognitive talk related to your lesson objectives? 

What professional development is needed to develop your knowledge and understanding of these approaches? Have you considered professional development interventions which have been shown to have an impact in other schools?



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