What is metacognition?

What is metacognition?

Metacognition means many things to many people.  

Put simply, metacognition is ‘thinking about thinking’. Some teachers also define it as ‘learning to learn’. 

In the 2018 Guidance Report by the UK based Education Endowment Foundation, Chief Executive Sir Kevan Collins, defines it in this way: 

‘On a very basic level, it’s about students’ ability to monitor, direct, and review their learning. Effective metacognitive strategies get learners to think about their own learning more explicitly, usually by teaching them to set goals and monitor and evaluate their own academic progress.'

Developing metacognitive strategies 

Pupils have the potential to achieve much better learning outcomes if metacognition is consistently applied to their teaching and learning. 

Metacognition has the power to improve pupil outcomes by encouraging deeper thinking. It helps to develop and deepen students’ subject knowledge. This is because metacognition should enable pupils to think more cohesively about the subject content, for example, to make connections between content or apply old information in new contexts. 

It also develops their ability to think critically, which is an essential skill in the 21st century. In an era of fake news and unreliable content, this is more important than ever! 

Metacognition develops transferable skills, such as reasoning, analysis and evaluation, which is also critical skills for the 21st century. Nowadays young people are likely to have numerous careers in jobs that don’t even exist today, so cognitive agility and flexibility is a must for their future economic prosperity. 

The potential impact of metacognitive approaches is very high, particularly for disadvantaged students. Anything teachers can do to boost the attainment of vulnerable cohorts must be taken seriously. 

Why use Metacognition in the classroom? 

In this short interview, a secondary headteacher explains the impact of metacognition on upskilling his staff and the subsequent impact this had on students’ outcomes.  

Ofsted and using metacognition in the classroom 

Ofsted expect senior leaders to ensure that teachers receive focused and highly effective professional development. Inspectors want to see how teacher knowledge of subject and related pedagogy consistently translates into improvements in the teaching of the curriculum. 

In their research notes for the new framework, Ofsted cited that 

There is clear evidence that both the quantity and quality of professional development are related to school effectiveness and improvement There is evidence that well-designed CPD programmes can have a positive impact on pupils’ outcomes (Higgins et al, 2014).

Throughout their documentation both cognitive development and metacognition have been raised as important factors in teaching pedagogies.

Cognitive development and metacognition training courses 

Our colleagues at Tes Institute have developed a suite of Cognitive Development courses for the new ‘Professional Studies’ CPD training package that you can now access on the same platform as all EduCare’s safeguarding courses, Tes Develop. 

Tes Develop - whole school online CPD incorporating courses from EduCare and Tes Institute

Find out more >>

The courses cover: 

Growth Mindsets (with Mike Gershon)

This course will help teachers to:

  • Understand what is meant by growth mindsets
  • Understand the benefits of having a growth mindset
  • Understand how to teach growth mindsets to students to enable them to be resilient and determined individuals
  • Promote growth and learning from making mistakes
  • Apply practical tools appropriately to foster a growth mindset learning environment 8 hours  


This course will help teachers to:

  • Discover the transformative power of metacognition: how experts in their fields define metacognition, and common misconceptions about what it is
  • Understand the differing levels of metacognitive learners
  • Learn how to model metacognitive attributes and foster them in students
  • Discover why metacognition really matters to students for success in exams
  • Understand the importance of getting the level of challenge right when setting metacognitive tasks
  • Learn how simple, everyday classroom dialogue can be reframed to develop students’ metacognitive skills
  • Gain explicit strategies for modelling metacognition for all ages, stages and abilities 

The professional studies package is available on the same unlimited access terms as the safeguarding training package from EduCare. Existing EduCare customers can benefit from discounted rates to upgrade to access this new package. 

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