Approaches to Learning

5 ways to develop metacognition in the classroom

Dr Tony Cotton

Metacognition – or thinking about thinking – helps students develop the skills to understand what effective learning looks like and how they learn best. In this article, Tony Cotton, author of our Approaches to learning and teaching Primary book, gives you some ideas to help your learners develop their metacognitive skills.

Harness the power of learning with metacognition activities

1. Understand the possibilities for learning: plan learning objectives that provide a range of possibilities for learning. Use “develop my understanding of equivalent fractions”, rather than “write down 5 equivalent fractions for ½ and ¼.”

Ask students to monitor their learning throughout the lesson.

2. Draw on prior knowledge: open lessons with activities that get students thinking and talking about what they already know. Ask them to work in pairs to find out what they know about a new topic before you start teaching it. Use this prior knowledge to plan your next steps for learning.

3. Monitor learning continually: limit the amount of time you spend talking to maximise students’ time for discussion. Ask open questions to get extended responses and monitor these discussions for evidence of learning. For example, are they demonstrating critical questioning? Use this evidence to plan what comes next.

4. Reflect on the learning that has taken place: don’t just ask for answers, ask students to reflect on the learning process they used to come to their conclusions. Ask what they already knew and what they found challenging. Explore ways that students will be able to draw on this learning in the future.

5. Develop a self-regulating classroom: use learning journals to support students in becoming independent, reflective learners. Ask them to write about what they’ve learnt. What did they find easy and what was challenging? What did they do when they were stuck? What helped them learn?

Implement these metacognitive strategies in student learning and allow your pupils to think about their thinking.

About the author:

Dr Tony Cotton started his career teaching mathematics in secondary schools in Sheffield, before becoming a lecturer in secondary mathematics education at the University of Nottingham. More recently, Tony worked with the Ministry of Education in Macedonia to develop and implement a new curriculum based on the Cambridge International Curriculum. 

His recent publications include Approaches to learning and teaching Primary: A toolkit for international teachers.