COULD “METACOGNITION” ENABLE YOUR CHILD TO MAKE 20 months’ progress in 12 months?

Metacognition is one of the highest impact strategies for accelerating learning. According to research from the Sutton Trust, a student taught to develop metacognition achieves 20 months progress relative to 12 months average progress. But what is metacognition? And how can we help develop this in our children?

What is metacognition?

Metacognition is “thinking about thinking”. It is a term used to encompass both reflection and self-regulation.

  • Reflection means the awareness of knowledge and thinking. It’s one thing to know that plants need sunlight but another to be aware that you don’t know why they need sunlight.
  • Self-regulation refers to the management of how we think. This is the ability to consciously switch from one thinking strategy to another.

Metacognition compared to other learning strategies

The Sutton Trust conducted an extensive study of educational research to help schools identify how to most effectively improve learning. You’ll see from the chart below that metacognition (including self-regulation) lies at the top of these strategies and is relatively low cost to implement.


Source: Sutton Trust – Teaching and Learning Toolkit. Bold text signifies interventions with an extensive evidence base.

How can you develop metacognition in your child?

Although this research was done in the context of schools, parents can also play an important role in developing metacognition.

First of all, parents can “model their thinking”. The chances are that you’re already an accomplished metacognitive thinker, so you help your children by showing them this. This involves giving them an insight into your inner thought processes; explaining what you do or don’t know, showing them how to consciously change from one problem-solving approach to another. To get a sense of how this might work in practice, here’s a video of a teacher thinking aloud.

Second, you can help by providing opportunities for your children to consciously notice their own thinking. For example, asking “what makes you say that?” or “what do you know about [a topic]?” Another approach is to ask children to list a series of questions and then discuss the merits of these questions. Other ideas like these for making thinking visible can be found here.

Finally, it’s worth noting from the Sutton Trust chart that “one-on-one tuition” is another highly effective learning strategy. There are many reasons for this and a full explanation of them is a whole separate topic. However one reason is undoubtedly because good tutors engage metacognitive strategies. The one-on-one presence of a tutor, who’s supporting and recommending as a child makes their thinking explicit, is one of the main reasons for tutoring’s effectiveness.

To learn more about metacognition and how a tutor could help your child, complete our enquiry form, or call us on 0207 350 1981. We offer more advice for parents here.