Home Page

St John XXIII Catholic Primary School Inspiring Faith in our Future

Thinking Matters

Metacognition – How we learn


How children learn is just as important as what they learn. At St John XXIII, we believe that it is important for children to be given the tools to support a whole school approach to develop their cognitive capability and intelligent learning behaviours. For our school, we do not ask the children to remember when they encountered learning before, instead, we ask them what they remember and how they can build on this knowledge going forward.


For St John XXIII, becoming a Thinking School was important as we wanted to ensure children were making progress in their learning by interleaving knowledge over time with recall, repetition and revision of previous knowledge. In order for children to remember previous content, we needed to implement strategies based on research rather than gimmicks. The Education Endowment Foundation’s research shows that children can make 7+ months progress if metacognition strategies are in place to support their cognitive development.


As part of supporting children to develop their cognitive thinking, we are also looking at Self Regulation so that children gain a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, the strategies they use to learn, their levels of motivation and the strategies they use to enhance their learning. For our pupils to become metacognitive, self-regulated learners, we must:


 Set clear learning objectives.

 Demonstrate and monitor pupils’ metacognitive strategies.

 Continually prompt and encourage our pupils along the way.


Metacognitive skills are developed from an early age, as early as EYFS, and children are encouraged to plan, monitor, evaluate and make changes to their own learning behaviours. Metacognitive knowledge refers to what pupils know about learning. This includes:


 The pupil’s knowledge of their own cognitive abilities (e.g. “I have trouble remembering my eight times tables”).

 The pupil’s knowledge of particular tasks (e.g. “the spelling of some “-tion” words is difficult”).  The pupil’s knowledge of the different strategies that are available to them and when they are appropriate to the task (e.g. “If I create a timeline first, it will help me to understand what happened during the First World War”).


Research demonstrates that metacognition must be explicitly taught; we recognise they are not innate skills – and our children need lots of support from the teacher if they are to develop these skills. Our teachers have made children aware of what metacognition is and model the skills explicitly so that children can learn from the masters. We model being metacognitive through the context of the lesson rather than stand-alone teaching as research supports this approach. We use a seven step guide when teaching metacognition in school:


1. Activating prior knowledge – the teacher discusses with pupils the different causes that led to the First World War while making notes on the whiteboard.

2. Explicit strategy instruction – the teacher explains how a “fishbone” diagram will help organise their ideas, with the emphasis on the cognitive strategy of using a “cause and effect model” in history that will help them to organise and plan a better-written response.

3. Modelling of learned strategy – the teacher uses the initial notes on the causes of the war to model one part of the fishbone diagram.

4. Memorisation of learned strategy – the teacher tests if pupils have understood and memorised the key aspects of the fishbone strategy, and its main purpose, through questions and discussion.

5. Guided practice – the teacher models one further fishbone cause with the whole group, with pupils verbally contributing their ideas.

6. Independent practice follows whereby pupils complete their own fishbone diagram analysis.

7. In structured reflection the teacher encourages pupils to reflect on how appropriate the model was, how successfully they applied it, and how they might use it in the future.