The beauty of metacognition

At Meta Prep, metacognition comes first and is central to our mission. Since we started this amazing adventure, the focus for our pupils and cognitive coaches when examining 11+ topics and skills starts with explicitly encouraging thinking. Moreover, as experts in teaching, we are constantly improving our skills along with your child. Let’s all put on our thinking caps! 

What is metacognition? 

The etymology of the word originates from Greek and Latin roots. ‘Meta’ means “beyond” and ‘cognition’ means “to know.” Simply put, it is thinking about our thinking. However, it goes much deeper than that. The metacognitive toolkit includes understanding growth mindset, the use of visual aids and neuroscience. Equipped with their toolkit, children become meta-learners who understand how to learn. Metacognition is the bedrock of all learning.  

Why should we teach metacognition? 

If nothing else, the research supports teaching metacognition. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has identified Metacognition and Self-Regulation as the most impactful part of their Teaching and Learning Toolkit for schools. With low cost and lots of supporting research, teaching metacognition to students can boost their learning by around 7 months. 

According to the EEF report, metacognition makes an impact by giving “pupils a repertoire of strategies to choose from and the skills to select the most suitable strategy for a given learning task.” At Meta Prep, we embed a wide variety of strategies and tools to prepare pupils for the 11+ exams and beyond. 

Is there value outside of research?

Regardless of the research, allowing a child to reflect on their thinking and provide space for evaluation increases engagement. Studying a topic shifts subtly from knowledge acquisition to personal experience. Children explore what it has taught them and why it has meaning. 

Introducing these skills and strategies teaches children how to think reflectively, critically and creatively. In other words, it is about becoming an independent thinker who uses their experiences and current knowledge to address new situations. A meta-learner is able to plan their attack and know how they learn best. Use strategies and monitoring progress when faced with a problem is key. With this knowledge, confidence in their abilities grows.

What are some strategies in our metacognitive toolkit? 

The first step is neuroplasticity which is the idea that our brain can change. For many children, this is a freeing thought filled with possibility. For this reason, through deliberate practice and hard work, a child can develop their abilities and understanding. If they continue to be persistent and motivated to put in the time and effort needed, they will make progress.

This leads onto Costa and Kallick’s 16 Habits of Mind which are seen in highly successful people. Children learning about Habits of Mind begin to notice their own habits and how they can develop them in all areas of their life. It is important to self-reflect on these habits and be around others who use the language as well. Our Cognitive Coaches are trained to use Habits of Mind to progress a child’s learning and understanding of themselves. 

A key component of having a metacognitive toolkit is to be able to use visual tools to deepen learning. At Meta Prep, we use Thinking Matters’ Thinking Frames. These visual tools line up with the eight thinking processes used to solve problems, including defining, categorising and whole/part. Being able to choose which frame to use when attacking a problem can make the learning experience easier and richer. A child can find out more about the characters in a book and the plot line by delving deeper into the contents of the book, while linking additional information from elsewhere. 

Harvard’s Project Zero has developed a huge range of visual aids which can also increase learning. However, sometimes having too many options can be very overwhelming. At Meta Prep, we narrow down the content to introduce your children to the key metacognitive tools, before expanding their toolkit. Metacognition is also about self-reflection and evaluating which metacognitive tools are useful to you and which you may not use as often. 

By the end of our Year 4 metacognition course, there is an observable change in children’s confidence. They are more likely to participate in discussions and think about responses even if they don’t know the answer. For example, they can guess at the meaning of a word because we have talked about problem solving and applying the Habit of Mind of “Applying Past Knowledge To New Situations.” Using their knowledge of English etymology, they can work out that a quadrilateral has something to do with the number four because they learned that “quad” comes from Latin meaning “four” or “fourth”. Breaking down the English language into small chunks means unknown words do not feel so overwhelming. 

Sign up your child for sessions with us that prepare them for life-long learning and the 11+ exams. We offer lessons in Metacognition, English, Maths and Reasoning for children in Years 4, 5 and 6.