Teachers matter for metacognition

Facilitating metacognition in the primary school through teacher-pupil interactions


  • Research highlighted the important role of teachers in facilitating the metacognition of pupils.
  • Study showed pupils provide superficial written responses in Structured Thinking Activities.
  • The role teachers play in encouraging elaboration from pupils in relation to descriptions of their own thinking and learning is critical.
  • The authors concluded that teachers must provide opportunities for pupils to independently think about and manage their own thinking.
  • Study published in the Thinking Skills and Creativity journal.

The important role of teachers in facilitating the metacognition of pupils has been highlighted in a research study exploring primary interactions in a Scottish school classroom. The pre-proof journal article published in ‘Thinking Skills and Creativity’ showed that pupils provide superficial written responses in Structured Thinking Activities.

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The study investigated how pupils engaged with Structured Thinking Activities (STAs) throughout a school year by conducting an in-depth case study of one Scottish primary four classrooms, examining factors that facilitated and/or inhibited pupil metacognition. The study found that pupils were often un-motivated to engage with STAs, with responses provided during written and oral activities typically revealing superficial references to classroom topics of interest. Whilst factors such as the classroom culture and the timing of activities were found to influence pupil engagement with STAs, observational data indicated that teacher-pupil interactions are essential for eliciting metacognition from pupils.

Crucially, the findings suggested that teachers play a critical role in encouraging elaboration from pupils in relation to descriptions of their own thinking and learning, particularly when pupils’ initial responses are broad or superficial. The study also discussed the critical importance of teacher talk for metacognition, emphasising the ‘dual role’ that teachers must play when facilitating metacognition within the classroom – emphasising the multiple factors that underpin teachers’ ability to support metacognition.

The authors concluded that teachers must provide opportunities for pupils to independently think about and manage their own thinking. The demonstration that teacher talk is essential for metacognitive development in the classroom suggests that future studies should focus on less on the written outputs of STAs themselves, and more on understanding the critical features of effective teacher-pupil interactions that surround them.


The study – Teachers matter for metacognition: Facilitating metacognition in the primary school through teacher-pupil interactions by Heather E.Branigan & David I.Donaldson from the Division of Psychology, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling is published in the Thinking Skills and Creativity journal – https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2020.100718

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About @digicoled 355 Articles
Colin Hill - Founder, researcher and editor of ukedchat. Also a bit of a tech geek! Project management, design thinking, and metacognition.

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