Developing metacognition through the science curriculum

Developing metacognition through science curriculum

Dr Andrew Chandler-Grevatt, Oxford Smart Activate series editor, explains the importance of developing metacognition from the beginning of a students’ secondary science journey and how strategies can be built upon from Year 7 to Year 11.

Even before the pandemic, learners found it hard to know how to learn. Suddenly having to learn online highlighted many of the issues that learners face when having to learn independently [1]. This lack of independence, lack of confidence to have a go and lack of skills to address common problems is something that often persists into their working lives. This is why metacognitive skills are so important to develop through the school curriculum. 

When set the challenge of improving the science curriculum, one of the key themes we were interested in developing was metacognition, including self-regulation.  I drew on several sources to understand what skills could and should be developed through a science curriculum including the EEF Metacognition and Self-regulation report [2], the work of James Mannion, Neil Mercer and Kate McAllister on learning to learn [3] and that of Heidi Andrade and Margaret Heritage on formative assessment and academic self-regulation [4]. 

I learnt from this research is that: 

  • Self-regulation strategies can be taught (at all ages). 
  • It requires scaffolding that is eventually removed. 
  • Transferring general approaches to metacognition is challenging, but certainly not impossible. 
  • It is not an efficient way of learning, but has significant long term benefits. 
  • Different strategies work for different people. 
  • There are lots of opportunities in science where strategies can be exemplified, developed and applied. 

From this I realised that although there are many strategies that can support metacognition and self-regulation, for example ‘Plan-Monitor-Evaluate’, explicitly modelling thinking processes, self assessing confidence and competence, and activities such as flash cards to aid learning. Using these alone, ad hoc, do not equip learners to become independent learners. 

Developing metacogntion through science curriculum by Dr Andy Chandler-Grevatt
Plan, monitor and evaluate using flash cards to aid learning

Instead it is important to model each of these strategies with specific content in science, scaffolding their use in specific situations, then applying them to similar situations and eventually the learner making independent decisions about the appropriate strategy for unfamiliar situations. This has to be carefully sequenced within the curriculum. 

Throughout the science curriculum, learners need support not only what they are learning, but how to learn it. When planning the curriculum, teachers need to consider what metacognitive skills learners bring with them from primary school, the offer three phases throughout their secondary education: trying out, using and applying strategies of self-regulation: 

Trying out self-regulation strategies (around Years 7 & 8) 

  • Introduction to a range of specific self-regulation strategies in science specific contexts. e.g. use flash cards and ‘plan, monitor, evaluate’ strategies to learn the symbols of first twenty elements, explicitly modelling the thinking process when writing word equations for salts. 
  • Learners try self-regulation strategies when guided by the teacher. They start to evaluate the strategies. For example, learners are asked to evaluate how successful a specific learning strategy was for them and how they could improve next time. 

Using self-regulation strategies (around Year 9) 

Developing metacognition through science curriculum
Using self-regulation around year 9 can be tricky for learners, so they need the support in transferring strategies to a new situation.
  • This is the tricky bit when learners start to be supported in transferring strategies from a specific situation to a similar or unfamiliar situation. 
  • Learners start to use metacognitive strategies and apply them when faced with challenges. For example, learners have now experienced a range of self-regulation strategies and can be asked ‘How will you learn this?’ or ‘What strategy will you use to support your learning or approach this type of problem?’ 
  • Learners will be becoming more independent in their learning, but still need support and guidance. 

Applying self-regulation strategies (around Years 10 & 11) 

  • Learners use a range of metacognitive strategies that work well for them and apply them when faced with challenges or learning new content.  
  • Learners will be more independent in their learning and more likely to succeed academically and in their life beyond school. 

Metacognition is a highly desirable skill for our learners to use for when preparing for exams, but beyond that when dealing with their everyday lives. The strategies themselves have to be explicitly taught in science contexts, so identifying appropriate opportunities takes careful planning and the fading of scaffolds needs careful consideration so that our learners can become truly independent learners. 


[1] https://educationblog.oup.com/secondary/science/covid-19-recovery-curriculum 

[2] Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning. Seven recommendations for teaching self-regulated learning & metacognition. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports/metacognition-and-self-regulated-learning/ 

[3] Mannion, J., Mercer, N., & McAllister, K. (2018) The Learning Skills curriculum: raising the bar, closing the gap at GCSE. Impact: The Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching. Available at: https://impact.chartered.college/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Mannion-article.pdf (accessed 4/2/2022) 

[4] Andrade, H. L., & Heritage, M. (2017) Using formative assessment to enhance learning, achievement, and academic self-regulation. London: Routledge. 


Developing metacogntion through science curriculum by Dr Andy Chandler-Grevatt

Dr Andrew Chandler-Grevatt has a doctorate in classroom assessment and a passion for science teaching and learning. Having worked as a science teacher for ten years, five of which as an AST, Andy has a real understanding of the pressures and joys of teaching. Alongside his research in school assessment, Andy is a Senior Lecturer in Science Education at the University of Brighton, and is a successful published assessment author. He is the Assessment Editor for Oxford Smart Activate, Activate, AQA Activate, AQA GCSE Sciences Third Edition and OCR Gateway GCSE Science.


For the first time, curriculum, resources, assessments, next steps and CPD work seamlessly together. Click to find out more about Oxford Smart Activate and sign up to access the digital taster.

You may also be interested in: