Teachers matter for metacognition: facilitating metacognition in the primary school through teacher-pupil interactions

Heather E. Branigan*, David I. Donaldson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Despite the ubiquity of Structured Thinking Activities (STAs) throughout primary school education in the UK and beyond, little is known about the ways that activities such as learning logs are used to support pupils to think about and manage their own thinking (i.e., engage with metacognition). Here we investigated how pupils engaged with STAs throughout a school year by conducting an in-depth case study of one Scottish primary four classroom, examining factors that facilitated and/or inhibited pupil metacognition. By triangulating data from participant observation, interviews and document analysis, we 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 (i.e., via discussions that occurred as part of the STAs). Our findings suggest 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. We discuss the critical importance of teacher talk for metacognition, emphasising the ‘dual role’ that teachers must play when facilitating metacognition within the classroom.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100718
JournalThinking Skills and Creativity
Early online date26 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Learning logs
  • Metacognition
  • Pedagogy
  • Teacher-pupil interactions


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