Metacognition is a word you are going to hear as your child goes through school, but what does it mean? Very simply put, metacognition is thinking about thinking.
By Diane Horsten

If metacognition is thinking about thinking, then what is thinking about thinking? I would like you to pause here and consider this. I wonder…
• Did you find thinking about thinking difficult to explain?
• Did you feel you had the concept within your grasp but could not quite pin it down?
• Did you use examples to explain thinking about thinking?

Surprisingly, your answers to all the above should be ‘yes’. Your brain starts to hurt when thinking about thinking. Our ability to think is what makes us distinctly human. However, we have no common language or approach for thinking or teaching thinking. Can you imagine trying to do Maths without a common language such as add, subtract or divide?
Metacognition can be explained as, “awareness or analysis of one’s own learning or thinking processes.” (Merriamwebster, 2020) Imagine yourself as a learner, looking down on the task set for you. You would ask yourself:
• What am I meant to be doing?
• What is the task?
• What is the learning?

The Education Endowment Foundation has conducted numerous studies on metacognition, finding it holds great promise to accelerate a child’s progress by 7 months and being cost effective. The EEF also acknowledges that although metacognition holds promise, it can be difficult to implement. (EEF, 2018)

At Holy Rosary School we have adopted a structured and explicit approach to teaching metacognition through the form of, “The A to Z of Thinking Moves” created by Roger Sutcliffe. (Dialogueworks, 2020) There are 26 moves, each corresponding to the letter of the alphabet. Each move represents a type of thinking. For example, the move of Question asks us to question. The move of Connect asks us to look for similarities and the move of Divide asks us to look for differences. Each move is taught with the aid of an icon, a hand sign, synonyms and coaching questions. The moves are comprehensive, understandable, and memorable.
Most importantly, these moves provide our children and teachers with a common language for thinking, not something new but
rather different types of daily thinking and doing. The efficacy of these moves became apparent to me while substituting in a Grade 1 class for a few weeks. It was remarkable how quickly these young girls memorised the moves and hand signs, and easily began
implementing them. Connect and Divide were certainly their favourites. When learning phonics, they were quick to delete or add sounds to make new words from an existing word. A highlight for me was when we were counting in 3’s.

From the back of the classroom I heard, “I have made a connection. One number is odd, and the next number is even.” My belief that the young child has tremendous capacity for learning was reinforced. It also became clear that Thinking Moves is suitable for all age groups. Thinking Moves also incorporates self regulation and self reflection. The move of Ahead is used for predicting but can also be used for planning. When provided with a project or task, children are encouraged to think Ahead. Very often children think of the final result but do not factor in the steps to get there. By thinking Ahead, they are encouraged to slow their thinking down and plan the steps to successfully complete the task.

Think Back is our second move and incorporates, what do you remember? However, we also use this move to reflect on our learning. We ask children to think Back and consider what went well or what was difficult? Were they involved and what did they learn? How did they feel about the learning?
Thinking Moves does not only create an awareness of your own thought processes but also helps to improve your thinking. They are used to deepen learning and move the learner forward. Once you are aware of your thinking and types of thinking, you can apply the appropriate thinking to tasks. Thinking Moves is especially beneficial for inquiry based learning, including Philosophy for

During lockdown and online learning, the girls were provided with Hometalk which encouraged families to enter meaningful conversations. Each lesson, a Thinking Move was explicitly explored. The power of metacognition and in-depth learning is brilliantly demonstrated by 10 year old, Eden van Wyngaardt, whose astonishing world view was brought to the fore when asked to Zoom out and look at the bigger picture. Her response is self directed with her asking the questions and responding accordingly.

Using Thinking Moves, the learner can apply higher order thinking skills to their learning, making discoveries on their own. This makes the learning more memorable, more meaningful and most importantly, thinking about your thinking is fun!

To find out more about Holy Rosary School and Thinking Moves contact:
For more information on Thinking Moves visit
To book training in South Africa visit

Dialogueworks, 2020. Dialogueworks. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 4 August 2020].
EEF, 2018. Education Endowment Foundation. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 4 August 2020].