Matthew - Reflective Learning - Global

A Winning Formula

The background

After being introduced to Apex High through its Collaboration Schools partner, Acorn Education, the school started using Reflective Learning throughout 2021. Being a relatively new school, Apex High has always been open to innovative programmes. It has implemented a similar programme to tackle backlogs in literacy, with both literacy and numeracy being a major need in the community where it is situated.

The baseline results

In this analysis, we will focus on two groups of learners, the 2021 cohort of Grade 10s and 11s, both of which worked on Reflective Learning. After conducting the baseline assessments, for those that completed all seven assessments, it was found that the Grade 10 learners had an average Maths competency of 3.4 grade-level, while the Grade 11 learners were at 4.1 grade-level average. 

The intervention

For the majority of the year, Apex High only had access to 20 computers. Despite implementing Reflective Learning across 900 students, it was able to provide students with one 45-period per week due to its extended day. Later in the year, the school were donated 200 tablets which could be used for extra contact time.

The improvements

The left-hand graph below compares the grade-level marks for the 2020 and 2021 cohorts of Grade 10 learners. The 2021 cohort started substantially behind the 2020 cohort (38% vs 72%), but by the end of 2021 ended well-ahead (53% vs 35%). The drop in the 2020 cohort can be explained by the impact of Covid-19, however, such a drop would be expected to perpetuate into the following year’s cohort. 

Instead, by implementing Reflective Learning, the 2021 cohort was able to improve nonetheless. This is shown in the right-hand graph which tracks the 2021 Grade 10 cohort over two years. In their Grade 9 year, the group did not improve over the course of the year. However, through 2021 their year-end average improved by 18%.

Doing a similar analysis for the 2021 Grade 11 cohort, the picture is similar. While the cohort started behind the 2020 cohort (49% vs 58%) and ended ahead of it (55% vs 47%), the two-year tracking shows something interesting. Over the course of 2020, the Covid-19 impact was far greater, with grade-level marks decreasing from 72% to 35%. However, by working on Reflective Learning, learners were able to arrest this decline and see marks start to improve in 2021 (starting at 49% in Term 1 and finishing the year at 55% in Term 4). This demonstrates the ability of Reflective Learning’s catch-up tool to tackle and reverse the effects of Covid-19 on learning loss.

When considering that learners are only approximately 20% through the catch-up process, one would expect there to be further improvements as they have more opportunities to interact with the programme.

High Improvement on the Lowveld

The background
In 2021, Ntiyiso Consulting sponsored a project which used Reflective Learning to assist 58 Grade 8 learners at Lowveld Academy in Limpopo. After introducing the programme to the school principal, Maths HOD and wider Maths department, th 

The baseline results
The school had fifteen computers available for the programme and stable connectivity ensured that no technical issues were run into. Covid-19 restrictions, however, did reduce the amount of contract time due to learners only attending school every second day. Learners had access to the lab in two-hour sessions, enabling them to complete all diagnostic assessments over five days. Even though the learners were in Grade 8, their average competency in Maths was just below Grade 4 level. 

The intervention
The school dedicated class teaching time to the programme, allowing learners to spend time in the school’s computer laboratory, under supervision, to do their catch-up. The majority of learners were provided one 40-minute period per week of contact time with Reflective Learning. 

The improvements

After working on Reflective Learning for two terms, learners had made significant progress in catching up their gaps. The improvements (green) for individual learners in the first two threads are shown below. Across all threads, the learners caught up 2.2 years in the space of six-months, with the largest improvement being 5.1 years.

These improvements in the Reflective Learning assessments translated into improvement in grade-level marks. When comparing the class mark in Term 1 (42% average) and Term 3 (64% average), the class average improved by 22% over the period of two terms. 

Understanding metacognition and its role in mathematics

What is metacognition?

Metacognition is “thinking about thinking.” It is the ability to recognise, analyse and reflect on our own cognitive processes. Believed to be unique to humans, metacognition enables us to think about what we do know, what we need to know and what strategies we can apply to solve a problem. Metacognitive processes allow us to learn from prior experiences, and then apply those learned strategies to new situations. This provides invaluable opportunities to learners, especially in mathematics. 

At Reflective Learning, metacognition is the educational cornerstone that provides a crucial shift in focus from schooling to actual learning. 

We provide a learning catch-up intervention for maths based on a metacognitive model, and our framework offers a new approach for teachers to deliver targeted, personalised catch-up materials. We identify learning gaps in mathematics across 81 threshold concepts and deliver learning material designed to fast-track student learning. 

With our framework, students have the ability to catch up four to six grades in mathematics in less than a single year!

We have created this guide to assist you in better understanding metacognition and its immensely valuable role when it comes to teaching mathematics. 

The language of metacognition. 

Before we begin, here are some helpful definitions when using this guide: 


The integrating of new knowledge with prior knowledge in order to increase understanding and abstract deeper meaning. (Learning is dependent on cognition.)


The mental processes involved in gaining knowledge, comprehension and understanding. These processes include paying attention, perceiving, thinking, knowing, remembering, evaluating, communicating and problem-solving.

Metacognitive awareness 

Recognising the limit of your knowledge and figuring out how to expand that knowledge. (This includes metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive regulation.)

Metacognitive knowledge 

This refers to knowing what you know and what you don’t know. It includes understanding how you learn and how to apply relevant strategies to increase your understanding. 

Metacognitive regulation/expertise 

This is managing and improving your learning through planning, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating learning strategies with self-reflection to order to increase cognition.

Metacognitive strategies 

These are the actions you take to monitor, direct, and optimise your learning experiences.

The history of metacognition.

The term ‘metacognition’ was coined by American developmental psychologist John H. Flavell in the early 1970s to describe what he called “cognition about cognition.” 

A more helpful definition, in the context of education, was given by Cornford (2002) who says that metacognition is the learners’ knowledge of themselves as learners. It encompasses their knowledge of their strengths, challenges, needs, course context and tasks, as well as their ability to select relevant learning strategies and resources. It also includes the learners’ evaluations of their thinking strategies in order to expand their knowledge and extend their abilities.

In Metacognition: A Bridge between Cognitive Psychology and Educational Practice, Kuhn & Dean (2004), the claim is made that both critical thinking and metacognition can be defined as “awareness of one’s own thinking and reflection on the thinking of self and others as an object of cognition” (p. 270). The value of critical thinking is undisputed, and its similarity with metacognition makes them both to be worthwhile goals of classroom practice.

Some interesting findings regarding metacognition.

  • While some people are naturally more metacognitive than others, everyone can be metacognitive. Children as young as three years old can demonstrate metacognitive behaviour. 
    (Whitebread & Coltman, 2010; Bernard, Proust, & Clement, 2015)
  • Metacognition can be intentionally taught. 
    (Schraw, 1998; Tanner, 2012)
  • Metacognition and self-regulation” are considered a high impact, low cost approach to improving learner attainment backed by an extensive and “strong body of research from psychology and education.” 
    (EEF, 2018)
  • Pupils using metacognitive strategies are “the most effective learners.” 
    (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006)
  • Metacognitive approaches to learning produce greater retention of knowledge and understanding. There is significant evidence indicating that people with greater metacognitive abilities are better problem solvers.
    (Mevarech & Kramarski, 2003)
  • Metacognitive approaches to learning reduce the educational disadvantage of low-achieving students while simultaneously being greatly beneficial for high-achieving students. 
    (White & Frederiksen, 1998)
  • Metacognitive awareness initiates the student to take charge of their own learning experiences. 
    (Hacker, 2009) 
  • Metacognition gives students greater control over their learning which leads to greater understanding of content. 
    (Baird & White, 1984)
  • A review of over 50 international studies conducted over the past 20 years (to explore the effects of teaching metacognition in classrooms) shows the consistent and significant impact of a metacognition focus, adding eight months of learning progress to learners’ grade-level outcomes. 
    (Perry, Lundie & Golder, 2019)
  • With a metacognitive approach to learning, learners can catch up four to six grades of knowledge in Mathematics in a single year. 
    (Butchart, 2017)

The importance of metacognition for mathematics.

Metacognition offers a new approach to learning mathematics. Metacognitive students are aware of gaps in their understanding and are willing to fill these gaps. Consequently, metacognition builds motivation and influences student behaviour. 

Metacognition teaches students how to think about how they think and how they approach learning. This has the potential to transform a student’s trajectory because the internal dialogue goes from “I can’t” to “How can I?”

Reflective Learning provides a framework to teach and advance metacognitive skills to a high level in mathematics. Learners are first guided through a 4-step process that identifies learning gaps across 81 threshold concepts. Catch-up courses are then assigned to each learner based on their individual needs. Metacognitive activities are embedded in these courses, and they include formative feedback and continuous assessment. 

Embedding metacognition in the learning of mathematics produces:

Higher achievement

More engagement

Improved behaviour 

Greater motivation 

Independent and self-directed learning 

A positive attitude to learning 

An accurate ability to analyse and evaluate one’s own knowledge and understanding

Increased resilience 

Emotional and social growth 

Research by Paris and Winograd (1990) concludes that “metacognition helps students to develop intellectual curiosity and persistence, to be inventive in their pursuits of knowledge, and to be strategic in their problem-solving behaviour” (p. 10).

How to teach metacognitive skills in the classroom.

Metacognitive activities unlock greater learning potential. A metacognitive learner notices when they don’t understand something and then they can do something about it. Metacognition becomes an internal guide that equips the learner for autonomous, self-sustaining, successful learning. 

Here are some practical ways that you can teach metacognitive skills to your learners:

Formative diagnostic assessments 

Conduct formative diagnostic assessments when introducing a subject, topic or concept. These assessments must include the students in the marking, analysis and subsequent discussion to ensure that each student can identify what they already know and what they still need to know in order to understand their knowledge gaps. 

Pre-test self-estimations 

Use pre-test self-estimations and guide students in comparing these with their post-test results to improve their understanding of their strengths, challenges, and what they can and cannot do just yet.

Metacognitive questions 

Create and maintain a supportive environment in which students can ask and answer metacognitive questions presented by both their teachers and their peers.

Structure knowledge 

Assist students to structure knowledge. To do this, you can use visuals such as thinking maps, mind maps, concept maps, and learning pathways to show the links and dependencies of the important concepts that underpin the understanding students need to acquire. 


Model ‘thinking-aloud’ when presenting and demonstrating: This involves making explicit what you do implicitly and making visible the expertise that is often invisible to the novice learner.

Varied visualisations and multiple strategies 

Present varied visualisations and multiple strategies for learning and guide students to explain and justify their choice of a particular method of working or solving problems.


Use self-analyses to clearly articulate what mastery of a topic or concept means and guide students to evaluate their own understanding when concluding the topic or concept.


Use self-reflection to guide students in thinking about how they learn. For example, what do they need from others? How can they successfully learn on their own? 

Learning goals

Model and guide students in how to set attainable learning goals and then monitor their progress in achieving them.  

Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century – Alfred Edward Perlman

The one really competitive skill is the skill of being able to learn – Seymour Papert

How Reflective Learning is driving innovation.

In 2020, Reflective Learning was placed 4th in the world at the Global Edtech Startup Awards. While we are grateful for this achievement, it is nothing compared to the pride that we feel when we see our students becoming empowered learners with a new-found confidence in their own abilities and their dramatically improved mathematics results. 

At Reflective Learning, we use seven learning journeys that intentionally cut across the years of education to build and strengthen the threshold concepts necessary for success in mathematics. Students take part in mathematics activities that are personalised, fun, and highly motivational. 

As a teacher, you can use our software to fast-track grade-level learning in mathematics. Our software provides formative feedback so that students can understand their learning and can develop personal metacognitive skills. 

The purpose of the Reflective Learning intervention design is to enable students, as well as their teachers and parents, to identify learning backlogs and then to catch up these backlogs. 

By using Reflective Learning for student catch-up, you can close specific gaps in maths learning with a solution backed by decades of research. You can help your students identify their knowledge gaps and catch them up within a year. 

Creating lifelong learners

The metacognitive pedagogical model provides the added benefit of advancing students’ metacognitive skills so that they can use these to become agents of their own learning. This is the core business of a teacher! 

After all, successful teaching results in self-sustaining, successful learners who are able to understand their learning process and its requirements and can access and utilise the resources they need (human or otherwise) to create their own knowledge and understanding. 

In the future, this will increase the opportunities for learners entering uncertain job markets and ensure their value as contributors in their communities and countries.

Metacognition and why it matters in education

Metacognition refers to the mental processes we use to plan, monitor, and evaluate how well we understand and can do something. It is about understanding how we learn (cognitive understanding) and controlling how we learn (cognitive regulation). 

In the classroom, metacognition empowers learners by: 

  • Encouraging them to understand how they learn best.
  • Enabling them to adopt learning strategies that will improve and expand their learning. 

This is reflective learning! It involves students analysing and evaluating their learning experiences in order to learn more successfully. 

A metacognitive model of learning. 

At Reflective Learning, we provide a catch-up intervention based on a metacognitive model of learning. Learners are first guided through a diagnostic process that identifies gaps across 81 threshold concepts. They are then provided with personalised catch-up courses based on their individual needs, which includes feedback and continuous assessment. 

This coupling of guided self-analyses and good tutorship leads to incredible results. Learners who lack self-esteem after having struggled for years trying to “keep up” find themselves empowered to work smarter, building efficacy in their learning, and achieving milestones they previously thought were unattainable.  

How metacognition affects learning.

Most of us use metacognition every day without even realising it. It’s how we make decisions and analyse what we are doing. Suffice to say, it is an intrinsic part of every human! 

While everyone has metacognition, many learners are never taught metacognitive strategies to enhance their learning. Without the ability to use metacognition positively, kids tend to bully themselves with thoughts like: “Everyone else is finding this assignment easy. I’m just not as clever.” This negativity results in learners experiencing low self-esteem, low self-worth, and it often leads to undesirable outcomes in the classroom. 

Teaching learners to engage through positive metacognition helps them move away from the mindset of “I can’t do this” to “How can I do this?” This seemingly simple shift unlocks a new mindset in the learner that develops greater self-esteem and ultimately manifests in positive outcomes in the classroom and beyond. 

A fresh approach for teachers.

Learners who struggle to “keep up” can often be uncooperative or disinterested, making teaching them an arduous task. Thankfully, the “metacognitive model,” a Reflective Learning framework, offers a fresh approach for teachers that is based on a foundation of research spanning decades and showing widely documented success. 

For high achievers, metacognition provides insight to sustain excellence. For learners who struggle in the classroom, developing metacognition offers them a way to stabilise and improve their learning. The true value of metacognition is evident when learners are equipped to work through difficult situations and overcome their learning challenges. 

Research from North Central Regional Educational Laboratory shows that learners who demonstrate metacognitive skills perform better on exams and complete work more efficiently than those who do not. 

Metacognition and its impact on the future. 

A requirement in our current knowledge society is the ability to learn much quicker in order to cope with the increased volume of information – and then to be able to process that information more effectively too. 

Research from cognitive psychology shows that the ability to self-direct, monitor and correct one’s own learning is critical for lifelong learning – and being a lifelong learner provides a competitive edge in the global economy. 

However, this all starts with teaching children to think about their thinking. As teachers, this is the most valuable skill that we can impart to our students. When learners have the ability to analyse their own learning – and then take action to expand their knowledge – they become independent, self-sustaining and successful learners who can make meaningful contributions to society. 

Teaching metacognition in the classroom

Metacognition enables students to recognise the limit of their knowledge and to figure out how to expand that knowledge. This is an incredibly valuable tool. 

It is this metacognitive awareness that initiates the student to take charge of their own learning. For a learner agency to be successful there has to be a fundamental shift from teacher to student in the responsibility for – and the control over – learning. 

As teachers, we not only have to relinquish some control to students, but we must also use our expertise to set up conditions where students can assume control of their own learning. This allows students to assemble their own personal learning toolkit to enable them to continue being successful learners when their teachers are no longer around.

Metacognition strategies 

Teachers can use the following strategies to teach metacognition in the classroom:  


Partner with students to assist them in taking charge of furthering their own learning.

Pedagogical insights 

Share all your pedagogical insights with each student so that they can understand themselves as learners. 


Guide students to recognise their learning needs and preferences and assist them to identify their learning gaps.


Provide opportunities for self-assessment, self-analysis and self-reflection on knowledge and tasks.

Graphic organisers 

Use graphic organisers to structure knowledge.


Discuss alternative learning and problem-solving strategies.


Analyse errors and discuss common misconceptions.


Evaluate successes and challenges.

These are all reliable strategies for teaching metacognition in the classroom. Let’s go further and apply them in the Conceptual Framework, drafted by Tracey Butchart, for Reflective Learning. This is ‘Metacognition 2.0!’

The Conceptual Framework for Reflective Learning

The Conceptual Framework for Reflective Learning was borne from an intervention that enabled fifty Grade 10 South African learners to catch up backlogs of three to six years within one school year – an incredible achievement! 

The framework is based on a ‘metacognitive model’ and the science behind it is backed by hundreds of research papers and studies. 

This ‘metacognitive model’ is based on the following key components:

A cognitive-constructivist theoretical framework. 

This instructs how people learn by linking new knowledge to prior learning. It incorporates new findings in neuroscience and psychology which run throughout Reflective Learning’s materials to empower learning.  

Visual learning pathways. 

These help students understand the conceptual dependencies for high performance. Reflective Learning uses 81 conceptual landmarks to form a full set of visual learning pathways.

Transformative assessment. 

This is a diagnostic assessment undertaken by each student which provides measures of learning gaps in units of grade years at the concept level. 

Individually customised catch-up courses. 

A customised learning journey is created – based on the transformative assessment results – to ensure that the individual student’s needs are met.

Metacognitive strategies. 

These help students to learn the metacognitive language, guide self-analysis, facilitate discussion and help to understand their own thinking in order to accelerate learning and increase the potential for academic success. 

How long does this framework take to work?

The advantages and benefits offered by this framework are substantial. The evidence indicates that a metacognitive approach to teaching and learning helps students catch up rapidly. According to the ‘EEF – Metacognition and regulation review, 2020,’ metacognition can accelerate grade-level learning by the equivalent of an additional 7+ months’ progress. In terms of catching up learning backlogs, Reflective Learning measures improvements of four to six grade levels in a mere six months!

The end result.

With a metacognitive approach to learning, students are able to better understand themselves as learners. They acquire the skills to drive and control their own learning, inspiring them to take a greater interest in their learning and empowering them to enjoy greater success. 

As teachers, our focus on metacognition enables us to successfully hand over the baton of learning from ourselves to our students and equip them for their future success.

3 ways to develop metacognitive skills

Developing metacognitive skills in young people needs to be an important focus area for teachers. After all, metacognitive skills help learners to think about their thinking and this invaluable ability assists them in analysing, evaluating, and taking control of their learning experiences.  

Metacognition is an intrinsic human ability, and research shows that children as young as three can demonstrate metacognitive behaviour. The question is, how can we develop these metacognitive skills? This post provides you with 3 practical ways to do just that.  

Start with self-assessment

Self-assessment is a key part of the metacognition cycle. Here, students learn to identify their strengths and weaknesses so that they can determine:

  • What they do know.
  • What they don’t know.
  • What they want to master. 
  • What they need to do to achieve this goal. 

Self-assessment activities should be embedded in classroom activities. For example, you can introduce a new topic by asking students to rate their existing knowledge of the topic first. This can take the form of a small test. You can then guide the learners in marking the test and encouraging them to analyse the difference between what they thought they knew and what they actually know. 

These self-prediction activities are important for developing an understanding of self-knowledge because students can clearly see whether they are overestimating or underestimating what they know. This recognition activates metacognition.

Self-assessment identifies areas that require improvement, and it promotes worthwhile reflection. In this way, it empowers students to be more effective learners.

Model appropriate self-analysis 

Self-analysis is a form of self-questioning – or self-talk – that promotes evaluation and it can have a significant, positive impact on learning success. 

When you are explaining problem-solving examples to learners, always make your own thinking visible by describing why you are doing what you are doing. 

Embedding self-analysis in learning activities can also be task-based. Here are some questions that you can have learners ask themselves before, during and after a task:

Before the task:

  • Is this similar to a previous task? 
  • What is expected of me? 
  • What should I do first?

During the task:

  • Am I on the right track? 
  • What can I do differently? 
  • Do I need help? Who can I ask? 

After the task:

  • What worked well?
  • What didn’t work well? 
  • Can I do what worked well in other situations? 

Self-analysis can also be knowledge specific. This has the added benefit of articulating what mastery of a concept entails. The table below is an example of this when comparing fractions:

Use visualisation to connect knowledge  

Metacognition provides students with a “tool kit” of learning strategies. One of these is visualisation. Visualisation is the creation of images in the mind. Being able to visualise something, such as a video scene, diagram, or picture, is far easier than remembering text. 

Visualisation leads to better memory and understanding, which assists learners in expressing themselves more meaningfully. 

Here are some examples of how to include visualisation in lessons:

  • Ask students what they are “picturing” in their heads when they read or listen to you. 
  • Have students draw pictures and write down words while they are reading or listening. (You can guide their drawings for the sake of consistency.)
  • Use graphic organisers. These help students make connections between concepts and they show how certain concepts depend on others to build understanding.

A metacognitive model

The ability to “think about thinking” is possibly the most powerful tool we can give young people. Reflective Learning’s catch-up intervention follows a metacognitive model that is far more comprehensive than this article covers. We help students to identify learning gaps in order to catch-up mathematics far more effectively and sustainably.

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