Nord Anglia Education
Nord Anglia
10 May, 2024

‘Making the intangible aspects of education measurable’: our metacognition research with Boston College

Metacognition Research

We sat down with Dr Kate Erricker, our Assistant Director of Curriculum, and Dr Damian Bebell, Assistant Research Professor at Boston College, to lift the lid on exactly what our metacognition research project aims to accomplish.

Let's start with introductions

Kate Erricker: I'm Kate and I lead our Metacognition Project where we're working with Boston College to explore how metacognition impacts our students’ learning.

Damian Bebell: I'm Damian and I specialise in researching educational initiatives and technologies worldwide. I'm thrilled to support Nord Anglia schools in their journey with the metacognition programme.

For those unfamiliar, could you explain what metacognition is in simple terms?

DB: Absolutely. Metacognition is essentially thinking about thinking—understanding how we think about and approach learning tasks.

KE: Exactly! Metacognition involves three main areas: self-awareness (knowing how we learn), regulation (applying strategies to learning tasks), and transfer (using these skills across different contexts). As children get better at recognising their own thinking processes, they are then able to actively improve how they learn.

How did this partnership come about, and what’s its significance?

KE: It started with an active search for a research partner who could objectively evaluate the impact of Nord Anglia Education’s approach to teaching metacognition. We wanted a reputable third party so that we weren’t grading our own work. Boston College was highly recommended and ticked all the right boxes for us.

DB: I was lucky enough to know Chief Education Officer Dr Elise Ecoff and my interest was really sparked when I learned about all the unique educational initiatives available at Nord Anglia schools. When the opportunity arose to work together on this, we jumped at the chance to explore a partnership.

What do we hope to achieve with this research project, and who will benefit from it?

KE: Our main goal is to assess how our approach to metacognition is impacting student outcomes, whether that’s academically, socially, or personally. We also aim to refine our implementation strategies and share best practice across all the Nord Anglia schools.

DB: Our role at Boston College is to assess the implementation of the metacognition programme and provide insights to really boost its effectiveness. One way we do this is by seeing what’s working well in specific Nord Anglia schools, and then amplifying that work and bringing it across to other students globally.

So, what have we learned so far? Are there any emerging themes?

DB: First, we know that Nord Anglia teachers universally value metacognition, and this shared value sets the stage for us to bring out its benefits in more tangible ways. It’s still early days when it comes to our data collection, but what we’re seeing is that our teaching approach is working.

We see from our survey data so far that teachers across global campuses really value metacognition:

  • 84% shared a belief that metacognition will help students to be successful in school
  • 87% agreed that it will help students to be successful beyond school

We're also excited about making students’ growth in skills like curiosity and compassion visible through our research instruments.

KE: To add onto that, we know teachers find our approach—which uses the Harvard Project Zero Thinking Routines and links these to the development of skills and attributes—valuable because it’s a shared approach that can be used across any subject area. More specifically, using the Learner Portfolio as a way to capture and evidence student progress means teachers really can measure student growth in those skills mentioned by Damian, and this makes it much easier to provide great feedback to students.


What excites you both most about the research?

KE: As a teacher, I'm thrilled that we're finally able to measure student growth in those hard-to-pin-down life skills, which are so often tough to quantify. This is breaking new ground in my opinion.

DB: We're excited about making intangible aspects of education measurable. This research empowers schools and teachers to measure what truly matters to them, moving beyond traditional data and outcome measures. I’m also pleased to have the opportunity to provide schools and teachers with data on what truly matters to them, which will help them to better understand and support their students’ overall development.

Will we share our research publicly to help other schools around the world?

KE: Yes. We're sharing reports and findings with participating NAE schools. We also plan to publish our results in academic journals and present it at conferences to contribute to the broader research community.

Do you see chances to collaborate with additional educational institutions because of this research? 

DB: We're already collaborating with educational experts such as Professor Rose Luckin and Professor Stephen Fleming from UCL, and Dr Flossie Chua from Harvard through our Research Advisory Board. This project represents a new global voice for research, and Nord Anglia's network of schools offers a great way to innovate in education.

Are there plans to continue working together on future research projects?

KE: Absolutely. As Damian mentioned, we've already formed a Research Advisory Board made up of experts from various institutions, and we're keen to deepen these collaborations in the future.

DB: Our ultimate goal is to contribute to the global conversations happening in education and foster a new model of collaborative research and knowledge where what we’ve learned can then benefit not only our schools and students, but students everywhere.

KE: We look forward to sharing more about the progress we’re making with our metacognition research soon!