Evidence Led Practice

Teaching Assistants - The Key to Metacognition

Guest blog post: Abi Joachim, HLTA & ELE for Ipswich Associate Research Schools, shares the importance of metacognition in TA practice.

The EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit indicates that explicitly teaching metacognitive strategies, such as planning, monitoring and evaluating, can have a significantly positive impact on pupil outcomes (+7 months additional progress). The EEF Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning guidance report, outlines seven key recommendations, which ​“offer teachers and senior leaders practical advice on how to develop their pupils’ metacognitive skills and knowledge”; however, I would argue that teaching assistants (TAs) are in fact best placed to achieve this goal.

Teaching assistants form a significant and growing section of the educational workforce with 271,370 FTE TAs employed in UK schools in 2020 and were recognised as the ​‘unsung heroes of the pandemic’. The EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit suggests that deploying and training TAs to deliver one-to-one or small group targeted interventions can lead to positive outcomes for pupils (+4 months additional progress), but little evidence currently exists on the positive impact of teaching assistants in the classroom.

The EEF ​‘Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants’ guidance report draws together a wealth of research on the use of TAs in the classroom and also outlines seven recommendations, with the first four relating to classroom deployment, preparedness and practice. Recommendation three: Use TAs to help pupils develop independent learning skills and manage their own learning, links seamlessly with the metacognition recommendations. Although I believe that teaching assistants have a role to play in all these recommendations, I will consider recommendations 3 and 5 in detail as they clearly lend themselves to effective TA classroom practice.

Recommendation 3: Model your own thinking to help pupils develop their metacognitive and cognitive skills

The Scaffolding Framework (Bosanquet et al., 2021) offers a least help first model to inform TA interactions with pupils. This structured model promotes independent learning, beginning with the expectation that pupils, given the right circumstances, will scaffold their own learning, and that support should only be increased incrementally, as needed. The modelling stage of this framework represents the highest level of TA support with the least independent learning, but is necessary when other strategies have not been successful. Re-modelling, as the teacher will have already modelled to the class, offers the opportunity for TAs to verbalise their own thought process through a first-person commentary on a specific area of difficulty. When practised directly after modelling, pupils are able to mentally rehearse the thinking process, allowing them to develop their metacognitive skills. Over time, TAs can reduce the support offered and move pupils towards self-scaffolding.

Recommendation 5: Promote and develop metacognitive talk in the classroom

Radford et al. (2015) examined TA interactions with pupils and identified three different scaffolding roles through conversation analysis. The heuristic role sees TAs support pupils to develop their own problem-solving strategies through effective questioning. This is illustrated through the verbal prompting and clueing stages of the Scaffolding Framework, where TAs use questions and statements to move learning on. Prompting questions, such as ​‘What is your plan?’ and ​‘What could you do next? encourage pupils to develop the metacognitive skills of planning and monitoring, and clues provide hints to allow pupils to access strategies they already have.

Recommendation 1: Teachers should acquire the professional understanding and skills to develop their pupils’ metacognitive knowledge

I would suggest that metacognition provides a lens through which to focus TA classroom practice, using the Scaffolding Framework as the model to develop independent learners, but this can only be successful through a commitment to CPD. Like teachers, TAs need the training and ongoing professional development to acquire the skills and knowledge to carry out their role effectively. This learning journey should be supported through positive collaborative working with classroom teachers, allowing TAs to observe and develop strategies they can replicate with pupils.


Bosanquet, P., Radford, J. and Webster, R. (2021) The teaching assistant’s guide to effective interaction: how to maximise your practice. Second edition, Oxen: Routledge

Radford, J., Bosanquet, P., Webster, R. and Blatchford, P. (2015) Scaffolding learning for independence: clarifying teacher and TA roles for children with SEN, Learning and Instruction, 36: 1 – 10.

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Teaching Assistants – The Key to Metacognition | Unity Research School

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