"Metacognition refers to everything we know about our own thinking processes and our ability to regulate our own thinking."

Dr Shirley Larkin

Dr. Shirley Larkin is a senior lecturer in the Graduate School of Education. She is currently programme director for the part time Masters in Education: Professional Studies programme and works across masters and doctoral programmes. She supervises students on EdD; PhD and DEd Psych programmes.

“My route into academia has been rather convoluted. I have worked in publishing, the arts, the film industry as well as in various education settings from vocational to progressive education. I returned to education when I was offered a post at King’s College, London to work as a research assistant on a primary thinking skills programme (CASE@KS1) with Philip Adey and to study for a PhD.

One of the elements of the CASE programme was metacognition and Philip persuaded me that this would make a good subject for doctoral research. This was a long way from my roots in the Arts. But I soon realised that without knowing, the term the concept of metacognition was something I had thought about during my teaching career. Often bright teenagers were unable to articulate why they felt “stuck” on a task, unable to start an essay on a text they knew well. They had not learned how to learn, nor how to monitor and regulate their own thinking, they didn’t know what knowledge they had nor how to use it.

Metacognition refers to everything we know about our own thinking processes and our ability to regulate our own thinking. Through my PhD I found that even young children can begin the process of developing metacognitively and be given the skills for life-long learning.

The “father” of metacognition research – John Flavell,  wrote that developing metacognition is useful not only for attaining better grades in education but for “making wise and thoughtful life decisions” and it was this phrase which really got me hooked on metacognition research.

Recent research has included: metacognition and children learning to write and metacognition and religious education. The latter project (RE-flect) was a collaboration between myself, Rob Freathy, Karen Walshe, Jonathan Doney and Giles Freathy. We worked closely with 6 primary year 5 teachers to develop a programme of religious education materials based on fostering metacognition and creating metacognitive learning environments in year 5 RE classrooms. We are currently working on a book about the RE-flect project which will include sections written by the participating teachers. We also ran an end of project workshop for local teachers, head teachers and advisory RE teachers. I enjoy working with teachers to enable them to develop their own schemes of work to facilitate and foster metacognition across the curriculum.

I supervise students across masters and doctoral programmes especially in the areas of thinking skills, self regulated learning and of course metacognition. I work with both qualitative and quantitative data. Methodologically I find personal construct psychology and phenomenology particularly useful theoretical perspectives for understanding metacognition. Current PhD students include someone working on metacognition and mathematics in schools in Saudi Arabia; and  another person working on metacognition and decision making in young people in the UK. There is a great deal of research still to be done in the areas of thinking skills, self regulated learning and metacognition and I am always happy to discuss possible projects.