Promoting Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning in Students

Metacognition and self-regulated learning are two important skills for students to develop, which can have a significant impact on their academic progress. It is not enough that they just know the material; it is also important that they know how to apply it, when and why. In this article, we explore how metacognition and self-regulated learning can help students achieve academic progress, independence, transferable skills and more. We discuss the impacts of metacognition on student motivation as well as their ability to plan their own work.

What are metacognition and self-regulated learning?

Metacognition and self-regulated learning are cognitive skills that refer to the ability to monitor one’s own thinking and learning.

Metacognition can be defined as the ability to understand one’s own thoughts. It includes things like understanding how a person learns, what he or she knows and what they don’t know. It is often thought of as "thinking about thinking" or, in education, “learning to learn”. It's an important skill for students of any age because it gives them a way to monitor themselves and think through problems when they don't know how or where to start.

Self-regulated learning is metacognitive in nature. This means that students must have an awareness of their strengths and weaknesses and then set goals for themselves about where they want to go with their knowledge.

Self-regulated learning means different things depending on age group but in general, it refers to being able to make decisions about your own behaviour, learning and time. Students who regulate their own learning are more independent in managing tasks without being told what to do by someone else all the time.

A self-regulated learner is able to adapt and adjust their learning based on what they are experiencing at that moment. They will also reflect on their progress, recognising what is working for them and using those strategies again to keep up the momentum of success.

There are 4 main types of self-regulation:

  • Goal-setting (setting one’s own standards) - choosing academic tasks based on interest levels so that some tasks are difficult while others feel much easier.
  • Self-reinforcement (also called self-motivation) - with positive feedback (and warn them about any areas of difficulty). Self-reinforcement is also related closely with self-talk, a crucial strategy for overcoming obstacles – if we can use language like 'I can do this' or 'it's not too hard', students will be more likely to succeed.
Speech bubbles showing examples of self-talk such as "I can do this"
  • Self-monitoring - when working towards achieving those goals, students should be monitoring their own learning and not relying too heavily on feedback from the teacher or peers to assess how well they're doing. They need to know when it's time for them to step back and have a break before tackling more complex skills.
  • Self-evaluation - once students set goals for themselves, they need to evaluate where they are in terms of reaching those goals. They should understand where they are in the process of reaching a goal, and use that information to determine the next steps for their learning.

Why metacognition and self-regulated learning are important for students?

Metacognition is when a student can think about their thinking process, which includes understanding how they learn best, what motivates them, their strengths and shortcomings as well as deciding on the appropriate strategy to use in order to achieve academic success.

Self-regulated learning involves setting goals for themselves that are tailored towards personal needs and interests while also implementing strategies such as monitoring progress or problem-solving.

They are important for students because they help them regulate their attention, manage how difficult or easy a task is, set goals and deadlines as well as understand how knowledge relates to other concepts.

Metacognition and self-regulated learning help students develop independence because they take ownership of tasks rather than waiting for someone else to tell them what to do next. It also aids transferable skills development by giving students self-knowledge that will allow them to be more effective learners in future subjects and careers even outside of school settings.

Diagram showing the 3 stages of metacognition; planning, monitoring and evaluation
[Image source]

It's crucial that children develop these skills early on because they will help them progress both academically and socially - it helps them develop self-knowledge in relation to their own academic and personal strengths and weaknesses which can ease transitions such as moving from primary to secondary education or from higher education into employment.

Learning Hive believes that metacognition is a fundamental aspect of an educational setting and it is crucial for students to practice metacognition skills in order to assess their own learning and make decisions that will lead them towards academic success.

Metacognition and self-regulated learning in the classroom

Promoting metacognition and self-regulated learning in the classroom can be done by structuring lessons in a way that encourages students to think about what they have learned and how it applies. Teachers should also encourage their students to monitor themselves and notice when they're struggling with something - this will give them the opportunity to change what they are doing or seek assistance.

When students are struggling with something, they should have a few different strategies in their arsenal that will help them accomplish what they're trying to achieve. This could include taking notes on difficult material, using a highlighter when reading texts, alternating between doing maths problems from an assignment as well as those found online or spending time researching an answer rather than relying on their teacher alone to feed them the information.

What's more, students learn more effectively when they know why, where and when things need to happen as well as understanding the consequences of not completing tasks on time or at all, so it is important to contextualise their learning (making connections between what they know/have learned now so they can apply it later on).

Allowing students self-monitoring time is also important because it gives them an opportunity for autonomy, a valuable, transferable skill.

Since students are often assessed by their teacher, this can leave few opportunities for self-evaluation. It is therefore important that teachers find a careful balance between both teacher assessment and self-assessment, embedding opportunities to develop metacognitive and self-regulatory skills into the curriculum.

That is not to say, however, that teacher assessment is of less importance! Self-assessment should be in addition to receiving positive and constructive feedback from the classroom teacher. Without teacher feedback, we know that motivation can be negatively affected, leading some learners towards feelings of failure or a lack of confidence, hence a balance is important to find.

The EEF's 7 recommendations for teaching metacognition and self-regulated learning

As we've explored, metacognition and self-regulated learning are important skills for students. But how can teachers actually embed these in the classroom? The good news is that there are a number of ways in which teachers can help promote metacognitive and self-regulatory skills both inside and outside of the curriculum.

The EEF has identified seven recommendations to be made when teaching these valuable skills:

  1. Develop pupils’ metacognitive knowledge - beyond a simple and vague definition of ‘thinking about thinking’, it can be difficult to describe metacognition accurately. The cycle of plan, monitor, evaluate should be prominent in their approaches to learning, as well as the different aspects of metacognitive knowledge - learner, strategies and task. These should be articulated to students as the foundation of metacognition, ensuring they understand their own abilities and attitudes (knowledge of themselves as a learner), what strategies are effective and available (knowledge of strategies) and the particular type of activity (knowledge of the task). 
  2. Explicitly teach pupils how to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning - prompt students with examples of the things they should be considering at each stage of a learning task:
  • Planning: encouraging pupils to think about the goal of their learning and how they will approach the task; this includes ensuring they understand the goal, activate relevant prior knowledge and select appropriate strategies.
  • Monitoring - emphasising the need for pupils to assess the progress they are making; this includes self-testing and self-questioning.
  • Evaluating - appraising the effectiveness of their plan and its implementation. 
  1. Model your own thinking - teachers can model their thinking as they approach a task, revealing a step-by-step process for students to follow. It is also more effective when students have the opportunity to practise the same skills immediately after the demonstration. The ratio of teacher-involvement to student-involvement should gradually pivot as students become more secure in the skill they are practising:
Bar chart showing more teacher input early on in a process gradually changing to more student input as they secure skills
[Image source]
  1. Set an appropriate level of challenge - this is key to developing self-regulation and metacognition. Learning should be challenging, to allow students to develop new and useful strategies, as well as reflect on their learning and stretch their understanding of themselves. 
  1. Promote and develop metacognitive talk - encourage students to discuss what they found hard and consider what could go wrong before approaching a task. Guide and probe thinking, asking further questions to encourage students to actively engage and respond.
  1. Explicitly teach pupils how to organise, and effectively manage, their learning independently - provide timely feedback and help students to plan, monitor, and evaluate their progress. Students need to think about their tasks and avoid distractions or impulses in order to stay on top of schoolwork. Techniques such as setting goals for themselves can help students get organised and complete tasks without giving in to temptations.
  1. Schools should support teachers to develop their knowledge - there is a wealth of research around metacognitive approaches and how to promote self-regulated learning but teachers cannot be expected to embed everything all at once! Translating research evidence into action takes time; careful planning is needed and strategic placement of metacognitive tasks within a curriculum is key.

How Learning Hive tutors teach metacognition through a bespoke syllabus 

At Learning Hive, we have developed a bespoke syllabus that promotes metacognition through knowledge development, thinking skills and learning behaviours.

By targeting metacognitive processing and self-regulation at different points in an individual's education journey, we teach practical techniques throughout the entire course. Children are given opportunities to explore cognitive processes such as imagery and attention in order to develop metacognitive knowledge about themselves and how they learn best.

Our programme includes games, activities, assessments and projects designed to teach children about themselves - including how they learn best - so they can apply it to all areas of life from schoolwork through to work environments. All students complete a learning journey which assesses their level of understanding on a particular topic enabling them to control their development and learning allowing students to develop their thinking skills.

We use an experiential approach that brings together STEM subjects with arts and humanities; each of these elements has been identified by educators from around the world as being fundamental for developing children into lifelong learners who can get the most out of all learning experiences.

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