Distance Learning & Metacognition: Fostering Metacognition During A Pandemic Lockdown

What can we learn from 'the pandemic year' when it comes to fostering metacognition and self-regulated learning in the context of distance learning?

The pandemic and associated school shut-downs made the value of self-regulated learning, metacognition and the general drive towards greater independence and autonomy in learning clear for all of us to see. At the same time, cultivating metacognition in the context of lock-downs and home-based learning proved to be more difficult than ever: many metacognitive strategies developed over the last few decades were designed with classroom practice in mind – as were many of the instructional materials developed.

With this in mind, this article explores the different ways that teachers can stimulate metacognitive reflection remotely, it focuses on practical advice and specific activities that teachers in a secondary/middle school could use in order to foster metacognition and self-regulated learning more generally.

Since the conditions that give rise to pandemics remain, essentially, unchanged: we can expect pandemics to be a recurring issue in coming decades – in theory there could be a repeat of 2020 every 5-10 years until the underlying causes of pandemics are addressed.

Whilst this article explores how to cultivate metacognition and self-regulated learning during a school lock-down, we must keep in mind that focussing on metacognition, self-regulation, research skills, independent learning and learning autonomy in advance of 2020 would have placed students in a much better position continue learning at home. One thing I think we have all learnt in 2020 is how ill-prepared the systems that sustain society were in responding to the challenge presented by the pandemic: focusing on metacognition, self-regulation, research skills, independent learning and learning autonomy is one way we can be better prepared for similar challenges in the future.

Dr McCabe provides insightful analysis on the challenges faced by educators when it comes to cultivating metacognition in the context of a pandemic and I recommend her article at 'Improve with Metacognition'. Whilst her article was written at the pandemic's onset, this article moves beyond theoretical concerns and explores practical responses to the challenges she had successfully anticipated.


Next Time There's a School Closure: How Can We Use Remote Learning to Foster Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning?

These activities and strategies have secondary and middle-school students (11-16) in mind.

1. Use of Google Forms: Metacognitive Questionnaires

Consider creating a Google Form that you share with your students: the form should contain metacognitive reflection questions that refer to each stage of the metacognitive cycle (planning, monitoring, evaluating and regulating learning). You might choose to create a form students do prior to the lesson that might focus on planning and monitoring, one for after the lesson that focuses on evaluation and regulation of the learning process – or use both to create a ‘lesson wrapper’ effect.

Careful design of multiple-choice questions has the added advantage of creating useful data for yourself as a teacher: it might prove useful in highlighting aspects of metacognition and self-regulated learning that students need help with.

As well as metacognition, your forms/reflective questionnaires might focus on different aspects of self-regulated learning: issues around the regulation of attitude, mood, emotional and even the physiological aspects of learning (e.g. sleep, hydration, etc.) may become particularly challenging in the less structured home learning environments many students find themselves in.

If you need some inspiration and guidance when it comes to generating metacognitive reflection questions, check out this free resources for teachers. It’s a comprehensive list of metacognitive questions, many of which will be adaptable to your Google Form design.

2. Supply Students With Printable Reflection Workbooks

We’ve created a massive range of teaching resources for metacognition and self-regulated learning and the four printable workbooks we released are amongst the most popular. They are useful in the context of home-learning because they provide regularity and structure to students metacognitive reflections as well as evidence that it has actually occurred! It’s best to print these workbooks off and give them to students prior to being sent-home in a lock-down

Our most popular printable workbook is ‘The Learning Power Journal’ (downloadable here) which includes short (10 minute) daily reflection activities designed to trigger metacognition, foster self-regulated learning behaviours and boost learning power. The clear structure, variety of activities and engaging design make it ideal for short daily reflections that students can engage with at the start of each school day. Using The Learning Power Journal is an ideal solution for school-leaders who need a visible, regular and well-structured solution to developing metacognition across a large cohort of learners. Have a look inside...

We also created a ‘Metacognitive Reflection Workbook’ (downloadable here) that has more substantial metacognitive activities which can be completed on a less regular basis. This alternative is more suitable to individual teachers who won’t be working with students on a daily basis: it also allows for greater learner autonomy: you might decide to give students choose which of the tasks in the Metacognition Reflection Workbook they complete. This workbook focuses on general student-reflection in relation to how they learn and boost learn (metacognitive knowledge) and how they can become more effective learners over time (metacognitive regulation).

Other (much smaller) workbooks you might consider using are The Revision Strategy Battle Planner (especially for students preparing for formal examinations) and the Video-Learning Workbook. The Video-Learning Workbook (download here) is designed to facilitate home-learning. There are so many amazing documentaries and videos students can learn from online during school shut-downs: this workbook helps them to get the most out of such learning opportunities.

3. Screencasting a Virtual Lesson Wrapper

You can create a virtual lesson wrapper on PowerPoint (or download ours here) and then use your video-conferencing resources to share metacognitive reflection tasks, questions and prompts with your students.

A lesson wrapper (sometimes known as a 'cognitive wrapper', 'lecture wrapper' or 'metacognitive wrapper') fosters metacognitive reflection, monitoring and regulation at the start and end of a lesson. Usually a worksheet, it features quick reflection tasks for the very start and very end of the lesson. Lesson wrappers are an effective approach to metacognition that has been shown to boost student attainment.

Including these reflection question/activity slides at the start and end of your presentation screencast is a straightforward way to trigger metacognitive reflection: it’s best to get students to write their answers down since class discussions are difficult to manage on distance-learning software.

4. Focus on Metacognitive Questioning Skills

Since much of your teaching will be done via video-conferencing software during a lockdown it’s useful to have a range of metacognitive reflection questions to put to students. Having a list of this questions for different contexts can be useful. In general your reflection questions should refer to:

· Planning, monitoring, evaluating and regulating learning strategies

· Metacognition: the cognitive aspect of the self-regulated learning cycle

· The self-regulation of the conditions that maximise learning (e.g. physiological readiness for learning)

· Task-specific considerations as well as long-term considerations when it comes to self-regulated learning

· Particular attention must be paid to the self-regulation of motivation, engagement, attitudes and emotions due to the specific challenges many students face in a less supervised home-learning environment

· Long-term learning strategies such as long-term revision strategy planning

A free set of printable metacognitive questioning prompt cards can be downloaded here. A useful strategy you may wish to consider is, at times, having students generate their own metacognitive questions which they then answer.

5. Have Students Use Simple Mind-Map Tasks to Express Metacognitive Reflection

One of the most difficult challenges when it comes to distance-learning is the lack of peer interactions that distance-learning software tends to imply. Try having students create simple mind-maps that respond to metacognitive questions or tasks on A4 paper so that they can show the other students their ideas via the video-conferencing software you use. Mind-mapping is a powerful study-skill to cultivate in any situation: it’s also a great way to explore metacognitive issues!

There are a number of free online mind-mapping tools you can get students to use: this also presents an opportunity to expose students to useful online learning tools such as these and help them to gain confidence in using them.


So there are a number of activities you might consider using with students in order to foster metacognition and develop self-regulated learning behaviours in a distance-learning context.

Metacognition and self-regulated learning skillsets are both incredibly valuable for students during lock-downs (where more independent learning styles are beneficial) yet best fostered in advance of school lock-downs: so make sure you’re prepared for 2027!


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