Updated: Nov 7, 2019
This article is focused on long-term teaching strategies that foster metacognition and self-regulated learning. This is in contrast to prior discussions of individual learning-activities that can be started and completed in a single learning session. We will try to answer the following two questions:
1. What are the most effective long-term teaching strategies for developing metacognition & self-regulation?
2. How can I move from ‘engaging students in metacognition and self-regulation’ to ‘creating reflective and self-regulating learners’?
3. How can I create a more systematic and consistent approach to fostering metacognition & self-regulation as a more integral part of my teaching-practice?
Metacognition is the awareness and understanding of thought itself; Metacognitive pedagogies focus on the planning, monitoring, evaluation and regulation of thought; Metacognitive pedagogies focus on the planning, monitoring, evaluation and regulation of cognition. Metacognition essentially means cognition about cognition; that is, it refers to second-order cognitions: thoughts about thoughts, knowledge about knowledge or reflections about actions.
Recently, the definition of metacognition has been broadened and includes not only ‘thoughts about thoughts’ as it was previously considered, but the following notions as well: knowledge of one’s knowledge, processes, and cognitive and affective states; and the ability to consciously and deliberately monitor and regulate one’s knowledge, processes, and cognitive and affective states (Louca, 2003). In ‘How People Learn, the National Academy of Sciences’ synthesis of decades of research on the science of learning, one of the three key findings of this work is the effectiveness of a “‘metacognitive’ approach to instruction” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000, p. 18).
Long-term Teaching Strategies for Metacognition & Self-Regulation
Whilst there are many approaches, here are five of the most consistently recommended in the literature around metacognition:
a) Personal Learning Checklists (PLCs): PLCs contain a concise list of every topic and/or central ‘piece of learning’ involved in a teaching-unit or course. They are especially useful when preparing students for public exams and, in such cases, the list should be based very-closely on the specification’s outline of require learning. The purpose of such a checklist is to allow students to monitor, evaluate and regulate their understanding of subject-knowledge. Next to each topic should be a way for students to indicate their level of confidence (such as a space to shade red/yellow/green, or a 0-10 rating).
b) Regular use of DIRT (Dedicated Improvement & Reflection Time): this typically involves using a worksheet or on series of on-screen prompts (e.g. sentence completion tasks / reflection questions). The aim of this strategy is to allot time in which students can monitor and evaluate their progress/performance: establishing clearly-understood targets and goals in order to regulate it and improve upon it. You may also have students focus on the necessary steps required to meet those targets and goals. It is useful to have a wide selection of DIRT worksheets from which to choose from so that students are kept engaged and the time isn’t used for “coasting”.
c) Regular use of lesson wrappers: 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.
d) Regular use of assessment wrappers: otherwise known as ‘exam wrappers’ – these allow for before and after reflections when students are taking practice exam papers or undergoing assessments. Typically they focus on how a student has prepared for the exam and other aspects of their readiness. Post-assessment reflection should focus on performance evaluation and regulation (through target-setting) and encourage students to analyse what they should have done otherwise, what went well/poorly etc.
e) Use of reflective journals and workbooks that are focused on learning-power, learning-processes, metacognition and self-regulated learning. Ideally they should contain a wide-variety of reflection activities, games, challenges and puzzles. They are excellent for form-time/tutor-time and one way a school might use them systematically is to have a dedicated day or set of days each week in which students use them.
Many of these resources can be found in our downloads section: just use the menu above to get there!
General Advice for Long-Term Teaching Practices
The above activities lend themselves well to systematic application as opposed to being one-off learning-activities. A Personal Learning Checklist (PLC) for example, can be glued into the front of exercise books at the start of a new unit or course, it can have multiple ‘checkpoints’ so that students revisit it and gain a sense of where they are making progress and where progress is stalling.
Likewise, there is no reason that assessment wrappers shouldn’t be used every time you do a practice exam-paper or other substantial formative assessment. Since most teachers have (or ought to have) fairly detailed planning schedules for the delivery of assessments: it is easy to incorporate this metacognitive and self-regulation strategy into practice.
Whilst it is easy to see a conflict between activities for metacognition/self-regulation and the need to deliver subject-content: some argue that metacognition is most useful when it directly refers to specific subjects, topics, assessments and/or learning-activities. The ability for teachers to ask metacognitive questions and questions focused on self-regulated learning is very useful on this front: it can be “real-time” and link directly to the cognitive obstacles faced by a student at a given time. [Download some FREE Metacognitive Questioning Teachers' Prompt Cards here!]
The key to creating reflective and self-regulating learners is frequent practice so that metacognitive thinking and self-regulation become habitual and normal. Likewise, the key to ensuring such practice occurs is for teachers to regularly incorporate metacognitive activities into their lessons: perhaps aiming to average 5-10 minutes of metacognition per lesson through quick end-of-lesson debates, starter activities that fosters metacognitive reflection that connects to the lesson’s contents, use of lesson-wrappers, or breaking the lesson up with a quick ‘Think-Pair-Share’ question task that fosters metacognitive monitoring/evaluation/ regulation. Strategic planning is vital. It can be useful to have a ready-printed array of metacognition worksheets at-hand in your classroom or department.
Louca, Eleonora. (2003). The concept and instruction of metacognition. Teacher Development. 7. 10.1080/13664530300200184.
Bransford, John D., Brown Ann L., and Cocking Rodney R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.