This article explores the use of metacognitive and self-regulated learning strategies for music education and the music classroom. The article explains the metacognitive strategies that peer-reviewed research has shown to be successful in music education and presents clear and practical advice on how music teachers can incorporate metacognitive strategies into their teaching.
Metacognition appears to be an important predictor of success for musicians since the use of metacognitive strategies (e.g., planning, monitoring, evaluation and regulating learning) during practice improves the performance of both novices and experts (Hallam, 2001). Musicians seem to spontaneously use strategies that enhance their performance (Antonietti, Cocomazzi & Iannello, 2009) and self-regulation seems to be a universal strategy utilised by successful musicians. The challenge for educators is determining how to establish these strategies and learning habits in the young people they work with.
Metacognition is often defined as "thinking about thinking"; metacognitive approaches to teaching and learning focus on the planning, monitoring, evaluation and regulation of thinking processes. Definitions range in their breadth: a broad definition from EduTechWiki states that metacognition is "the cognitive control and monitoring of all sorts of cognitive processes like perception, action, memory, reasoning or emoting". Brown (1983) states that metacognition is “knowledge about executive control systems” and the “evaluation (of) cognitive states such as self-appraisal and self-management”. Today, metacognition is used as an umbrella term encompassing the structures that are related to individuals’ thinking processes and information (Leader, 2008).
According to Jones, Farquhar and Surry (1995), the further students’ awareness of metacognition is improved, the more students’ effectiveness is increased; generally, students with advanced metacognitive skills may monitor their own learning, express their opinions about the information, update their knowledge and develop and implement new learning strategies to learn more (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000).
Citing Hart (2014), Concina (2019) states that “the adoption of a metacognitive approach in music learning allows musicians to learn more easily by optimizing the time dedicated to practice and improving the memorization and retention of the musical material learned.”
Metacognitive & Self-Regulation Strategies Discussed in the Research Literature
Concina (2019) describes five core strategies for metacognition in the music classroom:
Highlight the role of metacognition in music learning and its importance in achieving a self-regulated practice
Examine students’ practice in order to understand their level of metacognitive competence, for better defining possible educational interventions
Present different learning strategies, and encourage students to adopt them for structuring effective practice sessions
Underline the importance of planning and organizing both teaching and learning activity, showing effective strategies for practice organization
Offer models of metacognitive and strategic behaviours, in order to help students acquire self-regulated attitudes toward musical learning
Some studies demonstrate the success of explicit teaching of (and about) metacognition and self-regulated learning to music students (e.g., Hallam, 2001; Bathgate, Sims-Knight & Schunn, 2012; Burwel & Shipton, 2013). Colombo and Antonietti (2016) found that metacognitive strategies need to be made explicit before students identify them as useful and internalise them. If you wanted to use this approach you can use our ready-to-use lesson: ‘Introduction to Metacognition & Self-Regulated Learning’ which you can download here – it provides a clear introduction to the concepts and is aimed at students aged 11-16.
Bathgate et al (2011) focus on having students explicitly verbalise and reflect on their learning processes. Benton (2013) advocates the use of reflective writing prompts, self-assessment rubrics as-well as think-aloud sessions.
‘Think-alouds’, for those new to the idea, have been described as "eavesdropping on someone's thinking." With this strategy, teachers verbalise aloud whilst they demonstrate how to go about completing a learning activity. Their verbalisations include describing things they're doing and thinking as they model their approach to the task in order to monitor and regulate their comprehension. The purpose of the think-aloud strategy is to model for students how to engage in the metacognitive cycle of planning, monitoring, evaluating and regulating the learning process.
Colombo et al. (2016) emphasise the importance of teachers modelling metacognitive strategies and self-regulated learning behaviours so that students can internalise them. The researchers refer to Brown (1997) whose model for improving metacognition takes teachers and experts act as key figures providing learners with role models for thinking and adequate use of reflective strategies. More experienced teachers can increase the sophistication of their role-modelling by critically introducing new ideas and principles, explicitly modelling self-thinking, and suggesting ad hoc reflections.
As with self-regulation and metacognition more generally: students should be encouraged to plan their approach to learning and performance in the context of music education. Likewise, the importance of organisational skills needs to be emphasises in the learning-process Concina (2019).
Benton’s (2014) work suggests that metacognition in music performance, involves three-components: reflecting upon the task and the individual cognitive process (self-reflection), regulating individual activity (self-regulation), and evaluating individual performance (self-evaluation).
Research, more generally has tended to focus on the following four-strands of metacognition in music education Concina (2019): as a teacher/educator you should consider all four in your approach to fostering metacognition in the music classroom:
1. Knowing and selecting strategies for musical practice
2. Organizing musical practice and evaluating musical material and performance outcomes
3. Enhanced self-regulation during practice through metacognitive skills
4. Managing self-regulation in collaborative practice and performance
Whitebread et al. (2009) focus on three dimensions of metacognition: (i) metacognitive knowledge, (ii) metacognitive monitoring and control (declined into planning behaviours, monitoring the ongoing outcomes, and evaluating the partial and final outcomes of the applied behaviours), and (iii) monitoring and control of emotions and motivation during a learning task. This model may inform your approach to metacognition.
Self-evaluation is an essential component of metacognition and self-regulation. Miksza (2018) advocate the use of self-evaluation questionnaires in music education. There serve both to trigger metacognitive reflection and to inform the teacher of areas of development/focus; one idea to consider is having students design their own self-evaluation forms: this increased learner autonomy and can refer to the ‘planning’ aspect of the metacognitive cycle.
Using an exercise book enhancer (download here) can be a straightforward way of offering a model of metacognitive and strategic behaviours, in order to help students acquire self-regulated attitudes toward musical learning
Concina (2019) recommends presenting students with different learning strategies and providing them with greater autonomy in choosing their approach to learning; this recommendation also falls in line with research and theory around the importance of boosting autonomous learning. Incorporating student-reflection that evaluate different approaches to learning can help focus this approach: students should be steered towards metacognitive knowledge around how they learn best and which learning activities really work for them.
Finally, Kaufman & James (2013) emphasise the need for students to gain metacognitive knowledge of their strengths and limitations when it comes to creativity and improvisation. The authors propose the adapted construct of creative metacognition (CMC), a combination of self-knowledge (knowing one's own creative strengths and limitations) and contextual knowledge (knowing when, where, how, and why to be creative). As a teacher you might use metacognitive questioning or student-reflection tasks/activities/discussion/worksheets as a way to foster this specific realm of metacognitive knowledge and self-awareness.
Bathgate, M., Sims‐Knight, J. and Schunn, C. (2012), Thoughts on Thinking: Engaging Novice Music Students in Metacognition. Appl. Cognit. Psychol., 26: 403-409. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.1842
Benton, Carol W. “Promoting Metacognition in Music Classes.” Music Educators Journal 100, no. 2 (December 2013): 52–59. https://doi.org/10.1177/0027432113500077.
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.
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Colombo, Barbara & Antonietti, Alessandro. (2016). The Role of Metacognitive Strategies in Learning Music: A Multiple Case Study. British Journal of Music Education. 34. 1-19. 10.1017/S0265051716000267.
Concina E. The Role of Metacognitive Skills in Music Learning and Performing: Theoretical Features and Educational Implications. Front Psychol. 2019;10:1583. Published 2019 Jul 12. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01583
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Miksza P., Blackwell J., Roseth N. E. (2018). Self-regulated music practice: microanalysis as a data collection technique and inspiration for pedagogical intervention. J. Res. Music Educ. 66 295–319. 10.1177/0022429418788557
Whitebread, D., Coltman, P., Pasternak, D., Sangster, C., Grau, V., Bingham, S. & Demetriou, D. (2009) The Development Of Two Observational Tools For Assessing Metacognition And Self-Regulated Learning In Young Children. Metacognition And Learning, 4, 63–85.