What is it?
Metacognition and self-regulation approaches aim to help students think about their own learning more explicitly, often by teaching them specific strategies for planning, monitoring and evaluating their learning. Interventions are usually designed to give students a repertoire of strategies to choose from and the skills to select the most suitable strategy for a given learning task.
Self-regulated learning can be broken into three essential components:
- cognition - the mental process involved in knowing, understanding, and learning;
- metacognition - often defined as ‘learning to learn’; and
- motivation - willingness to engage our metacognitive and cognitive skills.
How effective is it?
Metacognition and self-regulation approaches have consistently high levels of impact, with students making an average of seven months’ additional progress.
These strategies are usually more effective when taught in collaborative groups so that learners can support each other and make their thinking explicit through discussion.
The potential impact of these approaches is high, but can be difficult to achieve in practice as they require students to take greater responsibility for their learning and develop their understanding of what is required to succeed.
The evidence indicates that teaching these strategies can be particularly effective for low achieving and older students.
A number of Australian studies have noted a positive correlation between meta-cognitive skills, and academic outcomes. However, the few studies that have evaluated interventions that sought to improve meta-cognitive skills have provided mixed results.
Australasian-based research on the topic suggests that students can benefit from exercising self-regulated learning (SRL) skills. In order for students to learn to effectively and autonomously apply these skills, Australian studies suggest that constant guidance, prompting and feedback from teachers is important. When implemented at a whole-school level, the approach is likely to require a supportive school environment, regular evaluation of practices, and processes to ensure teacher accountability.
A 2014 study of three schools in South Australia found that students’ meta-cognitive skills did not improve substantially as students progressed through secondary school. The authors highlighted the need to provide students with explicit instruction to develop meta-cognitive skills.
How secure is the evidence?
A number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses have consistently found strategies related to metacognition and self-regulation to have large positive impacts. Most studies have looked at the impact on English or mathematics, though there is some evidence from other subject areas like science, suggesting that the approach is likely to be widely applicable.
The approaches that have been tested tend to involve applying self-regulation strategies to specific tasks involving subject knowledge, rather than learning generic ‘thinking skills’.
What are the costs?
Overall, costs are estimated as low. Many studies report the benefits of professional development or an inquiry approach for teachers where teachers actively evaluate strategies as they learn to use them. A course of sustained professional development or collaborative professional inquiry is estimated at $4,500 per year (including some release from classroom teaching) or about $180 per student.
What should I consider?
Which explicit strategies can you teach your students to help them plan, monitor, and evaluate specific aspects of their learning?
How can you give them opportunities to use these strategies with support, and then independently?
How can you ensure you set an appropriate level of challenge to develop students’ self-regulation and metacognition in relation to specific learning tasks?
In the classroom, how can you promote and develop metacognitive talk related to your lesson objectives?
What professional development is needed to develop your knowledge and understanding of these approaches? Have you considered professional development interventions which have been shown to have an impact in other schools?