Research School Network: Self-Regulation at a Distance Developing students’ metacognitive skills during school closures

Self-Regulation at a Distance

Developing students’ metacognitive skills during school closures

by Research Schools Network
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In this blog, Chris Runeckles, Assistant Director of Durrington Research School, discusses how they have used school closures as an opportunity to help their students develop metacognitive skills.

Trying to convince teachers that developing self-regulating learners is worth their while is a pretty easy sell. What teacher doesn’t want pupils who think deeply about their learning and are able to manage what they do and when they do it effectively? So much of our experience is pupils doing quite the opposite.

Developing self-regulating learners is all about building autonomy in our pupils. As Dylan Wiliam puts it when talking about the importance of metacognition: Most teachers try to cause learning without the students help.” If we can buck that trend and teach students to purposefully direct their own learning, it helps not only the pupil but also both the teacher’s effectiveness and workload.

Despite this, what I’ve sometimes found is in the frenetic climate that directs the daily classroom diet that we deliver, the message can get a bit lost. It seems a bit of a lofty aim as we grapple with that morning’s particular set of challenges in school. 

The current situation, however, has offered a small glimmer of hope for successfully spreading the self-regulated learning gospel. This being, that our dramatic change in circumstances has had the effect of throwing this potentially neglected aspect of learning into ever-sharper focus.

The importance of pupils being able to effectively plan, monitor and evaluate their learning has never been more obvious, and for those of us teaching at a distance, neither has the gap between those that can and those that can’t. So many of the existing gaps for disadvantaged pupils are being widened at the moment, and the ability to self-regulate is undoubtedly one of them.

Many of you will already be familiar with the Education Endowment Foundation’s guidance report on Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning. It is the synthesis of roughly 1,500 research papers and gives teachers seven excellent recommendations for how to develop metacognitive and self-regulating learners in their schools. I would thoroughly recommend downloading it if you haven’t already. It is a document I have been leaving on school-hall chairs, handing out at training courses and generally shouting about for the past couple of years.

However, what myself and my colleagues Shaun Allison and Marc Rowland got to talking about recently was that the message could be streamlined and contextualised for distance learning. This was with a view not only to help teachers and pupils in the short-term, but also to use lockdown as an opportunity to try and build the traits in pupils that would help all of us once things eventually resemble normality again.

As a result, we have made, with the support of other colleagues, a series of videos to support teachers in building self-regulated learners. We have given it the catchy title of Self-Regulation at a Distance.

The videos can broadly be split into two. The first set by myself, Shaun and Marc are designed to interpret self-regulation and metacognition for teachers in three different ways:

  1. An introduction – explaining the key principles of self-regulation and making it real.
  2. Supporting students – what students need to do to become self-regulating and how we can help them.
  3. Supporting teachers – practical advice for teachers on what they can do to build the traits of self-regulation from a distance.

The second set of videos are subject-specific examples of this being done in practice by teachers. We know that metacognition cannot be taught as a generic skill, and to be effective must be taught within the subject or context it is to be used. Therefore, we are putting together as many domain-specific examples as we can. The number will increase, but so far we have them for:

From the outset of this project we were clear about the limitations of trying to develop what is a hugely complex set of skills remotely, and we understand these videos will not magically convert our young people into highly reflective learners overnight. However, what we are hoping is they will help gather momentum behind what is ultimately an objective that will provide benefits for the now, but also for the classrooms that await our return.

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