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Impact of Self-regulation Theory and Metacognitive Strategies on Academically More Able Pupils in Science

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Published: 16th Dec 2019

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The impact of self-regulation theory and the use of metacognitive strategies on academically more able pupils in Science

Within this essay the teaching standards will be referenced as follows (T1a). This will refer to the teaching standard 1, a teacher must set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils. With specific reference to part (a) “establish a safe and stimulating environment for pupils, rooted in mutual respect” (Department for Education, 2011).

The importance of metacognition and self-regulation in supporting pupil progress in academia and in future career endeavours has long been promoted. Within education there have been many studies into the implementation of these techniques into the classroom (T1b) and the effect that this has on pupil outcomes. Self-regulation is primarily comprised of three different strands. Firstly, cognition – problem solving, critical thinking and strategy. Secondly, metacognition – knowledge and regulation of cognition and lastly motivation – epistemology and self-efficacy (Schunk, 1996; Bandura, 1997; Zimmerman, 2000; Pintrich, 2000).

The purpose of this literature review is to explore self-regulation theory, with particular reference to metacognition. This will be done through analysis of research and a thorough review of best practice in the development of self-regulatory strategy, specifically through the enhancement of metacognitive skills. Subsequently, there is a view to implement these strategies with a group of academically more able pupils in science, by specifically improving their metacognitive techniques in autonomous learning environments.

Definition of Self-Regulation

Self-regulation was defined by Zimmerman (2000) as “thoughts, feelings and actions that are planned and adapted to the attainment of personal goals”. Alongside this explanation, Schunk and Ertmer (2000) published an ideal as to what self-regulated learning includes. This study suggested that concentrating on instruction, using effective strategy, monitoring performance, time management and deployment of evaluative reflection (T1b,T2a), combined with those stated by Zimmerman (2000), are the characteristics of a developed self-regulated learner.

Self-regulation includes both cognitive and affective capabilities and Zimmerman (1994) acknowledged the link between learning and the interactions between affective and cognitive capacity. In order to be an established self-regulating learner the inclusion of metacognitive skills is essential (Flavell, 1979). The learner must have an understanding of their personal cognition skills, including problem-solving and memory. The use of these techniques together ensures that the learner effectively utilises the best of their skills and knowledge (Pressley, 2002).

Management of feelings and emotions is an important part of self-regulated learning. Learners must be amenable to change learning strategy depending on the task that is in front of them. Therefore it can be explained why self-regulation is said to improve with practice. Learners are said to enhance learning outcomes through self-regulation, as they can draw upon previous tasks and experiences to build a repertoire of strategies and techniques (T2b). The aforementioned learning coupled with good management of their affective capabilities ensures that practising and embedding self-regulatory techniques can have a huge impact on pupil progress (Duncan et al., 2007; McClelland et al., 2000).

Definition of Metacognition

Metacognition and the notion of thinking about thinking was first recognised and defined by John Flavell as “the regulation and knowledge of one’s own cognitive system” (Flavell, 1976.; Brown, 1978). Although there has been development around this definition, the use of this term in recent years has still been faithful to the original meaning, with a few adaptations. Shortly after Flavell (1978) developed this meaning further psychologists, Cross and Paris (1988) explained that the term could be used to demonstrate that children have knowledge and control over their own thinking and learning activities. Following this research, Kuhn and Dean (2004) stated that metacognition is the “awareness and management of one’s own thought”. Therefore, implying that the use of metacognitive techniques provides the tools and strategies that pupils need to tackle particular problems in context. In contrast, Schraw (1992) describes metacognition as a multi-dimensional set of general skills that could compensate for deficits in intelligence or lack of prior knowledge.

To practice metacognition effectively the learner must be knowledgeable about themselves as learner, have knowledge of strategies and how to use them effectively, as well as having an awareness of any potential factors that could inhibit their own performance (Veenman, Hout-Wolters & Afflerbach, 2006). Alongside this the learner must regularly self-regulate and monitor cognition through the evaluation of task performances, processes and strategies (T4d).

The theory of metacognitive development and acquisition of skill has been debated since the term was first coined by Flavell (1976). Kuhn (2000) stated that the development of metacognition is very gradual, as the learner develops cognitive strategies to replace those that are inefficient. On the other hand, many researchers have stated that metacognitive ability improves with age (Schraw & Moshman, 1995; Hennessey, 1999; Schneider & Lockl, 2002, Kuhn & Dean, 2004; Schneider, 2008). Epistemological understanding is often used as a starting point in considering metacognitive development (Kuhn & Dean, 2004). However, Schneider and Lockl (2002, 2008) link the exponential development of metacognition with the development of meta-memory. Explanation of this comes from the link between efficient self-regulation and the development of strategic knowledge memory techniques.

Contrastingly, there is evidence that suggests that metacognitive ability does not increase with age. Sperling et al., (2002) concluded in a study on general metacognitive knowledge, that there was a slight tendency for younger pupils to obtain higher metacognitive scores than older pupils involved in the same study. The style of this research excluded specific subject knowledge and therefore provided some support for claims that metacognitive attributes were being measured with reference to particular subjects as opposed to a generalised score. To summarise, it is therefore thought that metacognitive skills are domain-general in younger pupils but in older pupils can move towards domain-specific (Hattie, 2009).

Academically More Able

At present academically more able pupils are identified by the Department of Education as “those who have abilities in one or more academic subjects, such as Mathematics or English” (Department For Education, 2012). Meeting the needs of all learners in all classrooms is now a focus of all schools (T2a, T2b, T2c, T2e, T4d, T5a, T5b and T5d). This particular sub-group of academically more able children are to be identified from within each yearly cohort (Gowan & Bruch, 1971; Gerber & Popp, 2000). When designing a small piece of educational research, it is important to have a sub-section of any cohort to focus the investigation being undertaking. Previous research on the techniques of self-regulation and meta-cognition have identified, that thus far it has been proven to be especially effective with lower ability pupils. Therefore, I will conduct my research study primarily focused on the academically more able pupils in order to establish whether or not these techniques are as effective for this particular demographic within the classroom (T2a, T2b, T2c, T2e, T4d, T5a, T5b and T5d).

Relationship of MC with SR and Education

In recent years there has been much talk over the input of meta-cognitive techniques specifically into the science classroom (Thomas, 2009) and the impact of metacognitive techniques on higher ability pupils (T5a, T5b, T5c and T5d). Metacognitive approaches within education are aimed toward helping learners think about their own learning more explicitly (Baker, 1994). Pupils evaluate and monitor their own academic progress using specific strategies (Reder & Schunn, 1996). According to the Education Endowment Foundation (2018) (EEF) the use of meta-cognition strategies consistently, can see pupils making eight months of additional progress in the classroom. The EEF also outline that these techniques are specifically effective for lower ability pupils (T5a, T5b, T5c and T5d). Contrastingly, this literature review will explore meta-cognitive strategies in the education of academically more able pupils (Education Endowment Foundation, 2018).

Alongside meta-cognition another important factor in enhancing pupil progress according to Zimmerman (2000) is the use of self-regulation techniques. Specifically, these techniques focus on the processes that might be used to control cognitive activity, in order to ensure that a cognitive goal can be met. Self-regulation techniques within education include planning, monitoring and evaluating (T2b) (Kuhn, 2000). Within the classroom both of the aforementioned techniques are said to enhance pupils progress, as they teach pupils how to learn the curriculum in front of them, independently. Pupils that utilise these techniques understand their own learning processes and can therefore take responsibility for their own learning (Zimmerman, 2000).

Blank (2000) suggests that most pupils attribute their academic success to good luck, whereas pupils attribute failure to a lack of ability. Teaching children to think about their thinking and actively acknowledge their cognitive processes, can result in pupils learning that their success in the classroom is a result of many factors and not just down to luck (T2a, T4b, T2c, T2d and T2e) . Furthermore Zimmerman (2000) states that metacognitive and self-regulation techniques used in collaboration, can have a significant impact on academically more able students as they are encouraged to understand cognitive process (T4b). Therefore, through effective use of these techniques pupils are encouraged to demonstrate self-discipline, as well as eradicate the notion that, as a more able pupil you must get everything right first time.

Throughout the academic literature there is an extensive covenant on the importance of the use of meta-cognition in improving the thinking and learning outcomes of pupils (Brown, 1994; Thomas and McRobbie, 2001 & Thomas, 2011) However there is little research to suggest that there has been effective utilisation of these strategies within science classrooms and what impact, if at any all, has been seen by teachers of scientific subjects when using these techniques (Zohar, 1999). In order for class of pupils to succeed using a metacognitive approach the role of the teacher must not be underestimated (T1a, T1b, T1c and T2a). The methods and materials produced and used by teachers in the classroom have a huge impact on metacognitive growth (Paris & Paris, 2001; Brickhouse, 1990.) (T4a, T4c, T4e, T8a, and T4b). Conclusively, it has been highlighted that in order to implement self-regulation and metacognitive strategies, there must first be an insight into the pedagogical cognition and the attitudes of science teachers towards the use of such techniques, actively within the science classroom (T4b, T2a, T2b and T5a) (Ben-David & Orion, 2013).

Alongside the relationship between metacognition and self-regulation there are also several factors that can influence the efficiency of metacognitive strategy. Many studies claim that there is a link between metamemory and effective metacognitive skill acquisition. (Miller, Galanter & Pilbram, 1960; Veenman, Van-Hout-Wolters & Afflerbach, 2006). Metamemory is an aspect of metacognitive technique and is devised of two processes, monitoring and control. Within the process of monitoring, progress is acknowledged as the pupil learns. The control aspect of this process is the adaptation and selection of appropriate strategies, these should be dependent upon whether or not the pupil believes that they are achieving the preferred outcomes (Nelson & Narrens, 1994). Enhancement of the metamemory of a pupil includes chunking all information into small meaningful groups in order to break information down for working memory (T5a, T5b and T5d). Within the classroom setting this style of learning can reduce cognitive load and increase the efficiency of the pupils (T5a, T5b and T5d). In order to further maximise metamemory, and therefore metacognition, it is imperative that teachers reduce extraneous load on pupils by using techniques like chunking (T5a, T5d) (Sweller, 1988; Cierniak, Scheiter & Gerjets, 2009).

Advantages of self-regulation and metacognition

The use of metacognitive techniques is widely renowned as good teaching practice when looking to improve pupil progress (Zusho & Pintrich, 2003) (T1a, T2a, T2b and T4a). Pupils that receive teaching that encompasses the strategies and techniques are said to not only make more progress in school, but also become more successful in their professional and academic careers (T4a) (Zimmerman, 2000; Flavell, 1978). An understanding of how to learn, coupled with the ability to successfully retain and process information, can have a huge impact on the academic career of individuals. The use of metacognitive strategies has also been closely linked to the development of better memory skills and this in turn can be attributed to future academic success (Pintrich & DeGroot, 1990).

Students that have an understanding of how they learn are better able to immerse themselves into situations that promote learning (Endedijk, 2010). For instance, this can include settings wherein which they learn better, or which form of revision best suits them. The development of metacognitive and self-regulation techniques has been proven to have many benefits. Many of these skills that are developed through these strategies are transferable into the academic career of pupils and can improve progress of individuals over a prolonged period of time (Heikkila, Lonka & Niemivirta, 2012).

Meta-cognition is of particular interest in the development of education due to the fact that it is a tool of wide application. As all academic work requires cognition of some kind, the strategies of metacognition and self-regulation can be adopted and enforced with a domain-general approach to improve progress of all pupils in all subjects (Flavell, 1985). When outlining the advantages of a metacognitive strategies in education it is imperative to understand the relationship between education and error. As metacognitive approaches often focus carefully on monitoring and reflecting upon error it can be deduced that this practice will only be of use when attempting to minimise errors. This can also be seen in the way that pupils need to provide explanation and justification around their cognitive processes and both of those activities require metacognitive skills. Therefore, it can be concluded that the use of metacognition can benefit pupils in subjects across the board, as the skills being reinforced are already part of the schema that  are already used by learners (Flavell, 1986).

Lastly, another benefit of the use of metacognitive strategies is the cost. As educators there is often financial pressure when looking to develop our practice. However, imploring a metacognitive approach in classrooms has a very small, almost negligible, cost associated with it (Sweller, 1988). Metacognition encourages higher order thinking and encourages pupils to control their cognitive processes. This in turn enhances engagement of learners with complex material (Borkowski, Carr & Pressley, 1987). The importance of studying metacognitive techniques and bringing them into education practice has been recognised by many organisations. Successful learning encompasses learning the task, utilising cognitive ability, evaluating task success and reflection as to whether or not learning has taken place. Development of these techniques will determine how students can improve their own progress through metacognitive control (Veenman, Van Hout-Wolters & Afflerbach, P, 2006).

Challenges associated with self-regulatory and metacognitive practice

Although the advantages of using metacognition in education are vast, there are also limitations to implementing this style of strategy across the board when looking to improve pupil progress. Firstly, a good number of studies have outlined that metacognition is domain-general and highlighted the skills that underpin many metacognitive processes that feature across the curriculum. However, Veenman and Spaans (2005) suggest that metacognitive skills are developed in a domain-specific environment and that it is only after mastery in one domain, that these skills can be used in domain-general as part of a schema. More research is necessary if it is to be established whether or not metacognitive skills can be developed as a general construct or does the learner have to have a specific affinity towards developing these strategies in one specific-domain first. Interestingly there is also a lack of research into how or if these generalised skills can be used across domains and how the education sector could best support this in the classroom environment. Secondly many metacognition researchers have outlined the deliberate and well-thought through process of developing metacognitive and self-regulation skills. However, many studies have highlighted that many metacognitive skills are less conscious and are done through habit. This debate around the implicit or automatic nature of metacognition is proving difficult and therefore causes further issues in distinguishing between cognitive process and metacognitive strategies (Whitebread et al;., 2009). Alongside this, Ormrod (2012) states that in fact only a small number of pupils will ever become good self-regulators. Subsequently, if a learner experiences failure this can decrease motivation and in turn desire and ability to self-regulate.

Science Classrooms and Self-regulation/Metacognition

The implementation of metacognitive techniques has been shown to have a positive effect on pupil progress in areas such as reading, problem-solving and mathematics (Brown & Palincsar, 1984; Hattie, 2009; Zohar & Ben-David, 2008). The significant impact of these particular strategies on various particular skill sets is poignant. Additionally, Georgihades (2002) states that there is a significant amount of evidence to support the positive impact of metacognitive activity on pupil thinking. Scientific education and the role of such teaching and learning techniques, can be explored through the role of metacognition with subject specific reference. Subsequently through further research, Georgihades (2004a) outlined specifically the perceived positive impact that the use of metacognitive and self-regulation techniques could have in the future. Suggesting that, through further study, the impact of these particular techniques could play a significant role in modern scientific teaching and learning.

Research into self-regulation and meta-cognition has become a regular occurrence in science education over the last 30 years (Tang, Wang, Chang, Chen, Lo & Tsai, 2016; Zohar & Dori, 2012). The use of metacognitive strategies is recognised as a way in which learners can self-regulate their cognitive processes (White, Shimoda & Frederiksen, 2000). Through the development of these techniques pupils can ascertain comprehension of higher order thinking skills (Hattie, 2009). Thus, potentially improving their academic performance in science.

Since the recent growth of research around metacognition for improving teaching and learning and bearing in mind that our knowledge of metacognition seems to be contextualised and domain-specific. Typical science classrooms could benefit wholeheartedly from a systematic examination of the patterns and trends emerging from recent research in the field of metacognition, as thus far, there has only been a limited number of science specific reviews (Thomas, 2012; Veenam, 2012; White, 1998; Adey, Shayer, & Yates, 1991; Baird & Mitchell, 1986; Blank, 2000; Georghiades, 2001a) when compared to those undertaken over the domain as a whole. A thorough investigation into the lessons learned from recent research of these strategies in other subjects could prove fruitful, especially in developing pupil progress in science lessons (Zohar & Barzilai, 2013).

A growing number of studies are stating an interest in the potential impact of metacognitive and self-regulated learning on pupil progress in science (Thomas, 2012; Veenam, 2012; White, 1998Adey, Shayer, & Yates, 1991; Baird (1986); Baird & Mitchell, 1986; Blank, 2000; Georghiades, 2001a). The outcomes of many of these studies have been very encouraging. Interestingly, Biard (1986) outlined that following the interventions that were implemented pupils had become more purposeful learners with a greater understanding of scientific content in a set of lessons. Similarly Adey, Shayer & Yates (1991) highlighted that through metacognitive intervention in the classroom pupil progress was enhanced over a three year period. Alongside these positive findings Blank (2000) and Georgihades (2004) both concluded that reflection upon cognitive learning processes contributes towards a more permanent restructuring of subject content understanding. Therefore resulting in more durable and detailed science learning and understanding.

Self-regulation theory and the application of strategies within it have been proven to improve pupil progress. Pintrich (2000) stated that those pupils master self-regulatory learning practice learn more with less need for effort. Therefore these pupils thrive in the academic environment as they are able to carry out tasks with little stress (Zimmerman, 2000). Within the science curriculum there are countless opportunities for self-regulation practice to be implemented.

Strategies for implementing metacognition and self-regulation into the classroom

When looking to implement metacognitive strategies into the science classroom in order to improve the progress of my academically more able students I have had to evaluate many studies to optimise my design (T5a). I will use a three-pronged approach in order to decipher whether or not these techniques can have an effect on the progress of this particular subset of pupils in Science.

Firstly, during lesson I will use a question-checklist to decipher how many of the common deficiencies seen in failure to optimise the learning that is taking place in my classroom. The checklist will comprise of three sections that will be loosely based on the successful study of Baird (1984). The over-arching aim of this questionnaire is to pass the responsibility of learning and success back to the pupil. Pupils can use the question checklist to think about their own thinking and to check their own progress (T4a, T5a, T2a, T5b and T6c).

Secondly, following an assessment, pupils will carry out a reflection exercise that is based upon de Bono (1985) six hat thinking theory. Pupils will use the different hats to evaluate upon the assessment outcome and the metacognitive processes that they went through prior to, during and following the assessment. This exercise should provide an opportunity for all pupils to reflect thoroughly. Using the information provided by the class I will section off the information provided by academically more able pupils and use the responses recorded to identify areas of strength and weakness (T6c, T1a, T2a, T2c and T5c). Furthermore, I will look at these reflections and decipher whether the metacognitive question-checklist is helping to extend the strategies implored by pupils in the classroom.

Lastly, observations of the identified academically more able pupils will take place during or immediately following all lessons. Brief notes will be recorded of questions asked by identified pupils where possible (T2a, T6a and T6c).

Encompassing good metacognitive strategies with self-regulation is imperative to this piece of education research. Academic self-regulation refers to feelings, thoughts and processes that are intended towards attainment of specific goals. An established self-regulating learner will set realistic goals, use specific strategies and adjust those strategies should they be insufficient or ineffective to complete the task in hand (Zimmerman, 1990). Within the classroom I am going to look to use teacher instruction and behaviour (T7a) as a basis for self-regulatory intervention as this can have a major impact on the quality of student engagement in the classroom (Boekaerts, Koning & Vedder, 2006). During this intervention the teaching style that will be best modelled will encompass clarity and precision of instruction, enthusiasm, humour and clear, outlined expectations and success criteria (T4a, T5a, T2a and T2c) (Boekaerts & Corno, 2005). Although these interventions are not novel in the classroom, they will be sought to become encapsulated within the foundation of planning, activates and resources as well as in classroom interactions with pupils (T2a, T4a, T5a and T5d).

Alongside teacher intervention, the promotion of self-regulation in the classroom can also come from the design of the lesson. Inclusion of self-regulated processes can facilitate learning and therefore enhance pupil progress. Processes such as setting measurable goals (Winne & Hadwin, 1998), planning experiment and tasks (Zimmerman, 2004), seeking help appropriately (Ryan, Pintrich & Midgley, 2001) and self-reflection and evaluation (Schraw & Moshman, 1995). All of these processes are easily utilised within the science curriculum as there are often opportunities for planning, completing and evaluating experimental work as well as work on abstract theorems.

This education research project will be undertaken over a period of three weeks and will involve the strategies enlisted above. The academically more able subject group will be identified through previous data that has been collected on each pupil in literacy and numeracy skills testing. The cohort will be selected from year seven pupils and they will be fully aware of the research and their right to withdraw at any time.


The use of self-regulation theory, specifically metacognition strategies, in science could further the progress of some pupils by up to eight months (EEF). Stylistically, this theorem encompasses many techniques in seeking the main objective which is to convert the learner from a teacher dependent learner to an autonomous, independent learner. Moreover thematically this literature review has highlighted several techniques and strategies that can be used within the science classroom with academically more able pupils. In order for this style of intervention to have an impact of this cohort of pupils it can be deduced that this style of learning works optimally within a stringent range of parameters and conditions. Firstly, the learner must use a range of strategies when first approaching a task and they must be able to move between these techniques flexibly. Secondly, the learner must have high motivation, high self-efficacy and epistemic logic to master self-regulatory techniques. Finally, the learners must use these techniques and skills to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning goals regularly in order to make further progress.

In order for pupils within the classroom to master self-regulation strategies they must develop a range of cognitive skills including metacognitive awareness, resilience, critical thinking, self-reflection and intrinsic motivation. In order to ensure that the entire cohort are undertaking this style of learning many studies suggest the use of collaboration in order to support novices through peer social support. Throughout this literature review it has become apparent that although there is a focus in current literature on metacognition and science education there appears to be a little research on the topic of self-regulatory learning in science specifically. Due to the fact that current research has concluded that this style of teaching and learning has a huge impact on pupil progress further research in this area is highly anticipated.

The use of self-regulation theory with academically more able pupils can ensure that the extraneous load of the pupil is reduced and therefore the pupil can focus wholeheartedly on the cognitive load in front of them. In turn, this should reduce cognitive stress and leave more time for the pupil to decipher the purpose of the current activity and how it links back to a specific topic. Many education literature resources state that undertaking this autonomous and independent learning style in the classroom has an enormous effect on the efficacy of an individual to pursue further academic study. Schools are preparing academically more able pupils for the process of becoming life-long leaners in science and other domain-general areas (Hattie, 2009).

Research suggests that when self-regulation theory is successfully mastered by a pupil and is consciously implemented by the teacher achievement in science improves. Likewise in order for any of these techniques to work efficiently and to maximise outcomes of academically more able pupils, it is imperative that pupils learn and practice a range of different techniques. Pupils must set goals that are specific and realistic whilst continuing to monitor them regularly. In order to truly become an autonomous learner, pupils must, arguably above all, have a strong motivation, desire and self-efficacy to learn and achieve previously set goals (Bandura, 1997).

In conclusion, the use of self-regulation theory within the education sector could be a financially viable intervention to improve pupil progress. Specifically, the use of metacognitive strategy in the classroom could ensure that pupils can work independently towards their own academic goals. Moreover, the use of these particular strategies could have a positive impact upon the progress of academically more able students. This could be attributed to the perceived ability of learners, that have mastered self-regulation theory, to digest higher order concepts with less cognitive strain. Finally, as much of the research conducted thus far has been domain-general and non-subject specific it will be interesting to conduct my own education research study to decipher whether or not these techniques can enhance the progress of the academically more able cohort specifically with my own classes.


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