The Self-regulated Pendulum

It’s now the 13th day of remote teaching. The concept of self-regulated learning, particularly during this time of lockdown, will probably be a significant cog in the extent of the knowledge gap pupils may have on return to the classroom. In my reflections over the Easter holidays, I wonder how many school leaders and teachers have invested time with their pupils to support and embed strategies to make them more effective self-regulated (reflective) learners. And to what extent will this have an influence on the potential knowledge gaps. I believe the distance learning provision can be adapted to enable learning and minimise the knowledge gaps.

The combined research on self-regulated learning and cognitive load theory have culminated in the following working definition:

‘Self-regulated learning is an active and constructive process in which a learner plans, monitors, and exerts control over his or her own learning process.’ – Kostons, Van Gog, & Paas, 2012.

For me, the key takeaway here, is how can we as teachers support pupils in planning, monitoring and exerting control over their own learning? How can we provide a provision where most pupils are accessing tasks to activate some form of learning?

In Rosenshine’s Principle of Instructions, one of the key factors highlighted that the ‘most effective’ teachers presented new materials to pupils in small steps so as not to overload their working memory and regularly check for understanding before moving on. As pupils begin to master these small steps, teachers can then increase the cognitive demand by building on the complexity of knowledge to expand their schema. At this present time, this is more challenging! The idiosyncrasies of the classroom environment and the ability to be responsive is somewhat different when teaching remotely. However, we should not lose sight of our understanding of how we learn and adapt this to the current situation to support pupils’ learning.

In the most recent report by the EEF on the assessment of distance learning, one key point sticks out to me in their key findings – ‘teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered.’ The report goes on to highlight that pupils ‘can’ learn through remote teaching and that teachers should focus on the key elements of teaching that run through Rosenshine’s Principles: expert explanations, appropriate scaffolding, and regular feedback. How this is delivered, whether that be through synchronous teaching via online platforms like Zoom or asynchronous teaching through activities presented via Google Classroom or BBC Bitesize, provided no evidence of having a clear difference on pupils’ learning.

If pupils are going to be more effective self-regulated learners, the quality of the teaching and materials provided should be the focus. There should be careful consideration of the amount and complexity of ‘new’ knowledge that teachers expect pupils to engage with remotely. Koston 2012, highlighted that self-regulated learning can be adaptive so long as the tasks that were provided matched the learner’s needs. Vygotsky 1978, also indicated tasks should be within the learner’s ‘zone of proximal development’; not too easy or too challenging. This brings me back to the first key finding from the EEF report that the ‘teaching quality’ is more important. If teachers create online learning tasks that are too difficult and require greater cognitive demand for pupils to process in their working memory, this will lead to reduced engagement and learning. An 80/20 approach to remote learning provision may provide the right conditions to enable pupils to fall within their zone of proximal development. Providing pupils with learning tasks that build on previous knowledge taught before the lockdown mixed with the introduction of new concept and processes that are interlinked may be more beneficial.

In the first instance, prepare pupils for their remote learning. What I mean by this is to provide pupils with an outline plan for the week ahead. This will give them a heads up on what their learning task will entail for your subject for that week, reducing the anxiety of not knowing what to expect. Provide a checklist for pupils to track their completion of assignments.

Secondly, a possible approach to structure remote learning tasks is to have opportunities for pupils to REVIEW, INPUT, APPLY, REVIEW.

  • REVIEW – The starting point of a remote learning assignment could be to reflect on previously learnt knowledge through a recall exercise, allowing pupils to bring knowledge back to their working memory.
  • INPUT – In the second stage of the assignment, teachers create tasks that enable pupils to review concepts or processes within their subject that will be needed to complete the application part. The important part here, as indicated by the EEF report, is not ‘how’ this is presented but the ‘quality’ of the explanation. Present this is in small steps to not cause cognitive overload.
  • APPLY – This is the part where pupils can practise applying the new knowledge to a task to demonstrate their understanding.
  • REVIEW – In the last part of the assignment a final opportunity for pupils to check their understanding.


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