About Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning (SRL): Discussion with Estelle Brettenny

Name of professional:

Estelle Brettenny

Who am I?

I am a passionate occupational therapist (B.OT. M.OT. PDME) with more than 40 years of clinical experience. I have been specializing in metacognitive therapeutic intervention and learning health for Generation Z learners (older primary school learners, high school learners and students) since 1998. I am a certified trainer in the Cognitive Enrichment Advantage (CEA) (since 1997) and Thinking Maps (since 2011) and have completed numerous courses about the development of thinking and learning. For more than twenty years, I have also been conducting extensive cognitive education training (the development of metacognition, thinking and learning) of educators and professionals in various provinces of South Africa.  I was part of the Board of the International Association for Cognitive Education (IACESA) for two decades (as President from 2013-2015), am a founding member of Thinking Schools South Africa (TSSA) and an Honorary Member of the Institute for the Advancement of Cognitive Education (IACE).  As there is a real need for individuals of all ages to adapt their thinking and learning processes to keep up and remain healthy in this ever-changing world, I am currently integrating my knowledge and experience into a user-friendly approach, the BE MORE approach, which is suited for learners, parents, educators and professionals. The BE MORE Approach incorporates a Mediational Coaching Approach, a Metacognitive Approach, a REAL Thinking and Learning Approach and a Functional Medicine Approach and is used in a variety of practical services and opportunities to empower individuals and groups.  My focus is on:  REAL Thinking and Learning to BE MORE. For more information you can visit my website: http://www.brettenny.co.za

What is Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning (SRL) and how can it enhance better thinking and learning?

This blog will focus on Self-Regulated Learning (SRL) that is the key to move from superficial learning to deeper learning and learner autonomy. The concepts of SRL and learner autonomy have attracted a lot of attention in the past two to three decades from academic scholars and there are numerous different theories or schools of thought to explain why some learners are more successful than others.  Zimmerman (1990) outlines three key feature of definitions of SRL:

  • The systematic use of metacognitive, motivational and/or behavioural strategies;
  • A ‘self-oriented feedback’ loop in which students monitor the effectiveness of their learning methods and strategies; and
  • How and why students choose a specific strategy. Unless the outcomes of using specific strategies are sufficiently attractive, students are generally not motivated to self-regulate.

Cubukcu (2009) proposes that one of the major causes of student’s failure in their learning is the lack of self-regulation. Self-regulated learners, on the other hand, are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, can motivate themselves to engage in, and improve their learning (Guidance Report, Education Endowment Foundation, 2018). SRL will help learners to learn in their best way and to achieve academic success. It is also a life-long learning skill and essential in the work place and for life in general.

Regarding Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning (SRL): What are some of the biggest challenges that parents, teachers and practitioners are faced by?

Based on my extensive clinical experience and work with learners, parents, educators and professionals, it is my opinion that the average professional, educator or parent are not always aware of or knowledgeable enough about the deeper meaning of self-regulated learning or how to empower learners practically to become more self-regulated.  If you do not know how to recognize a lack of self-regulated learning and/or you are not a self-regulated learner yourself, you cannot successfully help others to become more self-regulated. Literature provide evidence that support my view (Effeney, Caroll & Bahr, 2013; Rajabi, 2012; Zimmerman, 1998; Zimmerman, 2002).

The dilemma is that more and more learners are receiving extra lessons, have tutors, take medication and/or receive therapies and interventions. I have witnessed the exponential growth in the tutoring industry over the past 20 years and parents are desperately seeking help to equip their children with the skills to learn and cope academically. Many parents pay large sums of money for study method courses that do not explicitly and deliberately develop SRL and they are often disillusioned if the marks of the children do not improve. I am inundated with referrals on a daily basis of parents that have done too much for too long for their children (and cannot do it any more); or that have allowed their children to develop bad habits of thinking and learning (often unintentionally); or that are really keen to equip their children with skills to think and learn better but do not have the skills to do it themselves. The concept ‘self-regulated learning’ is seldom used to describe the needs or problems of the learners and parents are often oblivious to the reasons why their child is underachieving despite numerous interventions.  Learners often describe the reason/s for underachievement as ‘I am just lazy’ or they are described by others, as ‘lazy’ when they actually display many of the typical characteristics of underachievers (as discussed in literature). 

These characteristics of underachievers include a lack of: Goal setting and planning; time management; learning strategies; self-evaluation; seeking help or information; and self-motivational beliefs. Underachievers are also more impulsive, have lower academic goals, are less accurate in assessing their abilities, are more self-critical, less efficacious about their performance and tend to give up more easily than achievers. They are often more anxious, have a lower self-esteem, tend to be passive and require more external approval (Cubukcu, 2009; Rajabi, 2012; Zimmerman, 1990; Zimmerman, 2002).

Unfortunately there are thousands of school learners (and tertiary education students) in classrooms that lack SRL, educators are burdened by this situation but few educators effectively equip learners to learn on their own and to develop strategies for SRL. 

What are recommended ways to develop Self-Regulated Learning?

The Guidance Report on Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning (complied by the Education Endowment Foundation) outlines 7 recommendations that can be used by primary and secondary schools (and beyond). The first two recommendations suggest that:

  • Teachers (or parents, practitioners, etc.) should acquire the professional understanding and skills to develop their learners’ metacognitive knowledge; and that
  • Teachers must explicitly teach learners metacognitive strategies, including how to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning.

A critical aspect in the development of SRL involves the use of metacognitive self-questioning and metacognitive self-talk.  Nilson (2014) refers to SRL as ‘your own little secret’.  It stirs from within you and it is the voice in your head that asks questions about your learning. Learners must be taught how to ask these kind of questions and how to use metacognitive self-talk.

A starting point for educators and practitioners (and parents) is thus to understand more about metacognition and SRL. Due to time constraints they do not always find time for research or reading about important topics.  I develop visual resources in my practice on a regular basis and these resources can also be used by parents, educators and practitioners.  As I strive to develop SRL with all my referrals as part of my metacognitive therapeutic intervention process, I have developed a visual resource for Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning too (that links with the recommendations mentioned above and other literature sources).  This A4 laminated resource consists of a colourful visual representation on the one side and on the back is shortened guidelines about key concepts to understand and mediate the visual.  I use this resource in my work with learners to help them to become more aware and knowledgeable about SRL and the critical role of metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive regulation as part of the process. Areas that require attention can be identified and then cognitive and metacognitive strategies can be developed (Refer to the resource on Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning and the guidelines about the key concepts).

Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning (Visual Resource)

The visual resource has been reduced for reading purposes in this blog, but it is normally in A4 landscape format. Direct enquiries to estelle@brettenny.co.za

Visit our Tools and Research and Other Articles pages for Ms Bretteny’s recommended and applicable literature sources on Metacognititon and Self-regulated learning.

Ms Brettenny’s Contact Details are as follow:
Cell: 082 430 7956
Email address: estelle@brettenny.co.za
Physical Address:
1 A Stepping Stone Street
South Africa

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