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Metacognition, self-regulated learning and revision

Many educators have been talking more and more about the importance of metacognition (thinking about one’s thinking) and metacognitive strategies which get learners to think about their own learning. The evidence suggests that the use of these strategies, when used well can add +7 months of progress. This means that the potential impact of these strategies is high especially when it comes to disadvantaged students (EEF), so how can we apply them effectively to revision or even adapt our teaching in the classroom.

To start with, this doesn’t mean that we need to teach these strategies in special ‘learning how to learn’ sessions; based on evidence the best approach is to teach them in subject specific content as students find it difficult to transfer generic tips to subject specific tasks.

In the first instance it is imperative for learners to identify what they know and what they don’t know. Self-regulated learners know their gaps and can motivate themselves to improve their learning, so developing this knowledge in our learners will improve their learning outcome. However, we – the educators should support our learners in planning, monitoring and evaluating their learning, hence this is why appropriate feedback is also so crucial.

EEF guidance report on Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning recommends 7 step model for teaching meta-cognitive strategies. 

  • Activating prior knowledge – preparing the ground – here the  embedded retrieval practice is highly effective. For writing task preparation, this could mean recalling the vocabulary and structures for the specific topic. I often use retrieval roulette for this, but there are many other ways you could use (see my previous post on retrieval practice), including various websites such as carousel-learning. com or The retrieval roulette is based on a spreadsheet designed by Adam Boxer and how to apply the background which could support the ‘cultural capital’, I have learnt from @JuschMo in one of the ALL webinars where she has also demonstrated how you can embed ‘flippity’ into the spreadsheet in her retrieval roulettes.    

 Example of a task form the retrieval roulette Stimmt3

  • Explicit strategy instruction – provide clear structure students can follow. This is closely connected with Rosenshine Principles of Instruction. I have written a detailed post on how they can be applied in Languages classroom with some examples here.

  • Modelling of learned strategy – for picture task for example, this would involve teacher modelling the steps of the task at hand. See an example bellow. For more examples on modelling see my post on modelling here.

  • Memorisation of strategy – there are various ways/tools to memorise vocabulary or success criteria such as Grammar points  – such as using mnemonics (BRATWURST, AVOCADOS, TOMATOES, PALMW etc.), songs, tunes and rhythms – some of these were mentioned on the Secondary MFL matters Facebook group (The Pink Panther, Vorwärts, Zorba the Greek, A-Team, Mission Impossible, Guten Tag Lied , Das Wechselpräpositionenlied), teaching word families (I was amazed to find out that students would know the adjective, but couldn’t always work out the noun etc.), self-quizzing – great video using parallel texts here, look, say, cover write – I usually ask students to use A4 paper/landscape/ write max. of 3 chunks in L2 they want to learn underneath each other/write the chunks in L1/fold/say/re-write in L2/ fold/say/ re-write in L1 like an accordion until they know the chunk. The act of writing and verbalising is important so the chunk gets embedded into long-term memory, post -its, flash cards – it is important to mix them so students don’t practice/revise them in the same order etc.

  • Guided practice – giving students plenty of opportunities to study worked examples with the teacher – you could use a visualiser to look at WAGOLLS but also address any misconceptions and common mistakes that students make when submitting their work. Giving tasks that build confidence, scaffold and support, especially in mixed ability classes (you could choose what scaffold is needed for a specific student, some might not need a scaffold at all). These scaffolds are then gradually reduced to partially completed examples right through to students’  independent practice.

Examples of scaffolded tasks – inspired by Kim Davies

  • Independent practice – it is important to give students plenty of opportunities to practise especially when it comes to spontaneous talk starting from year 7. The Conti approach in my opinion gives plenty of opportunities to do so in a variety of ways and builds students’ confidence, so when it comes the GCSE oral exam, it is not something they feel they can’t do because they didn’t have enough exposure to and consequently was intensively crammed mostly during year 11. If the steps above are addressed sufficiently, students will be able to practise independently. I have done this with my students successfully when preparing them for their speaking assessment last year. More on how I did it in a future post.

Examples of independent practice (pyramid inspired by Kate Jones)

 Based on Gianfranco Conti oral scaffold

  • Structured reflection – modelling our own thinking, setting appropriate level of challenge, promote metacognitive talk, explicitly teaching students how to organise and effectively manage their independent learning  helps students to develop their own metacognitive skills. 

Encouraging self-regulation through effective revision.

All of the strategies mentioned above can be extremely useful when teaching students how to revise effectively.

Revision is a word that is at the very top of every teacher’s and school’s agenda especially when it comes to year 11 and GCSE examinations. I have been teaching for over 16 years now and ever since I have qualified as a teacher, from my NQT year up to now being an experienced teacher – HOD, effective revision methods have been of an interest to me.

However, like for many of us, with the experience over the years, my view and approach to revision has changed greatly. Early on in my teaching career, revision often was going over the key Grammar points such as tenses, opinions, cases, adjectival agreements and word order, leaving the vocabulary learning for home time ‘revision’. 

There has been a lot of discussion about students’ study habits outside of the classroom including re-reading of notes and/or highlighting key information. My students not being an exception, would often approach their home revision by looking through their notes, re-reading them; the more diligent and motivated ones would design colour coded flashcards, use highlighters and make their notes in exercise books look beautiful. I have also observed that the students with the beautifully prepared revision resources would be almost exclusively girls.


HOWEVER the question is: Using these strategies are our students able to retain what they are trying to learn?

The research is very clear: re-reading and highlighting of notes can work short-term while cramming, but doesn’t always last long-term. There is an interesting article on note-taking (another popular strategy) which looks at its complexity and potential benefits and concentrates on ‘Retrieve-taking’ – a strategy that will enhance learning, published by Re-reading whilst looking at the notes especially, gives students the false feeling of ‘I know this. I can remember this.’ What about if the access to the notes isn’t there? Can they still remember it?

Effective strategies such as self-quizzing and answering practice questions are hard work as they make students struggle to remember things but that is what makes it effective as mentioned by Mark Enser who has written a very detailed and evidence-based post on revision strategies (where he is sharing his Revision clock method) for the Heathfield Teacher Share blog here. His post has given me a lot to reflect on…

     The Heathfield Revision Clock

This is what I do to support my students:

General advice for my students: BE ORGANISED!

  1. Create a revision timetable for each day – what subjects are you going to revise each day – revise subjects you have next day the day before and follow the advice of your subject teachers.

  2. Make sure you find a quiet place in your house where you can concentrate and work, put your phone away (I stress this with parents as well), switch of the TV. This might sound silly, but make yourself comfortable – get your drinks, snacks… I, personally don’t recommend listening to music while revising as I find it disruptive, but I haven’t researched this.

  3. Do not revise for hours – cramming – less and more often is the key, especially when it comes to languages.

  4. Make sure you give yourself time for hobbies and relax as well. Look after your well-being.

Specific advice for Languages:

At  the start of the academic year I provide my year 11 students with a folder. The folder will contain :

  • A revision timetable (schedule) with each week mapping out key skills and knowledge (vocabulary) I would like students to revise. The revision schedule has been also put on a padlet (embedded on our school’s website)- an idea I have seen used by @BotonesSalgado who has written a great post on how she uses padlet in her teaching here and by Ceri Anwen James (in Welsh) on Facebook. Topics will be interleaved and in languages skills/grammatical structures are transferable naturally.

  • Set of role play cards – these could be from the previous examination cycle or a mixture

  • Set of picture – based tasks – these could be from the previous examination cycle or a mixture

  • Knowledge organisers / Sentence builders – these would include key vocabulary / structures / chunks for each Theme (please note that students would be familiar with these as they would have used them in previous years).

  • Translation work book – structured translation work book which was originally created in Spanish by @ChrisMFLTandL (pinned post on his profile) and adapted to German by @SJBarnes81 (shared on Teaching German Facebook group). This work book is excellent as it includes the mark scheme criteria and makes students check and reflect on the translation as well.

  • Structured writing work book – this is a new addition – created by @MrBCurrier and adapted to German by me.

These materials can be used for home revision or during revision sessions in class where I model revision techniques I want them to use.

For revision to work I think it is also very important to involve the parents as well, therefore on their revision timetable students have a column that is for parents to sign that their child has completed the revision set for that week. During Parents’ Evenings I had parents often asking me how they can support their child and this way they can be in control as well.

The key for me is that revision should be happening throughout the course not just before the exams or in special ‘intervention’ sessions. I believe that if students are working well, completing meaningful and purposeful HWK, retrieving knowledge regularly in lessons there should not be need for after school intervention. However, if this is needed for some reason i.e. student’s long-term absence, it should be targeted to 1-4 students. Too many times I have witnessed intervention sessions after school with 20+ students – this is not intervention, but teaching a full lesson after school!!!

I am not claiming to be an expert and I am sure there are educators out there who have extensively researched this field and also tested various strategies in practice who could comment and share their expertise and experiences. If you are reading this and you are one of them please leave a comment. I would really appreciate your input or critique. 

Developing metacognitive strategies to encourage independent learning


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