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How can formative action contribute to self-regulated learning?

Rene Kneyber, Valentina Devid, Hilly Drok

Pupils or students are, as a rule, beginners; the knowledge and skills they have to master are mostly new. This in itself is not a problem. However, the tendency of pupils and students to under- and overestimate themselves is.[1] This leads, for instance, to students starting learning too late or they mistakenly think they already know something when they do not. They also find it difficult to assess the effectiveness of a chosen approach, and therefore sometimes do not choose the optimal learning strategy. This will lead to them not optimally adjusting their own learning process, resulting in important learning opportunities being lost.

Being able to assess yourself realistically is therefore an important skill in the learning process. Indeed, this can ensure that you do start on time, seek help earlier or ask a question and choose a different learning strategy because you know it works better. Formative assessment can make a positive contribution to this.

Formative practice can also make an important contribution in other areas of self-regulated learning. To take advantage of this fact, it can be helpful to know which strategies you can use for this purpose. Some of these already occur in a process of formative action. Others require a somewhat more specific deployment. In all cases, knowledge of these strategies can help to focus formative action processes on those aspects that are still difficult for a group when it comes to self-regulated learning.

In total, in this blog we discuss four strategies that can contribute to self-regulated learning.

  1. Structural testing
  2. Putting the learning process into words
  3. Reflecting on the quality of self-assessment
  4. Instilling a sense of quality

These strategies have their effect at different places within a process of formative action. For an explanation of our model, see this blog-post by Tom Sherrington, or our book.

Structural testing contributes to self-regulated learning

Where: in steps 2 and 5

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Testing is a highly effective learning strategy that promotes long-term learning. It involves a person actively retrieving information from long-term memory to working memory without aids. One of the testing effects is that it improves the storage and retrieval strength of information in memory. Another test effect is that it confronts pupils or students with what they do not yet know. This improves students’ or pupils’ estimation ability: they are confronted with their actual level of understanding, which generally differs from their assumed level of understanding. By actively confronting this through formative practices, students and pupils start to assess their own level of understanding more realistically over time.

Within a process of formative action, you exploit these effects in step 2 and step 5. In step 2, you ask pupils or students to think about something and recall it without tools. For example, they answer a question such as “How can you know this is a reliable source? This is followed by interpretation of the answers, a conversation about them and a possible repair action. In step 5, you check whether that follow-up action helped; by asking a similar question, you again exploit that test effect.

The additional benefit of testing the second time is that pupils’ or students’ metacognitive monitoring improves; pupils and students start to see which actions work when.[2] In a process of formative action, this means that pupils or students will start linking the follow-up action from step 4 to any improvement and thus know better what works for them, and what does not. It can help to have pupils or students explicitly name what we have done to them, and what this has achieved, so that they correctly attribute the step 4 intervention.

Putting learning into words is conducive to self-regulated learning

Where: particularly in steps 3 and 5.

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To improve your skills in self-regulated learning, it is important to be able to put into words about, and listen to, everything that happens around your learning, in terms of thoughts, emotions, and approaches. An ideal time for pupils and students to get better at this is during step 3 of a formative learning process. [3]

For example, you can ask students to write the answer to a question on a maths board (step 2). After this, you can ask students to explain what they wrote down and why. By challenging pupils more to put their thoughts into words and be able to give arguments for what they think and think, you teach pupils to grow further not only linguistically, but also cognitively and emotionally. [4]

When pupils are better able to put their thought processes into words, they are also better equipped to regulate their own learning process. After all, only when someone knows and can put into words how their thought process is going, will they be able to monitor and adjust it.

Step 3 could then look as follows in the light of self-regulated learning.[5]

1. Set the bar high in terms of language use

Before you enter such a conversation, it is important to be clear to yourself how you think pupils or students should talk about this. Which words do you absolutely want to hear back, which phrases should they absolutely use? If students do not express themselves adequately enough, give suggestions for improvement and have them repeat it until it is right.

2. Question by

After a student’s initial response, you can ask probing questions. “What are your arguments for this?”, “What connection do you see between fact A and event B?”. This encourages learners to articulate their thinking and contributes to better understanding and monitoring of their own learning.

3. Also ask about the process

The Education Endownment Foundation also recommends asking questions about the learning process. The very emphasis on the process, helps students in their self-regulated learning skills. This can be done, for example, as follows: “What method did you use to arrive at this answer?”, “How did you know to use that method?”, “How good! How did you come up with this idea?’, or ‘Would there be another way to solve this problem?’

4.Also ask students to listen to each other

The purpose of the teaching-learning conversation in step 3 is for pupils to learn something from what fellow pupils have said. For self-regulated learning, it is beneficial if they can make explicit exactly what they have learned from each other. For example, you can ask: “Alicia, which of these three answers did you think was the best formulated, and why?”, “Did you change your mind, and what made you change it?”. The more students make this process explicit, the more they experience what they themselves can still learn from others. As a teacher, it helps to subtitle that process so that a transfer can be made to other situations as well.

Reflecting on the quality of self-assessments

Where: in steps 2, 3 and 5.

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As described above, self-judgements play an important role in the learning process. But although they play a major role, they are often not very explicit, as is reflection on the self-assessments made. Some pupils or students will undoubtedly reflect on themselves if it turns out that they mistakenly thought they had mastered or not mastered something. But many will not. They will therefore not realise that they are constantly making wrong self-assessments, and will therefore not get better at it.

If you want to address this, it is advisable to have pupils or students not only write down an answer during step 2, but also indicate in the process how confident they are about their answer. This can be done, for example, on a scale of 1 to 10, red or green, and a happy or unsure emoji.

This assessment can then also be the subject of discussion during Step 3. So if you see that some students got it right, but still had doubts about their answer, you can ask about this: ‘Pharisee, you got it right, but you had doubts. Can you tell why?’ Or: ‘You thought you got it right, but you were wrong anyway. Can you tell me a bit more about where exactly you went wrong?’

Suppose you decide on a repair action in step 4, you can ask students at the start of step 5: ‘do you think you can do it now, and how come?’ A check then takes place to see if this their estimation is correct.

In this way, reflecting on self-assessments can contribute to self-regulated learning. It is, however, necessary to repeat this regularly.

Developing a sense for quality

When: stand-alone and in step 3

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An important strategy in formative action is teaching quality awareness. Quality awareness, or a sense for quality, can be instilled regarding products or processes. For products, you can compare different examples and discuss them with the class. For processes, you can demonstrate a process out loud and discuss this with the group.

Through these activities, pupils or students develop a (shared) sense of what the goal is. Because this goal is clearer, pupils or students are also able to adjust their learning process better, and will be less dependent on outside help. When pupils know better where they are heading (the end product, made clear by comparing examples) and how they will get to the end point (the process, made clear by thinking aloud), they will also be better able to navigate towards it themselves, without someone else constantly having to keep them on the right track. In addition, they are also better able to receive feedback because they know better what this feedback is about. Thus, this strategy operates in several areas such as: setting goals, knowing when you are ready, and better reflecting while you are working.

This strategy cannot only be used prior to learning activities such as processes of formative action. You can also harness the power of quality awareness during a process of formative action by showing examples during step 3. These can be examples of what has just been produced in step 2, but these can also be other examples; self-constructed, or anonymous examples from other classes or previous years.

By looking at this and then reflecting on one’s own work again, quality awareness also develops, with the same benefits for students’ self-regulated learning.

We will discuss this strategy in more detail in a future blog.

In conclusion

In this blog, we discussed how you can contribute to pupils’ or students’ self-regulated learning skills through formative practice.

  1. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-28036-001
  2. Henry L. Roediger III, Adam L. Putnam, Megan A. Smith (2011) Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice Editor(s): Jose P. Mestre, Brian H. Ross, Psychology of Learning and Motivation,

    Academic Press, Volume 55, 2011, Pages 1-36, ISSN 0079-7421, ISBN 9780123876911, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-387691-1.00001-6.

  3. For a glowing argument on this: Self-regulation in learning: The role of language and formative assessment by Bailey & Heritage.
  4. https://oracycambridge.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/The-Oracy-Skills-Framework-and-Glossary.pdf
  5. More suggestions on how to have this kind of conversation can be found, for example, in the Teaching Walkthrus books.

 

Authors

  • Rene Kneyber

    René Kneyber is a former teacher of mathematics, and currently a trainer, advisor and board member of The Formative Action School He has written and translated more than fifteen books, including Flip the System: Changing Education from the Ground Up. From 2015 to 2022, he was a crown member of the Dutch Education Council.

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  • Valentina Devid

    Valentina Devid is a history and philosophy teacher. She is an experience expert in the field of formative action and a much sought-after keynote speaker on the subject. She Is one of the founders of The Formative Action School.

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  • Hilly Drok

    Hilly Drok is a trainer, educational consultant and director at The Formative Action School. She also coordinates the Formative Action course for School Experts. She has been a Dutch teacher for 14 years and pioneered the implementation process of formative action at her high school. She is currently working on the topic of self-regulation.

    View all posts

Authors

  • Rene Kneyber

    René Kneyber is a former teacher of mathematics, and currently a trainer, advisor and board member of The Formative Action School He has written and translated more than fifteen books, including Flip the System: Changing Education from the Ground Up. From 2015 to 2022, he was a crown member of the Dutch Education Council.

    View all posts
  • Valentina Devid

    Valentina Devid is a history and philosophy teacher. She is an experience expert in the field of formative action and a much sought-after keynote speaker on the subject. She Is one of the founders of The Formative Action School.

    View all posts
  • Hilly Drok

    Hilly Drok is a trainer, educational consultant and director at The Formative Action School. She also coordinates the Formative Action course for School Experts. She has been a Dutch teacher for 14 years and pioneered the implementation process of formative action at her high school. She is currently working on the topic of self-regulation.

    View all posts

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