Towards a social understanding of self-regulated learning.

Educational policy research in the last decade has placed increasing stress on the need for students to develop skills or competencies to compete in the knowledge-based economy, where production involves conceptual innovation, rather than routine manufacturing. The ‘Next Chapter’ of the IBO, a comprehensive alteration in the practice, if not the principles of the IBO framework, reflects the influence of these policy findings. Approaches to Learning (ATL), designed to help students “learn how to learn” (MYP: From Principles to Practice, p. 20), is now a core component of the curriculum. The ultimate aim of making these ATL an explicit part of the curriculum is to develop “self-regulated–independent and autonomous” learners (Ibid., p. 21).

In what follows I hope to expand on the definition suggested by the term “self-regulated” learning (SRL), and the “self-management” ATL that is meant to support its development. By placing the development of (SRL) in a social context, teachers can remain consistent in their constructivist approaches to instruction, and use collaboration as a scaffold to help the “self” better regulate its learning. First a bit on the relationship between (SRL) and metacognition.

What is the relationship between metacognition and self-regulated learning?

(SRL) has been defined as the control, management, monitoring, reflecting, and adapting one’s cognitive processes and learning activities for improvement. Examples of (SRL) occur when learners monitor and direct their own progress, asking questions such as “What am I doing now?,” “Is it getting me anywhere?,” “What else could I be doing instead?”

These definitions depend on the learner being aware of themselves as a learner, with the ability to notice strategies as they occur, to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, to reflect on and ultimately to adapt these strategies for future improvement. To monitor, control, regulate, reflect on, and adapt one’s learning, it is first necessary to be aware of learning as learning, an awareness of learning above the subject matter itself. A learner needs to have a metacognitive awareness of their own learning, before the self-regulatory processes mentioned above can be initiated. In How People Learn (click link for full text. It’s a synthesis of decades of educational research published by the the National Research Council in 2000) metacognition was identified as a key element for improving student learning.

The upshot for teachers, particularly those involved in implementing the ATL of the Next Chapter, is that it might be helpful to develop the metacognitive awareness of your students, before focusing on developing strategies for improving these processes. I found some great thinking routines for developing metacognitive awareness in Making Thinking Visible, though I’m sure there are plenty of other excellent sources available.

 Is it really up to the learner to “self” regulate?

Since the 1970’s when the notions of metacognition and (SRL) first gained prominence, (SRL) has been conceived as an individual, cognitive process. Our language continues to reflect the belief in an isolated ego, manipulating their thinking in a context-less void. We speak of “self-management,”and “self-directed” learners.  With the constructivist turn in educational theory initiated by Vygotsky, research into the processes of (SRL) are identifying the social factors supporting, and often driving the (SRL) process. These changes are also reflected in the language now used to describe the processes. There is talk now of ‘co-regulated’ learning (see the research being done by Allison Hadwin), socially-shared cognition, and distributed cognition (for more on this see ‘Cognition in the Wild‘.

As teachers, when we encourage our students to aim higher, ask for clarification of meaning, recommend apps for managing information, we co- regulate with our students. More significant and often overlooked in the literature is the co-regulating role played by peers during collaborative projects. I have experimented with different forms of social media to make the process of collaboration visible to my students. This enables me to identify effective collaboration, rather than vaguely defined “group work.” I could see students motivating their peers– ”maybe consider this..” “ I know it’s hard, maybe try reading this…”, “ …summative is in three days, we can do this!!”  Conversation threads also reveal students asking each other for clarification of meaning– “ what do you mean by ‘better’…  “can you explain this more, I don’t understand..” In other words, the affective and organisational traits we often associate with “self” management and “self” regulation occur within and are fostered by interactions, resulting in meaningful collaboration.

(I also show these conversations to students, so they can see and understand what co-regulation is, to see what it means to be a team-player, a collaborator in the deeper sense of the term.)

If there’s a “take-away” to speak of here, it’s to see metacognition, self-regulated learning, and collaboration as related and mutually reinforcing, and leveraging the power of ICT can support the development of all three by making the process visible to the teacher and student.

Thanks for reading…



Inquiry and Concepts in the Humanities

What follows is an illustration of my current understanding of concept and inquiry driven education. It has been constructed on the “shoulders of giants,” master educators whose ideas and resources I would be offensively dull without. The hope here is to add to our existing knowledge of a paradigm shift in education, to hasten it, while lessening the shock of the new. The audience is both you and I. You, as a critical listener, whose constructive feedback would be greatly appreciated. I, because these thoughts are new and cloudy, and articulation always seems to sift out the mud from the puddle. Thanks in advance for your attention.

October 17th is recognized by the U.N. as the “International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.” It seemed natural to begin another year of MYP Humanities with a unit that focused on ‘Development,’ and was supported by the related concepts ‘Poverty,’ and ‘Governance.’ The unit I’m speaking of has been designed for grade 9 / MYP 4, but it could be modified to suit kids of different levels.

To begin the discussion, the three concepts were written on the whiteboard, and the kids were asked to read my mind, “why is it that I would have chosen these three concepts for a unit plan? How do they fit together?” This leads to a definition of the various concepts, here I find concept maps are very useful. We begin with ‘Development,’ “What does this word mean to you? There are no wrong answers here so be bold and take a risk.” We do the same for ‘Poverty,’ and ‘Governance.’ This exercise first of all indicates the current understanding of these concepts. It also allows us to better understand how the concepts connect. By the thirty minute mark of lesson one, kids have grappled with the multiple definitions of the different concepts, and know that ‘governance,’ in its various levels and forms, will be the concept through which solutions to the problems already raised will be addressed. When the unit question is then presented: “What is poverty, whose problem is it, and what’s the most effective way of dealing with it?”, the kids have a pretty good idea of where we’re going. ( I know this unit question might not seem “open-ended” enough, but if you delve sufficiently deep into the multiple definitions of these concepts, and theories of good governance, all three sub-questions are hotly contestable.)

Next, divide the class into groups, three would be ideal. Have them imagine the world as a village of 100 people. You will be playing this video, which you will want to watch first alone, and based on the statistics provided, create ten questions. Examples include: “How many would be Asian? How many would live in sub-standard housing? How many would be malnourished? How many would have internet access? How many would have a college degree?

Have the kids come up with answers to these questions as a group, and write their responses on the white board. Leave one column for “actual answers.” Then play the video for the class and have a student or students write down the answers provided by the video. I find this is a great way for kids to discover how their perceptions of the world are typically way off the mark of what’s really going on. It also opens up a more in-depth discussion of what “development” means. You can ask kids why they think the world has developed in this manner, with extreme disparity in resource allocation. You may also want the kids to decide which statistic they find most troubling and why.

For Homework you can have the kids read these two stories, and be prepared to discuss the meaning of poverty in the next class:

“Poorer than Poor” by Stan and Mari Thekaekara, written for the Daily Telegraph (UK), March 10 1995.

“The inhabitants here have a better life than people there. The latter is a soulless place where people are demoralized and face a meaningless future. The penniless tribesman living in a mud hut here is better off. It was a shock to us to see that the unemployed people there had cars and televisions and refrigerators – incredible wealth to many people here – and yet they were apathetic and had no hope. Around them were visible signs of drug abuse, terrible vandalism, street gangs and daily violence. Despite their possessions, they are worse off than the poorest tribesman.

Here, the poor still have initiative. Every day, you see them scavenging in the garbage heaps for junk. If they find something of the slightest value, they will take it and sell it somewhere. They will do odd jobs whenever they’re available. They are doing something to keep body and soul together.

But there, there’s heaviness in the air which you don’t experience here. We were trying to work out why. Then it hit us. We had never met a man here who had been unemployed for 20 years as some of the residents there. Here, people experience seasonal unemployment but not 20 years of purposeless, meaningless existence. However, the women there are different. They are still resilient and put energy and enthusiasm into various voluntary projects. The depressing factor was the lack of involvement by the males”.

For an alternative perspective, the kids should also read this:

“This is a hard place to live, and a grotesquely easy place to die. Male life expectancy is 54, lower than The Gambia in West Africa, nearly a decade lower than Bangladesh, and about 24 years below the national average. Move just a few miles and you will live, on average, 30 years longer. Despite this, people here do not and cannot leave. For all Ms Livingston’s lament, her kids are stuck in a ghetto ringed by some of the saddest statistics in the country. The neighbourhood has the highest proportion of voters on incapacity benefit or disability allowance and the fewest qualifications in higher education; nearly half of homes are social housing; and, in parts, unemployment has reached 50 per cent”.

( Disclosure, I got the “World as a 100 people video idea, and these readings from various unit plans available on OCC. I would cite directly but unable to track the original sources.)

By the time the preliminary concept mapping, discussions, video, and readings are complete, the kids should be well-aware of the concepts they will be engaged with over the coming eight weeks. It’s time to give kids specific categories through which they can view and understand ‘Development.’ I assigned a short video that discusses the U.N. Millennium Goals for 2015. Also try this.

I live and teach in Hong Kong, so with a focus on the Asia region, the kids are now working in groups of three, co-creating a prezi that applies the U.N. Millennium goals to different countries in Asia. Each group has two countries that are economically underdeveloped, and one that is not. For example, a group might have Cambodia, Myanmar, and Japan. They will present this next time we meet, and we are then prepared to start discussing more in depth the explanations for the disparities between their selected countries. How should we understand these development gaps?

We are then ready to look more closely at the meaning of governance, and it’s international, national, local, and grass-roots manifestations. I find these resources from the IBO very useful: Teaching about Cooperation and Governance.  We will discuss, using examples from real-world situations, what is being done by different levels of governance to deal with development gaps, with a focus on poverty. For example, we will look at the effectiveness of efforts by the U.N. and the World Bank, National systems of welfare and government subsidies, N.G.O.’s such as Kiva, and what is being done locally.

We will now be ready for the “Inquiry” stage of the unit. ( I’m still a believer that “inquiry” is, or at least should be, the routine practice of every educator. In this sense, Socrates had it right 2,400 years ago. True education is about “drawing out” what is already there, of refining knowledge rather than “giving” it.)

To coincide with the U.N. eradication of poverty day, the students will host an assembly on “Development, Poverty, and Governance in Hong Kong.” Each student will be required to create and present (videos, power-point/prezi, and blogs / web pages are all acceptable) for 4-5 minutes on the development gap in Hong Kong. What makes this “inquiry” (I think) is that the requirement for the presentation is for the most part wide-open: ‘Raising Awareness on the Development Gap in Hong Kong.’

To a certain extent, “inquiry” is a relative concept, and can be carried out in a meaningful way within various levels of constraints. There will be opportunities as the year progresses for more wide- open, student initiated  explorations. For this particular assessment, however, a moderate level of restraint was necessary for the larger purpose, which is raising awareness of a pressing issue in Hong Kong. How this pressing issue “development” is defined, how it will be investigated, how it will be illustrated, and what solutions will be offered are all left to the students.

That said, there are certain requirements I need to see in order to do proper assessment, for example I need to see the students have a solid understanding of the key and related concepts. The project needs to be multi-modal: text, video, photographic, audio, to help me assess ‘communication.’ It needs to explain how development in Hong Kong is being dealt with on the international, national, and grass-roots levels, though these categories leave an abundance of room for interpretation. And it needs to end with a “plan for action,” which will be voted on and acted upon by the school at large. This plan of action is completely up to the students discretion. This will allow me to assess ‘investigating.’

Students will also need to provide an action plan for how they will be approaching the topic, the resources they will be using, and the technology they will be employing. They will also need to write a pre-assessment on the learning strategies they will be using ( time-management, realistic goal setting ), and post-presentation reflection on how these strategies were executed, and how they can be improved upon for next time. These requirements provide a form designed to enhance the inquiry, to make it a structured learning process rather than something so open-minded that brains will drop out.

At the end of this unit, I’m confident these kids will understand and be able to apply this understanding to the key and related concepts. They will be afforded the opportunity to illustrate this understanding in a real-world way, with a meaningful connection to our local community. They will also have been given the opportunity to develop their capacity as “inquirers,” by developing and implementing a research plan, deciding on an angle for the topic that interests them, discovering and sorting the relevant resources, and learning through practice how to effectively persuade an audience to join one’s cause.

Before I close, I again want to say thank you to all the silent authors whose ideas and resources have inspired my own practices. So many great minds out there! If one of you happens to be listening, a few words of constructive feedback would be awesome…  Thanks for the visit!

Student Led Assessments

My MYP 3 Humanities class recently finished a unit on the russian revolution. For the summative assessment, I proposed what I thought would be a fun and creative project. We would create an interactive textbook using i-author. The response was, well… unenthusiastic. The biggest complaint was that it would involve a level of technical expertise beyond the students’ current level. Fair enough. So, I asked, what do you all suggest? Here is their response:


I had never heard of ‘Top Trump’ cards before. I’m told they are popular in Europe. Anyways, one of my students suggested they could create Top Trump cards for the most significant people and events of the russian revolution. They would include a photo,  a mini biography, and categories representing certain traits, with corresponding numbers for measure. For instance, in the category ‘Violence’ Josef Stalin would get highest marks. For the category, ‘Role in the Russian Revolution,’ Rasputin might receive average marks. You get the idea. As I hope you can see from the photo above, the final product was brilliant. The students grumbled a bit on the amount of time required to create the cards (all the formatting was done by them), though the level of engagement during the process, and the pride revealed at the final unveiling, was well worth the suffering.

On another level, this event marks a paradigm shift in my own approach to teaching. It has forced me to re-think what is meant by “student-led.” Previously I would give students several options, giving them the freedom to choose an option that best allows them to display their talents. Now, before assigning the options (which, let’s face it, is not “student-led”) I will consult the class on how they think the significant concepts discussed throughout the unit can be illustrated.

Ps. For those of you who would consider the Top Trump option. I assessed for criteria B and D, investigating and communicating. The format of the cards doesn’t exactly promote critical thinking– what does it mean to say Trotsky gets a 78 for “Unity.” That said, the students learned a lot in the process, and more importantly they continue to learn while playing the game with the cards they created.