15 Using Metacognition Self Regulation for Students with Learning Differences

Darby Bowers

Now that we have discussed the cognitive side of learning and how identity impacts motivation we can discuss the motivational mechanisms. These mechanisms will help maintain all my earlier positive suggestions so they are long lasting in the classroom. Before I dive back into the examples I shared in the previous chapter, I have to share the main principles of metacognitive self regulation. Once we have an understanding then I will walk you through the steps to successfully activate this process in the classroom. These suggestions will follow the wise intervention framework. This framework is changing a specific behavior or action to create a certain desired outcome. (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, July 2020). My hope at the end of this chapter is that you have learned more about working with adolescents who have learning disabilities.

Metacognition is the three step process that guides yourself to achieving your goals through motivation and self-regulation (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, July 2020). The three phases are forethought, performance control and self-reflection. Before I talk about the ins and outs of each phase it is important to understand that this cycle is not fixed. All of these phases connect to each other, so if you struggle with self-reflection then your forethought for the next time you do that activity is going to differ. One thing to keep in mind is that it takes multiple times completing this cycle to develop a belief system about a particular subject or ability (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, July 2020). Going through this process then relates back to your identity, your motivation and how you process new knowledge.

The first phase in the cycle of metacognitive self-regulation is forethought. In the forethought stage there is self-motivation beliefs and  task analysis that has subgroups of goal setting and planning. The self motivation beliefs includes self-efficacy, task interest/value and goal orientation (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2012). Task analysis is where the teacher presents the assignment and then the student has to decide if they want to successfully complete the task for in depth learning or just complete the assignment for the grade (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2012). During the task analysis thinking is when the student starts to show their self-efficacy. This is because student’s beliefs about how well they are able to succeed influences how much energy they use to create steps and plans to complete the goal (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2012).

Once the student decides how motivated they are to complete the task they enter the performance control phase. In this phase, self control is determined by self-instruction, attention focusing, and task strategies (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2012). Self observation is a subgroup of the  performance control phase and it relates to monitoring and self-recording (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2012). This is where the student actually feels the tension of completing the assignment and then is guiding themselves by asking questions such as: “am I doing this right?”, “do I need to restart?” (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, July 2020). In preschool ages, this talk is usually done by speaking out loud. High school students still say the same phrases except now the students usually say it in their heads (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, July 2020).

Before we enter the self-reflection phase it is important to acknowledge that after the performance phase, the student usually finishes the assignments and receives a grade or feedback based on their work. The self-reflection phase has two groupings which are self-judgement and self-reaction. In the self-judgement section the student does self-evaluation and causal attribution. The self-reaction section includes self-satisfaction and adaptive/defensive categories (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2012)

Causal attribution will be an important concept when I walk you through techniques to use in your classrooms. The student in the self-reflection phase has two options for attributing success and failures by either blaming external or internal attributions. In order to achieve metacognition, it does not mean that every outcome is either all external or internal sources, but you pick the correct attribution.  (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, July 2020). When it is an internal attribution then you see the effort you put into the work and then you figure out what you can improve on or fix for the future (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, July 2020). When you attribute the outcome to an external source it can be harder to find the motivation and you may not seek to understand how to improve (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, July 2020). It is our job as educators to help show the students which attribution is appropriate in each situation. If a student is attributing a success due to an external source  when it was actually the student’s motivation that drove the motivation, it is important as the teacher to show that the student was successful because of their work. If a student is blaming themselves for something that was an external source, it is important to tell them that this goal was not successful because of them, but due to external forces.

This metacognitive self-regulation cycle can be easily seen in science and/or math classes.  In science, the students first have to make a plan or a prediction about the activity and then they have to do the experiment, and collect data. After the students collect the data they then have to evaluate the results and see if it aligns with their prediction. The same thing can be done for a math assignment because the student has to read the problem, figure out the equation and do the correct steps to complete the problem. The students then have to work through the math equation and then reflect on their results if it is correct. If the answer is incorrect then the student needs to go back to adjust the work (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, July 2020). I have just listed the metacognition phases in relation to math and science. So, how do you as teachers use this information to improve the classroom experience? According to Ryan Lei (2018), if you tell students that we are just doing this one activity and not label it as being scientists or mathematicians then the students will be more motivated. If you label the students first then that may create stereotypes and they will be less motivated. They will lose motivation because they might realize their gender or ethnic population is not represented in the science or mathematical career fields (Lei, 2018). When you tell your students that they just did science it can help with their confidence in that subject and they may be more open to a career in science or math since they are not reminded of those labels or stereotypes (Lei, 2018).

These same stereotypes and labels can also affect students who have ADHD or dyslexia. For example they may have been taken out of classes to work individually with special education teachers. These students also have usually heard from people in schools, or in their personal lives that they will never be successful in school. Throughout their whole education they have probably been labeled as a student with a learning disability, instead of their personal characteristics. Teachers and our whole school environment have to switch the student’s thinking from a negative framework to a positive framework. When we discuss students with a learning disability we do not say an ADHD student, instead we say a student with ADHD or dyslexia. We tell students they are more than a label and that they will be successful. We also do not  take students out of classes for additional learning support. In summary, we could say that our students have a fixed mindset and we have to change their thinking framework to a growth mindset.

In a fixed mindset, students who are diagnosed with a learning disability will blame themselves for their failures and then will not be motivated to try and succeed in school. This will lead to students who easily give up (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, July 2020). The fixed mindset develops because of the interactions between their teachers. A growth mindset is when the student believes failure is an internal source, but that failure helps them grow and improve their performance.  (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, July 2020). This does not happen in the first week, month or possibly even first year. So, how do you change their mindset? It is due to students achieving autonomy, relatedness and competence. You as teachers have to relate to them so they feel connected to both you and their peers. When they have the relatedness, students may be more open to hearing the feedback you provide. This will lead to competence because after accepting your feedback the students will start to feel more confident in their assignments. After feeling competent about their work they will eventually achieve autonomy. Autonomy is the feeling of being in control and the students can control how much effort is put into the assignment (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, August 2020). Autonomy is where the students believe the statement: “I know I can get a solid “A” on this assignment”.  If the students can achieve all three characteristics then they will have internal motivation. (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, August 2020).  When at least one of these characteristics is not achieved the student’s motivation turns to an external source (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, August 2020).

I want to walk you through a situation so you can clearly see how the metacognition self-regulation cycle with wise intervention would play out in a classroom. Imagine having a student with dyslexia in your class who really struggles reading out loud, spelling, and reading the assignment chapters. This student most likely does not want to put in any effort to reading or vocabulary tests, but this is where the change can come. Have the student read one page out loud and then give them a smile or nod. Have the student write once a day the vocabulary words and then have them draw a scene relating to the word. If they improve on a vocabulary test, point out directly that when they drew the picture of the word that was difficult to comprehend they got that question correct on the test. By addressing the improvement in a specific way it will make their self-esteem increase and they might be more motivated to try harder on the next test (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, July 2020).

Another example that I want to discuss more in depth is the fact that students, especially those who have ADHD, struggle with procrastination. In the last chapter, I noted that writing in a planner might help our students be more organized. I want to point out that just because a student writes in a planner and tells you the homework for the night does not mean the student is going to complete the assignment. Going back to the metacognitive phases, writing in the planner shows the forethought phase, but how do you make the student enter the performance control phase? When they tell you the homework plan, acknowledge the plan but  do not praise them right then. You want to wait until the next day to see if the student completed their homework. If the student completed their homework goal then praise. It is also important to remind the student, especially if they struggle turning in homework on time that they will not get points marked off for tardiness. This is you pointing out their achievements and how that behavior is an improvement.

Finally I want to point out that students are usually into extracurriculars such as sports, music, dance etc. This could be a great tool to help our students be more motivated in the classroom because it improves their executive functioning and motivation. (Tomporowski, & Pesce, 2019). This is because executive functions include switching tasks, maintaining focus and managing disruptive behavior. If the students are in sports they are learning a skill, and then they have to practice that movement repeatedly until they have  it mastered (Tomporowski, & Pesce, 2019).   If the student uses their executive functions and motivation outside of the school context, then their motivation and cognitive skills will develop in a positive way (Tomporowski, & Pesce, 2019). You, as teachers can then connect their activity to learning in the classroom. You can do this by saying “remember when you were learning the new skill and you struggled, but then it clicked and it was successful” and then “on the history paper, you may be struggling with the concept or grammar, but when you finish, that same feeling of accomplishment will occur”. When you connect their activity to a classroom setting the student will realize that they have the ability to succeed and will then be more motivated (E. Kleinknecht, personal communication, July 2020).

I hope that these chapters have been beneficial and that you can use some of these strategies in your classrooms. Knowing the cognitive side about memory and cell assembly has made it clear that repetition is key. By knowing how identity and motivation are connected, it may make it easier to understand our student’s points of view. Finally by sharing some applications I hope that these strategies can help and be even more beneficial to our students and community.

References 

Cleary, T. J., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2012). A cyclical self-regulatory account of student engagement: Theoretical foundations and applications. In Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 237-257). Springer, Boston, MA.

Lei, R. F., Green, E. R., Leslie, S. J., & Rhodes, M. (2019). Children lose confidence in their potential to “be scientists,” but not in their capacity to “do science”. Developmental Science, 22, https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12837

Tomporowski, P. D., & Pesce, C. (2019). Exercise, sports, and performance arts benefit cognition via a common process. Psychological Bulletin, 145(9), 929.https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000200