Self-regulated learning strategies and tool use.



What do you think?


Learning the foundations of learning


Halliday (1993) wrote that when children learn languages they are not simply engaging in one type of learning among many; they are learning the foundations of learning itself.

This statement deeply satisfies me, as I am a language and science teacher and combine both to provide a richer deeper learning experience for my students. I have experienced in the many years of teaching immersion science that my students truly change over the period of three years while they are involved in the immersion program.

In my current research I am looking at student voices expressing their experiences learning in this bilingual environment. A bilingual learning environment stands for these students foremost as belonging to a community of learning and mastering difficulties together. Other important experiences include embracing challenges and to be in a group of people who share the common interest in learning. These students find learning in a challenging environment enjoyable, because it is their motivation.

Now I was wondering how second language learning might contribute to the students’ attitude and mindset. The second language acts as a gatekeeper to knowledge acquisition in the bilingual classroom. Therefore the practice of dialogic teaching (Alexander, 2014) is high on the agenda and the students learn to talk and talk to learn. The students are exposed to the foreign language content and need to listen carefully to understand the science content. If there are gaps in understanding, feedback is required and sought. This may involve a quick online search or a quick question to the teacher or peer. A discussion ensues where the students and teacher engage in meaning making and reasoning. There is time given to think things out. It allows the students to make mistakes openly and the use of two languages to figure out the correct understanding of the concepts. The problem is solved collectively in a supportive environment. The knowledge is built on each other’s ideas to achieve a coherent line of scientific inquiry. In this way, I believe that second language learning in a bilingual classroom promotes the foundation of learning itself – the dialogic inquiry and reasoning. What do you think?

Halliday, M.A.K. (1993). Towards a language-based theory of learning; Linguistics in Education, 5.

Alexander, R. (2014). Towards dialogic teaching: Rethinking classroom talk. North Yorkshire: Dialogos.


Antagonism between high school student ability and self-regulated learning


My experience has shown that junior high school students are generally not very good at self-regulated learning. Yet that is a skill that is highly rated and teachers would love all students to possess that skill. Looking into brain development and self-regulation it has become apparent that teenagers’ brains are not yet capable of certain cognitive tasks, such as logical consequential thought, emotional regulation and inhibitory control. Those activities are mid-brain and frontal lobe activities and Posner and Rothbart (1998) showed in their research that the maturation of frontal lobe regions is not completed until the age of 25. Beishuizen and Steffens (2011) also argue that the presumed advantage of making high school students responsible for their own learning by teaching them how to regulate their own learning has its price and that would be prefrontal and midbrain activity, which is involved in that kind of learning. So, are we teachers trying to teach the students something they are not capable of?
The answer to this question may be in the didactics of teaching and the use of digital tools in the classroom, rather than the timing of the students’ brain development. Providing students with a technology enhanced learning environment,  in a transparent interactive carefully scaffolded design to assist self-regulated learning, even though students are still developing their cognitive abilities, will accelerate students’ learning. My observations in my classes have given me positive indications, that the students find a structured online interactive learning environment extremely helpful and it motivates to explore further learning. The students are reflecting more on their learning activities and use feedback functions (e.g. one on one feedback from a specific software program,  online simulations, digital feedback from their teacher outside the classroom, etc.), that have not been available through non-digital ways of teaching. However, is there a human cost in this way of learning and teaching? What do you think?

Carneiro, R.,  Lefrere P., Steffens, K. & Underwood, J. (Eds) (2011) Self-Regulated Learning in Technology Enhanced Learning Environments; A European Perspective. Sense Publishers
Posner, M.I. & Rothbart, M.K. (1998). Attention, self-regulation, and consciousness. Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 353, 1377, 1915 – 1927.

Ponderings on self-theories, goal-setting and praise!


Learning goals presented to middle school students even in their mother language are not clear to many students. At the beginning of a lesson, learning goals are stated, written down, read out loud, explained and reflected upon. However, the process of conscious goal setting itself is foreign to middle school students. In my observations the students are not aware that a number of conscious thinking processes are involved when learning goals are presented and formulated.
The first step for the student is to read the information and recognize the relevance for himself or herself. This would initiate a motivational response arising from a self-motivational belief (Dweck, 2000). According to Carol Dweck even very young children have strong views about their intelligence and will participate in a learning activity based on their own self-theories. Dweck’s findings show that students are more likely to succeed in their learning if they believe in their potential for personal change. This belief originates from feedback children receive regularly from their environment. Students that fail and discover that they have difficulties with a learning task can exhibit a helpless response such as negative feelings, giving up quickly, lowering their own expectations, and blaming themselves. Dweck (2000) found that this helpless response has been learned behavior in response to the socializing process. Young children believe that failure has a certain meaning about their adequacy as a person. This belief is carried into their future life and as school students base their self –worth on this learned self-belief. This could mean for the student that if he or she is failing that he or she is an unworthy bad person, or on the contrary, if they succeed, that he or she is a good person. In my teacher observations I generally found that most students would like to be the good person all the time. However, depending on their self-beliefs they are either goal setting to learn and master a task, or find that the task will make them look bad and therefore they try to circumvent the task. This choice of goal-setting is not a conscious process in middle school students and requires fine-tuning and also a transparent teaching approach for goal setting and self-motivation. Self-theories and consequential behaviors can be made visible to the student group. According to Dweck (2000) feedback to helpless responses needs careful consideration by the teacher. Person-oriented feedback for the achievement of a task will support the fixed trait self-theory of good and bad, whereas ‘effort praise’ will highlight the process and effort of learning and highlight the mastery of a challenge. The learning is supported and the effort that goes into learning of a new skill will be celebrated. What do you think, are you a person praising the people or the effort? What kind of praise do you react to? Does that influence your choice of praise you are giving students as a teacher?

Carol Dweck (2000) Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development.

Learning scientific concepts first!


In my search for factors that influence student learning I found Vygotsky’s book “Thought and Language”. Vygotsky wrote this book in 1934 and it reads like it has been written today. The book is fascinating. Vygotsky used the work from Piaget, Stern, Koffka and others, and progressed their theories to explain and develop his logic of his theory about the zone of proximal development and the intellectual development of children.
In his research Vygotsky found that children go through several stages before they are able to understand concepts. Firstly the child goes through a phase of”complex formation”. This means that unrelated objects are linked by chance. If a child is reacting to the words of an adult, the adult’s and the child’s meaning meet in a real situation and this causes understanding. Through this interaction and through trial and error the child learns the meaning of everyday words. Thinking in complexes develops because the bond between objects is detected by the child. The next stage covers concrete grouping of objects by facts, which Vygotsky calls “complexes”. However complexes that correspond to word meanings are not spontaneously developed by the child. The meanings are predetermined by adults, culture and context. The adult is able to pass on the meaning of the word, but is unable to pass on his mode of thinking. Therefore the child builds pseudo complexes or pseudo concepts. What follows is that the “concept in itself” and the “concept for others” is learned before the “concept for myself”. Vygotsky describes this from an interesting viewpoint in the following sentence: ‘Throughout the history of the child’s development runs a “warfare” between spontaneous and non-spontaneous systematically learned concepts’. Spontaneous concepts originate in everyday life and cover empirical concepts, whereas non-spontaneous concepts are picked up at school, like scientific concepts. They originate from external conditions for example in a classroom from systematic instruction. Both spontaneous and non-spontaneous thoughts are constantly influencing each other. This can be observed in any classroom when the students have to come to terms with a new concept that lies outside their everyday experiences. First they are encountering the ‘concept in itself’ e.g. a definition; and next how others use that concept, the concept becomes the ‘concept for others’. A few lessons later when the concept has been used a number of times and it has been remembered and applied correctly, has the concept evolved to be part of the students new learned self, it has become the ‘concept for myself’. This process of concept development applies to any learning situation and I am seeing learning in a different light when I am observing students closely. It is this ‘warfare’ that we teachers try to make easier for our students through appropriate scaffolding. So new knowledge turns to ‘concepts for myself’ for our students to make their learning journey more authentic, fulfilling and richer. What do you think?

Thought and Language – Revised Edition Paperback – August 28, 1986
by Lev S. Vygotsky (Author), Alex Kozulin (Editor)



Carol Dweck has written a fascinating book that I discovered in my search for answers about human motivation. Basically it explains that every person is believing a particular theory and therefore influencing all life choices. So for example if I belief that my intelligence is complete and unchangeable, and I am exposed to a scenario, where I fear that I am not going to be able to solve this scenario, I will try to circumvent this scenario in order to avoid myself from disappointment. After all my intelligence is limited, but I don’t want to look bad in front of myself and in front of my peer group.
Alternatively if I belief that my intelligence can grow, and that it does grow, when I expose myself to many different scenarios, I will choose to get involved with as many scenarios as possible. After all I would like to improve and increase my intelligence. I would like to become more skilful, more knowledgable and more resourceful.
This means I am ultimately believing that I can learn.
Dweck (2000) has proven this self-theory in years of research and I am very grateful for her work. Now I am seeing why students in my class are not wanting to engage. I can see how they are trying to circumvent learning experiences with petty excuses. These students do not believe in themselves. They do not believe that they are able to learn!
I have all ready observed this behaviour in very young students and I am wondering, when have they started to believe that this is true about themselves? Where did that belief originate?

What do you think?

Carol S. Dweck (2000) – Self-theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development.
Psychology Press



Last week I gave my students the task to find a rock and to bring it to the science lesson. The students picked up a rock and made sure everybody in the class had a rock. Only a couple of students ask what the rock is going to be used for and I just replied, that we will have fun with it. I didn’t want to say anything to take away the curiosity. And the curiosity was building up. When the students waited in front of the classroom, they inquired if their rock was suitable. They didn’t want to miss out on the fun, that was clear. After entering the classroom and placing the rock in front of them, I wrote three words on the board: stone, stones and rocks. Immediately a student ask, what is the difference between a stone and rocks? I did not volunteer an answer, but put that question on the board for all to see. I ask to give me an adjective for their rock, so that I could put a list of words on the board that would be a collection of describing words for the rock. All sorts of adjectives came and also some verbs. So I did give some advice on the difference of verbs and adjectives. The I asked which adjectives are actually describing the rock and which ones were not helpful. The list of scientific adjectives became visible.

Then the students had to use as many adjectives as possible and describe their own rock and afterwards draw the rock. More questions came to the students minds and they added them on the board. So without my teacher input, the students actually formulated all the scientific inquiry questions that we are going to look at during the whole unit. Finally every student chose a question and wrote it on a separate rock drawing which we put up on the classroom wall. 

The students are still curious, as they see the questions on the wall every day and are reminded. They are now waiting with anticipation for the next science lesson.

How to continue from here? What do you think?