Enabling students to develop a capacity to know what works best for their own learning
Student voice and agency are concepts that historically might have meant allowing your school captain to present merit awards to students in assembly. In recent years, education researchers and practitioners alike have begun to dig deeper into what it means to give students voice and agency in practical and meaningful ways for their learning. It is a concept tied closely to our earlier topics of metacognition and self-regulation; providing meaningful and authentic voice and agency becomes so important when students develop a capacity to know what works best for their own learning.
Watch our video on Student Voice and Agency
Before diving too deep
into the world of student voice and agency, it’s important to define a few
Student Voice refers to the values, opinions, beliefs, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds of individual students and groups of students in a school, and to instructional approaches and techniques that are based on student choices, interests, passions, and ambitions
Importantly, listening to and acting on student voicegives students agency and choice in how they learn.
What student voice and agency looks like in the classroom:
Hearing from all students in a class
Providing students with opportunities to collaborate and make decisions with adults about what they learn, how they learn, and how their learning is assessed
Giving students the opportunity to make choices in developing their understanding of concepts
Building student capacity to provide peer feedback that can be delivered, understood, and used to enhance learning
Building student autonomy so that students are able to self-regulate and learn independently
Developing students who are agents in their own learning; building self-efficacy and the belief that students have control in their learning outcomes
What student voice and agency isn’t:
It is not free reign and choice over all learning experiences. Student voice and agency is about being heard, and learning being negotiated. Engagement is key, but the teacher should be positioned as an expert facilitator, not a dictator.
It is not a tokenistic student survey that is collected, collated, but not used to change teacher practice or inform future learning experiences
It is not ‘just’ student leadership roles – school or class captains, prefects, etc.
It is not asking the vocal few students in a class and using their feedback to change how every student learns
It is not auditory forms of communication only. A student’s ‘voice’ can be communicated in a range of different modes. The ‘hearing’ of student voice is the reception of the student’s message by the teacher.
A Toolkit for Classrooms
The following resources represent a range of modern approaches to incorporating student voice and agency into the classroom. They include a combination of case studies, how-to guides, blogs, articles, policy documents, and introductions to education researchers in the area. There are many practical strategies contained within, that will help you picture what student voice and agency might look like in your classroom.
Resource #1: Student voice and agency: A case study at St Albans Secondary College
This video, produced by the Bastow Institute, shows interviews with a number of staff and students at St Albans Secondary College as they discuss how student voice looks at their school. Topics covered include:
Collecting student feedback at multiple time points throughout the year and from multiple sources
Embedding student feedback into teacher Professional Development Plans (PDPs)
The development of a student learning team, where a group of students works collaboratively with teachers to guide and improve learning at the school
Building trust between teacher and students, so that feedback is not only possible but valued
Resource #2: Russ Quaglia on student voice
Russ Quaglia is an expert on student voice and aspirations. This video is a good launching pad to explore more of Russ’ work – including his books on student voice titled ‘Student Voice: Turn Up the Volume’ (http://quagliainstitute.org/qisa/library/view.do?id=662). Key points from the video include:
Every student has something to teach us
Misconceptions about what student voice is
How to achieve meaningful and purposeful student voice in the classroom
Produced by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), this video shows a secondary mathematics teacher discussing his experience with receiving feedback from students and adapting his practice to meet their needs better. Key points from the video include:
Receiving feedback from students can be confronting, but is ultimately helpful
The importance of not just listening but acting on what students say
Adopting the use of technology to reduce teacher talk time in the classroom in response to student feedback
Resource #4: Amplify: Empowering students through voice, agency and leadership
Amplify is a document produced by the Victorian Department of Education and Training in 2018. It outlines ways in which student voice, agency and leadership can improve student learning and motivational outcomes, and situates these within the Victorian Government’s Framework for Improved Student Outcomes (FISO) framework and the Victorian Teaching and Learning Model. Within this document, resources include:
A list of links to other tools and resources for promoting student voice and agency (p. 25)
Case studies involving three Victorian schools and their efforts to integrate student voice and agency into their regular practice (p. 27-29)
A handy checklist for teachers to use when reflecting on their readiness to promote student voice (p. 21)
Another video from AITSL, this time following a year 1 teacher in Queensland as she explains her approach to a unit of work in which students are included in the planning process. Students are given ownership over decisions throughout the storytelling project, including the types of writing and presentation involved.
Connect is an independent publication that supports student agency and participation. It is freely available as a PDF download from the above link to the Australian Council for Educational Research website. The most recent issue, published in August 2019, includes a focus on students and teachers co-designing learning. Of particular interest is the case study of Bundoora Secondary College on pages 16-19, titled Taking Control and the Power of Choice. Points of interest here include:
The school’s PACE21 (Passion, Achievement, Choice and Empowerment for 21st Century Skills) program was established with the aim of giving students choice and control over their learning. Intended outcomes are both academic and more holistic (persistence, collaboration, critical thinking, etc.)
Students are given free selection of subjects after their first year at the school. Even the two remaining core subjects, English and Maths, include options within them for students to select based on their abilities and preferences.
An increased focus on student voice and agency has also noticeably shifted the school’s approach to teaching – away from a ‘chalk and talk’ method to a much more student-centred environment.
Resource #7: What do you mean when you say student agency?
This blog post, by Jennifer Davis Poon of the Center for Innovation in Education, unpacks the term ‘student agency’. The author suggests that student agency occurs when students are involved in the goal-setting process. It is proposed that components of student agency include:
Setting advantageous goals
Initiating action towards those goals
Reflecting on and regulating progress towards those goals
A belief that one can act with agency
The article goes on to break down each of these steps, listing skills required for success at each stage.
A major factor in ensuring the success of student voice in your classroom is in providing space for it to occur. One teaching strategy developed to encourage student voice in the classroom is Harvard Project Zero’s Thinking Routines. The routines are adaptable to different contexts and classrooms, and provide opportunities for all students – not just the most vocal – to be heard. Thinking routines could be used to gather feedback on teaching, to evaluate changes made as part of student feedback, or simply as a mechanism to promote class or group discussion about learning.
How do teachers currently promote self-regulated learning in the classroom?
An in-depth look at a learning science research paper
Diving into a Science of Learning Research Paper
As part of our series on learning science research, and how it applies to the classroom, we will be taking a deep dive into a handful of recent learning science research papers. While looking into some current research, we will pull out practical recommendations that can be implemented into the classroom.
This blog will focus on a 2018 paper from two researchers at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany: Charlotte Dignath and Gerhard Büttner. Their paper looked at how teachers promote self-regulated learning (SRL) in both primary and secondary mathematics classes.
Watch our video on the promotion of self-regulated learning in the classroom
What did they do?
The researchers watched a regular 45min mathematics lesson from 12 primary school teachers, and 16 secondary school teachers. The lessons were coded to determine how many times the teachers directly promoted a SRL strategy (e.g. by explicitly talking about it or showing students how to do it), and how many times they indirectly promoted a SRL strategy (e.g. through the types of tasks given to students, and by providing students with the opportunity to practice SRL). The researchers then interviewed some of the teachers to ask them more about their lesson.
What did they find?
Some of the main findings of the paper were:
Teach SRL strategies in primary levels
Teachers in the study didn’t spend much time at all explicitly teaching SRL strategies. At primary school level, teachers didn’t explicitly teach SRL strategies at all, and only 4 of the 16 secondary teachers spent time teaching SRL strategies. However, prior research suggests that students can benefit from being taught SRL strategies in the primary years (Hattie, Biggs, & Purdie, 1996).
Recommendation: Teach SRL strategies at both primary and secondary level – SRL can be more beneficial to younger students than you might think!
In secondary levels, pair teaching of SRL strategies with lessons that allow students to use them
While primary teachers didn’t spend time explicitly teaching SRL strategies, they did a better job than the secondary teachers in the study when it came to creating an environment where student autonomy was supported. This meant that students at primary level were given the opportunity to practice SRL strategies, and provided with complex learning tasks where value was placed on finding their own solutions.
Recommendation: For secondary teachers, it’s important to pair the explicit teaching of SRL strategies with carefully designed lessons that allow students to test out their newly learned strategies. Allowing students to practice will make it more likely that the strategies continue to form part of their learning toolkit.
Engage with PD opportunities to continue building knowledge around SRL strategies and how to teach them.
A major barrier to teaching SRL strategies appears to be a lack of knowledge (or a lack of confidence about knowledge) about SRL strategies. If teachers do not have the knowledge or the self-efficacy to teach SRL strategies, they won’t teach them. This finding speaks to the importance of engaging in professional development and readings in order to build knowledge around SRL strategies and their implementation. It’s a good thing that initiatives such as the Science of Learning Network exist!
Recommendation: Engage with professional reading and development opportunities to continue building knowledge around SRL strategies and how to teach them. The more confident you get, the more likely it is that you will use these strategies with your students.
Share experiences and strategies with your colleagues
Teachers spend very different amounts of time teaching SRL strategies. They also prioritise different types of SRL strategies when they do teach them:
Some teach cognitive strategies, which are the basic abilities we use to learn. These might include comparing and contrasting two pieces of text, or recalling the names of the body’s muscle groups.
Some spend more time on metacognitive strategies, such as teaching students how to monitor their progress towards completion of a learning task, or helping them reflect on which strategies might be most useful to remember the muscles of the arm.
Some teach motivational strategies, such as ways to stay on task or set goals towards achieving learning outcomes.
Recommendation: Being involved in a professional learning network may allow you the opportunity to observe other teachers promoting their own SRL strategies. Sharing experiences and strategies with your colleagues may help to build the knowledge and confidence required to successfully roll out new SRL strategies to your own students.
In our upcoming blogs, we will be shifting our focus to look more closely at student voic.
Dignath, C., & Büttner, G. (2018). Teachers’ direct and indirect promotion of self-regulated learning in primary and secondary school mathematics classes–insights from video-based classroom observations and teacher interviews. Metacognition and Learning, 13(2), 127-157.
Hattie, J. A., Biggs, J., & Purdie, N. (1996). Effects of learning skills interventions on student learning: a meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 66(2), 99–136.
The Science of Learning Partnership Schools Initiative connects research and practice, to enhance educational outcomes in Schools.
If you have any questions please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Exploring higher-order questioning using the SOLO taxonomy
Generating Higher-Order Questions to Promote Student Learning
Teachers typically ask a few hundred questions to their students every day. These serve a variety of purposes: to check for understanding, to refocus a chatty student, or to facilitate class discussion. Research suggests that most questions asked in a typical classroom are surface-level, requiring students to recall facts or processes without engaging in critical thinking (Wilen, 1991). Another pattern seen in education research is that questions are asked with the intention of obtaining a correct answer; only 5-10% of the time are incorrect answers used to further student learning (Tulis, 2013).
Watch our video on higher-order questioning
While there is always a place for asking questions to build surface-level knowledge and check for understanding, a vital tool in a teacher’s questioning toolkit is an ability to ask higher-order questions that promote student learning moving from surface to deep. This article will explore ways to think about and generate higher-order questions, with the use of the SOLO taxonomy.
What is Surface and Deep Learning?
Surface learning is the foundational stage of acquiring knowledge, and is when students are exposed to facts, concepts, skills and knowledge they were previously not familiar with.
Deep learning occurs when students are able to consolidate and build upon the surface level learning they have previously done, although it is true that surface and deep learning can occur at the same time (Hattie & Donoghue, 2016). Deep learning might involve integrating or comparing pieces of knowledge, or expanding upon previously acquired knowledge to move it into new contexts.
What is the SOLO taxonomy?
The SOLO taxonomy was developed by Biggs and Collis (1982) as a way to categorise student learning outcomes. You might be more familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy – SOLO is similar, but has some advantages. In a nutshell, and in John Biggs’ own words, SOLO enables us to assess the quality of student knowledge, “not of how many bits of this and of that they have got right”.
The SOLO taxonomy consists of four levels of complexity. The first two are considered surface, while the third and fourth are considered deep. They are:
Where the student can work with one aspect of new knowledge – such as being able to identify or name a concept or skill.
Where the student can work with several independent aspects of knowledge. This might involve being able to describe or list a number of different concepts or skills, but does not involve being able to work with them as a combined whole.
Where the student is able to bring together several independent aspects of knowledge into an organised structure. This might involve comparing, analysing, relating or justifying. This is where higher-order questioning typically begins.
Where knowledge is brought together and synthesised to create or extend on what is known. This might involve hypothesising, theorizing or reflecting.
How can I use SOLO to ask deeper questions?
Questions can be formulated at each level of the SOLO taxonomy to ask progressively deeper, or higher-order, questions. For example, consider the following four questions about the solar system (adapted from Hattie & Purdie, 1998):
Unistructural: “Which planet is furthest from the sun?”. Here, students are asked to deal with one piece of knowledge independent of other pieces of knowledge.
Multistructural: “Is Venus or Mars warmer?”. This question requires students to use two independent pieces of information.
Relational: “How does the movement of the Earth relative to the sun define day and night?”. This question requires students to make a connection between a planet’s movement and sun position, to the experience of night and day on the planet.
Extended abstract: “How does the Earth’s position relative to the sun affect the Earth’s climate and seasons?” This question requires students to use the information available to them to hypothesise about a concept they may not have learned about.
Used at the right time, deeper questions, such as those at the relational and extended abstract levels of the SOLO taxonomy, may promote deeper student learning and engagement in the classroom. The SOLO taxonomy also provides an appropriate scaffold for the generation of test and exam items.
Biggs, J. B., & Collis, K. F. (1982). Evaluation the quality of learning: the SOLO taxonomy (structure of the observed learning outcome). New York: Academic Press.
Hattie, J. A., & Donoghue, G. M. (2016). Learning strategies: A synthesis and conceptual model. npj Science of Learning, 1, 16013.
Hattie, J.A., & Purdie, N. (1998). The SOLO model: Addressing fundamental measurement issues. In Dart, B. & Boulton-Lewis, G. (Eds.). Teaching and Learning In Higher Education. Herndon, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Tulis, M. (2013). Error management behavior in classrooms: Teachers’ responses to student mistakes. Teaching and Teacher Education, 33, 56-68.
Wilen, W. W. (1991). Questioning skills, for teachers. What research says to the teacher. Washington DC: National Education Association.
The 2018 Science of Learning Partnership Schools Initiative connects research and practice, to enhance educational outcomes in Victorian Schools.
If you have any questions please email: email@example.com
Practical tips for integrating metacognition and self-regulated learning into the classroom
The evidence is clear that metacognition and self-regulated learning can accelerate student learning, but what does this look like in the classroom?
Building Student Self-regulation and Metacognition
In our first two blog posts, we took a look at two related concepts from the world of learning science: metacognition, and self-regulated learning. We explored types of metacognitive knowledge and skills, the three phases of self-regulated learning, and some of the benefits of using these approaches for student learning outcomes.
Watch our video on integrating metacognition and self-regulated learning in the classroom
In this blog post, we’ll take it one step further and start to think about some practical ways to grow your students’ ability to self-regulate and develop metacognitive skills and knowledge. The evidence is clear that metacognition and self-regulated learning can accelerate student learning, but what does this look like in the classroom?
3 strategies to promote self-regulation and metacognition in the classroom
1. Building metacognitive reflection into your lessons as a regular process
Evidence suggests that metacognitive skills can be taught (Schraw, 1998), but a critical part of this is providing opportunities for students to build their skills over time in reflecting upon and evaluating their own learning. Just as a piano student won’t improve their scales if they don’t rehearse them, students who aren’t given the opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of their learning will not improve these reflective abilities.
One way to do this may involve providing exit tickets for students as the lesson comes to a close. While not a new concept, building a library of possible exit ticket questions and using these regularly can help students to tap in to and grow their metacognitive knowledge.
Questions could be centred around each of the three elements of metacognitive knowledge. For example:
What strategies did you use to complete today’s task? (Knowledge of strategies)
Did the strategy work for today’s task? Would it work as well for (last week’s/a different) task? (Knowledge of task)
How easy/difficult did you find today’s task overall (1 = very difficult, 10 = very easy)? How could you make the task easier next time? (Knowledge of the learner)
The possibilities with exit ticket questions to promote metacognitive thinking are endless. However, the important part is that students are given regular opportunities to consider a range of questions designed to help them reflect on their learning. Evidence suggests that it can take some time for students to start thinking about their learning when the concept is first introduced – but as the habit develops and they become familiar with the approach, they begin to adopt it autonomously (Tan, Dawson & Venville, 2008).
2. Explicitly modelling different strategies and discussing how and when they can be useful
In order for students to develop a ‘menu’ of strategies from which they can select, an important first step is explicitly teaching these strategies. Often, the most relevant strategies in one subject are different to those in another subject, so it can be useful to discuss metacognitive strategies in the context of a particular learning situation rather than running generic “one-size-fits-all” sessions on learning strategies.
As an example, consider the use of think aloud routines. These involve the teacher narrating through their own internal thought processes when working through a learning task, such as completing a maths problem or constructing a paragraph. Articulating the thinking required to plan, monitor, and complete a task can serve as a model for students to then begin to think aloud through their own tasks.
Encouraging students to begin to model strategies themselves is the next step in creating comfortability and familiarity with metacognitive thinking in the classroom. Get students sharing what works for them, and what they’re thinking about when completing a learning task. Having a student think aloud through a maths problem themselves can not only be a useful task for the student presenting, but for other students who may recognise effective methods or even misconceptions that they also hold.
3. Building student capacity to self-assess and work towards goals independently
Several methods can help students to monitor their own progress towards learning goals, a key element of self-regulated learning. By providing students with checklists, marking rubrics, and exemplar pieces of work to compare to their own, we can develop their capacity to self-assess.
Schraw (1998) proposes a series of questions in a checklist that students can use to help plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning. These include:
What is the goal of my task?
What kind of information do I need?
How much time will I need?
Do I have a clear understanding of what I am doing?
Am I moving towards the learning goals?
Do I need to change strategies?
Have I reached the learning goal?
What worked? What didn’t?
What would I change for next time?
Additionally, providing students with a copy of the marking rubric – provided that it contains sufficient detail for the student to judge their work against it – helps to make success clear to students. Avoiding arbitrary letter or number grades in rubrics, and instead creating clear level descriptors that articulate what is required at each level of performance, will help to make rubrics a more useful tool in developing self-regulation.
For example, students may not know the difference between a 3 and a 4 out of 5 when being marked on shooting a basketball, but can more readily understand the difference between “can make a layup with dominant hand” compared to “can make a layup using either hand”. This clarity helps them to be able to use a rubric to self-assess performance without the need for external feedback.
Self-regulated learning 101: Building autonomy in the classroom
We regularly teach our students algebra and chemistry – but how can we teach them to learn?
Metacognition and the Self-regulation Puzzle
In our last blog, we covered the basics of metacognition – what it is, the types of knowledge involved, and the evidence.
In this article, we’ll zoom out a little to cover the broader topic of self-regulated learning. Of course, metacognition is a major part of self-regulation puzzle. But, as we’ll see, self-regulation is a little broader.
Watch our video on self-regulated learning
Self-regulated learning involves the learner’s ability to monitor and self-direct efforts to interact with both internal and external information and environments. Learners who possess self-regulation skills are able to learn autonomously.
Along with elements of metacognition – such as knowing which learning strategies to use, when, and for what tasks – self-regulated learning also describes a student’s ability to motivate themselves, set goals, measure progress towards goals, stay focussed, and reflect on their learning.
Three phases of self-regulation
In the forethought stage, students develop beliefs about their self-efficacy as a learner (often with experiences from previous tasks in mind), set goals, develop motivation to reach the goals, plan their learning tasks, and identify strategies they might use to successfully complete the tasks.
In the performance stage, students monitor their progress on the task and the effectiveness of the strategies they have selected (a type of metacognition), while also using self-control strategies to remain focussed and reduce the likelihood of task avoidance – including procrastination!
In the self-reflection stage, learners reflect on the strategies they used, their success with the task, and their motivation to complete the task. Students may develop beliefs about their success on the task (or otherwise) during this stage – they might note a particularly successful strategy and remember for next time that it worked well, or they might avoid future tasks because of a developed belief that they weren’t successful and so cannot do well next time.
What are the benefits?
Students who are able to self-regulate their own learning experiences are better prepared to:
adapt to new situations or challenges
develop resilience so that they are able to persist with challenging learning tasks in the future (a concept sometimes referred to as ‘grit’)
set goals and self-motivate to reach those goals
complete learning tasks more efficiently, particularly as they continue to reflect on learning experiences and modify future strategies
What does it look like in the classroom?
Developing your students’ ability to regulate their own learning requires time and effort. Often, it can feel like there’s so much curriculum to cover that it’s impossible to spend too much time developing self-regulated learning skills in your students. However, the investment of time in explicitly instructing and modelling self-regulated learning skills will pay large dividends for students as they progress through their learning.
Strategies for developing self-regulated learning skills in your students include:
Modelling what it looks like to set goals, select strategies, or monitor progress towards goals for a particular subject or task – it is often more effective to teach self-regulation in the context of individual subjects rather than global skills
Building students’ ability to reflect on their learning
Scaffolding or modelling language around the evaluation of learning strategies
Provide opportunities for students to reflect on prior learning and previously successful strategies
In our next post, we’ll explore some more practical strategies for helping learners develop metacognitive and self-regulatory skills.
Another good resource for evidence on educational interventions is the Visible Learning MetaX website. It’s a free online resource that brings together a great deal of John Hattie’s Visible Learning work in an easy-to-use online format:
Welcome to the first in a series of blogs on learning science research, designed to help you start thinking about research evidence and how it could look in your classroom.
What is Metacognition?
To begin to understand the term, it’s helpful to break it into two parts:
Meta is a prefix of Greek origin, indicating that something is ‘above’ or a layer of abstraction beyond the original concept.
Cognition refers to the way we interact with incoming information, including:
attending to it
recognising its importance
encoding or processing it in a way we can understand
storing it in our memory
retrieving it at a later time
using it effectively
Watch our video on Metacognition
In this case, metacognition refers to thinking about thinking. It is what we know about how we think (our cognition), and how we use knowledge of our own learning to guide future learning processes.
Early research in this area was pioneered by John Flavell, who published a paper in 1979 that explained why two different age groups of students (younger and older) select different strategies for learning the same task. He found that younger students had less awareness about how effective their learning had been, while older students were more experienced in knowing which strategies to select and whether they had been effective. That is, they had developed greater metacognition.
Three Parts of Metacognitive Knowlegde
Typically, metacognition is thought of as a knowledge of learning strategies that work in a particular context. As an example, consider a year 8 student who is studying history. If the student has strong metacognitive knowledge, they might know that a graphic organiser such as a mind map is a useful way for them to effectively organise and consolidate their knowledge about the Ottoman Empire.
When to Use Each Strategy
However, there is more to metacognition than just knowing which learning strategies work. A student with strong metacognitive knowledge also knows when to use each strategy – is a strategy effective in both history and maths tasks? At the start of a unit and at the end? Task difficulty is another important factor in knowing when to use each strategy. It is a skill to be able to look at a task and decide which features make it easy or difficult, and select a strategy as appropriate.
Strength and Beliefs about Learning
Students with metacognitive knowledge may also be aware of their own strengths and beliefs about learning – do they find written tasks more difficult than solving equations? Are they confident in their ability to take effective notes? Early primary students, for example, are usually unaware of their own abilities to recall something after it is studied. The year 12 student who believes they can cram everything effectively the night before an exam probably also has low metacognitive knowledge!
Another element of metacognition is metacognitive skill – being able to actually put the above knowledge into practice to plan, monitor, and evaluate learning.
What does the research say?
There is a large and growing body of evidence to suggest that metacognition has a medium to large positive impact on student learning. Often, the biggest impact is found when encouraging students to plan and organise their learning, including planning which strategies to use and when.
In the next article we will delve further into what metacognition looks like in the classroom, and expand on the idea of the self-regulated learner.
Another good resource for evidence on educational interventions is the Visible Learning MetaX website. It’s a free online resource that brings together a great deal of John Hattie’s Visible Learning work in an easy-to-use online format: