How do teachers currently promote self-regulated learning in the classroom?

An in-depth look at a learning science research paper

Rob Mason

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.

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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.

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Bibliography & suggested further reading

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.


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