Following on from my Seneca short talk this morning I have expanded on some of the key areas I touched upon and included a series of resources which may support your teaching to promote self-regulation and independence, particularly in the science classroom, but applicable to each subject discipline when appropriately contextualised.

Why do we want independent learners?

Reading a literature review from CUREE (Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education) on “What is independent learning and what are the benefits for students? (Meyer et al, 2008) they highlighted that fostering independent learning had the following benefits:

  • improved academic performance;
  • increased motivation and confidence;
  • greater student awareness of their limitations and their ability to manage them;
  • enabling teachers to provide differentiated tasks for students; and
  • fostering social inclusion by countering alienation.

If we envisage what we may want for students, I think many of us would agree that having these characteristics would be favourable, indeed, these are often our ‘non-academic’ aims of our teaching. However, it is imperatuive that whilst we aim for these characteristics to embed themselves in our students, that we do not assume they are innate or will manifest themselves through sheer willpower and want alone.

We have an integral role to play in gifting independence to our students.. By considering this at the heart of our curriculum, we can scaffold the process and provide opportunities for students to develop their independence is each subject discipline:

This involved students acquiring an understanding of their learning, being motivated to learn and collaborating with teachers to structure their learning environment. They found a consensus in the literature that independent learning did not merely involve students working alone; teachers have a key part to play in enabling and supporting independent learning though, for example, structuring group work.

(Meyer et al, p. 2, 2008)

The concept of students working alone being synonymous to independent learning could become a barrier to achieving the goal we are aiming for. The way in which format activities, like group tasks, where applicable, can foster that drive for independence.

Whilst develop activities was highlighted as being important, so too, was ensuring there was adequate focus given to the development of cognition, metacognition, emotion and motivation. Which is emphasised in the EEF ‘Metacognition & Self Regulation Guidance Report


Self-regulation, alongside metacognition, is banded around in education as a holy grail. But why? I wrote about making the most of explicitly teaching metacognition here.

If someone is capable of self-regulating they able to control their behaviour, emotions, and thoughts in the pursuit of long-term goals. However, When we look around at society, our families, those we interact with regularly, I would bet all I have in my purse (it’s only £3.64 and a Tesco Clubcard, but you get the point) that every single one of us could identify multiple people who fail to self-regulate habitually.

Therefore, we must consider, have they not been taught how to do this, either in school, at home, or a combination of them both? Given that the external factors beyond our classroom are not within our control, we must therefore ensure we teach this within our four walls: the ability to self-regulate is essential as our students progress through our school and emerge on the other side as fully-fledged adults. We can support this by considering the following

“I am engaging in metacognition if I notice that I am having more trouble learning A than B; if it strikes me that I should double check C before accepting it as a fact.” (Flavell, 1976).

Developing metacognition has long since ranked highly on the EEF’s teaching and learning toolkit and time and time again meta-analysis after meta-analysis shows that metacognition can improve a student’s outcome (currently at +7 months).

Embedded in teaching

In order to maximise self-regulation and independence in our learners it must be embedded in the core of our lessons. Not only should we provide opportunities for engaging in independence we must model this behaviour and scaffolding.

In my talk, I discussed the idea of our students being on a spectrum:

We have a range of students, who will arrive at our door anywhere from being entirely unconfident, to entirely confident in your subject discipline (hopefully that confidence is well informed!). They will have varying perceptions of subject concepts, which will range from the abstract to the concrete and ultimately, they will be somewhere on that journey from dependence to independence, both in our subject and in their ability as a learner.

Therefore, we must ensure that we know where they sit on those spectra, in order to provide the appropriate level of support for their needs. This can then inform the type and level of modelling and scaffold our students require.

I often think of modelling, in all its guises, as showing them whats in my head. That could range from, how we visualise a process, substance, event or action. It could be how we would solve a problem, the steps and strategies we use to achieve our goal or how to plan and review what we have done before.

In science we use range of models

They are scientists’ and teachers’ attempts to represent difficult and abstract phenomena in everyday terms for the benefit of our students. (Gilbert, 1993)

These can include:

  • Concrete and concrete/abstract models designed to represent reality. These are the analogies we use, for exam the model of the atom, the tubing we use to represent the digestive system, etc.
  • Abstract models designed to communicate theory . This is a method communication, the language & symbols we use to represent a concept.
  • Models depicting multiple concepts and/or processes. These are our diagrams, maps, tables, &simulations we use to represent multiple pieces of information, such as the periodic table, phylogenetic trees and metabolic pathways.

However, regardless of the type or purpose of the model we use, they all come with a word of caution: Models are often over simplified and are seen as a true picture of non-observable phenomena and ideas, therefore, it should be communicated that these are models and not reality.

Alongside modelling the contents of our subject, it is also important to model the ‘how’ of studying. We, as teachers, are expert learners, therefore, we follow processes to lead to consolidation of any learning we undertake. Our students often lack this skill, despite huge efforts on their parts. To promote this we use a ‘study cycle’ to support their independent study and give them the best bets. I have blogged in more detail about how we utilise the study cycle here.


This is the PowerPoint used during the Seneca talk. There are additional notes and references for the content.

There are some additional resources to support with implementation of the study cycle in your classroom.

These bookmarks could be provided to students to remind them of the cycle and how to enact it with various activities.

These study skills activities can be used in lessons and to support the setting of independent learning / homework.

As a caveat, the bookmarks, activities and cycle as a whole should be fully modelled, and regularly reiterated, to ensure it is embedded in their mode of working, and not just another piece of paper stuck into a book!

Further reading

NB. Icons used in PowerPoint & resources come from Noun Project.