This paper reports on observational approaches developed within a UK study to the identification and assessment of metacognition and self-regulation in young children in the 3–5 year age range. It is argued that the development of observational tools, although containing methodological difficulties, allows us to make more valid assessments of children’s metacognitive and self-regulatory abilities in this age group. The analysis of 582 metacognitive or self-regulatory videotaped ‘events’ is described, including the development of a coding framework identifying verbal and non-verbal indicators. The construction of an observational instrument, the Children’s Independent Learning Development (CHILD 3–5) checklist, is also reported together with evidence of the reliability with which it can be used by classroom teachers and early indications of its external validity as a measure of metacognition and self-regulation in young children. Given the educational significance of children’s development of metacognitive and self-regulatory skills, it is argued that the development of such an instrument is potentially highly beneficial. The establishment of the metacognitive and self-regulatory capabilities of young children by means of the kinds of observational tools developed within this study also has clear and significant implications for models and theories of metacognition and self-regulation. The paper concludes with a discussion of these implications.
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The term ‘independent learning’ is widely used in UK professional and policy documents, and so was adopted for this study, which was funded by Cambridgeshire Local Education Authority. Within the project this term was treated as synonymous with self-regulated learning.
The UK Foundation Stage is the first stage of state education, covering the age groups of 3-5 years.
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C.Ind.Le Coding Scheme: Verbal and Nonverbal Indicators of Metacognition and Self-Regulation in 3- to 5-Year-Olds
|Category name||Description of behavior||Examples|
|Knowledge of persons|
|A verbalization demonstrating the explicit expression of one’s knowledge in relation to cognition or people as cognitive processors. It might include knowledge about cognition in relation to:||Refers to his/her own strengths or difficulties in learning and academic working skills||I can write my name|
|- Self: Refers to own capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, or academic/task preferences; comparative judgments about own abilities||Refers to others’ strengths or difficulties in learning and academic working skills||I can count backwards|
|- Others: Refers to others’ processes of thinking or feeling toward cognitive tasks||Talks about general ideas about learning||I don’t know how to sing the song|
|- Universals: Refers to universals of people’s cognition|
|Knowledge of tasks|
|A verbalization demonstrating the explicit expression of one’s own long-term memory knowledge in relation to elements of the task.||Compares across tasks identifying similarities and differences||They need to put their boots on. And when they put their boots on, they dig a hole|
|Makes a judgment about the level of difficulty of cognitive tasks or rates the tasks on the basis of pre-established criteria or previous knowledge|
|Knowledge of strategies|
|A verbalization demonstrating the explicit expression of one’s own knowledge in relation to strategies used or performing a cognitive task, where a strategy is a cognitive or behavioral activity that is employed so as to enhance performance or achieve a goal.||Defines, explains or teaches others how she/he has done or learned something||We don’t need to use the sticky tape, we can use the glue|
|Explains procedures involved in a particular task||You have to point it up this end so that it is going to grow|
|Evaluates the effectiveness of one or more strategies in relation to the context or the cognitive task.|
|Any verbalization or behaviour related to the selection of procedures necessary for performing the task, individually or with others||Sets or clarifies task demands and expectations||I’m going to make a big circle|
|Sets goals and targets||I know… me and Harry could be the knights and you could be the peasant|
|Allocates individual roles and negotiates responsibilities||Child compares two objects before deciding which to use on task|
|Decides on ways of proceeding with the task|
|Seeks and collects necessary resources|
|Any verbalization or behaviour related to the ongoing on-task assessment of the quality of task performance (of self or others) and the degree to which performance is progressing towards a desired goal||Self- commentates||I think we’ve got one left|
|Reviews progress on task (keeping track of procedures currently being undertaken and those that have been done so far)||This bit doesn’t fit anywhere|
|Rates effort on-task or rates actual performance||Hang on, we’ve got it a bit wrong here|
|Rates or makes comments on currently memory retrieval||Child stops mid-way through an action (placing puzzle piece), pauses and re-directs action to place it somewhere else|
|Checks behaviors or performance, including detection of errors|
|Checks and/or corrects performance of peer|
|Any verbalization or behaviour related to a change in the way a task had been conducted (by self or others), as a result of cognitive monitoring||Changes strategies as a result of previous monitoring||Let’s have a practice|
|Suggests and uses strategies in order to solve the task more effectively||Can you help me do it?|
|Applies a previously learnt strategy to a new situation||Child points to spots on a die as he counts|
|Repeats a strategy in order to check the accuracy of the outcome||Child looks at a physical model (example: word on whiteboard) repeatedly while completing a task|
|Seeks help||Child points at computer screen or interactive whiteboard to indicate where another child should click the mouse|
|Uses nonverbal gesture as a strategy to support own cognitive activity|
|Copies from or imitates a model|
|Helps or guides another child using gesture|
|Evaluation||Reviews own learning or explains the task||He’s done really well|
|Any verbalization or behaviour related to reviewing task performance and evaluating the quality of performance (by self or others).||Evaluates the strategies used||We learnt how to cut, and how to stick things together|
|Rates the quality of performance||Child rotates scissors in hands while opening and closing them before initiating cutting activity|
|Observes or comments on task progress|
|Tests the outcome or effectiveness of a strategy in achieving a goal|
|Emotional and motivational regulation|
|Any verbalization or behaviour related to the assessment of current emotional and motivational experiences regarding the task|
|Express awareness of positive or negative emotional experience of a task||That wasn’t very nice|
|Monitors own emotional reactions while being on a task||It’s a bit sad|
|I don’t want to be a peasant|
|Emotional/ motivational control|
|Any verbalization or behaviour related to the regulation of one’s emotional and motivational experiences while on task||Controls attention and resists distraction or returns to task after momentary distraction||Mine is going to be a lovely one|
|Self-encourages or encourages others||Child looks towards activity of others in the classroom, then re-focuses on task at hand and resumes activity|
|Persists in the face of difficulty or remains in task without help|
Checklist of Independent Learning Development (CHILD) 3–5
Name of child: ___________________ Teacher: ______________________
Date: _______________ School/setting: ___________________________
|Can speak about own and others behaviour and consequences|
|Tackles new tasks confidently|
|Can control attention and resist distraction|
|Monitors progress and seeks help appropriately|
|Persists in the face of difficulties|
|Negotiates when and how to carry out tasks|
|Can resolve social problems with peers|
|Shares and takes turns independently|
|Engages in independent cooperative activities with peers|
|Is aware of feelings of others and helps and comforts|
|Is aware of own strengths and weaknesses|
|Can speak about how they have done something or what they have learnt|
|Can speak about future planned activities|
|Can make reasoned choices and decisions|
|Asks questions and suggests answers|
|Uses previously taught strategies|
|Adopts previously heard language for own purposes|
|Finds own resources without adult help|
|Develops own ways of carrying out tasks|
|Plans own tasks, targets and goals|
|Enjoys solving problems|
Vignettes of event coding
A. Filling The Digger
Individual activity: No adult
Ellie is sitting in a small, carpeted area of the classroom. The area is resourced with a number of toy vehicles and some open boxes of play materials including ‘small world’ materials and wooden blocks. As the observation starts, Ellie is holding a large toy vehicle. It is an excavator, or digger, with a bucket mechanism in front of the driver’s cab.
The following table presents an account of Ellie’s activity and its analysis.
|Ellie reaches to the box of wooden blocks and selects two small cubes. She places the blocks in the digger’s bucket.||As a choice of play materials is available, the reaching to the box of blocks suggests a purposeful choice linked to a planned activity.|
|Planning: seeking and collecting necessary resources|
|As a third block is added, the digger tips forwards, spilling all the blocks from the bucket. Ellie rights the vehicle and starts to refill the bucket.|
|After putting three small cubes into the bucket, the digger starts to tip again. Ellie steadies the toy with a hand, but one block spills from the bucket.||The action of steadying the digger whilst adding blocks is a new strategy suggestive of a response to the previous spillage.|
|Control: Changing from one strategy to another on task|
|Ellie picks up the spilled cube and places it between the bucket and the cab of the digger.||The selection of a new position for the blocks is a departure from the previous strategy of placing them in the bucket.|
|Control: Changing from one strategy to another on task|
|As more blocks are added, the digger tips forwards again. Ellie pauses and looks at the digger.||This pause combined with eye gaze in the direction of the toy indicates observation of the task element or consideration of task progress.|
|Reflection/Evaluation: careful observation of progress of task performance or component|
|After righting the toy, Ellie places two blocks between the bucket and cab.|
|With one hand remaining on the digger, Ellie pauses and looks around the classroom apparently watching the activities of other children, before returning attention to the digger||Although there is a passing interest in the surrounding activity, the return to engagement with the task is indicative of a motivational self-regulation.|
|Regulation of motivation: returns to task after distraction|
|She rolls the digger forwards on the carpet, watching the digger as she does so.||The focus of gaze during this activity suggests elements of evaluation of the loading strategy.|
|Reflection/evaluation: Testing the outcome of a strategy in achieving a goal|
B. Finding a place for the card Event P30
Collaborative small group. No adult. Problem solving
A group of six girls are playing a lotto game. Each child has a game board divided into six squares each with a different image. Individual picture cards in a central pack are taken in turn, and children match these to the images on their boards.
|Hannah: leaning towards Nalini and looking at the card she is holding.||Although the phrasing of this statement suggests that some unknown strategy is being drawn upon to support the assertion, the confident analysis of the interaction is that one child is helping another to complete a task.|
|You should have that one.||Control and regulation: Helps or guides another child|
|Nalini holds her card by one corner and moves it around her board, she looks repeatedly and alternately at the card and board.||The movement of the card around the board indicates an extended process of checking. This inference is supported by the pattern of eye gaze.|
|Monitoring: Checks performance|
|A\s she finds a match she places the card in position on the board, looks up to Hannah and smiles.||The non-verbal communication of the smile indicates an awareness of a pleasure in the successful completion of the matching task.|
|Emotional/motivational monitoring: Expresses awareness of positive emotional experience|
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Cite this article
Whitebread, D., Coltman, P., Pasternak, D.P. et al. The development of two observational tools for assessing metacognition and self-regulated learning in young children. Metacognition Learning 4, 63–85 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11409-008-9033-1
- Metacognitive development
- Self-regulated learning
- Observational methods
- Young children