To discuss the strategies that successful students use to increase motivation and how much understanding they have about their own learning processes

As part of the Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) programme, participants are required to undertake a quality improvement project. 

This editorial provides an overview of an improvement project by Helen Kirk, Prior Pursglove College, which aims to discover the strategies that successful students use to increase motivation and how much understanding they have about their own learning processes. Do activities on meta-cognition, self-regulated learning and motivation enable students to feel more confident about their own learning and progress within a subject context? 

Aims and objectives 

To investigate strategies for meta-cognition, motivation and self-regulated learning, and to carry out action research with adapted published generic resources to ascertain whether incorporating these into the subject specific lesson time was beneficial for students. To take the findings and incorporate successful strategies into subject delivery. 



Stage 1: Pilot questionnaires to gather qualitative data were completed on management of coursework during lessons across a selection of subjects. 

Stage 2: After more professional reading, questionnaires were adapted to include more questions with ratings from 1 – 10.  

A trial questionnaire was initially given to the Music students from Year 1 and Year 2 followed later by adapted questionnaires whilst working in the classroom environment. 

Stages 3 to 5 involved repetition of the questionnaires over a few weeks, in photography, Design, Music and BTEC Business. 

An Action Research project was then undertaken to look at how well students respond to tasks aimed at increasing levels of meta-cognition and their own motivation levels. At that point the senior management of the college had been investigating a specific resource; The A-level Mindset by S. and M. Griffin, to be used during tutor slots and this had been running in parallel with my own research.  

Using one class of students (Music A level Year 1), activities were adapted and used within the subject teaching. This approach was favoured due to my own reading on the need for meta-cognition to be embedded within subjects. Essentially five areas of focus were promoted and adapted for the subject of Music: Vision, Effort, Systems, Practice and Attitude (Oakes and Griffin 2021). 

Prior to implementing these resources, the Music Year 1 group completed another questionnaire using ratings questions only. This was intended to judge their confidence in a number of areas in advance of the project. Students were told of the aim and point of the action research before, during and at the end of the project. 

Finally, students recapped on all exercises undertaken during the lessons as above and repeated the ratings questionnaire to compare their answers regarding their confidence in different areas. In addition, a qualitative question was added to the form to ask them for feedback on the advantages and disadvantages they felt about the project. 


Project findings 

All questionnaires were created on Microsoft Forms and some students used a paper version with others favouring electronic completion. 

Stage 1. 21 students 

Stage 2. 16 students: 8 students from Music Year 1 group, 8 students from the Music Year 2 group 

Stage 3. 10 students. Activity questions for meta-cognition research  

Stage 4. 7 students 

Stage 5. Questions were adapted with more ratings questions. Business BTEC Music Year 1 (composition) - 31 responses.  

A-level and BTEC results were examined. 


Findings from Stage 1 

For the question regarding the hardest thing about coursework, responses often focused on the longer length of time it takes, resultant stress and time management issues. Most participants agreed that coursework feels more personal to them and most thought that this makes it easier. Answers were almost equally positive and negative regarding interim deadlines. Most students were not comfortable about discarding work. General strategies: most common were listening to music, very often with no lyrics, breaking down tasks and creating their own interim deadlines. 


Findings from Stages 2 to 5 

Students across all areas appeared to have a more robust knowledge of the task than knowledge of themselves or of strategies (questions taken from EEF meta-cognition and self-regulated learning guidance report). Knowledge of strategies tended to be less confidently answered. The Year 2 Music class were more confident with free composition strategies than the Year 1 class. Interestingly, most students listed the research itself as the hardest thing about the task, with the presentation being the easier part in the BTEC Business lesson.  

Motivational strategies included re-visiting/reframing type answers, e.g. going back to different sections of the work, take a step back to look at overall context, setting small targets/working on bits at a time, re-reading, working on it at home, playing on piano, listening to music and talking to friends, setting a goal for the end of the lesson. As published research suggests students delay judgements on their own learning, re-framing over time is a useful strategy for students to have a more accurate picture of their understanding. 

Many high performing students (A or A* achievers at A level) express the importance of keeping on with the task (“just getting on with it”, “all you can do is keep trying”); students aren’t despondent when they don’t succeed. Initial failure doesn’t deter them and more than that; they don’t assume that they are necessarily working in the wrong way and are accepting that repetition and effort will yield success.  


Findings from State 6 — Action Research with Music Year 1 group 

Final questionnaires revealed that most of the students found the process to be useful and positive; they reported some value in the exercise, that it was important and helpful and even, that their confidence had improved and that they could see the benefit of highlighting the issues. However, over a third of students participating commented that the exercises made them more stressed, that it could make some people more self-critical and that the exercises could have been made more enjoyable and feel less like work. 

Although the results of the quantitative data were disappointing due to over a third of the respondents recording a negative impact at the end of the process, the qualitative data did show improvements in mid and long-term goal setting and all students showed an increase how much they felt they could control their goals through their own actions as well as most showing an increase in an ability to influence their life. 

Students were more comfortable completing exercises when they knew they didn’t have to hand them in. Using music in the background created a more relaxed environment and prevented students from feeling like I was listening in to their discussions. 


Impact of the project on your practice and your organisation 

Most students recorded improved awareness of the value of incorporating the resources into subject study and improved confidence along with increased ratings for students' ability to influence the course of their life.  

My own awareness of how students handle deadlines and how much they understand about their own prior knowledge of the tasks, metdeadlines and strategies has increased. This awareness resonates with my professional reading on meta-cognition, self-regulation and motivation.  

I delivered part of a training session early in the new academic year that focused on my research project and allowed staff to discuss ideas on the themes of meta-cognition, self-regulation and motivation. Staff were asked to complete documents to include details of how these themes could be incorporated into their subject areas after discussion in subject teams. Following on from this, I was involved in Teaching and Learning walks looking for examples of good practice in relation to my research project themes.  

As a result of the training, a central folder was created where my research project and related resources could be shared with all teaching staff. I had discussions with managers about the college ethos when thinking about lesson observations and promoting an open-door policy where staff feel able to allow other staff to observe their teaching will result in a positive sharing of good practice. The project will now focus on creating a selection of resources and ideas for all staff to use and adapt within their subject area. PD training sessions will include a focus on these themes. The college is creating a research hub as part of one of its strategic aims and this project will form part of that. 



  • Incorporating the teaching of meta-cognition and self-regulation techniques into subject teaching can be helpful in increasing student’s awareness of how they learn. 
  • Although a flexible approach of integrating generic resources on motivation into subject lessons does have benefits, care must be taken to explain the purpose of it in relation to subject achievement and incorporate the ideas within subject content with suggestions of how students can change and develop.  
  • Students appear to be less confident with understanding of strategies to use than of the requirements of the task itself, therefore explicitly encouraging these thought processes during the activity would be beneficial and desirable.  
  • Avoid giving students a general research task without modelling the best ways to research online. Research shows that students who took part in these types of activities named the research activity as the hardest part of the task in their answers. 
  • Some of the activities used produced strong emotional responses or stress in students, so careful planning of how to minimise this or manage it in a way that is beneficial to the student is vital. 
  • Promote the importance of persistence and repetition. This is easier if students are not fearful of making mistakes and have previously experienced success. Scaffolding techniques have an importance place here. 


Professional reading 

Bell and Waters, J and S (2018). Doing Your Research Project. (seventh ed.). Great Britain: Open University Press. 

Education Endowment Foundation, A.Q, D.M, E.S 27 April 2018. Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning Guidance Report. [Online]. [17 January 2022]. 

Watson and Busch, E and B (2021). The Science of Learning - 99 Studies That Every Teacher Needs To Know. (Second ed.). Abingdon: Routledge. 

Young, M 2022. TES What you need to know about powerful knowledge. [Online]. [23 July 2022]. Available from:  

Didau and Rose, D and N (2016). What Every Teacher Needs to Know about Psychology. Woodbridge, UK: John Catt Educational Ltd. 

‘How to Run Action Research: Do it yourself’ 

BERA Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research; Fourth Edition. 

Oakes and Griffin, S and M (2021). The A-Level Mindset - 40 activities for transforming student commitment, motivation and productivity. (Revised ed.). Wales: Crown House Publishing. 

ETF – This Might Not Work (2019) and What does the new knowledge focus mean for FE? (2019) 

Bates, B (2019). Learning Theories Simplified. (Second Edition ed.). Glasgow: James Clark 

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