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C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2018 / Winter 2019)

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Book Review: Supporting Adolescent Learners in STEM Studies through Metacognition and Self-Regulation

By Shalin Hai-Jew, Kansas State University 

Mastering Science with Metacognitive and Self-Regulatory Strategies: A Teacher-Researcher Dialogue of Practical Applications for Adolescent Students 
By Suzanne E. Hiller 
Nova Science Publishers 
New York 


Figure 1.  Mastering Science with Metacognitive and Self-Regulatory Strategies Cover

“In the United States, for example, there will be an estimated 100,000 new science oriented jobs by 2024 yet the average science literacy score for 15-year-old Americans was below the average for all developed countries on the PISA” [Programme for International Student Assessment test, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)]…Diminished science performance for teenagers is a transnational matter.  On the 2012 PISA, more than 28% of adolescent students were not able to demonstrate basic proficiency in math, reading, and / or science.  Worldwide, nine million adolescents did not pass the science portion of the 2012 PISA, an assessment framed around basic science requirements.”  

Dr. Suzanne E. Hiller (2017, p. 3) 

The “STEM pipeline” is conceptualized as an educational path, from early childhood (toddler-hood) through early adulthood (from college graduation and into “science, technology, engineering and mathematics” careers).  The more scientifically literate people in a society, it is thought, the more competitive that society would be to innovate and problem-solve.  These capabilities may translate to dominance in international markets, and it may mean competitiveness in national security and even hot-war military competition.  Those who are science-literate may better engage the world as it is (and not as it is imagined).  The benefits of a science-literate populace are manifold.  A lot is at stake.  The general pattern, both in the U.S. and abroad, is that the STEM pipeline is highly leaky, with potential learners dripping out at massive flow rates.  Gaps in skill sets may be costly to make up developmentally, and in some cases, these gaps may be unbridgeable after developmental windows close.  Or skill gaps may leave practitioners hobbled in various ways, such as those with low math skills unable to reason or model or test using math.  

In this work, adolescence is considered from about age 10 to 25, the time of transition from “the onset of puberty until an individual is economically independent” (p. 4).  This is an age when many important life decisions may be made, and when the individuals may be most open to outside influences.  Educational researchers see a risk of a vicious cycle, with weak science skills resulting in the selection of different career paths, and lost benefits to individuals, society, and humanity.   It is in light of this challenge that many educational researchers are exploring ways to support young learners in the rigorous preparation for science-based careers and to increase their adaptivity and resilience.  Dr. Suzanne E. Hiller’s Mastering Science with Metacognitive and Self-Regulatory Strategies: A Teacher-Researcher Dialogue of Practical Applications for Adolescent Students (2017) suggests that if young learners acquire awareness of their own learning (metacognition) and acquire the skills to set learning goals, study effectively, and develop self-efficacy (self-regulated learning), more young talented humans may make it through the STEM pipeline and into rewarding science-based careers.  

Metacognition, Self-Regulated Learning, and Social Supports Part of the Answer?

Figure 2.  "Science" Related Tags Network on Flickr (1.2 deg.) 

In these eight chapters, the author combines a few selected educational theories (mostly around self-regulated learning, constructivism, and social cognitive theories) and shows how these may apply to practical uses for teachers, like “lesson frameworks, scaffolding, instructional artifacts, and math integration within formal and informal learning settings” (Hiller, 2017, p. vii).  The insights can quite easily apply to academic advisors, instructional designers and developers, and others working with young learners in the sciences.  

Each chapter opens with a hypothetical scenario featuring various stakeholders to the issue of young learners learning science—teachers and learners.  The scenario depicts learning quandaries and some ways to approach that issue through a self-regulation of learning lens from a social cognitive perspective.  The theorized parts of the models are introduced, and then these are applied to various teaching and learning practices.  Sample walk-throughs of how lessons may be operationalized are shared, along with potential sample learning objects (like assignment sheets or tables for notetaking).  Along the way, there are examples of lesson plans, strategy cards, practice sheets, planning tools, tables, and science visualizations.  

Achieving Self-Regulation in Younger Learners

“Introduction to Self-Regulation, Metacognition, and Science Achievement” (Ch. 1) lays the groundwork for the respective applied theories. A core point is how important self-regulation is to learning and long-term success:   “For over 40 years in a variety of educational contexts, subject domains, and developmental ages, self-regulation has been a strong predictor of academic achievement, particularly for individuals who demonstrate resourcefulness in shaping and controlling learning outcomes” (p. 3).  These skills involve social ones, to enable individuals to “navigate through learning environments and sociocultural dynamics” (p. 3).  These self-disciplined approaches also benefit careers in the sciences.  

So what goes into self-regulation of learning?  In this multi-layered model, self-regulation of learning is…

a process of active learning stemming from an interrelated relationship between metacognition, motivation, and behavior.  Emphasis rests on encouraging self-directed students to choose and employ specific strategies.  Social cognitive theorists view self-regulated learning as socially constructed and framed by a set of conditions.  Three broad facets of self-regulation include:  a) the triadic social cognitive model, b) the multilevel training model, and c) the cyclical self-regulatory feedback loop model (pp. 4 - 5) (numerical citations removed).  

One:  Albert Bandura’s triadic reciprocality concept with the triadic elements of the learner, the environment, and his/her behaviors in that environment; to self-regulate, a learner must adapt to the context. 

Two:  The multilevel training model involves four steps:   observation, emulation, self-control, and self-regulation (p. 7). The social aspects of self-regulation include the importance of a “mentor, teacher or model” supporting individuals until the individual is able to self-regulate (p. 7).  Learners acquire deeper understandings from “seeing various readjustments made during the demonstration” (p. 7) and emulating the desired behaviors and applying the behaviors on “variations of the task” while receiving constructive social feedback about their actions (p. 7). 

Learners with advanced self-regulation skills can wield these in a range of contexts but also know their own limits:  

The final stage of expertise is the self-regulation phase. At this point, the learner engages in dynamic, unstructured situations in which they are able to use the skill in a pliable way.  Individuals with advanced skillfulness are highly self-motivated and function with a distinctive style of performance.  However, during this stage, a self-regulated person may realize that they have limitations in their performance.  They may recognize that in order to progress in their field of study, they require additional help and learning avenues (p. 7).  

Three:  Barry J. Zimmerman’s cyclical self-regulatory feedback loop model (2002) involves the practice of “forethought, performance, and self-evaluation” with the support of knowledgeable others (p. 10).  In the forethought phase, the individual engages in “task analysis” and “self-motivational beliefs”; in the performance phase, he or she engages in “self-control” and “self-observation”; in the self-evaluation phase, he /she engages in “self-judgment” and “self-reaction” (p. 11).  A more complex hierarchical depiction is available in Figure 2.2 (p. 34). 

[This cyclical approach is used to structure the following contiguous chapters, which offer more depth into each phase first.  Then, there is a chapter about lesson designs in a constructivist framework, meeting the needs of at-risk learners, and then motivations for STEM careers, followed by a wrap-up chapter.]

Learners with high self-regulation tend towards higher levels of self-efficacy (p. 35), their beliefs of their own capabilities, and constructive risk-taking in future learning.  

Metacognition (including “both cognitive knowledge and the monitoring of cognition”) means that learners are self-aware and in control (p. 14).  They know when to use which of their skills, and they are aware of their social environment and how to navigate that.   

How can teachers engage in supportive ways?  One example follows:  

Typically, teachers who encourage students to forge their own experimental designs will provide blank worksheets for the components of the scientific method…  By asking additional questions during the process of student self-directed experiments, the teacher functions as a promoter of metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies.  The teacher role as a facilitator throughout the activity reflects modeling and discourse, commonly referred to as scaffolding (p. 16).  

Here, learners have agency. They are supported in their work with the worksheets.  Their teacher provides more dynamic and customized supports.  

Forethought, Performance, and Self Evaluation

Chapter 2, “Preparing for Success: The Forethought Phase,” emphasizes the importance of setting learning goals that have personal meaning and then working towards those goals in adaptive ways.  Mal-adaptive ways may include “work avoidance” and “procrastination” (p. 32).  It helps to approach learning with a sense of self-efficacy, based on “master experiences, vicarious experiences, social persuasion, (and) physiological states” (p. 36).  For teenagers, peer feedback may be impactful (p. 37).  [Note:  In this chapter, there is an interesting suggestion for how to present science information more clearly, such as showing how to graph the independent variable and the dependent variable in research (pp. 53 – 55).]

Chapter 3, “Metacognitive Monitoring and the Performance Phase,” focuses on the learner’s self-awareness of their actual mastery of the target learning and how they can continue to advance effectively and efficiently.  Learners have to be able to audit their performances accurately, and during learning, they have to know how to adjust on the fly.  For example, if they have something to place in long-term memory, they may use mnemonic devices and other techniques to enhance recall.  Another method to enhance self-awareness is to engage in “self-recording” (the documenting of their self-observations) and “metacognitive monitoring” (p. 65).  These metacognitive skills benefit learners when they are applied long-term and in various contexts instead of through “short term, isolated exposure” (p. 67) and in “ingrained” ways (p. 68) rather than those that require cognitive load. 

Teachers and learners (and co-learners) play important roles in student development of each other’s learning.  Scaffolding itself is dynamic and shifting based on learner needs, and such supports are removed when they are no longer needed to support the learning.  Hiller acknowledges the time pressures in teaching, with pressures from “mandated curriculum pacing, student needs, and administrative requirements” all in competition; the adding of self-regulation lessons will be challenging (p. 70).  

The examples are simple and have a pencil-and-paper feel to them, but they also look to be effective.  There is a lesson on how to think spatially about moon phases (p. 74).  Hiller proposes representing  the Bohr model first with concrete representations such as tactual manipulatives, then visual representations, like a diagram, and then abstract representations where the ideas exist abstractly mentally in a persistent way (p. 80).  She suggests infusing metacognitive prompts throughout lessons to help them through the thinking (p. 81) and hint cards (p. 82).  She provides a sense of what effective practice sheets would look like to both extend the learning and to re-affirm the prior learning (pp. 83 – 84).  

In the next chapter, “Self-Reflection and the Autonomous Learner” (Ch. 4), an autonomous learner aligns his / her “thoughts, feelings, and behaviors” behind a learning goal (p. 91).  In this self-reflective phase, the aim is to assess how well they did in their learning with accuracy and to see how well they met their goals.  This last phase involves refining learning strategies to approach future academic efforts in more sophisticated ways (p. 91).  Learners need to differentiate between what is in their control vs. what isn’t.  In going through the self-regulatory loop of forethought, performance, and self-reflection, the idea is to improve with each iteration, with the awareness that the phases are “recursive and mutually dependent” (p. 93). 

Calibration:  How Well Do I Think I'm Doing (vs. How I'm Actually Doing)? 

“Calibration” refers to how accurately learners judge their task mastery as compared to their actual achievements.  Of concern:  low-performing students tend to over-estimate their calibration (p. 94), which can lead to frustrations and maladaptive behaviors.  Hiller writes:  

In an educational setting, students with strong calibration are able to estimate their performance outcomes with little or no discrepancy to their actual performance.  Struggling students with skewed calibration often face disappointment upon receiving assessment grades and continue to face challenges due to the inability to fine tune metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies.  Ultimately, these students may face challenges in terms of motivation and sustained engagement for the academic material (pp. 97 - 98).  

Outside teacher feedback can help inform learner calibration, which can be difficult for “a majority of students” (p. 99).  Self-regulation Empowerment Programs (SREP) have been found to be beneficial on student learning and on their self-awareness.  In others, peer activities may be helpful.  Another approach is to have learners predict their test performance and contrast that with their actual performance.  

One tool to enhance learner self reflection is the Cornell Note-Taking System, which "aligns with social cognitive theory” (p. 116).  

Chapter 5 “Lesson Design: A Constructivist Approach” focuses on constructivism, “an instructional approach which emphasizes prior knowledge, multiple perspectives of learning, self-regulation, and authentic experiences to apply knowledge” (p. 119).  If learning is an unfolding series of experiences, certain approaches are more appropriate for particular times to provide user-centered sense-making.  

In this chapter, Hiller notes the importance of mathematics for science learning:   

Often in science classrooms, math instruction is a tangential skill for lab work. However, consistently incorporating this subject domain within science lessons, enhances metacognitive processes by providing another way for students to explain their understanding of concepts both with graphic representations, numeric solutions, and descriptive supplements.  In studies based in discourse analysis within mathematics classrooms, students were able to express math content which related to selected methods for solving problems or procedural steps.  Skills which emphasize conceptual knowledge of problem solving, and the utility of math procedures are much more challenging for students cognitively.  By incorporating opportunities to apply math skills during science instruction, teachers foster communication and academic growth (p. 137).  

An Inclusive Space 

Figure 3.  "Science" Word Cloud (from crowd-sourced Wikipedia page of the same title) 

Science should not be an elitist rarefied space for the privileged alone. Science is for everyone because the risks of science illiteracy are so great.  Chapter 6 “Metacognitive and Self-Regulatory Strategies for At-Risk Students” focuses on a particular sub-population of learners who struggle with limited academic success, including science proficiency “due to a number of factors such as low socioeconomic status, homelessness, weak self-motivational beliefs, and language barriers…” (p. 151).  The challenges are of various types:  

The factors which prevent a student from being successful in school range from personal/community factors (poverty, homelessness, family dynamics), personal influences (health issues, behavioral issues, learning difficulties), and educational parameters (teacher responsiveness, limited course selection, limited access to resources) (pp. 151 - 152).  

The research shows that second language learners endure the risk of being sent on learning tracks outside of core subjects and well beyond honors courses (p. 154).  “Minority language status” is a social risk.  For many, the respective challenges result in “cumulative risks,” defined as including “interaction between academic challenges and behavior problems” (p. 155).  One important insight is that the respective challenges often exist together, and there are interaction effects between these.  In high school, common predictors of academic success include attendance, academic history, grade point average, and others, and these may be used as predictors of academic under-performance.  The rigors of the sciences may require more cognitive scaffolding, explanatory depth, student work review, one-on-one support, and other contents (p. 166).  Another tool to help learners includes “a log as a record of how they will prepare for an upcoming assessment,” and which may include notation on whether he or she should reach out to the teacher for more help on particular issues (pp. 172 - 173).  At-risk students benefit from high “teacher responsiveness” (p. 172).  

Once learners make it through the pipeline with their skills mostly acquired and the motivational fire still burning, they may consider a STEM career.  In “STEM Career Motivation” (Ch. 7), research suggests that “potential sources of student advancement or retention in terms of career passages range from socioeconomic status, parent and peer influences, teacher responsiveness, financial resources, and logistics” (p. 185).  Other research shows a mixed-bag of findings.  In some cases, friends may be counterproductive influences for STEM learning for middle school students of both genders, but some may be effective role models for female students (p. 185).  Different research studies based on cultural and regional differences showed different findings in terms of the usefulness of friends and family to career attainments.  Gender stereotypes have negative effects on STEM career selection and paths (pp. 186 - 187). Young learners are highly motivated from real-life learning experiences, such as field trips, robotics camps, science-based competitions, shared tasks like building electric cars.  An interesting sidebar to the writing involves Informal learning of science, such as through citizen science opportunities.  

Citizen Science for Informal Learning

One observation is that citizen science affects the forethought phase for adolescent learners “in terms of self-efficacy development and goal setting” (pp. 191 - 192).  Hiller writes:  

Citizen science is becoming a widespread activity in which the general public assists researchers in an array of topics which correspond with adolescent science curricula including ornithology, botany, water quality, astronomy, and climatology as just a few examples. From a professional scientific research viewpoint, the participation of volunteers in conjunction with field expert observations has the potential to increase geographic density of data sources as evidenced by a study of bees across the United Kingdom.  In this case, the accuracy and volume of data gathered by volunteers, provided a much larger scale of study for professional scientists.  Another example of how citizen science activities support scientific endeavors centers on dog cognition. To provide insight to professional researchers, dog owners have contributed observations through a series of online protocol instructions and data submission via handheld devices and/or laptops (p. 202).  

For citizen science programs, there seem to be some best practices.  In the best cases, professional scientists work with the citizen science volunteers. There are defined data collection methods and standards and defined research procedures.  Some citizen scientists do engage in some heavy-duty learning:  

Citizen science programs are useful in introducing students to the utility of scientific observation skills.  Once students have had ample experience, as an extension to citizen science involvement, students benefit from being included in exploratory research in which students help with data interpretation, question formation, and the sharing of this information with the scientific researcher (p. 205).  

Chapter 8, “Guideposts in Adolescent Science Achievement,” wraps up with an observation of the challenges of teaching learners.  Hiller writes:  

On a daily basis, teachers strive to plan, instruct, and clarify topics of study to groups of students with varying backgrounds, needs, educational skill sets, and motivational levels.  The development of both metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies is at the root of this endeavor to spur high levels of academic achievement and career motivation.  By the year 2030, if all children are to receive high quality educational instruction as outlined by UNESCO, the world will require 68.8 million teachers.  (p. 216)

In a sense, some of the learners of today will be the teachers of tomorrow, and they will need strong skills in their selected science-of-focus and in learner needs.  The author sets up a scenario with a student, who has not achieved academic success in prior years but who discovers an interest in chemistry.  He starts organizing his learning materials, applying different study techniques, and asking for help as needed.  His academic performance improves, and he meets deadlines and starts earning A’s regularly.  His teacher notices and recommends him for an honors science program (and a happy ending, which is actually a happy beginning).  

In this chapter, the author explains that the book was set up in a scaffolding sequence “ in terms of the uses of metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies rooted in social cognitive theory, and in conjunction with several other constructist (sic) approaches to teaching” (p. 217).  The work is written to be applied, to help learners better understand themselves and how to set up their learning in effective ways.  


Complex skill sets can take a lifetime to build, piece-by-piece, until deep understandings are achieved.  Humans themselves are complex beings, with a large number of dependencies for learning and for career success.  Certainly, no one is self-made.  

Dr. Suzanne E. Hiller’s Mastering Science with Metacognitive and Self-Regulatory Strategies… makes the case for the importance of appropriate study skills and cognitive supports in science learning.  She showcases well the hard work of moving from theory to practice in a way that enhances learning and hopefully does not lead to unintended effects.   She provides some light guidance on how to assess the efficacy of the various interventions.  It is no small feat that the text is readable and applicable to teaching and learning.  

However, this book would be stronger with a clearer sense about why science is so challenging for so many learners. It would help to have a sense of what a science worldview is, especially given how diverse various science-based fields may be. The application of metacognition and self-regulated learning is relevant across all learning, which makes the focus on science here even more critical to address; currently, the references seem more about which “lesson plans” and “examples” are offered.  Something more substantive would be beneficial to the text.   

Figure 4.  "Science" Article Page Outlinks in Article-Article Network on Wikipedia (1 deg.) (with 710 Outlinks in a Directed Network Graph)

Is it about hypothesizing in falsifiable ways, testing assumptions, setting up hypotheses and testing them, using evidence-based decision making, working against human cognitive biases, documenting with accuracy, using logic as a regular tool, wielding mathematical skills, engaging statistics for analysis, or what?  Is it about being able to think abstractly but also concretely?  Is it about knowing the need for hyper precision and accuracy, where possible? Is it about holding apparent truths lightly and provisionally, given the limits of assertability of hypotheses?  

In this work, the science references are applied to piecemeal assignments without an overarching sense of what is meant by science learning and what learning underpins the STEM fields effectively.  Also, while the science references mostly appear in the learning examples, bringing in some insights about how science fields are anticipated to change into the future would be helpful since changes are fast-arriving in many science-based domains.  

The author’s relationship to the topic would also be interesting to know.  While the lesson plans are engaging, they use the unrevised older Bloom’s Taxonomy, which may be applicable to middle school and high school students, but with how much research is emphasized for college freshman students and how much creativity is encouraged even in K12, it would seem like creativity (the top layer of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy) should be included.   

There are also the occasional agreement problem (grammar) and some misspellings (“duel influence” on p. 188), which are distracting.  Some of the figures are too dark (reminiscent of “toner bombs”), and many are very simplistic and not particularly well designed.  Several of the images repeat information. These quibbles aside, the reviewer is aware that there are many moving parts in the creation of a book, and the profit margins for books are so thin that book production sometimes gets short shrift.  

Finally, this book takes a more transnational approach to the issue, which makes sense, since cutting-edge findings in any part of the world stands to affect all of humanity.  Some of the included research shows this open-mindedness, including an example of the teaching of stoichiometry (from chemistry) to high school students in the United Arab Emirates.  And yet, this book does read as culturally West-based and West-leaning.  

About the Author

Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer at Kansas State University.  Her email is  

Note: Thanks to Nova Science Publisher's for an electronic watermarked review copy of the book for review purposes.  
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