How to make your students less lazy

It’s December, 4.30pm, I find a spare seat in the poorly heated Sixth Form common room as the KS5 teacher meeting begins. As I settle, I see a pack in front of every Key Stage Five teacher, the Head of Sixth Form leads the meeting. The agenda is clear, even highlighted in bold, the Year 12 cohort is under-performing against their targets.

The names of students are blurted out and a few teachers nod in agreement whilst the Head of Sixth Form takes notes of the comments. Finally one teacher says, ‘they’re all so lazy, they’re still Year 11’s but in their own clothes’. A few laughs circulate the room. Perhaps you’ve heard a similar comment.

True, the data was showing under-performance across the subjects, my class included, yet the ‘solution’ proposed was to target the most under-performing individuals with more monitored ‘independent learning’. It left me restless and questioning the concept of student laziness. Was this by some statistical improbability an entire cohort of children unwilling to work or could it be explained and solved by other means?

Let us examine what we think we know; Year 12 is often regarded as a transitional stage where students are perceived to be more responsible, independent and…well… less child like. True, with the odd exception, but like the meeting I found myself in, there is an assumption that this change occurs overnight, that the Year 11 who once loathed to stay 10 extra minutes after school to finish their coursework, has developed into a young adult and has already mastered the skills of organisation, time keeping and self regulation. Assuming this to be the result of laziness neatly fits a narrative but the truth is that it can be explained (at least partially) something else.

According to Zimmerman, that’s low self-regulation and meta-cognition. Zimmerman is a prolific academic writer on this exact subject. He, along with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) find that low self-regulation and meta-cognition is exhibited in children, which develops with time but develops more with external intervention. In other words, explicitly thinking about how you learn and acting on it. This is a skill that can be mastered and like every skill it needs to be deliberately practised and developed.

So for clarity “Self-regulated learning [SRL] is – an active, constructive process whereby learners set goals for their learning and then attempt to monitor, regulate, and control their cognition, motivation, and behaviour, guided and constrained by their goals and the contextual features in the environment.” (Pintrich, 2000, p. 453). If we want to tackle this assumption of ‘laziness’, as teachers, we need to intervene and set ourselves clear outcomes. For example, SRL interventions should aim to “improve learning by getting learners to think about their own learning more explicitly so as to take an increased responsibility for their own achievement” (Education Endowment Foundation, 2018).

Indulge me and hypothesise for a moment, give a 16 year-old child two to four hours of ‘free time’ per week per subject with access to a study area, a common room, computers and peers, what happens? Forget quality for a moment, what percentage of that time do you think would be spent independently learning? 20, 40, 60, maybe your Sixth Form is filled with intrinsically motivated high achievers, raising that percentage to 90 or 100. Regardless of your answer, our goal needs to be to increase the percentage of ‘free time’ a student spends independently learning and it is our responsibility to embed SRL strategies that raise the quality of that independent learning.

Imagine the student who doesn’t pick up a pen outside of class, who doesn’t have a calm environment at home and would rather spend time in school speaking to their friends than completing a task by themselves. Now imagine if (with your intervention) they went from 30 minutes of quality independent learning to 60 minutes a week. That’s a big deal. The significance of developing every students self-regulating strategies becomes even clearer.

The Education Endowment Foundation produce these fantastic summaries of academic research and meta analyses (check it out via the Bibliography). They conclude that if implemented according to the research a meta-cognitive and self regulatory intervention can boost a students academic progression by 7 months (EEF, 2018). I like to consider myself an optimistic sceptic, meaning I’m sure this sort of extra progression is possible but how realistic is it for me and what are the caveats?

So, if you’re with with me so far, let us looks at the specifics: how can you boost a students use of SRL and what are the limitations to watch out for. I should mention I researched this fairly extensively but have succinctly trimmed the findings for this blog. You’ll also find an intervention ready resource pack for A-Level Business Studies you can access. The following findings are written with the caveat that I suffer from the Human condition and therefore I am prone to unintentionally omitting important details, if you think I’ve missed something, do get in touch.

How to boost self-regulatory learning:

  • Students need to know their goals. Fairly common sense so far, if your weakest student doesn’t know their grades and targets they may never understand the progress or lack of it they are making. This doesn’t just mean handing them a termly report, it means they need to be able to tell you their goals.
  • Students need to reflect deeply, consistently and with purpose on the learning they do. Their own reflections and monitoring of their learning should provide clear information on where to focus their efforts next time.
  • Boosting students self-regulatory learning is more effective when the process of planning, monitoring and reflecting is subject specific. Avoid creating generic resources that ignore the differences between subjects, such resources aren’t useless but it’s like using a blunt knife on a steak, it doesn’t quite do the job well enough.
  • Teachers need to (steadily and with guidance) increase student autonomy by giving students independent learning options, but not free reign. This places students into the position of a decision maker where they must think about which task to complete and justify their choice.
  • Teachers need to feedback on the quality of learning process i.e. student reflections, completion of rag checklists, task choices to address weaknesses. Independent learning shouldn’t really be marked because student must learn that the learning process is more important than the outcome.

What to watch out for:

  • Support the development of self-regulatory learning strategies sooner rather than later. Do not underestimate the time it takes by leaving any explicit intervention until Sixth Form, Key Stage Four is possibly more suitable.
  • Self-regulatory learning CPD is a necessity, we all have a subjective understanding on what self-regulatory learning means and how students exhibit it. All teachers must understand what the research says and ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’. Implement the SRL intervention straight away, you have missed the point.
  • When implementing an SRL intervention, the teacher workload can be initially high, if subject specific SRL resources are not readily available. It is worth anticipating this. Fortunately the workload should diminish over time, the students require less support as they become more proficient independent learners.
  • Anticipate and schedule time to check in with your students and give feedback on the quality of the independent learning they are doing. Process over outcome.

What the research says:

(Schunk & Zimmerman, 1997) found that students who are intrinsically motivated and pursue their learning goals and manage the learning process are typically self-regulated learners. However, students intrinsic motivation can be improved by the teacher who actively passes autonomy to the student (Sierens, Vansteenkiste, Goossens, Soenens, & Dochy, 2009).

SRL is goal-driven, meaning that the students’ independent learning environment should be structured towards those goals. This has been shown to increase engagement in SRL activities (Meece, Anderman, & Anderman, 2006).

For students to reach a position of independent learning and metacognition they need continuous opportunities to practice it. To support that transition students would need feedback from their teachers on their use of SRL and metacognitive strategies (Zimmerman B. , 2002)

SRL “interventions are more effective the longer they are […] students strategy use becomes more automated and sophisticated with time” (Dignath & Buttner, 2008). The EEF found that self-regulatory interventions have a greater impact over a longer duration, and with explicit support (Pintrich, 2000).

Student progress is reported to be greater if teacher training is provided by researchers instead of classroom teachers (Dignath & Buttner, 2008) because teachers may lack a fundamental understanding of self-regulated learning (Waeytens, Lens, & Vandenberghe, 2002). This implies that for this SRL intervention to be successful across a school, it must be effectively implemented by appropriately SRL trained teachers (Moos & Ringdal, 2012).

Self Regulated Learning Resources

The EEF is a great place to read more about self-regulation and meta-cognition. There are plenty of SRL projects that have funded and implemented, there are well worthy of a read if you are interested in trying an intervention.

I created my own SRL intervention resources for Business AQA A-Level which are accessible via my blog. Students should use the proforma consistently, monitor their learning on the RAG checklist and using the learning menu to decide which tasks they wish to complete next. Extrinsic incentives may be required to begin with in order to establish the SRL habits. These can be easily adapted for other subjects and include the following:

– Independent Learning Worked Example
– Independent Learning Menu
– Business Studies RAG Checklist
– Trusted Sources for Business

To access all these free resources and more, simply click on the ‘Collaborate’ button below. This will enable you to explore the Tulip Teacher shared resources and begin collaborating with business and economics teachers.

The Tulip Teacher


Boekaerts, M. (1999). Self-regulated learning: where we are today. Educ. Res., 445-457.

Dig nath, C., & Buttner, G. (2008). Components of fostering self-regulated learning among students. A meta-analysis on intervention studies at primary and secondary school level. Metacognition Learning, 231-264.

Education Endowment Foundation. (2018, August 30). Metacognition and self-regulation, Teaching and Learning Toolkit. Retrieved from Education Endowment Foundation:

Foster, R. (2015). Teacher Toolkit. London: Bloomsbury.

Meece, J. L., Anderman, E. M., & Anderman, L. H. (2006). Classroom goal structure, student motivation, and academic achievement. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 487-503.

Moos, D., & Ringdal, A. (2012). Self-Regulated Learning in the Classroom: A Literature Review on the Teacher’s Role. Education Research International, 1-15.

Perry, N., P. (2000). The role of goal orientation in self-regulated learning. In M. Boekaerts, P. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner, Handbook of Self-regulation (pp. 451-502). San Diego: Academic Press.

Pintrich, P., Smith, D., Garcia, T., & McKeachie, W. (1991). A manual for the use of the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ). Michigan: University of Michigan, school of Education.

Quigley, A., M uijs, D., & Stringer, E. (2018). Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning Guidance Report. London: Education Endowment Foundation.

Ruthig, J. C., Perry, R. P., Hall, N. C., & Hladkyj, S. (2004). Optimism and attributional retraining: Longitudinal effects on academic achievement, test anxiety, and voluntary course withdrawal. Journal of Applied Social Pyschology, 709-730.

Schunk, D., & Zimmerman, B. (1997). Social origins of self-regulatory competence. Education Psychology 32, 195-208.

Sharples, J., Albers, B., Fraser, S., & Kime, S. (2018). Putting evidence to work: a schools guidance to implmentation. London: Education Endowment Foundation.

Sierens, E., Vansteenkiste, M., Goossens, L., Soenens, B., & Dochy, F. (2009). The synergistic relationship of percieved autonomy support and structure in the prediction of self-regulated learning. Education Psychology 79, 57-68.

Waeytens, K., Lens, W., & Vandenberghe, R. (2002). ‘Learning to learn’: Teachers’ conceptions of their supporting role. Learning and Instruction, 305-322.

Winne, P., & Perry, N. (2000). Measuring Self-Regulated Learning. Hand Book of Self-Regulation, 531-566.

Zimmerman, B. (2002). Achieving academic excellence: A self-regulatory perspective. In M. Ferrari, The pursuit of excellence through education (pp. 85-110). Mahwah, NJ: Routledge.

Zimmerman, B., & Martinez, M. (1988). Construct Validation of a Strategy Model of Student Self-Regulated Learning. Journal of Educational Psychology Volume 80 No. 3, 284-290.

Published by James Oliver

The Tulip Teacher Discussing all things business, economics and education

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