Home | In The Classroom | Self-talk, sequence learning, explicit teaching, worked-examples and brain-based pedagogical considerations

Self-talk, sequence learning, explicit teaching, worked-examples and brain-based pedagogical considerations

In trying to teach self-management to young students who had been identified as being impulsive and unruly, Donald Meichenbaum found he was able to help these students manage and control their impulsive behaviours when he applied the strategy of self-talk.

Citing Brenda Manning, Meichenbaum reported that self-talk had been successfully used to achieve cognitive behaviour modification advancements in the classroom.


To help support these young disruptive, impulsive and acting out students apply and commit themselves to their required classroom learning tasks, the students were instructed to audibly talk to themselves through each micro-step of a task they were required to undertake.

This audible self-talk process was to be direct; such as: “I am picking up my pencil.” “Now I am writing.” “I have stopped writing.” “Now I am listening to my teacher,” or whatever other learning and constructive classroom social behaviours the teacher was aiming to achieve for the student.

Self-talk can be presented externally

It is important to recognise that the audible self-talk strategy can also be an externally applied strategy. This is where the teacher will announce the words to the student, which the teacher wants the student to self-talk audibly present.

“Freddy, please say 'I am not sitting and reading.'” Once this response is then owned and stated by the student, the teacher could then direct the student with the words: “Freddy, that’s right, now say: 'I am reading.'” This external audible directive, by the teacher, has the purpose of changing this audible directive (from the teacher), to an intrinsic student controlled cognitive self-talk strategy.

With this taking place, the student is the one who is now controlling their internal voice. As such, it is the student who is not only taking control of their presenting behaviour, the student is the one who is now responsible for their behaviour, and the consequences of their behaviour.

Self-talk is transferable

Self-talk is transferable to other personal, social and geographic locations. The value and pedagogical power of self-talk, and its learning potential, can be appreciated in that it matters little, for example, if the external environment changes (i.e. having a new teacher or being placed in a different classroom, or school).

Cognitive stable state

The fact remains, the internal cognitive state is that which is considered as being stable and which is controlled by the student. As such, it is through this internal cognitive stable state – with the support of the teacher – that the process of student controlled self-talk is applied. It is this progression which then provides the means for this student, internally controlled, constructive self-talk and self-directed academic learning and social development to take place.

Self-talk helps to develop a deeper, richer, thicker, complex brain

As a result of all of this self-talk and its associated constructive behaviours taking place, a deeper, thicker, richer and much more complex brain is also being developed. This brain-based biological development will then lead to associated advancements of the mind, such as the potential development of higher-order thinking skills, creativity, and cognitive insight and problem-solving capabilities.

Firing and rewiring the brain

From a brain-based perspective, Norman Doidge adds to this by stating: “Everyday thought, especially when used systematically, is a potent way to stimulate neurons” which fires and rewires the brain, which then helps to change thinking and also change behaviours.

The key application for this firing and rewiring of the brain is that the thinking and action needs to be employed regularly and systematically. This infers the value of sequence learning.

Systematic intensity, frequency and duration

In terms of skill and knowledge development, Daniel Coyle makes it unambiguously clear that systematic self-motivated and self-directed thinking and action is a powerful way of creating and advancing neurological firing and rewiring and neurological growth potential in the brain.

Ultimately, in terms of results, all that matters to the brain, and the body, is the self-applied systematic intensity, frequency and the duration of the thinking pertaining to the activity in question.

Systematic sequence learning process

Neuroscience research informs that a systematic sequence learning process has a significant impact on brain/mind body (hólos) development and its holistic brain-based power potential.

The hólos

The brain and the body have generally always been referred to as two separate entities, i.e. the brain and the body, or the mind and the body. This can now be referred to by one word: hólos. Hólos derives from the Greek: όλος ‎ ̶ ólos. The English word holistic is derived from hólos. Holistic and hólos offer the same classification. Holistic and hólos incorporate the concept of holism. The brain and body is one seamless holistic entity.

One seamless operating holistic entity

According to Guy Claxton, who is Emeritus Professor of the Learning Sciences at the University of Winchester, the body and the brain “is designed to blend all” internal and external “influences together” in one seamless operating holistic entity.

This means that all receptors (sensory, chemical, temperature, pressure, pain, light), all tissues, cells, transmitters, hormones, chemicals, ions, molecules, organs – of the brain and the body – play a role in the way our body moves, thinks and feels, and how we perceive and interact with our internal world and external world.

Humans excel in sequence learning

As alluded to above, in terms of sequence learning, Haibo He writes that “sequence learning is one of the most critical components for human intelligence” because “most human behaviours are in the sequential format". This is further supported by Tim Curran and Steven Keele who also note that “humans excel [in] the learning of sequential patterns of behaviour".

Profoundly, this includes, but is not limited to language development, reasoning and planning, speech recognition, the development of writing, the acquisition of all skills, and the advancement of knowledge, skills and creativity in sport, the sciences, music, the arts, the humanities, and all human endeavours.

In fact, the sequence learning process should be thought of as being one of the most significant teaching and learning instruments in all fields and disciplines where learning, and the use and the passing of knowledge, is taking place. Added to this sequence learning process is the value of explicit teaching and the application of worked-examples.

Explicit teaching

Explicit teaching, according Christine Edwards-Groves, can be thought of as being "the talk of classroom lessons". Anita Archer and Charles Hughes point out that explicit teaching is a process that is characterised by steadfast teacher support and scaffolding.

With this the students are presented with specific unambiguous brief explanations, with accompanying demonstrations. All of which is supported by ongoing practice and feedback, until understanding and "mastery has been achieved".

An effective approach

Further to this, Edwards-Groves points out that "[i]n contemporary educational media ‘explicit teaching’ has been highlighted as [being] an effective approach to pedagogy that directly influences learning".

And it is this process, according to Edwards-Groves that can help “students to control and monitor their own learning by connecting them to their learning through” their self-talk, the explicit teaching process that is taking place.


Added to this is the research undertaken by Ruth Clark, Frank Nguyen and John Sweller, who point out the value of worked-example practices. It is this systematic teacher-directed worked-example process, where the participants not only learn how to perform a task and how to solve a problem, in a sequential micro stepping-stone process; the research suggests that this procedure also brings with it the associated advancements in knowledge and a combined depth of insight and understanding, pertaining to the concept that is being presented.

If not understood, repetition is applied, as noted, until mastery is achieved.

Repetition reinforces neurological associations

From a neuroscience perspective Barbara Arrowsmith-Young notes that learning and memory potential arise when neurons are firing. It is when these firing neurons begin to connect with other neurons that learning and memory development is taking place.

According to Arrowsmith-Young, “[w]hen a memory forms in the brain, it alters the connections between nerve cells”. When repetition of an action is taking place, this repetition not only creates new synapses, this repetition also “reinforces [a neurophysiological] association, creating a memory”.

This neurophysiological association is what then leads to the brain and ethereal mind-based development of learning, knowledge, insights and intellectual understanding.

Development of independent intellectual and skill potential

Associated with this, in research undertaken by Daniel Coyle, Jeroen van Merriënboer, Eng Leong Lim and Dennis Moore, there is the opinion that this combined explicit teaching and worked-example process provides the means for the participants to slowly-but-surely eventually develop independent thinking, and accompanying intellectual and skill potential. All of this then helps to further advance and move the student to becoming a self-managing student.

Student self-management

Anita Woolfolk notes that “[t]he most recent application of behavioural views of learning emphasises self-management". Self-management, in a school setting, is about informing students that if they wish to advance and progress in their studies, they need to take control of their own learning.

Woolfolk points out that the “responsibility and the ability to learn [remains] within the student, [no one can actually] learn for someone else". Therefore, and in absolute terms, the intention, the action and the engagement in learning is a journey of the self, by the self, for the self.

Forging knowledge, skills, abilities and understanding

In sport, for example, when the athlete is beginning, there is very little (if at all any) high-level independent action and creative thinking pertaining to the action and skill in question.

However, over a period of time, by and through the process of the explicit teaching and worked-example process and, the immutable associated self-motivated and self-directed hard work on the part of the student, the athlete begins to become more competent and creative in the application of their taught skills.

The same is true of any discipline. Knowledge, skills, abilities and understanding are all forged in the same way – quality teaching and instruction, and the associated unrelenting self-motivated and self-directed hard work by the student.

The authoritative art and science of teaching

The research in the art and science of teaching informs there is no single or one method of teaching and learning that suits everyone. The important point to note however is, according to Jenny Wilkinson and Marion Meiers, whatever teaching strategy or combination of teaching methodologies one chooses to apply (which can be mixed, matched, changed and altered as often one wishes), the important point to keep in mind is that research suggests that teachers should consider themselves as being authoritative in nature as opposed to being authoritarian.

Dr Ragnar Purje is Adjunct Lecturer School of Education and the Arts, at Central Queensland University. Under the supervision of Professor Ken Purnell, Purje’s doctoral dissertation focussed on the success of his pioneering neurologically focused acquired brain injury rehabilitation therapy.

Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *