What is Self-Regulation?

When considering independent learning, self-regulation is the essential essential idea. Defining the specific traits, however, may be more difficult for educators. “Self-regulated learning is a process that assists students in managing their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions in order to successfully navigate their learning experiences… One popular cyclical model…discusses three distinct phases: Forethought and planning, performance monitoring, and reflections on performance” (Zunmbrun, Tadlock, and Roberts, 2011, p. 4). The realm of managing one’s self in education terms can be commonly focused on the development of these skills: goal setting, action planning, self-assessment, and reflection.

Image generation by Danielle Strohmeyer. Content supports by Zunmbrun, Tadlock, and Roberts, 2011, p. 4.

Goal Setting and Planning: 

Goal setting works to address multiple elements of self-regulation. It not only acts as the catalyst of self-assessment, reflection, and planning (Punnett, 1986, p. 40), but it is also a powerful tool for developing self-motivation (Turkay, 2014). Therefore, the effort from educators in upper primary school to train students in goal setting can have an immense effect on the achievement of autonomous learning.

Class Wide Instructional Goals
One of the first steps to individual goal setting can easily be class-wide teacher goal setting. Just as with backwards design, teachers can model for the class a large educational objective. Then, they can create the plan and schedule for students to get there. This class-wide model is an important stepping stone for the process of creating individual goals (Turkay, 2014). This model can be a one time process, or it could be a regular process that eventually results in differentiated versions of class-wide goals.

The popular smart goals organization system provides an automatic organization and assessment system for the goals students develop. Students are asked to define their goals based on the criteria that the goals are: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant (or realistic, rigorous, results based), and timely (and or trackable) (Elias, 2014). These can be in graphic organizer or just a checklist. These criteria students to not only put their goal into clear terms, but they pre-determine self-assessment to a certain degree.

Partner or Group Accountability
Pairing students adds a higher degree of commitment for many students. The personal communication aspect allows for a forum to discuss struggles with others who may be able to relate, training students to rely on themselves and peers more and teachers less (Healey, 2014, p. 2). Peer recognition of success and failure can also be more motivating that teachers alone (Zunmbrun, Tadlock, and Roberts, 2011, p. 16). Teachers can easily partner students, groups of mixed ability or similar goals can all have strong results.

Setting Character and Educational Goals
While education based goals are often the focus, setting goals for character development also has positive effects for primary level students. It reinforces the need for a healthy balance between citizenship and content objectives, as well as engages students across levels (Elias, 2014). Even the most successful of primary students can strive to “be a better person” by highlighting specific traits to improve for themselves. It can also make the goal setting process tangible to these younger students, increasing the likelihood of success in discipline-based goals.

Graphic Organizers for Action Planning
After establishing a clear goal, planning for how to achieve that goal is an important part of the puzzle. For younger students, broad statements will suffice, but for upper primary school students, a specific layout provides for much more likely success (Zunmbrun, Tadlock, and Roberts, 2011, p. 15). Graphic organizers or calendar templates can have a tremendous effect in scaffolding the necessary steps for learners of all abilities.

Learning Contracts for Action Planning
Another strategy for enabling students and encouraging motivation for goal setting are student learning contracts. In these, teachers and students reach a mutual agreement for self-guided activities that lead to an ultimate learning goal. They then enter into a “contract”. This contract helps lead the process of the unit of study, or in this case, achievement of the learning goal (Healey, 2014, p. 2).

The ability for students to evaluate their own learning is another crucial piece of self- regulation. “Self-assessment is…defined as a process by which students 1) monitor and evaluate the quality of their thinking and behavior when learning and 2) identify strategies that improve their understanding and skills” (McMillan and Hearn, 2008, p. 46). In short, the ability to recognize strengths and weaknesses, as well as a general understanding as to how to empower themselves to utilize that information for improvement, makes up the self-assessment section of self-regulation.

Student Led and Three Way Conferences
Most often done with the help of a portfolio, students are expected to organize and present their development in a conference that involves students and teachers. Teachers usually provide guidelines and students provide examples to show levels of mastery in different areas (Education Services Australia).

Rubrics are essential for teacher marking, but they are often less commonplace for students to use. Teaching students how to accurately access using rubrics though, empowers them in the development of both self-regulation skills and content based areas. Criteria can vary widely and can address both qualitative and quantitative features of student achievement (Nielsen, 2012). The act of generating rubrics elevates this area to a higher level of thinking, while still encouraging the development of important self-assessment skills (McMillan and Hearn, 2008, p. 46).

Student Generated Test or Review Questions
Challenging students to generate elements of assessment requires a strong knowledge of the content encountered, as well as the skills examined. According to Hendrick (2014), it requires students to “focus less on poor revision techniques such as the storage of information (re-reading/highlighting) and more on the generation of questions and answers themselves through self-quizzing/regular low stakes testing.” So, not only does it empower students to take more stock in their learning, it also addresses the critical thinking skills relevant to strong independent learners (McMillan and Hearn, 2008, p. 47).

Teacher Meetings and Feedback
More teacher feedback allows upper primary students to build a foundational understanding of expectations and how to meet them. Teacher meetings also allows the free flow of discussions about the resources at their disposal. “Teachers can promote positive help seeking behaviors by providing students with on-going progress feedback that they can easily understand” (Zunmbrun, Tadlock, and Roberts, 2011, p. 12). Self-regulating students are not expected to do things without guidance, but instead to self-direct that guidance.

The final stage of the self-regulation cycle is reflection. This allows students to take time to evaluate their successes, failures, strengths, weaknesses, and progress, as well as the effectiveness of the strategies they chose and schedule they created.

Student Diaries
Student diaries allow students an outlet to practice daily, weekly, or otherwise scheduled reflection. This reflection offers them a way to process their thoughts. It also effectively works as a catalogue for later stages of the self-regulation process, such as goal setting and self-evaluation (Simard, 2004, p. 45). This is particularly useful for upper primary students who are in the early stages of self-regulation. The notes they take be key in the cyclical process that is goal-setting, planning, assessing, reflecting, and beginning again.

Student Portfolios
Portfolios empower the reflection process. Just as a teacher cannot assess or give adequate feedback without specific examples, students need the same to effectively reflect on their progress. Through the use of portfolios, students can track their personal work and chart development. Furthermore, they can provide specific evidence to support their reflections (Abrami, 2013). All of this increases the effectiveness of reflection, enhancing a students growth in self-regulation skills.

Exemplar Work
Another way of teaching students how to be more reflective of their own work, is to train them how to evaluate others first. Once they have recognized the strengths in exemplary work, they can begin to use that knowledge to reflect on their weakness and how to improve them (Hendrick, 2014). As these skills advance, similar effects can be had from peer edits and critiques, but in the early stages of development, exemplary models will likely have the most significant effect.

Teacher Behaviors and Self-Regulation
In general, all the above strategies will help foster skills vital to self-regulation skills. The most important aspect though, is that teachers add time and structure for these learning activities to take place. A graphic organizer is a terrific tool, but if not given after an exam alongside the time to truly utilize it to reflect, it will serve no higher purpose than “busy-work” might. It is crucial that teachers plan for, as well as scaffold with strategies and resources, activities that develop self-regulation.


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