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The role of self-regulation in learning at school


Primary school


By Michael Hawton

1st August, 2017

As children return to school for term 3, I wanted to discuss with you how children who are better at self-regulation perform better at school than their non-regulated peers.  And, when teachers provide these so-called 'self' regulators with prompts to figure things out, self-regulators thrive even more.

Well, what makes a self-regulator?  According to a Psychology Today blog in September 2015, the term "self-regulation" is commonly used to describe the strategies of planning, monitoring and reflecting on one's learning.  Learners who demonstrated active command over knowledge acquisition do better than those who just "soak-up" what the teacher says.  So, if they get stuck on a task they know what to do next.  In other words, they can become the agent of their own learning by getting better at wrestling with feelings of giving up or its opposite, to pursue a solution.  They can outwit their feelings to give-up by coming up with alternative problem-solving strategies.

In a book called, Teaching Backwards, the authors refer to how teachers have helped students to become better self-regulated learners.

One teacher provided the children in her class with a 'stuck tree'.  It's a wall-chart which the children are asked to refer to if they feel stuck.  It says, 'If i get stuck I can ask a friend for advice, I can 'mindmap' it, I can write down the question in a different way.  They key here is knowing how to take charge of one's own "stuckness" and overcome it.

Another teacher uses a metaphor called "The Pit" to help learners to plough through a difficulty of getting started on a difficult project.  She wants her students to feel comfortable with feelings of confusion and anxiety with starting any new project and  to look for ways to use a process (in this case, The Pit) that can help students to persevere.

And, finally, another teacher shows her students how to design a step-wise chart, to show how projects like building a paddle-pop bridge or writing a story book, require steps to be broken down and sequenced to achieve the end result. By  asking students to identify which steps come before others and by identifying what they have to do at each step, "they know exactly where they're going and what they need to do to get there!"

"Helping children become resourceful by asking them to self-regulate, to manage resistances (or stuckness) and by reducing their negative self talk can help them to get better at solving problems.  When  teachers give children templates and prompts to know what to do next then self-regulators increase their success rate." - Michael Hawton, MAPS


About the author

Michael Hawton is the founder of Parentshop, providing education and resources for parents and industry professionals working with children. He has authored two books on child behaviour management: Talk Less Listen More and Engaging Adolescents.


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