Self-regulating Learning: Impact of Attention, Memory, Language, Spatial and Sequential Ordering, Higher Order Cognition, and Social Cognition

Students are more likely to feel confident about themselves as learners if they can rely on their own resources for completing writing assignments and achieving success in school. At the core of successful and lifelong learning, is self-regulation. Self-regulation requires a student to be meta-cognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active in regulating his own thinking and learning. It involves an awareness of personal goals, and of strengths, weaknesses, and interests given instructional goals, environmental expectations, and conditions of learning and performance.

In a sense, students' ability to regulate their own learning demands the ultimate integration of neurodevelopmental abilities. Self-regulated learners are attentive, focused, and productive. They set goals for themselves, and use a planned approach to learning. Self-regulated learners keep track of their understanding and their progress, and reward themselves for their successes. They use problem-solving strategies and memory techniques when appropriate. For example, they learn to think critically about the demands of the writing task at hand and the availability of time, resources, etc.

Here are some strategies to help students become self-regulating in their writing and studying.

Helpful Hints for Setting Goals

  • Encourage students to write down long term goals (related to class requirements) on a calendar, short term goals (related to weekly assignments, immediate tests and projects) on a schedule or "goals" sheet, and daily goals (related to homework, study related tasks) on a "to do" list.  
  • Have students practice using goals by setting them, clarifying them (getting them down on paper), assessing them, developing methods for meeting them, and rewarding themselves for reaching them.  
  • Help students be more productive by giving them tips for successful goal setting, such as: set a goal to work towards each time you study, be sure your goals are realistic, be flexible as you learn how to set more effective goals.  
  • Have students set long-term goals, and then break these distant goals into short-term goals. Literature suggests that students are more likely to be motivated to reach short-term goals that lead to the attainment of a long-term goal, than to simply strive to meet long-term goals.  
  • Setting appropriate goals requires accurate self-judgment. Help students learn to adjust their goals based on their personal strengths and capabilities, the content area, the specific task, the time constraints, etc. In addition, help them learn how to pace their goals so that they are likely to attain them.

Helpful Hints for Improving Metacognition (Thinking About Thinking)

  • Metacognition involves being aware of (a) one's own mental processes, (b) one's knowledge about tasks, and (c) the interaction between one's own set of cognitive processes in relation to a task  
  • Promote metacognition by asking questions to guide student thinking in different content areas. For example: In English, ask, "What role does proofreading take in the writing of an essay?", "What is the best way to fit this project into your schedule?", etc. (Sternberg & Spear-Swerling, 1996).  
  • A general set of metacognitive questions can be applied to any task, for example:
    • "What's the purpose of learning this material?"
    • "Do I know anything about the topic?"
    • "What strategies will help me?"
    • "Do I understand as I work?"
    • "How should I correct answers?"
    • "Have I accomplished my goal?" (Bruning, Schraw & Ronning, 1995)  
  • Suggest that students create personal diaries on paper or on a computer as ways to enhance meta-cognitive awareness. Let this writing or recording be non-graded to encourage risk-free self-expression and self-evaluation.  
  • Provide sample questions for self-reflection, for example:
    • "What went well today?"
    • "Where or when did I get distracted or take the wrong path?"
    • "What happened when I did that?"
    • "What I will do the next time I get distracted or start to go in the wrong direction?"

Helpful Hints for Self-Regulating

  • Encourage students to use planning and to monitor their plans as they study. Provide specific guidelines if needed, e.g., "Planning for 20 minutes will help you to...", "Every 5-10 minutes, stop and check to see if your plan is still working," etc.  
  • Engage students in "What if ...." exercises to preview and plan for various academic situations, e.g., "What if I have a test on Tuesday and a book report due on Wednesday?", "What if the math test is all word problems?", etc.  
  • Make samples of work from last year available in the classroom. To help students connect a plan to its actual use, show students plans that were used for tests or projects in the past. Draw students' attention to the relationship between specific qualities of the work and the grades received (e.g., "Please notice that the students who received an 'A' did... students who received a 'B' did...", etc.).  
  • Have students share strategies and study plans they have used successfully. Allow students who are not able to articulate a plan, to draw a diagram or graphic representation, such as flow chart of steps, or a forking road map showing the path to success and the path to failure.  
  • Encourage students to reflect on plans that they have put into action, asking questions such as: "Would I choose the same plan again?", "What might be changed if ...?", "What was successful?"  
  • Encourage students to use mid-task self-questioning as they study and do homework. For example, have them stop to summarize after reading each page, stop to check calculations after each step in math, etc.  
  • Require students to delay self-checking after completing certain tasks, for example to wait two days before proofreading/editing a written report.  
  • Help students develop into self-regulated learners by:
    • Helping students know how to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses in each learning situation.
    • Teaching students how to look for help, and how to use help effectively.
    • Helping students recognize the importance of shifting strategies and approaches based on the demands of the specific task.
    • Helping students believe in themselves and think of themselves as active and strategic learners.