Portrait of a Learner 4-8

Systems Change


Factor Connections

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Self-Regulation is the ability to regulate our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to meet a given goal. It plays a central role in planning, along with thinking and behaving flexibly, when dealing with new information. Self-Regulation is a limited capacity resource, meaning that it can become depleted over the course of the task or day, or can become drained when students are spending much of their energy working to focus in the classroom. Self-Regulation is supported by executive functions (i.e., Working Memory, Inhibition, and Cognitive Flexibility) and helps students regulate learning across several domains: cognitive, behavioral, and emotional. Importantly, some students may lag behind others in their executive functions which can contribute to slower development of Self-Regulation. Students who have ADHD often have co-occurring difficulty with Sensory Integration, which also impacts the ability to Self-Regulate. By the end of elementary school, children have typically developed a wide range of self-regulation skills. However, educators still play a critical role in encouraging students to further develop their Self-Regulation capacities beyond elementary school. An ability to engage in self-regulated learning is often associated with increased academic achievement, well-being, social competence, and decreased odds of risky behavior.

Main Idea

Self-Regulation develops rapidly in early childhood. By the end of elementary school, students' capacity to self-regulate is often relatively mature. However, educators can influence students' choices to develop these Self-Regulation skills. For example, educators can encourage self-regulated learning by prompting students to set learning goals, providing students with tools to monitor their progress, and modeling how learners might change their learning approach following feedback.

Self-regulated learners use Metacognition to consider their strengths and weaknesses relative to what they are tasked with, and identify strategies that will help them succeed. Similar to Metacognition, Self-Regulation includes recognizing behavioral responses and aligning them with standards, such as social expectations. Students can successfully accomplish Self-Regulation by flexibly monitoring and inhibiting Emotions, Attention, Motivation, actions, or impulses in pursuit of a goal.

It is important to note that the perception of appropriate behavior in schools may be influenced by dominant social norms in a culture and may not match students' own cultural norms, attitudes, and beliefs. Students who have been historically and systematically excluded, and those with disabilities, particularly those with ADHD, are at greater risk of disciplinary actions such as suspension for what is perceived as disruptive behavior. To reduce this bias, educators and students may benefit from incorporating social aspects of Self-Regulation, such as shared Regulation or socially responsible Self-Regulation, that bolster and support culturally responsive and inclusive practices. They emphasize communal aspects of learning, responsibility, and mutual respect, for instance, through creating opportunities for students and teachers to share strategies, and to use knowledge of heritage languages and cultures in the classroom. Additionally, students with learning disabilities and ADHD often have more difficulty with Self-regulation in certain classroom contexts, which may be due to the additional demands of the learning environment or task, and may benefit from supplementary explicit instruction in self-regulated learning strategies.

It is also important to understand that Self-Regulation should not be equated with seeking compliant behavior, that is, seeking alignment between instructor and learner goals. Sometimes learners may appear to display a lack of Self-Regulation (for example, not paying Attention in class, or acting in conflict with the teacher's instructions), but this can sometimes be because the learner has a different goal (for example, exploring beyond the teacher's instructions). Before concluding that poor Self-Regulation may be the cause of a student's off-task behavior, educators should try to understand the learner's goal (and the reasons behind it) to best support their students.

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