How Self-Regulation Works

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_XvuY3r8jOOA/TToeToAtSmI/AAAAAAAAA18/v2wBtkMMueM/s1600/couch_potato.jpg Self-regulation is an extremely important skill to develop.  In fact, as I am writing this post, with no outside person or institution forcing me to do, on a vacation day when it is sunny outside, I am demonstrating formidable self-regulation.  I believe that teaching children, and adults, how to self-regulate is one of the best things we can teach them.  Too often, we mommy-regulate (i.e helicopter parenting) and children don't learn the essential skills they need to develop to take care of themselves in the world outside of a safe haven of home.  So, below is a brief review about self-regulation.Effective self-regulators proactively direct their strategies to achieve self-set goals (Zimmerman, 2002). A good self-regulator will pay attention to task, persist when it becomes difficult, demonstrate flexibility and be confident that additional effort will lead to positive outcomes (Schunk, 2005). The literature about self-regulation is immense; the good news is we understand not only that it works but also how it works.  Hundreds of studies in a variety of contexts, not only in the classroom, but also in healthcare and other arenas, found similar positive outcomes for better self-regulated learners (Duckworth, Akerman, MacGregor, Salter, & Vorhaus, 2009).

A good self-regulator uses many different skills and dimensions of learning involving affect, cognition and behavior.  These arenas interact with the phases of forethought, performance and self-reflection and depending on the interaction, may affect behavior in a variety of manners (Duckworth et al., 2009; Schunk, 2005; Zimmerman, 2008;Wolters, 2010).  For example, when studying for an exam, if a person feels optimistic about a learning outcome, possesses strategies to study effectively and holds the ability to monitor their thinking on a meta-cognitive level (e.g. they could think “I have a tendency to stray off topic, so I need to make sure I keep coming back to the study guide.”), they would be considered a good self-regulator.  Yet if one piece of this suggested cycle is not present, the student could be unsuccessful.  For instance, if one were pessimistic about the outcome, one may not be motivated to study even with self-knowledge and learning strategies at hand.

Abundant evidence indicates that cognitive skills are an essential component of self-regulation (Winne & Hadwin, 1998; Mischel et al., 1972; Bandura, 1993).  These skills take many forms such as goal setting, strategic planning, self-evaluation, causal attributions, meta-cognitive knowledge, epistemological factors, and attention.  For example, certain types of causal attributions can sustain motivation in the face of failure, fatigue or frustration (Weiner, 1985).  Or epistemological factors that concern the theories that a student has about the nature of knowledge and learning could shape the strategies they use (Schommer, 1998).

Affective skills are also very important for self-regulation (R. Azevedo & Strain, 2011).  For example, a person who can monitor and regulate their moods, feelings and emotions will be in a better position to control his or her behavior.  In addition, better self-regulators form positive attributions about their failures (Zimmerman, 2002). This positive affect, in turn, increases effort and strategy use during subsequent trials.

Finally, context is an essential piece that should be considered when determining how best to affect SRS.  For example, choosing which peers to study with, which settings to best do homework or leaving a setting if there is an issue are all critical components of self regulation (Duckworth et al., 2009).

OK, I've exercised enough self-regulation for today.  Going to go get some ice cream and watch a movie on the couch :)