If you've flipped to an episode of Sesame Street lately, you might have noticed something strange happening to Cookie Monster. The frenetic furry beast is actually—gasp—trying to tame his cookie-fueled impulses. It's part of an effort to introduce young minds to the concepts of self-control, patience, focus, and other skills essential to academic success. In fact, PBS's brainchild is devoting its entire 44th season to building self-regulation skills in its viewers.
Not to be confused with compliance, self-regulation is essentially the ability to manage your emotions and behaviors, and it is considered to be foundational to school readiness. In their new book, Self-Regulated Learning for Academic Success (ASCD, 2013), Carrie Germeroth and Crystal Day-Hess explain that when a student has difficulty with self-regulation, it often "translates into poor work habits, trouble concentrating, low motivation, and behavioral problems."
Fortunately, self-regulation can be modeled and taught. Germeroth and Day-Hess believe that one way teachers can support self-regulation is by providing appropriate praise and feedback. They offer the following advice, which is targeted to specific grade levels but can be applied across the continuum:
Praise the Effort Invested (PreK to Kindergarten)
When we praise students by saying, "You did so well on that assignment! You must be really smart!" we set them up to feel "stupid" any time they don't do well—or to avoid challenge for fear that failure will mean they're no longer "smart."
By contrast, praise for effort focuses students on the benefits of hard work. When a child learns to associate task outcomes with the effort invested, he's more likely to attribute failure to a lack of effort and to adopt new strategies and work harder until he succeeds.
- Provide sincere praise. Your praise should include specific information about what the student did well, and you should give it only when warranted.
- Attribute performance to factors within the students' control. When students succeed, be sure to call out something they did to achieve the positive outcome—their effort, for example, or the strategies they used. Avoid linking success to intelligence or luck.
- Promote autonomy. Make sure your students have the tools necessary to do each task, and assure them that you will help them learn what they need to complete the task on their own.
- Eliminate activities or practices that compare students with one another. Comparisons can not only lower the self-esteem of anyone who is not a "top" student, but also create a competitive learning environment where outcomes seem more important than the learning process.
- Set attainable standards and expectations. Provide the appropriate levels of challenge and support, so that students have opportunities to experience success.
Empower Students to Track Their Own Progress (Elementary)
Collecting, selecting, organizing, and reflecting on a portfolio of work actively engages students in self-regulated learning. In the early elementary grades, portfolios may include drawings, journal entries, or emergent writing pieces; in upper elementary, the portfolio should include tests or reports.
- Provide students with a self-reflection guide. Self-reflection guide questions might include prompts such as "Why is this my best piece?," "What learning does this piece reflect?," or "This was challenging for me because … " (Bower & Rolheiser, 2000). Students whose verbal skills may impede the reflection process can draw and label pictures.
Focus Feedback on Processes, Not Outcomes (Middle and High School)
Verbal and written feedback should focus students on what they can do to improve their work and give them a sense of control over their academic success (Zumbrunn et al., 2011).
- Monitor students' use of learning strategies and provide specific feedback. It's not enough to help students learn and know when to use various learning strategies; you must also teach them to monitor the success of the strategies and make changes next time, if necessary.
Source: Adapted from Self-Regulated Learning for Academic Success, by C. Germeroth and C. Day-Hess, 2013, Alexandria, VA: ASCD. © 2013 by ASCD.
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