Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

How Can Schools Boost Students' Self-Regulation? Teaching Students How to Take Responsibility for Their Own Effort Can Enable Them to Become More Persistent and Focused about Learning

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

How Can Schools Boost Students' Self-Regulation? Teaching Students How to Take Responsibility for Their Own Effort Can Enable Them to Become More Persistent and Focused about Learning

Article excerpt

A new generation of alternative schools--schools and programs that re-engage dropouts or students who aren't on track to a high school diploma--has demonstrated the power of helping students practice the self-regulation skills they need to succeed. These schools foster and honor the resilience of students, while recognizing the academic and socioemotional challenges many of them face, often as a result of high-poverty backgrounds.

A striking convergence of research, documentation, commentary, and policy in the past five years strongly suggests that an almost exclusive focus on academic knowledge and skills is an incomplete solution. Additional behaviors, skills, and mindsets--sometimes called metacognitive skills or 21st-century skills--are just as necessary for academic and career success and a rich civic life. A significant body of research emphasizes that a focus on these mindsets and skills contributes to improved outcomes on many academic measures, while their absence contributes to inefficient learning (Toshalis & Nakkula, 2012; Conley, 2012; Farrington et al., 2012). One of the most critical of these metacognitive skills is self-regulation. A self-regulating learner can "plan, set goals, organize, self-monitor, and self-evaluate at various points during the process [of building new knowledge or skills]" (Zimmerman, 1990).

Neuroscience, sociology, and learning theory all have shown the detrimental nature of poverty and trauma on the developing child's brain and ability to learn (Hinton, Fischer, & Glennon, 2012). In his 2012 book, How Children Succeed, Paul Tough asks if we can address the educational outcomes gap between poor youth and their peers by paying attention to their social and emotional development. The short answer from his work is yes. Research has identified strong links between stresses associated with poverty and reduced cognitive functioning. But there's also solid evidence that the neurological and psychological effects of childhood stress can be overcome well into young adulthood.

An important outgrowth of this research is its implication for children's learning. The area of the brain most affected by childhood stress is the prefrontal cortex where impulses and emotions are regulated. Children who experience trauma--abuse, neglect, and family members' mental illness, substance addiction, or incarceration, for example--are more likely to have a hard time sitting still, following directions, rebounding from disappointment, and focusing on learning. Childhood trauma compromises the development of crucial executive functions, including working memory, self-monitoring, emotional regulation, and the abilities to hold contradictory information in the brain, see alternative solutions, and negotiate the unfamiliar.

The best schools and programs serving high concentrations of low-income, off-track youth recognize that to facilitate their students' academic success, they must pay explicit attention to developing their ability to self-regulate (among other metacognitive learning strategies). In the following, we describe three different schools serving off-track youth that have embraced explicit approaches to develop their students' ability to self-regulate as a key strategy in improving student learning, student attendance, behavior, and/ or high school completion. While these schools honed their techniques out of necessity, their integrated strategies hold great promise for improving the possibility of success for any developing adolescent.


Fostering self-regulation through community building

New arrivals at Portland YouthBuilders (PYB) in Portland, Ore., undergo a three-week trial period to test and build "mental toughness," a key feature of orientation across YouthBuild USA sites nationally. Students must follow rules of conduct such as remaining clean and sober, maintaining 100% attendance, accruing no more than two tardies, and practicing tolerance and inclusion of others at all times. …

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