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V.3 #3 Counseling/School Psychology - Self-Regulation and Academic Learning

Cognitive-behavioral interventions have been shown to effectively teach students with learning disabilities in mathematics, reading and writing (Lyon, Fletcher, Fuchs, & Chhabra, 2006). An excellent example of a cognitive-behavioral intervention is self-regulated strategy development. Self-regulation can be defined as “self generated thoughts, feelings, and actions for attaining academic goals" (Zimmerman, 1998, p. 73). The study of academic self-regulation emerged out of a desire to explain proactive means in helping self-directed learning. In order for students to learn independently, self-motivation is deemed necessary, which is why motivational variables, such as goal setting, self-beliefs, and intrinsic interest have been incorporated into self-regulated learning models. Models of self-regulation also seek to comprehend academic learning form a perspective of the student. Therefore, self-beliefs about academic ability are paramount in this model in explaining student’s efforts and successes in learning.

Zimmerman (1998) delineates a map on how to develop good self-regulatory skills that are necessary for anyone who wishes to succeed in their area of interest. Zimmerman (1998) notes the implications for teachers assigning homework without teaching such needed skills as time-management, test preparation and note taking. Students are expected to somehow develop these skills themselves and a student’s failure to learn may be due to other things than poor learning ability or lack of motivation. In other words, it may be due to poor strategy implementation that can be helped by formal strategy instruction in the classroom by the teacher.

Development of self-regulatory skills

Zimmerman (1998) explains that self-regulation is no longer viewed as a trait that students have but is situational dependent. In order for students to optimally self-regulate, psychological dimensions, such as: motive, method, time, behavior, physical environment and social environment have to be addressed. Corresponding respectively with each specific psychological dimension is a scientific question: The learner needs to be able to answer why, how, when, what, where, and with whom will this learning take place. For example:

  • The question "why" pertains to their motivation in regulating their learning. For this to occur, students must address such issues as goal setting and self-efficacy (a person's belief that he/she can master a situation). If their self-efficacy is high for this particular learning task, it has been shown to be a very good predictor of success. If their self-efficacy is low, chances are the student may not engage in this particular learning.

  • The second question of “how” addresses which method or strategy students use to attain their academic goal, such as task strategies, imagery, and self instruction (overt self-verbalizations). Research has shown that highly self-regulated students utilize many strategies and if one does not work sufficiently, they have the ability to employ a different strategy until their objective is attained.

  • The third question of “when,” addresses time management. Highly self-regulated learners plan their time accordingly to complete assignments and tend to be punctual and reliable in their completion of homework.

  • The fourth question of “what,” addresses students’ behavioral performance. Self-monitoring, self-evaluation, and self-consequences are important processes that influence performance adeptness. Students must be able to adapt their responses based upon the feedback of their performance.

  • The fifth question of “where,” addresses their choice of setting to conduct their studying. Highly self-regulated learners know and create an environmental setting that is conducive to learning. Some students complain that their home is too noisy and distracting. They can choose to go to the library or unplug the telephone to create a more conducive learning environment.

  • Finally, the sixth question of “with whom,” refers to the social dimension of studying. Highly self-regulated learners know to whom they can turn to when they are having difficulties with the learning process. They are known to be highly resourceful and employ such processes as model selection and peer or teacher help-seeking.

Cyclical self-regulatory model

A cyclical self-regulatory model is also employed for study skill and is an integral part of the self-regulatory process. This model is cyclical because each stage entails self-monitoring which provides needed feedback and information that can modify ensuing goals, strategies or performance efforts. The purpose is to teach underachievers to observe, monitor and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. The person would:

  1. Self-evaluate and monitor to determine what studying skills are working effectively. For example, students need to determine if their current study methods are effective, such as their time management skills. Perhaps cramming for a test the night before is not such a good idea?

  2. Set goals and plan strategically to obtain them. Students need to set specific goals when studying for an exam, such as how many pages they need to read and learn in order to do well on an exam.

  3. Employ strategy implementation and monitor to see if the strategy is effective. For example, students need to monitor when using rehearsal, an information processing strategy in which the material is re-read several times, to see if it is really being implemented in studying material for an exam.

  4. Employ strategic outcome monitoring to evaluate their end results, which allows them to learn from their mistakes. After a strategy, such as rehearsal is faithfully implemented, the student needs to evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy. If it was not effective, then another strategy should be implemented.

Zimmerman (1998) contends that students should rate their perceived self-efficacy upon the completion of test preparation. Afterwards, these ratings would then be compared to the actual test results. This would enable the students to develop accurate self-evaluative standards.

Implications for the classroom

What can be more important than enabling students to be successful in each and every endeavor? I think that most people will agree that it is important to be highly self-regulated. The question really is how is this to be achieved? It is not enough to tell students that they are intelligent or well liked when reality is showing them less than desired results. There has been too much emphasis on raising self-esteem rather than altering their self-efficacy. Psychology has done a great disservice to the public with its emphasis on making people feel better without changing their objective performance. Therefore, it is incumbent upon teachers to instruct students on developing good self-regulatory skills and not assume that they are automatically acquired without any specific formal instruction.


Lyon, G. R., Fletcher, J. M., Fuchs, L. S., & Chhabra, V. (2006). Learning disabilities. In E. J. Mash & R. A. Barkley (Eds.), Treatment of childhood disorders (pp. 512-591). New York: Guilford Press.

Zimmerman, B. J. (1998). Academic studying and the development of personal skill: A self regulatory perspective. Educational Psychologist, 33, 73-86.

Michael David Benhar, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Social Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College. Dr. Michael David Benhar teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Developmental Psychology, Exceptional Child, Classroom Management, and Assessment. He has co-authored a chapter on students with disabilities. In addition, he has worked as a school psychologist in a preschool for children with special needs.

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