Student Self-Regulation: The ABCs of Learning

Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Student Self-Regulation: The ABCs of LearningIt’s a fact that all kids want to learn. Some students may be more challenged in the learning process. Throughout my time in education, I’ve come to understand that our students who struggle with or have difficulty grasping content most often lack the basic skills of self-regulation.

Self-regulation is the ability to manage, control, and monitor affect, behavior, and cognition (what I call the ABCs of learning) to achieve success. All three of the ABCs must work in tandem to achieve our goals. One without the other two, or two without the other one, usually doesn’t make us successful. Students who struggle often don’t, or don’t know how to, efficiently use the ABCs of self-regulation.

A Is for Affect
Affect is the way we respond to our environment and emotions. While emotions are a chemical reaction within the limbic system of the brain, our feelings are the way we consciously (and sometimes unconsciously) react to the chemical stimuli. Our environment and the way we perceive it causes the emotional reaction, which creates the feelings response. When students allow their feelings to control them, they are less likely to be focused on and in charge of their own learning.

To assist students in being more attuned to their affect:

  1. Make the classroom environment safe and welcoming.
  2. Help students feel they belong and have connections with others.
  3. Help ensure that each individual feels a sense of ownership and that his or her unique qualities are valued.

B Is for Behavior
How students handle themselves in the classroom and school, use learning strategies, and implement content skills are the behavioral dimension of self-regulation. When students are aware of what is expected, how to achieve it, and how to evaluate it, they are more likely to reach their learning goals. Additionally, social interactions and health management are encompassed in our behavioral self-regulation.

Ideas for developing behaviors that lead students to success include:

  1. Ensure all norms and expectations of the classroom and school are clear and understood by all.
  2. Provide students with examples of masterful products or proficiencies within the content.
  3. Teach healthy stress-reducing techniques such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and so forth.

C Is for Cognition
Thinking in the classroom has three distinct levels, from personal to existential. Metacognition is the thinking about one’s thinking—a personal process relying on reflection and working memory. Infra-cognition refers to the general thinking tools of creative thinking, critical reasoning, problem finding and solving, and decision making. The highest form of cognition is metaphysical-cognition: thinking beyond the self. Theologians, philosophers, and experts in their field will employ metaphysical-cognition. Students can be encouraged to think this way by using essential questions that extend the content beyond the recall of factual information.

Ways to increase cognition in the classroom include:

  1. Incorporate reflection on learning into the daily routine.
  2. Teach students—and expect them to use—creative thinking, critical reasoning, problem finding and solving, and decision-making strategies throughout the day.
  3. Use essential questions to ground the instruction and learning process in each and every lesson.

By keeping in mind the ABCs of self-regulation, you can assist all your students in developing greater autonomy in learning. The world of the twenty-first century will require people to be critical thinkers who are driven to solve complex problems. Prepare your students for these challenges by empowering them with the ABCs of self-regulation.

Richard CashRichard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:
Self-regulationAdvancing DifferentiationDifferentiation for Gifted Learners


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2016 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Teaching Strategies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Comment or Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s