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How does self-regulation factor into kids learning to use writing strategies?

Expert answer

About 25 years ago, Karen Harris, my wife, developed an approach to teaching strategies that over time evolved into what we refer to now as self-regulated strategy development. We wanted to teach kids strategies to accomplish particular academic tasks — a series of steps that would help direct your behavior, organize your behavior, so that you could be successful with a task, whether it was writing, reading, or mathematics.

And we also realized that wasn’t enough. For example, the student might know how to carry out a series of steps for a strategy, but may not apply it. We thought that it was very important that we were very clear about when and where to use the strategies that we’re learning (“strategy knowledge”). That occurs in part through discussion, and it also occurs through having kids go out and set goals for ways to apply some aspect of what they’re learning, try it out, come back, and talk about its successes and how they need to modify their process.

Children with learning problems often have difficulty with self-regulation. We wanted to build in basic self-regulation processes — things that you use every day, such as setting goals, monitoring your performance, and reinforcing yourself. And so what we did is we pulled all of that together.

Here’s an example with self-regulation. If I’m teaching kids a story-writing strategy and it involved learning how to generate ideas in advance of writing each part of the story, then they would set a goal to not only use the strategy, but also to use all of the basic parts in their story. Once they’re done writing their drafts, they would go back through and evaluate and see if they met those goals. They would graph their performance. And they would look for places where they reinforced effort over time.

With goal setting, if you buy into the goal, then you’re going to bring your cognitive resources to bear. You’re more likely to persist over time. And by getting feedback on that, you see if it works and then you’re more likely to use it.

We also want kids to generalize what they learn broadly. And one way of doing that is after having set goals, to talk about how they’re going to modify the process for that situation. How you would go out and do it like a homework assignment. And then coming back and talking about whether it was successful or not.

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