Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Self-Regulation: The Muscle of Achievement

Self-regulation is also known as self-discipline. Researchers describe it as the ability to consciously suppress or delay responses in order to work for a higher goal. Examples include “deliberately modulating one’s anger rather than having a temper tantrum, reading test instructions before proceeding to the questions, paying attention to a teacher rather than daydreaming, saving money so that it can accumulate interest in the bank, choosing homework over TV, and persisting on long-term assignments despite boredom and frustration” (Duckworth & Seligman, 2006, p. 199)

Adolescents with high self-regulation capacity outperform peers on “every academic-performance variable, including report-card grades, standardized achievement-test scores, admission to a competitive high school, and attendance” (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005, p. 941). It’s a better predictor than IQ; a student can possess a high IQ and significantly underperform due to low self-regulation capacity.

Interestingly, self-regulation is much like a muscle. First, it can be exercised and strengthened. Any task that requires ignoring and delaying reward or that requires persistence through boredom or challenge exercises self-regulation.

Second, like a muscle, self-regulation can be depleted. Have you ever lifted weights to the point of exhaustion when your muscles truly cannot complete even one more repetition? Self-regulation is similar. As an individual applies self-regulation, the “muscle” fatigues and eventually can be exhausted; the marshmallow simply must be eaten, the task simply must be stopped, the scenery simply must be changed. (By the way, this is why keeping tempting foods in the house eventually proves fatal to a diet!)

Self-regulation influences student achievement, and it can be developed. But how? How can teachers aid the self-regulation development of their students? What advice can be offered to parents?

We’ll explore these questions in the next posting.

Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological Science 16(12), 939-944.

Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Self-discipl;ine gives girls the edge: Gender in self-discipline, grades, and achievement test scores. Journal of Educational Psychology 98(1), 198-208.


Aaron Eyler said...

Managing impulsivity is a skill that requires a year, round concentration by all teachers. This is especially critical in the younger grades when students are racing to see who can complete the assignment first. I do not feel comfortable speaking about that age group as I have no experience there. What I can offer is how I work with my AP History students. I normally provide them with a ten-minute writing prompt, but they are required to "sit and think" for at least five minutes prior to writing. I try to stress to them that if they can manage their impulsiveness to answer the question as soon as they get their paper then they will enhance their answer simply by self-deliberating. Great post, and something that every educator should be thinking about. -AE

Unknown said...

I'd definitely would like to see how to apply this in the 3rd through 5th grade classrooms.

Dawn@Moms Inspire Learning said...

Personally, during the preschool and elementary school years, I feel that parents and teachers can help children the most by:

1. Reading aloud to them enthusiastically on a daily basis, even after they become independent readers.

2. Helping independent readers to seek out enjoyable books and encouraging them to read for at least half an hour at school and at home every day.

3. Playing board games and card games, which teach children so much about cooperation, taking turns, and self-control. There are so many educational games that fit in with the curriculum, but children also learn important life skills by playing just about any game.

With all of the technology and visual stimulation children are exposed to these days, they need to develop a love of reading and playing basic games more than ever. These simple techniques enable students to focus in a way that no computer ever will enable them to.

Thank you for calling our attention to the importance of self-regulation.