Self-Regulated Learning Assignments

Renee Wright

One way to encourage tenacious behavior is to create opportunities for students to use metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies. Carol Dweck, Gregory Walton, and Geoffrey Cohen, describe a few of the psychological interventions from various research studies that support these behaviors. However, I believe that for the interventions to work, more instructors need to adopt strategies that promote effective learning habits across the curriculum. We all need to provide students with instruction that moves them from passive learners to active learners.

In addition to Dweck et al., there are many others contributing to the body of work to improve student learning. Metacognition refers to students’ abilities to think about how they learn, looking at the strategies, processes, and ways they assess their understanding. Dr. Saundra McGuire presents on how learning is improved simply by teaching students how to learn across the curriculum. I’ve used many of the strategies outlined in her book, such as teaching students about metacognition and Bloom’s taxonomy. Sometimes, I ask students to create the rubrics for assignments using Bloom, which helps them understand the cognitive demands of a task. Students also see how I make particular distinctions in expectations, which helps them understand assignment expectations. I like that the examples are specific to college classrooms, and that there are many strategies outlined in the book.

One of the most comprehensive guides I’ve found that explains how to address learning opportunities for students is Linda Nilson’s book Creating Self-Regulated Learners. Nilson explains that self-regulation includes metacognition and behaviors such as “self-discipline, deferring gratification, and starting tasks early instead of procrastinating” (xxvi). The beginning of the book includes a reference guide that separates specific assignments and activities that can be used at different times of the semester. Because students need changes from class to class, I’ve added a few tools and practices that help students think about the learning tasks for specific assignments.

First, if you’ve ever had trouble getting students to complete the assigned reading, try Interteaching, which helps students engage with assigned reading and improve critical thinking skills. In this process, I create a prep guide for the assigned reading that students must complete before lecture. I spend about 20 minutes lecturing on the topic the next class session and the remaining class time is spent with students in pairs or groups discussing their answers to the prep guide. Students complete a 3-2-1 of their discussion and questions. Students like the interteaching tool because they realize elements of the reading they need to consider before engaging with the text and in discussions about the text.

Another cross-curricular tool developed by John C. Bean et al. (of Engaging Ideas) are Microthemes. The authors describe four different types or versions of microthemes that have worked particularly well with developmental students. Students write a summary of reading(s) using specific criteria, which focuses their attention to details they may need to review and helps develop the practice of rereading. I like this tool because students get into the habit of responding to reading by writing frequently. Like the 3-2-1 and interteaching documents, microthemes are easy to review. I use 6” x 8” oversized Post-It-Notes™ or index cards to start the semester and we finish the semester using 3” x 5” index cards. Students become exceptional at producing the responses over time. It’s best to scaffold microthemes; for example, writing the summary task is the easier than completing the Quandary-Posing task. I’ve used the latter to discuss ethical dilemmas or justice themes for writing assignments.

Not everything that helps develop self-regulation and learning must be a written response. For larger classes, the Epstein Immediate Feedback cards or Socrative engagement app work well. Both tools provide interactive learning opportunities as students work in groups and discuss readings, lectures, and other resources. The Epstein cards are low-tech options that teach while they assess; students receive immediate feedback for quiz-type questions and they learn to critically analyze answer options before responding. The more times a student selects the wrong answer, the lower the group score. Socrative is a technology option that allows the instructor to create short online quizzes. I use the tool for group work, but the best part of the tool is that students participate as teams to answer the questions (similar to the Epstein cards) and compete to be the first team to complete the quiz or task. As students answer questions correctly, their space ship (yes, space ship) speeds toward the finish line. Be careful with this one, it’s addictive!

Originally published as a Faculty Voices Project blog post on April 11, 2017.