Closing the Literacy Gap: Could Self-Regulation Be the Solution?

By Katherine MckNight, Ph.D. and Richard Cash, Ed.D.

The data is grim: More than 60% of high school students are not reading with proficiency, and are unable to effectively read text for information. For at-risk learners, the percentages are even higher. That means that a staggering number of our students aren’t and won’t be college- and career-ready.

Providing these students with effective reading strategies is critical if we are to close the achievement gap. But strategic reading is not enough. Learners must also move toward self-regulation and self-efficacy if they are to become active and independent readers.

It should come as no surprise to learn that self-regulation can play a major role in the success of students. Strong self-regulation skills, along with support for resilience, can significantly affect mental health and academic success. It follows that children who possess resiliency skills are more likely to be well-adjusted and self-regulated. The question is: How can we as educators help struggling students self-regulate, read, and succeed?

What it Means To Be Self-Regulated

Self-regulation is a process by which students engage in appropriate action, thoughts, and behaviors in the pursuit of valuable academic goals. It is guided by cognition (thinking about one’s thinking), behavior (avoiding distractions, paying attention, and other actions), and feelings (how one feels about a learning setting).

Students are not born with self-regulation skills. They are developed over time. A teacher’s role is to guide students—especially struggling learners—through the four stages of self-regulation development. First, students observe their teacher’s thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors and model them. Next, they copy and do, demonstrating skills with guidance and feedback from teachers. Students then practice and refine the skills, creating strategies to meet their own needs. In the last phase, students independently apply these skills to changing situations.

Self-Regulation in Practice

Students can become self-regulated by adopting specific strategies that help them control their behavior and environment. Of course, successful learners are better at this than struggling learners.

Under-achieving students use survival strategies in the classroom that prevent them from succeeding. They fear danger, risk, and failure. They don’t see the value in working hard and beyond their limits.

Successful learners, on the other hand, use promotional strategies. They experience the thrill of trying. They like the challenge. They value the effort required and see its worth.

Learners with low levels of self-regulation also may have an “I can’t” mindset. They may believe intelligence and talent are fixed traits. As a result, they lack confidence and don’t develop resiliency skills, efficient study habits, organizational skills, and other skills essential to success. High performers believe they can develop most basic abilities. They believe dedication and hard work lead to success and they are confident they can succeed.

A Balanced/Interdisciplinary Literacy Model

To be college- and career-ready, students must demonstrate self-regulation in learning and literacy skills development while learning content. The challenge is how to combine all three of these expectations in the classroom. There are many instructional strategies cited as effective. But the most successful teachers model, share, and guide, as well as incorporate ongoing opportunities for students to read complex informational text independently in a variety of content areas. In every case, persistence, patience, and perseverance pay off.

Explore in more depth how to close the literacy achievement gap. SDE offers a webinar to meet the challenges you face in today’s standards-based world. Check out Closing the Achievement Gap in the Common Core Era: Developing Persistence, Patience, and Perseverance in Literacy by veteran teacher Katie McKnight, Ph.D. and educational leader Richard Cash, Ed.D.

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