Self-Regulated Learning

Approaches to Learning (ATL): Teaching for Self-Regulated Learning

By Sandra Forrest, Director of Specialist Programmes at Marymount International School, London

We teachers often find ourselves thinking, ‘I wish my students would take more ownership over their own learning’ and, while we understand that the role of the Approaches to Learning, ATL, element of the International Baccalaureate, IB, Programme is to help facilitate this, we might not be entirely sure how to fit explicit instruction of ATL skills into our own practice. Even if we do know how to teach ATL skills, doing so requires additional time for both planning and instruction, and time usually feels in short supply! We might also face resistance from students who, finding it more effortful to take responsibility for their own learning, may prefer traditional instruction which gives them a more passive role.


There is a lot of research out there, though, that tells us that if we focus our instructional effort on delivering content, our students are likely to become increasingly dependent on us, rather than developing the skills and habits of self-regulated learners. Even if our instruction is highly student-centered, our students are ‘novices’ at learning our subjects, so they might not actually know how to approach their learning effectively. Or, if they do know how, they might not want to take the extra time or put in the extra effort that ‘ownership of learning’ takes. While we – as experts in learning our subjects – have a lot to offer, [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]teaching students to be self-regulated takes courage in the face of obstacles[/inlinetweet] like these. We have to believe it’s going to pay off.

We know that, in the IB Diploma Programme, students have to be highly self-directed and driven in order to succeed.

I once went to a conference and happened to have lunch with a group of people who were from the IB, and I asked them how many hours they estimated that successful IBDP students spend working outside of lessons. They told me that the ratio is probably about 2 hours of independent work for every 1 hour students spend with their teacher. Yikes! In order for this time to be productive, students have to have excellent Approaches to Learning. Otherwise, as I’m sure many of us have experienced, they expend a great deal of energy in 12th Grade stressing out and negotiating deadline extensions. The same is true of the Personal Project. Helping our students develop the skills and habits of mind that accompany self-regulation, from the moment they first step into our classroom (regardless of what age that is!), is the best way to prepare them to be confident, engaged, independent learners in the DP and beyond (and before!).

The most effective way to develop self-regulation in students is through carefully considered, student-centered, process-focused instruction.

As you think about your plans for this year, consider where your students are and where you want them to be, both by the end of this school year and by the end of Grade 12 (regardless of whether you actually teach the DP!). While you do so, I encourage you to reflect on the following questions:

  1. What are some of the processes your students need to engage in effectively in order to be successful in your subject?
  2. How do/could you help your students to assimilate these processes, rather than taking the short cuts that so many adolescents and teenagers are prone to taking?
  3. How do/could you monitor students’ processes to ensure they are engaging in them effectively?
  4. What sorts of scaffolds and resources do/could you put into place to make your job easier and to help clarify the expectations for your students?
  5. How do/could you engage your students as resources for each other?

Asking yourself these questions is the first step in developing the student-centered, process-focused curriculum that is a prerequisite for developing self-regulation in your students.

Teaching for Self-Regulated Learning is not ground-breaking stuff. Instead, it aims to perhaps build on what teachers are already doing in their classrooms by helping them to consider the processes that students need to be successful in their subjects, to explore various instructional strategies that can be used to help students assimilate these processes while learning the subject’s content, and to develop strategies and tools for formative assessment that can help teachers monitor their students’ processes and intervene when necessary, without having to put in loads of additional hours. It is about making our jobs easier by making sure our students not only take ownership of their own learning, but also that they do so using the most effective approaches possible – the processes we want them to use.

cycle of self-regulated learning

Are you interested in learning more? Check out our upcoming PD events!

Sandra Forrest has worked as a special needs teacher, a primary school teacher, a learning resources coordinator, a gifted and talented coordinator, an ATL coordinator, a New Teacher Induction Programme coordinator, an NHS Advisor and an Eco-Schools Advisor in schools in NYC, San Francisco, Fes, Beijing, Tokyo and London.

sandra forrest

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