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Quit Nagging Your Kids: Building Self-Reliance in Scholars

Updated on April 29, 2019


As teachers, we are pretty confident in our ability to self-regulate with our established independence. We plan, analyze, reflect, and adjust ourselves so we can do better in the future. Being educators, our self-reliance is very on point. Still, the million-dollar question is: can our scholars do this too?

Despite being a 6th year teacher, I am still confronted with many challenges and difficulties that come easy to the more seasoned teachers. However, if scholars can master their self-reliance and gain independence, the rest of the challenges and difficulties may very well melt away. Now this might sound like a quick fit, simply telling your scholars to think deep about their learning. Far from it. There is so much to understand how to introduce, teach, implement, and describe the complexity of self-reliance.


Its important to understand that one of the purposes of teaching self-regulation is “to teach students to keep their behavior under control” (Bonawitz, 2012). Having scholars being capable of keeping their behavior in check without the teacher getting involved is a tremendous accomplishment. Most teachers (myself included) would be very happy with that, but its not enough. We have to make sure scholars are self-regulating on all fronts, not just behavior.

A scholar’s self-regulation is “a means to compensate for their individual differences in learning, defines the essential qualities of academic self-regulation, and describes the structure and function of self-regulatory processes” (Zimmerman, 2002). Scholars need to know that self-regulation is more than just doing work quietly and independently. Its encouraging them that they can reach deep in themselves, and apply themselves to whatever the academic task is because: “self-regulation is not a mental

ability or an academic performance skill . . . rather it is the self-directive process by which learners transform their mental abilities into academic skills" (Zimmerman, 2002). It’s vital that we show scholars what they are capable of, not what they are required to do. When scholars can apply their mental abilities to academic skills, “motivation to acquire knowledge becomes proactive on the part of the students rather than reactive as a response to instruction. This also pertains to life outside of the classroom because self-regulation aids in developing life-long learning skills” (Bonawitz, 2012).

Self-regulation is a very powerful tool for scholars to have. In order for scholars to be proficient in this, they need to understand self-monitoring. This is where the scholar would observe and analyze their own behavior. This can be done by providing personal checklists and modeling desired behaviors. Studies have shown that “self-monitoring improved on-task behavior and decrease disruptive behavior in the classroom” (Bonawitz, 2012).

Applying Self-Regulation

Exposing your scholars to self-regulation in an efficient way can really boost both the teacher and scholar. We need to show that “self-regulated learning is the conscious planning, monitoring, evaluation, and ultimately control of one’s learning in order to maximize it” (Nilson, 2014). To have scholars adapt this way of learning, we need to explain what it is and how its beneficial. Then, have scholars do self-regulated activities in class and for homework. Do not emphasis grade on this, these are just exercises to get scholars to think about the concept. This could be pass/fail. Give credit just for completing it (Nilson, 2014).

What might these activities look like? Well, it could just be a simple questionnaire based on a reading that is self-reflective, not content focused. For math, have scholars

explain their work on a multi-step or “fuzzy” problem. On exams, when scholars get their grades back, have them reflect on it. Provide a reflection sheet with the following questions (Nilson, 2014):

- How do you feel about your grade? Were you surprised?

- How did you study for the exam? Did you study enough?

- Why did you lose points? Any patterns?

- What will you do differently to prepare for the next exam?

Doing this will truly get the scholar to think about their own work habits and how they can improve on themselves. For low scholars, this will give them a chance to reflect on what they need to concentrate on, as well as thinking of ways to better themselves.

In the Classroom

In the classroom, it is our responsibility to display opportunities for scholars to do self-reliant. It is impossible to micro-manage every little thing every scholar does in the classroom. Rimm-Kaufman and Sawyer developed a concept called Responsive Classroom Approach. The purpose of this is: “to promote children's sense of investment in the learning process and integrate caring into the daily routine” (Rimm-Kaufman, 2004). Within this idea, there are three components that further develop Responsive Classroom Approach.

The first component is Morning Meeting. This is: “a daily meeting that builds community and fosters connection between social and academic learning” (Rimm-Kaufman, 2004). Having the feel of community promotes independence because feeling part of a whole builds responsibility. The second component is Rules and Logical Consequences. This is: “a proactive approach to discipline that helps children acquire self-control and take responsibility for their actions (e.g., shared establishment of classroom rules, reminding and redirecting as key tools)” (Rimm-Kaufman, 2004). It’s very obvious that enforcing rules and laying down consequences will motivate a scholar

to build self-control. The last component is Academic Choice. Doing this: “ increases children's investment in learning and creates a forum for reflection with peers. Practices promote self-reliance, build a sense of classroom and school community, increase students' sense of responsibility for belongings, and help them become invested in learning” (Rimm-Kaufman, 2004). The power of choice requires extra work for the teacher, creating alternate assignments, but allowing scholars to choose their assignment gives them power and responsibility.

Small Group (Independent Center)

Every school promotes opportunities for teachers to break scholars into small groups so that the learning experience can be more intimate. We have the tendency to split groups up. The teacher leads one group, while the other is responsible for completing independent work. The problem with the independent group is that scholars tend to get off task, and there isn’t a teacher around to address the issue. There are many ways to address this issue. Going back to Rimm-Kaufman and Sawyer’s concept of Responsive Classroom Approach, we can implement Academic Choice within small group. Allowing choice will “increase in independence and giving children choice, which is useful for differentiating instruction. If there are a variety of activities in a station, children at all levels of achievement can participate” (Arquette, 2006). But, there are other things teachers can do besides choice to promote self-reliance in independent groups.

Being teachers, we need to stay on top of everything we do, say, and how we present/address activities in order to promote self-reliance. For starters, make sure the independent work is something can do on their own. It should be something that has done several times with the whole class, so scholars know what is expected of them. Next, establish the activities that are to be done in both teacher and independent center before breaking up. Third, and very important, use the ‘one strike and you are out’ rule. This means that students know that, if they break a rule, a consequence will be implemented. Have the activities be “thinking” activities, not just worksheets because worksheets will lose a scholar’s interest and focus, which will lead to disruptive behavior. Give scholars the opportunity to reflect. Finally, make sure scholars are accountable for their work in the independent center. Create that sense of urgency and stress the importance of finishing work within a given time frame (Arguette, 2006).

“Must Have” Behaviors

A “Must Have” Behavior is exactly how it sounds: it’s a behavior that a scholar must display during class or activity. It’s important to brainstorm and display these behaviors on an I-Chart (it’s the same thing as a T-Chart, except we remind scholars that “I” stands for Independence). We then have to model what both the desired and undesired behaviors look like so scholars know for the future.

The “Must Have” Behaviors can benefit teachers (specifically new teachers) in small group, especially the independent center. Have them displayed so scholars know what is expected of them. Some suggested “Must Have” Behaviors include (Boushey, 2012):

- Stay in one spot

- Stay on task

- Read quietly (if reading is assigned)

- Get started right away

- No bathroom

- Build stamina. (Great practice for the mental endurance of State Exams)

- No approaching the teacher

In order for “Must Have” Behaviors to build a successful, independent scholar, we have to stay out of the way. For true independence, we should not engage or monitor behaviors initially. Instead, secretly keep an eye out for when stamina breaks or misbehavior arises (Boushey, 2012). Establish a non-verbal signal to switch groups or transition. An example of this would be using a chime or bell.

When small group comes to an end, have a group check-in and self-evaluation. Consult the I-Chart and ask scholars “How did you do?” Have them rate themselves from 1-4 with each “must have” behavior. When communicating with children who don’t display “must have” behaviors, set a tone. Tone is vital in order to build a supportive and respectful community of learners (don’t show frustration). Speak with concern and compassion, not judgment (Boushey, 2012). Have the scholar(s) stay in for part (but not all) of recess to make sure the scholar(s) can show the correct “must have” behavior. Understand that this is not a punishment. This is simply a brief time for scholar(s) to practice the behaviors correctly. We do this so the scholar(s) can learn the right way, and to encourage that what they do is so important, they are expected to succeed. If the scholar(s) continues that violate the “must have” behaviors for natural reasons (ie: can’t help it, I.E.P.), then provide the scholar(s) with a timer as a visual cue to stay with a task, and provide “brain breaks”. (Breaks while establishing the habit of staying in one place) (Boushey, 2012).


Homework is a very delicate matter because teachers are not around when they do homework, so how could we observe their self-reliance? How do we know that the parents aren’t doing it, or at least helping? It’s important for teachers to teach scholars how to self-reliant outside of the classroom too, mainly so they can function in the real world. As teachers, we have to be careful with the kind of homework we assign, otherwise the scholar may lose focus, interest, and/or become frustrated with the difficulty. There are types of homework assignments: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic homework is basically homework that is primarily interested in making sure the scholar understands the material in the teacher’s eyes. “The homework purposes categorized as extrinsic dealt with gaining approval from their teacher, family and/or peer” (Bonawitz, 2012). Besides trying to meet curricular standards (according to the teacher), there doesn’t seem to be much appeal to extrinsic homework.

Intrinsic homework, on the other hand, can be very effective. This homework involves: “developing a sense of responsibility, learning to work independently, learning good study skills, developing good discipline and reinforcing school learning. The students recognized as intrinsically motivated were more likely to complete their homework and achieve higher grades” (Bonawitz, 2012). So this type of homework promotes a good habit of internalizing responsibilities, and prevents teachers, family, and/or peers to remind scholars how important homework really is.


A lot can be done to promote a scholar’s self-reliance. With proper guidance, visual cues, and clear instruction, scholars will never have to be micro-managed. No more reminding a scholar when they should (or shouldn’t) get up from their seats, or call out, or even approach a teacher during Independent Center. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters . . . compared to what lies within us.” All scholars do have it within them; they just need to be reminded.


Arquette, C. M., (2006). Motivating Learners Through Literacy Work Stations. Literacy at the Crossroads. 120-130

Bonawitz, M. (2012). Strategies and Interventions for Increasing Homework Completion and Accuracy. Education and Human Development Master’s Theses. Paper 163

Boushey, G. & Moser, J. (2012). Big Ideas Behind Daily 5 and Café. The Reading Teacher. 66(3), 172-178

Nilson, L.B. (2014, June 16). The Secret of Self-Regulated Learning. Magna Publications. Retrieved November 8, 2014

Rimm-Kaufman, S.E. & Sawyer, B.E. (2004). Primary-Grade Teachers' Self-Efficacy Beliefs, Attitudes toward Teaching, and Discipline and Teaching Practice Priorities in Relation to the "Responsive Classroom" Approach. University of Chicago Press. 104(4), 321-341


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