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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Self-regulation, Co-regulation, and Learning to Dance

We’ve been hearing and reading more and more about self-regulation, its role in learning, in executive functioning, and so on. Self-regulation is an essential part of assessment research as it is a way to describe what learners do as they self-monitor their way to next steps in their learning. Researchers with an assessment lens – including the international delegates attending Fredericton, NB, in April 2014 such as Linda Allal (2007), Heidi Andrade (2013), Menucha Birenbaum (1995), Ernesto Panadero (2013), and Dylan Wiliam (2007)  to name but a few – have researched and written about assessment and self-regulation.

Co-regulation is another term I’m beginning to use – and those of you who read the research literature in French language communities may already be familiar with the term. I’ve reflected on the notion of co-regulation as I’ve observed teachers and students engaged in ‘assessment in the service of learning.’ As I've done so I’ve come to appreciate the way the term co-regulation invites us to consider and reflect upon the intricate nature of teaching, learning, and assessment. Or, as Willis & Cowie (In press) put it, “…the generative dance.”

Linda Allal (2011) discusses the difference between self-regulation and co-regulation. She writes, “The expression ‘co-regulation of learning’ refers to the joint influence of student self-regulation and of regulation from other sources (teachers, peers, curriculum materials, assessment instruments, etc.) on student learning (Allal 2007). One could also define it as processes of learning and of teaching that produce learning. The focus is thus on learning as the outcome of education and teaching is subsumed within the ‘co’ of ‘co-regulation’” (p. 332).

Consider this – as teachers engage students in self-assessment, goal setting, and self-monitoring their own learning in relation to co-constructed criteria, and then apply their growing understanding of quality and of process over time, Allal (2011) points out that we, “…activate the processes of metacognitive regulation” (p. 332).

As teachers go further and engage students in collecting evidence of their own learning, in student-teacher conferences and in parent-student conferences, students become more independent – they move from co-regulation to self-regulation (Allal, 2011). This isn’t a process that students do without support or as a result of some kind of scheduled ‘activity.’ Allal (2011) concludes by noting that with the support of teachers and in the interactive classroom environment a powerful relationship emerges – “a process of co-regulation that entails interdependency between self-regulation and socially mediated forms of regulation.” (Allal, 2011, p. 333).

As I was reading a piece submitted by Dylan Wiliam (2007), I was struck by this description of a mathematics classroom:

 “These moments of contingency—points in the instructional sequence when the instruction can proceed in different directions according to the responses of the student— are at the heart of the regulation of learning. These moments arise continuously in whole-class teaching, where teachers constantly have to make sense of students’ responses, interpreting them in terms of learning needs and making appropriate responses. But they also arise when the teacher circulates around the classroom, looking at individual students’ work, observing the extent to which the students are on track. In most teaching of mathematics, the regulation of learning will be relatively tight, so that the teacher will attempt to “bring into line” all learners who are not heading towards the particular goal sought by the teacher—in these topics, the goal of learning is generally both highly specific and common to all the students in a class. In contrast, when the class is doing an investigation, the regulation will be much looser. Rather than a single goal, there is likely to be a broad horizon of appropriate goals (Marshall, 2004), all of which are acceptable, and the teacher will intervene to bring the learners into line only when the trajectory of the learner is radically different from that intended by the teacher.” (p. 1088-89).

Doesn’t this sound like co-regulation? Students were working independently from the teacher yet the teacher was there – present – ready to bring emerging issues and questions back to the group to inform the learning of all. And, in doing so, providing a demonstration of ‘self-regulation’ or one could use the lenses of ‘scaffolding’ or ‘social construction of knowledge. It reminds me of a chapter written by Sandra Herbst (2012) that includes the transcript of a Grade 12 applied mathematics class taught by Rob Hadeth. Rob very clearly knows 'the dance' and how to help students become self-regulated successful learners. It is interesting to me how research follows practice - I suppose it must given that students and teachers together are continually forging new ground. Researchers are the ones that come along to help educators understand the magic being created or that could be created.

In this post I’ve just touched on a few of the articles related to self-regulation and co-regulation submitted by the International delegates. I encourage you to pursue this topic further and the references below are a great starting point.


Andrade, H. (2013). Classroom assessment in the context of learning theory and research. In J. H. McMillan (Ed.), SAGE handbook of research on classroom assessment (pp. 17-34). New York: SAGE.

Allal, L. (2011). Pedagogy, didactics and the co-regulation of learning: a perspective from the French-language world of educational research, Research Papers in Education 26(3): 329-336. To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02671522.2011.595542

Herbst, S. (2013). Assess to success in mathematics. In A. Davies, S. Herbst & K. Busick (Eds.) Quality Assessment in High School: Accounts from Teachers. Courtenay, BC: Connections Publishing and Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Birenbaum, M. (1995). Assessment 2000: Towards a pluralistic approach to assessment: In M. Birenbaum & F. J. R. Dochy (Eds.). Alternatives in Assessment of Achievements, LearningProcesses and Prior Knowledge (pp. 3-30). Boston, MA: Kluwer. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-94-011-0657-3_1

Panadero, E. & J. Alonso-Tapia. (2013). Self-assessment: theoretical and practical connotations. When it happens, how is it acquired and what to do to develop it in our students. Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology 11(2): 551-576. http://dx.doi.org/10.14204/ejrep.30.12200

Wiliam, D. (2007). Keeping learning on track: formative assessment and the regulation of learning. In F. K. Lester Jr. (Ed.), Second Handbook of Mathematics Teaching and Learning. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Willis, J. & Cowie, B. (In Press). Assessment as a generative dance: Connecting teaching, learning and curriculum. In C. Wyatt-Smith, V. Klenowski & P. Colbert (Eds.), Designing Assessment for Quality Learning: The Enabling Power of Assessment Series, Volume 1. Netherlands: Springer.

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