Self-regulated Learning and Choice

In the first entry of this blog series, we gave a basic definition of self-regulated learning. In this entry, we will explore the role that student choice plays in student self-regulation. There are three main areas we will address: why choice is important, how choice supports self-regulation, and how we can help students manage and assess their choices.

Why choice is important for learning

There is a lot of research and writing about choice. According to Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde (2012, 108), Choice is an integral part of literate behavior. But what does it mean to have choice? Choice can mean lots of things to lots of people, so for the sake of clarity, in this blog, I will use the word choice to mean options-even when, as an adult, you may consider something a “forced choice.” For example, when I help my three-year-old daughter get ready in the morning, she doesn’t open her closet door and look through everything to decide what to wear. Instead, my wife or I will give her three outfits from which to choose. Is this a forced choice? Yes. But it is still a choice. She still has a voice in what she wears. And these types of small, forced choices will help increase her ability to make choices for herself in the future. All humans like to have control over their lives and work. By giving students small, forced choices, we create a sense of self-determination that is crucial if they are ever going to be able to make good choices once their options increase and the consequences for unwise choices are more significant. The ability to make wise choices is fundamental to the concept of self-regulation.

How choice supports self-regulated learning

The ultimate goal of self-regulated learning is for students to be able to engage in a cycle of learning that leads them from self-assessment to planning to execution to reflection. When moving from self-assessment to planning and then to execution, students have to make a lot of choices. They need to ask themselves:

  • What is it that I really understand and what is it that I need help with?
  • What activities can I complete that will help me better understand the concepts with which I struggle?
  • How will I know whether or not those activities are helping me learn?
  • What do I do when I feel that I now understand the concept?

 cycle of forethought, performance, and reflection

Helping students manage and assess their choices

student sitting on classroom floor, reading a book

Now, we don’t expect a 10-year-old to be able to go through this cycle completely independently. Our job is to help guide them through this process so that they can eventually be independent. And we do that by providing them with choices. Just as with my daughter, these choices should start out small with small consequences and gradually lead to bigger choices with more import. There are many small ways that teachers can provide students the opportunity to make choices. Here are just a few examples:

  • Choosing which books to read during independent daily reading (from a bin or a predetermined set if reading level is a concern)
  • Choosing where to sit during independent work time
  • Choosing how to present a project (PowerPoint, poster, comic strip, student-created movie, etc.)
  • Choosing the order in which they complete an assignment
  • Choosing which parts of a homework assignment need to be completed based upon what learning goals the student needs to work on

By providing students with small choices that don’t have heavy consequences, we are empowering them to take an active role in their own learning. One important aspect often overlooked in this process, however, is to build in time for student reflection regarding their choices. When students make good choices, it is important for them to acknowledge it and feel accomplished in their efforts. When they make poor choices, it is also imperative for them to recognize this and to take some time to understand why their choices didn’t work out and to plan how to make better choices in the future. This reflection process needs to be heavily modeled, facilitated, and monitored if we want students to continue to grow in the positive direction of becoming true self-regulated learners. This process will be discussed in more depth in a later blog entry.

So there you have it-why choice is important, how choice supports self-regulated learning, and how to help students manage and assess their choices. What are some ways that you have developed for bringing choice into the classroom?


Zemelman, S., Daniels, H., and Hyde, A. 2012. Best practice: Bringing standards to life in America’s classrooms. Fourth edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.