Inquiry Learning Positively Impacting Self-Regulation

“The most effective self-regulated learning may be promoted by ensuring that children can make their own choices. Not only does choice promote self-regulation it contributes their metacognition. In other words children’s developing knowledge about how to use their own thinking.”   (Adapted from S.Robson (2010) 

As my brain moves from the theory of self-regulation to the notion of the HOW; I wonder what daily practices we engage in that positive impact the development of self-regulation in our learners and what we are doing throughout the day to continuously reinvest in children who struggle with their self-regulation.

As the Early Years Lead, my reading on child development reminds me of the essential need to ensure that we teach children to regulate between the ages of birth to six.  The notion of choice having a significant impact on the child’s ability to regulate is interesting to me, as choice in learning is a key characteristic of one form of play based learning – inquiry.

Inquiry learning is an “approach to thinking and learning that places students’ questions, ideas and observations at the centre of the learning experience” (Inquiry Based Learning, 2013).  By nature, it honours the children’s interest thus allowing for choice. Research has clearly recognized this form of learning as one which allows for a high degree of authentic learning and is described by Pahomov (2014) in Authentic Learning in the Digital Age: Engaging Students Through Inquiry in the passage below:


For some, inquiry is viewed as or feels like “chaos” in the classroom; I would argue that this may be the case as it is so very different from what we are accustomed to where most students are engaged in working on the same/similar tasks.  In inquiry, there may be many different questions being explored however when children are engaged in the learning (inquiry allows for students legitimate desire for information and skill development to be honoured), the classroom environment is one which is focused; the students are actively experimenting, problem solving and co-negotiating thinking.  Often, when engaged in genuine wonder, we as educators notice persistence that we may not have seen in particular children in the past.

The partnership relationship that exists between the educator and the student (co-learning and co-thinking) is one that I also see as having an impact on the development of self-regulation; as the educator is seen as a provoker of the thinking, thus allowing the child to engage in the learning at their own cognitive level (zone of proximal development). In inquiries, children have the opportunity to work collaboratively, co-constructing thinking and thus, practicing their social skills.  The educator role is to intervene only when necessary – to act as a facilitator if conflict develops and the students are unable to resolve it themselves.  The educator question is always, “what experiences/provocations can I now introduce that will encourage students to refine their working theories?”.  Thus, inquiry based learning allows for us to set up environments in which the children can practice and be supported in developing their self-regulation under the guidance of the educator.

For children who struggle to regulate, a play based inquiry environment can also be one in which the child experiences less stress.  “When children initiate experiences, generate ideas, plan, and problem-solve, make meaningful choices and act spontaneously through play, they are more likely to be happy and get along well with others, have lower levels of stress, and to be attentive and motivate to learn. When children are fully engaged, they develop dispositions and skills for lifelong learning that are important for success in school and beyond.”  (How Does Learning Happen? pg. 35). Thus, the inquiry environment provides educators AND students with a vehicle to support the development of positive self-regulation.

Thinking About Report Cards – I recently read a literature review entitled, “Encouraging Self-Regulated Learning in the Classroom” (Zumbrunn, Tadlock, and Roberts, 2011).  It got me thinking about how our Conditions for Learning have self-regulation in each column under the Things to Consider.  What I really think that we mean is Self-Regulated Learning, which is defined in this review as “a process that assists students in managing their thoughts, behaviours, and emotions in order to successfully navigate their learning experiences…one popular cyclical model discusses three distinct phases:  Forethought and planning, performance monitoring, and reflections on the performance” (Zumbrunn et al. 2011, pg.11).  The Ministry of Education’s working definition supports this, “Self-regulation refers to how students think about their thinking and their learning (metacognition), how they take strategic action to learn (self-assessment) and how they engage socially and emotionally in learning (engagement).”  When considering what we are reporting on for the learning skills on the report card, these pieces are critical.


I leave you with a reflective question from How Does Learning Happen?  Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years (which is quickly being adopted by others outside of the Early Years):

Children’s present and future well-being is influenced by their ability to self-regulate.  How can your program move from a focus on the adult managing children’s behaviour towards a stronger focus on supporting children’s developing self-regulation capacities?  

Until next week…Happy Family Day to everyone!


4 responses

  1. I have been thinking about the past 3 weeks of blogs about “self-regulation”. I have been trying to bring forward our school thinking about “self-regulation and reporting. We are asked to report on self-regulation along with the other learning skills. We need to ensure that we understand what self-regulation is and more importantly we need to know that our students understand what inquiry is. Interestingly the link between self regulation and inquiry learning. How this changes the environment for the learner. How changing the landscape for learning will allow for children to learn how to “self-regulation”. I can clearly see how this trajectory can best support our learners and create persistent, passion and wonder for the learning to come.


  2. The “release of responsibility” is a tough one for educators ( and parents). It is a challenge to move so far away from how we were taught ( and raised). Inquiry learning must serve a purpose and our job is to guide students through this process ( Holy smokes it’s GSIP!!!) We must provide them the opportunity to set goals , assess and reflect . Of course, this will not be done independently at first! We will guide them and walk them step by step through the process. Self Regulated translates into engaged and then into motivated. The way that everything connects is unbelievable. I immediately think of the need for authentic tasks/activities ( with multiple entry points) for this cycle to be successful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “The educator role is to intervene only when necessary – to act as a facilitator if conflict develops and the students are unable to resolve it themselves. The educator question is always, “what experiences/provocations can I now introduce that will encourage students to refine their working theories?”.”

    The quote above really resonated with me. One of the most inspiring teachers I ever had was my high school music teacher, who didn’t always say a lot. (He’d intervene, as was stated above, “only when necessary.”)

    After a performance or rehearsal, he sometimes would barely provide any comment or suggestion, but rather would mention an album that we needed to listen to. His method of intervention was sometimes — at least at first glance — minimal, but in retrospect it was very much about building self-regulation and encouraging us to pursue meaning on our own, knowing that we could ask questions later if we were “stuck.”


  4. Thank you for sharing your thinking Ted. Appreciate the connections!


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