Increase Structure for Behavioral Change

After reading my previous posts on goal setting, you might be asking yourself, “So why do I need to write down all these goals?  Can’t I just study harder?”  Although it may be true that studying harder might be of benefit, we know thorough scientific research that structuring your behavior has the most significant effect on your grades (Britton & Tesser, 1991; Tuckman, 2003).  We know that GPA improves when students are able to manage their time effectively and put themselves in settings that foster rather than distract from learning.  Additionally, researchers have demonstrated that organization, time management strategies, and the development of internal structures are very strong predictors of academic achievement (Britton & Tesser, 1991; Garavalia & Gredler, 2002; Nonis et al., 2006) in college.

Internal structures are developed and supported through the utilization of:

  • Self-monitoring journals (SMJ’s).
  • Behavioral Charts
  • Behavioral Contracts
  • Proximal Goals
  • Long Term Goals

Additionally, external supports are necessary for permanent behavioral change.  External supports are something the parent and child can identify and develop together.

Examples of external structures include:

  • Tutors
  • Therapists
  • A support group for school issues, or a study group
  • Parents who have agreed to assist the child with study card checking, paper checking, etcetera on a REGULAR and SYSTEMATIC basis.
  • Parents, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles that provide encouragement, support, and even tangible rewards for successful completion of established goals.

High Achieving Students

High achieving students set more specific learning goals, use a variety of learning strategies, self-monitor more often, and adapt their efforts more systematically when compared to low achieving students.  Because one self-regulation strategy will not work for all students, the student must work to identify what strategies work for them and track their progress.  Adjustments to the student’s study behaviors must me made if current progress is not achieving their academically related goals.

Conscious self-regulation requires a student to focus on the process of how to acquire skills that will work for them.  Some students for example are more visual, and learning techniques that require visualization skills such as the Loci strategy may work well.  The Loci Strategy is based on your familiarity with a place, such as your home.  The strategy helps you remember lists of items through organization, visualization, and association.  It can work well for you if you are good at visualizing (picturing) things in your mind.  Other students may be more verbally inclined, and mnemonics may work better.  Mnemonics is a memory enhancing instructional strategy that involves teaching students to link new information through rhymes, abbreviations, or other verbal cues.

According to Barry Zimmerman (1989), students that exhibit high levels of self-regulation strategies have good control over the attainment of their goals.  Zimmerman found as a result of his research that successful student’s self-regulated learning strategies accounted for most of their success in school.

Self-regulated learning involves the regulation of three general aspects of academic learning:

1) Self-regulation of behavior including resources students have available to them, such as their time, use of a tutor, organizational strategies such as a calendar or computer, their study environment .

2) Self-regulation of motivation and affect including the control of motivational beliefs and learning how to control their emotions including frustration, anger, and anxiety as related to their academic goals.

3) Self-regulation of cognition including control of various cognitive strategies for learning such as Loci versus Mnemonic study strategies, or outlining and summarizing chapters for a test.

Students who have developed good self-regulation skills have the ability to objectively self observe their study behaviors.  Keeping on organized system of tracing their behaviors and performance is a critical piece of this.  Other key components involve systematically comparing performance with pre-stated goals and adjusting study strategies as necessary.


Also important is self-consequation, which is the ability to withhold distractions and focus on study behaviors in order to attain a planned reward if goals are successfully achieved.

Self-reinforcement or self-consequation is an important skill for teens to learn as they prepare for independent study in college. Students can experiment with making a formal written self-contract to allow a reward (such as going to the movies, or hanging out with friends) for specific study related behaviors the week before.