Lessons from the National Spelling Bee Champion

According to the CBS News website, 14 year old Snigdha Nandipati beat eight other finalists recently to take home the National Spelling Bee Champion title and $40,000 in prize and scholarship money.  The story goes on to describe how Snigdha hopes to use her winnings to pay for college.

What struck me about the story was the description of how Snigdha’s father, Krishnarao Nandipati, revealed the keys to her success.  Snigdah reportedly has a collection of over 30,000 flashcards with the trickiest words and has been training since the age of four!

In the article her father described how he was instrumental in her success, reading out words from billboards during the drive to school for her to spell when she was in kindergarten.  According to the news story, in the run-up to the Bee, Nandipanti studied 6 to 10 hours a day on weekdays and 10-12 hours on weekends.

What Snigdha’s father describes in the news story is a process of instilling self-regulated learning with his daughter.  By definition, self-regulation is an integrated learning process, consisting of the development of a set of constructive behaviors that affect one's learning. These processes are planned and adapted to support the pursuit of personal goals in changing learning environments.  Flashcards are a prime example of a self-regulated learning tool.  A student can transpose all material that needs to be learned to flashcards, and carry these cards around wherever they go.  This helps support their commitment to learning by having constant access to learning material, and they can easily track their progress and know when they have systematically learned all material necessary.  In short, flashcards are a very effective tool!

Self-Regulation for School Success

Many researchers have agreed with the importance of self-regulated learning for students at all academic levels.  In fact, Zimmerman (1990), an expert in this area, found evidence that the use of self-regulated learning strategies accounted for most of the success in school for high achieving students.

Self-regulation can be taught, learned and controlled.  Developing self-regulation strategies tend to shift a student’s feeling of control over their life.  In psychology we term this concept: “Locus of Control.”  Locus of Control refers to an individual's perception about the underlying main causes of events in his/her life.  Or, more simply: Do you believe that your destiny is controlled by yourself or by external forces (such as luck, teachers, or the environment)?  Locus of control is conceptualized as referring to a continuum, ranging from external to internal:

As a student begins to master the self-regulated learning process, they develop an internal locus of control.  No longer will you hear external control statements such as, “I made a bad grade because my teacher hates me!”  Instead you will hear internal statements such as, “I got an A+ because I studied!

Any student can be taught to become a self-regulated learner through the process of acquiring specific strategies.  These strategies need to not only be successful in terms of teaching the student the material (such as the note cards and billboard practice sessions described by Snigdha’s father) but they also need to enable the student to increase their control over their own behavior and environment.

Research into the area of self-regulated learning has found that the best learning occurs when a student carefully observes and considers their behavior and acts upon the effectiveness of the learning strategy.  In this respect, students who are self-regulated must learn to continually ask themselves "Does this strategy work for me in this situation?"  Students who are effective self-regulators shift their focus from comparing their performance to peers to self-comparison, and they also shift focus from being reactive to being proactive learners.

Compared with low achieving students, high achievers such as Snigdha set more specific learning goals, use a variety of learning strategies, self-monitor more often, and adapt their efforts more systematically. While research has shown that gifted students frequently are good self-regulators, not all are.  These students need to be helped and encouraged to self-regulate.  Other students that can be helped through teaching self-regulation are those that are lacking in organizational skills, such as commonly seen with ADHD and learning disabled students, or for students with social or personal issues that may prevent them from self-monitoring regularly.

To help your student become a self-regulated learned, Please call: (813) 454-1050.  All inquiries are responded to in less than 24 hours, 7 days a week.


The Associated Press (2012 ). Spelling bee champion Snigdha Nandipati wins title with "guetapens"Nandipati. Retrieved from CBSNews.com on June 2, 2012.

Zimmerman, B. J. (1990). Self-regulated academic learning and achievement: The emergence of a social cognitive perspective. Educational Psychology Review, 2, 173-201.