Posted by: darcymullin | February 10, 2014

Self-Regulation – The Cognitive Domain

In the third of this series of posts based on Stuart Shanker’s Calm, Alert and Learning, I will focus on self-regulation in cognitive domain.

Students who can regulate in the cognitive domain are able to:

  • focus when necessary and change their focus when it is appropriate
  • consider other people’s perspectives and attack problems from more than one angle
  • execute multi-step actions and are willing to try different courses of action
  • understand cause and effect
  • set learning goals and engage in reflection (metacognition)
  • accept that struggling (even failure) is part of learning and an opportunity to grow

When looking at the list above, it is clear that students who struggle in this domain are also going to face serious issues when attempting to learn.

According to Shanker attention is not a static process:

It cannot be sufficiently emphasized that attention is an active, goal-directed phenomenon in which the mental_model (1)student takes in and processes many different kinds of information, and then plans and executes his or her actions accordingly.

Attention is a complex issue where students must process reams of information simultaneously, there are issues that we must consider when helping students in this domain.

Value of Play

While I knew that play is important in the early years, I think it was safe to say that underestimated it’s value.  Upon further reflection the value of play cannot be understated.  It is through play that young children learn to share, wait their turn and follow rules.  More than that, play also is vital to creativity and innovation – particularly dramatic play. According to Shanker, when children “take a role” in their play children engage in essential components of cognitive development.  Those students who struggle in dramatic play need it most.  It is up to the teachers to scaffold and support learners in this process.  In fact, students who are in a play based kindergarten class have a significant advantage over those students who are not.  Research indicates that not only are they likely to be better readers and problem solvers, but they are more likely to become well adjusted adults.

Children Struggle for different reasons

When it comes to attention all children need support as they develop their ability to focus their attention.  Often this is done in early childhood as primary caregivers who engage with infants and utilize eye-contact, touch and talk.  While the child is developing language they are also acquiring the basic skills that will help them learn to focus. Focusing attention is taxing and requires a lot of energy.  Some students have to exert more energy to maintain focus than others and as a result will expend far more energy and the less will be in reserve for learning.  Focusing attention requires fine tuning “instruments” of the mind.  Children who suffer from auditory processing or ADHD struggle with this fine tuning.

Figuring out why a child struggles to attend and therefore regulate in the cognitive domain is a complex process.  Like my last post, I see the connection between Shanker’s work and that of Ross Greene.  Figuring out how to help students by discerning what is getting in their way sounds a lot like collaborative problem solving.  Using rewards, punishments and traditional interventions will not help – if students could attend they would.  Rather, students need to be understood, have their deficiencies diagnosed and have interventions that meet their needs.  Without interventions, the inability to attend can result in increased anxiety, decreased learning and disengaged students.

Teaching and supporting students in the cognitive domain is important work indeed.



  1. […] In the third of this series of posts based on Stuart Shanker's Calm, Alert and Learning, I will focus on self-regulation in cognitive domain. Students who can regulate in the cognitive domain are a…  […]

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