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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

August 2017


What does the research say about interventions designed to improve self-regulation skills in middle school aged students?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on interventions designed to improve self-regulation skills in middle school students. For details on the databases and sources, key words and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Deutsch, N. L., Reitz-Krueger, C. L., Henneberger, A. K., Futch Ehrlich, V. A., & Lawrence, E. C. (2017). “It gave me ways to solve problems and ways to talk to people”: Outcomes from a combined group and one-on-one mentoring program for early adolescent girls. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(3), 291–322. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Group mentoring is an increasingly popular intervention, but is still under-studied. This article reports findings from a qualitative study of the Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP), a combined group and one-on-one mentoring program for early adolescent girls. Protégés (n = 113) were interviewed post-program about changes they made as a result of the program and mechanisms of those changes. Girls reported making changes in four major domains as a result of YWLP: (a) Academics (e.g., study habits), (b) Relational Development (e.g., trusting people), (c) Self-Regulation (e.g., thinking before acting), and (d) Self-Understanding (e.g., being yourself). Relational development and self-understanding were the most frequently reported types of change. Protégés reported mentors as contributing to changes in academics more often than the mentoring group. They reported the mentoring group as the change mechanism more often than mentors for relational development. Protégés reported the mentors and mentoring groups about equally as the mechanisms of change for self-regulation and self-understanding. The findings support prior research on group mentoring and suggest that social and relational skills are a developmental domain in which group-based mentoring programs for early adolescent girls may be particularly effective at intervening.”

Note: REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible. Although we were unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this article, we determined that it might be of interest to you. The resource may be available through university or public library systems.

Digiacomo, G., & Chen, Peggy P. (2016). Enhancing self-regulatory skills through an intervention embedded in a middle school mathematics curriculum. Psychology in the Schools, 53(6), 601–616. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “We investigated the effects of a self-regulatory intervention strategy designed to improve middle-school students’ calibration accuracy, self-regulatory skills, and math achievement. Focusing on self-monitoring and self-reflection as the two key processes of this intervention in relation to improving students’ math achievement and overall self-regulation, we randomly assigned 30 sixth-and seventh-grade students to either a treatment or a delayed-treatment control group. At the conclusion of the intervention, we conducted interviews to unearth students’ sources of calibration judgments. Results showed that participants who received the intervention had significantly higher math performance and predictive/postdictive calibration accuracy than did the control group. We provided educational implications of our findings for psychologists and educators.”

Note: REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible. Although we were unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this article, we determined that it might be of interest to you. The resource may be available through university or public library systems.

Grim, M., Petosa, R., Hortz, B., Hunt, L. (2013). Formative evaluation of MyFit: A curriculum to promote self-regulation of physical activity among middle school students. American Journal of Health Education, 44(2), 81–87. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Previous interventions to increase physical activity among middle school students have not produced long-term results. Often, students lack the self-regulation skills needed to support long-term adherence to physical activity. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to conduct a formative evaluation of a self-regulation based physical activity intervention (MyFit) targeting middle school students. The evaluation addressed 3 foci. The first focus was student learning and the use of self-regulation strategies for physical activity. The second was teacher perceptions of the feasibility of the MyFit program. The final focus was student perceptions of the acceptability of the MyFit program. Methods: Seventeen lessons were developed to target self-monitoring, social support, environmental aids, reinforcement, self-efficacy, and tailoring. A one-group pretest-posttest design was used. Results: Students had sufficient knowledge test scores and reported significant increases in the use of self-regulation skills. The teacher and students also provided useful feedback for the refinement of the MyFit program. Discussion: This study provided valuable data for MyFit content and delivery refinement. Translation to Health Education Practice: Formative evaluation methods were useful to refine the MyFit curriculum. The MyFit curriculum is useful for school-based practitioners as a way to increase self-regulation skills to improve adherence to physical activity.”

Note: REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible. Although we were unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this article, we determined that it might be of interest to you. The resource may be available through university or public library systems.

Maynard, B. R., Solis, M. R., Miller, V. L., & Brendel, K.E. (2017). Mindfulness-based interventions for improving cognition, academic achievement, behavior, and socioemotional functioning of primary and secondary school students. Oslo, Norway: Campbell Collaboration. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Self-regulation is another mechanism by which mindfulness may positively affect school-related outcomes. Self-regulation generally refers to monitoring and controlling our thoughts, actions and emotions (Zelazo & Lyons, 2012). It is often divided into cognitive self-regulation (including executive function, attention, planning) and emotional self-regulation (behavior and mental health; Duncan & Magnuson, 2009) and studied under the umbrella of executive function, which may also include working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control (Zelazo & Lyons, 2012). The ability to monitor and control one’s thoughts, behaviors and emotions plays an important role across all life domains, including school related outcomes. Self-regulation has been found to be related to, or a predictor for, a number of outcomes important to student success in school, such as externalizing and internalizing problems, classroom behaviors and disciplinary incidents, and math and reading (Berking & Wupperman, 2012; Ponitz et al., 2009; Quinn & Fromme, 2010; Richardson et al., 2012; Setken et al., 2010; Wyman et al., 2010). Evidence suggests that mindfulness positively effects self-regulation, as operationalized and measured in a variety of ways, and has been associated with changes in brain regions underlying self-regulation (Holzel et al., 2011). MBIs target self-regulation in that mindfulness practice requires one to attend to one’s thoughts in the present moment and accept those thoughts without trying to change the thoughts or engage in action, promoting sustained attention and cognitive flexibility while also reducing emotional reactivity (Zelazo & Lyons, 2012). The emphasis on attending with acceptance and with a nonjudgmental attitude enables students to engage in more socially appropriate behavior and promote well-being by viewing situations through a different perspective and engaging in a type of detachment, which allows one to consider other potential responses and disrupt typical patterns of thinking and acting (Hart, 2004; Zelazo & Lyons, 2012). Thus, through cognitive and emotional self-regulation, MBIs may improve academic and behavioral outcomes, reduce mental health symptoms, and improve socioemotional well-being.”

Ohrt, J., Webster, L., & De La Garza, M. (2015). The effects of a success skills group on adolescents’ self-regulation, self-esteem, and perceived learning competence. Professional School Counseling, 18(1),169–178. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In this article, the authors discuss how school counselors at two middle schools identified and intervened with eighth-grade students who were at risk for academic failure using the Student Success Skills (SSS) small-group curriculum (Brigman, Campbell, & Webb, 2010). Participants reported significant increases in self-regulation and perceived competence for learning. The authors present results of the intervention, including (a) process, (b) perception, and (c) outcome data, and discuss implications for school counselors.”

Schmidt, A., & Canela, C. (2015). The behavioral outcomes of a self-affirmation intervention for middle school students. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Social psychological interventions in schools have gained popularity in education research for their ability to often dramatically increase student academic performance through simple exercises. Many of these interventions are designed to address stereotype threat, which is defined as ‘being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one's group’ (Steele & Aronson, 1995, p. 797). One of the social psychological interventions with the most drastic impact on the performance of students potentially affected by stereotype threat (i.e., African American students) was a set of self-affirmation exercises administered in racially diverse middle schools by Cohen and his colleagues (Cohen, Garcia, Apfel, & Master, 2006; Cohen, Garcia, Purdie-Vaughns, Apfel, & Brzustoski, 2009). The intervention, a brief writing exercise about why a value the student selected (e.g., friendship) is important to him or her, resulted in a 40 percent decrease in the racial grade point average gap in the year of administration (Cohen, Garcia, Apfel, & Master, 2006), as well as long-term increases in the grade point averages of African American students (Cohen, Garcia, Purdie-Vaughns, Apfel, & Brzustoski, 2009). While Cohen and his colleagues’ (2006; 2009) self-affirmation intervention focused on academic achievement outcomes, there is evidence suggesting the intervention may also be able to elicit positive behavioral responses in students by supplementing their levels of self-control. Based on these findings, the authors sought to determine if a self-affirmation intervention can influence the behavior of middle school students over the course of three years, focusing on a measure of behavior that is both common in middle/high school settings and potentially related to students’ ability to self-regulate: the number of office discipline referrals (ODRs) students receive over the course of a school year. For now, the authors found no strong evidence to suggest that self-affirmation exercises should be adopted as a strategy to address office discipline referral receipt in schools.”

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2012). What Works Clearinghouse Quick Review of the Report “Exercise improves executive function and achievement and alters brain activation in overweight children: A randomized, controlled trial.” Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The study examined whether exercise offered to sedentary, overweight children ages 7 to 11 improved executive function—defined as strategy execution when presented with a novel task—and academic performance in reading and math. The study authors analyzed data on about 170 students from Georgia who were recruited in five cohorts from 2003 to 2006. Of all students who participated, 56% were female, and 61% were African American. Students in the study sample were assigned randomly to one of three treatments: a low-dose exercise program, a high-dose exercise program, or no program. The study found that students assigned to the high-dose exercise program had statistically significantly higher math achievement and executive function than students not in an exercise program. The What Works Clearinghouse’s (WWC) calculations indicate the magnitude of the difference is approximately 0.30 standard deviations in math and 0.24 standard deviations in executive function, which is roughly equivalent to moving a student from the 50th to the 62nd percentile in math and from the 50th to the 60th percentile in executive function. Reading achievement was not significantly different between students assigned to the high-dose exercise program and students assigned to no program. In addition, there were no statistically significant differences in executive function or in reading and math achievement between students assigned to the low-dose exercise program and students assigned to no program. The research described in this report meets WWC evidence standards. (Contains 2 footnotes.) [The following study is the focus of this ‘Quick Review’: Davis, C. L., Tomporowski, P. D., McDowell, J. E., Austin, B. P., Miller, P. H., Yanasak, N. E., Allison, J. D., & Naglieri, J. A. (2011). ‘Exercise improves executive function and achievement and alters brain activation in overweight children: A randomized, controlled trial’. ‘Health Psychology’, 30(1), 91-98.]”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Self-regulation intervention

  • Self-regulation skills

  • Executive function

  • Self-control

  • Mindfulness

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.