Self-Regulation in Middle School

I am looking for feedback on one of my introductory lesson sequences that I do with my Middle School students to set the tone for self-regulated learning (SRL). I have done some reading on the topics, attended a few lectures, and dabbled with what I have learned. I fear that I may be WAY off, and would appreciate hearing what changes I need to make to help build my understanding of SRL.

I share my goal with my students: that they will be able to be identify what they need. I know that it is VERY general and a little vague, but it truly is my ultimate goal.

I begin by asking them what they already know about Self-Regulation. Many Elementary schools in my district have embraced Self-Regulation as a whole school goal and explore many different strategies to support student learning and success. One local school uses mindful breathing during classes, transitions and at the beginning of every assembly. I know that a resource commonly accessed within my district is Stuart Shanker and his book Calm, Alert, and Learning.

However, even with a great deal of practice and support, the most common answer I receive when I ask my students “What is Self-Regulation?” is “self-control”. Many of my students equate everything that they have learned to be synonymous with learning boundaries and how to behave better in class. Some of the strategies that they have experienced sound more like co-regulating instead of self-regulation: for example, visual aides used by teachers to indicate the “energy” level of the room so that students may see that they need to make changes.

I don’t think that SRL and self-control actually have anything in common. The one piece that I take from Stuart Shanker’s work is actually from the Alert program where the key question is “How does your motor run?” We visualize our bodies as finely tuned engines, and some are running at a nice steady pace, some are almost stalling out, and some are absolutely racing. Knowing glances are shared around the room as we start thinking about how our motors are run, and how the motors of our friends may be running.

We discuss how it looks and feels to be running at “high” speed. Some of the kids share their own experiences: “it’s hard to sit still.” “I can’t sleep at night.” “I am always in trouble for tapping my pencil.” “I count the minutes until gym.” The kindred spirits in the room nod in understanding.

We talk about how it looks and feels to run at “low” speed. Some students share how difficult it is to get out of bed in the mornings. Others say how they almost fall asleep if the teacher talks too long. Some students dread gym. At this point someone always asks if it is normal to have a blend of the two feelings; if it is normal to have high speed and low speed moments all day long? I turn the question back to the group, and we figure out that it is totally normal, almost everyone fluctuates during the day. Some students do run at high speed ALL day, and that is ok too.

We spend a lot of time discussing “Just Right”. Motors that are running too high or too low have difficulty attending, listening and learning. It is a struggle, a battle, a huge effort to learn in that condition. After we figure out what “Just Right” feels like and looks like, we talk a little about how that might be the optimum time and space for learning.

At this point, I notice my students language switching back to words about control and behavior, so I turn the discussion around to me. I drink tea while teaching. I make tea as frequently as I can during the day. The kids know this, the laugh about it, and I receive gifts of tea at Christmas. It’s a lovely thing! I ask my students to reflect on my energy level – do they think that my motor runs “high”, “low” or “just right”? The answer surprises some of them. I constantly feel the need to move. My motor races (hence my EDCI 569 Learning Project – mindfulness and meditation) and I am happiest when I am on the move. I tell them that my tea is my “fidget” and ask them to figure out why. Their answers were beautiful:

  • It’s a warm and soothing hot drink, it probably calms you down
  • You get to take a few minutes to choose exactly which tea you want to drink
  • You get to use your favourite mug, and that gives you something to hold on to
  • You get to walk to the back of the room to boil the kettle, then go back again to pour the water
  • The smell is nice, it probably makes you happy
  • It has a lot of water in it, and water is good for your brain

Their answers are perfect, and some were ideas that I hadn’t even recognized! Making and drinking tea is a solution that works for me when I need to move or regain focus.

After isolating what the need was, we talked about different ways to get the exact same need met. We brainstormed all of the ways we could get our need to move met: running screaming through the halls, dancing on our desk tops, playing the drums, etc. At the end of the list, the realization hit that every single item on the list would get a student in trouble at school. So, why was making tea ok? Two things became apparent: our actions have to be 1.) appropriate for the time and space and, 2.) could not impact other learners negatively.

We spend at least a week (sometimes longer) with small 3-D triangles made out of paper on our desks. These triangles say High, Low, and Just Right. I ask the students to monitor their own energy levels throughout the day, just to increase their own awareness. I also participate in this, using my own triangle. It’s interesting to hear the students discuss their observations with each other: “You look like you are about to fall asleep – you should change to Low.” “Stop kicking my chair – are you feeling High Energy right now?”

The next step of this lesson sequence was for my learners to meet in partners or small groups and create a T-Chart. One side of the T-Chart was “Low” and one was “High”. I asked them to brainstorm lists of what they do when they are feeling low energy or high energy that helps to move them towards feeling “Just Right”. The same activities might appear on both sides of the T-Chart, and the partners did not have to agree on the activities. The whole point was the gather as many ideas as possible.

I collect the lists and look at the ideas. I bring back a list of the most common ideas – at least the ones that won’t get a kid in trouble in school – and we review it together. We circle some of the ideas that we can’t figure out how to fit in at school (issues with supervision or safety), and then we look at what is left. I lead my students in a discussion about our school day: there are basically two main times during a school day: time when someone is speaking (either a teacher, or a student, or partner talk), and time for working or practicing. We create a new T-chart with those two headings and discuss the behaviors relevant to both times. When someone is speaking, it is important to be able to listen, to see the speaker, and to be able to interact with what is being said in some way. During working time, it is important that everyone is able to work.

We take the ideas from the list and sort them into the T-chart. It becomes a series of agreements. When we are done, we realize that the Listening time is most structured. Our class rules become that no one needs to ask permission for the things on the list, everyone has permission to do everything on the list. Everything that is on the Listening side of the T-chart is also pertinent to the Working side of the T-chart.

Our Agreements for this year.

Our Agreements for this year.

Our classroom begins to look differently over time. Students learn that they don’t have to sit down in their desks to listen. They can sit on the floor or stand at the back. They can lay on their bellies to do their Math work. They can take a Yoga break, lift weights, switch activities, chew gum, and knit or crochet. The only expectation is that getting your needs met can’t disrupt the other learners.

This has worked for my students so far. They seem happier, focused and able to identify how they are feeling and what they need to do in order to succeed.

What do I need to change? Am I on the right track?

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Hanging with the #pdppposseRC

I was excited to connect with @mlleballen and the #pdppposse from #edci336 through BlueJeans on January 22 to chat Middle School book clubs. I was surprised by the number of people in attendance – a great group to meet!

I feel like I must first start by apologizing for the number of interruptions on my end – it was my prep block, but a closed classroom door actually means “welcome, come on in!” in Middle School!

I had an opportunity to hear about the books that everyone else was reading, and I got to add a couple of titles to my “must read” list. I discussed a few books that I often suggest to my readers for Literature Circles or Book Clubs, or just as great reads. I may have left a few titles off of my rapid-fire list (thanks your patience, #pdpposseRC!). Here are some of my favourite titles:

Walk Two Moons – Sharon Creech

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie – Jordan Sonnenblick

Elsewhere – Gabrielle Zevin

Schooled – Gordan Korman

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda – Tom Angleberger

Pig Boy – Vicki Grant

Out of my Mind – Sharon Draper

A Mango Shaped Space – Wendy Mass

The Thief Lord – Cornelia Funke

Some of my favourite authors for Middle School readers are on that list: Wendy Mass, Sharon Creech, Gordan Korman and Jordan Sonnenblick.

Some of the group had heard about using Orca Currents as a resource for high-interest, low-vocabulary reads. Pig Boy is an Orca Currents selection, and I usually offer at least two choices. (My other favourite is Daredevil Club by Pam Withers) I love Orca Currents books, and even my keenest readers are drawn to them. My suggestion is to pre-read any Orca book before recommending it to a student reader, as some of the content can be a tad explicit!

One of my favourite resources for learning about great books and authors is Twitter. Great hashtags to follow include #nerdybookclub, #GRA (Global Read Aloud), #titletalk and #TLchat.

I have participated in the Global Read Aloud for the last two years. Last year we read “Out of My Mind” and this year we are reading two books from the list. During the actual #GRA15, we read “One for the Murphys” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. It was amazing! My students tweeted to many other classes and the author herself often responded to us. We will be reading “Fourteenth Goldfish” by Jennifer Holm, which was another #GRA15 option, starting in the beginning of February. This book ties in well with #geniushour, inspiring wonder, innovation and determination. The Global Read Aloud project only happens once a year, but I usually read aloud to my Middle School students year round. I think that it is important to share quality literature with your students, to model reading fluency, to share how I think a I read a book, and to explore the tangents, the imaginary worlds, and the emotions that a well-written book elicit. Sometimes I plan attached activities for my read aloud, but often I choose to read/listen/discuss a great book for the love of reading. Make time for it!

Thank you for including me in your meeting, #pdppposse! I enjoyed the chat. Many of my happiest moments teaching have been when a reluctant reader FINALLY finds a book that they truly love. I loved seeing the dedication you are all putting into creating reading magic in your own classrooms. I am looking forward to hearing more about your journeys and adventures!

Reflective Teaching – Day 30

Te@chThought‘s Day 30 Challenge is: “What would you do (as a teacher) if you weren’t afraid?”

I’d like to view this question as a teaching bucket list! There are a variety of ways that fear presents itself in relation to teaching or careers in general: monetary, starting over, losing seniority, retirement planning, learning new expectations, new bosses, etc. These are reasonable fears and concerns.

So, my no-holds-barred Teaching Bucket List would include:

  • teaching in another country – preferably somewhere tropical – I am truly drawn to Cuba…?
  • teaching in Northern BC. I would love some snow play days
  • stocking my classroom with the technology needed to provide learners with choice
  • teaching outdoors
  • teaching on a sailboat – Have you seen “White Squall“???
  • exploring more Montessori principles while teaching in public school
  • teaching in Scotland
  • teaching high school
  • blogging about my teaching regularly
  • team-teaching a multi-age group
  • opening my own school – a rural, one-room school house
  • teaching without a set schedule. I am not sure what this would look like, but I would like to believe that it would follow some sort of Distributed Learning model, but with even more flexibility for student needs.
  • trying some of the Waldorf principles and stream a large group of learners for several years.
  • finding a way to incorporate more play or tinkering at the Middle School level
  • collaborating on a long term learning experience with a buddy class – where travel and meeting in real life are a part of our plan

 

Reflective Teaching – Day 29

Te@chThought‘s Day 29 Challenge is: “How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

It is a little embarrassing to look back on myself as a teacher to see how I have grown and areas I’ve stagnated! I’d like to focus primarily on my time as a Middle School teacher.

Things that have NOT changed:

  • my love for my students
  • my reasons for teaching
  • my enthusiasm and excitement when things are going well
  • my determination to find a solution when things are not going well
  • my heart-on-my-sleeve vulnerability
  • my ongoing struggle with bureaucracy and the implementation of meaningless rules
  • my silliness – I have not grown up, so school is a great place to be!
  • my insecurity
  • I still worry all of the time!
  • my excitement and eagerness to learn
  • my problem-solving nature – I love to figure things out

Things that have changed:

  • I believe that I am learning more, and am growing in my teaching practice
  • My classroom is even more student-centred
  • I love collaborating and have found people with whom to collaborate – both near and far!
  • I feel more supported
  • I “mix it up” more, I try new things and get bored with routines
  • I am less likely to accept status quo, or heavy-handed implementations/suggestions of how to run a curriculum
  • I seek help far more frequently
  • I am having more fun and becoming more accepting of the person I am in the classroom
  • I share more
  • I see value in some of the skills that I am developing
  • I am still working hard to improve

Reflective Teaching – Day 28

Te@chThought‘s Day 28 Challenge is: “Respond: Should technology drive curriculum, or vice versa?

I don’t think that either should drive the other, actually. I believe that good pedagogy should drive all decisions in the classroom. Curriculum is mandated, but with the new BC Curriculum, there is the possibility for more flexibility. I don’t think that we should read the curriculum drafts with the idea of trying to find the points at which to implement technology. I also don’t believe that we should look at technology to see which elements of the curriculum could be covered most efficiently with the addition of technology.

I believe that the starting place for these decisions lies with the group of students with whom you are learning. A decision to use technology with a particular lesson with a particular group of learners one year may not be right for the next group of students. There should also be more opportunities for learners to self-select when to use technology and what need that technology might best satisfy. There must also be time and space without screens in our classrooms. In fact, we should be getting out of our classrooms more frequently!

Let good pedagogy be the driver in our classrooms.

Reflective Teaching – Day 27

Te@chThought‘s Day 27 Challenge is: “What role do weekends and holidays play in your teaching?

Whew, right now my weekends and the all-too distant holidays play the role of bonus “catch-up” time. Teachers in BC are only two weeks into teaching after a period of job action. So, it still feels like the beginning of September. I am tired every day! My mind is completely overwhelmed with the problem-solving that begins every school year: who are these learners? How can I best support their efforts? What plans do I need to work on? How do they fit together? Do I need to make changes to our classroom lay out? How can I ensure that they feel welcome? Why is my room such a mess still???! What could this space be like if we got rid of all of the desks? How should I review math concepts in order to best meet the needs of the most learners? What book should I read to them? Will they like me?

My mind does not stop when I get home. It does not stop when I lay down to sleep. If anything, sometimes the questions get louder!

And, that is only one piece of the puzzle. I am almost half-way through a Masters of Education program. And I am enrolled in TWO courses this term. I have class meetings regularly. And homework assignments. And blog posts to write – I have not completed any of the three that I thought I would have done by now. I have Twitter to respond to. Blog posts to read. Two text books to read and respond to. A book club. A MOOC. A Literature Review to craft- um, and I guess I will need to actually begin reviewing that literature!

The most important part of my life is my family. My wonderful husband has not yet complained that the cookie plate (that was full all summer) has not been filled in over a week. And that I am too tired to be any fun. My dogs, however, have been giving me “guilt eyes” and needing extra cuddles to make up for our new time apart.

My weekends are filled with work right now. That is a necessity so that I can keep up with the academic and workplace demands. Balance will eventually be restored. I know this. I am COUNTING on this!! Soon my weekends will be times where I can recharge my batteries, devote some time to planning fun learning opportunities for my students, learn things to help improve my practice, AND spend time with my loved ones and do the things that I love to do.

Reflective Teaching – Day 26

Te@chThought‘s Day 26 Challenge is: “What are your three favorite go-to sites for help/tips/resources in your teaching?

Two years ago, this would be an harder question to answer! My go-to sites included SMARTTechnologies SMARTExchange, Youtube, and just general Googling!

Now, I am primarily using Twitter. I curate great ideas by favouriting tweets, or reaching out to the author for more information. I post questions with hashtags and seek out answers, tagging in people I think that may be able to help me.

I am filled with gratitude to be teaching in a time where global connection and collaboration are celebrated and invited. Ideas and resources are shared freely and conversations spark innovation. It’s exciting!

Go-to sites are shared quickly. Teachers also create and share their own resources. It is no longer a matter of bookmarking key sites to return to repeatedly, social bookmarking has become more important for the flow of ideas. There is a growth mindset about teaching and a desire to support others in their own learning and efforts.

What a great time to be teaching!