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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A Visit with Dave Cormier

#tiegrad was lucky to have a late night chat with Dave Cormier. He was passionate about the ideas he shared and gave us a lot to think about. He began by sharing his thoughts on rhizomatic learning and equating it to invasive plant species. His explanation and his blog post helped me to have a better understanding of this. I have heard this term, and have had it explained a few times, but I didn’t have the connections needed to truly understand it until I looked at the ivy in my side yard. It is successful in taking over new places and popping up unexpectedly. It has no beginning or end, just like the learning process – as Dave states in his blogs.

What really stuck with a few of us is Dave’s explanation of his assessment practices. He speaks of an “open syllabus” in his blog post and shared a copy of his syllabus during our meeting. The importance of the open syllabus is that it allows learners to find their own paths and language of the learning process. To assess learners as they navigate these varied paths, Dave only assesses their effort. He asks his students to view the syllabus as a learning contract where they are required to participate in learning and reflection. Dave describes the lecturer as the “content expert”, but acknowledges that the learner is the one who decides what they would like to get out of participating in the course. The syllabus outlines what success looks like, and sets the tone for life-long, self-valued learning.

Negotiated assessment is an excellent goal. I try to use it in my own practice with my Middle School students. I give them a similar template to the report card that they will receive and ask them to provide feedback on whichever parts they would like. Some students assign letter grades, others reflect on their learning in words. Some provide feedback in all subject areas, others prefer to report only on areas of strength. I give them the same report card and ask for feedback on the same areas again, but this time with the focus on my teaching. Some students complete this form anonymously, others attach their names.

But, there are issues with self-assessment. I saw it with my own completion of the self-evaluation we were asked to do for our EDCI 569 course. I hesitated until the last possible minute to hand in the feedback. I struggled with the same things that some of my students do: self-doubt, honesty, humility, and comparison. Even when given a rubric (like the Masters level grading scale) it is difficult to assess your place on it without comparing yourself to other learners, past and present. And, comparing yourself to your best days and your worst times. Where do you fit in on that scale?

My highest achieving students regularly rate themselves lower than they should because they have become overly effective critical thinkers and as such, they over-think the reflective process. They would always like more time to polish their products, because they truly know learning is ongoing.

Self-evaluation is something that needs to be scaffolded for learners. There should be choice and dialogue built in and assigning numbers or grades should be optional. Maybe even the format of the self-assessment should be fluid, so that learners could customize the method of reporting? With tools such as Google Docs available, the teacher could list the outcomes of the project/unit of study/term and provide some structure for self-evaluation with the invitation to edit the evaluation as desired. If we are speaking of assessing effort, as Dave suggests, we need to also realize that the process a learner undergoes in reflecting upon their effort may vary. If you assess effort as part of your practice, please share your methods below.

I loved learning about Melody Watson’s assessment approach in her school, where the parents, teachers and students sit down together to complete the reporting process.

I imagine that this process would take a great deal of time, but having all voices present for this reflective time would provide a wealth of information. Parents would be able to provide more context for the discussions and time spent on informal learning beyond the classroom walls and the student would be given an opportunity to share their thoughts on their learning process. This dialogue can be extended through the use of digital portfolios – something that Melody already does with her learners. The portfolios allow all parties (parents, student and teachers) to comment on uploaded artifacts of learning. This would ensure that the meetings are focused and that nothing comes as a surprise to any of the participants.

Things are moving in a wonderful direction in education: honouring student interests, inquiry-based learning, and authentic assessment. It will be messy finding our way; but we are so lucky to be doing this in a time when sharing our practice, being transparent with our efforts (both the successes and the failures) are a part of the collective journey.

The Backchannel – my EdTech Fave

Our #tiegrad cohort shared out some tech tools last week during class. More importantly than the tools being shared were the conversations about how and why particular tools were chosen. I enjoyed hearing about great ideas grounded in strong pedagogy and purpose.

Some tools discussed included: Explain Everything (see tutorials created by Victoria Olson here), Padlet, Desmos, FreshGrade, and Wolfram Alpha.

I wasn’t sure which tools would be chosen by my other cohort members, so I prepared a list of my favourite resources. We quickly ran out of time, so I am taking this opportunity to share out my experiences with my favourite EdTech tool here.

For several years I have been experimenting with a variety of Backchannel tools to find the best resource for my students. My purpose in providing a backchannel in my classroom is to offer more opportunities for students to contribute their ideas, questions, insights and ponderings. A backchannel increases the potential for more participation. Backchannels allow for real time collaboration, even while a lesson unfolds.

I observed a massive increase in student participation in my lessons when I kept the backchannels open throughout the day. I “heard” from students who had not volunteered to speak in class previously – they would insightfully discuss topics through text, offer different ways to explain things, and answer questions posed in real time during lessons. Not every student is comfortable speaking in front of a crowd!

A few of the backchannel tools I have tried include:

  • Padlet: An online sticky note board – it allows you to upload videos, images links comments, almost anything. Works on every platform. It will also provide you with a quick QR code for your board – which is helpful if you project the “wall” and people can walk by and scan the QR to join.
  • Baiboard: an iOS app where you can create a private or public shared space. One feature that I loved about this app is the ability to create multiple “pages” to work on. For several lessons, I created prompts on a series of pages, and the students could reply to the ones that held meaning for them. Organizing the collaborative dialogue on multiple pages kept the conversations more synchronously aligned. This app would be amazing if you were able to open it up to other devices without requiring downloading an app.
  • Voicethread: a great tool for student conversation. You can use images and videos to organize and prompt deeper conversations.
  • A little dabbling with some of the tools listed by EdTech and Mobile Learning.
I post a quick QR code on several "Say Something" mini posters around my room for quick and easy access to our Backchannel for the week.

I post a quick QR code on several “Say Something” mini posters around my room for quick and easy access to our Backchannel for the week.

My absolute favourite backchannel tool is TodaysMeet. This web-based tool allows for hosting a conversation (like a group text) where you can create a “room” that can be open for up to a month. The chat or texting format is easily recognizable by our students. The reason that TodaysMeet has become my favourite backchannel tool is because the teacher presence feels light. Although I create the room and I am “present” and monitoring the discussion, I observe my students genuinely interacting WITH and FOR each other – not for me. When a student raises their hand to speak in class, quite often they are awaiting some form of feedback  (even in a discussion): a nod from the teacher, approval of their ideas, or praise. In classroom discussions, I notice that many students direct their input directly to me – even if they are replying to the last student speaker, their eyes go to me, or they wait for me to “call on” who gets to comment next. An effective backchannel works for the students, it becomes their own space. Sometimes the conversations would extend far beyond the classroom walls and hours.

Three years ago I asked my students to reflect on how texting to a backchannel in class helped them. Here are some of their thoughts:

texting let us stay in contact throughout the lesson. Even though she was teaching us, we could write a comment and people would see it. Not: ‘we ran out of time, so we can’t do all of the questions and comments’

Instead of raising my hand all of the time or calling out, it helped me because I could easily write what I wanted to write and it would get sent and other people could see what I had to say and Mrs. James could see what I had to say

it let me express more of what I wanted to say, to say more of what I think

Grade 6 reflections on how texting to a backchannel can be used in class.

Grade 6 reflections on how texting to a backchannel can be used in class.

Grade 6 reflections on using backchannels for participation in class.

Grade 6 reflections on using backchannels for participation in class.

Using a backchannel has allowed me to formatively assess in real time. I am given an opportunity to see leadership from students who may not otherwise stand out. It opens a window into a collaborative and reflective learning environment that is usually hidden from view.

It takes time to find the right backchannel tool, and what works with one group of students may not work with the next group. It is important to find a platform that fits in with your class’s community and culture.

#tiebc Chapter 4 The New Literacies

One chapter from Clive Thompson’s book Smarter Than You Think that brought about a vigorous discussion was Chapter 4: The New Literacies. Many teachers have used Wordle or have seen it used. Wordle creates a cloud of words by sifting through a selection of text. Frequently used words appear larger than words that appear less often. In my school, several teachers use it to sort key ideas in class discussions or to generate or organize ideas for student writing. A great idea from Bryan Jackson at the start of this term as we were working towards solidifying our Masters project topics was to drop all of our Masters blog posts into Wordle to help us visualize where our focus might actually lie. If we hadn’t lost our blogs in a security breach over the summer, this idea would have helped many of us!

The author shared a way that Wordle was used during the 2008 American Presidential election, where people used Wordle to find the big themes in campaign speeches. Wordle became a data analysis tool! This action revealed that one candidate was focusing on oil and energy and the other candidate’s main words were “children”, “Americans”, “make”, “care, and “need”. (Thompson, 2013) One possible president was sharing an urgent need to drill for oil as soon as possible and other contender had a more general focus addressing the needs of many.

Our book club was inspired by the idea of using Wordle to seek themes within text. Someone suggested that we take a look at the new BCEd Plan as viewed through Wordle. It is reassuring to see “students” at the heart of the plan! Wordle is not a perfect tool, as capitalized words or words with punctuation are recognized differently than the root words. However, overall, I believe that this word cloud represents the BCEd Plan fairly accurately.

Wordle of BCEd Plan Captured November 27, 2014

Wordle of BCEd Plan Captured November 27, 2014

I would really like to see particular words have a greater emphasis. For example, “personalized” is quite small, yet a lot of the language of teachers revolves around encouraging students to explore topics that they are passionate about in order to develop their skills as learners. “Interests” is about the same size as “personalized”, yet the two ideas feed each other to make learning more relevant for our students.

Another word that is missing emphasis for me is “authentic”. Teachers all over the province are striving to provide meaning for their students by providing real-world relevance to their learning experiences. In my opinion, “authentic” should appear quite heavily emphasized in this document, as the learning experiences and the assessment practices should be reflective of the opportunities that are available in this digital age. Students are constantly learning beyond the classroom and are finding strategies to learn what they want to know using the various tools that are available. Teachers are working to support students in developing digital literacies and smarter searching skills. Our assessment practices should be a source of feedback that feeds ongoing learning, supports further inquiry, and opens opportunities for more questions. In my experiences as a learner, authentic assessment has inspired more learning and conversations as opposed to ending my learning (for example, end of unit tests).

The document that accompanies the BCEd Plan is our new BC Curriculum, where we look at assessment through the lens of competency, yet the word “competencies” is very small in the actual Ed Plan document.

The Wordle reveals that the BCEd Plan slogan matches the text of the document: “Students must be at the centre of their learning”. “Students” are indeed at the centre of the Wordle, surrounded by “education” and “learning”. This document withstood the 2008 campaign speech test.

Using Wordle this way made me think about my own teaching practice. If I were to record my own words with my students for a week, what would the Wordle reveal? What words would be emphasized and what would that say about me? What bad habits do I have in my speaking? How is my tone? Wordle can force me to be honest about my word choice.

How have you used Wordle? What did you learn?

 

References:

Thompson, C., 1968. (2013). Smarter than you think: How technology is changing our minds for the better. New York: The Penguin Press.

Reflective Teaching – Day 23

Te@chThought‘s Day 23 Challenge is: “Write about one way that you “meaningfully” involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don’t yet do so, discuss one way you could get started.

I am not sure if using a single way to involve the community can meet the criteria of being meaningful. Involving the community requires offering multiple access points into your classroom. It was a difficult process for me to be comfortable welcoming other adults into the daily routine of classroom teaching. I still get stage fright! It can be scary to invite others in and possibly face criticism. But, the flip side of having an open door policy means that you also welcome the exchange of information both ways. Instead of criticism, more often helpful suggestions or ideas are offered by guests. Sharing out ideas and experiences helps to form connections with experts, other classrooms and new voices for our learners to hear.

So, in the spirit of involving others in day to day life:

  • we tweet from a classroom Twitter account. We use hashtags to organize our thinking and to connect to others. We proudly share our learning and our questions. A new term this year is “WOW” – Worthy Of the World: moments to share out.
  • we blog. Students can write on any topic, seeking support, guidance, feedback and connections from around the world. Twitter helps facilitate and amplify our student voices by sharing blog post links.
  • I’ve always had a class wiki, but this year I am trying a general classroom blog. I am hoping that the authorship of this blog will shift and become a student perspective/sharing out.
  • we invite in guests or travel out to visit new learning sites. We learn from experts and venture out on adventures together!
  • student work is shared out in the school newsletter.
  • we attend conferences, or participate on committees – students are welcome to share their voices at some conferences or at the Board Office, and our learners play a key role on some committees at school.
  • we participate in Global Projects, reminding the learners how small our world is. This Autumn we will be participating in Global Read Aloud and Dot Day to begin our year and we will once again embark on Genius Hour.

Providing opportunities to connect or windows into the learning our students are doing is important. Forming connections between home and school is vital to extend the learning that happens in both environments. Encouraging students to embrace feedback from more than one source as they explore and learn will also grant our learners access to a greater wealth of information, ideas and opinions.

Reflective Teaching – Day 20

Te@chThought‘s Day 20 Challenge is: “How do you curate student work–or help them do it themselves?

Ah, this is the dream! The unfortunate answer is that I don’t curate student work. Our province has very strict rules about student privacy and we don’t yet have a plan for storage. I dream of eportfolios in my future!

We curate in limited ways. Before parent conferences, or reporting periods, I have my students identify works showing improvement, showing areas of strength, showing change. I have students self-select items for assessment. We use Social Media carefully in our class, and sometimes we share out moments or artifacts of learning that are meaningful.

I think that Middle School aged learners should be encouraged to curate their own personal learning artifacts. They can select items for their own purposes, and we should be listening to their reasoning about why they selected particular pieces. Curation can be on a large scale, such as eportfolios or on a smaller scale, such as scrap-booking or archiving. Sharing can be global through Twitter or blogs, or can be private between students/families/teacher.

Reflective Teaching – Day 19

Te@chThought‘s Day 19 Challenge is: “Name three powerful ways students can reflect on their learning, then discuss closely the one you use most often.

Three ways students can reflect on their own learning are:

  • in discussions with partners, parents, peers, or teachers
  • in writing: blogging, journaling, tickets in/out the door
  • self-assessments: pre/post activity, using similar language that the assessment tool will use.

I usually use the first two methods together for student reflection. Sometimes a students can be too critical of their work or have tunnel-vision about one element requiring attention. By discussing their thoughts (usually with a friend) first, they can check their reflection against someone else’s perception. I don’t get to meet with every student every day, there just isn’t time, so by having students complete tickets in/out the door, or blogging or journaling, I can have an ongoing conversation with them. I can not ask a student to stay late every day to continue a conversation about learning, but I can take all of those pieces of paper home with me and read and reflect on their thoughts. Then, I can take the time to respond to what they have shared. It takes time! A lot of time.

I am always impressed when students begin including more reflection as part of their other work. We complete a Math Problem Solving activity during the week, and several students this year spent more time reflecting on the process they took individually or in groups to solve the problem. They began to place more emphasis and importance on process rather than product.

I am curious about how others manage to build in time for reflection for their learners. How do you teach the value of this skill? How do you model it?