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?

#makered

The #makered movement is a powerful force that is empowering our learners to move from consumers of information/technology/ideas/etc to creators of . . . well, anything! I don’t know when we moved to a Maker mindset, but there have been ripples along the way that fit into this category. For example, Genius Hour has been around for a while now, as has robotics, coding and spaces designed around creation.

As I was listening to Sylvia Martinez, the co-author of Invent to Learn, speak about making and tinkering, I was reminded of the amazing session that Keith Rispin hosted last fall with John Harris.

I am a little ashamed to admit that I am a “one-off” #makered teacher. I create #makered assignments like Rube Goldberg assignments, or encourage “making” in Genius Hour. I create opportunities for making, but I have not created the culture for making in my Middle School classroom.

I used to be a proud #makered teacher. I ran a wild Lego Mindstorms group where my favourite answer to any question was “I don’t know! Let’s find out!” Experiments ran amuck, learning happened, robots evolved and challenges were extended. I loved it! I also had my students flip our learning. Any of my students were welcome to create a tutorial on any topic (currently being learned in our academic life, or beyond!) and post it on our wiki.

How do we create an environment that encourages tinkering, entrepreneurial spirit, and making in Middle School? Is it a matter of having the right “stuff” available? Do we need to build it into the schedule?

My Middle School has cycles of “enrichment” three times a year. I pitched the idea of having school-wide Genius Hour this year take the place of enrichment. Our current enrichment is somewhat teacher-drive: we offer choices to our students, they pick their top three favourites, and get sorted into an activity. I thought about reverse-engineering this process. Teachers would offer “spaces” instead of activities. If your Genius Hour required computers, our two computer labs would be staffed during this time. The library would also be staffed, as would the art room and home ec room. Other spaces would also be opened, such as the gym, music room, and multiple classrooms. Students could self-organize, bring or request the materials that they need. They could change paths as needed. They could change spaces as needed. And, ideally, the teachers would actually be free to explore their own projects too. I don’t know how well this would actually work, but I would love to see it tried.

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.

Story Time

I am a huge fan of story. Story has helped me to find connections with my learners. Our shared stories help us to understand each other and build community. Our humorous classroom agreement states “what happens in Advisory, stays in Advisory” – and these stories are the ones we return to over and over.

I loved the ideas shared by @cogdog Alan Levine last Thursday night. Our #tiegrad collective favourite might be pechaflickr where the participants engage in improvised speeches using photos selected under a particular tag. I can’t wait to try this with a group of students! Liane’s grace with the one racy photo that came up ensured that we will never forget the pleasures that fitness brings to ALL elements of our lives…

Other resources shared by Alan included:

  • Five card stories: a random image finder using flickr, where the author must incorporate the images into their story sequence
  • Daily Create: a challenge extended to engage in spontaneous creativity and share your ideas in a community
  • DS106 Open Assignment Bank: An incredible resource for storytellers and makers. I found my next writing challenge for my students based on selecting a character to be a renegade teacher. With a little remixing, this could be hilarious with Middle School students.
  • Storymaking: What works: A resource wiki for story creation.

Another great resource page curated by Alec Couros is Digital Storytelling.

At some point in Elementary school, the art of story becomes a recipe. My students arrive in Middle School understanding the “Hamburger” model of writing and insist on the importance of beginning, middle and end. This habit is difficult to break, even after many read alouds, or shared stories where we start right in the midst of the action – and the beginning unfolds after we’ve been hooked.

This year, I tried using story as my “spelling” unit. There is still pressure at the Middle School level to have a formalized spelling program but I wanted there to be purpose for the spelling words, not just a worksheet to complete. I craved authentic writing. The way that we progressed was to locate a provocative image, such as this one of abandoned cars in Belgium. We would isolate the image, and through partner talk generate a list of imagery, vocabulary, and evocative language that would inspire amazing writing. The words would be written all around the image using our SMARTBoard. Then, as a group we would negotiate a list of “spelling words” from our co-created essential words or phrases list. We would select 10 words, of which 5 had to appear in student’s writing. On “test” day, the ten words would be read out, so that kids could list them on their pages. The image would be projected on the board with the list of impressive vocabulary (the “spelling” words would be removed from the board) and then the kids would write. They usually had all week to begin percolating their ideas, and a short block to create an initial draft. The quality of writing I received from my students far exceeded the work I received after many of my carefully constructed, scaffolded and structured writing lessons. A few stories reduced me to tears. One boy invented a son named Theo and describes being “lost in a fury of cars”.

I can’t wait to try some of DS106 activities for fun, impromptu, unrehearsed and joyous story-crafting! Thursday’s session with Alan Levine re-ignited a passion for seeking the fun in sharing story with our learners.

Research Update: January

It is thanks to Liane’s brave post about Clarity and Confusion that I feel brave enough to admit that I am still feeling murky about my Lit Review and project altogether.

This is my January Research update, such as it is:

What have I done?

  • My one pager based on Creswell: Topic, problem, rationale, possible questions, theoretical frameworks and search terms.
  • Read a few articles and wrote (yes, wrote – with pen and paper. This is how I think best, sketching, messy, page filled, satisfying crinkled notebook pages) notes.
  • Began planning an outline for the Lit Review
  • Read a few other sample Lit Reviews for ideas
  • Met with my new reading group: Keith, Jarod, and Bryan – I am loving our team name: #bryansbrainiacs
  • Stressed non-stop about my topic, resources, the process of writing and due dates

What needs to be done?

  • Firm up my topic – see my muddled thinking below
  • Ensure that I have adequately documented where I am finding my resources – I rushed a few.
  • Read up on theoretical frameworks so that I can settle on one or two – not keep trying to make ALL of them work.
  • Meet with the UVic research librarians – they have the experience, the clarity and I am sure that I am not the first with an unclear direction
  • Find out if we can use professional literature reviews as part of our own Lit Review, or if we need to seek out each document mentioned and write our own connections, summaries and understandings. The most helpful article I found is a literature review – unfortunately a few years older than I would prefer, but amazing insights.
  • Meet with my team more frequently.

My Confusion: I love the idea behind my topic, but I am realizing that the problem I am trying to solve is far larger and more systemic than I am currently addressing. My general idea for my research and resulting project is to look at the initial steps required to effectively leverage the use of student-owned devices as learning tools and what a “BYOD” program could look like for grade 6 students. My project is meant to be a part of larger scope and sequence with Jarod’s digital literacies for Grade 7/8 Middle School students.

Initially, I think that I was focusing with a very narrow view of teacher and student needs. Taking a step back and reading more literature – including teacher blogs – I am realizing that the problem that I need to address is much larger than creating a “program”. The shifts that need to occur for effective digital literacy development are HUGE! The two areas that I have identified as needing a seismic shift are school (or district) cultural and curricular. It is not enough to embed technology into pre-existing lessons or create a series of one-offs. The use of technology has to be seamless and personalized. As I stated above, I prefer to write my notes on paper, where other grad students enjoy a digital format.

So where am I now? Addressing these questions as part of my research has overwhelmed me. What cultural and curricular shifts need to occur in order to effectively leverage the learning potential of personally-owned devices?

Feeling slightly lost in the research and reading makes me feel like I am constantly starting over. But, I guess it is important to just keep going forward. The pieces that don’t fit with the final product can be cut out. Evolution happens.

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!

Research Focus #3 November

Photo Credit: DennisCallahan via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: DennisCallahan via Compfight cc

A shared post by Jarod Fong and Heidi James

For the November update, Jarod and Heidi shared a GoogleDoc to co-craft this post. We have been meeting digitally to share our ideas and have shared Documents and Folders to hold our thoughts and our research and would like to use this post as an opportunity to share our process with our #tiegrad friends.

Our initial steps in this BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) journey began last year when we realized that we were at opposite ends of the BYOD spectrum: Jarod was 3 years into using BYOD and experiencing a plateau and Heidi was hoping to launch it in her school. We connected and shared ideas. We recognized the need for ongoing conversations around the use of personal devices in an educational classroom. We would like to create a resource of some kind to transform how BYOD is being used by our students.

Our initial view was very expansive: we were looking at creating a curriculum for Middle School Digital Literacy or Citizenship with a focus on the implementation of BYOD.

We met recently to refine our work. Some of our new thoughts include creating a scope and sequence for Middle School Teachers and Learners. We like the idea of using the Core Competencies language from the new BC Curriculum Draft. Our project will include a resource section for teachers. Our original steps included locating resources that we have personally used for teaching digital literacy skills in our own classrooms and we planned to share out those lessons with the resources attached. Instead, we believe that a more flexible, personalized approach may be to curate dynamic and effective resources and tag them to specific competencies. This will encourage teachers to use the resources in innovative ways, and hopefully share their ideas!

What the Resource Needs to Include:

  • must be adaptable, flexible and a living document – something that can grow and change over time: as technology changes, as opportunities arise
  • a framework for supporting digital literacies province-wide
  • language around creating a globally connected, digitally literate classroom culture

Jarod’s Next Steps:

  • searching for research around digital citizenship
  • finding resources and examples of digital citizenship appropriate for Middle School grades
  • exploring citizenship vs. digital citizenship with regards to the curricular competencies
  • curating resources for digital citizenship
  • exploring different resources and vehicles for that will evolve with time in an area that changes rapidly

Heidi’s Next Steps:

  • finding research around BYOD in Middle School Classrooms
  • finding examples of how BYOD is being used in classrooms
  • curating resources for digital literacies
  • learning more about content creation versus content consumption and how to create that climate in a classroom setting

One of many challenges that we are looking at is how to create a resource that will continue to evolve with not only technology, but the social changes that are created as new platforms for connecting with people come and go. Technology and social media have become a vehicle for global awareness and change. How do we create a resource that will continue to evolve and stay current as an unknown future evolves; a resource that will help to integrate BYOD and digital citizenship effectively for our students today and in the future when new technology and new forms of media have emerged? With a focus on new curricular competencies, our project will be about people as much as it is about technology as a tool and social media as a platform.