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.

#openeducationwk

I virtually attended the Open Education Week session hosted by TIELab this afternoon. I felt lucky to have another opportunity to hear Alan Levine speak again! This was an introduction to Brian Lamb for me (love the identity of Re-Director of Innovation), and now I am a follower. I enjoyed their interplay and camaraderie; it was easy to see how they would challenge each other’s thinking to work some serious magic.

They cut right to the heart of the matter right away questioning why hundreds of thousands of dollars are not allocated for our students in educational technology. They shared how some view open web services as a frill and not something we can afford. Some platforms and providers shutter their services claiming concerns with privacy. There are some that see safety and increased security in more managed services (LMS). They shared a blog post by D’Arcy Norman that speaks to the False Binary of LMS vs. Open. What stood out for me in reading this post was that both Open and LMS tools could still be used, but they serve very different purposes. It does not have to be one or the other. There are clear challenges with jumping right into the open web. The biggest concern (privacy) seems even more pressing here in BC with FOIPPA.

But, being aware of the concerns and going forward with intention and purpose is possible. And should be better supported. Brian went on to share Alan’s blog, which is filled with ideas, process and information. Brian was not the first to celebrate Alan’s blog as an incredible resource, and Clint Lalonde quickly shared that he believes Alan to be the “best sharer/documenter of process in edtech”.

The first creation shared by Alan and Brian was something called SPLOT – an acronym with multiple meanings: Smallest/Simplest Possible/Probable Learning/Latest/Lucid Online/Opportunistic Tools/Techniques/Technology. What was amazing about this resource is that there were plenty of open tools that you can use without ever disclosing your identity or creating yet another account. This has become so routine – in order to continue reading a website, or engaging with/interacting with/creating content online, you must first register for your (*free*) account. I have wanted to create a Gmail account just for all of my random logins. It seems like it may save a lot of time/energy/mental health if that account would just quietly manage all of my notifications and random invitations from places requiring my log-in.

Alan knows his technology. He can build websites, write codes and build things of shiny brilliance. But, he also knows his people. He began excitedly talking about downloading a simple jQuery code to work one of his creations “Comparator” and knew immediately that as soon as he arrived at the word “jQuery” he would have lost some people. So, they created a simple web form with drag and drop features for people who are not comfortable with HTML/Javascript. Brilliant!

SPLOT is crafted as an inclusive learning space/community, for all levels and interests. Alan spoke of the importance to create a space where people can choose their level of identity disclosure. I love this and use this in my own class with our classroom Twitter feed, but it also makes me a little sad. The argument that I have used with stakeholders who are concerned about publishing student work with full attribution publically is that I believe that our students should be getting full credit for the works that they author.

Another resource/collection tool on SPLOT was TRU Sounder and Collector. I liked how one biology teacher was uploading images for shared use on Collector, and I thought about how that would actually make a neat assignment: students create a small image collection to share on Collector. It would teach so much about licensing, sharing, authorship, and mindful sharing.

One of the last resources shared by Alan and Brian was The You Show where the hosts were “learning” publicly and encouraging others to push through their fears. Sharing vulnerability makes it easier for others to ask questions, to feel a part of the process, and to reach out.

An hour with these guys is simply not enough. Thank you for allowing me to attend!

Sharing Joy and Learning

Our #tiegrad cohort was honoured to welcome Dean Shareski to class last Thursday night. I have been orbiting Dean’s work on Twitter after being given his name a couple of years ago when I became a STAR Discovery Educator. When our cohort first learned that Dean would be joining us, he was identified by certain traits: “Oh, the pants guy”, “The Jumping guy?” and I said “The Joy guy”. He is recognized by the fun that he brings to the spaces he occupies. Besides the late night Twitter games, my favourite Dean lesson comes from his TEDX talk on Joy in Education.

When Dean spoke with us, three themes resonated with me after our talk: Joy, Sharing, and Learning.

Joy

This link to an article about Joy in School by Steven Wolk was shared. One thing that stood out to me was the difference between Joy and Fun. He quotes Random House Dictionary with the definition of joy being “The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something good or satisfying.” It’s easier than expected to find Joy in our schools, as simple as offering choice, freedom to explore, getting outside, and creating. I’ve learned that over time I have had to defend some of my choices as an educator: giving my students freedom to choose their own course of study in #geniushour, teaching outside, or engaging in 10 unstructured minutes of play with another class. My happiest days are the ones when I go home with a sore stomach from laughing too hard. You don’t get those moments when you stand at the front of the room reading aloud from the textbook for extended periods of time.

So, how can I make Joy a priority in my teaching? I think that it might be the same way I set every other goal: put it in writing and share it with my people. Get help on it. Commit and re-commit to doing it.

While trying to find evidence of Joy in my classroom, my one source of pride and hope is the fact that many former students return daily to my classroom. They come to share their stories, to laugh and to reconnect with old friends. In my daily practice I try to provide as much choice as I can. Choice in assignments, choice in working space, choice in topics to learn. I wish that I was given similar choices in how I assess my students’ learning.

Sharing

I struggle with this. I enjoy sharing great ideas that I come across, and I re-tweet on Twitter frequently, giving credit to the original sharer or author. However, when it comes to originality, I don’t feel like I have a lot to share. I am also sometimes a little put-off by some sharing that comes across as a little aggressive. When a blog link is shared out by the author 8-12 times targeting different hashtags or chat forums, it feels a bit much. Authoring and then sharing an idea repeatedly moves from generosity to commercialism quickly.

Where’s the balance? I prefer to look at Dean’s message about sharing to be more about connecting. He called the “moral imperative”. I agree with that, it is no longer about closing your doors and keeping the best ideas for yourself. It is about sharing the good and knowing that it will grow and return to you with even more layers of icing and awesome. I will continue to share where it feels right to do so. I do not keep my ideas to myself, and part of my current job is to share how my students use technology, so it is important that I curate great resources and ideas to bring to my colleagues. So, sharing is essential, even if your primary role is connecting other peoples’ brilliance with people who are looking for those particular ideas.

Learning

One series of questions posed by Dean that had me thinking was about learning. He asked us:

  • How did you learn from others?
  • What did you contribute?
  • What will your students say if I ask them how they think that you learn?

The first question was easily answered: everything! I learn from everyone I encounter: face to face, through Twitter, through my amazing cohort, and at conferences. I love speaking with people, hearing their ideas and feeling inspired by the great things happening. I wouldn’t be on the teaching and learning path that I am on today without the interactions and support I have had along the way.

The second question is harder. I try hard to share. I have a few colleagues that I feel like I do an “ok” job of sharing the right thing at the right time. I have had a few ideas land well on Twitter, but mostly I feel like I pass along the brilliance of others.

The final question is easily answered by my students. We talk about learning all of the time. I talk about how I learn (and how I don’t learn). I talk about my process and the resources that I need to feel successful. As part of building our community we had frank conversations about what worked for each person, and we built respect and understanding for the shared learning space. There is a sense of empathy in the room knowing that not everything is supposed to be easy, and that we are all in this together. I have shared openly when a Professional Development opportunity was disappointing (and why) and about what I do when I am “stuck” in my Masters work. I model crowd sourcing in my classroom by refusing to stay stuck by myself. I ask my students for help. I did not choose my learning project alone, my students offered direction and guidance. I also show my students how to reach out for help respectfully on Twitter. I discuss how I need to WRITE notes to learn material. I also discuss how my teaching is biased toward teaching in the style I learn best. I reflect on my learning and teaching with my students, and ask them to do the same. It’s an honest dialogue and a shared experience that opens the door to getting help that otherwise may not have happened. Truly learning together has provided all of my students the opportunity to be leaders in unexpected ways. By the end of the year, everyone is identified as an expert in some way – even me.

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on the best parts of this profession, Dean. You left our cohort inspired, recharged, and seeking Joy.

IMG_0430As a completely unrelated aside, I wore orange pants while completing this blog, and spent the afternoon engaged in Joyful play with my students. I am trying, Dean.

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!

Hour of Code Evaluation

Jarod Fong and I chose to evaluate The Hour of Code with our students and against the principles of multimedia learning.

Image credit: My design!!! Hour of Code Gallery: http://studio.code.org/c/51803772

Image credit: My design!!! Hour of Code Gallery: http://studio.code.org/c/51803772

What we discovered is that Hour of Code is a very well designed website that allows students to interact with the world of coding. As a resource, it is geared to all levels of coders from novice to expert. The website was carefully constructed and appears to apply many of the principles of multimedia learning. Various supports are offered to both students and teachers throughout the website, from tutorial activities to embedded videos.

Have you tried the Hour of Code with your students? The website remains available for use, and is an excellent starting place to introduce the language of code to your students.

http://code.org/learn

We’d like to share our evaluation of this resource with you here:

Link to our pdf: Hour of Code Evaluation

 

 

In Awe of John Harris

Thank you Keith Rispin for organizing such an inspiring event

this week! Keith brought us together to learn from the incredible John Harris, a retired SD 35 educator about creating simulations and games with our learners.

The projects shared were astonishing! As John clicked from published site to published site, I would assume that the contents were “professionally” crafted. The simulations were engaging, student-focused and the learning was explicit. Students in grades 5 – 8 created them all! But, the most profound thing that I noticed as I listened and observed, was John’s focus on the learning and the opportunities – not the technology. I asked what was used to make some of these simulations, and the response came quickly from both Lorrie and John – Flash. But, as quickly as it was mentioned, we moved on. It was the least important detail!

I LOVED that. So often, my Professional Development as of late has centered around learning or teaching to the tool or app. We “train” or “orient” our students in computer labs or on devices. Yet, this gifted teacher knew that if I was genuinely interested in learning this tool, I could Google for more information if I chose. But, he also knew that I probably would not be training my students in Flash – the most authentic learning experience I could offer my students would be to present a real-world problem and suggest a tool that might help in student designs – maybe Flash. Our learners pick up these tools faster than we can teach them, they are more experimental and scientific in their discovery of how to make the tool work for them, and they are braver and more creative in their use of the tools we share with them. This was a great reminder to teach what is most important – the students, not the technology!

John Harris emphasized the importance of being a good generalist. He tells us that no teacher knows more than all of the students. Teachers must be astute analyzers of student potential, and help slot students into areas that they will be successful. He recommends that we leverage the power of parent knowledge and get them to help develop a component of a project. The skills that John suggests that teachers develop are:

  • Project development
  • Learn ways to divide project tasks among kids
  • Create incentives for students to learn the tools themselves
  • Draw on community resources

John describes 21st Century Learning as self-learning: the ability to define what you need to learn and engaging in learning by using various online tools.

Many of the projects that John shared with us were design challenges that were shared publically. This reminded me of Clive Thompson’s ideas about Public Thinking, where people post questions to crowd source information. I was thinking that some of the students could easily patent their ROV designs!

For two examples John shared with us, please check out:

Salmonids in Troubled Water: http://www2.sd35.bc.ca/uconnect/salmon/OpeningPage.html

Journey to the Cariboo Gold Rush:

http://www2.sd35.bc.ca/uconnect/goldrush/index.html

John’s students competed in a competition with some designs. He has had several winning teams of students over the years!

This session was very inspiring. I was excited by the ideas John shared, and how enthusiastic he is for student learning. Thank you Keith, John and Lorrie for your time, ideas, and energy.