Self-Regulation Strategies in the Classroom

Self-regulation strategies: Positive self-talk

Positive self-talk, and important part of self-regulation. Source

One of my goals for this summer that I wrote about in my first post was to look for ways to expand my use of self-regulation strategies in my classroom next year. This summer I’ve been doing a bit of reading and exploring about that topic and thinking about how to include more of it in my class.  And, as I discussed in last week’s post, I think that confusion and struggle with material can be productive, but only if we have really taught our students how to work through that confusion. Teaching self-regulation strategies is a good way to do this.

What is Self-Regulation?

Self-regulation is our ability to manage ourselves: our bodies, our emotions, our focus and our attention. When reading about self-regulation, the first thing that usually pops into my head is “This sounds like executive functioning”, and they are related.  In order to self-regulate, we need to rely on and coordinate a number of executive functioning skills. Self-regulation is how we actively control our behaviors and our emotions. I wanted to get a better idea of what teaching self-regulation entails outside of reading and writing, so I read the book Self-Regulated Learning for Academic Success by Carrie Germeroth and Crystal Day-Hess, which I picked up at ASCD in March. It’s a good, quick read (only 45 pages) that gives a great overview of self-regulated learning and provides usable strategies.

SRSD for Reading and Writing

When I talk about self-regulation, I’m generally talking about Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD). I have been using these strategies for writing since graduate school. I’m a big believer in the power of SRSD. I’ve seen how well they work with students of all ability levels. It’s also a strategy that’s been researched quite well. I even include it as a part of my graduate course for reading teachers. I don’t have the time or the space here to give SRSD it’s due in explaining it, but check out Think SRSD for a full explanation and free resources or the book Powerful Writing Strategies for All Students. There are two components of the program that I really want to discuss: goal setting and positive self talk, because these are the aspects of SRSD that I want to try to pull into other parts of my teaching practice.

Goal Setting

Goal setting is a key component for SRSD and something that Germeroth and Day-Hess focus on as an important skill to teach to middle and high school students. When student are trying something new or working on something that is difficult for them, goal setting helps to break tasks down into manageable chunks and helps them focus their attention on one area in need of improvement (it also helps the rest of us in every day life, from work related tasks, to things we do for pleasure). When we set goals and reflect on our progress toward them, we are able to create action plans to help us achieve these goals. If we use SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound), we can even graph our progress toward a goal.

With my M1 (grade 5) group last year I had students with a number of different writing needs. I could rarely teach whole group lessons. So I had them self-assess their writing (with frequent modeling and scaffolding from me), and then set one goal for themselves helped me to teach them appropriate strategies and develop interventions to help them reach their goals. When I created graphic organizers for them based on our SRSD mnemonics, I always included a line for a goal, I always asked them to rewrite it at the top of their rough draft, and there was always a line for their goal on the revising and editing checklists that we used, so the goal was always in mind. They tracked their progress both through graphing progress–we decided together what a strong example of what they were trying to do would look like, an “almost there”, and a “keep trying” so they could rate their own performance–and through an online writing portfolio that we created using Google Sites, where they reflected on their progress and then created new goals. This worked really well, and I’d like to do this again if I have a group that needs writing intervention. What was key, though, was explicitly teaching them the learning skills that they needed, or helping to teach the missing skills they needed in order to achieve these goals. Making the process of achieving the goal transparent is what made the learning relevant and what helped teach them why it was important to set goals.

I’d like to spend more time with goal setting this year and use it for areas other than writing. I think it will help students to understand the purpose of the interventions we do and take more ownership of their learning. While we set goals last year, I think aside from that M1 group, I didn’t do a good enough job of keeping the goals at the forefront of what we were doing–we discussed them at the beginning of the school year, and maybe set new ones at the midpoint, but we didn’t really go back and revisit as often as we should. I’d like to use more goal setting sheets like these. And perhaps make a classroom display about goal setting where we could share our goals. I think I’d like to keep progress personal though. Otherwise it feels too much like a data wall to me. I also want to publicly acknowledge when students have made progress. It’s a tricky spot and I’m still working through it.

Positive Self-Talk

Part of the goal of any special education program should be teaching for independence and generalization of strategies. I’ve noticed in the past year that I’ve been at my school that most of the students I teach have a lot of trouble with positive self-talk and without positive self-talk, it’s hard to get through those times where we’re stuck working toward our goal or when something is just difficult or confusing. They do well when taking tests in my room when I can remind them that they have the strategies to tackle a tough math question, but they have difficulty with that internal monologue that successful problem solvers have–positive self-talk. That positive self-talk is what helps to get students through to their goal–what they need to say to themselves to remind themselves to use the strategies they’re learning. I really liked the idea below that was tweeted by someone participating in an SRSD workshop with Think SRSD in Tennessee.

Self-Regulation Strategies: Positive Self-Talk

Image from @lookforsun on Twitter

I’m wondering if this is a better way to go–rather than publicly tracking progress toward the goal, maybe we can surround the posted goal with speech bubbles filled with the positive self-talk the student needs to engage in to help achieve the goal. I like that it helps to focus the students on the process of achieving a goal. The outcome is important, but what I’m really trying to teach them is how to set a goal, create a plan to achieve it, apply strategies, and then persevere to achieve the goal. I could even apply technology…maybe use Aurasma to connect their goal to video or audio clips of the student or someone that they consider a cheerleader or supporter in their life reminding them of their positive self-statements. That way the positive self-statements that connect with the goal aren’t static things on my wall, but living things they can take with them.

Doing more to really teach and model how to engage in positive self-talk to get through tricky spots in reading and writing, through difficult math problems, or while test taking is going to be one of my teaching goals for next year. It’s so important and I have such a hard time doing it. Modeling it often feels fake to me, and I’m not sure why. I use positive self-talk all the time. When I’m at work, at the gym, knitting, trying to execute the perfect lattice-top for a pie. I think the times I was most successful in doing this last year was when before I modeled using positive self-talk in academic settings, I talked about how I use it outside of school. We talked about planks. (Somehow, I always come back to Pilates, don’t I?)

Planks are hard, but the only time they’re impossible is if you spend the entire time telling yourself that you can’t do it. I talked about doing plank, why it was hard, and how it became easier when I stopped focusing on what I couldn’t do, and focused on telling myself that I could do it, and if I fell down, I told myself it was OK and that I could try again. Then we all did it. For most of my students, the idea that we need to be kind to ourselves when we’re doing something difficult and that positivity well help us to persevere really stuck. There are others that I still need to figure out how to reach. Even with the explicit connection to how we all use positive self-talk outside of school–“Do you always do every trick in skateboarding perfectly the first time? What do you do when you fall?”–they’re still not making the connection. These are the kids I’m still working on figuring out how to reach.

What’s Next?

I spent the some time this summer looking at other ways to include self-regulation strategies, particularly positive self-talk and goal setting, in other areas of my instruction. I just finished reading an article by Bell & Pape published in Middle School Journal (2013) that’s all about using self-regulation strategies in the math classroom. I’d really like to start using it more with the students I’m working with in math, and I’m hoping to convince some of the math teachers to integrate it into their classrooms too. We’re using Bridges in M1 math this year, and they actually have posters with problem solving questions to ask when you’re stuck. I love that idea, and would like to put those in my room too. I think that both goal setting and positive self-talk will be really beneficial for the students that I work with in math. Most of them have experienced so much failure and have such a negative view of themselves as math students, that small successes and little bursts of positivity can have a huge effect.

The real struggle, however, is getting other teachers on board. Teaching kids these strategies in the bubble of my intervention room is fine, but if I want them to apply the strategies elsewhere with any sort of consistency, I need other teachers to see the value of the work I’m doing with these kids. To encourage them to use their positive self-statements, to understand the goals these kids are working toward and really celebrate their progress. But how to do that? It can be overwhelming for a classroom teacher with little experience dealing with students with disabilities to keep all of this in mind, and I want to be a supporter rather than piling one more thing on their plates. We all want the best for our students and I need to figure out a way to make it easy for teachers to incorporate these ideas and support the students I work with.

How do you incorporate goal setting and positive self-talk into your classrooms? Any advice for coaching/consulting in these tough situations?

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