The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Adapting an Ingenious Strategy to Encourage Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is an important social/emotional learning skill that is increasing in its popularity as far as things to be discussed and taught in our schools. Self-regulation is the idea that students can and should learn how to make good decisions for themselves, rather than have those decisions made for them. In my classroom, it is manifest in my belief that my students should be able to recognise their own feelings and emotions and use appropriate strategies to respond to them in a safe, positive, healthy way. Self-regulation also means that my students are able to make choices that will help them grow academically.

There was a time when it was believed that teachers and caregivers needed to direct everything a child did. It was believed that children were incapable or regulating themselves and therefore needed someone older and wiser to make all of the decisions for them. When these decisions were made and the children inevitably pushed back, demanding to know why, the default response was “because I’m the adult and I said so.”

But the times, they are a-changin’.

It is now understood that children are quite capable of self-regulation, but they need to be taught how to do that. That is a big part of my job. Instead of just dumping data into their heads and believing that they will magically absorb and apply information, it is my responsibility to guide them toward understand and empower them to make choices that will help them learn how to learn on their own.

As I once told my very first class of fourth graders four years ago, my job is to help them learn how they learn so that they can learn without me telling them what to learn.

Which leads me to something I tried out today.

There have been far too many afternoons when my class has rushed out of the room in a whirlwind of papers and chairs and backpacks and binders and our evening custodian has had to bear the brunt of the responsibility of cleaning up after them. I have been trying to get this changed throughout the year, using different strategies and different approaches. (After all, regardless of who said it, I do agree that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.) While browsing Pinterest for completely unrelated reasons, I came across this post some time ago.

Now, my students were getting “grounded” but I did need them to decided the best way to get our classroom ready for learning. So I took this idea and adapted it to my own needs:

The objective is simple: in order to use his or her Chromebook during our independent work time in the morning, the student must earn 100 points. There are activities ranging from picking up five objects on the floor (worth ten points) to writing an opinion essay on a topic of their choosing (50 points). Once the student has done enough activities to earn at least 100 points, he or she brings their sheet to me, we both sign it, and they get to use their Chromebook.

My plan was to launch this today. There were a few hiccups along the way, though.

First, I discovered that our wireless network was down, so I wasn’t able to share the score sheet electronically. Second, I wasn’t able to send the sheet to the copy machine, so I had to save it to a flash drive and try to print it that way. Then I remembered that the copy machine won’t print .doc files, only .pdf files and by this time I had to get to my morning supervision assignment.

So I put the document up on the Promethean ActivPanel and watched as the students came in, read the assignment, and responded. Some were shocked that they had to pick what to do. Others got to work right away. Quite a few came to me wanting to know what they were supposed to do.

But all of them earned their 100 points or more. Some organized the bookshelves and game cabinet. Most cleaned their desks. A few chose to read independently for 15 minutes, do a cursive handwriting practice sheet, and a math worksheet. Many picked up trash and pencils found on the floor.

And then we hit the other snag:

The district wireless network was still out of commission.


As students came to me to excitedly share that they had earned 100 points, I had to reveal that the network was done. Then something wonderfully unexpected happened: instead of whining or complaining or getting upset, they simply found other things to do, whether it was helping a classmate clean her desk or doing another math worksheet or just reading silently for another 15 minutes.

I must say, the whole process went remarkably well. And as long as the network is working tomorrow morning, they will get to do it all over again!


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