I teach fourth grade at an urban K-8 priority school in the New Haven Public School District. My class consists of nineteen children ranging from nine to twelve years of age. I have eight girls and eleven boys. Ten children are of Puerto Rican descent while eight are African American and one is biracial. Student reading levels range from first to seventh grade, but the majority of students read at or one level above or below fourth grade level. The bulk of my students have been in my classroom since August, 2004, but I received several new students in October. Later in February, four students moved, to be replaced with four other students who entered in April, 2004. As a result, our classroom dynamic has changed several times throughout the course of the year. Different behaviors, personalities, and academic strengths and weaknesses have emerged at different moments. There has been a constant flow of students in and out of the classroom, so we have had to adapt and learn to accept and relate to new people all year long. Often, social problems and behavioral problems flare up. Some students are equipped with the coping as well as the interpersonal mechanisms to confront and solve these situational difficulties while others lack the foresight and tools to maneuver in troubled waters.
100% of the students in my class qualify for free or reduced lunch, meaning that they come from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds. In addition, our school has been labeled a Title 1 underperforming school which means that we service a very high population of low-income underachieving students. Along with economic disadvantage comes a great deal of household flux. Some students have single parents, separated parents, numerous siblings, two working parents, or grandparents acting as guardian. They come from a one-income or no-income household, are battling homelessness, have constantly relocated or face various other factors that can necessitate or inhibit school success. As a result of home, work, and family situations, many of my students struggle to focus on their studies. While the majority of them are achieving remarkably well given their circumstances, there is an infrastructure and foundation that their lives as learners and social beings lack. But within each child, there is strength for dealing with adversity that has brought each one to the success achieved thus far. It is my hope that this curriculum unit will emphasize and clarify the heroic behaviors they already possess that can help them both cope and achieve. If such strengths can be identified, then they can be reinforced and channeled to overcome academic challenges and increase each student’s rate of school success.
As a fourth grade teacher of nineteen minority, lower-socioeconomic status students in an urban elementary school, I have spent a great deal of time observing nine and ten year olds succeed and fail. Over the course of my six years as a teacher, it has become clear to me that the classroom and the surrounding school environment can facilitate or debilitate student growth and progress. In my opinion, it is the classroom teacher’s responsibility to establish a culture and practice that will ensure the relative success of every pupil, considering their individual and group needs. At times, such a task can seem impossible, but the critical shift in my focus occurred when I was introduced to the concept of self-regulated learning.
While I had personally noted that many of my students lacked organization, motivation, and the coping mechanisms necessary to realize their full potential, the discovery of this research forced me to reconsider the way I fulfill my responsibilities as a teacher. Reading studies on developing and supporting independent learning processes, behaviours and strategies in the classroom encouraged me to reflect on my own teaching practice and examine how this research could be applied to my own instructional techniques, classroom structure, and curricular choices. Certainly it is the teacher’s responsibility to contribute to a student’s success, but now I was a facilitator, as opposed to an instructor. While I have a responsibility to build an empowering environment and teach, it is more my responsibility to highlight student self-efficacy. In order for their diverse needs to truly be met, for them to continue to achieve success outside of the classroom learning environment, they must begin to see how they can meet their own needs with a little teacher help.
This unit is designed as an introduction to developing a self-regulated learning dialogue in the classroom. The concept of self-regulated learning reconfigures the teacher controlled classroom to refocus power on the student as the critical agent in the learning process:
Self-regulated learners are aware when they know a fact or possess a skill and when they do not. Unlike their passive classmates, self-regulated students proactively seek out information when needed and take the necessary steps to master it. When they encounter obstacles such as poor study conditions, confusing teachers, or abstruse text books, they find a way to succeed. Self-regulated learners view acquisition as a systematic and controllable process, and they accept greater responsibility for their achievement outcomes.1
To build and foster a classroom of self-regulated learners, these lessons will emphasize the development of independent learning and self-monitoring, attempting to re-define the teacher as a coach or facilitator as opposed to manager or ultimate authority. Through participation in this series of lessons, students should develop a beginning framework and vocabulary they can use to approach academic, social, and other problem-based tasks.
Along with vocabulary, students will begin to acquire a reservoir of concrete examples that reinforce the usefulness of these behaviors in fiction stories and non-fiction texts they read. The ultimate goal of this unit is that students begin to transfer these behaviors from concept to practice. Essentially, the unit will be constructed to slowly scaffold students so that by the end of the unit, they can work to solve a task or problem with at least one new learning tool, i.e. finding the hero in themselves.
Building Teacher Background
It is important, before starting this unit, to reacquaint oneself or become familiar with some literature on self-regulated learning processes, strategies, and behaviors (an annotated biography for teachers is included at the close of this unit). Barry Zimmerman’s “Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Achievement: An Overview” provides just that, a historical and somewhat more abstracted discussion of the timeline self-regulated learning research has taken. It is a good introductory read for one who is unfamiliar with the concept in theory or practice. But Judi Randi and Lyn Corno’s article, entitled “Teacher Innovations in Self-Regulated Learning”, provides a more concrete outline of several strategies teachers can employ in the classroom. It also details their discussions with teachers and students about specific steps required to introduce, teach, reflect on and perpetuate self-regulated learning in students. From their study, I have identified five self-regulated learning strategies that can easily be found in literary and everyday heroes: organization, responsibility, persistence, goal setting, and resourcefulness.2 While several other strategies do exist, I have chosen these five as they seem to encompass a broad scope of the strategies and when implemented, would cover the extended timeline of a challenging task from beginning to end. They will provide the vocabulary list as well as the thematic focus for the unit.
While I have noted several other articles to develop teacher background of the research and literature of self-regulated learning, a thorough reading of targeted articles to fulfill one’s own purposes will serve as sufficient foundation for conducting this introductory unit. Over time, as student self-regulation increases or plateaus, reading for specific tools or to deepen practical knowledge of the classroom practices that reinforce and encourage use of such behaviors over an increased period of time will prove useful. Lyn Corno’s article entitled “Working Toward Foresight and Follow-through” provides a concise discussion of the differences between motivation and volition; the two drives that serve as impetus and continuance of our work, respectively.3 Given that this project focuses on improving students’ actual work process, as opposed to the product, such a discussion of volition and the reason for its absence in many learners provides needed information to understand situational challenges that could inhibit or erase it. I would finally recommend a quick scan of Scott Paris and Richard Newman’s “Developmental Aspects of Self-Regulated Learning,” as it points to the potential pitfalls of self-regulated learning strategy instruction. The article warns teachers of the dangers of speeding up the instructional process or falling into the trap of teaching toward the student work product as opposed to truly praising the process of learning and the journey children take to find what they are looking for. It offers some practical advice that will ensure long-term results as opposed to the cursorily obedient implementation of self-regulated learning strategies to please the teacher.4