Promoting Self-Regulation in the Classroom

Have you ever had a student in your classroom that seems to check-out during every whole group lesson?  How about a student that just can’t seem to stay seated during a lesson or work time and appears to be in constant motion?  Or perhaps you have had a student that barely allows you to start your lesson before blurting an off topic comment? As a teacher, chances are that each of those examples sound all too familiar.  You have most likely had students in your class that struggle with attentional differences, including Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), whether they have been diagnosed or not.

Keeping students with attentional differences engaged in lessons can be challenging, as can managing the resulting disruptions to the class.   The ways in which we react to these disruptions is important, but it’s how we proactively minimize these disruptive behaviors in the first place that can truly make the difference.  Along with strong classroom management, promoting strategies for behavioral self-regulation can help your class run smoothly and keep all students engaged.

Why promote self-regulation?

When students learn to self-regulate, they monitor their own behaviors and use strategies they have learned to modify their behavior when necessary.  In other words, before they have a chance to drift off, blurt out, or jump up and down in their seat, they make an adjustment. As a result, they are able to more successfully participate in the lesson without disrupting the class.  Students that learn to practice self-regulation experience other benefits as well. Rather than constantly being redirected by the teacher or told to “Stop” a behavior, they are more likely to receive praise for positive participation.  Imagine what this can do for a student’s confidence! Additionally, by learning to tune into their own behaviors and needs, student learn to self-advocate. Teachers benefit from fewer disruptions and are better able to focus on instruction! Use the following suggestions to start promoting self-regulation in your classroom today!

Four Self-Regulation Strategies for the Classroom:

  1. Flexible Seating:  This idea is extremely popular right now, and for good reason.  Flexible seating has been proven to enhance student engagement for a variety of reasons, one of which is that it gives students a chance to choose a seating (or standing!) arrangement that is most conducive to their learning style.  Some flexible seating choices even allow students burn excess energy by incorporating motion and exercise into their day. This is a huge bonus for students with hyperactivity!
    • Tip:  Don’t be overwhelmed by the idea of transforming   your entire classroom! Start small by creating one or two flexible seating areas in the classroom, such as exercise balls or a standing desk.  Teach students how to appropriately use these seating areas and how to quietly transition to them when they need it.
  1.  Brain Breaks:  Take breaks as a whole class to allow students to rest, energize and regroup.  Whenever appropriate, teach specific students how to appropriately take individual breaks, as needed.  This strategy is especially helpful for students with shorter attention spans or students that become overloaded by sensory input during louder tasks and either shut down or act out in response.
    • Tip:  Teach students non-verbal cues for requesting a break.  This might include using a hand signal or the use of a colored card on their desk.  This allows students to discreetly request breaks during whole group instruction.
  1.  Calming Activities:  Teach students strategies for calming their bodies in the classroom, such as using deep breathing, stretching or squeezing a fidget or stress ball.
    • Tip:  Consider setting up an area in a corner of the classroom with calming activities such as coloring and provide posters with instructions for breathing exercises.  Teach students how to appropriately transition to and from this area of the classroom between activities or during requested breaks.
  1.  Visual Schedule: Posting a visual schedule with the breakdown of the day/class is a good way to help students transition between tasks more efficiently and independently.  Students with attentional differences could benefit from a personal schedule at their desk that they can use as a checklist for the day as they complete tasks.
    • Tip:  Laminate a daily schedule to place in a student’s binder.  Teach them to check off their tasks with dry erase marker that they can wipe off and use again the next day.  Over time this will become an independent task!

Four Steps for Making Self-Regulation Work in the Classroom:

  1. Teach it:  Explicitly teach students how to use the self-regulation strategy.  When is it appropriate? How do they use it? How long should they use it for? Be thorough.  You might need to teach the strategy more than once.
  2. Model it:  Use role play and teachable moments (without singling anyone out) to demonstrate appropriate use of a self-regulation strategy.
  3. Set goals:  Specific students that are struggling with inattentive behavior or hyperactivity in the classroom might benefit from setting a goal for using a self-regulation strategy.  For example, “When I start to feel hyper I will use my hand signal to request a two minute break.”
  4. Reinforce it:  Use positive praise to reinforce students for using self-regulation strategies.  For example, “Susie, I like the way you quietly moved to the flexible seating area when you had a hard time staying in your seat.” Some students might benefit from the use of a sticker/goal chart to track their use of self-regulation strategies.  Never place contingencies on the use of approved strategies and never punish students for using them.

Teaching self-regulation strategies in the classroom might seem like a lot of work in the beginning, but be sure to stick with it.  It will be well worth it as students begin to independently use strategies to stay engaged in their own learning!