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From Chaos to Goosebumps: How Routines Empower Students on Their Self-Regulated Learning Journey

A while ago, I was charmed by the following principal's testimonial:

I used to be quite skeptical as a school leader, but now I'm a big fan of self-regulated learning and giving students responsibility. The key ingredient that made all the difference at the start, was investing in routines. In the beginning, it was chaotic for both students and teachers as we were all trying to find our way. But once we implemented routines, they became ingrained in everyone's daily way of working and everything started running much smoother. We went from chaos to goosebumps. It's so gratifying to see all students be engaged and learn.

The Power of Routines in Student Autonomy

Establishing routines and structure is essential to cultivate student autonomy. These routines provide students with standardized pathways to develop essential self-regulatory skills, like:

  1. Assignment Tracking: Providing students with activity planners or boards to manage their assignments and deadlines effectively.

  2. Clarity through Learning Objectives: Communicating clear learning objectives and rubrics, setting a roadmap for success.

  3. Prior Knowledge Activation: Encouraging students to activate their prior knowledge on their worksheets, priming their minds for new learning experiences.

  4. Time Management: Utilizing timers to help students manage their study time effectively.

  5. Instruments around Help Seeking: Employing small gadgets (like triangles or cups) that discreetly signal whether students require assistance or can offer help to peers.

Through our routines, students are encouraged to use several effective learning skills.

  • For example, activating your prior knowledge becomes a habit when you integrate a question like 'What do you already know?' into the lesson materials of every new topic.

  • Similarly, students will ask themselves "I'm stuck. Should I be asking for help?" and will know how to indicate their need for help using the small gadget you gave them.

These self-regulated learning strategies become so ingrained in the classroom routines, that the strategies become automated.

This is great. Before students can come up with their own self-regulated learning strategies, we need to teach them several.

Ok, so, you've invested in classroom routines.

Just like the school principal from the testimonial, you went from chaos to goosebumps. You see your students are learning actively.

Now comes the next, crucially important part ➡➡➡ moving beyond routines.

Beyond Routines - Fostering True Self-Regulated Learning

Routines are not our end destination; they're our launchpad.

Routines - and all the materials we create to make those work - SUBTLY encourage students to use their self-regulated learning skills. Although crucial to start with, they are TOO SUBTLE to actually teach our students to self-regulate.

Providing students with a weekly calendar, for example, will not teach them how to design their own plans, set priorities, estimate time, or know when to stick to or adjust the original plan. Indeed, there is more to planning than using a weekly calendar which serves as a menu with learning activities students can then plan into their own schedules.

So, starting with routines is an important first step, but it's not the only one.

How to move beyond routines then?

Build Metacognition and Include Explicit Instruction: Have explicit conversations with students about the skills they're developing through these routines, the specific strategies they're using, and when they're most effective. To cultivate true self-regulation, we must raise students' awareness. By just expecting them to follow the routines and to use our materials, we are keeping students in the dark. So, please, enlighten them! Name the self-regulated learning skills. Get into the what, when, why, and how of self-regulated learning strategies. Indeed, explicitly teach them! It's all about making them conscious of their own learning process.

Think about Exit Tickets for Every Routine you Introduce: Whenever you introduce a new routine or material, immediately answer the following questions: What do I want to achieve with this? When will my students no longer need it? How will I know? What should I be teaching my students so they will no longer need this routine/material?

Research is very clear about this: not one routine or strategy to self-regulate works wonders in each and every situation. So, we need to teach our students to decide for themselves when to use what strategy. This means gradually dismantling or modifying certain routines and tools.

Here's an example:

Ever heard your students complain because - for the 10th time that week - they had to fill in a self-reflection sheet?

That's a clear sign to start rethinking the design and use of the self-reflection sheets. I've heard many teachers say 'Our students don't want to self-reflect.'.

I can't help but wonder:

  • Do they - indeed - refuse to self-reflect? Or:

  • Do they refuse to use the self-reflection sheet (yet another time)?

💡 Pro tip: Involve your students in this process. It will teach you a lot about where they are, and your students will get into the habit of talking about their self-regulated learning. Win-win guaranteed! No time wasted, at all!

So, when you are giving students more autonomy for the first time: build routines that help them learn effectively! It doesn't matter if the autonomy is given intentionally or accidentally (think pandemic or teacher shortages). Give them some structure!

But: don't stop there! Start explaining and teaching the self-regulated learning skills that are already a natural part of your routines.

Summary Points:

  1. The Power of Routines: Establishing routines is the launchpad for student autonomy.

  2. Skills within Routines: Routines teach essential skills like prior knowledge activation and seeking assistance. Students learn to use these skills without even realizing it.

  3. Moving Beyond Routines: Routines are vital, but they're just the beginning. To foster true self-regulation, have explicit conversations about skills, strategies, and when to use them.

  4. Adjust Routines and Tools: Not one routine or strategy fits all situations. Gradually modify routines and think about ways to dismantle them so students don't become dependent on just one way of 'self-regulating their learning'.

  5. Student Involvement: Engage students in rethinking routines and tools. It encourages self-reflection and ensures their needs are met, leading to a win-win situation.

Share Your Journey!

Have you experienced the magic of routines in your classroom? I'd love to hear your stories and insights. Share your experiences or questions in the comments below, and let's keep this conversation going!


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