Friday, April 17, 2020

Blog on the Move...

Having tried to work with this blog platform (and wasted hours of time), I have decided to move LB's Learning Blog to a Wordpress site: LB's Learning Blog (

I am not migrating content from here to there - rather, I will update the new blog / website moving forward.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Trends in Education: Self-regulation in Secondary schools

Dr. David Tranter, School of Social Work, and Dr. Donald Kerr, Faculty of Education,
Lakehead University. “Understanding Self-Regulation: Why Stressed Students Struggle to Learn.” What Works? Research into Practice Monograph # 63, February 2016.

I think many secondary school teachers are just beginning to explore the formal notion of self-regulation, sometimes as a result of behaviours we’re seeing in schools, and sometimes because IEPs are increasingly including self-regulation strategies to meet student needs. Plus, it’s a topic more in the mainstream due to the explosion of fidget spinners (usually used in Resource Rooms / by Special Education Resource Teachers).

The research monograph explores self-regulation first by clearly defining it (as the authors point out, there are widely varying uses of the word) - interestingly, through three analogies - and then providing some helpful strategies. The authors conclude that “self-regulation is about responding to stress and managing one’s state of arousal. Students who have experienced chronic stress often struggle to self-regulate; their level of arousal may be either too low or high or may fluctuate rapidly through the school day” (Tranter and Kerr). It’s important to remember that self-regulation is about managing one’s  response to stress.

In a secondary environment, we often see adolescents struggle with focus and placing attention where teachers want it; there are many stressors and distractors, most notably social and technological. I’ve seen a sharp increase in students who are unable to “unplug” from social media or video games, using this as a mechanism to deal with the stress of the classroom. Some students are quick to give up when cognitively challenged and move to social media instead. While teachers are trying to use electronic devices to support student learning, we’re increasingly seeing students who are unable to self-regulate their behaviour. “Successful self-regulation is not something we are born with; rather, it develops slowly throughout childhood and into the mid-twenties as parts of the brain fully develop and connect” (Tranter and Kerr). As such, we’re actively teaching strategies to adolescents to help them monitor their learning and self-regulate their stressors.

What are your most successful strategies for teaching self-regulation? What works with adolescents?

Article Response: Understanding the Whole Child and Youth

The Ontario Ministry of Education regularly publishes, In Conversation, a newsletter which features current research from educators, researchers, and specialists in everything from behaviour to youth development. In the Spring 2014 (Vol. IV, No. 4), the following article provides an overview of thinking about the whole child: "Understanding the Whole Child and Youth – A Key to Learning,  An interview with Dr. Lise Bisnaire, Dr. Jean Clinton and Dr. Bruce Ferguson".

In the beginning of the article it stated, "It comes as no surprise that the cognitive development of children and youth in combination with their social, emotional and physical development and their mental health, has a profound effect on their well-being and potential to succeed at school and in life".  As the article points out, we have a wealth of research into brain development at this point; what’s surprising to me is that there are still many people who are unfamiliar with the research, especially since policies from the Ministry of Education are developed with this research in mind (e.g. play-based Kindergarten, Student Success initiatives, mental health and well-being initiatives). If we view education simply as a cognitive exercise (and I don’t think policies in Ontario have for some time), then we fail to recognize how important social, emotional, and physical development are to a person’s well-being. 

We need to capitalize on the developmental stages of children and youth; as Dr. Jean Clinton states about adolescents: “emotional areas are being refined and pruned ahead of the executive functioning areas of the brain. That may explain why activities that are novel, exciting, low effort and full of thrills are preferred over mundane and tedious activities. Young people need to take risks to grow. They have huge potential for creativity.” For students struggling with any points of development, it’s increasingly important to know their strengths, challenges, and areas of need. As Dr. Lise Bisnaire points out, “as educators, we can support them in this period of transition by helping them to navigate this new path. They look to educators for structure, predictability and consistency in a world where they may feel unprepared or ill-equipped to cope.” Given the rise of mental health issues in adolescents and children, nurturing positive, supportive student-teacher relationships has become more important, at times superseding academic pursuits. Dr. Bruce Ferguson succinctly states, “that our number one developmental task is to learn and know who we are and to develop our sense of self and identity. We do that through our interactions with others – in particular, through having engaging and continuous relationships with adults”.

Ideally schools should be designed to meet the changing cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development of our students. I’m not sure they are given that we continue to use practices that are not in the best interest of students (e.g. early start times for adolescents, grouping students - en masse - by age rather than stage of development, classroom design and building decisions are driven by old funding formulas, etc.). 

If you could recommend one change in your school that you think would better serve the developing emotional, social, and physical needs of your students, what would it be and why?

Image result for growing success ontarioImage result for education for all ontario

When comparing Education for All (2005) and Growing Success (2010), I decided to focus on 4 key areas of the document: core principles, instruction, assessment, and professional judgement. The comparison of the two documents show the influence of the expert panel’s 2005 report, Education for All, on the 2010 Growing Success document. The Ministry of Education has put more emphasis and focus into creating alignment in supporting documents like these, as well as revised curriculum documents, which now have very similar “front matter” detailing the Ministry’s focus and fundamental beliefs.

Core principles:

In Education for All, the focus is clearly on ensuring effective supports for all students while recognizing the need for special education supports; as Belief 1 outlines, “All students can succeed”. Belief 5 recognizes that “Each child has his or her own unique patterns of learning” while Belief 7 states: “Fairness is not sameness” (4-5). These principles are echoed in Growing Success, which outlines that teaching practices and procedures should be “fair, transparent, and equitable for all students”; as well as “support all students, including those with special education needs, those who are learning the language of instruction (English or French), and those who are First Nation, M├ętis, or Inuit” (6). The two documents clearly promote the idea that the “Ontario government is committed to enabling all students to reach their potential, and to succeed” (Growing Success, 1). I’d argue that this fundamental belief of success for all students underlies every policy from the Ontario Ministry of Education.


Education for All explicitly promotes universal design and differentiated instruction as seen through Belief 2: “Universal design and differentiated instruction are effective and interconnected means of meeting the learning or productivity needs of any group of students”. Additionally, Belief 3 focuses on instruction: “Successful instructional practices are founded on evidence-based research, tempered by experience”. We can see the same ideas echoed in Growing Success as teachers are expected to use practices and procedures that “are carefully planned to relate to the curriculum expectations and learning goals and, as much as possible, to the interests, learning styles and preferences, needs, and experiences of all students” (6). Teachers are to plan - using the principles of UDL and DI - for the success of all students by tailoring instruction to meet the needs of students.


When it comes to assessment, according to Growing Success, teachers are to use practices and procedures that “are ongoing, varied in nature, and administered over a period of time to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate the full range of their learning” as well as “provide ongoing descriptive feedback that is clear, specific, meaningful, and timely to support improved learning and achievement” (6). These statements are clearly influenced by Education for All, as seen in the process diagram on page 20. Moreover, both documents clearly outline the notions of assessment for, of, and as learning (page 22-23 of Education for All and page 28 of Growing Success). Each of the documents clearly define important concepts for teachers (such as diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments); Growing Success provides a clarified version of these definitions within a chart on page 41 which provide links between the rationale, the research, and the practice. Both Education for All and Growing Success discuss the triangulation of assessment data: “evidence of student achievement for evaluation is collected over time from three different sources – observations, conversations, and student products” (GS 39). Education for All focuses on observations and conversations, providing more specific strategies as well as the rationale: “the teacher uses observation to maintain an awareness of the uniqueness that individual students bring to the classroom environment and to specific learning tasks. A good observation process allows the student to demonstrate capabilities within an inviting and engaging learning environment.” (Education for All 24). Growing Success pushes this idea further through learning goal, success criteria, descriptive feedback, and metacognitive awareness (33-34). Again, fundamentally, what’s necessary for some, is good for all.

Professional Judgement:

Both documents highlight the importance of the teacher in developing a learning plan for students: In Education for All, Belief 4 clearly states, “Classroom teachers are the key educators for a student’s literacy and numeracy development. The expert report provides recommendations about how to support professional learning in order to support student learning. Growing Success acts as a policy document to outline assessment and evaluation policies and procedures based on research and best practice. At the same time, Growing Success recognizes that teachers not only triangulate data through observations, conversations, and student products, but that other considerations (such as the richness of the task or a student’s needs) are to be made as well, constituting something now known as a teacher’s “professional judgement”. The document defines this as, “Judgement that is informed by professional knowledge of curriculum expectations, context, evidence of learning, methods of instruction and assessment, and the criteria and standards that indicate success in student learning. In professional practice, judgement involves a purposeful and systematic thinking process that evolves in terms of accuracy and insight with ongoing reflection and self-correction (GS 152). Ultimately, as Growing Success clearly states, “The professional judgement of the teacher, acting within the policies and guidelines established by the ministry and board, is critical in determining the strategy that will most benefit student learning” (GS 46). As such, classroom teachers need to stay current on ministry, board, and school policies, procedures, and pedagogies.

While the Expert Panel Report, Education for All, was written in 2005, it is clear to see the influence of this document in the current policies and procedures across Ontario as expressed in 2010’s Growing Success.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

New learning...

Resurrecting the blog to share some of my learning from my Special Education Specialist (Part 3) course (see the tab above for posts). I'm completing the course as part of my own rehabilitation after a concussion in February (it's July and we're finally "increasing my cognitive load"). It's been a long road and I'm actually pretty keen to be using my brain again. Funnily enough, I also re-discovered an infographic I created for one of my other courses, and thought I'd post it here. Interesting how one's understanding of something shifts after having a first hand experience!