I was also taking a course on assessment, which highlighted the importance of self-regulation — in this context, monitoring and controlling one’s ability to learn — and how it is a vital skill for students’ success. I had a self-paced course on my hands, but with no meaningful way to monitor my learners and their achievements, so introducing self-regulation tools and techniques seemed to be the perfect solution.
How did I do it?
I created a Google Form for my learners, broken up into three chunks: planning your day, monitoring your work, and evaluating your progress. Each of these three sections contains prompts such as, “What is my goal, and how will I know when I have achieved it?”, “Am I making good progress toward my goal?”, and “What can I do differently next time?” I teach a 42-minute period, so I take the first five minutes of class to have my learners plan their day out. Then, midway through the class, I prompt them to take a three-minute break from their work to monitor their progress. The last four minutes of class are for them to reflect. I ask my learners to submit their Google Form at the end of each class, to help me monitor their progress and provide me with important insights into their abilities and challenges.
These insights, paired with self-paced learning, have allowed me to spend more time conferencing (having one-on-one chats with pupils) and getting to know my learners more personally than traditional teaching would have allowed me to. I could see how many of my learners struggled with content and self-regulatory skills, such as creating goals or identifying the key points of their learning. I could also see that prompting my students to reflect at different points in their learning helped tremendously, particularly by giving them the opportunity to change their approach halfway through the period. I have had learners admit they were off-task during the first half of the period, but then took the second half to turn it around and work toward accomplishing their set goals. Additionally, this chunking of time helped my learners break their big goal down into smaller ones. Specifically, my learner with ADHD improved his time management skills because he could make smaller, more tangible goals.
One of the best wins was seeing that when my learners had met their goals for the time period, they learnt to then take a well-deserved break. I was constantly checking in with them, and I was delighted when one learner said he was taking a small break because he had worked intensely to finish the set coding challenges. This ability to pace yourself and know when to take and enjoy breaks is a vital skill that I wish I had mastered before attending college!
While these changes were happening as I prompted and changed the structure of our class, I also made sure to be explicit about how we as a class were building our self-regulation skills. I would explain the benefits and research behind self-regulation, so my learners knew these Google Forms weren’t just for keeping tabs on them. I would periodically ask my learners to reflect on how they had improved. One learner memorably responded, “When you said the thing about how the daily check-ins help with the future, I noticed how I’ve become a lot more focused and goal-oriented, even outside of class.”
While this strategy brought about significant benefits for my learners, I definitely faced challenges trying to fine-tune my teaching to the needs of the class. An early challenge was figuring out exactly how much time to provide for planning, monitoring, and reflecting. I started out with five minutes for each and adjusted this after a few weeks because my learners became better at answering the questions.
Another challenge I faced was getting them to produce meaningful answers. In the beginning, I got a lot of responses along the lines of “IDK” or “I learnt the stuff.” However, I needed my learners to create specific goals with thoughtful reflections, and I helped them to do so by conferencing and modelling my thought processes. I would talk through learners’ experiences and help them identify what they had learnt that day. A conferencing conversation might go something like this:
T: What do you think you learnt today?
L: I’m not sure.
T: Can you explain to me what you did today?
L: Oh yeah, I took the examples to code my own stars and then I did a coding challenge where I had to code the star on my own. I had to remember where I would put the numbers for the plotting and the colour for the filling in of the star.
T: Oh, I see. From this description, I hear you learnt how to code stars with the appropriate inputs.
My biggest challenge with implementing a self-paced course was creating class interaction. I would promote collaboration and camaraderie — aspects that might ordinarily be missing from a self-paced course — by pairing up a struggling learner with another learner who had overcome a similar struggle. I would also do Fun Fridays, when we did group work or partner work that helped learners to bond and have fun.
These strategies helped my learners to rely more on their peers. It also gave them a new resource to draw upon when they were stuck, which ultimately helped them to better achieve their goals that had been set within the Google Form. Camaraderie in the classroom is important because we cannot always do things alone. Self-paced learning does not have to mean isolated learning.
I would encourage you to take the risk of trying out self-paced learning, especially with embedded self-regulation. There is no easy formula to follow, but having an environment in which learners observe their teachers modelling improvements and changes helps them to do the same. I will need to keep fine-tuning my approach, but knowing that I have set up my kids to be better lifelong learners makes it worth it.