The more that I read and the more that I learn about Self-Reg, the more that I see it through all of my interactions, decisions, and experiences each day. This is a story about doing hard things, with the help of Co-regulation and Self-Reg.
How It Started
Recently, a classroom educator and I were discussing some of the students in her class. We were looking at which formal assessment options might be good ones to use for which students, and how we could work together to complete and reflect on these assessments. For a couple of the students, we wanted to do a DRA, in order to see about the carryover of certain phonics skills into different texts and the comprehension component to reading. While this classroom educator is going to do the majority of any DRAs that she might want to do, I offered to do one on a particular student, as we needed this data soon and I had the time to do it on that day.
We know that this student can find reading stressful, and we wanted her to be successful. The classroom teacher said that she would tell the class that some students might come and read with me in the pod. Then this child could be prepared. The teacher said that she would gauge this child’s response to the news, and depending on how she felt, we could vary the plan for this reading assessment. The child cheered when she heard the news, and seemed to want to come in the pod to read with me. Success!
Time For Reading
We then went into the pod to read together. This student started off great! She is now a very confident reader, and she had expression and problem-solved words when reading the text. Then came the comprehension part: “Start at the beginning and tell me what happened in the story.” She froze. You could see the stress on her face. She wouldn’t even talk to me. She just shrugged her shoulders and stayed silent. Now I could have stopped things at this point. Technically, if the child cannot comprehend the text, then we need to go back to a lower level, but I wasn’t convinced that she did not recall what happened in the text. I think she felt overwhelmed by what she had to do, so I needed to get her started.
Getting Started On Comprehension
While I was fairly certain the she knew what happened in the book and could retell at least the basic plot line, I knew that I could be wrong. I wanted to see what would happen with a prompt, so I asked, “What happened at the beginning of the story?” Then I waited. Wait time can be hard, but I didn’t want to put additional stress on her with the pressure to respond immediately. The waiting worked. She was quiet, but whispered to me the first few events. Then she told me that she forgot what happened next. I gave her the next key event, and asked, “What happened after this?” She then told me everything right until the very end. She even used some key terminology from the book. Yay!
Next though, we had to get into some higher-level thinking, with a look at author meaning and important events. She was insistent that she didn’t know. She was ready to leave the room, and maybe I should have let her do so, but I was uncertain about her “no.” Looking at her, I could see that her hair was all dishevelled. She was really quiet. Again, I thought that she was stressed, so I needed to help co-regulate her.
Co-Regulation In Action
I know that this student often goes for a little walk and a drink when she’s feeling stressed. She wasn’t looking for either, but what if I supported her in making these choices? I suggested that she go back into the classroom, get a drink, even walk around the room once, and then come back to finish. I said to her, “Why don’t you think about an answer? Anything. Take a few minutes and then we’ll try again.” I waited. She did go and get a drink and go for a quick walk, and when she returned, she answered both questions. One answer was stronger than the other one, but the truth is that this text is a challenging one, she has limited schema with the ideas in this story, and even as an adult, I find the author’s meaning for this particular book, hard to determine for sure. The most important thing is, she tried. She did it! This was hard. It was an incredible challenge, and very stressful, but with a little bit of co-regulation and some deliberate choices on behalf of the classroom educator and myself, she made it through.
Based on her reading of the text, and thinking about the main ideas in this particular book, the classroom educator and I wondered if we should try the next level up. It’s about a lost cat. She has pets, knows about cats, and could definitely read this book. It might be less stressful than the first one. We decided to wait a couple of days and try again. I said that I would touch base with her right after a nutrition break, so that I would not be adding in an additional transition to leave an activity and come with me. Based on how she responded to reading with me again, we could decide what to do next. I could always support this teacher’s class, and she could do the assessment.
The Best Part
A couple of days later, I had the time again, and we tried out our plan. This student came in really happy from recess. She was very chatty with me in the hallway. I told her, “I have great news! I have a wonderful book that I think you’re really going to like, and I have some time to read it with you today. What do you think? Want to have a look at it with me?” She said, “Will we go in the pod?” I replied, “I thought that this might be good, as it is quieter in there. What do you think?” She said, “Yes!” She asked me, “Can I go for a walk and fill up my water first?” Absolutely!
More Stress-Reducing Considerations
I thought to myself, “Could this child be demonstrating Self-Reg in action?” The water and walk supported her the last time. Now she’s initiated it this time. This had me wondering, what could I do to reduce some more of her stress?
When she came into the pod to read with me, I started by introducing the text as it said in the guide. Then I told her, afterwards, I’m going to ask you some questions about the main characters and have you retell the story to me. Try to slow down a bit and really think about what you’re reading to help you out. You can look back at the book this time too. I could see her shoulders relax. She took a deep breath. “Okay, that sounds good.” Preparing her for what to expect, seemed to help.
Knowing that she could use the book to help with the retell, made a big difference. It turned out that after looking back at the first page, she didn’t even bother returning to the rest. She recalled all of the important events in order, and even used some of the vocabulary from the text. Amazing! Since she could connect with this text, the higher-level questions were easier for her. She was a little quiet while answering them, but did not appear dishevelled or overly stressed. Knowing more about the content of the book also reduced the cognitive stressors at play. When we were all done, she gave me a high-five and said, “That was much better!”
There are probably a few different lessons here. One actually connects to this Teacher English Language Learners course that I’m taking right now. This student is not an English Language Learner, but the thinking remains the same. If we want students to demonstrate comprehension skills, they need to have an understanding of the content. One read of a text, with a limited background on the subject area, is not enough of an understanding. I should have selected a different book the first time around. The kit that I was using didn’t have photocopied papers for this higher text, so I used the one with the papers. Sometimes, you need to take the extra time and get the materials together that you really need … in this case, I should have done that!
The other lesson that I continue to return to is, kids can do hard things. Self-Reg or Co-Reg can help support in these instances. While we want to reduce stress for kids and adults, we cannot eliminate all stress in life. Some stress in positive stress, and some stress will help us at different times in our lives (e.g., when needing to take tests or exams in post-secondary education). Often the first time that we try something new is a challenge. With COVID, younger students have not had a lot of experience with this kind of reading assessment. The assessment might not be right for everyone, but in this case, both the classroom educator and I thought that it would provide valuable data. We needed to help this student get through it and really show us what she knows. The first time was a challenge, but with some supports, she did it. The second time, she knew what to expect, and I helped prepare her for the more stressful experiences up front. Even this younger student recognized how much less stressful it was the second time around.
How do you help support students in responding to stress? What are some benefits that you’ve noticed from supporting these positive stressful experiences? I’m so proud of this student: not only due to her growth as a reader, but also due to her embracing challenges, demonstrating Self-Reg, persevering, and meeting with success.