In my classroom, self-regulation used to be a problem for the students. They’re 10- to 11-years-old, so this is to be expected. But often a lack of control over their feelings and their actions would disrupt learning, friendship groups and playtimes – sometimes with disastrous consequences.
I needed a solution. I was constantly looking for ways to create an environment where my students could self-regulate their behaviour and emotions in the classroom independently. I wanted them to increase their capacity to read social situations and adjust their behaviours accordingly, without being reminded by me. I do not want to waste time micro managing inappropriate behaviours by repeatedly correcting it. Not only would a self-regulation solution support classroom management, but it would preserve my sanity.
I found my salvation in a strategy called “energy check stations”. It’s a simple solution, the resources for which you can make yourself at little cost. But it has had a huge impact.
It works like this. You create an energy check station in the corner of the room, away from where students are working.
The station consists of two posters on the wall and a dice. One poster provides options for students to decrease their energy levels, the other is for students that need to wake up and increase their energy.
Each poster has six activities to correspond to the six sides of a dice. Students simply roll the dice and match up their number to the instructions on the poster. A timer requires students to take no longer than two minutes for any given activity.
From jumping jacks and hacky sacks to deep calming breaths and a sound station of soothing music, students just roll the dice and take two minutes to centre themselves.
You can modify your poster options to suit the resources that you have in the classroom. It may be that you have a secluded reading corner students can retire to, or an outdoor area for some rigorous energy burning.
There are numerous options for allowing access to the station. Personally, I try and get a good balance of autonomy and boundaries. No more than one student is allowed to use the station at any time, and no-one can use it when the teacher is talking or giving instructions. But once they have settled into the activity, students are free to use the station when they wish.
Sometimes I prompt students. At the start of the lesson I may ask how they’re feeling, and whether they have been sitting down a lot in a previous class. It’s vital to check in with them so that they can begin to ask themselves these questions.
Occasionally, we also partake in a whole-class check. On a Monday morning, with a class full of sleepy students, we will roll the dice and participate in two minutes of energy-building activity together. Alternatively, after breaktime, we may roll the dice on the decrease energy poster and have some quiet time with some soothing music.
But these whole-class activities should not be the main use of the energy check station. As a teacher I want to minimise the amount of times that I have to correct inappropriate behaviour because a student is fidgeting, restless, fatigued or daydreaming.
I want to provide strategies and options for students so they can quietly – and without distracting those around them – get what they need to focus for that extra 10 minutes, or energise themselves to participate in a classroom discussion.
Students are far less likely to disrupt, distract and fidget when using the energy check station, which gives me much more time to focus on small-group and independent instruction without having to worry about why a certain student is getting up to sharpen their pencil for the fifth time.
Greg McGrath teaches 5th Grade Language Arts & Social Studies in New Jersey, US