On the evening of May 14, every person assembled at the Princess Alexandra School library for a talk on self-regulation in children was given a toy.
There were no children present, but everyone got either a small ball or a slinky to play with for the duration of a presentation by consultant Brenda Whitton-Neary on how classrooms can be adapted to help all children, not just problem students, learn more efficiently – including giving them things to fidget with while listening to a lesson.
“I’m a believer,” Mike Wilgosh, a parent who attended the presentation, told The Hub.
Self-regulation is the concept by which children who are running either too slow or too fast to learn properly can identify the situation themselves and are given access to the tools they need to deal with it themselves. This could be as simple as having some students work at higher desks while standing up at the back of the room, and can range to having a stationary bicycle or trampoline in the classroom where kids can burn off some energy in order to help them focus.
“We’re seeing the end of ‘special’ and ‘regular’ education,” said Whitton-Neary, adding that British Columbia has done away with the distinctions entirely and Saskatchewan is looking at doing the same. “We are moving out of a compliance model and helping kids become collaborative, independent problem-solvers who are able to deal with the 21st century.”
Essentially, Whitton-Neary advocated a more tailored approach to education that emphasizes flexibility in the classroom setting. Instead of having all students read silently at their desks, she recommended having a carpeted area with pillows set up where children could take their books and read sitting or lying down if they chose. She claimed her experience has shown that, in a matter of days, such simple modifications can and do change the attitudes and learning abilities of even the most disruptive students.
“There is a big difference between saying, ‘This boy needs to move to learn,’ and, ‘This boy can’t sit still,’” she told the parents and educators assembled for the talk.
Still, there is a shift that has to happen in which all the adults surrounding a student buy in to the method, not only parents and teachers, but also bus drivers, lunch monitors, and substitute teachers, according to Whitton-Neary.
“You have to totally change your mindset,” said mother Cindy Wilgosh. “I can imagine it’s not easy for a teacher when you have a class full of them.”
While some of the strategies employed by the self-regulation method are free or of little cost, like allowing high school students to sit backwards in their chairs, others are hardly as cost effective. Some of the items suggested for classrooms are child-sized stair-climbers, taller desks, swivel chairs with cushions, tents and tipis, and noise reduction headphones.
Brent Kaulback, the assistant superintendent with the South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC), is confident the schools and the SSDEC can work together to find a way to implement the new strategies. Indeed, they have already begun.
The SSDEC first brought in Whitton-Neary last October and Kaulback said they have been trying to work with her consistently ever since. While there is a budget for new school equipment, he said it’s not a huge amount.
“As a region, we’re focused on learning,” said Kaulback. “Before we can teach them well, we have to ensure they are able to learn. There are lots of ways to minimize cost and maximize learning.”
— Sarah Ladik