Deirdre Moore | September 2016

Behavioral Literacy: Building Student Self-Regulation and Social Competency

Most schools have been in session for about a month at this point so most teachers have already established structures and procedures that aid in classroom management. Once those are in place, the hope of most educators is that we don’t have to spend much more time and energy managing behavioral literacy students so we can focus on teaching what we are required to teach. I think most of us would agree that the ultimate goal of education is to make students independent learners and people. So, the best thing we educators can do is empower students to be able to self-regulate. That way we spend less time managing student behavioral literacy and more time teaching the required content.

We also build more independent and self-aware students. If we look at behavioral literacy that needs to be taught, ultimately we spend less time on behavior management and more time teaching required content to students who are empowered to regulate themselves.

Over my career, I’ve encountered this philosophy twice – first with Responsive Classroom and then with Focus Five’s Acting Right.  Both of these approaches to teaching suggest that it is worth the time to invest in teaching students to behave.  The idea is that students don’t get in trouble if they don’t know how to read so why should students get in trouble for not knowing how to behave?  Just as we teach students who are having trouble learning to read strategies to use when reading, we need to give students who are having trouble behaving strategies to help them behave.

We never assume that students come to school knowing how to read or having a strong number sense so let’s not assume they know how to behave.  Rather, let’s take the time to assess their strengths and then address areas that need direct instruction or strengthening.

Here are a few suggestions of things you can do to help empower behavioral literacy in the classroom and to develop self-control:

Introduce students to materials. 

No matter how many years students have been in school, start the year by exploring and setting procedures and boundaries around using even the simplest of materials (pencils, crayons, markers, scissors, glue sticks, etc.).  You may think you don’t need to re-introduce 5th graders to pencils but take a moment to think of behaviors you could have avoided had you done that before they even started to use them!

Teach techniques for calming and/or refocusing. 

We all need to reset sometimes.  Take the time to teach students some simple techniques like: deep breathing, going to a “happy place”, finding a focal point and looking intently at that point for x number of seconds, tense and release, stretching, “rag doll” (letting the body goes limp), self talk (Acting Right encourages kids to talk to their brains like, “if your brain is telling you to look at your friend instead of the teacher you tell your brain no”).

Create a place for calming and/or refocusing.

There are techniques a child can do wherever they are rather inconspicuously and there are those that may require actually moving to a predetermined space.  Have a place that is intended not as a punishment but as a place students can choose to go (or you can let them know they need to go) to re-set.  That area should have a visual reminder of strategies to use (words and/or pictures).  I also recommend having a sand timer or other silent timer there so students can set the timer and have a reasonable time limit for returning to work.

Many experienced educators already do many of the things mentioned in this article but I do think that we all need to remember not to take anything for granted, including that our students know how to behave.  It is well worth the time to begin the year giving strategies for self-regulation and then providing students opportunities to practice the strategies.  In this way, you can encourage the students to use those strategies when they are most needed and you don’t have to stop your teaching in order to do it.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.