Is “opting in” a self-regulatory strategy?

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 2.21.16 PM The simple response is yes. There is much chatter amongst parents in some areas of the country about opting out of the new PARCC state exams. For whatever the reasons the discussion made me wonder if opting out of a required assessment is ever a good idea. Furthermore, can sitting for state exams become a strong factor in teaching self-regulation to the youngest learners? Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar ( was very clear about goal setting which is a significant factor in becoming a self-regulated learner. He is famous for the quote about aiming at nothing leading to poor outcomes.     aimzig Rather than opting out of state exams it might be a good idea to set specific goals using the assessments as type of formative assessment. If parents, teachers, and educators set specific and proximal goals for each testing segment, it is possible to change focus the students taking the exams on their performance and not the score. Teaching the youngest learners to self-evaluate and self-monitor how they approach a difficult task and individualize specific outcome expectations can also increase self-efficacy. Today I was in a NYC Public school where not one child has opted out of the upcoming tests. For the past three years the principal has had a mentoring program for parents and students staffed by teachers and volunteers from the school community. Early morning, after school, and Saturday interventions have been designed to make each family and their students comfortable with the subjects and formatting of the standardized tests. The support system is so strong that the students in the school are counting the days to when the PARCC tests begin and they will show everyone what they have learned! Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 2.28.10 PM Both parents and teachers together have help their students set proximal goals for each tutoring session – when specific goals are not met they are reset by reflecting on the performance, and when goals are met the students move onto the next level only after attributing their success to specific strategies. Self-monitoring, self-evaluation and self-assessment are all part of the learning process and can easily be applied to the common core assessments.  Let’s aim at shaping self-regulated learners while taking on the challenges of standardized exams in the earliest grades so that when the SAT score matters these students will say….”Bring it on!”

Barbie would never pass the marshmallow test!


My youngest granddaughter and I were watching a Barbie dream house movie where everything happens instantly. Cupcakes pop out of toaster like appliances fully decorated, the closet dresses her, and her barbecue produces perfectly assembled hot dogs and hamburgers. The only thing Barbie is lacking is glitter, and that becomes the quest: searching for glitter.

I said to Reese, “Would Barbie pass the marshmallow test?”  Remembering her own experience with the marshmallow challenge, the five-year old giggled and responded “Oh no! Never!”

What is the marshmallow test? I recommend watching the youtube video with Joachim de Posada sharing his landmark experiment on delayed gratification ( and how it can predict future success. Included in his short talk is a video of youngsters trying their hardest not to eat the marshmallow. What I find most interesting is the strategies they use to remain focused on the goal to not eat the marshmallow even when they are very tempted to have instant gratification. What is remarkable is the studies that followed the children collected evidence of the lifelong value of delaying gratification.


So while Barbie has her instant gratification lifestyle, Reese has her Nana reminding her that everything is a process and how much better it is to save our money for a trip to Target than to spend it on the candy placed strategically at the checkout counter. Delaying gratification is a self-regulatory strategy. I am wondering if the common core is attempting to teach  young students to strategically approach learning, using tools and strategies to take difficult tests and as a result, raise their self-efficacy for future testing (Regents, SAT, ACT).

Warning…….Going In Reverse!!!

Someone needs to tell the thousands of adults sitting at their dining room table with children who are frustrated with their homework, that not everything is covered in class before it is sent home for homework. Homework has become preparation for what is to be learned in a future class.


Homework is now actually challenging and often the first exposure to the problem. Polya,the great mathematician, said problem solving must be a struggle, and he provided a sequence of steps to problem solve. Many schools offer parents and caregivers extra help to make homework the discovery of new ideas in preparation for instructional segments.

Backwards planning, or the flipped classroom has come into practice without telling the most important participants, the parents! Educators have found that the process of stepping back for the old model of using class time to expose students to new material has been a successful motivational factor in learning. Devoting class time to interactions rather than lectures takes students beyond content and into the stimulating world of problem solving and critical thinking.

So don’t be surprised if your student comes home with a challenging new task. It is okay to discover together that learning is a journey and our goal is to learn to ask the right questions not necessarily finding the correct answer until class time. Knowing how to ask questions is a goal of the common core and a significant part of the learning process….Self-regulated learners are help-seekers, asking for hints and moving on with their inquiry is a key motivational factor as well as a means towards building self-efficacy.

Why Morphemes?

Can 4th graders infer meaning from context clues and morpheme clues?


Self-regulation of vocabulary acquisition includes linking learning process goals and encouraging self-recording of individual progress (Zimmerman 2008; Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1999).  The CCSS for K-5 invites students to confront challenging words or phases by making several attempts to arrive at a viable approximation of the meaning, rather than skipping over them or making one attempt and moving on (Caulkins, Ehrenworth, & Lehman, 2012). It is suggested that texts with spiraling like content in increasing complexity can be an effective means for both students and teachers to become engaged in constantly building a transferable vocabulary.

No Skipping! Infer Meaning From Context Clues and Morpheme Clues

Words Have Parts!

A working knowledge of academic language is foundational for learning concepts and processes taught at the middle and high school level. Without a working knowledge of an academic vocabulary, readers and writers most likely will struggle in classes across the curriculum.

  • Teachers cannot possibly teach all of the words students need to know directly, however, providing students with tools and strategies for learning words on their own, one such strategy being morphology (Kieffer & Lesaux, 2010).
  • Students from grades 1-6 have evidenced success in word reading and reading comprehension through training in some aspects of morphology (Bowers, Kirby, & Deacon (2010)
  • Morphology provides a key to developing both word knowledge and high quality mental representations and that knowledge and contributes to word reading and to reading comprehension (Nagy, Berninger, & Abbot, 2006; Nunes & Bryant, 2006).

VTRIX is a combination of a reading passage aligned with morphemes and their meanings. As the student reads through a passage, he/she is self-monitoring while using an Outside/Inside word attack strategy by first attempting to define the word from context, and then from the available morpheme definitions. I made adaptations to a well known Vocabulary Tricks derived from Baumann and his colleagues (2003) by adding self-regulatory vocabulary learning instruction strategies, calling it VTRIX. Learner’s use the Outside/Inside approach to look both inside and outside a word in order to read a challenging passage. 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4   Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone

Are the revised common core standards still standards?

Yesterday I went to Costco to get apples, There were sixteen varieties of apples, yet they were all a type of apple. Now, an apple expert would immediately know that some were good for baking, others of eating, and still others represented a variety of flavors. However, none of the apples could claim to be oranges!

As states begin to individually revise approaches to implementing the common core the essential skills needed to be college ready remain unchanged. Learning achievement requires a common core of learning goals that emphasize college readiness and self-regulated learning.

When not being politicized, the common core initiative can be viewed as an excellent set of guidelines for curriculum, instructional planning, and good teaching. The old saying that states, “If you aim at nothing you will hit it everytime!”, has not been the problem with our educational system. In reality, aiming at mixed sets of goals and curriculum planning has led to poor learning outcomes.

As educators we need to embrace the concept of common standards. Educational excellence is the goal of all those involved in teaching and learning, although approaches to achieving the goals are varied, we are all headed in the same direction.

A dinner party with pizza?

pizza     You know sometimes it comes down to resetting our goals in the moment. Self-regulation informs our decision making almost “on-the-go”… For example, if I am planning a dinner party with many guests and find that I have run out of time to cook all the food I need (or wanted) – why not have pizza?

Self-regulation is a life skill and it applies to entertaining as well as the classroom setting. Sometimes our reach exceeds our grasp (especially during the holidays), and the grasp of our students, meaning we set goals without a realistic time frame. In last week’s class we discussed the hazards of lesson planning, and how to set attainable proximal goals that raise self-efficacy. Like the dinner party with a three course meal, I had not taken into consideration I would not have time to cook the meal – when I thought ….PIZZA – I was able to maintain the “look” of the dinner party (decorations, table cloth, dinnerware, cutlery), the only thing that was adjusted was the menu which did not make me look like Martha Stewart but neither did it make me cancel my party. The next time I will set more realistic goals which will include time management.


My take on this is that we need to be realistic with what can be accomplished in one lesson or group of lessons. If we adjust goals we are doing it in the interest of raising self-efficacy. An “It Can Be Done” motto is better than not doing it at all. Eventually we will get to better time management but for now working with what we have, praising every proximal goal attained is one way to create a successful learning environment and increase student learning. The common core standards are a spiral staircase encouraging a meaningful progression towards attainable goals not an immediate run to the top.

Progress should be SEEN and heard!


What is progress monitoring and why do we think it is essential to learning? Remember the days when only the teacher and parent knew how well the student was doing? That was back when we would get a test or assignment returned to us and stare in disbelief at the grade —- wondering how did that happen????

Self-regulation and the common core moves the learner into the key position of measuring his or her own progress in a specific area of study.

A fourth grade teacher (Bronx, NY) reported how graphing practice test goals and results helped her students track their progress for state exam preparation…….

As part of our 4th grade test prep we give students practice tests 3 different times (January, February, and March) before the state exam. After they take their practice test they record their score on a graph and create a realistic goal for the following practice test to aim higher. Several of my students were highly motivated with this graphing system, because they saw the numbers and knew that is not the score they wanted. They wanted to aim higher so they worked very hard by getting tutoring, asking for additional practice, asking questions etc. As a result, the students saw their growth and felt extremely proud of themselves which took off lots of anxiety for the state test because they knew they had been working hard to prepare themselves for the test.” This teacher later reported the outcome of individual progress monitoring…….All of my students passed the state exam! Not only was our grade the highest scores in the entire school but not one of my students failed. Our overall percentage of 75% in ELA and overall 89% in math!

Graphs, checklists, charts, all provide simple ways for students to SEE their progress. When proximal goals are set (and NOT distal), students can see their accomplishments even if they are “baby steps” toward accomplishing a greater goal. Seeing one success at at time leads to increased self-efficacy in that specific area.  Students love to enter data, especially when it reflects hard word that has led to improved scores. Teachers who provide extra help, tutoring, and support can show students how taking advantage of extra help can lead to improved performance!