Stationary bikes are now appearing in Canadian classrooms in the latest wave of the North American “self-regulation” movement. Frustrated , angry and fidgety kids and stressed-out parents are driving many teachers almost crazy and they are grasping for life preservers in today’s classrooms. That may explain why principals and teachers in the Halifax Regional School Board and far beyond see spin bikes as almost magical in their powers.
Is this becoming the latest ‘cure-all’ and where’s the scientific research to support its widespread use in regular classrooms? Since the publication of British teacher Tom Bennett’s book Teacher Proof, more and more classroom teachers are raising a “skeptical eyebrow” and confronting the succession of teaching fads that have come and gone over the past twenty years. It’s becoming acceptable to ask whether “self-regulation” with or without bikes is destined for the same fate.
The current expectations for Self-Regulation and Spin Bikes are sky high. Discovery of the latest ‘cure-all’ has sparked incredible media interest with recent CBC-TV short documentaries and CBC Radio The Current feature interviews.
The sheer excitement created by spin bike frenzy is captured well in Aly Thomson’s March 9, 2016 Canadian Press story: “Frustrated at her inability to draw a sofa, five-year-old Mylee Lumsden began to cry. She liked her drawing of a TV, but the couch confounded her, and so she grew increasingly upset. Her teacher, Mary Theresa Burt, looked at the brewing storm, and suggested the little girl take a turn on the bright yellow stationary bicycle at the centre of her primary classroom at Ian Forsyth Elementary School.” Within minutes, Mylee was “bright again, cheerful, and smiling widely.”
That tiny yellow bike was simply working miracles — calming rambunctious kids down, quietening the class, getting restless boys to sit still, and making teaching life liveable again. “Now, amid a shift in how educators shift and embrace various styles of learning,” Thomson wrote, “such bikes are helping to boost moods, relieve stress and regulate energy in students of all ages.”
“Learning styles” simply won’t go away long after it has been exposed as fraudulent educational practice. It’s the best known of the myths recently exposed by Tom Bennett, co-founder of ResearchED and Britain’s 2015 Teacher of the Year. A year ago, in the Daily Telegraph, he pointed out that many such theories that fill classrooms in Britain have little grounding in scientific research.
“We have all kinds of rubbish thrown at us over the last 10 to 20 years,” he stated. “We’ve been told that kids only learn properly in groups. We’ve had people claiming that children learn using brain gym, people saying kids only learn when you appeal to their learning style. There’s not a scrap of research that substantiates this, and, unfortunately, it’s indicative of the really, really dysfunctional state of social science research that exists today.”
Bennett is far from alone in challenging the research basis for a whole range of initiatives floating on unproven educational theories. According to a research scan by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), trillions of dollars are spent on education policies around the world, but just one in 10 are actually evaluated.
Commenting on the research, Andreas Schleicher, OECD director of education and skills, said: “If we want to improve educational outcomes we need to have a much more systematic and evidence-based approach.” Speaking at the 2014 Education World Forum in London, Schleicher added: “We need to make education a lot more of a science.”
Cutting through the hype surrounding Self-Regulation, it’s difficult to find independent, validated research support. A very perceptive October 2012 feature in The Tyee actually bore down into the British Columbia self-regulation movement looking for the research basis while 3,000 teachers were being taught the strategy.
While much of Dr. Stuart Shanker’s work is compromised by his promotion of his own particular program, Kimberley Schonert-Reichl, of UBC’s Human Development, Learning and Culture research unit, has studied MindUP , an alternative approach to teaching self-regulation as the basis for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Over a period of six years, she only found one large-scale independent research study, a CASEL study of 270 programs, that documented its actual benefits.
“So little(in education) has actually been formed by rigorous research, as opposed to the medical field, Schonert-Reichl claimed. ” I heard someone compare where we are with understanding well-designed educational studies to where we were with clinical drug trials in the early 1900s.”
Self-regulation definitely holds promise, but the research basis is quite limited and teachers are wise to be skeptical until there’s more evidence that it actually works and is sustainable in the classroom. A new study by Shanker and his associates, Child Development (September/October 2015), may add to the puzzle by demonstrating the the meaning of the term ‘self-regulation’ is still unclear and therefore expandable to accommodate an array of some 88 different concepts, including self-control, self-management, self-observation, learning, social behavior, and the personality constructs related to self-monitoring.
Who is really being served by ‘self-regulation’ is particularly unclear. Much of the rationale has its underpinning in neurocience and that’s what is being debated rather than its efficacy for the majority of students. Some like former BC Education Minister George Abbott see it as a way of serving severely learning-challenged kids and getting rid of the extensive, expensive Special Education system with all those individual program plans.
Child psychologist and elementary teachers, as The National Post columnist Marni Soupcoff anticipated three years ago, are latching onto self-regulation believing that you can ‘teach kids to behave properly in schools’ because the job is not being done in today’s family homes. The real reason it’s needed, in other words, is because too many kids aren’t getting the “psychological stability and support” they need from their own families.
Is Self-Regulation — with or without Spin Bikes – another unproven educational initiative that will come and go without a discernable impact on students? Should researchers marketing their own programs be relied upon to provide the supporting research? Will ‘self-regulation’ end up resembling mother’s version of “sit in the corner,” “go to your room” or “get down and do five push-ups, now” ? Should we intervene if kids riding those bikes ever come to look like hamsters on wheels in the Cage?