Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Teaching and Learning Hand in Hand: Adaptive Teaching and Self-Regulated Learning

by Judy Randi - 2017

This article presents case studies of two novice teachers and their mentors who, without formal knowledge of self-regulation theory, established a classroom environment that promoted self-regulated learning. This case was drawn from a larger descriptive study of novice teachers learning to integrate a student-centered visual literacy instructional approach into their literacy curriculum. This visual literacy approach requires teachers to adapt their teaching to students by building on studentsí responses to works of art and to generate moment-to-moment instructional sequences and interactions during instruction. The two cases reported here were selected as exemplars because these teachers created opportunities for students to adapt themselves to instruction and to draw upon self-regulated learning strategies. These cases provided the context in which to examine the dynamic relationship between teaching and learning, and explore how teachers develop studentsí capacity to adapt to the learning environment and how studentsí own self-regulated learning, in turn, contributes to and enables adaptive teaching. Through classroom observations, teaching artifacts, and teachersí own explanations of their instructional decisions and dynamic teaching practices, this study explored how teachers developed adaptive teaching strategies as well as studentsí self-regulated learning within the constraints and affordances of an instructional approach that required teachers to follow their studentsí lead rather than their own lesson plans or scripts. Using examples from these case studies, this article builds theory about how studentsí self-regulation facilitates teaching.

The relationship between teaching and learning has long been a focus of educational research. On the one hand, teaching matters; research has demonstrated that what teachers do affects student learning (see, e.g., Brophy, 1988). On the other hand, what learners do also matters; students’ productive work habits and goal-directed behavior contribute as much to their academic success as the instruction they receive (Perels, Dignath, & Schmitz, 2009). Modern psychological theory describes these productive work habits as self-regulation, a process in which “learners are engaged actively and constructively in . . . meaning generation and they adapt their thoughts, feelings, and actions as needed to affect their learning and motivation” (Boekaerts & Corno, 2005, p. 201). Success in today’s society requires students to acquire a complex set of skills, including the ability to self-regulate (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2014). Educating students for success in the 21st century requires educators to teach students how to learn on their own (Saavedra & Opfer, 2012). Clearly, student success depends neither solely on the teacher, nor solely on the learner.

According to theory on adaptive teaching, teaching and learning go hand in hand. That is, teachers adapt instruction to individual student differences and learners adapt to learning situations (Corno & Snow, 1986). Theory on adaptive teaching posits that learning occurs when learners and instruction adapt to each other such that individual learners and situational demands fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Adaptive teaching is equally attentive to learning and teaching, and one supports the other (Randi & Corno, 2005; Stanford Aptitude Seminar, 2002).

To date, few researchers have studied the mutually supportive nature of teaching and learning. Notably, McCaslin (2009) captured the dynamic relationship of teaching and learning in her theory of coregulation. Drawing on principles of sociocultural theory, McCaslin’s coregulation model assigns interchangeable roles to teachers and students, who serve both as experts and novices, each learning from each other. McCaslin argued that students assume important roles as “adaptive learners” even in teacher-centered classrooms where direct instruction is the norm. In McCaslin’s model, individual student differences are viewed as opportunities for the promotion of adaptive learning. Adaptive learners draw upon strategies to cope with the demands of the classroom, negotiating their own cultural and social identities within the context of the classroom learning community (McCaslin & Burross, 2011). Although McCaslin’s work acknowledges the critical role of both teacher and learner in classroom learning communities, the contribution of the learner to teaching has yet to be fully explored.

This article examines the dynamic relationship between teaching and learning, in light of the “fit” between the learner and the environment, and explores how that fit facilitates not only learning but also teaching. Previous research has studied how teachers manipulate learning environments to promote student learning (Gage, 1978). The study reported here focuses on how teachers develop students’ capacity to adapt to the learning environment and how students’ own self-regulated learning, in turn, contributes to and enables adaptive teaching. One might say that learning lends a hand to teaching as much as teaching supports learning.


To provide context for studying the mutually supportive nature of teaching and learning, I first describe some of the theoretical work on adaptive teaching (hereafter referred to as AT), illustrated with examples from previous research conducted with adaptive teachers. Next, I review some relevant research on self-regulated learning (hereafter referred to as SRL), including interventions designed to support novice teachers in promoting SRL. Finally, particular attention is given to learning environments that afford opportunities for both teaching adaptively and developing students’ self-regulation. The study described in this article was conducted within the context of one such environment, an interactive, student-centered visual literacy program that afforded novice teachers opportunities to learn adaptive teaching and for students to become self-regulated.


Researchers studying adaptive teaching have traced the practice back to antiquity, finding examples among ancient Chinese and Roman educators who devised strategies to address individual student differences in group settings (Corno & Snow, 1986; Randi & Corno, 2005). Contemporary educators also accommodate student differences. Some teach using structured practices offered to teachers in faculty development programs, such as “differentiated” instructional practices that match learning tasks or instructional methods to students’ “learning styles” (Tomlinson, 2003). Others, such as the adaptive teachers described in research by Randi and Corno (2005; Corno, 2008), work more like ancient educators who improvised instruction in response to classroom events or students’ reactions to instruction at any given moment. Rather than by formal training, these educators typically learned their craft as apprentices, observing expert teachers’ interactions with individuals and groups of students during the course of instruction.

According to theory, adaptive teaching addresses the needs of individuals within the classroom setting in two ways: first, by adapting instruction to students, and second, by adapting students to instruction (Corno & Snow, 1986). Theory describes teachers sliding back and forth along a support continuum, providing students more or less support as needed (Corno, 2008). Ultimately, the goal of adaptive teaching is that students learn to adapt themselves to instruction, that is, that they become independent, self-regulated learners who can fill in the gaps in incomplete instruction (Corno, 2004).

Research on adaptive teaching has primarily focused on descriptions of how teachers adapt instruction to students, providing support or challenge as needed to help them circumvent obstacles and inaptitudes. Corno (2008; Randi & Corno, 2005) provided examples drawn from case studies of secondary teachers spanning a range of subject areas, including English, physics, social studies, math, and vocational education. The case studies illustrated how adaptive teachers responded to students in the course of instruction, taking their cues from students in a continual assessment process rather than a predefined script or “lesson plan.” For example, teachers described “eavesdropping” on students in small-group activities and then using what they overheard to continue the next segment of instruction. They brought the small-group discussion into a whole-class lesson, such that the whole class could benefit. Notably, these adaptive teachers capitalized on what individual students had to offer the whole class.

Corno and Randi (2005) extended adaptive teaching theory by describing how adaptive teachers create a common teaching ground by bringing all students “up to speed” to profit from instruction. According to AT theory, greater support is useful as a scaffold to bring weaker students into the common teaching ground. Ultimately, the hope is that all students will learn to adapt themselves to instruction and learn from models that are provided, including peers in the classroom environment. When adaptive teachers note student weaknesses or gaps in knowledge, they initiate a kind of “benchmarking” process that makes learners more alike than different. For example, one teacher described assigning reading texts “slightly over the heads” of his most advanced students and then asking them to articulate challenges the texts posed and how they tackled those challenges, for the benefit of all students. In this way, student learning was leveraged to facilitate teaching.

In other descriptive research, Parsons (2012) conducted case studies of two experienced third-grade literacy teachers. These third-grade teachers adjusted their instruction in response to monitoring of students—such as reteaching a literacy strategy when the teacher observed student confusion. Parsons also described these teachers modifying lesson objectives, inventing examples and analogies as they taught, and generating questions to move students through reading groups. The evidence showed that teachers adapted instruction more frequently during tasks that were open-ended, such as projects, possibly because they perceived a need to provide students guidance in these types of tasks. Parsons called for future research beyond descriptive studies to gauge the effects of teachers’ adaptations on students’ self-regulated learning and other outcomes. Parsons’ conclusion is reflective of the trend to focus research on outcomes as well as processes and illustrates what Corno and Snow (1986) described as aptitude circumvention, that is, the process by which teachers provide learners varying levels of support or challenge to circumvent weaknesses and capitalize on strengths. Adaptive teaching, however, also includes the second aspect previously noted—namely, it has as a goal student aptitude development; adaptive teachers purposefully develop students’ capacity to regulate their learning.   

In Parsons’s study, the case study teachers were recommended as exemplary and selected because of their participation in graduate coursework or National Board Certification. It is not surprising that experienced teachers recognized for excellence would be thoughtfully adaptive. Are novice teachers likewise able to teach adaptively? Fairbanks and colleagues (2010) questioned whether teacher education coursework sufficiently prepares teachers to respond thoughtfully to students and situations, noting that some teacher candidates appear more thoughtful than others with similar professional knowledge. How might novice teachers learn not only to adjust their teaching to students and situations but also to help their students adapt to instruction?


Although there is little research on the relationship between the two aspects of adaptive teaching, there is considerable research on how students learn self-regulation strategies as well as some promising new research on how to support teachers in developing their students’ SRL. The next section reviews some of the prominent research in these areas.


There is a long history of classroom intervention in the development of SRL (Paris & Paris, 2001). Research demonstrates that SRL interventions can improve students’ academic performance (see Dignath & Büttner, 2008, for a review). Given the importance of SRL in the classroom, there is considerable interest in preparing teachers to develop SRL both through direct aptitude development and through structuring learning environments that afford opportunities for both teachers and students to become self-regulated.

SRL interventions typically target individuals’ strategic use of internal and external resources to persist at goal-directed behavior (Corno, 1994; Schunk & Ertmer, 2000; Zimmerman, 2000). Put simply, self-regulated individuals purposefully strive (i.e., use volitional resources) to persist at challenging tasks (Corno, 1993). Following Kuhl (1985), Corno and Kanfer (1993) developed a taxonomy of self-regulation strategies, which included metacognitive, emotion, and motivation control strategies as well as strategies for controlling the task environment, such as moving to a quiet place to avoid distractions. Examples in the taxonomy offer educators a window into ways they can help their students when situations call for SRL (e.g., the motivation control strategy of “You may find this challenging at first, but remember you have done something like this before”).

In addition to intervention research on SRL, there is theoretical and empirical research on self-regulation and the related variables that contribute to SRL going back to early models of cognitive-behavior modification (see, e.g., Mithaug, 1993). Less research investigates how SRL is embodied in teaching practice or how teachers develop students’ self-regulation within the context of classroom environments. Research has only begun to explore how novice teachers can be guided to support their students’ development as self-regulated learners. The next section presents some of the ways that teachers have been guided to promote students’ SRL, with a focus on more recent research that describes interventions within the context of teacher preparation.

Preparing Teachers to Promote Students’ SRL

Several research programs are investigating how to prepare teacher candidates to promote students’ SRL. One such research program demonstrates the critical role of mentor teachers who acculturate novice teachers into the productive learning environments they have established in their own classrooms (Perry, Hutchinson, & Thauberger, 2007; Perry, Phillips, & Dowler, 2004). This research program is based on observations of teacher–student interactions in “high-SRL” classrooms (Perry, 1998; Perry, VandeKamp, Mercer, & Nordby, 2002). In high-SRL classrooms, teachers offer choices, opportunities to control challenge, and opportunities for students to evaluate self and others; provide supports through self and peers; and structure evaluation that is nonthreatening and mastery oriented, such as providing helpful but noncritical feedback (Perry et al., 2002). Notably, these high-SRL practices do not include direct instruction in SRL. Rather than provide students direct instruction in SRL strategies, the high-SRL teachers created situations in which students are afforded opportunities to draw upon self-regulation strategies to accomplish tasks successfully. For example, students were provided choices that enabled them to take control of the task situation. At the same time, these teachers adjusted the level of support, just as adaptive teachers adjust instruction to students.

To document and describe these classroom features, Perry and colleagues (2002) invited 16 primary teachers to join an action research group in which they learned how to develop tasks and assessments that reflected “best practices” in literacy instruction. From this group, researchers selected 5 teachers whom they judged to be particularly interested in and skilled at structuring tasks that promoted students’ SRL. The researchers observed these 5 teachers and coded lesson transcripts for classroom environments that were previously found to support children’s SRL (Perry, 1998). These teachers had no special “training” in SRL per se, other than participation in action research groups that discussed “best practices” in literacy instruction. The study demonstrated the strength of observation as a measure of documenting how teachers structure classroom environments, tasks, and teacher–student interactions to support SRL.

Based on these studies of high-SRL classrooms, Perry et al. (2004) conducted a study of student teachers and their mentors to investigate whether and how mentors teachers who are adept at supporting students’ SRL can mentor student teachers to design tasks and develop practices that support students’ SRL. In one teacher education program, 19 student teachers were paired with 19 mentors in a cohort that emphasized SRL theory and practice. Throughout the fall semester, student teachers observed practices in mentors’ classrooms, were guided to design high-SRL activities, and participated in seminars in which they critically examined how their mentors promoted SRL in seminars. In January, during a brief practicum in their mentors’ classrooms, preservice teachers taught a 2-week mini-unit that incorporated practices known to promote SRL. After coursework that prepared them for an extended 13-week practicum, student teachers planned tasks and taught, under the guidance of their mentors. Mentor teachers shared their expertise at designing complex tasks that gave students control over factors such as the level of challenge, opportunities for self-evaluation, and an optimal level of teacher support. Student teachers and their mentors engaged in seminars led by the researchers who also visited each pair biweekly to debrief student teachers’ practices. Researchers videotaped the seminars and collected samples from student teachers’ reflection journals as well as the mini-units that student teachers designed. During the extended practicum, student teachers were observed three times, and researchers collected samples of their lesson and unit plans. Researchers gave mentors and student teachers a score for SRL depending on the number of high-SRL practices they observed. Researchers correlated mentors’ and student teachers’ scores and found that mentors’ scores predicted student teachers’ scores, with mentor practices accounting for about 20% of the variance observed in student teacher practices. Researchers concluded that although mentors’ practices marginally predicted student teachers’ practices, some student teachers’ SRL scores were higher than those of their mentors and vice versa. In this study, student teachers were not only mentored by practicing teachers but also received instruction in the theory and practice of SRL in their teacher education program.

Other research has also documented how teacher preparation coursework can prepare preservice teachers for developing students’ SRL before the student teaching practicum. Butler, Lauscher, Jarvis-Selinger, and Beckingham (2004) suggested that teacher educators prepare teachers with both theoretical knowledge and opportunities for practice. As one example of this approach, Randi (2004) described how preservice teachers learned to develop curriculum to support students’ SRL within the context of their teacher education coursework. These teachers subsequently designed SRL-based curricula in their own classrooms.

Several intervention studies have been conducted within the context of teacher preparation programs to investigate how novice teachers can be taught to develop student SRL. In a quasi-experimental study, Michalsky and Schechter (2013) asked student teachers in four teacher education programs to reflect with their mentor teachers on their practices after teaching science lessons. Researchers randomly assigned each of four teacher education programs to four research groups: Teachers reflected on (1) problematic experiences; (2) problematic experiences in a peer group; (3) successful and problematic experiences; or (4) successful and problematic experiences in a peer group. The peer group conditions included 3 other novice teachers who had observed the science lesson. Researchers observed and coded features of teachers’ instruction, documenting teachers’ instruction of specific SRL strategies, that is, instruction in cognitive strategies, metacognitive strategies, and motivational strategies. Researchers also observed classroom environments for evidence of cooperative learning and constructivist teaching practices. Researchers traced changes in teachers’ teaching of SRL strategies over time in the four reflective conditions. They reported that preservice teachers who reflected on both problematic and successful experiences improved more in their actual teaching of SRL strategies and in their actual arrangement of SRL environments, compared with preservice teachers who reflected on only problematic experiences.

In other research, Michalsky (2014) developed a scheme to assess teachers’ progress toward developing a professional vision (i.e., their ability to notice, describe, explain, and predict classroom events relevant for student learning). She then had preservice teachers participate in an academic course entitled SRL Teaching and Learning Methods, which she specifically designed to develop teachers’ understanding of how to teach for SRL. Before and after this course, Michalsky asked preservice teachers to view video cases of expert teachers and to observe and analyze examples of explicit and implicit SRL strategy instruction. At posttest, teachers’ lesson analyses revealed specific examples of SRL components and showed growth in their professional visions, as measured by their ability to identify and analyze the teacher’s direct instruction in SRL. Michalsky found, however, that preservice teachers were less able to observe and analyze the teacher’s indirect arrangements for SRL environments.

In subsequent research, Michalsky (2016) incorporated technology into her SRL Teaching and Learning Methods course; this technology allowed preservice teachers to control the camera lens as they watched the video cases. By controlling the camera angle, these teachers were guided to notice salient classroom events, focusing the camera (and their attention) on specific student actions, and ultimately on teacher–student interactions, rather than only on teacher actions. Michalsky’s technological innovation may not only be a tool for developing novice teachers’ understanding of SRL but also a useful mechanism for developing teachers’ capacity to teach adaptively. Michalsky’s video cases provided novice teachers opportunities to learn from events and interactions within the learning environment. Michalsky’s studies highlight the importance of helping teachers transition to the “other side of the desk” (Randi, 2004), enabling them to “zoom in and out” on their students and to change their focus to see classroom events and interactions from a variety of perspectives.

These interventions reviewed provide novice teachers opportunities to learn SRL theory during their coursework and, in some cases, to practice developing students’ SRL under the guidance of mentor teachers. But these interventions were designed and implemented during the course of research. How many teacher education programs routinely incorporate opportunities for novice teachers to gain expertise in the theory and practice of SRL?

The Role of Learning Environments in Promoting SRL

Developing students’ SRL is a complex endeavor that involves direct instruction and modeling of self-regulation strategies as well as manipulation of features in the learning environment that afford students opportunities to become self-regulated. Key features of such environments include opportunities for choice and autonomy as well as low-risk instructional tasks that focus on mastery rather than performance goals (Corno & Randi, 1999; Schunk & Ertmer, 2000). Other research has suggested that optimal SRL environments structure opportunities for students to engage in authentic tasks, cooperate with each other, and construct their own knowledge (De Corte, Verschaffel, & Masui, 2004). The critical role of the environment in promoting SRL in students extends beyond classroom contexts. Recent research has found that schools can provide self-regulatory climates contributing to students’ academic achievement, and out-of-school programs can do this as well (Adams, Forsyth, Dollarhide, Miskell, & Ware, 2015; McLaughlin, Irby, & Langman, 1994).

Thus, establishing contexts that afford opportunities to learn SRL is critical. Not only can learning environments be structured to afford opportunities for SRL, but equally important, self-regulated learners can contribute demonstrably to the learning environment. Research has shown that children’s self-regulation behaviors facilitate classroom management even as early as the kindergarten classroom environment (Rimm-Kaufman, Curby, Grimm, Nathanson, & Brock, 2009). It is reasonable to expect that students’ adaptive behaviors will contribute positively to the quality of classroom learning environments in upper grades as well.

Put another way, developing students’ SRL adds value to teaching, facilitating both teaching and learning. Not only do students benefit from SRL, but students’ SRL affects classroom quality (e.g., by helping teachers to establish a more orderly and productive work environment). In summary, features of learning environments can be manipulated to facilitate both teaching and learning. The next section describes one particular instructional context that appears mutually supportive of both teaching and learning.


Educational psychologists have argued that studying teaching and learning within particular instructional contexts (subject areas or learning environments) is especially valuable because these studies help explain why and how teacher–student interactions occur (Turner & Meyer, 2000). Instructional context is one aspect of the classroom environment that includes “the influences of the teacher, students, content area, and instructional activities on learning, teaching, and motivation” (Turner & Meyer, 2000, p. 70). Instructional context serves a critical role in supporting students and teachers as self-regulated learners.

Classroom environments that support SRL offer learners opportunities for choice, autonomy, cooperation, ownership of knowledge, and participation in authentic, complex tasks (Corno & Randi, 1999; Perry, 1998; Schunk & Ertmer, 2000). Classroom assessment systems designed to provide feedback and self-evaluation contribute to a low-risk learning situation and promote students’ SRL (Perry et al., 2002). What if teachers engaged in an instructional approach in which all of these environmental supports were inherent in the principles of the program itself? What if the instructional approach was designed to promote teacher–student interactions? What if the instruction could be designed such that teachers had to take cues from students rather than follow a script?

There is some evidence that certain kinds of visual thinking activities embedded into classroom practices can provide this kind of environment. The Visual Thinking Strategies program originally developed by Housen and Yenawine (2001) entails a student-centered discovery process in which the teacher engages students in a discussion about works of art. Art provides a universally comprehensible experience that transcends language and culture (Dewey, 1934; Greene, 1994). Inherent in these student-centered programs are opportunities for choice, ownership, feedback and revision, and, most of all, teacher–student interactions. The teacher serves as a facilitator, guiding students with a series of open-ended questions to observe details and interpret meaning in works of art. Instruction is driven by the ideas of students. In these art-inspired discussions, teachers must listen to student ideas and interactions, and paraphrase, link, and use student-generated ideas as a basis for deciding what more students need to learn, such as vocabulary to describe what they see (Yenawine, 2013).

According to Yenawine (2013), through these interactions, teachers learn more about their students and what matters to them, and students learn more about each other and what their peers can offer to their own learning. They also develop new language for discussing art and visual media. The experienced teachers who worked with Yenawine’s Visual Thinking Strategies noted how the program changed the dynamics of classroom interactions:

 “When I started (to teach) I was using what was assigned to us to teach. . . . I saw that the mandated curriculum didn’t resemble. . .  the images I had of working with kids. But I didn’t really know how to be a teacher at first, and I didn’t know how to replace or improve what I was given.

I learn so much about them from listening to them (students).

As soon as I started using VTS I had insights into the language possibilities, particularly helpful in my class of ELL students.” (Yenawine, 2013, p. 56)

In short, teachers who incorporated Visual Thinking Strategies were learning to become adaptive teachers, taking their cues from their students rather than the scripted materials they had been given.

Following Housen and Yenawine (2001), the Yale Center for British Art has been implementing an innovative approach for teaching writing through visual literacy defined by Yenawine (1997) as a set of skills used to discern meaning in visual images. In the Yale Center for British Art partnership with local schools, museum educators introduce children and their teachers to works of art in a museum setting and guide teachers to bring visual images and art objects into the classroom to support their literacy curriculum (Barbot et al., 2012). This program supports children’s writing development by engaging them in multiple literacies and a range of creative and critical thinking skills in a process researchers termed PIE (perception, interpretation, and expression), that is, visual perception through observation, verbal description of visual images, interpretation grounded in visual evidence, and expression through the children’s sketches and writing (Tan et al., 2012). Rather than “script” teachers, museum educators model visual literacy practices that adhere to seven guiding principles: (1) require students to observe, slow down, and look; (2) provide sensory input; (3) use open-ended questioning strategies; (4) emphasize that sketch time is think time; (5) allow students to provide the words (e.g., to describe the art); (6) encourage personal connections, opinions, and different interpretations; and (7) teach students to make appropriate choices.

Notably, this approach to teaching writing is consistent with adaptive teaching at the same time that it develops students’ SRL. The visual literacy approach addresses aspects of motivation and emotion; choice, ownership, and interest are important tenets of this approach. For example, children are taught to make appropriate choices about art media. Students are encouraged to sketch and write about what interests them, to “zoom in” on all or part of the image as they choose, and to sketch their own ideas or any or all of the art image. According to one visual literacy teacher, choices students make provide teachers an opportunity to learn about their strengths and weaknesses (Shivers, Levenson, & Tan, in press). This teacher’s comment suggests that offering choices is a way that adaptive teachers assess their students’ approach and avoidance tendencies. In addition to motivation, the metacognitive aspects of SRL are also addressed when writers engage in “sketch time” to plan their writing. They engage in an interactive process of revision, elaborating on their sketch and their writing simultaneously, and they maintain effort until they judge that they have expressed all that is important to them (Tan et al., 2012).

This visual literacy instructional approach seems to afford teachers opportunities to learn to teach adaptively at the same time that it supports students’ development as self-regulated learners. Thus, this learning environment is a suitable instructional context in which to study how teachers learn to be adaptive at the same time that they learn to use SRL to enable teaching. One goal of research is to build explanatory theory about how self-regulated learning supports teaching.


Two case studies illustrate how novice teachers prepared students for instruction by developing students’ self-regulation skills. The two cases were drawn from a larger descriptive study of novice teachers who were learning to integrate visual literacy instruction into their curriculum. In the larger study, 6 novice teachers were purposefully selected to provide evidence about how teachers learned to teach adaptively when they were required to teach without a script, instead using the visual literacy student-centered instructional approach. Teachers were selected from a graduate preservice teacher education program with an informal partnership with the museum. A museum educator visited the preservice teachers’ graduate courses to introduce preservice teachers to visual literacy and to recruit them into the Summer Institute, a weeklong faculty development program at the art museum. All teachers in the study sample attended the museum educator’s introductory presentation during their preservice coursework, but not all of them attended the Summer Institute. Teachers in the larger study were purposefully sampled to represent a range of levels of training and mentor support. At the outset of the larger study, the 6 teachers were asked to engage in a range of adaptive teaching behaviors, consistent with the visual literacy instructional approach; only two demonstrated the capacity to develop their students’ SRL, as defined by indicators to be discussed next. These two cases are useful points of entry for theory building about how self-regulated learning facilitates teaching.


For the larger study, the focus was on elementary-level preservice teachers who had completed their coursework and were about to participate in their student teaching practicum. As one component of their practicum, preservice teachers compiled a portfolio of student teaching artifacts; these included lesson plans for a five-day mini-unit, student work samples, and reflective commentary describing evidence of student learning and changes made in plans from day to day, based on formal and informal assessments of student work. The portfolio also included an introduction in which the teachers explained why they chose teaching as a career, and a conclusion in which they explained what they learned from their student teaching experience. Each participant agreed to design and teach a five-day mini-unit that incorporated visual literacy activities.

Participant teachers were observed each day of the mini-unit that they taught. Lessons were audiotaped by the present author and transcribed. Participants also submitted lesson plans, including drafts and subsequent revisions they may have made in planning the mini-unit with their mentor teacher. Data sources included these lesson plans, transcriptions of audiotaped lessons, planning sessions with mentors, and postlesson reflections. The postlesson reflections, required in their student teaching practicum, asked teachers to reflect on their lesson, provide evidence of student learning, and describe any changes they made during the lesson. The reflection also included descriptions of accommodations made for individual students. In addition to observations and teaching artifacts, the researcher documented the classroom environment, taking photos of classroom displays and seating arrangements. The student teaching portfolio was also available to the researcher as a data source.

Data were analyzed for evidence of adaptive teaching. To isolate instances of adaptive teaching during instruction (“teaching without a script”), the researcher reviewed data for examples of (a) teacher–student interaction patterns, that is, open-ended questions and use of student responses to move instruction forward, (b) changes made during the lesson (not planned in lesson plans), and (c) teacher interaction with individual students (e.g., in small-group or individual support activities). To isolate instances of activities intended to develop SRL in students, the researcher searched the data for instances in which the teacher promoted SRL in students (e.g., modeling or prompting) and evidence that students used SRL strategies. SRL strategies were categorized as metacognitive, emotion, motivation, or environmental control, following Corno and Kanfer (1993). The researcher also searched the data for evidence of features in the learning environment that afforded opportunities for SRL, including, for example, evaluation systems that provided nonthreatening feedback or self-evaluation tools (e.g., rubrics), task structures that were complex but scaffolded (e.g., partner writing tasks), and opportunities for learner choice and control (e.g., a choice among several writing tasks).

Two teachers were selected as cases for in-depth study in this article based on evidence collected in the larger study. In particular, in these two cases, both mentor teachers and their student teachers overtly expressed their interest and belief in the importance of learner responsibility (e.g., “They are fourth graders. They need to be responsible for their own learning”). Neither these teachers not their mentors identified SRL by the term, but they appeared to value and develop in students the same characteristics that researchers term “SRL.”  These cases illustrate how different teachers facilitated both teaching and learning through their adaptive teaching practices, which included both adapting their instruction and adapting learners to benefit from instruction provided.


Helen (pseudonym) was a student teacher in a multiage (Grades 1 and 2) classroom in a suburban school. Her mentor teacher had no experience with the visual literacy program. Helen was introduced to visual literacy during preservice coursework and attended the Summer Institute at the art museum. Enthusiastic about visual literacy, Helen introduced her mentor teacher to this instructional approach. She shared her own sketchbook and other materials from the Summer Institute with her mentor. She also brought her mentor teacher to an introductory presentation, similar to the one Helen had attended during her coursework. Helen used visual literacy activities and materials she acquired during the Summer Institute, including a “look” book that introduced children to artistic elements they should look for in works of art (e.g., color, texture). Helen planned and taught a mini-unit on visual and mental imagery, or, as Helen explained to her students, “what the artist draws” and “what the reader sees.” In her unit, Helen taught her young writers to “draw pictures in their readers’ minds.”

An Asian American, Helen grappled with her family’s cultural beliefs, where “there is no planning for girls to go to college.” Helen expressed the philosophy that every child, no matter what gender or culture, should have equal opportunities. In her portfolio introduction, Helen expressed a strong commitment to honoring individual student differences to provide all students optimal learning experiences:

Some teachers want to teach the perfect class, where every child performs on the same level, the level where they should all be at their age, and when new materials are taught, students would be able to grasp the concept and understand right away. However, diversity exists in every classroom among every child. The combination of students' age, gender, ethnicity, native language, socio-economic status, physical or emotional differences, academic level, learning styles, special needs, and so much more, could sometimes be similar, but never exactly the same. As teachers, we need to learn who our students are, how they learn, and provide different ways that can help students learn. To learn who our students are, as teachers, we need to take the time to get to know them, talk to them, observe them, and talk to their previous teachers and their parents. We need to pay close attention during lessons and their engagement in activities. To provide different ways that can help students learn, as teachers, we need to constantly engage in formative assessments, analyze them, and make changes accordingly to our teaching methods and materials. (Helen, Portfolio Introduction: Philosophy of Teaching)

Helen’s student teaching placement provided multiple opportunities to address individual student differences. Her multiage classroom consisted of 19 first- and second-grade students, 9 “olders” and 10 “youngers,” as her mentor teacher called them. The students remained in the same classroom with the same teacher for two years, first as youngers and then as olders who provided support to their younger peers. Her students came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and included 4 students whose first language was not English. Helen also worked with students from a team teacher’s classroom during math and phonics, when the all youngers came to Helen’s classroom and all the olders gathered in the team teacher’s adjoining classroom. This experience provided Helen with an opportunity to work with a wide variety of learners and to work with and learn from two different mentor teachers.

The second teacher, Lucy (pseudonym), was a student teacher in a fourth-grade classroom in an urban school. This school participated in the Visual Literacy partnership program. Most of the teachers in this school had attended the basic and advanced Visual Literacy Summer Institutes, as well as professional development during the year. Museum educators, as coaches, worked with first- and second-grade teachers, who were required to integrate visual literacy activities into their curriculum. In the upper elementary grades, visual literacy was encouraged but not required. At the outset of Lucy’s practicum, Lucy’s mentor, new to this school, was relatively unfamiliar with the visual literacy instructional approach. The fourth-grade students Lucy taught, however, were familiar with visual literacy because they had previously learned to “read paintings” in the primary grades. Lucy herself was introduced to the visual literacy during her preservice coursework but had not attended the Summer Institute. Thus the visual literacy expertise came primarily from the learners.

It is likely that Lucy herself was a self-regulated learner. In her portfolio introduction, she explained that she attended an inner city public school where teachers “did not expect much” of children, especially Spanish-speaking children like herself. But fortunately, as Lucy explained, “my seventh grade teacher inspired me to work hard. She did not accept mediocrity and provided us with the confidence and knowledge we needed to be able to achieve in high school.” Lucy was determined, even before she set foot into her mentor teacher’s classroom to develop her students’ SRL, although she did not specifically reference the term SRL:

I want my students to be life-long learners. My students will learn to have the courage to chase a spark of curiosity. They will have the grit to persevere when faced with challenging tasks and learn to view failure as the motivation to push further. One of the biggest goals of our education system is to prepare each student for success in the “outside world.” That means more than teaching them the basic curriculum. It means teaching them values like determination and humility so they are prepared to tackle the myriad of challenges life has in store for them. (Lucy, Portfolio Introduction: Philosophy of Teaching)

Lucy initially expressed hesitation about planning and teaching a visual literacy mini-unit, claiming that she was “better at math.” Yet, accustomed to tackling challenges, she agreed to participate in the study, eager to learn as much as she could from her student teaching practicum. Her mini-unit focused on inferential thinking. In this unit, Lucy guided her fourth graders to observe details in works of art and then to interpret meaning, using the details they observed to support their inferences. Students then applied these skills to interpret the literature they read in their English language arts curriculum. Students also learned to express their interpretations in sketching and writing activities. At the end, she reflected on how visual literacy made students “so excited. They have choices to find a topic they like. It’s not like you have to tell them what to write.”

These two cases illustrate two different classroom environments and varying levels and types of support. Each environment afforded student teachers opportunities to learn adaptive teaching. In the next section, examples of these teachers’ adaptive teaching and visual literacy practices are presented within the context of their mentor teachers’ classrooms.


As previously explained, adaptive teaching includes both adjusting instruction to learners and adjusting learners to instruction. This kind of teaching, which depends on continuous assessment and adjustment of teaching and learners, is challenging, even for experienced teachers. The following sections present examples of how two novice teachers honed their craft as adaptive teachers, both by adapting their instruction and adapting learners to instruction.


Both Helen and Lucy learned to “toss the script” and take their cues from students, particularly during the “read a painting” activities. The following is an example of a typical interaction pattern during a read a painting activity. The transcript segment that follows shows the questions Helen asked, student responses, and follow-up questions that built on student responses to move the lesson forward. Note how Helen developed vocabulary (“creek”) using one student’s own words as he described details he saw in the painting.

T: Look carefully at the painting. Tell me what you see.

S: If you look down the field, you can totally see like a creek.

T: A what?

S: If you look down from the field, there’s blue, like water, a creek.

T: Uh huh.

S: In the front, you can totally see like a stone in a creek.

T: You think you see a stone in the creek.

Helen’s lesson segment shows how the activity began to bring learners into a central teaching ground in which all students had words to describe what they were seeing, words that they would later use in their own writing.

Although Helen’s students, in a sense, selected the vocabulary Helen “taught,” the unit’s objectives guided Helen’s big-picture plan for her mini-unit. Helen reflected on her lesson: “They should be able to describe what they see in a painting with details. Instead of saying just ‘a girl,’ students would be able to describe her as ‘a girl with long brown curly hair.’ These activities develop vocabulary they can use (later) in descriptive writing.” Helen saw student learning—in this case, vocabulary students chose to learn to read paintings—as an opportunity to facilitate teaching.

Committed to addressing individual student differences to provide an equal opportunities to learn, Helen was especially attentive to individuals engaged in writing tasks. For example, she decided to help students with spelling when she determined that “trying to spell a word interrupted their thoughts and prevented them from putting ideas in writing.” When students were asked to read a poem to create a mental image, she read the poem aloud and supported their understanding by talking about the meanings in words and phrases, which she explained was especially helpful to some students with lower reading levels. Helen often worked with small groups, providing different scaffolds, such as lined paper for some, graphic organizers for others, and several sheets of paper taped side by side to help a student sequence story events.

Helen was attentive to individuals not only in small groups and writing conferences but also during the course of whole-class instruction. Her lesson reflections describe her informal assessments and adjustments made during teaching:

I thought students would remember to use the skills and strategies they learned from the (“look”) book. And then I realized that children often need to be reminded of the things they learned previously. Sometimes, I needed to reteach the concepts. When I realized that, during this lesson, I reminded students of the (look) book, and prompted . . . students to recall how the book helped them form mental images.

Ensuring that all students, both olders and youngers, understood basic concepts of visual and mental imagery facilitated a subsequent activity in which olders wrote a description of a sketch they had drawn. They then read aloud their descriptions, and their younger partners drew the image that the verbal description conjured up in their minds. For Helen, the diversity of the multiage classroom apparently afforded opportunities to put students in charge of their own learning.

Whereas Helen’s mini-unit focused on descriptive language, Lucy’s fourth-grade unit focused on using evidence to support inferences. Once again, the instructional context and guiding principles of the visual literacy program facilitated teaching by affording students opportunities to make inferences and see the evidence in visual images. After describing what they saw in a painting, students were guided to interpret what they saw, grounding their ideas in evidence (details in the painting). In the following lesson segment, Lucy is guiding her students to build on each other’s responses to draw inferences about what might be happening in a painting:

T: Let’s be respectful. Did you hear the word he used? Say it again.

S1: He has a smirk on his face.

T: Did everyone hear the word he just used? Say that word again.

S1: He has a smirk.

T: What’s that tell you?

S1: He’s up to something.

S2: Yeah and he looks like he’s begging.

T: What tells you that?

S2: Because he is on his knees.

S3: And the old man looks like the girl’s dad.

T: Why do you say that?

S3: Um I don’t know but um they look like they are proposing, because there are roses down there and he’s probably begging her dad to let him marry her.

In this interaction pattern, Lucy prompted for an inference (What’s that tell you?) and then prompted for evidence (What tells you that?). One student (S1) shared an idea, and other students (S2, S3) continued to see evidence that led S3 to infer that the man on his knees was proposing. Again, this kind of interaction is inherent in the visual literacy instructional approach in which teachers ask open-ended questions and follow up on student responses. Teachers typically learned these open-ended questioning skills in the Summer Institute, but in this case, neither Lucy nor her mentor had attended the Summer Institute.

The students, however, had participated in many read-a-painting activities as first-, second-, and third graders. It may be that the students themselves facilitated Lucy’s skill at adaptive teaching. Note that Lucy begins the activity by acknowledging that this kind of discussion requires that students “be respectful” of each other to learn from their peers as much as from the teacher. In a reflection, Lucy explained the role of what she described as classroom management: “I concentrated on getting to know students on an individual level in order to gain their trust and respect. This allowed them to become comfortable with me in the classroom and make for an easier transition when I began teaching.”

Lucy self-monitored her own teaching and verbalized her adjustments during teaching. In one lesson, she asked students to share their interpretations of a poem she read aloud, stanza by stanza. After the first stanza, when no student voiced an interpretation, Lucy said aloud, “This is not working. Turn and talk to your partner about what you think is happening.” After the partner activity, students provided many different interpretations.

As Lucy became more comfortable teaching adaptively, she found it more and more difficult to teach from a script—in this case, the lesson plans her teacher preparation program required:

I spent a great deal of time writing out the script of my lessons, only to find myself changing it throughout my implementation because of my continuous assessment of student learning. Finding the scripted lessons ineffective, I moved to a bulleted format. This allowed me to be more natural and authentic when implementing my lessons because I did not feel the need to follow the plan as a script. (Lucy, Portfolio Conclusion)

These examples of adaptive teaching show how Helen and Lucy worked to move all students into the teaching ground, priming them for learning by developing common knowledge, which in turn facilitated teaching. Both teachers adapted instruction for individuals and groups, but in the end, they brought all students to the same understandings. In addition to adjusting teaching, Lucy and Helen also primed students to take responsibility for their own learning and behavior, as self-regulated learners.


Developing students’ self-regulation was apparently an important goal for both Helen and Lucy. The following examples show how each teacher went about developing students’ self-regulation, which in turn enabled these teachers to focus their attention on teaching.

Developing SRL in a Multiage Setting

Helen promoted students’ metacognitive, motivation, and emotion control strategies. Helen developed students’ metacognitive control by encouraging them to plan carefully, making choices about their writing. One student shared, “The part that inspired me most was the cat. That’s why I decided to write about the striped cat.” Helen made it clear that sketch time was planning time—in this case, time to think about the visual images they would later create in words: “I want to tell you something important, to remember that sketching time is thinking time. So when you are sketching you are also thinking in your mind what do you see there.” She encouraged students to self-monitor and evaluate their work. While working with individuals engaged in different independent tasks, Helen responded to other students who approached her with questions. She asked one of these students to check his work before showing it to her. When this student approached her again, she persisted, offering an incentive: “Check it again. Be sure it is right because I am going to use yours as a model when we share.” Thus, she not only encouraged self-monitoring but also provided the student an incentive to maintain effort on the writing task. In this multiage setting, olders sometimes finished tasks before youngers, and they were encouraged to share their work with peers.

Helen explicitly encouraged her students to put aside unproductive emotions. This kind of exchange, in which students encouraged each other, was common in Helen’s classroom:

S1: I’m bad at this.

T: That’s ok. Just try your best.

S1: I’m going to try something else.

S2: No, that looks pretty good.

Helen promoted students’ motivation control by encouraging endurance and self-reliance. For example, she encouraged students to “keep working.” After Helen’s prompting, "Is there anything you can add to your sketch?” the student replied, “I guess I can work on the background a little more.” She repeatedly rewarded their efforts: “You are working so hard. I am so proud of you.”

Helen relied on what she had learned about choice as a motivational tool during the Summer Institute, where she had learned to teach students to make choices about appropriate art materials to convey what they wanted to express. After discussing the colors in a painting, students were given a choice to sketch all or part of the painting. Taught how to make choices, one student asked, “Can I use colored pencils? I want to draw the stripes on the cat.”

Helen also encouraged students to draw upon resources in the environment, including peers. Capitalizing on the diversity of learners in a multiage setting, Helen encouraged students to seek help from their “older” peers and provided them guidelines. She asked students to choose who should “go first” and then guided, “If you can’t decide, the older goes first.” In a small-group activity, Helen encouraged, “Tom, listen to Elisa.” When Helen complimented one student for sitting quietly, another student claimed, “I told him what to do.” Thus, students managed their own and others’ behaviors, allowing Helen to focus on teaching.

Helen tended to “toss the script” and improvise instruction, including developing students’ SRL, as she saw the need for it. She may have been able to do this because of her attention and commitment to students as individuals, both during and outside of instructional time. Yet, it is also likely that the multiage setting provided both affordances (students learning from peers) and challenges (addressing a wide variety of learning needs), which in turn required Helen to create a common ground for teaching.

Developing SRL in an Established Self-Regulatory Climate

Lucy entered a student teaching situation in which her mentor had already established a classroom environment purposefully structured to develop students’ SRL. Although Lucy’s mentor had not attended any professional development on visual literacy, she was an experienced mentor teacher, who apparently considered students’ SRL a critical aspect of teaching. Classroom walls were covered with teacher-developed and commercially available displays, all with a similar message: Success. Don’t just wish for it. Work for it. A poster written in the mentor teacher’s own hand illustrates her understanding of SRL: Be determined. If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you. Also displayed were posters with definitions: Effort (Achieving goals through hard work), Responsibility (Being in control of your own behavior), and Choices (Making every decision carefully). Writing rubrics were also displayed, and students were expected to use them as self-evaluation tools. Lucy’s mentor explained, “These are fourth graders. They have to be responsible. It takes teachers a while to get to the comfort level to let go. But if you spoon feed them, they have nothing left for the next grade. They have to figure it out on their own.” Lucy’s mentor also apparently had to “figure it out on her own.” She shared, “When I first studied teaching, it was teacher–student. That’s what I was taught. It takes a while to get it, that you have to turn responsibility over to students. But students make discoveries on their own.”

Lucy’s mentor not only demanded effort and responsibility but also promoted metacognitive strategies. As illustrated in another classroom display, appropriate behavior and respect for peers was necessary but not sufficient for learning: Raising your hand shows you’re here. Giving an answer shows you’re listening. Explaining your answer shows you’re thinking. Students were encouraged to articulate their thinking, modeling metacognition, peer to peer.

Perhaps because Lucy had expressed hesitation about teaching writing, especially with visual literacy activities, she depended on her mentor for advice. During planning, Cheri, Lucy’s mentor, guided her: “In fourth grade, they have to learn to make choices. They learned different kinds of note-taking strategies, and they have to choose one that works for them.” During the lesson, Lucy modeled using a T chart to record details and inferences. When students were assigned a similar task, they were allowed to choose their own way of recording details and inferences. Two students chose T charts; some chose other organizers, such as bulleted lists. Others recorded inferences directly on details they drew in their sketches.

Lucy embedded SRL into the content of the English language arts curriculum, using curriculum content to teach students the importance of making good decisions and taking responsibility for their choices. Lucy began a lesson on character analysis by reading aloud Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. In introducing the poem, Lucy attended to her students’ motivation: “Poems are sometimes difficult to understand, but you can understand this one. It is one of my personal favorites.” Stopping after each stanza, she invited students to discuss the poem’s meaning, which elicited a variety of interpretations: “He’s a traveler, waiting, deciding which road.” “He’s interested. He’s peeking ahead to look at the road.” “He doesn’t know which way to go.” “He’s looking for a sign to attract him to the right path.” Lucy latched onto this interpretation to praise the students for thinking about taking the right path and making good decisions. “Some choices are bad,” she explained. Lucy then connected the poem to the chapter book students were reading and engaged students in a task in which students were asked to analyze and evaluate the characters’ decisions and the consequences of their actions. Students were then invited to offer alternative decisions, better choices that would lead to more favorable outcomes. Based on their ideas, they created alternative endings to the story, but not before Lucy reminded them that they could apply the same strategies to “real-life problems.”

In addition to taking advice from her mentor, Lucy relied on her own experiences as a self-regulated learner to promote her students’ SRL, modeling how she approached challenges. For example, she modeled how she regulated her own motivation, as she introduced a writing lesson: “Ms. T was good in math but hated writing. I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to teach writing? And to add art, I thought, how am I going to be able to do that?’ But visual literacy is natural. You write like you’re talking. And I thought, ‘I can do that!’” Lucy typically taught students to make appropriate choices and take ownership of their work by emphasizing SRL strategies that students would use during the lesson, such as decision-making and ownership. Before assigning a writing task, she explained, “You may keep your writing notebooks on your desk. Does that mean you have to?”

Emphasis on ownership and choice extended into opportunities for self-monitoring, evaluating, and, ultimately, revising their work during the writing process. Before teaching revision, Lucy modeled, “This is my story, so I can change it if I want.” Later, during the revision activity, she reminded one student who had not named her story characters, “You need to come up with the names. It’s your story.”


For both Lucy and Helen, opportunities for learning to teach adaptively and to develop students’ self-regulated learning came from a variety of sources, including the Visual Literacy program, their mentors’ established practices, their own learning experiences, and the students themselves. These student teachers, however, had received no specialized training in adaptive teaching or SRL, although they had been briefly introduced to the concept of SRL in their educational psychology course through a chapter in their textbook (Omrod, 2011). When asked, the mentors claimed they could not recall learning about SRL in their teacher education programs. Yet, both the student teachers and their mentors appeared to intuitively understand what it means to be “self-regulated” and how SRL contributes to students’ success as learners. For example, they continually communicated to their students that effort matters, and they prompted students to take responsibility for their own learning. How did these teachers learn to teach adaptively at the same time that they structured tasks and learning environments that promoted students’ SRL?

The situational contexts, including the Visual Literacy program and the press to manage and teach diverse groups of students, appeared to afford both challenges and opportunities for teaching adaptively and drawing upon their students’ own SRL habits to move instruction along. For example, the multiage classroom challenged Helen to address diverse learning needs. Yet it also provided opportunities to capitalize on student differences and encourage students to help each other self-regulate. As previously described, the Visual Literacy program set the context for self-regulation to occur by providing opportunities for choice and ownership and well as opportunities for planning and self-monitoring. But this context posed challenges for Lucy, who had not attended the Summer Institute and who thought of herself as “better in math.” In Lucy’s case, the established classroom environment and her own self-regulation afforded her opportunities to develop students’ strategy use.

Table 1. How Students’ SRL Facilitates Teaching

SRL Strategy

Situational Contexts



How Teaching Is Facilitated

Metacognitive Control


Multiage classroom

“Go back and check it again because I am going to use yours as a model.”

Work independently to recheck writing

Teacher focuses attention on (other) individual students who need support

Visual literacy

“Is there anything you can add to your sketch?”

Independently revise sketch

Monitoring shared by teacher and students


Visual literacy

“Sketch time is thinking time.”

Plan for writing

Establishes productive work environment for all

Motivation and Emotion Control


Visual literacy

Provides choice of art materials and writing topics of interest.

“The part that inspired me most was the cat. That’s why I decided to write about the striped cat.”

“I will use colored pencils (to sketch striped cat)”

Tasks tailored to their individual student interests


Analysis of story characters applied to student behavior:

“Some choices are bad; decisions have consequences” (Story discussion).

“You can choose to come back to the group when you are ready to listen” (Behavior consequence).

Make decisions about their own behavior

Promotes behavior self-management (classroom management)


Visual literacy

“You may keep your writing notebooks on your desk. Does that mean you have to?”

This is my story so I can change it if I want.”

Make decisions about their own learning; take responsibility for own learning

Learning experiences tailored to individual student preferences

Effort, persistence,

 & responsibility

Mentor’s established classroom environment

Motivational posters: If you are determined, no one can stop you.

Responsibility is being in control of your own behavior.

Refer to posters during activities, as prompted by teacher

Establishes productive work environment in which students maintain effort and work independently, with less need for teacher to intervene or repeatedly explain directions

Mentor’s beliefs and established practices

“They have to be in control of their own learning.”

Stop asking questions about “what the teacher wants” and get to work

Visual literacy

“I’ll let you answer that. Whatever you want to do” (in response to student asking what the teacher wants students to sketch).

Mentor’s beliefs

“You are working so hard. I am proud of you.”

Increase effort

Positive thinking

Novice teacher’s own experiences

Models: “And I thought, ‘I can do that!’”

In turn, encourage peers

S1: “I’m bad at this.”

S2: “No, that looks pretty good.”

Teaching shared with students

Control of Environment (Others and Tasks)

Adaptive help-seeking

Multiage classroom

“Ask your partner for help.”

“Olders” help “youngers.”

Peer-to-peer support leverages the teacher

Managing peers’ behavior



Establishes routines

“I told him what to do.”

Behavior management shared with students

Task structures

Mentor’s practices; multiage classroom

Assigns partner activities (with differentiated tasks for support and challenge)

Olders read description they wrote to youngers while youngers draw what they “see” in their minds; olders assess their own writing by comparing partner’s sketch to what they were trying to describe.

Scaffolds complex tasks tailored to individual strengths and weaknesses

Table 1 presents the situational contexts that may have afforded Lucy and Helen opportunities to learn adaptive teaching, including instructional contexts (e.g., visual literacy and curriculum), resources (e.g., art materials and classroom poster), and others in the learning environment, including mentors and students, as well as their own prior experiences as learners. Given the variables in instructional contexts, adaptive teachers face multiple challenges, yet these contexts can also afford opportunities for both teacher and student learning.

The press to manage the complexities of teaching may prompt novice teachers to seek ways to shape the learning environments to support both teaching and learning. Table 1 suggests ways in which teaching may have been facilitated by teacher actions and the SRL habits they encouraged their students to develop and practice. For example, when teachers encouraged students to take responsibility for managing their own behavior and that of their peers, they were able to focus their attention on teaching rather than managing student behavior. Classroom management is an important skill for teachers to develop, but for successful use of adaptive teaching, it is especially essential. For many novice teachers, attending to student behavior while trying to teach a planned lesson leads to cognitive overload and limits their ability to teach adaptively (Doyle, 1977). Feldon (2007) argued that automaticity is a “double-edged sword.” On the one hand, when teaching becomes more familiar and automatic, teachers allocate working memory to assessment of individual student needs. On the other hand, when cognitive load is too high, automaticity may lead teachers to superficial or biased assessments. In this view, automaticity may interfere with adaptive teaching that depends on fine-tuned and continual assessments while teaching.

Thus, teaching adaptively and teaching automatically are opposed, suggesting that the complexities of teaching and the need to attend to multiple demands may actually promote adaptive teaching practices. Not yet sufficiently experienced to teach automatically, novice teachers may seek to automate their students, turning productive learning into a habit. The need to “automate” students may have been especially salient to the two case study teachers. In addition to working through the challenges most novice teachers tackle, Lucy and Helen took on an additional challenge when they agreed to integrate visual literacy into their teaching practices.

In Lucy’s case, visual literacy was especially challenging because her mentor was relatively unfamiliar with the program, and Lucy herself had not attended the Summer Institute; she expressed hesitancy about teaching writing, “let alone through visual literacy.” Lucy, in a sense, was compelled to depend on her students, who had previously participated in visual literacy activities. Fortunately, her mentor teacher’s insistence that these fourth graders take responsibility for their own learning provided Lucy a way to manage the challenges of adaptive teaching.

In Helen’s case, literacy was also a challenging subject area even though she had attended the Summer Institute. Having learned English as a second language, Helen spent considerable time planning literacy lessons, including checking how to pronounce words in books she read aloud to children. Like her students, she may have found the visuals linguistically and culturally universal. Integrating visual literacy, for Helen, may have been a way to cope with the challenges of adaptive teaching, especially as she taught in a multiage classroom. Teaching in this context required Helen to focus attention on different students at different times, providing appropriate instructional content to the olders and to the youngers. Helen depended on students in each group being responsible for their own learning, especially when she needed to attend to students in the other group. For example, when Helen insisted that her student check his work again, Helen was not only promoting this student’s SRL, but she was also creating more time for her to attend to other students’ individual needs.

Thus, the novice teachers in this study appeared to need to create self-regulated students to cope with the challenges of teaching. These teachers adapted teaching practices to support student learning, they primed learners to profit from instruction, and they developed students’ own self-regulation, enabling them to adapt themselves to the common learning environment (teaching ground) and, in some cases, to adapt or select their own learning situations (e.g., through choices). Thus, as illustrated in Figure 1, both learners and teachers adapt to and shape the learning environment. When learners, teaching practices, and the learning environment are synchronized, learning can occur.

Figure 1. Synchronized Teaching and Learning



When adaptive teaching is successful, teaching and learning are “in sync” with situational constraints and affordances. Skillfully adaptive teachers facilitate their work by manipulating both features of the learning environment and the learners within it. Like self-regulated learners, adaptive teachers turn challenges into opportunities. In a sense, adaptive teaching might be thought to consist of what Sternberg (1997) described as a set of coping strategies that individuals draw upon to “survive” in different settings. According to Sternberg, success depends on adapting to, selecting, or shaping one’s environment. Teachers are not always free to select optimal learning environments, but adaptive teachers adjust their teaching to particular learners in particular situations, and they shape their instructional contexts by manipulating features of the environment. They also help learners adapt themselves to instruction and encourage them to select or shape their own learning environments. For example, self-regulated learners may move to a quieter place to study (selection) or tell their peers to stop bothering them (shaping).

The cases presented in this article show how novice teachers shaped the learning environment to support both teaching and learning. By developing self-regulated learners, teachers enlisted the support of students to contribute to shaping a productive learning and teaching environment. When students’ efforts to learn become habits that are automated like classroom routines, then both teachers and students can focus their attention on learning.


Adams, C. M., Forsyth, P. B., Dollarhide, E., Miskell, R., & Ware, J. (2015). Self-regulatory climate: A social resource for student regulation and achievement. Teachers College Record, 117, 1–28.

Barbot, B., Randi, J., Tan, M., Levenson, C., Friedlaender, L. K., & Grigorenko, E.L.  (2013). From perception to expression: A multi-method pilot study of a visual literacy intervention. Learning and Individual Differences, 28, 167–176.  

Boekaerts, M., & Corno, L. (2005). Self-regulation in the classroom: A perspective on assessment and intervention. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 54(2), 199–231.

Brophy, J. (1988). Research linking teacher behavior to student achievement: Potential implications for instruction of Chapter 1 students. Educational Psychologist, 23(3), 235–286.

Butler, D. L., Lauscher, H. N., Jarvis-Selinger, S., & Beckingham, B. (2004). Collaboration and self-regulation in teachers’ professional development. Teaching and Teacher Education, 20(5), 435-455.

Corno, L. (1993). The best-laid plans modern conceptions of volition and educational research. Educational Researcher, 22(2), 14–22.

Corno, L. (1994). Student volition and education: Outcomes, influence, and practices. In B. J. Zimmerman & D. H. Schunk (Eds.), Self-regulation of learning and performance (pp. 229–251). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Corno, L. (2004). Work habits and work styles: Volition in education. Teachers College Record, 106, 1669–1694. (Special issue on work habits and work styles in school)

Corno, L. (2008). On teaching adaptively. Educational Psychologist, 43(3), 161–173.

Corno, L., & Kanfer, R. (1993). The role of volition in learning and performance. Review of Research in Education, 19, 301–341.

Corno, L., & Randi, L. (1999). A design theory for classroom instruction. In
C. R. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory, (Vol. 2, pp. 293–318.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Corno, L., & Snow, R. E. (1986). Adapting teaching to individual differences in learners. In M. C. Wittrock (Ed.), Third handbook of research on teaching (pp. 605–629). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

De Corte, E., Verschaffel, L., & Masui, C. (2004). The CLIA-model: A framework for designing powerful learning environments for thinking and problem solving. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 19(4), 365–384.

Dignath, C., & Büttner, G. (2008). Components of fostering self-regulated learning among students: A
meta-analysis on intervention studies at primary and secondary school level. Metacognition & Learning, 3, 231–264. 

Dewey, J. (1934). Art as experience. New York, NY: Minton, Balch, and Company.

Doyle, W. (1977). Learning in the classroom environment: An ecological analysis. Journal of Teacher Education, 28, 51–55.

Fairbanks, C. M., Duffy, G. G., Faircloth, B. S., He, Y., Levin, B., Rohr, J., & Stein, C. (2010). Beyond knowledge: Exploring why some teachers are more thoughtfully adaptive than others. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1–2), 161–171.

Feldon, D. F. (2007). Cognitive load and classroom teaching: The double-edged sword of automaticity. Educational Psychologist, 42(3), 123–137.

Gage, N. L. (1978). The scientific basis of the art of teaching. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Greene, M. (1994). Multiculturalism, community, and the arts. In A. H. C. Dyson & C. Genishi (Eds.), The need for story: Cultural diversity in classroom and community (pp. 11–27).  Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Housen, A., & Yenawine, P. (2001). Visual thinking strategies: Understanding the basics. New York, NY: Visual Understanding in Education (VUE). Retrieved from http://www.vtshome.org/research/articles-other-readings

Kuhl, J. (1985). Volitional mediators of cognition-behavior consistency: Self-regulatory processes and action versus state orientation. In J. Kuhl & J. Beckmann (Eds.), Action control: From cognition to behavior (pp. 101–128). New York, NY: Springer-Verlag.

McCaslin, M. (2009). Co-regulation of student motivation and emergent identity. Educational Psychologist, 44(2), 137–146.

McCaslin, M., & Burross, H. L. (2011). Research on individual differences within a sociocultural perspective: Co-regulation and adaptive learning. Teachers College Record, 113(2), 325–349.

McLaughlin, M. W., Irby, M. A., & Langman, J. (1994). Urban sanctuaries: Neighborhood organizations in the lives and futures of inner-city youth. San-Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Michalsky, T. (2014). Developing the SRL-PV assessment scheme: Preservice teachers’ professional vision for teaching self-regulated learning. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 43, 214–229.

Michalsky, T. (April, 2016). Integrating video analysis of teacher and student behaviors to promote preservice teachers’ teaching self-regulated learning. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Washington, DC.

Michalsky, T., & Schechter, C. (2013). Preservice teachers' capacity to teach self-regulated learning: Integrating learning from problems and learning from successes. Teaching and Teacher Education, 30, 60–73.

Mithaug, D. (1993). Self-regulation theory: How optimal adjustment maximizes gain. New York, NY: Praeger.

Omrod, J. E. (2011). Educational psychology: Developing learners. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2014). Skills beyond school: Synthesis Report, OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training. Paris, France: OECD Publishing. http//dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264214682-en

Paris, S. G., & Paris, A. H. (2001). Classroom applications of research on self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist, 36(2), 89–101.

Parsons, S. A. (2012). Adaptive teaching in literacy instruction: Case studies of two teachers. Journal of Literacy Research, 44(2), 149–170.

Perels, F., Dignath, C., & Schmitz, B. (2009). Is it possible to improve mathematical achievement by means of self-regulation strategies? Evaluation of an intervention in regular math classes. European Journal of Psychology of Education - EJPE (Instituto Superior De Psicologia Aplicada), 24(1), 17–31.

Perry, N. E. (1998). Young children's self-regulated learning and contexts that support it. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(4), 715–729.

Perry, N., Hutchinson, L., & Thauberger, C. (2007). Mentoring student teachers to design and implement literacy tasks that support self- regulated reading and writing. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 23(1), 27–50.

Perry, N., Phillips, L., & Dowler, J. (2004). Examining features of tasks and their potential to promote self-regulated learning. Teachers College Record, 106(9), 1854–1878.

Perry, N. E., VandeKamp, K. O., Mercer, L. K., & Nordby, C. J. (2002). Investigating teacher-student interactions that foster self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist, 37(1), 5–15.

Randi, J. (2004). Teachers as self-regulated learners. Teachers College Record, 106, 1825–1853.

Randi, J., & Corno, L. (2005). Teaching and learner variation. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 3, 47–70.

Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., Curby, T. W., Grimm, K. J., Nathanson, L., & Brock, L. L. (2009). The contribution of children’s self-regulation and classroom quality to children’s adaptive behaviors in the kindergarten classroom. Developmental Psychology, 45(4), 958–972.

Saavedra, A. R., & Opfer, V. D. (2012). Learning 21st-century skills requires 21st-century teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, 94(2), 8–13.

Schunk, D., & Ertmer, P. (2000). Self-regulation and academic learning: Self-efficacy enhancing interventions. In J. Boekarts, P. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 631–649). Burlington, MA: Elsevier Academic Press.

Shivers, J., Levenson, C., & Tan, M. (in press). Visual literacy, creativity and teaching the art of argument. Learning Disabilities: A Contemporary Journal, 15(1).

Stanford Aptitude Seminar. (2002). Remaking the concept of aptitude: Extending the legacy of R. E. Snow. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Sternberg, R. (1997). Successful intelligence. New York, NY: Penguin.

Tan, M., Randi, J., Barbot, B., Levenson, C., Friedlaender, L. K., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2012). Seeing, connecting, writing: Developing creativity and narrative writing in children. In E. L. Grigorenko, E. Mambrino, & D. Preiss (Eds.), Writing: A mosaic of new perspectives (pp. 275–291). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2003). Fulfilling the promise of the differentiated classroom: Strategies and tools for responsive teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Turner, J. C., & Meyer, D. K. (2000). Studying and understanding the instructional contexts of classrooms: Using our past to forge our future. Educational Psychologist, 35(2), 69–85.

Yenawine, P. (1997). Thoughts on visual literacy. In S. B. H. James Flood & D. Lapp (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching literacy through communicative and visual arts (pp. 845–860). New York, NY: Macmillan Library Reference.

Yenawine, P. (2013). Visual thinking strategies: Using art to deepen learning across school disciplines. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 13, 2017, p. 1-34
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21929, Date Accessed: 12/6/2021 3:11:24 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Judy Randi
    University of New Haven
    E-mail Author
    JUDY RANDI is a professor at the University of New Haven. Her research interests include self-regulated learning, adaptive teaching, visual literacy, and collaborative innovation, research that documents teachersí own innovations. She has coauthored several publications on the development of writing skills through visual, verbal, and creative processes.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue