Self-Regulation and Technology – The Wave of the Future

By: Jeff Tran and Tina Mandal, Advanced Technology Facilitators, Durham District School Board

Overview of Advanced Technology in the Durham District School Board

The use of Assistive Technology (AT) within the Durham District School Board has changed over the course of the past 5 years. We have provided access to AT for all students and are training entire classes and teachers on the use of AT and how it can be incorporated at the point of learning and at the point of instruction. Within our board, we have changed the term “Assistive Technology” to “Advanced Technology” to help eliminate stereotypes and promote the idea that AT is beneficial to all. With our BYOD (bring your own device) policy, we are seeing more students coming to school with their own devices, providing teachers with an opportunity to teach students how these devices can be used at the point of learning. Many devices that students are using have Accessibility features built into them, providing equal access to the curriculum for all students. The figure below provides an overview of the AT that is being used by students within our school board (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Four nested circles within one another with lists of technology (see text in figure details)

Figure 1. Overview of Advanced Technology used within the Durham District School Board. Technology used includes Data Projectors, Document Cameras, Small devices, Smart boards, Smart notebook, Kurzweil, Speak Q, OneNote, Smart Ideas and Audacity.


Self-regulation can be defined as the ability to stay focused and alert, which often involves self-control. Resources such as Stuart Shanker’s book “Calm, Alert and Learning” and the “Zones of Regulation – A Curriculum Designed to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control” by Leah M. Kuypers can be found in many teachers’ classrooms throughout the Durham District School Board. Both books reinforce the need for direct teaching of self-awareness and self-management skills, as well as the development of thinking strategies and abilities within what Shanker (2013) refers to in his Five Domain Model of Self-Regulation, which outlines Biological, Emotional, Cognitive, Social and Prosocial (Reflective Thinking) Domains. It is important to directly teach self-regulation skills to students. One way that this can be reinforced is through the use of small devices and the apps and features that are available on the device to support self-regulation.

The following are a few sample apps that assist students in developing what Leah Kuypers (2011) explains are three types of tools that students can use to help regulate themselves. These tools include: sensory supports, calming techniques, and thinking strategies (see Figure 2).

Circle split into 3 sections labeled Sensory Supports, Calming Techniques, and Thinking Strategies; Self-Regulation in middle (see text in figure details)

Figure 2: Self-regulation tools. Self-regulation tools include sensory supports, calming techniques, and thinking strategies. Adapted from “The Zones of Regulation – A Curriculum Designed to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control,” by L.M. Kuypers, 2011, San Jose, CA: Social Thinking Publishing.

Sensory Supports

Sensory supports are those tools that help to calm the nervous system so that students are better able to focus and attend. Some of these supports assist students with being more alert, and others assist with calming students down in preparation for learning. Sensory supports can include: dimming of lights, use of furniture (e.g., bean bags), music, stretching, etc. Teachers within our school board have used various apps to assist students to meet their sensory needs and prepare for learning.

Apps For Sensory Supports

  1. Super stretch yoga logo: person in a blue superhero outfit with a red helmet and capeSuper Stretch Yoga – available on iOS devices (free) – This app provides many yoga poses that can be projected and used to assist with calming the body and also “waking up” the body. The app’s visual and auditory supports make it engaging and easy to follow. It is suitable for students in elementary school.
  2. Feed music app screen shot: five colourful circles with outlines and dots in the middleFeed – available on iOS devices ($3.99) – This app allows you create music from the sounds of the world around you. It contains bold visuals and a simple intuitive interface. It is suitable for students of all ages. This app is used to calm students through simple visuals and music.
  3. Class break logo: paper airplaneClass Break – available on iOS devices ($0.99) – This app provides teachers with quick ideas of movement and brain breaks that can be used in between activities or subjects to help students self-regulate. A variety of activities that involve very little equipment can be accessed within minutes.

Calming Techniques

Calming techniques are those tools that are used to calm the mind and nervous system, allowing students to focus on the task at hand. Calming tools could include: breathing techniques, counting, music, stretching, yoga, the use of a computer, etc. The use of apps and websites to support some of these calming techniques are widely used within our board and are available on a variety of platforms.

Apps and Websites for Calming Techniques

  1. GoNoOdle logo: GoNoOdle written in white in a green cloudGoNoOdle ( – available through the internet (free) – This website provides teachers with brain breaks that can be used with students throughout the day in the form of videos. Teachers project the video using their data projector and have students participate in the activity within the classroom. Some examples include stretch breaks, breathing breaks, and Zumba, as well as many more activities. Incentives are built into the website and are provided each time that the class accesses a video.
  2. Zones of Regulation logo: four coloured blocksZones of Regulation App – available on iOS devices ($4.99) – When using this app, students learn how to use strategies or tools to manage their feelings and behaviors in each colour zone. The app also provides students with the ability to build a repertoire of tools that can be used to regulate and move between zones (i.e., breathing, counting, etc.). The app coincides directly with the lessons and concepts taught in Leah Kuypers’ book “Zones of Regulation.”
  3. Breath2Relax logo: contains text B2RBreathe2Relax – available on iOS, Android and Google (free) – This app provides a visual as well as auditory input for a student who is using breathing as a calming tool. It allows users to customize their inhale and exhale lengths.

Thinking Strategies

Thinking strategies are supports that are used to assist students with developing a more positive self-concept and replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Some examples of thinking strategies include journaling, role-playing, and social stories. Apps, websites and a variety of software are being used throughout the board for students who have individualized needs and benefit from reflecting on how their thoughts and actions can affect themselves and others.

Apps for Thinking Strategies

  1. Kids Journal – available on iOS devices (free) – This app allows students to add photos, record video or audio, and detail their thoughts or feelings about a particular event or situation.
  2. Social Stories – available on Android/iOS devices and the internet (free and paid options) – Social stories are used to assist with the modelling of appropriate social interactions and responses to a variety of situations. They can also assist students with reinforcing appropriate responses in situations that may result in negative thoughts or behaviours. There are a variety of pieces of software, apps and websites that can assist with making social stories for students. App suggestions for social stories can be found online.

Self-Regulation and Beyond

According to Shanker (2013), by supporting students to achieve optimal self-regulation, we are preparing them to succeed because they are calm, focussed and alert. Structure, Accessibility and Appropriate Task Complexity also play an important role in the students’ belief in their ability to achieve success, and are directly related to self-regulation (see Figure 3). Certainly, many elements of structure can be found in Shanker’s (2013) Cognitive Domain including setting goals and managing time. The apps and features of devices related to self-regulation have been listed below under the categories of Structure, Accessibility and Task Complexity.

Venn diagram with three overlapping circles: Provide Structure, Improve Accessibility, Decrease Task Complexity (see text in figure details)

Figure 3: Self-regulation and beyond: Structure, accessibility and task complexity. Provide structure, improve accessibility and decrease task complexity are shown as a Venn diagram where the overlapping interactions represents outcomes of decrease anxiety (structure and accessibility), reduce frustration (accessibility and task complexity), reduce feelings of uncertainty (task complexity and structure), and improved self-efficacy and self-esteem (structure, accessibility, and task complexity). By using apps that increase accessibility, provide structure, and reduce task complexity, students are more likely to experience success. Additionally, the development of self-regulation skills will further contribute to student readiness to learn, thus leading to repeated success and improved self-efficacy and self-esteem. (Self-efficacy is the measure of the belief in one’s own ability to complete tasks and reach goals (Ormrod, 2006).) This is key because individuals tend to undertake future tasks where self-efficacy is high (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997).


Structure refers to supports such as scheduling and calendar apps that provide the needed planning and organization, which can help to decrease feelings of anxiety. Apps that may contribute to success and can be added as part of self-regulation strategies include iStudiez Pro and the built-in device calendar app provided on iOS and Android-based devices. These apps give users instant access to alarms and tasks (to do lists), and provide a means for prioritizing and scheduling activities that lead to project or assignment completion.


Accessibility removes barriers and enhances or improves the capabilities of the user through features such as text-to-speech or speech-to-text or screen reading options for individuals who are blind/low vision or have other specific learning needs. These features have the potential to significantly reduce frustration and open the doors to new possibilities for many individuals. An App that has emerged as a game changer includes Proloquo2go, which is one of the many symbol-supported communication apps that are now giving a voice to students who are nonverbal.

Task Complexity

Addressing task complexity is very much about understanding what works for individuals. For many students, this involves reducing tasks into smaller chunks or creating a manageable path to success where all elements are completed in a manner that reduces uncertainty. Take for example the SimpleMind+ mind mapping app that allows students to brainstorm or create a complex web of ideas, visually supported, and without the demands and fatigue associated with linear writing. Other simple examples include using the on-board camera app to snap pictures or short videos in place of note taking; videos can be used to explain complex ideas with voice narration. More recently new apps such as Keedogo Plus have emerged that support the written output through use of keyboard with simplified layout and reduced typing efforts with advanced multi-word prediction.


By allowing students to expand their toolkit, they are better equipped to deal with situations and identify tools that may work for them in a variety of situations. Technology provides some of the tools that may benefit many of our learners. By appealing to the interests and learning styles of our students, we have provided the opportunity for many of our students to set goals, monitor their progress, seek out assistance and self-regulate.

List of Apps/Resources Discussed

App/Resource Description Price Vendor/Developer/Website
Breathe2Relax Offers tools to assist with stress management Free The National Centre for Telehealth and Technology
Class Break Provides quick and easy activities that can be performed within the classroom $0.99 Dale Sidebottom
Feed Experiment with music and sound $3.99 David Gunn
iStudiez Pro Tracking schedule that for homework $2.99 iStudiez Team
GoNoOdle Brain breaks offered in the form of videos Free GoNoOdle
Keedogo Plus iOS keyboard and word prediction $4.99 AssistiveWare
Kids Journal Details thoughts or ideas using pictures and words Free App of Approval, LLC
Proloquo2Go Symbol supported communication app gives a voice to individuals who are non-verbal $219.99 AssistiveWare
Simple Mind+ Mind Mapping and brainstorming, idea collection, thought structuring Free
$4.99 (full version)
Xpt Software and Consulting B.V.
Social Stories Websites and apps that assist with creating social stories for students Free and paid List of social stories resources
Super Stretch Yoga Interactive yoga app free The Adventure of Super Stretch, LLC
Zones of Regulation Reinforces lessons taught in the book $5.99 Selosoft Inc.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Kuypers, L.M. (2011). The Zones of Regulation: A Curriculum Designed to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control. San Jose, CA: Social Thinking Publishing.

Ormrod, J. E. (2006). Educational psychology: Developing learners (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.

Shanker, S. (2013). Calm, Alert, and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation. Don Mills, ON: Pearson Canada Inc.


Tina Mandal and Jeff Tran are Special Education Facilitators for Advanced Technology with the Durham District School Board. Jeff and Tina have been training students and staff in their use of Advanced Technology at the point of instruction and at the point of learning for the past 5 years. You can follow Jeff or Tina on Twitter at: @mandtina1621 or @tran_jeffrey

SNOW does not specifically endorse any specific software or hardware. All views and opinions expressed in our feature articles are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by SNOW.

Published February 2015