Study Tips for High School High Achievers

For students who have previously excelled in school without exerting much effort, the idea of an intense study session may seem not only foreign, but also intimidating. While these students have grown accustomed to acing assessments, memorizing concepts, and tackling tasks with ease, they may have inadvertently neglected to acquire an essential academic tooleffective study skills.

For gifted students, those who have naturally acquired, implemented, and stockpiled knowledge and content in their classes from previous years, difficult concepts or the sudden need to study in order to retain information can be jarring and frustrating. For these students, school has come easily until now—which means that honed study skills and strategies might be outside of their repertoire.

What can be done for these naturally-gifted secondary students, those who oppose studying out of stubbornness, unfamiliarity, or sheer confusion? Plenty.

1)  Start small with a rough outline of the essential material. For instance, if a high-achieving student in an AP history class is struggling to study for the first time, suggest that she create a realistic timeline for preparing for the assessment. A student who has never had to study is more likely to attempt a cramming strategy—or, non-strategy, if we are being honest. The added stress and lethargy from a long night of cramming before an exam can actually negatively impact the test-taker. As early as possible before an exam, high schoolers should attempt to roughly map out a study schedule that provides them with at least 3-5 days of advanced preparation.

The simple sample outline below for our AP history student could act as a starting point for those students that have never had to make an outline before:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday
Topic/Concept WWII Key Players Dates Vocab
Actions -Review map

-Chart Germany’s battles/progress

-Assign 1 key point for each significant  historical person

-Make 2nd copy of blank timeline; try to complete from memory

-Highlight most significant dates during the Holocaust

-Define unfamiliar terms from class notes/text

-Use new terms 2x per day until exam

Reminders Look closely at Allied nations Review date/location of start and end of WWII Ask peer to compare to find additional terms

 

2) If the basic outline above is a challenge for your novice studier, encourage her to find reputable online sources or videos that walk students through the process of making a study guide or outline. Often times, knowing where and how to begin can be the most intimidating part of studying for students who have had information retention come naturally for so long. By watching how other successful, experienced studiers compose an outline or gather information for a study guide, reluctant studiers then have a step-by-step resource to help walk them through the process. This is especially nice for parents if high school aged students are vehemently opposed to “doing it Mom or Dad’s way.”

3) Encourage novice studiers to “take small bites at first, then go back for more later.” This principle helps to reinforce memory and recall. If students cram or spend minimal time trying to memorize a concept, they will likely lose vital details prior to the assessment. Instead, once students feel that they have mastered or internalized a concept, prompt them to revisit that concept a few hours later or the following day. This will help high schoolers to understand if the material has been moved from short-term memory to long-term memory.

4) Ask your high school student to “teach” the material to another person. One long-standing concept about learning is the fact that mastery comes when one is able to teach or relay the information to another person. In this sense, students are not only confident in their ability to remember the info, but they take it a step further to explain or translate the information in their own words. Encourage your child to not only review definitions, for example, but come up with his own new definitions. This way, your high schooler will know for sure if he or she fully conceptualizes the term and its meaning.    

Mindset Matters: Growth Mindset for the High Schooler

Growth mindset, simply put, is the belief that one’s intellect and abilities are not only unfixed, but malleable. That is, people are capable of employing different strategies to grow and improve their intelligence and skill sets. For high school students, this notion of agency and control over their abilities can be a transformative realization. Once teenagers realize that they are capable of improving themselves in any area that they choose, their options become limitless.

In order to teach concepts about growth mindset to high school students, they must first recognize what it is versus what it is not. Growth mindset is not a “cure-all” belief system that suddenly makes us capable of being perfect at anything that we attempt. Quite the opposite, actually. Growth mindset is about striving to improve, as opposed to focusing solely on perfection.

A way to encourage growth mindset in the high school classroom is to create opportunities for students to build intrinsic motivation by appealing to their curiosities. Want students to go above and beyond just for the sake of learning as much as they can? Provide student-centered options that provoke each teen’s natural inquisitiveness. For high schoolers, intrinsic motivation may just be beginning to bud. Nurture this by allowing them to research, read, and create based on content that they are interested in. For obvious reasons, students are much more enthusiastic about learning when they have had a hand in choosing the content. Additionally, when students are given choices in how they can demonstrate mastery, motivation, effort, and creativity spike. In this sense, growth mindset is all about encouraging explorative challenges.

Provide opportunities for students to get to know themselves as learners by challenges that make them think outside of the box. We all have natural talents; however, growth mindset is all about using the knowledge of our natural talents to unlock our potential in other areas of difficulty. The high school classroom should be the number one place for students to take risks—this means tackling a challenge that they know full-well will be difficult for them. Remind students that grit emerges when people are faced with setbacks and demanding obstacles. With this in mind, help students to focus, not so much on the perfected outcome of a task or project, but on the process—the trials and errors that occur as they work through a problem.

The idea here is that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. Help high schoolers to expect and accept failure as a certainty of life. Allowing failure to permanently fix our mindsets is an automatic means of sabotaging ourselves. Instead of shutting down and internalizing a perceived failure, high school students need help recognizing why they failed and how they will use this moment as a building block for their next attempt. When they stumble, remind them that anything worth doing will not come easily. An essential aspect of growth mindset is the fact that effort, motivation, and reflection are bridges to success in anything that we attempt.

Discussing Current Events with Students & Children: If, When, and How?

The unfortunate reality for children growing up right now is the prevalence of senseless tragedies. I myself, even as a grown adult, struggle time and time again to make sense of the catastrophic violence that pervades our day-to-day. For my students, I cannot fathom the panicked bewilderment and anxious uncertainties that events such as the Las Vegas attack bring to their frightened, yet curious, minds. During these formative years, how can we mediate the thin line between informing and frightening our students and children? If we decide that information is power, how do we present such heart-rending topics to young people in a way that equips them to do better for the world? Conversely, if we instead choose to shelter our innocent young people by preserving their naïveté, how can we expect to bring up the next generation to be culturally responsive and informed citizens?  

When considering conversations with young people involving tragic current events, such as this week’s Las Vegas mass shooting, adults must be extremely cautious. From the educator’s perspective, I am personally conflicted about my exact role as the adult in the classroom when it comes to conversations of a sensitive nature. Even as a middle school teacher, where my students assert themselves as “informed” or “aware” community members, I find it irresponsible of me to take on the role of informant for other people’s children.

Yes, our students are privy to infinite amounts of and avenues for any and all information, thanks in great part to the 1:1 ratio of school-aged children to smartphones. However, I firmly believe that the family (parents and guardians) know that child best. Therefore, as a teacher, my obligation begins and ends with parental consent. I can, and have, encouraged curious students to speak specifically with their parents about current events and the questions they have regarding those events. Additionally, as an English teacher, I have provided students with criteria for credible sources, smart searches, and strategies to detect bias and objectivity. But that is where my responsibility ends. This is not because I don’t want to hear their opinions or thoughts on the world’s happenings, but rather because it is not my place to open such an emotional or sensitive topic up to discussion.

Suggestions for parents regarding if, when, and how to broach these types of discussions with your children vary from family to family. Obviously, you know your children better than anyone else. Parents are also in control of the extent of info to which children are exposed. Parents are the gatekeepers of information, charged with filtering, limiting, and explaining the events that you deem appropriate for your children.

If families decide to discuss emotionally-charged current events, such as terrorism or mass acts of violence with their school-aged children, parents should consider multiple factors, including age, social and emotional maturity, and peer influence. Let your children do the talking first. Take the temperature of their background knowledge on the topic before you begin. Ask if they have heard or seen anything about the specific news story. It is likely that, if your child has a smartphone, she has some level of prior knowledge. Between social media and other communicative platforms, preteens and teenagers are presented with a deluge of news stories, photos, and videos.

Once you’ve gauged their level of prior knowledge, plan to direct the conversation with the goal to inform on a broad scope—do not necessarily delve into specific details, as details rarely serve to comfort or answer questions. A curious teen will inevitably stumble upon more details, but remind your teen to check the validity of the source before forming opinions or drawing conclusions. Furthermore, be prepared to some answer questions, while leaving other questions unanswered. Especially with unanswerable questions like “how?” it is more than okay to respond with “I don’t know” or “we may never know.” Find some security in the fact that a senseless act will never make sense—and share that important realization with your teen. Finally, encourage your teen to focus on the heroic deeds of bystanders, first responders, survivors, etc. Tragedies cannot be explained or reconciled, but the focus of the aftermath should always center on taking measures to lift up, help out, and affect change for the better. Always.                        

Mindset Matters: Positive Parenting

Growth mindset is a very hot topic in the educational realm today. A basic explanation for a not-so-basic, metacognitive concept is the fact that people can improve their achievement, motivation, and even their intellect by adopting a growth mindset and strategies that correspond to such a mindset.

In classrooms, growth mindset is used as a tool to deliberately activate and strengthen neural pathways by targeting areas of need using strategies that students already utilize in other areas. While that sounds like a mouthful, students as young as kindergarten are learning about metacognitive practices and the importance of grit and reflection.
Besides a strictly instructional focus, growth mindset can positively impact any endeavor, whether it be a cognitive or physical goal. That said, parents can implement basic growth mindset principles at home to boost self-confidence, motivation and effort, as well.

Parents can start with themselves
This means that, prior to encouraging your child to invest in adopting a growth mindset, parents must be ready and willing to look critically at their own mindset. As an educator, I initially felt that I fully understood growth mindset. However, it was not until I investigated my own mindset that I realized my tendency to lean more toward a fixed mindset—the polar opposite of what I was trying to teach my students.

As long as I can remember, I have considered myself to be an English-minded person—comfortable in my literary bubble where language as a means of expression was my primary academic strength. On the contrary, math is something that I have never grasped—ever. In my mind(set), I had absolutely no chance of improving my knowledge of mathematical concepts, so why even bother? Thus began my self-fulfilling prophecy instigated by my very fixed mindset.

The point here is that we adults cannot simply talk the talk; we must walk the walk and lead by example when it comes to growth mindset. Parents can model grit and determination by attempting something intentionally challenging. Golf not your strength? Consider a family outing in which you all take a golf lesson, or simply play a round of mini golf to infuse some fun into a personally difficult sport. Perhaps you are a notoriously disgraceful cook. Read a new cookbook or research a few fool-proof recipes to demonstrate to your children that planning, effort, and reflection can start the ball rolling on growth mindset and its ability to improve achievement.

Parents can model positive self-talk
Not only is this good for boosting self-esteem in adolescents, but optimistic affirmations help to strengthen one’s growth mindset. Much like my self-fulfilling prophecy involving poor math performance, negative internal dialogue lowers motivation and one’s expectations. When we put ourselves down, we are essentially self-sabotaging. Parents should be careful when discussing their own weaknesses as to not pass on these negative mindsets and behaviors. This is not to say that parents should claim that they are amazing at everything—acknowledging areas of need is a huge part of developing a growth mindset. However, we should be teaching children that our weaknesses are not destined or written in stone—we can and should always be working towards improvement and personal growth.

Parents can celebrate failures
To clarify, parents should not praise failure that results from laziness or lack of effort. Instead, explain that a job well done will sometimes still result in disappointment, but this does not mean that strides weren’t made toward success. When we try and don’t succeed, we learn a little bit more about the task or goal and how we might readjust and attempt again after some reflection and strategizing. The key here is for parents to stress that to try and fail is not shameful—it’s the lack of the attempt at all that cripples our growth.

Mindset Matters: Growth Mindset for the Middle Schooler

Growth mindset, a common buzzword in the education world right now, is a research-based belief system that has the ability to drastically change adolescents’ perceptions of themselves as learners. I would argue that growth mindset is even more important for children to explore during the middle school years. Why? Well, the entire concept of growth mindset involves challenging our notions of ourselves—something that middle schoolers are already grappling with daily on a social-emotional level. Intellectually-speaking, growth mindset centers around a belief system that intellect, ability, achievement, and motivation are not only interconnected, but fluid—that is, we can grow our brains and abilities by using deliberate and beneficial strategies and thought processes.

For middle schoolers, this concept can be extremely life-changing. Consider typical responses from middle schoolers when confronted with a challenge, setback, or failure:

“I’m just no good at this. I never will be.”

“I’d rather just do something easy so that I know I’ll do it right.”

“If something is too difficult, I’d rather give up than exert effort and still fail.”

“My best will never be as good as some other person’s best.”

“If I have to work really hard at something, it must mean that I’m bad at it.”

“I don’t have a math brain. I’m good at English, but math isn’t my thing no matter how hard I try.”

These unfortunately common thoughts and comments are very prevalent in the middle school classroom. Students who have not been exposed to growth mindset truly believe that intelligence is primarily fixed—we are either born smart or not. The danger behind a fixed mindset is that it is essentially like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Adolescents’ negative beliefs about themselves as learners inevitably show up in their actions, almost as a self-sabotaging belief system. To combat this, middle schoolers must begin to see the learning process as exactly that—a process.

Encourage middle schoolers to take risks. As opposed to sticking with their known talents or remaining always in their comfort zones, push students to go for the challenge. Whether the challenge is academic, social, or athletic, middle school is the time for children to explore new and unfamiliar tasks or concepts. The key to stepping outside of our comfort zone is that it teaches us about how to improve our weaknesses while capitalizing on our strengths. Trying something new or difficult is not about immediate perfection—adolescents need to embrace the failure and missteps because that is where the learning happens. We grow, not when something comes easy to us, but when we succeed through the difficult aspects of a new skill.

Teach middle schoolers how to use failure as an opportunity to learn something about themselves. This practice involves open dialogue and honest feedback. One essential aspect of growth mindset is that criticism or feedback should not be taken as an insult. When reviewing a teacher’s or peer’s feedback on an essay, help adolescents to understand that the critiques should not be taken defensively. The aim of feedback is to praise areas of strength and assist in areas of need, with the end goal always being student improvement.   

Perhaps one of the hardest lessons of growth mindset for middle schoolers is the fact that we should not measure our own successes against the successes or failures of others. Why is this so difficult? We’ve all experienced the competitive, and sometimes downright judgmental moments during our adolescence. So, it should come as no surprise that middle schoolers are always comparing themselves to their peers. Stress the fact that one person’s success does not discredit your own. If a friend or peer does better on a quiz or assignment, do not internalize that as your own failure by comparison. Instead, help teens to realize that they can learn something from their peers—and that they, too, will be sought out for help at some point.

 

Cyber Safety for Today’s Teens

It goes without saying that technology has fully inserted itself into most aspects of our day-to-day lives—and children and teens are no exception. Children are learning to swipe smartphones before they learn to turn the pages of a book, and many of them are swiping on their own devices. For parents, the endless exploration of technology raises many concerns for children and teens. Parents need not only be aware of what their children are getting from the constant connectivity, but also what they may be putting out into the digital universe. Yes, the horror stories surrounding teens and technology are vast and worrisome, but these hard-learned lessons can provide other families with safe cyber practices that will make all the difference for security and peace of mind.

Limit screen time, especially for youngsters. We may have grown to rely on our devices in the adult world. I, myself, use my phone for everything from navigation, to paying bills, to making grocery lists—the list (no pun intended) goes on and on. However, for children, it is essential that their screen time be limited and purposeful. Use screen time as an occasional reward, but make sure that everyone is clear about how long they can use the device and for what purposes.

If you feel that your child must have a phone for staying in touch, consider phones or plans that provide programmed options for usage. For instance, there are ways to program children’s phones so that they are only able to call or text a set list of phone numbers. You can also set restrictions on how data is used or what websites or apps your children can access. The key here is to keep your children’s circle small when introducing them to their first phone—the stricter the parameters, the more peace of mind parents will have about children using technology.

Be aware of your child or teen’s social media presence. Keep a very watchful eye on your child’s use of social media and limit access to devices when concerns arise. You should insist on access to or control over your teen’s social media accounts whenever necessary. If you suspect that your child is cyberbullying or being cyberbullied, take the phone. Keeps records of any evidence that your child is being bullied, including text messages, screen shots, profile posts or photos, etc. Schools today are cracking down on bullying; however, parents must present documented, repeated instances of harassment or bullying before school officials will intervene.

Along the same lines as cyberbullying concerns, parents should monitor social media accounts to ensure that children are protecting themselves and being digitally responsible. Teens today are so concerned with obtaining “likes” and gaining “followers” that they lose sight of how vulnerable they may be making themselves online. Explain to them that, even with privacy settings, nothing is 100% private when it comes to posts, comments, photos, etc. Make sure that teens are not using personal information, like a full name, specific address, current location, or school. Social media sites make it extremely easy to tag one’s location, but too often teens fail to consider who might be keeping tabs on their location. Gently, but firmly, remind your children that not everyone on social media is who they claim to be.

Talk about the permanency of our digital footprints. This means that, once posted online, ownership no longer belongs to you. Even deleted material is not ever fully erased if even one person has captured, saved, or screenshotted the post. Not only can deleted posts resurface, people can edit or manipulate the photo or post in any way they choose. Teach children and teens to think carefully before making a post.

Mindset Matters: Growth Mindset for the Elementary Schooler


Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset is a very hot topic in the education world right now. What began as a pedagogical, research-based concept coined by Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford, has now trickled down even into kindergarten classrooms. A basic explanation for a not-so-basic concept is the fact that
people can improve their achievement, motivation, and even their intellect by adopting a growth mindset and strategies that correspond to such a mindset.

Growth vs. Fixed

Teaching young learners about growth mindset involves countering thought processes that they may have already begun to acquire. Students in elementary school have likely already begun to find their strengths and weaknesses. We all have certain talents, but elementary schoolers can adopt a growth mindset by refusing to limit themselves based on areas of weakness. Teaching growth mindset to younger learners can be as simple as swapping out our language and praise in the classroom.

Stressing only natural-born talents can be detrimental to adopting a growth mindset. While some of us are born with natural gifts, such as artistic, athletic, or musical strengths, the flipside to stressing the importance of natural gifts is the fact that children will believe that, if they are not born with these abilities, they cannot acquire them. Additionally, this fixed mindset does not encourage learners to accept challenges. Instead of attempting something outside of their comfort zone, children with a fixed mindset may rest on their laurels—believing that, unless it is one of their innate gifts, they will never be good at it.

Instead, stress the importance of acquiring new skills. Yes, natural abilities are wonderful in that they are innately effortless. However, do not forget to encourage children to practice skills, activities, or hobbies outside of their natural realm of abilities. Growth mindset involves a belief system that ability is limitless, so long as the strategies are there. Again, this is about embracing challenges with the realization that, while we may not be the best at a new skill right away, we can take charge of the challenge by practice, learning, and growing.

Emphasizing success while downplaying failure ignores the essential process for improvement. Children with a fixed mindset consider failure to be inevitable if the task involves something that they deem that they are simply “not good at.” This discourages any amount of effort or motivation because they truly believe that “once a multiplication failure, always a multiplication failure.” In this sense, people with a fixed mindset internalize failure. They believe that they are not good at something, therefore they will never be good at it, so what is the point of putting forth excessive effort? In a sense, a fixed mindset creates its own roadblocks.

Help children to look closely at and analyze possible reasons for moments of difficulty or perceived failure. Don’t shy away from discussing why your child struggled with something. Instead, have open and honest conversations about how they could use different strategies the next time. Growth mindset revolves around the idea that intellect and ability are fluid—and that we can control our success rates by practicing and strategizing.

A child with a fixed mindset will often strive for perfection. What’s the problem with that? Well, for one, perfection is a relative term. There is no way to measure “perfection.” It also discourages or discredits hard work unless the child received 100% on an assignment. In a child’s fixed mindset, it is either 100% or nothing.

While a fixed mindset ignores the concept of improvement and growth, the alternative praises evidence of improvement. Yes, you may have gotten a C on your math test; however, that score is leaps and bounds above the D you got 3 weeks ago. When having children examine and analyze their own growth, they begin to find trends in their learning process. These trends help them to identify which strategies are most beneficial to them as learners. So yes, the C grade may not be as exciting as the A+, but the steady improvement tells us a lot about how a child has acquired new learning strategies.

Group Work: How to Make it Work


Cooperative learning, collaborative strategies, group rotations—whatever we decide to call it, the research behind group work in the classroom makes a strong case for embracing collaborative learning. As beneficial as it is, however, group work can easily go awry if the planning and structures are not in place. Here are some suggestions for well-managed group work in the classroom.

  1. Consistency is key when introducing group structures and routines. Rotations, stations, and group collaboration involve much more than having students circulate through different activities together. Before you can even begin the actual group work, students need to be explicitly instructed on how they will form and work in their groups. Devote some time to having students practice moving into their groups in a quick and organized manner. Encourage students to have only necessary materials out during group work. Practice timed cleanup so that groups familiarize themselves with the amount of time needed to wrap up a work session.
  2. Teacher-derived groups should be deliberate on multiple levels. Be sure that groups contain personalities that will jive and complement one another. Also be careful to level the groups so that there are higher-ability and lower-ability group members in each group. When possible, groups should be gender-balanced and small enough that every person will play a vital role in the process and product. For the typical classroom, groups should be kept to 4 students or smaller to allow for accountability.
  3. Begin implementing group work by stressing the importance of the process, not necessarily the product. Of course the end result is important; however, cooperative dialogue, perspective-taking, and synergy are the foundations for a successful group—perfecting the product will come later. You want the groups to work like a well-oiled machine in the sense that each person knows that her individual input is necessary to achieve the end goal.
  4. Have open dialogue about that end goal. Part of the nuisance of group work is the fact that every group member has a different work ethic, mindset, motivation, and concept of the result. We have all experienced the headache and stress of completing “group work” individually because a partner or group mates were banking on someone else completing the job. To avoid this common pitfall, encourage groups to discuss what each individual’s end goal is and work on compromising from there. If one person’s goal is to complete the task in as little time as possible, assign that person one of the initial planning, prewriting, or beginning tasks for the project. If another person expresses a deep desire to perfect the group’s project, put that person in charge of checking the final product against the rubric and making edits or adjustments as needed. If one person simply aims to turn something in for credit, put him or her in charge of organizing materials, brainstorming ideas, keeping the group’s notes, etc.—the key is to play to each person’s strengths and desires so that everyone’s intrinsic motivation leads the group to the same end goal.

The Other Stuff: How to Approach High-Level Thinking Questions

It is important that educators exude a sense of passion for the content that we teach. Whether it be math, science, English, etc., our love for our subject areas helps to engage our students and keep them motivated. While much of our instruction focuses around the content, we are also tasked with teaching skills that allow students to access the content that we are teaching. Depending on grade level and ability, students could be all over the map when it comes to these essential, foundational skills. We must first assess the tools that our students bring with them to the classroom and then be prepared to focus part of our instruction around these crucial basics.

“Dissecting the question” is a practice that students will encounter in EVERY content area throughout their education. Whether responding to a writing prompt, answering a word problem, or following chemistry lab procedures, students must be aware of the end goal when confronting a task. Often times across content areas, questions or practices are framed in wordy, complex, or very involved language. This type of wording has the potential to not only confuse students, but also to discourage them right from the beginning before they have even considered the question. To hone in on an answer, students must first learn how to identify exactly what the question is asking.  

Consider the following prompt: Authors use many different literary devices to convey mood in a narrative. Identify and analyze two devices that J.K. Rowling uses to convey mood in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone using evidence from the text to support your claim.

Now, this prompt is a tall order in terms of a student’s need to focus in on the actual question. Model the process of “skimming the fat” from the question so that only the essentials are present. For example, have students cross off any “fluff” or unnecessary information in the question. This goes for math, English, science, history, etc. For our example above, students could cross off the entire first sentence in the prompt—this simply frames the context of the prompt.

Next, help students to translate or better comprehend the academic language that all content-area questions will use. Terms like analyze, assess, compare, estimate, and classify may seems straightforward to us; however, students often find these directives to be confusing. Have students practice highlighting the common academic language terms as they encounter them in questions, prompts, and tasks. Then, spend time as a class discussing what these terms actually mean—i.e., what actions will we take as readers when we identify and analyze something? What does it mean by devices? Perhaps students need a refresher on literary devices. This is where graphic organizers and other note-taking strategies will come in handy for students needing a quick review of a concept.

Next, help students understand that identify simply means to find, name, or choose two devices that the author uses, while analyze means to explore, examine, or question how these devices convey, or show, mood. Students that are still struggling to begin responding to the question may benefit from a sentence frame or sample starter. This strategy is great for English and math, where teachers are likely seeking complete sentences or full thoughts in the answers and responses. Consider providing students with something like this as their starting thesis statement:

(AUTHOR’S NAME) uses (DEVICE AND DEVICE) to convey a (SPECIFIC TYPE OF MOOD) in (TITLE).

Once they have filled in the blanks for the thesis statement, prompt the analysis piece by asking leading questions. These suggestive questions will help students with the initial practice of analyzing, assessing, or making connections between their claim and their reasoning or support for the claim. Again, this practice takes time and repetition—attacking a high-level thinking question like this is not something that can be mastered in one class period. The key is to provide students with strategies to help steer their thinking in the direction of the actual meat of the question. By helping to define, explain, eliminate, and order the process of the question, students are much more equipped to begin answering.

So remember:

  • Eliminate fluff
  • Locate key terms/academic language that indicate what is being asked
  • Define those terms for students
  • Provide graphic organizers or refresher notes when necessary
  • Consider providing sentence frames or examples for students to use as a springboard

From a Teacher to a Teacher: Kindness in the Classroom

Dear fellow educator,

I think it goes without saying that these are crucial times for our young people, not only with regard to education, but also in forming the next generation’s principles. All politics aside, our students are coming of age in a time where kindness, empathy, and integrity have been shoved aside in favor of judgment, rivalry, and naiveté. As we move into a new school year, fervent introspection has me focusing on one question: how can we craft and nurture ‘goodness’ in our schools?  

Perhaps one of the biggest perceived roadblocks in our quest to add kindness to the curricula is the fact that we are here to educate, not parent our students. No matter what age, our students come to us with a belief system and moral gauge that far exceeds our reaches. With so many uncontrollable variables at play in our classrooms, how could we possibly begin to stomp out hate that may have been engrained in a child since day one? Is it even acceptable, as mere educators, for us to take on that role or responsibility? These perplexing questions may forever go unanswered.

Instead of looking at changing the child’s cognizance, I’ll begin to nurture kindness by looking at my personal practices in the classroom—let’s consider it a ripple effect of sorts.   

  • Use seating charts to recognize the “lonely students.” This is a concept used by a veteran teacher from Texas throughout her entire career. On Fridays I’ll ask students to write down the names of two people that they would like to sit with next week. I will make clear that these requests are not guaranteed to be granted.  Students will occasionally get their wishes. However, the key here is that I am not concerned with the seating chart in the least—who sits beside whom is of no concern to me. I am looking instead for the names that are not written down—which child is never sought out as a seating partner? Are these missing names indicative of a bullying problem? Do I recognize signs of grief or depression in any of the students that are not requested as seating partners? By analyzing the seating requests, I am better able to reach out to the children that may feel lonely or withdrawn and potentially change the course of their unhappiness.
  • Praise acts of kindness just as much, if not more, than test scores, grades, or GPAs. Academia is designed to breed competition through class rankings, SAT scores, honor roll lists, etc. Several schools in Montgomery County celebrate their seniors’ achievements by posting each student’s college admittance for the coming year in the local newspaper—a great opportunity for young scholars to shine. However, with such recognition comes an inevitable ranking or hierarchy among graduates. Seeing my name and future university in print, followed by so-and-so attending Harvard, would undoubtedly sour my sense of accomplishment. Yes—that’s the real world—someone is always going to be smarter, more successful, better… Consider this: Focusing on achievements in kindness would not take away from anyone’s academic achievements. This praise and acknowledgment would simply be an additional measure of character—one that is just as important (and sometimes as lucrative) as academic success. If a student is struggling academically, try showing appreciation for that student’s kindness. Highlight students that have shown acts of kindness to others—use this as an opportunity to place value on the concept of being a good person.
  • Model empathy at any opportunity. Seeing as I teach middle school, empathy is something that many of my students are still grasping. During the adolescent years, the brain is primed to self-serve. This sometimes creates an inability to see things from another’s perspective. It’s not that they don’t want to—it’s that the adolescent brain is still maturing. Demonstrate how empathy works by expressing your own instances of relating on an emotional level. Try starting the conversation with, “You know that we all make mistakes…” or, “I’m upset that you’re getting down on yourself for one low grade…” or, “I see that you’ve really tried to improve and I admire your effort.”