How to Break the Negative “Can’t Do” Mindset: High School

The “I can’t” mindset can be detrimental to high school learners. The problem with this negative tunnel vision is that it can easily begin to spill over onto other aspects of a teen’s life. For instance, a high schooler that feels negatively about her ability to do math might transfer that fixed mindset to her ability to learn chemistry, physics, architecture, etc. The negativity creates a destructive snowball effect. High school is a time when students should recognize that the sky’s the limitthey have adulthood and independence right around the corner. A negative mindset can cause teenagers to subconsciously impose restrictions on what they believe they are capable of achieving. To combat this cycle of negative self-perceptions, teachers and parents can implement different exercises, practices, and conversations to encourage a positive outlook for high schoolers looking ahead toward their future.

Show teens that intelligence and ability are not limited to certain tasks, subject areas, or capabilities. Very often, students place much of their self-worth on grades and GPA. And while these are important indicators, they do not accurately measure the whole person’s capabilities. Adults can help by shedding light on “lesser known” examples of intelligent, successful people and instilling a sense of value in different areas of academia, the arts, athletics, etc. Remind high schoolers that school is just one realm for learning and that each person has his or her own strengths. A poetic genius may not be well-versed in math; while a musical prodigy might find history or the sciences more challenging.

When possible, provide high schoolers with options and choices, not only for engaging in the content, but with methods of demonstrating mastery. In providing options, high schoolers become more absorbed with the content they had a hand in choosing. Similarly, when students are given choices in what type of product, project, or demonstration to compose, they are naturally more invested in the outcome. Choices also provide students with a sense of agencya chance to connect their own ideas and decisions to the impact that these decisions will have.

Explicitly discuss the psychological and neurological findings behind growth mindset. There is a reason why growth mindset has been touted as one of the recent educational buzzwordsthere is plenty of research and data to support its claims. High schoolers are at the age to truly grasp their learning tendencies and recognize the plasticity of the brain. Simply put, neural pathways develop and strengthen with repetition and practice. When students understand that they can have a certain amount of control over how much they learn and how well they learn it, school work no longer feels like a task to be undertaken, but more like an opportunity to strengthen their skills and hone new strategies.

Encourage the challenge; discourage busy work or the easy way out. For many students, not just high schoolers, the path of least resistance can often be the most appealing. And that’s understandablewhy cause ourselves more trouble or torment in an effort to reach a goal? The answer lies in the methodology behind growth mindset. The more we challenge ourselves, the greater the opportunity to strengthen the neural pathways. When tasks are mundane, simple, or elementary, our brains do not experience the same level of activity as if they do when a process is complex, unfamiliar, or mentally demanding. Explain to high schoolers that, if your goal is to build muscle, you wouldn’t go to the gym to lift 1.5 lb. weights every day. You would increase the weight, reps, and add variations as your workouts progress. It is the same concept when working out our brains. The easy way out may give high schoolers the correct answer, but it does nothing to stretch their limits or develop higherlevel thinking skills.  

 

Emergency Drills in School: Info for Parents

What happens during a fire drill?

It may seem fairly obvious, but, like most procedures, a school’s method for evacuation in the case of a fire is a thoroughly planned and practiced drill. Most schools must complete multiple fire drills throughout the yearsome announced and some unannounced to ensure that procedures are followed even when school staff is not expecting the drill.

Obviously, procedures vary from school to school. However, most of the following protocols apply when completing a fire drill:

  • When the alarm sounds, students quickly line up to exit the classroom in an orderly fashion. While we want to get students out swiftly, we do not want to risk injury in the meantime from pushing, shoving, tripping, etc.  
  • Each teacher will have a planned route to lead students out of the building. Typically, the closest stairwell and exit to that particular classroom will be utilized to evacuate students. The only exception might be when multiple classes are converging. In this case, the school will have assigned an alternate evacuation stairwell and exit so that hallway traffic keeps moving promptly.
  • Depending on when the drill is taking place, your child’s evacuation plan will be different from teacher to teacher and class to class. It is important that your child knows of the designated evacuation stairwell and exit method in each of his classes. In the instance when your child is unsure of where to go, teachers and other school staff have been instructed to scoop up “stragglers” on the way out of the building.
  • Once evacuated, teachers and staff will move students to their designated locations, at least 50 feet from the building, and take roll to ensure that all students present are safe and accounted for. Teachers will also alert administration of any students that they may have been scooped up on the way out.
  • Students will have likely been instructed to remain silent during the entire duration of the drill. This ensures that any important messages or directions from adults are heard and that order is maintained throughout the procedure. It also helps teachers move students quickly out of the building since children are not socializing or missing important instructions.
  • It is probable that school officials or fire marshals are present throughout the year to ensure that the school’s fire drill procedures are seamless and appropriately conducted according to laws and regulations.

What exactly is a reverse evacuation?

A reverse evacuation drill, aptly enough, is exactly as it sounds. When conditions outside the building are more dangerous than inside, students will be moved indoors to a predetermined safety zone. This type of situation might occur if physical education classes were outside for class when a sudden thunderstorm moved in, or if there was a minor threat in the neighborhood like a loose animal or fire nearby in the community. All of the same expectations would apply for a reverse evacuationstudents should remain quiet and follow their teachers’ instructions to move quickly indoors to safety.

What happens during a shelter in place?

A shelter in place is a procedure, previously known as “code blue,” which requires increased safety precautions in and around the school building. The most frequent use of shelter in place is if there is a medical emergency or a non-threatening police matter that requires a student to be removed from the school. If, for instance, a student had a seizure in class, the school might go into a shelter in place so that hallways are clear for paramedics and other emergency personnel and the student has privacy during their health situation.

Protocol for a shelter in place requires teachers to sweep the halls to bring stray students into the nearest classroom, limit hall passes, send attendance to the main office, and close the classroom door. Instruction continues, as there is no immediate threat. The main purpose of this practice is to restrict traffic in and around the school.

What happens during a lockdown?

A lockdown, previously known as a “code red,” means that there is imminent danger in or around the school itself. Most recently, because of the startling rise in gun-related school violence, many people refer to a lockdown as an active shooter drill.

When a lockdown is issued, teachers quickly sweep the hall outside of the classroom door and immediately bring any stray students into the room. These might be students returning from the bathroom or lockers; either way, the goal is to recover any student from the hallways.

The teachers will instruct students to move SILENTLY to an area in the classroom that is out of view of the doorway and windows. Teachers will lock the door, pull the shades, turn off the computer and promethean screen, and maintain silence as long as necessary. The point of locking down is to make each classroom appear as though it is empty. In the event of a genuine lockdown, not a drill, administrators or law enforcement will instruct students and staff when it is safe to lift the lockdown. Until teachers receive the “ok,” students and staff remain silent and hidden.  

What happens during a drop, cover, and hold drill?

In the rare event of a sudden earthquake, teachers will instruct students to drop, cover, and hold. This means that students will quickly take cover under their desks. They will drop to the floor, pull their knees up to their chests if possible, and cover their heads with their hands in a crouched ball under the desk. If near a window, students will be instructed to crouch in the position with their backs to the window. This drill is typically practiced once per year to ensure that students know the procedure if there was ever a risk of an earthquake in the area.

What happens during a severe weather drill?

This protocol is followed when there is a threat of severe wind and weather, including a hurricane, tornado, etc., in the immediate area. Following the same evacuation guidelines as a fire drill, students will leave their classrooms in a swift, yet orderly, fashion and relocate to their designated shelter zone. Most schools have several severe weather shelter areas, typically on the ground level, in an interior hallway, away from windows. These zones are usually solid, reinforced areas of the school where students and staff are best protected from severe weather.

Once students reach the designated zone, they will be asked to sit or crouch on the floor with their backs against the wall. Again, students will be asked to remain quiet so that instructions can be relayed easily if necessary. Administrators will continue to watch and listen for weather updates or changes in the storm until the threat has passed.

High School Guidance Counselors and Advisors: Key Questions for Grads, Part II

To continue the suggestions of under-utilized questions for potential college freshman to consider, we must prompt students to think about how campus size will directly affect their experience.

Small fish in a large pond, or large fish in a small pond? Again, heading off to Penn State, I knew the basic population of students on main campus. What I was not fully cognizant of, however, was how the roughly 50,000 students on campus would greatly alter the academic and social setting, thus transforming the whole experience in unanticipated ways. To my own fault, in the pamphlet and at first glance, student enrollment simply seemed like an arbitrary measure. However, upon showing up to my first lecture for a political science introductory course, the true representation of the campus size revealed itself. My 400+ class involved zero peer interaction, discussion, or engagement. There was no attendance or accountabilitywhich meant you could show up or not, as long as you were present for the midterm and final exam. While some students may thrive on the anonymity of such a setting, it wasn’t until I was immersed in it that I realized that it wasn’t for me.

Guidance counselors and advisors are invaluable resources to help prepare students for the actual experience that a university will present, helping students to better gauge their preferences. Asking questions like, “Do you prefer to fly under the radar of anonymity in class, or are you looking for more personal support from professors and instructors?” “Do you want to see, recognize, and acknowledge classmates as you pass through campus, or do you prefer to encounter, dine with, and meet new people every day?” “Depending on the campus, do you want a quick, walkable commute to your classes, or do you prefer a sprawling walk or bus ride to your lecture halls?” “Do you want to seek out a close-knit group of friends, or do you prefer to fall in naturally with the people that you get to know in the smaller setting?”

All of these questions relate to the day-to-day experiences that students will need to consider before making a decision. Another suggestion, especially with regard to class size, would be to encourage students to sit in on a few classes if possible. A campus tour shows much of the environment, but experiencing classes firsthand allows high schoolers to get a taste of how their education will look. Of course, as students progress and select majors and areas of study, the class sizes will shrink. However, the first 1-2 years of gen eds will reveal the true nature of a large state school versus the small liberal arts environment.

How could you realistically combine your strengths and interests to serve as your leg up in the workforce? This question is difficult for several different reasons. First, it forces students to look critically at their abilities and academic assets. Secondly, this question prompts students to look to the future and anticipate what they might choose as a prospective career, which can be intimidating and stressful. And finally, this question requires students to synthesize two concepts, (strengths and interests), which they may have never thought to combine. The complexity of the question, even if unanswered, helps students to envision how the university will act as a stepping stone toward their development into a self-assured, contributing member of society.

Considering this question also helps students to potentially narrow their post-secondary options. If their strength in math and interest in working with children lead them toward an education major, that student should ensure that their university offers an undergraduate education program. Does the school have a strong math department? Are their teaching internships or volunteer opportunities offered through the university? Would a study abroad program allow for teaching experience overseas? Again, these follow-up questions motivate high schoolers to look more critically at their college options to guarantee that their choices end up checking all of the necessary boxes.

How familiar do you want college to feel? Advisors and guidance counselors will want to ask students about their comfort level regarding the school’s climate, setting, history, demographics, etc. If the school has a reputation for its athletics and Greek life, students may want to consider how much they plan to participate or value those traditions. Are students looking for a serene, lush campus, removed from hustle of the surrounding areas? Or do they prefer a campus immersed in the culture of a thriving city? Do they want to experience cultures, practices, languages, and people outside of their own upbringing? Or do they want to live and study where they feel “at home” and included?

Encourage students to consider which types of school settings and locations will provide them with the most opportunities for growth. Of course, the response will vary from student to student. The goal is for them to envision their ideal college experience and then follow that knowledge.

Finally, not so much a question as it is a consideration: you can always change your mind. Choosing, enrolling, and moving onto campus is not a binding decision. As much as we would like for students to find their niche or match on the first try, this is not always the case. As much as Penn State ended up as a mismatch for me, my time there allowed me to see more clearly what I was looking for in the college experience. Sometimes you have to see what you don’t want before you can realize what you do want. In my case, transferring helped me to appreciate the change of pace, cultural environment, and different class structures that the University of Pittsburgh provided. So as much as we’d like to guide them in the right direction, students should also know that they can always diverge or detour.             

High School Guidance Counselors and Advisors: Key Questions for Grads, Part I

Guidance counselors and advisors at the secondary level have their work cut out for them. Not only are they responsible for the social, emotional, and academic well-being of each child, but their position also requires a great deal of research, recommendations, and paperwork during the college admissions process. I think back to the stress of my own college search, application, and admissions processand let me just say, I would never wish to relive that tumult. Now, think about the fact that, on top of their regular day-to-day roles in schools, guidance counselors also perform that monstrous college application process year after year for hundreds of students at a time.

With the end of the school year approaching, the nation’s high school graduates will be heading off to prove their college and career readiness in no time. Meanwhile, a whole new crop of high school juniors will be starting the college search and application process, continuing through the revolving door that is their high school’s guidance and advising office. A whole host of questions will be thrown at these young, eager students. However, what piques my interest are the many questions that aren’t typically askedquestions that, while they may be less standard, are very telling when students are in the midst of the college search.

How close is too close? There are pros and cons to looking and staying closer to home when heading off to college. Some students find a sense of comfort knowing that parents and siblings are a short drive away. Some even prefer to live at home and commute to campus for their daily classes. Not only will the comforts of homelike laundry and homecooked mealsbe provided daily, but commuters save thousands of dollars on room and board by living at home.

A drawback to this, of course, is the fact that the “true” college experience becomes sacrificed when students live at home. Dorm life, communal dining, late-night cram sessions, and weekend events are all part of living on campus, especially during freshman year. If students have the option to commute to campus, they may still prefer to forgo their childhood bedroom in favor of the independence that campus life brings. It all depends on the person, but ask them, “What is more important to youmaintaining consistency and familiarity, having family support and saving money, or independence, responsibility, putting yourself out there with new people, and the genuine freshman on campus experience?

What do you like to do on the weekends? This may sound like your typical, run-of-the-mill, “icebreaker” question, but the intent behind it is crucial for students who are on the fence between vastly different post-secondary schools. My own experience at Penn State proved to be defining, and perhaps, had I truly considered what my downtime in college would look like, I likely would have made a different decision. Beyond the course loads, exams, and hours spent studying, college life involves a great deal of downtime, especially for students who have masterfully planned a leisure-conducive course schedule.

With this in mind, students need to be ready to fill their time with activities other than parties and naps. In my own case, once the excitement of Penn State’s football season died down, the once bustling Happy Valley became a pretty bleak, homogeneous cow pasture (in my personal opinion). At that point, due to my own ignorance/naivete, I hadn’t really thought about what life would look like during a never-ending winter in rural Pennsylvania. Of course, campuses offer an endless amount of extracurricular options. From clubs, intramural sports, and philanthropic organizations, to mixers, academic workshops, and hobby groupsthe options are limitless. Students just need to ask themselves, “What do I really like to do?” Then be sure that those interests are well-represented at the universities that they’re eyeing.    

How to Plan for Summer Learning Opportunities—High School

For most high school students, there is nothing more exciting than the approaching summer months. At this point in the school year, much of the attention is focused on the freedom, leisure, and flexibility that starts as soon as that final school bell rings. Consequently, as the school year begins to wind down, summer learning opportunities are hardly even a consideration for high school students. They are more concerned about having a break from learning and school work. That said, there are ways that parents can promote various essential learning opportunities for high schoolers over the summer.

An obvious item on the to-do list is for high schoolers to explore their college and university preferences. Besides the thousands of books, websites, information sessions, and other resources that students can consult, summer provides high schoolers with the luxury to actually visit the schools that have piqued their interests. Depending on a high schoolers age, financial and academic options, and overall plans for the future, parents will want to encourage a various range of college visits over the summer. Parents should also encourage high schoolers to visit more schools than they anticipate applying for. The more campuses, schools, and programs that students are exposed to, the better prepared they will be when decision time comes. Additionally, high school students will want to visit schools on alternate ends of the “spectrum.” For instance, students should get the feel for a small liberal arts college versus a larger state school, a school within a closer proximity to home versus one that is farther away, schools with a heavy Greek or athletic following versus schools with a more academic focus.

For students nearing graduation, the summer months may be the final opportunity for students to accrue their remaining SSL (Student Service Learning) hours toward their 75hour graduation requirement. At this stage in the game, admissions officers will look for trends in service and community outreach to get a better idea of the student as a whole. Encourage your high school student to think about programs, foundations, or charities that connect to their future career goals or specific strengths. Again, these service hours contribute to the holistic picture that a high school graduate’s application will paint.

Encourage your high schooler to look into part-time summer employment. More than the extra cash that he or she will pocket, the vital lessons that a first job can provide are truly priceless. The résumé, application, and interview process alone can give high schoolers a real taste of what college and career readiness looks like. Additionally, a summer job, no matter how small, prepares students for adulthood by providing practice of major life skills. Time management, listening skills, following instructions, communication skills, and working in a team or collaborative setting are just a few of the things that I learned from my part-time summer jobs in high school. Furthermore, no matter the job, the employment itself shows admissions officers and hiring managers that this person is reliable, can handle responsibility, and can multitask while taking direction. If nothing else, the summer job provides your high schooler with a sense of independence and self-worth—there is nothing like the satisfaction that comes with that first earned paycheck! (A professional reference never hurts either!)

How to Manage Testing Time: For High School Students

Spring break has ended, which gave high school students a much-needed reprieve from the stressful school day. However, as much as students look forward to this time in the school year, it can also be met with mixed emotions because of the high-pressure testing on the horizon.

In addition to the SAT, ACT, and any other college entrance exams, testing for high schoolers might include benchmark assessments to gauge math and reading growth, as well as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Because of the “high-stakes” mentality associated with these sorts of exams, the weeks leading up to and during testing can be stressful for students, parents, and teachers. However, there are strategies that parents and teachers can use to help high schoolers prepare for and thrive during these tests without becoming overwhelmed by stress or pressure.

High school students can benefit greatly from having solid test-taking strategies to call upon when preparing for high-stakes assessments such as college entrance exams. For study tips and tricks, the success of certain strategies truly depends on the style of learner.

Some kinesthetic learners work best when rewriting, reciting, or copying notes because of the fine motor movement used for writing. Similarly, test review or recitation while passing a soccer ball, walking on the treadmill, or sitting on a yoga ball could also help kinesthetic learners. Students who benefit from movement should ask if stress balls, fidget cubes, or focusing clay would be permitted during testing. Students may also find that something as simple as chewing gum may help to summon information from memory as well.

Students with a verbal inclination can utilize acronyms, rhyme schemes, and other word associations to solidify information into long-term memory. Some word associations become downright ridiculous or silly; however, the more bizarre the acronym or rhyme, the more likely the information will stick in one’s memory. Composing notecards with information on one side and the “word game” or association on the other side helps to cement the information even more.

We all know that cramming does more harm than good when it comes to test preparation. Not only does cramming increase stress and anxiety, but it actually has been shown to disrupt the process of moving information from short term memory to long term memory. Because of the sense of urgency that students are experiencing when cramming, the process does little more than create a “muddy” recollection of the jumbled material.  

More and more students are finding success with multiple, brief stints of review over the course of several days or weeks prior to an exam. Research indicates that even in intervals as short as eight minutes at a time, students can memorize and grasp concepts much more efficiently. Not only do the rapid intervals reduce the anxiety of cramming, they aid in recall as well. To test out (no pun intended) this study strategy, students should spend 8-10 minutes organizing notes, outlines, terms, concepts, etc., and begin with the most complex or dire information. High schoolers can then return to the material 30 minutes to an hour later, seeking to reread, summarize, rephrase, or synthesize the small chunk of material that they organized during the previous eight minutes. Each day, students should add another aspect of the study material or exam content to their 8-minute review, and expand on the previous days’ content every few intervals. The key here is to tackle the concepts bit by bit in a logical sense and reasonable timeframe. This way, information builds on itself naturally without the overwhelming sense that comes with cramming.

 

Cultural Competency in the Classroom

A beneficial, yet challenging, factor of education today involves the increasing diversity in our schools. Because of the ever-growing demographics, teaching cultural competency has become a major focus in the classroom, especially for a public school system as vast and diverse as Montgomery County. It’s not only students that are getting instruction on cultural competency. These lessons start at the top with administration, curriculum writers, and educators all participating in this movement in favor of cultural awareness and appreciation.

Because culture involves a deeply personal, ingrained set of beliefs, behaviors, practices, and values, most people are at least somewhat unaware of cultures to which they do not prescribe. This is especially the case for young children who are just beginning to explore the world around them. Culturally-responsive instruction truly begins with a look at one’s self through reflection—it isn’t until we truly understand ourselves that we can begin to understand others around us.

Build a classroom environment founded in cultural appreciation by abolishing the word “normal.” Just because a behavior or characteristic might be our cultural norm, this does not mean that it is the “normal” or “right” way. Likewise, just because a behavior or trait may be unfamiliar to us, this does not mean that it is weird, wrong, or abnormal. Remind children that, just as we are all unique beings, our beliefs and values may cause us to speak, dress, and behave differently. Reinforce the mindset that cultural diversity provides learning opportunities that a culturally-homogeneous classroom would not necessarily have. Because each student comes from a different upbringing, with different customs, traditions, family structures, etc., the perspectives that we can gain by embracing our peers’ cultures are limitless. If we hold one another’s culture in high esteem by valuing it as a chance to gain knowledge about something new, we no longer see our peers as “odd” or “different.” Instead, children learn to place the emphasis on the fact that a peer’s culture has provided them with information and knowledge that they would not have known otherwise.

Beef up the classroom library with culturally diverse options for students to explore. Keep in mind that a culturally-relevant text does not receive its credit simply from the author’s culture. A novel about a child growing up during British imperialist India could provide plenty of opportunities for culturally-rich discussion—or it could oversimplify a culture or lack an important perspective all together. The key is to explore an abundance of different styles of texts, by many different authors, on a plethora of different subjects and themes. After doing plenty of research, and taking your students’ cultures into account, set up a culturally competent classroom library.  

Encourage courageous conversations surrounding cultural norms and where they originate. For instance, when examining the protagonist throughout the course of a novel, prompt the class to ask analytical questions about the character’s motivations, thoughts, and decisions. What do we know about this character’s values, background, upbringing, family structure, etc.? How are our lives similar or different because of our own cultures? How might our own beliefs impact the way that we view or characterize the protagonist? What more would we need to know or discover about the main character in order to fully understand why she behaves a certain way?

If we take steps to expose students to diverse cultures and guide their exploration of different customs, traditions and perspectives, they will learn to embrace new ideas and better navigate our world.

 

Change What Your Child Thinks About Studying

For those of us not blessed with a photographic memory, study skills are essential to our ability to grasp and retain information and concepts. We often think of studying as something that students do in preparation for a test—and while this is often the case, we want to set different expectations for studying. We want young learners to recognize the study skills that benefit them the best and to discover that studying is more than just a test-prep practice.

For elementary schoolers, studying, like many other aspects of education, is a new concept. Because they are just beginning to form their understanding of how to study and why, the elementary grades offer a great opportunity to put positive studying routines into place.
Teach elementary schoolers that studying is for more than just preparing for assessments. Studying should be introduced as a regular routine for reviewing and solidifying all content, not just test topics. By viewing a studying routine as a consistent homework practice, there is less pressure put on students when it comes to studying for an exam. They will be used to the process and aware of the strategies that help them the best.

To introduce this regular homework routine, at first devote a small amount of time to the practice. Begin by reviewing the night’s completed homework assignment or material from school that day. Encourage rereading as a friendly method to get the process started. Explain to your child that rereading helps to cement information and allows him or her to memorize key details. Prompt them to mark and look up any terms or phrases that they do not recognize or remember from class. This shows them how to be active readers and take initiative if they do not know something.

A studying practice should not be made to feel like an additional homework assignment; if elementary schoolers see it as extra work, they are likely to avoid it. Use maybe 5-10 minutes of homework time to “review” important concepts from the day. Ask your child to summarize the reading material or math steps that s/he focused on during the assignment. You can also ask your child to “teach” you how to do one of the math problems that s/he practiced for homework. Encourage them to jot down any questions that they may want to ask their teacher tomorrow, or circle any concepts that they found to be confusing while practicing on their own.

Use the “peak/pit” conversation to get your elementary schooler to think critically about what s/he learned today. Ask your child to say his or her favorite and least favorite part of the school day. Then ask him or her to explain why something was especially interesting or boring. This allows them to truly reflect on new concepts that they are grasping, while providing you with some insight into their budding interests. Remember to share your own “peak/pit” with your child. This helps to demonstrate that learning is a life-long process—we adults may be through our schooling, but we haven’t stopped learning new things.

If your elementary schooler seems particularly interested in a certain topic, try to find age-appropriate magazine articles, books, or documentaries about related topics. Playing off of a child’s interests will make learning feel less like work and more like a hobby.

More Testing Accommodations

Testing accommodations in the classroom are essential for student success. Not only should the accommodations provide support for students to access material and demonstrate mastery, they should also foster a sense of confidence. When students feel successful on an assessment, that confidence can bolster future success and motivate students that may have been discouraged by their learning differences. Of course, accommodations should be tailored to each learner’s specific needs—that is why plans are called IEPs, or individualized education programs. As much as these tools vary for each individual student, there are certain accommodations that are known to assist certain styles of learners better than others.

ADD/ADHD Learners:

Again, every learner is different, so each student with ADD and ADHD exhibits different behaviors and strengths. As much as everyone has different needs, students with ADHD, who exhibit certain behaviors more frequently, can benefit from a myriad of different testing accommodations.

Reduced distractions during testing can greatly help students with attention difficulties. This accommodation can vary depending on the classroom environment. For many, as long as the class is co-taught or has a paraeducator, students with ADHD or ADD should be pulled out into a smaller group setting for testing. This removes the unnecessary distractions that a full classroom can present.

If pull-out groups are not an option, consider moving the student to the front or side of the classroom where he/she will be less inclined to look around or daze off. Another tip for reduced distractions during testing is to instruct students to simply flip the assessment over when finished, as opposed to walking up to turn it in. Students with ADHD can easily become distracted or even discouraged if others are finishing the assessment faster than they are. Additionally, seat students away from windows or within view of the door or hallway. Because students with ADHD struggle to refocus when distracted, anything from a dog walking outside to a peer passing through the hallways can deter their focus.

Consider playing soft, slow, instrumental music or nature sounds in the background while students are testing. This will drown out any compulsive pencil tapping, chair screeching, or leg-shaking. Be sure that the music or sounds do not have any lyrics or distractibility factor.

Different seating options can provide the slight mobility that students may need when testing. Something as simple as providing students with the option to sit on stools, yoga balls, floor cushions, or to stand while testing can alleviate the jitters or restlessness that some students with ADHD experience. Tactile items such as fidget cubes, moldable erasers, or stress balls can help students to focus, as well. Just be sure to monitor their use so that they work to expel energy and channel focus, rather than distract students further.

If planning allows, consider breaking up longer unit assessments into multiple days or class periods. For instance, if an exam involves multiple choice responses, short answer, and written responses, see about allowing students to submit the test in two parts over separate days. This allows students to maintain focus for each section and regroup before moving into the lengthier writing portion. This is a best practice, not only for students with attention issues, but for all learners because it keeps students’ focus from straying. Splitting an assessment up over two days allows students to refocus and maintain motivation since they are not rushing through it or eager to get it over with.

When issuing an assessment with long reading passages or a lot of the text on each page, modify the visual aspect of the exam so that students with attention difficulties are not discouraged or overwhelmed by the amount of text on the page. Simply increasing the font and/or margin size can help to visually split the test into multiple chunks or pages. This approach helps students to focus their attention on fewer questions or shorter texts from page to page, prompting them to limit their focus to one question at a time.

How to Solve Problems with Peers: High Schoolers

Conflict resolution is an important skill that adolescents develop over time. As we adults know, it can take years to learn how to react calmly to a disagreement. For the most part, by high school, students have begun to achieve a sense of independence and maturity. However, conflicts, as we all know, are a part of life. Despite the connotation, conflicts do not have to be negative—in fact, conflicts can lead to a much more productive and understanding relationship among peers once the issue has been solved.  

How can we ensure that conflicts among high school students can produce the types of benefits we would like to see? Several strategies can help to ease tensions and foster a greater understanding during tumultuous times.

Remind students that a difference of opinion is just that—a difference. Having a conflicting opinion does not in and of itself equate to an argument. Emotions often only help to stir the pot; so teens and young adults can benefit from remaining calm during these conversations or disagreements. Taking a rational or logical approach to the disagreement, as opposed to an emotional one, will allow students to focus on the problem at hand.

Often times, a small conflict can diverge in several different directions. With each participant eager to make a point and be heard, it is no wonder that many of the small classroom scuffles can swirl into larger, full-blown arguments. Too often, the original conflict balloons into something unrecognizable, to the point that neither party remembers how exactly the disagreement began. With this in mind, encourage high schoolers to keep the conversation or mediation focused on one central issue—other issues may be discussed separately at another time to avoid escalating the situation. Keep all comments related to that central problem.

Active listening is another practice that can help teenagers mediate a situation on their own. With practice, students will learn to listen to a peer without interruption. Let each student know that he/she will have a chance to speak without interruption as well. Remind listeners to maintain eye contact, hold a neutral posture (i.e., no crossed arms), and nod to demonstrate that the other person has been heard or understood. Remind high schoolers to avoid the urge to look away, roll their eyes, sigh in disagreement, or any other gesture that displays aggression, defiance, or rudeness.

Provide students with the option to put their feelings in writing. This also ensures that a message can be thoughtfully prepared without the worry of an emotional delivery. This is also a positive cooldown practice for conflicts that have quickly become more volatile. Remind students to maintain a conversational volume and tone when speaking with a peer. A conflict resolution will not benefit from snarky sarcasm, feisty or angry tones, or yelling. A louder voice turns the listener off and only escalates the emotions involved in the conversation. High schoolers should speak slowly and calmly, being sure to put their thoughts and emotions in clear, concise terms. These open conversations can help each peer feel heard without playing a “blame game.”