How-To Stay in the Know: News for Middle Schoolers

With the prevalence of smartphones, middle schoolers have almost constant connectivity and sources of information. Today’s middle schoolers may not be 100 percent enthralled with current events; however, with the current state of affairs for national and global news, it is important that preteens are receiving accurate, appropriate information. As much as we want all kids to be properly informed, they must be careful with what they are watching and the information that they are receiving. Much like the qualms with social media, middle schoolers are equally vulnerable when it comes to today’s current events. Below are important pointers and suggestions for staying up on current events with middle school-aged students.

Be cognizant of the inevitable biases present in news media. Middles school is right around the time that students begin to learn about performing sound research, obtaining evidence, and citing sources.  Whether reading articles, watching national or local news outlets, or simply receiving social media updates and tweets, adolescents need to be aware of the fact that nearly every news story contains some thread of subjectivity or bias. Of course, people in the business of reporting the news go to great lengths to simply report—with total impartiality. However, the human component of news just inevitably does not allow for stories to remain 100 percent neutral at all times. For this reason, students should know how to identify bias in anything they watch or read involving news. Questions to ask include: What is the purpose of relaying this particular story, i.e., who will benefit from knowing or learning about this? Who might this news story be targeting? Is there a recognizable tone in the story or clip?

Know the difference between credibility and unreliability. Again, this is likely a newer concept for middle schoolers. When it comes to news stories, news media is so prevalent these days that accurate stories can easily be spun or altered and quickly posted to a pseudo-reliable news source. Fact-checking is something that middle school students can do in order to double check a source that may seem unreliable. Today’s school libraries and media centers have wonderful resources that help with providing credible sources. Whether primary or secondary sources, schools purchase multiple paid forums, anthologies, and online databases for students to conduct research or investigate specific topics.

Middle schoolers should utilize age-appropriate outlets to ensure that the news is something that they can understand and appreciate. Many issues or headlines are not only disturbing or violent, but confusing as well. Discovery Channel, Channel One, Scholastic, Time Magazine, and CNN all provide student-friendly episodes, articles, and other resources so that current events are academically accessible and appropriate for middle schoolers.

How-To Stay in the Know: News for High Schoolers

With the almost constant connectivity and media availability for today’s adolescents, high schoolers have the option to remain in the know at all times. Especially today, while major national and global news stories are constantly rolled out, students should have no issue staying informed. However, like all technology and social media, students need to be careful with what they are watching and the information that they are receiving. Below are important pointers and suggestions for staying up on current events with high school-aged students.

Be aware of the inevitable biases present in news media. Whether reading articles, watching national or local news outlets, or simply receiving social media updates and tweets, teens need to be aware of the fact that nearly every news story contains some thread of subjectivity or bias. Of course, people in the business of reporting the news go to great lengths to simply report—with total impartiality. However, the human component of news just inevitably does not allow for stories to remain 100 percent neutral at all times. For this reason, students should know how to identify bias in anything they watch or read involving news. Questions to ask include: What is the purpose of relaying this particular story, i.e., who will benefit from knowing or learning about this? Who might this news story be targeting? Is there a recognizable tone in the story or clip?

Know the difference between credibility unreliability. Hopefully, by high school, students have experienced and completed enough research assignments to identify credible sources. However, when it comes to news stories, news media is so prevalent these days that accurate stories can easily be spun or altered and quickly posted to a pseudo-reliable news source. Fact-checking is something that high school students can do in order to double check a source that may seem unreliable. Of course, Wikipedia, every high schoolers favorite resource for “research,” can be helpful, but only if students fact-check the links and sources at the bottom of the Wikipedia pages.

Teens should utilize age-appropriate outlets to ensure that the news is something that they can understand and appreciate. Many issues or headlines are not only disturbing or violent, but confusing as well. Scholastic, Time Magazine, and CNN all provide student-friendly episodes, articles, and other resources so that current events are academically accessible and appropriate for high schoolers.

How-To Stay in the Know: News for Elementary-Age Groups

For elementary students, the topic of news or current events may likely be met with confused faces or outright groans of boredom. I can certainly remember my eyes glazing over when Nightly News occupied the television in my house growing up. And today’s elementary schoolers are no different—they may not be 100 percent enthralled with current events. However, today’s technology means that current events are not only readily available, they are also available to all levels of readers and viewers. For the elementary age group, news events and stories shared with children must be age and reader-appropriate. Below are important pointers and suggestions for staying up on current events with elementary students.

Be sure to preview all news stories, articles, and broadcasts before having students participate. Thankfully, today’s technology and vast number of children’s programs ensure that current events and news articles can be easily assessed for age-appropriate content. Several educational news outlets do this work for us by categorizing material by age group and Lexile range. While it is important that students understand what they are reading, it is equally, if not more important, to be sure that the material is suitable for children. Many issues or headlines are not only disturbing or violent, but confusing as well. Discovery Channel, Channel One, Scholastic, Time Magazine, and CNN all provide student-friendly episodes, articles, and other resources so that current events are academically accessible and appropriate for elementary schoolers.

Keep the news relevant but light. Of course, we want students to be aware of some of the important events happening around them. But, at the same time, we must be sure not to expose them to anything that is too jarring or upsetting. News stories for elementary-age groups should involve topics to which students can relate. Make sure that the information they are getting connects to something in their own lives. This is a great way for students to begin to connect to the outside world, as well as recognize their place in it.

Encourage questions. Questions to ask include: What is the purpose of relaying this particular story, i.e., who will benefit from knowing or learning about this? Who might this news story be targeting? Is there a recognizable tone in the story or clip? How does this story or event affect the people around me? How do I benefit from knowing about this story or current event? Again, these questions prompt students to consider what they have just learned.

Know the difference between credibility and unreliability. Again, this is a new concept for elementary schoolers. When it comes to news stories, news media is so prevalent these days that accurate stories can easily be spun or altered and quickly posted to a pseudo-reliable news source. Fact-checking is something that elementary school students can begin to do in order to double check a source that may seem unreliable. Today’s school libraries and media centers have wonderful resources that help with providing credible sources. Whether primary or secondary sources, schools purchase multiple paid forums, anthologies, and online databases for students to conduct research or investigate specific topics.

Homework Ideas for Teachers to Try

Too often, homework assignments get a bad reputation for being tedious, repetitive, or unnecessarily lengthy. As educators, we aim to provide work that is rigorous, purposeful, and engaging. The last type of task we want to assign is an irrelevant or disconnected assignment used solely as “busy work.” Homework is meant to allow time to practice and reflect on the skills or concepts that we have been teaching in class. Of course, assignments cannot always engage every student on every level. However, a few different strategies can ensure that, as much as possible, students bring home tasks that hold their attention, assess their skills, and promote reflective practices concerning their learning styles.

Provide opportunities for student choice as often as possible

This could mean that students are given the option to choose from a list of assignments, all with the same objectives or learning goals. The idea behind this is simple: the manner in which students exhibit their learning is not what matters. Providing options that boost engagement can often enhance learning. Assignment options can range from a paragraph or collage to a PowerPoint or Adobe Spark page. With a wide range of possibilities, students are able to play to their strengths. A tech-savvy student and an artistically-inclined student can both exhibit knowledge of the content or skill, but produce different representations of their knowledge. This allows students to focus on the same learning goals and participate in the same instruction, while allowing them to differentiate the product that they create.

Permit students to opt-out of homework they have mastered

Along with student choice should be an opportunity to “opt-out” of certain assignments—for instance, a student that aces an algebra practice test may be given the option to opt out of the night’s homework involving the same concepts. This idea supports the notion that busy work not only lends itself to boredom, but also has the potential to lower motivation and determination. If a student has proven mastery of a concept, rote or redundant practice is unnecessary.

Create a weekly or monthly calendar of assignments

This not only helps teachers with their planning, it also assists students with organization and proactivity. The calendar acts as a visual or digital reminder of assignments that are coming down the pike. Be sure to include the date that the task was assigned, as well as the due date. Double check that a week’s worth of assignments is balanced and reasonable—i.e., something that students can realistically accomplish in the timeframe given. Encourage students to cross off tasks as they are completed. Also, allow students to submit work prior to the due date. This way, students that struggle with disorganization or misplacing papers can rid themselves of the assignment before it disappears.

Hold a homework session during lunch

This can be as frequent as needed, but once a week is a good start. Allowing students to have a quiet place to work is a benefit to them and you, as well. By working through an assignment with students, teachers are better able to gauge the effectiveness of their instruction. A lunch session also allows students to ask questions or voice confusion over a particular homework task.

Teacher Hacks to Use at Home Part I: Behavior Management

Teaching is often more than a job or career pathit is something that we educators practice even when we are outside of the classroom.  Much of what we do in class, while content-oriented, is meant to be translated to the real world. From study skills, to organization, to behavior management, teachers have a whole repertoire of strategies that could be of major assistance at home. So parents, what can teachers teach besides their subject area? A lot!

First-year teaching has sometimes been compared to bringing a baby home for the first time. It is terrifying, overwhelming, exhausting, stressful, emotional, and exciting—basically a whirlwind of significant moments strung together. While teaching is not as dramatic as raising a newborn, it is a profession that involves constant giving. So, with regard to giving advice to parents struggling with behavior issues at home, first things first—we know your struggle. We too have had moments (probably many) when it seems as though we may never have a breakthrough with a particularly “feisty” child. But, there are certain keys to remember:

  • You are the adult. When it comes to those knock-down, drag-out tantrums or battles, remember that this is a child that you are dealing with. There is no negotiating unless you open that door. When kids push back, keep your head and say something like, “I’m sorry you are upset, but I gave you my answer. This conversation is over.” This lets them know that you are in charge and that no amount of effort on their behalf is going to change the decision you have made. Once you have made your decision, close the door on negotiating, begging, guilt-tripping, etc. Be sure to stand your ground—the second that you go back on your word, you’ve lost. Explain that no amount of disrespect or anger is going to help their cause, regardless of how much they argue, question or try to manipulate you.
  • Once you have stood your ground, you must try to remain calm and keep cool—even when the child is not. Easier said than done, I know. We teachers know all too well that emotionally engaging in an argument or tiff with a student is never beneficial. Again, you are the adult. The conversation ends when you end it; no need to fuel the fire.
  • Frame every decision so that it is in the best interest of your child. Show your child that you are not making decisions just to assert control or power. They need to understand that parenting is a decision-making role. Yes, they will have plenty of opportunities to make their own choices, but for now, they need guidance from the person who cares about their well-being above everything else. They may not show it, but they will eventually understand your sound reasoning.

Finally, gauge the emotions and recognize triggers for your child. After years in the classroom, teachers are masters at recognizing behavior patterns, trends, and triggers for different personalities and age groups. Of course, you know your child better than anyone. So, take mental note of when he or she begins to exhibit frustration. Isolate the root of the emotional response and act on that—they may be whining about homework, but the frustration may stem from a lack of confidence, knowledge, or patience.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom: High School

The widespread use of technology is a pivotal factor in today’s classrooms. By high school, students are expected to proficiently access information in the digital world. It is truly unbelievable how much digital information is being presented to students in and out of the classroom. For digital instruction to be effective, however, it must be planned for and utilized with specific and deliberate purposes. Technology should be integrated as a means to engage, enrich, and extend learning objectives for students on a regular basis. So, what specific skills should high schoolers attain before graduating? Let’s take a look.

Technology Skills for College and Career Readiness

Typing skills are one of those abilities that many people disregard. While most schools have done away with mandatory typing courses as a graduation requirement, the skill is more valuable than people think. Not only does the one-finger “pecking” appear juvenile or unprofessional, but it is also not efficient. Especially when students head off into the world of higher education, they will need to be able to type with precision and ease for lectures, papers, research, etc. The great news is that technology has greatly improved the methods for building standard typing skills. With games, races, and levels, students are much more engaged and able to easily track their improvement.

Email and technology etiquette is also up there in terms of skills that high schoolers should acquire before graduating. The key here is that, by high school, students have been completely immersed in the informal realm of texting and social media. With all of this connectedness comes the likelihood that high schoolers have gotten comfortable with internet “slang” or informal communication styles. Between the emojis, neglect of appropriate punctuation, and familiarity with an informal tone, students are often ill-prepared to correspond professionally via email. That said, content area courses should be sure to address the need for a formal tone and appropriate formatting when it comes to email in the academic or professional realm.

Research skills offer huge benefits to students, no matter what career goals they may have for the future. The truth is, research is not just limited to college coursework—we perform research every day in our personal lives without even realizing it. Effective research skills ensure that the information collected and created by students will not only hold up, but help to grow their understanding of a concept.

Proofreading and editing is another digitally-based skill that high schoolers would be wise to master. Of course, the crutch of spellcheck has resulted in today’s students being somewhat lazy in terms of editing abilities. The best way to improve proofreading skills is simply to practice it. There are many editing forums and technologies that greatly assist in the process of self-checking and peer editing.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom: Middle School

The use of technology is a pivotal factor in today’s classrooms. Students are expected to proficiently access, analyze, and create using digital tools, even at the middle school level. Information, apps, and tools are everywhere—it is truly unbelievable how much digital information is being presented to students in and out of the classroom. For digital instruction to be effective, however, it must be planned for and utilized with specific and deliberate purposes. Technology for technology’s sake is not beneficial to student learning. Instead, technology should be integrated as a means to engage, enrich, and extend learning objectives for students on a regular basis. So, how can this be accomplished in middle school?

By middle school, students have been introduced to plenty of educational digital forums. Middle school educators must continue to teach students how to be digitally responsible. Parents and teachers are well-aware of the fact that adolescents are connected to all things digital on a grand scale. The unavoidable truth that comes with digital technology use in classrooms is the fact that students become immediately immersed in a world with few boundaries. The impulsive and somewhat self-absorbed mindset that comes with the adolescent years also presents the issue of cyberbullying, which has become a simply newer and easier way to hurt peers. Luckily, schools have made it relatively easy for teachers to monitor what students send, copy, post, or type. In addition, technologies such as Lanschool allow teachers to monitor exactly what each student’s screen looks like, and close it out if need be. Teachers also have the option to screenshot a student’s screen in order to share a concerning incident with parents.

Managing Digital Footprints

Instructing students about their digital footprints is also important in middle school. Not only are students receiving information at rapid rates, but their own digital output is of major concern, as well. A digital footprint is composed of a person’s online actions and behavior. Middle school students must be taught that anything that we post on the web is permanent—digital footprints will never vanish. As many of us know, it is typical of adolescents to dismiss the concept of the far-off future. However, middle school is the opportune time to discuss the likelihood of severe consequences after leaving a negative digital footprint for someone else to stumble across, even years later.

Resources

Having successfully prepared middle schoolers with the knowledge of safety and security in the digital realm, teachers are then able to utilize technologies to enhance learning like never before. Free resources like instagrok.com, Padlet, Powtoons, and Adobe Spark allow students to research and create in a more interactive and creative way. Using Google classroom as the starting point for assignments and lessons incorporating technology, students are able to go out into the digital world and bring back information and material at an alarming rate. The idea of cooperative learning, student choice, technological creativity, and collaborative synthesis are all possible when using forums such as Google classroom to gather students’ ideas and creations.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom: Elementary

The widespread use of technology is a pivotal factor in today’s classrooms. Students are expected to proficiently access information in the digital world as early as elementary school. It is truly unbelievable how much digital information is being presented to students in and out of the classroom. For digital instruction to be effective, however, it must be planned for and utilized with specific and deliberate purposes. Technology for technology’s sake is not beneficial to student learning. Instead, technology should be integrated as a means to engage, enrich, and extend learning objectives for students on a regular basis. So, how can this be accomplished at the elementary level?

Cyber Safety

One essential concept for elementary students to learn is cyber safety. The unfortunate, yet unavoidable, truth that comes with digital technology use in classrooms is the fact that students become immediately immersed in a world with few boundaries. Aside from cyberbullying and cyberstalking, which have become simply newer, easier ways to spread hate, teachers and parents must concern themselves with protecting elementary-aged students from the vast information available. Luckily, schools have made it relatively easy for teachers to limit what students can and cannot access. In addition, technologies such as Lanschool allow teachers to monitor exactly what each student’s screen looks like, and close it out if need be.

An initial elementary lesson on technology use should involve safe searches, handling cyberbullying, and managing safe digital footprints—the digital output of a person’s online actions and behavior. Remind students, even at the elementary age, that everything we search, post, share, comment on, or “like” can be copied and shared with anyone.

Lesson Ideas

For elementary school, students may come into the classroom with varying familiarities when it comes to internet use. Begin with something simple, and allow opportunities for enrichment as students develop search skills. For instance, if students are asked to outline the week’s weather forecast, provide them with previewed links or suggested sites that remove ads and pop-ups. For the most part, schools’ firewall settings will alleviate this issue beforehand, but it is best to double check sites before pushing them out to students.

For students that are well-versed in the digital realm, allow them to complete something like the weather outline via Google classroom. Post a digital form of the graphic organizer as a Google document. Students with less familiarity with technology can use a physical paper copy of the assignment. This option not only incorporates student choice, but it also allows students to work on their comfort level and technology skill development at their own pace.

Another idea for using technology in the elementary classroom involves the common “word of the day.” Students can be provided with URLs for sites such as dictionary.com or merriam-webster.com in order to search their vocabulary terms. These sites also provide options to hear how the terms are pronounced and see examples of the terms used in sentences. Allow students to keep a running Google document of new terms with definitions, parts of speech, and sentences for context. Teachers can also “share” a document with the entire class via Google classroom, allowing students to add, edit, or comment as the class dictionary evolves.

Combatting Stress in the Classroom

Illnesses in the classroom are inevitable. The highly social aspect of the classroom is one of the great parts of education—students working and learning closely together. Unfortunately, the flipside to this is that germs are spread in these enclosed social realms very, VERY easily.

As many parents are well-aware, students fall ill most frequently during the winter months. Whether it be a cold, stomach bug, or full-on flu, students are most susceptible during the colder months because of the tendency to remain indoors, where germs are more easily transmitted. Physical illnesses, however, are not the only noticeable health issues in the classroom. As teachers, we are also well-aware of the fact that school can be a major turning point when it comes to recognizing mental health issues in adolescents.

Yes, Lysol and antibacterial wipes go a long way in the classroom in terms of keeping our students healthy. However, much like the invisibility of dangerous germs in the classroom, mental health issues can be even more difficult to detect. Of course, school counsellors are much more knowledgeable when it comes to formal diagnosis, but teachers should know what to look for as well. One major indicator can be how a child responds to stress.

Stress can have a major impact on student success and well-being. As much as we try to minimize stress on our students, academia inevitably puts young people into stressful situations. Stress-management is a vital skill for students to acquire in their primary and secondary years of school, but what does it look like when stress becomes too much? When is it overwhelming on a destructive level?

Extremely stressed students will appear extremely lethargic, disinterested, or sluggish in the classroom. This low energy is a physical response to stress, anxiety, and/or depression. When things become overwhelming, adolescents sometimes cope by “shutting down.” Lethargy is a means of “checking out” or evading whatever it is that is stressing them out. It is also a sure sign that a student is not getting enough sleep due to stress or worry.

Task avoidance is another layer of low energy exhibited by stressed students. This can be marked by missed assignments, a sudden drop in grades, or an increase in school absences. Avoiding tasks or school altogether is a more direct manner of evading the stressors. The issue, however, is that missed school will only result in escalating the problem of falling behind, thus increasing stress.

Repetitive or ritualistic behavior could be an effect of anxiety caused by stress. Often a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the subtle routines become methods to self-soothe or irrationally alleviate stress. Students may also blink, tap, fidget, etc., as a distraction technique when they begin to feel overwhelmed.  

Sudden social issues are another sign that stress has reached an unmanageable level for adolescents. Because peer groups shift regularly and unpredictably, these “friend fluctuations” are difficult to distinguish as stress-related, or simply teenagers being teenagers. The key here is for teachers to recognize social withdrawal versus shifting friendships. A previously social or congenial student who suddenly appears lonely, withdrawn, or isolated is likely experiencing stress or anxiety. When this extreme introverted behavior lasts continuously for any length of time, it is important to look deeper at the situation.

Parent as the Teacher

The impact of parent involvement is immeasurable when it comes to student success. Decades of research indicates that involved parents are one of the main factors to a student’s educational success. As educators, we certainly recognize the extent to which parents are pivotal to our work in the classroom. A popular adage claims that “home is a child’s first classroom; parents, the first teachers.” According to data and experience in the classroom, teachers would almost unanimously agree to that notion—we cannot do it without the help of parents.

As educators, we must also be cognizant of the “parent as teacher” mindset that students unknowingly bring into the classroom. Kids only know what they see, hear, and live. Often times, a student’s behavior, manner of speaking, and opinions are greatly indicative of a few influential factors: friends and family. Parents intentionally and sometimes unintentionally teach or model certain behaviors or mindsets. When you do the math, parents are obviously the most influential figure in a child’s education. Any given year, children spend eight times as many hours at home than they do at school.   

That said, parents then become our greatest allies when it comes to knowing our students best. At the start of the year, many teachers prepare for the back-to-school night by creating some form of parent questionnaires. These small surveys or get-to-know-you cards inevitably get tossed in a drawer and likely forgotten. However, an easy tweaking of the questions could allow parents to “teach” their child’s teachers some of the vital information necessary for success in the classroom. Take a look at some questions that would allow parents to educate the teacher on their child’s learning styles.

How do you handle discipline at home? This question allows parents to explain what has or perhaps has not worked with their children in terms of behavior management. It also gives teachers some insight as to how familiar a student is with receiving consequences.

What activities or topics spark your child’s interest? How do you know when he/she is engaged? Both of these questions allow teachers to get some valuable background information as to how to best reach a student. Parents also provide teachers with the insight as to how a specific child displays interest.

How does your child exhibit frustration or stress? Again, emotional growth is something that children mostly develop outside of school among family and peers. Knowing exactly what it looks like before a child is pushed to the emotional edge will help teachers to recognize and ease frustrations before they become significant issues.

How much does your child depend on you for help with schoolwork at home? This question gives teachers an inside look at the level of academic independence and self-advocacy that they can expect from students. Of course, parents are always eager to help their children with anything; however, the level of support needed in the classroom is often reflective of how reliant the child is at home.

What is the best way to encourage your child? Like all of the previous questions, teachers can truly rely on parents as the experts when it comes to positive reinforcement and encouragement in the classroom. Some children respond to competition, while others may be more self-motivated. Some students like to know exactly how to manage time and assignments, while others prefer a more student-driven or creative approach to learning. Whatever the case, parents truly have the wherewithal to help teachers learn about their students quickly and accurately.

This expert knowledge of our students can really only come from one place—home. Therefore, when parents are more involved, teachers and students both reap the benefits of this sort of “insider information.”