Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Background

While oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) was added to the DSM in the 1980s, its existence and diagnosis is still hotly debated and somewhat misunderstood among families and educators. Surprisingly enough, ODD is one of the most common behavioral disorders to be diagnosed in children. Furthermore, researchers have also found that oppositional defiant disorder in both boys and girls is often accompanied by a previous ADHD diagnosis.

 

Symptoms

While ODD is a disorder that affects both boys and girls, symptoms are typically known to vary between the sexes. Though this is in no way absolute, researchers have found that boys with ODD display their opposition and defiance in more physically aggressive manners; their frustrations may escalate quickly and in more overtly explosive ways. While girls, on the other hand, are more likely to display oppositional or defiant behaviors in subtle, sneaky, or manipulative ways. For instance, girls with ODD may be deceitful or cunning and interact with others in intentionally uncooperative ways. Again, these are not hard and fast rules; they are simply some of the known observations experts have made between the genders.

 

It is also important to note that symptoms associated with ODD are typically misbehaviors that most children and teens will display at some point during their development. However, the difference between mere misbehaviors or teenage moodiness and ODD is the prevalence and severity of the behaviors. With regard to a diagnosis, ODD behaviors have likely become so frequent that they are deemed as the “norm” for that child.

 

Support in the Classroom

Behavior Support Additional Considerations
Disproportionate anger/frustration/

irritability

  • Provide student with flash pass to the counselor for when tempers flare
  • Allow student to take brief “brain breaks” throughout the day, especially when transitioning between activities or subject areas to alleviate stress
  • Provide student with preferential seating near the door for easy access to the hallway if frustration escalates
  • Provide student with fidget cube or stress ball to channel negative energy
  • Classrooms as a whole can benefit from stress-relieving or meditative practices, but these coping skills are especially beneficial to students with ODD; schools and counselling departments are beginning to focus students’ attention on mental self-care and coping methods to reduce anxiety and stress
Argumentative, uncooperative, defiant towards adults/authority figures
  • Present requests or directives in the form of an “either/or” question. For example, if a student throws paper off the desk, the teacher might say, “Would you like to either pick up the paper now, or pick up all scrap paper at the end of class?”
  • Remind student that his/her defiance is a choice that will result in a consequence; ask him/her if she would like to make a different choice to amend the tone/behavior/attitude
  • Stay calm; you cannot fight fire with fire. As difficult as it may be, teachers and other adults must remember that the ODD behaviors are stemming from a larger issue.
  • Deescalate the tone of the situation by maintaining a calm, understanding, yet firm demeanor. Act with care and be deliberate in your directives toward the student.
  • Remind students that you are there FOR THEM; everything you do is meant to ensure safety and success in the classroom. By reaffirming your desire to help him/her, a defiant student may soften the edge and be more receptive to your requests.
Physical aggression; vindictive, spiteful, or manipulative behavior
  • Physical altercations are never okay; remind students that verbal disagreements should never escalate to physical interactions
  • If something physical does transpire, adults must be sure to document the situation thoroughly. This includes all parties involved, what instigated the issue, and anyone who may have witnessed the altercation. Teachers should also note when and where the event took place so that administration and parents are made aware of the full situation.
  • Teachers can consider activities or brain breaks that either diffuse or expel aggression or anger.
  • Items such as Rubik’s cubes, coloring books, or sudoku challenges help students to come down off of the aggressive moment by occupying the mind
  • Consider creating a small, comfortable, secluded corner of the room where students can take a breath and collect themselves before re-entering the classroom environment
  • Teachers and guidance counselors can help to mediate aggression and manipulative behaviors by helping students to reflect on an incident. Prompt students to think about why they lied, cheated, manipulated, etc. Ask them what they could have done differently that would have resulted in a more positive outcome.

Motivating the Unmotivated

While motivation is often linked to academic achievement, the same is not necessarily true for motivation and intelligence. We are all familiar with the naturally gifted student who fails consistently, not for lack of intelligence, but because of his or her lack of motivation. These seemingly hopeless situations can be difficult for parents, especially when they know that their child has all the potential and wherewithal. But what can be done to boost motivation? How can we inspire and incite action when the foundation is nonexistent?

 

Investigate the root of the problem

Oftentimes, a lack of motivation is the result of a bigger issue. For unmotivated children, there is likely some sort of deterrent or impediment between the child and the task. Sometimes the issue stems from a learning obstacle, such as a disability or cognitive barrier. Other times, unmotivated students have had multiple or severely negative experiences in school that have caused them to be “turned off” or “checked out.” It is also possible that the child simply does not see the value in putting forth effort and exhibiting self-motivation. Whatever the case may be, parents can begin to establish motivation by examining the reason behind its absence. Talk to children about why they truly do not want to try something. Is there a reason that they are so opposed to showing effort or enthusiasm for learning? Pose the questions so that they do not sound interrogative, but instead seek to understand the child’s position.

 

Set longterm and shortterm goals

Even the most unmotivated child has some sort of goal or aspiration. Parents should tap into these interests as a means to foster motivation, both in the immediate and distant future. Ask your child what he or she would like to accomplish tomorrow. Allow that answer to span outside of the academic realm. For instance, if your child is lacking motivation in school, but shows an interest in making the club soccer team, encourage that level of interest first as a springboard. Perhaps tomorrow’s goal is to juggle the soccer ball 30 times without dropping it, but this year’s goal is to make the soccer team. Talk about how these short-term goals are essentially the building blocks towards reaching the long term goal. Hone in on the fact that practicing, strategizing, focusing, and modifying will be key for reaching that short-term goal. And that while failure and outside obstacles are going to occur, resilience and motivation are 100% controllable internal factors. Then, when the topic of academics arises, remind that unmotivated student of the steps and lengths that he went to in order to accomplish the juggling goal. Discuss how you can translate that motivation into effort towards schoolwork.

 

Express excitement and admiration when they do show motivation towards anything

Kids, especially young children, may not fully conceptualize the notion of intrinsic motivation—they don’t necessarily know why they care, they just do. To boost their understanding of building and maintaining motivation, praise their effort when they exhibit it. Acknowledge their focus and drive for whatever it may be that they’re working on—the more you point out this motivation, the more likely they are to internalize this concept of self-motivation and effort.

 

Lead by example

We all know that attitude is contagious; the same can be said for effort and motivation. When children see motivated parents with their own interests and passions, they begin to see that effort comes from a true desire to achieve, create, accomplish, and grow. Passionate people inspire those around them, so parents can certainly boost motivation at home by expressing their own efforts and motivation for their genuine interests.

 

Instruct with positive and negative consequences

Different from bribery, positive and negative consequences ensure that children learn how to take ownership for their actions and level of effort (or lack thereof). Of course, no child will be intrinsically motivated to make his bed. Instead, parents should remind children that failure to complete their chores will result in a consequence—essentially, children will recognize that they’re actually punishing themselves by choosing to neglect their tasks. Thus, they become motivated by the desire to avoid the negative consequence. Consequently, a positive outcome from doing one’s chores can boost motivation and the desire to accomplish tasks in the sense that the child connects his or her effort to the reward or positive result.

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

In elementary school, children are just beginning to understand themselves as learners. These are crucial years in terms of building a positive mindset and a solid understanding of education and its significance in their lives. Because of their blossoming ideas and new experiences in school, elementary-aged learners can be especially fragile when it comes to their self-perception.  

One surefire way to turn children off to school, education, and all things learning-related is to allow them to steep in their own negativity. This “I can’t” mindset can be especially detrimental to young learners because the longer they engage in this negative self-fulfilling prophecy, the more likely they are to solidify those beliefs as true. To combat the cycle of negative self-perceptions, teachers and parents can implement different exercises, practices, and conversations to encourage a positive outlook.

Abolish terms like hard, boring, easy, and fun when describing an activity, assignment, or task. Instead, replace those descriptions with words like challenging or interesting. A subtle shift in the adjectives removes the opportunity to equate the school work with a negative connotation. If something is described as a challenge, as opposed to hard, children are more likely to muster the effort and be motivated by the opportunity to try. Similarly, abandoning anxiety-producing terms such as test or exam can also bolster a more positive outlook.

Do away with thinking of education in terms of absolutes. Because of the way that our educational systems are structured, learners often get caught up in the “all or nothing,” “pass/fail,” “smart or not smart” mentality. Cultivate the notion that school, learning, and intelligence are not exclusively yes or no categories. Sentences like, “I’ll NEVER understand this!” are only serving to prove that negative belief. Instead, instruct students to adopt a growth mindset when engaging in self-talk. Examples might include, “This is challenging, but I’ll keep trying.” “The more I practice, the better I will become.”

Stress the importance of growth over perfection. Again, much of our standard ideas of education involve grades, percentages, and correct answers. But to prepare elementary schoolers to become lifelong learners, adults must put the focus on overall growth and acquisition of new skills.  

Present school work and learning in general as a lifelong, continuous process. It is important for children to know that there is not one person who knows everything about everythingand no, you are never “done” when it comes to learning. Remind elementary schoolers that because curiosity is what feeds our need to learn, it is okay, even expected, that we don’t understand everything right away.

Practice routine reflections as an essential part of the learning process. This routine can vary depending on the task or assignment that students are reflecting upon; however, the notion is the samereflecting on and thinking about how we learn helps us to understand strategies that work or don’t work for us in any given task. Elementary teachers may ask students to consider what went well during their learning process. What do they wish they had done differently having now finished the task? What was the most difficult aspect of the assignment or project? How did they use their strengths to complete this assignment? Questions like these allow elementary students to not only reflect on their learning process, but also take deliberate ownership over their work. Through reflection, young learners find value in the challenges and errors, which helps to keep the negative self-fulfilling prophecies at bay.

Behavior Management Strategies Taken from the Teacher’s Playbook

If asked about observations pertaining to student trends over time, teachers, administrators, and any other school personnel will likely tell you how the culture of behavior in schools has drastically changed, even in just the last decade. While this is a generalized observationnot necessarily one that rings true for every child in every school across Americaprofessionals working in the realm of education report an overwhelmingly recognizable shift in behavior and behavior-related challenges in schools.

For parents that are struggling to manage behaviors at home, the stress can be all-encompassing. As teachers and parents may witness, when these behaviors go unaddressed, there is a tendency for actions or attitudes to escalate. While educators certainly do not have all of the answers, what they do have is plenty of experience with a wide range of personalities and demeanors.

Maintain consistency and stay strong

As teachers well know, adolescents and even young children can be masters of persuasion. Whether begging, throwing fits, crying, or pitting parents against one another, a child’s aim is typically the same when it comes to these strategiesthey are trying to break you. The reason that they attempt these methods is probably because they have seen it work before, either among siblings, at a friend’s house, or maybe they’ve even worked you over in this way before. The point is, when children are used to getting what they want when they want it, they will go to great lengths to achieve or receive.

Therefore, if you have already said “no,” do not falter; do not waiver or go back on your word. In doing this, you are showing your child that they can convince you to change your mind. Will it be embarrassing when your child throws a tantrum in public? Yes. Will they likely stop immediately if you cave in? Yes. But will they remember their success rate from throwing this fit? Absolutely. It may make your life easy in that moment, but going back on your word just to stifle a temper tantrum will inevitablely backfire because you are essentially reinforcing that negative behavior.

Ditch empty threats

Just as a teacher would not give detention and then “let it slide,” parents must follow through. If you impose a consequence, you must be ready to deliver that consequence. Empty threats or punishments that never come to fruition are just other examples of adults reinforcing negative behavior. Your child will remember how the “week without screen time” turned into just one night without the iPad before bed. In dropping the ball on the original consequence, your child will be less inclined to take those warnings seriously.

Put the child in control of the outcome

Teachers typically spend a great deal of time setting the expectations for their classroom environment, assignment protocol, and behavior. The point of setting the stage so specifically and deliberately is that students are made aware not only of the expectations, but also the subsequent consequences if those expectations are not met. Students know in advance that they will lose a certain percentage if work is submitted late. They also know that unkind words or behavior will result in lunch detention or a phone call home. Because of these known repercussions, students are careful to adhere to the rules.

It’s the same at home. Parents should calmly remind children of the expectation and the consequence that their child will be choosing if the behavior continues. This puts children in the driver seat by reminding them that they are in control of their behavior and how that behavior will play out. Explain to them that they “are choosing a consequence by behaving this way.” Children will be less inclined to continue the behavior when they know that this behavior would essentially mean that they’re imposing a punishment on themselves.

Teaching Self-Advocacy at Home Pt. I

Self-advocacy is an essential skill for children to master, not only for their education, but for basic functioning and socialization throughout life. Parents can help children foster this necessary life skill by providing them with specific tools and practices to ensure that their voices are heard and understood—and the earlier children begin advocating, the better.

Self-advocacy is all about vocalizing one’s needs. However, the key to teaching children how to advocate for themselves starts with helping them to recognize their own needs. It is difficult to ask for help when you don’t know what exactly you need help doing. For the major part of many children’s lives, parents accommodate a child’s every need. Often times, parents are there to swoop in to the rescue before their children even know that they need something. To begin teaching self-advocacy, parents will want to introduce the concept in small steps by encouraging children to first recognize then vocalize their needs.

Ask your child if he or she knows or recognizes the sensation of hunger or thirst. What does it feel like if you are starting to get hungry or thirsty? Do you hear your grumbling tummy? Do you feel agitated or restless? If you’re hungry, but I haven’t offered you a snack, what can you do to make sure that you get what you need? Similarly, ask your child to describe what it feels like when they are too hot, too cold, or need to go to the bathroom. Do you see goosebumps? Do you start to feel clammy or sweaty? Does your skin pigment, fingertips, lips change color? Does your tummy hurt or feel funny? Do you get jumpy or distracted?

These questions may seem overly simplistic; however, the idea behind such basic conversations is that your child begins to actively recognize what his or her body needs and when. These types of questions are especially important for children with autism because of the tendency to struggle to make observations. Children on the spectrum may find it difficult to sense time or communicate frustration or other emotions. They may also experience an inability to perceive unsafe or harmful situations, which makes it difficult for them to distinguish their wants from their needs. Therefore, when children are aware of their needs, they can begin to vocalize them. This is especially important when children head to school and no longer have a parent to accommodate their every need at the drop of a hat.

Parents can then begin to instruct children on how to appropriately ask for what they need. Practice using sentence frames for different scenarios and discuss the difference between “I want” and “I need.”  Talk about how to distinguish between an emergency or an immediate need and something that can be met or accomplished later or eventually. Discuss instances in which your child should politely say “no thank you” versus vehemently saying “no!” Instruct your child about the appropriate occasions and means of getting someone’s attention, interrupting a conversation, or asking a personal question. By role-playing certain scenarios or conversations, parents can begin to prepare their children with positive communication skills and self-advocacy tools.

Developing Grit: A Guide for Parents

Grit, as it pertains to behavior and motivation, has been a popular buzzword in the education world as of late. Perhaps the reason that it has taken center stage is the fact that today’s adolescents are overwhelmingly lacking in grit. Merriam-Webster defines grit as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.Grit, however, is much more than sheer determination. Furthermore, grit should not be misconstrued as a trait of stubbornness. This characteristic is substantially more complex than the unwillingness to accept failure, and yet, it has a great deal to do with one’s failures. As Angela Duckworth, who’s garnered a following after her TED talk on grit, claims: grit should be defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

With such an emphasis on grit, or rather, the absence of it among today’s youth, it is an essential topic of discussion for parents. What does grit look like? What is the danger of an absence of grit? Since it is such a crucial attribute, how can we ensure that our children and teens develop grit?

A world without grit:

If we were to describe today’s young people in one word, including my own fellow millennials, our generation and those that have followed could be considered “soft.” Coddled, entitled, and sheltered also come to mind when I think about young people today. Some may not know it, but this “softness”—this inability to persevere or handle setbacks—is indicative of a lack of grit.

The unfortunate (and terrifying) truth is that many of today’s recent high school graduates, though perfectly capable applicants on paper, are abysmally ill-equipped to thrive on their own at the university level. Most likely, much of primary school was smoke and mirrors—students were given an A for effort, innumerable opportunities to reassess or resubmit assignments, and gratuitous applause. While it is important to reference the value of self-esteem, the pendulum may have swung too far in the direction of sensitivity.

Parents need to be aware of this lack of grit, because teachers, professors, and employers certainly are. What we are seeing now is that the slightest difficulty, obstacle, or discouragement renders today’s teens completely helpless—any effort or motivation that they may have had for their end goal becomes dashed by fears of failure the moment they sense anything less than perfection on the horizon. Teens are so used to unwarranted praise or the metaphorical “participation trophy” that they are incapable of picking themselves up by their bootstraps, getting back on the horse, dusting off to try again, and any other euphemism alluding to grit. We are raising the “1-and-done” generation, who would rather sell themselves short than experience a nanosecond of discomfort, failure, or rejection.

Without grit, teens become young adults that, while dutiful followers, will never risk failure for a leadership opportunity. They will choose predictable or comfortable stability over spirited, or self-determined, trailblazing every time. They will blame any setback or perceived rejection on the “powers that be” or anything outside of their control. They will consider any criticism as an attack, as opposed to an opportunity to reflect and grow with that knowledge. Students lacking grit become adults who only explore inside the box, and only play when the odds are in their favor.

One of the most “gritty” writers said it best:

“Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way…It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” J.K. Rowling

Read on to find out more about the correlation between grit and failure, as well as tips for encouraging grit at home and in school in Part II of Developing Grit: A Guide for Parents.

Monitoring Grades and Assignments: Tips for Parents

The rise of technology in the classroom has undoubtedly changed the way in which assignments are structured, dispensed, completed, and graded. With many assignments being posted, completed, and assessed through a password-secured online forum, it is no wonder that parents are left scratching their heads. Though the technology provides a sense of ease for teachers and students, parents may struggle to get their hands on tangible assignments, grades, and feedback.

There are a few tips that parents can employ to help to ensure that the digital classroom is an asset, instead of an obstacle, for families.

  • Ask your child’s teacher for “guardian access” to online forums like Google Classroom. This provides parents with their own means of logging into the virtual classroom. Guardian access also allows parents to set email alerts anytime a new announcement, assignment, or grade is posted. This means that parents receive notifications in real time, as opposed to having to wait for their child to bring home the new assignment or rubric. 
  • With the rise of available classroom technology, many schools are adopting a “paperless policy” for most class documents. If tangible copies of assignments and other classwork are preferred, consider printing the documents from home and reviewing them with your child. This strategy allows parents and students the opportunity to look closely and review the assignment or project together. Printing the rubrics or assignments also allows children to have a tangible copy at home, in addition to the digitally posted document. Parents can also print the graded work from Google Classroom to review the comments and suggestions that the teacher has left. 
  • With the option to print and review teachers’ comments, suggestions, and edits, an excellent practice is for parents and children to review the feedback while simultaneously going over the rubric. This allows children to see exactly how their errors translated into the grade that they received. Not only does it provide clarity by showing that a grade is not an arbitrary score, but it allows the opportunity for students to review and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. With the prevalence of reassessments and rewrites, students can also use this review as a starting point for their second draft or attempt at the assignment. 
  • If only the grades are showing up online, and the actual assignment or test is not coming home, ask your child if the tangible paper has been returned. It is possible that the paper copy, once returned, was shoved haphazardly in a binder or locker. Consider creating a “bring home” folder of all graded work. This can be a simple pocket folder in which your child keeps any returned graded work. This way, you can collect, organize, and monitor assignments for your child until he or she is ready to take on that responsibility independently. 
  • Often times, your child’s digital classroom includes a weekly or monthly calendar with due dates, PDF copies of handouts, class notes, and other key information. Parents can either print the calendar, or create their own in tangible or digital form. Transfer or copy all of the due dates onto your parent copy of the calendar and post the monthly assignments on the refrigerator or someplace else that is accessible. This provides children and parents with a constant reminder of approaching deadlines and other important school events.

Tantrums, Tears and Tempers: Behavior is Communication

As any educator will tell you, the behavioral component of teaching young people is one of the main aspects of the career that keeps us on our toes. From one day to the next, the behaviors and emotions that emerge can be as fleeting as a passing thunderstorm. Perhaps the ultimate display of student behaviors rears its head in middle school, when students’ hormones, egos, peer groups, and emotions oscillate on a new level. On days in the classroom where it feels as though I am extinguishing fires all day long, the one saving grace is this reminder: these unkind behaviors come from somewhere specific.

Anger is a secondary emotion. For preteens and teenagers, an emotional explosion or reaction can be like a screaming teapotsuddenly, we notice the steam and hear the shrieking, but what we perhaps did not see moments before was the bubbling that quickly became a rolling boil. A child’s temperament is very much the same in that, seemingly out of nowhere, an emotion can shift. Anger, especially, is an emotion that likely began as something else. Perhaps it grew from frustration, regret, disappointment, etc. Either way, anger is more of the reaction to the initial emotion or incident. Therefore, it is important for teachers to remember that this unfavorable attitude, behavior, or demeanor is coming from somewhere specific. The student himself may not even be cognitively aware of the origin of his frustration; however, a few quick observations can help educators mediate when emotions reach a boiling point.

What was happening right before the emotional outburst? If a teacher can recall the mood of the room or situation prior to a student’s tantrum, they are more likely to pinpoint how the situation escalated. Perhaps the student had just received a low grade on a quiz for which they had thought they’d thoroughly studied. Or maybe a peer took his or her pencil without asking. Even a slight tiff can be the cause of a major meltdown in the classroom. Furthermore, ask yourself if you have noticed anything that may have triggered the student’s response. Has this student been especially moody, withdrawn, or combative lately? Have you noticed a change in her peer group or level of interaction with peers? Have you spoken to parents or noticed a change in grades or motivation? Sometimes a bad day or bad week is just simply that—but other times, the behaviors can be prolonged or escalated.

Seek to understand. Once you have provided a moment for the student to cool off, either in the hall, at the desk, or in a quiet corner of the room, approach the student from the lens of seeking to understand. Too often “What’s wrong?” is met with a non-response or further frustration on the student’s part. Instead, ask the student: “What do you need from me?” or “What can I do to help you get through this tough situation?” A question like this works two-fold—you are showing students that you recognize their emotions/feelings, while also approaching the conversation by expressing your desire to help or fix the situation. When teachers ask students how they can help the situation, it also reminds students that they are not alone in whatever it is that they’re reacting to. This simple gesture can deescalate the tears and tempers quite quickly.  

Whatever you do, do not react. It’ll sound silly, but I occasionally have to remind myself that I am the adult in the room, which means that my students are looking to me for guidance. My tone, attitude, and behavior should be the constant in the room—the one that sets the mood and expectations of the classroom environment. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a room with 35 teenagers knows that this is much easier said than done. Remember that these are children with child-like emotions and reactions. Also consider the likelihood that the tantrum has nothing to do with you or your class—instead, it could be related to any number of stressors in that child’s life that you know nothing about. However, when tempers flare, take a moment to breathe before your approach the situation—never has gasoline been known to smother a blaze.

Family Team Time

It will come as no shock to most parents that a significant amount of time per week is spent running children from point A to point B and back again. What may be shocking, however, are the actual statistics surrounding the average family’s carpooling and chauffeuring routine. Research shows that, by the time children reach adulthood, parents will have spent almost 200 days behind the wheel running their kids from place to place.

Now, as much as educators, parents, and students embrace the notion of extracurricular activities, there are alternative ways to shape interests, take part in cooperative learning, build relationships, and experience new things. Perhaps it is time to consider putting a halt to the daily grindwith family team time.

Not to spoil the concept of extracurricular activities—as a teacher, I know that extracurriculars can truly changes students’ lives—but there are also some factors to consider when it comes to the many activities that children participate in. Clubs, sports, camps, classes—all of these activities add up, both monetarily and in terms of time commitments. For families with multiple children, the desire to keep kids consistently “doing” can prove to be a costly, time-consuming, and even stressful undertaking. Family team time, substituting extracurriculars with engaging family activities, could be a great alternative to try this winter. Simply put, family team time is anything that the family does together for enjoyment. Below are options to try in place of signing up for another round of extracurricular activities this winter

  • Considering our proximity to D.C.’s many museums, theaters, and other cultural hubs, there are countless engaging options for your family to experience together this winter. Especially as the holidays approach, options will be plentiful: festivals, concerts, plays, ballets, and other performances. Consider taking in a show, visiting a museum, or simply touring the neighborhood’s Christmas lights. Plan ahead by checking Groupon and other sites for deals on attractions, discounted events and performances, and student rates. Museum visits are a great free option to explore art and history with the whole gang—not to mention, they are a great place to escape from the bitter winter weather while still stretching your legs. 
  • Afternoon matinees can prove to be a wonderfully inexpensive way to get the family together for a few hours of entertainment. Another option is to have a weekly family book club, in which every member of the family reads the same book. Once a week, make some popcorn, get comfy in the living room, and discuss the recently read chapters. Once everyone has finished the book, consider renting the movie version, as many young adult and family novels have been adapted to film. After the movie, encourage a mock-film study, in which you talk about how the movie and the book are similar or different, and which one each person preferred. Then, allow someone else to choose the next novel/movie combination. Keep the weekly book talks going until everyone has had the chance to select a novel for the family. To save money, consider checking books out at the local library or purchase used books online. For struggling readers, consider an e-book or audiobook version so that children can follow along while listening to the book aloud. 
  • Ice skating, bowling, or an afternoon at the trampoline park can provide much-needed exercise when cabin fever starts to hit in the winter months. As opposed to chauffeuring each child from activity to activity, family team time allows for one trip, to one agreed-upon activity, all together as a family. Want to stay in? Try a competitive Top Chef-inspired cooking challenge, in which each member chooses a flavorful pancake topping, unique pizza toppings, or quesadilla fillings. An impartial blind taste tester is all you need to settle the sibling rivalry or family food feud! 
  • As opposed to hustling from game, to recital, to playdate on a busy weekend, consider volunteering as a family. Clean out the toy room and closets to donate to children in need. These gestures show children that the holidays are not only about receiving, but also giving. Decide as a family to demonstrate the spirit of giving by helping out at an animal shelter, soup kitchen, book drive, etc. After volunteering, discuss each family member’s favorite moment of the day—what was the best part of volunteering? What did you learn?   

This season, take a break from the constant flurry of extracurricular activity and give your family the gift of time together.

Constructive Feedback

Educators are trained to provide rigorous, engaging instruction, fair and accurate grades and assessments, and helpful criticism or feedback. As an English teacher, written feedback is a crucial aspect of the editing, revising and grading process. For students, the best way to ensure that our feedback is not going straight into the garbage is to make it as helpful as possible. While everyone has his or her own style of providing written feedback, below are a few solid Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to teacher feedback.

  • Try to balance the salty with the sweet—especially with younger or struggling writers. The writing process is complex, intimidating, and laborious for many young learners. When students are just starting out, a little encouragement can go a long way. This is not to suggest that feedback must only contain vapid or disingenuous fluff—not at all. The critical aspect of teacher feedback is what the students truly need. However, if we want them to invest in the time of reading, reflecting, and revising with the feedback we provide, we must be sure to draw them in as opposed to turning them off with only negative feedback. I not-so-fondly remember my own experiences where, even as an elementary student, my writing was more or less ripped to shreds by only harsh criticism. Yes, critical feedback is important, but we must also be sure to shed light on what the writer did correctly, as to provide a glimmer of enthusiasm, optimism, or positive reinforcement.

  • Focus your feedback on a few major takeaways from earlier instruction. For instance, if a main objective of the unit is that students will be able to support a claim with textual evidence and interpretive reasoning, then focus your feedback and critique around how successfully they attempted that objective. If introductions and conclusions were the focus, be sure to provide most of the feedback in that area of the paper. This not only makes your life easier by helping to focus the written feedback, but it also allows for students to hone in on a few significant writing skills at a time. The feedback will seem less tedious on your end, and less harsh from a student’s perspective.

  • Keep comments clear, but concise, by using highlighter functions or editing symbols in Google Classroom. One benefit to the abundance of technology that we educators have at our disposal is the fact that written (or typed) feedback can save teachers time, while providing students with comments and suggestions in real time. With the various digital platforms for students to submit writing assignments, students no longer have to wait for the return of tangible essays with handwritten feedback. Now students can simply login from home or school to view a teacher’s comments, critiques, and suggestions.

  • Use the editing or highlighting function in Google Classroom to note areas in a paper where students need spelling, punctuation, or grammatical revision. For students that need reminders, I may insert the first few missing commas. For others, however, I may simply highlight the areas in their paper where they are missing punctuation. This way, students will know where to include a mark, but must assess their own writing to identify exactly which punctuation mark fits properly in a given highlighted area.

  • Talk through the feedback to both put students at ease and answer follow-up questions that they may have. Like many things, sometimes our feedback can get lost in translation. If this is the case, consider setting aside a segment of class time where students can conference one-on-one with you about their specific feedback and suggestions. This allows students the opportunity to fully grasp the feedback to ensure that their plans to revise will in fact improve upon their first draft.