Teaching Tolerance in Elementary Classrooms

As educators, we know that there are many, many things that are beyond our control. In fact, some days it seems like outside variables are constantly working against our goals for our students. With home lives, belief systems, opinions, and habits already formed, our young learners enter our classrooms with some knowledge and prejudices that they may not even know that they have acquired. Simply put, what occurs at home or outside of the happy school bubble may not align with the tolerance that we hope to instill in our students. Below are a few activities to reinforce tolerance in the elementary classroom and reintroduce positive mindsets around what it means to be different.

 

Ask students to pick their favorite color and draw a picture using just that single color. The following day, ask students to draw the same picture using as many colors as they can. On the third day, place drawings side by side and ask students to reflect on their art. Prompt discussion by asking questions like:

  • Which drawings depict or show more variety?
  • Which drawings are more interesting or lively?
  • Which drawings reflect real life more accurately?
  • Which drawings attract the eye or incur more fascination?

 

As students discuss, introduce them to the idea that art imitates life. By this you mean that, just as our drawings are more vibrant and interesting when they are full of different colors and variations, our world becomes more beautiful when we appreciate the differences around and between us.

 

Encourage students to explore literature that includes a main character with drastically different life experiences from their own. As students explore texts offering new perspectives on the world, utilize a Venn diagram for a compare and contrast activity. Students will put themselves and the novel’s main character into the Venn diagram, which will reveal how similar they might be, despite their differences. In looking closely at the character’s struggles, worries, fears, and overall experiences alongside their own, students begin to empathize with a character that they originally saw as “other” or “different.”

 

Design challenging, collaborative learning experiences that essentially force students to lean on each other and cooperate in order to achieve success. One example might be a spelling, times tables, or other skills relay race, in which each member of the team must successfully participate to move the entire team forward. Quizlet Live allows teachers to create review games using a collaborative online platform. The site groups students randomly and asks individual questions to various members of each team. Progress is projected on the Smartboard in real-time and creates an intense form of comradery as teams digitally “race” to the finish. Activities like relays or digital relays build community among even the most reluctant students and teach tolerance along the way.

 

Highlight famous people and historical figures that experienced adversity, unique obstacles, and unconventional upbringings to show students that self-love and self-acceptance are key forms of tolerance as well. Elementary schoolers will be surprised to learn that some of the world’s most celebrated artists, athletes, leaders, and thinkers came from what we would consider to be strange or unusual backgrounds. By highlighting their successes, children begin to view differences as assets, as opposed to deficits.

It is never too young to learn that loving others has to begin with ourselves first. Once we accept our own distinctiveness and individualities, we begin to seek differences in others to achieve personal growth.

Encouraging Independence and Self-Advocacy in the Classroom

Instruction in the primary grades is full of crucial elements and concepts—academic, social, and foundational skills that truly set students up for success. Besides the actual content-based curricula, elementary students should be exposed to essential tools and methods for fostering and developing self-advocacy, self-sufficiency, and autonomy in order to prepare them for their later years of academia and real-world challenges.

Classroom Practices and Procedures
Prepare students from the beginning of the school year by implementing and adhering to specific and consistent routines. For example, teachers may choose to begin each day or lesson with a warm-up to initiate thinking, spur conversation, and introduce concepts. Notably, a warm-up procedure can play double duty for teachers who hope to build independence among students.

 

Teachers should:

  • Introduce the warm-up procedure and expectations so that students know exactly what is expected of them when they enter the room.
  • Model the warm-up process and begin with simple questions or sentence frames to allow elementary students to focus primarily on the routine at first.
  • Evaluate or assess the warm-ups right from the beginning so that students apply a sense of value or importance to the daily practice/procedure.
  • Remain consistent with the procedure and expectations for each warm-up so that students are able to grasp the process and begin to initiate it each day on their own.

With a few weeks of practice, a simple warm-up lesson will begin to help prompt students to initiate a more independent work ethic. Because the process has been explicitly taught, modeled, and rehearsed, elementary students can quickly grasp the concept of activating, self-monitoring, and assessing their thinking.

Introduce the concept of self-advocacy by starting with a means of organizing the night’s homework assignments.

Similarly to the warm-up, teachers should introduce the mandatory practice of writing down the homework at the very start of the class. Emphasize the fact that writing down homework assignments, even if the assignment is “none,” is not optional. This helps students begin to adopt organizational strategies and self-management tools. Writing down the homework every class period also prompts self-advocacy in the sense that students begin to take ownership of the work that they must complete at home.

 

Teachers should:

  • Keep assignment titles brief but clear so that students know exactly what they are to be completing at home.
  • Clearly announce and write down due dates and deadlines so that students can copy those essential details as well.
  • Monitor agenda completion and subtly check or signature the daily assignments, especially for students with executive functioning needs. This helps hold students accountable for capturing the homework assignment and allows parents to see that teachers have signed off that the homework that was written down is correct.
  • Encourage students to checkmark or cross off homework and agenda items as they are completed. Again, this helps students to practice self-monitoring and organizational strategies.

Plan weekly or biweekly conferences to check in with students on their current classwork, writing progress, recent assessments, etc.

These brief, five-minute, one-on-one conferences encourage students to speak up on their behalf regarding any missing classwork, confusing concepts, or recent grade changes. It also provides a time for teachers to check in on any potential areas of need on the individual level. In doing this, elementary students can begin to see that they play an active and essential role in their learning and development in school. They also begin to see the teacher as their ally, someone who is there to help them reach their goals and conquer obstacles.

 

Teachers should:

  • Prompt students to ask questions by providing samples of guiding questions or sentence frames to initiate the conversation.
  • Offer students the option to write down their questions or concerns; this is especially helpful for shy or reluctant students who may need a little encouragement when speaking on their own behalf.
  • Consider using data folders, charts, progress checks, or any other method of organizing data so that students have a tangible, visual collection of work to evaluate and discuss. A data folder also allows students an additional opportunity to organize and review completed work, which aids in the process of self-advocacy as well.

Summer Slide, Part II

Incentivizing reading can be a great way to jumpstart young learners’ motivation during the summer. Of course, the larger goal is for children and teens to garner intrinsic motivation for reading and learning down the line, but until that point, parents can encourage the practice with small, consistent incentives.

Here are a few examples to get you started with incentivizing young learners this summer:

  • Set up a tally or sticker chart to track that your child reads something every day. Whatever that “something” might be could vary from child to child. Perhaps it’s the comics in the morning paper, or a cupcake recipe for an upcoming family reunion, or the closed captioning or subtitles of their favorite TV show. Whatever the stipulations may be, holding children accountable for tracking their reading is a good way to begin combatting the summer slide.
  • Camouflage research skills by asking for your child’s help. Depending on age, the research questions can begin very simply, such as, “What is the weather going to look like later tonight during your baseball game?” Or, “What are the showtimes for the movie that you want to see this weekend? Are there better options for showtimes at a different theater nearby?” For older learners, parents can encourage middle and high schoolers to research places to visit, local attractions, events, or summer festivals, or even long-weekend options for a mini-family vacation. Guide their research by providing some critical guiding questions and reputable websites for perusal.
  • Research free educational events, activities, or programs in the area over the summer. In addition to many school-sponsored events and resources, the internet has a plethora of free educational websites that allow students to access digital games, tools, and practices from their living room. School and local library websites are great places to start when combing through reputable online educational resources. Many sites, like Scholastic, Flocabulary, NewsELA, ReadWriteThink, and Edutopia allow students to filter the materials based on interests, grade level, Lexile level, text length, etc. Virtual field trips also provide students with opportunities to see and experience locations that may otherwise be inaccessible.
  • Take learning outdoors to utilize the summer weather and natural surroundings. Simple activities such as planting flowers or herbs, visiting a state park or zoo, or starting a neighborhood initiative is a great way to show children that learning takes place everywhere—not just within the classroom. This also allows learners to take an active role in their learning, instead of the typical passive learning that we often see in schools. For older children and teens, parents can encourage financial competency and budgeting by helping middle and high schoolers begin a neighborhood dog walking, lawn mowing, yard sale, or recycling project. In doing this, children a practicing essential skills and strategies, while gaining a sense of independence and responsibility as well. The cash flow is always a great incentive, too!
  • Encourage literacy skills by providing your child with a photo journal for summer activities and travels. Children might use a smartphone or Polaroid camera to capture important memories or events over the summer. Then they can provide written captions, reflections, and other personal insights to accompany the photos. The photo journal also acts as a great memento for looking back on summer memories.

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.

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.

Occupational Therapy Strategies to Enhance the Classroom Pt. III

Just as we explored occupational therapy (OT) methods that support fine motor control, balance, and coordination in the previous two posts, this third and final post will focus on OT methods for the classroom that support behavior management and attentiveness. Of course, depending on each student’s individual needs, the supports and strategies will vary. Likewise, a student’s age and developmental abilities will also determine which methods are beneficial and how to include them in the learning environment.

For children that need tactile strategies to promote their attentiveness in the classroom, teachers can employ some of the following activities:

Fidget toys, stress balls, and thinking putty/clay are great options for students that prefer to keep their hands moving while learning. Because of the rhythmic stretching, squeezing, or rolling between fingers or hands, students with attention issues are able to channel the urge to move, tap, or click into the object that they are holding. Just as the occupational therapist would do, however, be sure that students are using the fidget item discreetly, not as a toy or distraction.

When possible, plan to utilize 3D objects as models or manipulatives to introduce math or spelling concepts. For example, for elementary schoolers learning about multiplication via arrays, teachers can use Legos to build the array in place of drawing it or shading it on paper. The process of constructing and deconstructing arrays using Legos allows students to comprehend how 2+2+2+2 = 2 x 4 and what that representation looks like in 3D geometric form.

Using sand, paint, or shaving cream in aluminum baking trays, or “spelling trays,” allows students to practice their letter formation, spacing, and size with an engaging added sensory component. The practice is low risk as well; if a child messes up his letter, he can simply shake the sand or add more shaving cream and begin again.

For children that need movement strategies to promote their attentiveness and positive behavior in the classroom, teachers can employ some of the following activities:

Much like many 504 and IEP accommodations, frequent breaks are certainly beneficial when students become agitated or restless. A way to incorporate this method into the mainstream classroom is to promote brain breaks for all students in the room. Especially for classes that are run on a block schedule, teachers can break the instruction for 2-3 minutes to allow students to pace, jump on a miniature trampoline, stretch with resistance bands, do jumping jacks, toss a bean bag, play Simon Says, or simply stretch to release some pent up energy.

Teachers might consider swapping out their desk chairs for yoga/therapy balls, wiggle seats, bean bag chairs, stools, rocking chairs, wedge seats, or swivel stools. The different range of seating options allow students to bounce, alter positions, or swivel to expel some of their energy. With alternate seating, just be sure to provide clipboards or other surfaces for students to write comfortably.

There are also additional strategies to promote attention and positive behavior:

Much like educators differentiate by providing student choice, occupational therapists also utilize options and choices to promote engagement, attentiveness, and positive participation and behavior. When offering choices of activities, challenges, projects, practices, etc., occupational therapists try to provide at least one option or rotation activity that appeals to the child’s strengths and/or interests. When children have a hand in selecting their activity or assignment, they feel a stronger sense of ownership and independence, which increases effort and motivation.

OT methods also frequently incorporate tech tools to promote development of certain skills or practices. Teachers can provide links to podcasts, educational videos, scholarly articles or websites, and educational games for students to browse and play. The technology not only promotes engagement; the audiovisual component allows students to watch and listen as concepts and skills are modeled for them. They can also work at their own personal pace while using tech tools by pausing, rereading/re-watching, or completing additional practice games.

After a therapy session, many professionals ask children to reflect on and rate their work during the session. Questions can focus on the content, activities, behavior, focus/attention, etc. The key for this OT practice is to encourage students to reflect on the session and discuss areas of strength and areas for improvement. Teachers can plan mini-conferences with students to discuss progress. Stress the fact that genuine ratings and responses are essential for reflection and growth. Not only are students accounting for their successes and missteps, but they are also practicing skills such as summarizing, causes and effects, paraphrasing, memorization, critical thinking, and metacognition.

Occupational Therapy Strategies to Enhance the Classroom Pt. II

In addition to occupational therapy (OT) strategies that promote and strengthen fine motor control in the classroom setting, there are a number of additional techniques and practices taken from occupational therapists for younger elementary children that need a little bit of guidance with their balance, coordination, sensory processing, behavior management, or attentiveness.

Balance and Coordination

We often place these two concepts in the athletics realm; however, balance and coordination are necessities not limited to physical education programs in schools. These essential life skills stretch way beyond the field or court. Daily practices such as dressing, eating, climbing stairs, writing, brushing teeth, etc., rely on one’s ability to coordinate certain motor skills. Therefore, the roughly 5-7% of children affected by developmental coordination disorder, or DCD, will need to rely on OT practices and methods to develop more than a fastball or perfect jump shot. Their day-to-day practices truly hinge on their ability to develop coordination over time.

In the academic atmosphere, children with DCD or other difficulties with balance or coordination can benefit from the following modifications or strategies:

  • Desk chairs that are detached from the desk allow for more appropriate and comfortable positioning in terms of seating. The children can scoot or push their chairs in to their desired proximity to the desktop, which discourages slouching, reaching, and fidgeting.

  • Teacher notes or worksheets can be modified so that copying from the board is limited, as this can be a frustrating process for children with DCD. Fill-in-the-blank or paraphrased notes allow students to practice viewing the board, listening to the teacher, and writing an abbreviated version of the notes while maintaining focus. Because of the modification, the student is still receiving the content and is actively participating, but the workload is less taxing for him/her.

  • Provide students with paper that suits their handwriting style. If you know that a student’s main issue is size or spacing of letters, provide him with wider lined paper and lined paper that includes the vertical margin lines. If the issue is aligning numbers correctly in math problems, consider providing graph paper or grids to promote precise number alignment.

  • Incorporate tossing and catching into your memorization or test review lessons. Keep the rotation predictable, such as passing around the room in a circle or passing the ball alphabetically among the class. Use a larger, lighter item that allows for easy passing and receiving, such as a beachball or beanbag.

  • Games such as Twister and hopscotch allow teachers to incorporate balance and coordination with other content-area skills or practices. For instance, elementary schoolers learning their times tables can use hopscotch to demonstrate mental math while practicing balancing, hopping, standing, etc. A family favorite game, Twister, similarly encourages coordination while students reach and stretch left and right hands and feet.

  • Teachers can utilize painters tape as a way for students to practice making and categorizing shapes, then use the taped shape outlines to practice balance. Challenge students by having them walk the lines of the shapes “heel to toe.” You can add levels of difficulty by asking them to toss a bean bag while walking, recite the alphabet or math facts, or walk backwards.  

In the third and final edition of OT strategies in the classroom, we will focus on occupational therapy methods for the classroom that support behavior management and attentiveness.  

How to Plan for Summer Learning Opportunities—Elementary

As the school year begins to wind down, summer learning opportunities may be the last thing on a child’s mind. However, now is the perfect time to begin to look at options for educational summer plans. Whether debating between formal summer school options, camps, or groups, or if you are looking at less structured options for learning, we have plenty ideas for your elementary schooler!

For students entering kindergarten, first, or second grade, Montgomery County Public Schools offers additional instruction and enrichment focused primarily on literacy and math skills. This free, fiveweek summer program is offered at over 20 elementary schools around the county. The typical 4-hour session has been extended to 6.5 hours and will include additional instruction involving the arts and sciences. The Extended Learning OpportunitySummer Adventures in Learning (ELO SAIL) provides free bus transportation to and from the elementary school from various neighborhood stops. The program also provides students with breakfast and lunch during the duration of the program. Parents can find out more about the ELO SAIL program and how to register through the MCPS website.

A similar program, ELO STEP, Summer Title I Enrichment Program, provides learning and enrichment opportunities in programming and advanced mathematics for students in grades 3, 4, and 5 who are enrolled in a Title I school. While selection is limited to a specific criteria of students, the free 5-week program offers rigorous instruction focused around critical thinking skills, advanced mathematical concepts, and hands-on learning experiences for elementary schoolers. Visit the MCPS website or call 240-740-4600 to obtain additional information.

A less structured summer learning opportunity for elementary schoolers might involve planning for Student Service Learning (SSL) hours. While students cannot begin to accrue SSL hours until they have exited grade 5 and begun middle school, the summer months offer great opportunities to get your elementary schooler thinking about what type of service projects he or she might be interested in for the upcoming school year. Volunteer work, even outside of fulfilling the SSL graduation requirement, allows families to investigate certain needs in their community and reach out to those organizations by offering or volunteering their time. If your elementary schooler is an animal lover or avid nature-seeker, consider contacting a local shelter, veterinary clinic, state park, or community group to see how your child could begin volunteering, even if on a casual basis. The key here is to allow your elementary schoolers to begin to seek out activities, causes, and needs that interest them. Once they reach middle school, and these hours begin to work towards their graduation requirement, children will have already had the experience of joining a new group, working with others for a common goal, and socializing with people of different age ranges and backgrounds.

Consider using chores or allowances as opportunities for older elementary schoolers to learn about financial responsibility, budgeting, and money management. Instead of simply handing over the cash or “prize” for completing their weekly chore chart, talk with your children about why they earned what they did. Talk about what actions it may take to earn more or what might cause them to earn less money. Then, ask them if there is something specific that they would like to save for. Help them plan out a saving schedule or system that helps them to accumulate their earnings toward that goal. Help them track their saving and spending so that they begin to understand how to plan for money coming in and money going out. Additionally, talk about how to keep track of or store cash. Where should your child not take cash? How should cash be handled or not handled? These informal financial lessons disguise summer learning while providing real-world applications and skills.

How to Manage Testing Time: For Elementary Students

With spring break here, the focus for many parents, students, and teachers alike is on the welcomed vacation from the daily grind. No matter the brevity, spring break allows families to rejuvenate and reconnect right before the final stretch of the school year.

Yet, as much as many students would like to avoid the topic, spring break also signifies the soon-to-be start of the testing season. The weeks leading up to and during testing can be rather stressful for students. However, there are strategies that parents and teachers can use to help younger learners prepare for and thrive during these tests without becoming overwhelmed by stress or pressure.

  • Testing can be especially stressful and even anxiety-producing for young students. Their desire to do well, outperform their peers, or surpass a previous score could create unnecessary pressure. To combat nerves, teachers and parents should focus on reassuring students of their successes beyond a simple test score. Talk about how a test score is simply one data point—it does not invalidate a child’s previous accomplishment or dictate the possibility of any future accomplishment.

  • Instead of focusing on reaching a specific score, hitting a certain benchmark, or creating unnecessary competition among peers, help young elementary schoolers set goals for growth or practice positive test-taking habits. Help children by setting goals like aiming to get adequate sleep, eating a healthy, filling breakfast, and spending some time exercising each day—these are positive habits that can help motivate students in the right direction while taking the focus off of the grade or score.

  • Discuss the true purpose of a standardized test and, in turn, remove some of the burden from elementary schoolers. Of course, parents and teachers do not want to convey the message that these exams do not matter; however, we can ease the anxiety by reminding children that a test score is meant to provide data for the school—it is not meant to target or torment the children that may happen to underperform. Again, keep them focused on aspects or contributors that they can control, like sleep, nutrition, self-motivation, and positivity.

  • Parents and teachers can help elementary schoolers by providing them with several different test-taking strategies or tips. Since children in elementary school are just beginning to get a taste of exams or standardized tests, they are likely less familiar with all of the different strategies and practices that they can employ during a lengthy assessment. Encourage them to use the following skills:

    • Tell them they should consider reading the questions first so that they know what they are to be looking out for ahead of beginning the reading or excerpt.
    • Encourage students to take their time when working through the assessment. If they are concerned about running out of time, skip difficult questions or sections and answer the easiest questions first. This will not only help students to knock out portions of the assessment, but it will give them a dose of motivation, self-assurance, and positivity in knowing that some of their answers came easily.
    • Have children practice eliminating answer options that they know are incorrect. This practice helps to remove the distractibility factor that multiple choice questions can have.
    • Teachers should tell students ahead of time that they will provide time updates or occasional countdowns during testing so that students can gauge how diligently they are working throughout the exam. A time check not only tells students how much time is remaining in the session, but also allows students to modify their work pace. This information helps students complete all questions and take more time reading carefully and checking answers if necessary.

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.