Creating a Positive Climate for Learning, Part I

Whether we’re talking public schools, private schools, tutoring sessions, or homework at the kitchen table, a positive mindset goes a long way when it comes to the learning environment. Research shows that when teachers and students feel valued, respected, motivated, and engaged, learning increases exponentially—of course it does! As logical as this push for positivity may seem, it does not simply emerge out of nowhere; it must be cultivated by those who wish to bring it to life. There are small, deliberate steps that schools, parents, teachers, and students can take to foster a positive, successful learning environment.

 

At the school level

Creating a safe, engaging, positive learning space is likely the goal of every school. In order to do this, schools must ensure that the individual mission and vision for the school is clearly defined and communicated. Simply put, the vision encompasses the goals for the school and its “ideal” future; the mission involves the day-to-day steps for how the school plans to make that vision a reality. Instead of passively including the vision on official letterhead or posting it to the school’s web pages, school administrators should make a concerted effort to vocalize the goals for their school.

  • The vision should be visible in classrooms, conference rooms, and common areas, like the library or cafeteria.
  • The vision should be phrased in a student-friendly manner, and in a way in which student needs are clearly put at the forefront.
  • Schools should communicate how this vision will come to life and set up expectations for students and staff that foster such an environment.
  • Recognize students who embody the vision or mission statements with awards, celebrations, certificates, etc. The point is to grow an appreciation for the overall goals of the school and highlight when small gains are made by its members.
  • The vision should account for the community as a whole. Perhaps a middle or high school will partner with the neighborhood elementary school for a “buddy-study” program; or maybe the local businesses or organizations want to offer a career day or “shadowing” opportunity. A nearby retirement community may want to perform with the school’s chorus for an intergenerational choir.
  • On a similar note, schools can foster positivity by giving back to the community. A food drive, coat collection, trash clean-up, or anonymous pay-it-forward initiative in the community can build positivity and teach students what it means to contribute to society. Even small gestures, like thank you cards or planting a tree on campus for Earth Day can spur more positive motivation for learning.
  • Appreciation days for support staff, maintenance personnel, security, and cafeteria workers also help to exhibit a learning environment where everyone is valued. Students benefit from learning in a building where everyone’s efforts and contributions are acknowledged and celebrated. Showing admiration and appreciation to the hardworking people that run the building every day helps improve the school climate on both singular and wholistic levels.

On the topic of recognition, schools can foster positivity and an optimistic climate by celebrating student work and achievements throughout the building. Schools should think about using the daily news show or morning announcements to announce birthdays, students of the month, athletic scores and stats, community service achievements, etc. Ask students to exhibit their art work, photography, essays, or poems in display cases throughout the building—this shows young learners that, more than the grade, it’s the effort and growth that builds the foundation of a strong, successful school.

Blended Learning in the Classroom Pt. II: Considerations

As much as the education world has recently held blended learning (BL) practices in high regard, there are several considerations and key pointers that teachers should be aware of prior to designing units or lessons using BL.

 

  1. Blended learning rotations and activities should likely not be used as an everyday structure. The idea behind the rotations is to allow students to dig into the content, concept, or topic more indepthly, at an individualized level, with personal pacing and options for student choice using technology. As ideal as this all sounds, there are occasions or lessons that would not necessarily work well with small groups or multiple activities going on at once. A good rule of thumb is to try one set of blended learning rotations per unit. This means that, while students are learning about subjectivity and objectivity, like in our last blog post, they will really only complete one full BL lesson during that unit. This amounts to roughly 3-4 days of class throughout a 2-3 week period.

 

  1. Another critical aspect of using blended learning effectively involves ample planning and preparation. In essence, blended learning requires teachers to plan multiple lessons, including the use of various texts, activities, practices, methods, and technologies. When initially planning, it will seem like you are doing three times the work—because you are. The payoff for the advanced planning and organizing is that, after a few times practicing rotations and getting used to the structures and procedures, student groups begin to run like independent, well-oiled machines.

 

  1. Teachers should also be advised that, since students are working at their own pace, many students may find themselves with “down time” from completing the work swiftly. Because of this, it is beneficial to have a list of bonus activities, practices, and teacher-approved websites that students can work on if they finish a rotation early. The key is to make sure that students know where these “bonus” materials are, how to access them, and what to do with them so that there is no need to interrupt while the teacher is meeting and working with the small-group rotation.

 

  1. An additional consideration for planning involves provisioning for the rotations. Yes, this will require more time in advance to gather, sort, organize, and set up the necessary materials for each station/rotation. However, once everything is good to go, teachers will find that students are primarily independent throughout the duration of the non-teacher led stations. It is a good idea to keep writing utensils, extra handouts, sticky notes, highlighters, and any other frequently used materials in plain sight where they are accessible to students. Again, this prevents students from interrupting the teacher-led small-group session.

 

  1. Consider setting general ground rules for blended learning days. Frontloading these procedures and getting students acquainted with the routines and expectations will keep rotations running smoothly.
  • Remind students that you will not sign passes during rotations unless it is a true emergency.
  • Inform students that there should be no talking, except during collaborative activities in stations.
  • Think about setting up a question board or box so that students who are working in the independent rotations can write down a question that they will plan to ask you later.
  • Determine whether you want students to have the option to listen to music with headphones during the independent rotation. If not, make that clear and put headphones away when they are not necessary for the stations.
  • Set visible timers, perhaps on the Promethean board, for days when students will complete multiple rotations and make a plan for what students should do if they are unable to finish in the designated time.
  • Set up a designated submission policy or turn-in bin for completed work so that students can be responsible for getting their completed work in the right place.

Blended Learning in the Classroom Pt. I

Blended learning is a new initiative in MCPS—many schools are devoting hours of professional development training, numerous staff meetings, and other resources to school educators on all things “BL.” In essence, blended learning is an educational approach that blends student choice, self-paced coursework, reteaching opportunities, and small, differentiated instruction with the use of online/digital tools.

 

A blended learning lesson might look something like this:

  • Students enter and complete a whole group warm-up in which they write down the definition of subjectivity and objectivity from the board.
    • The point of the whole-group, traditional start of the lesson is to provide background knowledge or introduce critical elements so that all students begin at the same point, with the same understanding of the content or topic.
    • When implementing blended learning, the whole-group aspect can last longer than a warm-up, but should still leave time for students to complete at least one other rotation.
    • The whole-group or lesson opener can also utilize technology if necessary. For instance, the teacher might play a segment of a commercial and ask students to bullet point subjective and objective methods on an index card. Then, the whole group might discuss observations briefly before breaking into rotations.
  • After the whole-group instruction, the teacher will then review the different rotations. Each rotation will involve a separate activity or list of options of activities. Each station will also involve different materials, skills, and varying levels of independence. While the station activities will look different, the objective for each rotation will be connected to the topic or content introduced during the whole-group warm-up.
    • A critical aspect of blended learning is the use of technology. Therefore, one of the rotations must involve some digital aspect. This can mean that students might access various materials via Google Classroom; or perhaps they will work from a collaborative, shared document while annotating copies of texts.
    • The use of technology also allows students to work at their own pace and review, reread, or rewatch as necessary. If one station includes audio or video, such as podcasts, teacher-created youtube videos, or step-by-step instruction using Screencastify, students are able to pause, rewind, or fast forward depending on their own needs.
    • Teachers can also, with a little planning, use technology to ensure that students are accessing materials to match their own specific ability levels. Websites like NewsELA allow teachers to select text sets with varying Lexile levels and digitally push them out to appropriate groups of students. This way, differentiation can be ensured for all students—the high flyers and the struggling readers.
  • In addition to the digital/technology rotation and the optional collaborative rotation, the third rotation is intended for small-group, teacher-led instruction. Teachers should often be advised to group students by ability level. Then begin working with the lowest group first. That way, the struggling students receive teacher-led, small-group instruction and discourse about the concept or topic before going off on their own in the other two rotations to work more independently.

Assess your Child’s Reading Level

A child’s Lexile score (or reading level) can be difficult to decipher without the use of a digital Lexile measuring tool, such as an online assessment or reading-level based program. While these programs are often used in schools and made available to teachers and reading specialists, parents might feel left in the dark when it comes to assessing their own child’s reading level. There are steps that parents can take at home, however, to somewhat narrow in on their child’s reading level—and it’s much easier than one might think!

 

Begin with decoding

Decoding is essentially one’s knowledge of or ability to translate text to speech properly by understanding letters and their relationships to sounds. Letters, combinations of letters, and syllables make specific sounds and follow specific patterns. A child may never have seen a word in print before; however, they can attempt to decode it by using their knowledge of these letter-sound relationships. The “sound it out” method that we adults are likely familiar with from our own educational experiences as kids is essentially the rough practice of decoding.

 

A simple at-home assessment, like the San Diego Quick Check or another equivalent test that gauges reading ability, can help determine at which grade level a child is reading. As its name suggests, the assessment is quick and easy to administer. Children will read a list of words out of context, using only their ability to decode to read them aloud. The number of errors in the list or series indicates the rough instructional reading level.

 

Vocabulary check

After selecting a book that suits the child’s reading level, parents can encourage active reading and listening by implementing the 5-finger method. As a good rule of thumb, no pun intended, the 5-finger method involves reading one page at a time, and asking the child to put a finger down any time that they are held up by an unknown word. If one page of the book contains 5 words that prove too difficult, the book overall is probably too difficult.

 

Another way to assess children’s vocabulary is to ask them to brainstorm synonyms and antonyms, but not in a high-pressure, quiz-like way. As your child reads, ask her if she can think of another way to say the basic words on the page, like happy, shiny, smart, play, run, etc. If she struggles, help her out by naming your own synonyms. This practice helps new readers slowly accumulate new, more specific vocabulary.

 

Comprehension check

To continue checking your child’s reading level, parents will want to hone in on comprehension as well—not just the phonics side of reading. Your child may be pronouncing words and sentences fluently, but reading for understanding is a whole other facet. As you and your child read, pause every few pages to discuss what is going on in the story. Prompt them by asking questions like this:

 

  • Where are the characters?
  • What are they doing there?
  • Have they faced any challenges, problems, issues, or difficulties?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • Who do you think the main character is?

 

 

For older elementary readers, ask them if they can summarize the story at the end, or help them review the most significant parts of the story. Also, if possible, encourage a conversation about theme by asking what the character might have learned throughout the story.

 

Proactive Absences

Absences from school, whether due to illnesses or other circumstances, can disrupt a student’s academic routine. Additionally, as absences accumulate, students often experience stress due to missing work, growing to-do lists, and missed instruction. While some absences are unavoidable, there are strategies that students and families can employ to reduce the negative impact that absences might cause.

 

  • If possible, parents should let the school know about upcoming absences, especially if the absences are going to span over several days. For middle and high schoolers, parents can contact the attendance secretary or their child’s guidance counselor. These points of contact can quickly pass on the information to all of the student’s teachers so that everyone is aware of the upcoming absence.
  • Parents and/or students should let teachers know of absences well in advance when possible. Surgeries, orthodontist appointments, vacations, etc., are often scheduled farther in advance. The sooner teachers are made aware of the upcoming absence, the more likely they will be able to organize work for the days that the student will miss. This allows students to keep up with the work as opposed to playing catch-up upon their return.
  • Utilize online resources, such as Google Classroom, class websites, and school portals. Nowadays, teachers are posting everything from extra handouts, copies of the homework, and PDFs of class texts, to entire lessons and PowerPoints online for students and families to access from home. If students are well and able to complete work from home during an absence, encourage them to use online resources to keep up with the coursework. Remember, specific questions, especially from a student who has missed class recently, are highly encouraged; teachers are thrilled to see students being proactive and accountable for their schoolwork.
  • Especially for lengthier absences or family vacations, students may want to draft a plan for make-up work upon their return. If materials cannot be gathered in advance, ask teachers about setting up work sessions during lunch, or before and after-school tutoring, upon return.
  • For middle and high schoolers, who will likely need to arrange several sessions with multiple teachers across multiple content areas, set a weekly goal for work completion to keep it on track. Make sure that goals are realistic: if a student has been out for a week, it is unlikely that he will be able to complete all missing assignments over one lunch period.
  • Students should avoid putting too much pressure on themselves, as that can foster stress and result in procrastination. However, they also must try to be diligent about the make-up work to avoid digging themselves into a hole if schoolwork begins to pile up to an insurmountable degree.
  • Prioritize the make-up work so that the most critical assignments are accounted for first. For extreme illnesses or surgeries, counselors and administrators may decide to “excuse” students from small tasks, like homework assignments or practices. As long as a student can demonstrate mastery on major assignments, assessments, and tasks, the smaller items may be removed from the workload.

Strategies for Timed Essays

Timed essay tests can bring about a great deal of stress for students. The ticking clock is certainly a catalyst when it comes to test anxiety; however, the unknown components of an timed essay test are also daunting. The fact of the matter is, timed writing tasks will be a standard aspect of every student’s education at some point. Another fact, thankfully, is that there are strategies that students can employ to conquer these seemingly insurmountable timed essays.

 

 

Reread the prompt and put it into your own words

 

When students sit down to take an essay assessment, the clock begins counting down and nerves often take over. In a time-crunch, many students follow the impulse to put pencil to paper as quickly as possible and write until their wrists can take no more. The issue, however, arises when the completed essay fails to actually address the prompt or essay question. To avoid this, students should first carefully reread the prompt in an effort to put it into their own words. By rephrasing the question, students ensure that they fully comprehend what the prompt is asking and are able to more specifically begin to address it in their writing.

 

 

Spend 3-5 minutes drafting a simple outline

 

The few minutes that students spend sketching a plan for their essay will be returned twofold in the sense that, with this quick roadmap, they will have to spend less time figuring out the general direction of each paragraph since the essay is already loosely mapped out. The outline should include only bulleted information, not complete sentences. Page numbers for direct quotes or other references are also helpful on the outline. While each essay and outline will obviously vary, the same components are usually suggested for informational, argumentative, or expository responses.

  • When in doubt, the introduction paragraph can be comprised of:
    • A general statement, in which the topic, subject, theme, or concept is very generally introduced.
    • A specific statement, in which the general statement is given some specificity, elaboration, clarification, etc.
    • A thesis statement, in which the argument, claim, or goal of the response is introduced.
  • Most body paragraphs should include:
    • Transition words to organize the points, evidence, support, etc., in order of importance.
    • Introduction to the text evidence by title and/or author.
    • Direct quotes to support the original thesis statement or claim made in the introduction.
    • Interpretation of the quotes and explicit statement of how the quotes support the claim or argument.
  • Most conclusions should include:
    • A restatement of the thesis; advanced writers in middle and high school grades should work to rephrase the thesis statement. The overall claim or argument is the same; however, the wording is varied to avoid redundancy.
    • A final confirmation of the texts that were referenced and how they specifically relate to the topic or prompt.
    • A final statement to again generalize the purpose of the essay. **Students should get in the habit of using words directly from the prompt in their introduction and conclusion paragraphs to ensure that their responses are thoroughly and clearly connected to the prompt.

 

 

Reread each paragraph individually

 

It helps to read a response with fresh eyes to determine that writing is consistent and relative to the purpose of the prompt. If students have time at the end of a timed writing assessment, it is beneficial to reread each paragraph individually, referring back to the prompt in between paragraphs to ensure that each component (paragraph) serves its purpose and clearly answers the prompt.

 

 

Don’t get hung up on spelling

 

Unless otherwise specified by the teacher, students should avoid spending too much time contemplating spelling errors. Most often, timed essays are scored on content, including word choice, sentence structure or variation, and other content-driven writing skills. Therefore, perseverating over spelling is generally unnecessary. Instead, students should spend their time crafting and honing their argument.

Memorization Tips

We all forget things from time to time. Yet students with deficits in working memory, or those who struggle with memory processing disorder, experience an added layer of difficulty when studying for assessments, reviewing material, or simply grasping concepts upon initial introduction. Since many students with memory deficiencies have coexisting learning disabilities, such as ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, etc., organizing information input and output can be daunting.

 

Fortunately, there are several ways to help these students process information differently and enhance their recall.

 

Establishing bizarre connections can help students memorize otherwise arbitrary facts:

If an upcoming spelling test included two similar words, like desert and dessert, it may be difficult to remember which word contains the ss. To help memorize the spelling, consider the fact that, if given the choice, we would rather have two desserts after dinner, not two deserts. Similarly, if the spelling test includes the term neighbor, imagine that Old McDonald is your neighbor to remember the vowel order “eio,” just like the song.

 

To remember that water freezes at 32 degrees fahrenheit, 0 degrees celsius, think of a person’s phone number or address that includes the number 32. Then visualize that person texting on an iceberg or calling from the freezer. As ridiculous as these visual connections may seem, they help provide anecdotal cues to a student who struggles to memorize facts.

 

Memory maps help link familiar places to random facts:

If a student is trying to memorize the allied nations for a WWII exam, he might find it beneficial to visualize his house as the United States with an American flag, his next door neighbors as France and the United Kingdom with their respective flags, and his neighbors across the street as the Soviet Union and China. To solidify the memory, perhaps he will visualize a block party in which different households bring food or drink items that represent those nations, like tea for the UK, croissants for France, egg rolls for China, etc.

 

Use key words or word play to help learn and then memorize vocabulary:

Take the Latin root voc, for instance, meaning call or voice. The word advocate means to speak up for someone or something. Vociferous describes someone who is vocal or outspoken. Someone’s vocation is their career, or what they have been called to do in life. Convocation is a formal assembly of people or people that have been called together to meet and discuss. Multisyllabic terms can also be broken down into more manageable segments to help memorize definitions as well. For example, indefatigable is easier to understand after learning the word fatigue. The combination of the root syllables prompts students to remember that indefatigable means someone that works tirelessly or with unwavering enthusiasm.

 

Mnemonic devices and acronyms also work when students are tasked with memorizing ordered terms or processes—the sillier or more personalized the better to solidify memories and activate recall. We all know ROY G BIV for the colors of the rainbow, but what about May I have a large container of coffee? This sentence helps students remember the digits of pi—each letter of the word in the sentence represents the next numeral 3.1415927.

 

Be creative with your students and help them to devise strategies and memory maps that help them to store and recall information. Make it fun!

National Stalking Awareness Month

2019 marks the 15th year of recognizing January as National Stalking Awareness Month. The CDC defines stalking as, “a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or conduct directed at someone that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” Many people are probably unaware of the staggering statistic that roughly 1 in 6 women will be a victim of stalking at some point in her lifetime. The purpose of National Stalking Awareness Month is to not only raise awareness, but also promote prevention efforts and provide community supports and assistance to victims.

 

While anyone can become a victim of stalking, teenagers are among the most vulnerable and experience the highest rates of incidents among victims. Below are tips for families concerning precautionary measures, proactive steps, and other safety strategies to prevent children and teens from becoming victims.

 

CLEAN UP SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS

For many teens, social media is their method for connecting and sharing with friends. However, much too often, teens are oversharing in their profiles. Talk to your teen about the importance of certain levels of anonymity online. Details such as phone numbers, addresses, specific school locations, full names, and birth dates when put in the wrong hands can be used to stalk victims. Remind your child that “privacy” settings are not always full-proof. Furthermore, that new “friend” or follower request could be anyone—literally.

  • Do not accept friend requests from people that you do not personally know
  • Do not “check-in” to public places online; this information can be accessed by anyone
  • Do not “tag” specific current locations, especially if you frequent these locations regularly
  • Report any suspicious users and log the attempts this person has made when contacting you
  • Do not respond to any unwanted messages, conversations, requests, etc.
  • If teens have a webcam or camera on their laptop, consider covering it when not in use

 

SWITCH UP YOUR EVERYDAY ROUTINES

Stalkers often rely on victims’ routines to track their whereabouts closely. The less predictable the routine, the more difficult it is to follow. If your teen jogs a specific loop on the weekends, goes to the same coffee shop after school every Wednesday, bike rides through the park to school every day, or walks the dog around the same neighborhood route, encourage her to switch up her day-to-day patterns. A sudden change in one’s habits is sometimes enough to dissuade an unwanted observer. These modifications also prompt teens to try out new places, explore new running paths, or simply catch the bored dog off guard by changing his walking route.

 

DO NOT FEEL PRESSURED TO OBLIGE

Sometimes, in an effort to maintain one’s social courtesy or show politeness, children and teens feel pressured to say “yes” to a kind offer. Parents have probably taught their kids from a young age to hold the door for others, smile and say “hello” when someone greets them, say “please” and “thank you” when someone shows them a kind gesture. Obviously, being well-mannered is not the issue. However, we do need children and teens to be aware of the option to say “no” or walk away to ignore someone’s unwanted attention. Remind them that agreeing to something just out of politeness is not necessary; they should never be made to feel coerced or intimidated when it comes to unwanted attention or “seemingly” kind offers. Remind teens of the following:

  • “Oh come on, give me a smile,” from a stranger in no way obligates you to respond.
  • If someone pesters, coaxes, or berates you for not saying “hello” or calls you rude for ignoring them, keep ignoring them.
  • If someone asks you how you’re doing or where you’re heading, you do not have to respond.
  • If someone offers to walk you home, offers you a ride, or approaches you too closely, move away and remain in a public place until the person has left or until you feel safe.
  • If a peer asks you to hang out or go out on a date, do not feel that you have to agree out of kindness. It’s better to let them know straight out that you are not interested in that way.
  • If a stranger or peer’s attempt at a conversation is crossing the line or making you feel uncomfortable, use your phone as an out. Call a parent or pretend to receive an incoming call from a parent; use headphones as an indication that you do not want to converse with strangers around you.

 

TELL SOMEONE

Parents should explain the signs of stalking and clearly define which types of behaviors are classified as stalking. Tell your teens to speak up to you or another trusted adult if they believe someone is following, watching, harassing, or intimidating them. Remind them not to ignore their instincts—if something feels off, it very well could be.

Classroom Strategies for Students with Asperger’s

As of 2013, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has reclassified Asperger’s syndrome to include it in the broader category of autism spectrum disorder. Unlike some other conditions along the spectrum, children with Asperger’s syndrome are considered “high-functioning.” This means that children and adults with Asperger’s experience are intellectually and verbally advanced, yet experience social and/or executive functioning deficits.

 

Asperger’s syndrome can be frustrating for the child and those closest to him/her. Since classrooms today involve constant social components, students with Asperger’s will likely require certain routines and strategies to help facilitate their interactions with peers and adults in and outside of school.

 

Maintain consistency

Students with any form of autism spectrum disorder thrive when they know what to expect—surprises, disruptions, or diversions from the norm are not favorable and can cause unnecessary stress. This means that teachers should specifically and deliberately introduce routines, expectations, and basic classroom guidelines and adhere to them so that all students, but especially those with Asperger’s, can adapt to the established expectations. Things such as warm-ups, explanations for homework assignments, routines for moving around or asking to leave the room—even the location of the pencil sharpener—should remain consistent.

 

If, for whatever reason, a classroom routine or school schedule must change, be sure to explain the modification to the student directly—do not just assume that he will anticipate or grasp the change. Additionally, provide a logical reason for the change. For instance, if a fire drill or weather delay has adjusted the bell schedule, make a note to print, post, or explain the day’s modified schedule and explain that the change was made to account for a shorter school day or disruption in the schedule.

 

If students have unstructured or unsupervised time, such as lunch time or transitions in middle and high school, help the student to understand what his options are during lunch and between classes, the time constraints to complete those options, and his best method or route for navigating to the next class on time.

 

Be direct

While students with Asperger’s may have an advanced vocabulary, their ability to communicate their feelings or perceptions, as well as their ability to interpret someone else’s, may be lacking. For this reason, sarcasm, exaggerations/hyperbole, euphemisms, puns, or vague expressions are often misinterpreted or confusing to students with Asperger’s syndrome. Instead of beating around the bush (see what I did there?) or using indirect phrasing, be explicit with students so that they know exactly what is being communicated. For instance, if students are about to dismiss, saying, “relax until the bell rings” could mean many different things. Instead, tell students to “remain seated quietly at your desk until the bell rings.” With a direct statement, there are no misinterpretations or misunderstandings.

 

Provide clear options

Decision-making can be a difficult undertaking for students with Asperger’s syndrome—they may become overwhelmed by their choices or worry about selecting the “best” option. It is beneficial for teachers to provide student choice, but limit the scope of those choices for students who struggle to synthesize information.

 

For example, if students are selecting one of the seven wonders for a research project, consider asking certain students what their top three wonders would be. Then discuss as a small group and model decision-making strategies. Ask students things like, “Which location do you think is the most famous or would have the most accessible information?” “Do you have background knowledge of any wonders on your list?” “Which wonder are you most curious to learn about?” “What part of the world is most intriguing? Might you choose a wonder located there?” These questions direct students to think analytically about their options, which helps when choices seem random or arbitrary.

 

Deescalate the situation  

Children with Asperger’s syndrome may have a lower threshold for irritation or annoyance, which can increase the likelihood of meltdowns in the classroom. Teachers and counselors can take proactive steps to avoid or diffuse situations when tempers flare in the classroom. Connect with parents early on—they will be able to cue you in on what might irritate or annoy their child in particular. They are also likely to have strategies for diffusing situations when they arise.

 

Consider a designated “cool down area” within the classroom equipped with flexible seating, stress balls, sketch pads for doodling or journaling, and noise-cancelling headphones. Especially for elementary and middle grades, these quiet corners allow all students the option to remove themselves from a potential conflict to regroup or decompress. This quiet, stress-free zone is especially beneficial to students with Asperger’s syndrome because frustration for them can result in all-encompassing meltdowns.

 

Checklists/check-ins  

Since students with Asperger’s often experience gaps in executive functioning skills, teachers can use simple strategies to help fill those gaps and introduce students to new methods for self-management. For complex tasks or multi-step assignments, a visual checklist can help younger students visually account for essential pieces of the assignment. The checklist also guides students as they plan and execute a project in logical order.

 

In addition to a checklist or to-do memo, teachers should plan to meet frequently with students to ensure that components are being completed and progress is getting made during independent work time. A tentative calendar or weekly work schedule could also help students to manage their class time, complete tasks in order of importance, and practice self-monitoring as they work their way through the week.

A Change of Perspective: Activities for the Classroom

While viewpoints and perspectives tend to be seen as literature-based concepts, learners can truly benefit from this critical thinking skill in any academic content. Why is perspective-taking an important skill? Of course there are the obvious social implications that hinge on one’s ability to see things from another’s vantage point—like developing empathy, navigating others’ emotions, and building deeper connections with peers. In addition, students who are able to cognizantly adopt a different perspective while learning also initiate a better understanding of the content because they are engaging with it in a new or complex way.

 

Below are classroom suggestions and various activities that foster collaboration while encouraging learners to view subjects and opinions from a different lens.

 

  • Optical illusion images are great resources for introducing the concept of multiple perspectives to students, especially for the younger groups. Images like “The old woman/young lady” are natural discussion starters for students to begin to use alternate viewpoints. Teachers can collect and project optical illusion images for students to view. Ask students to remain silent while viewing, but to capture what they seen on a capture sheet for later discussion. After an initial viewing, ask students to pair up with someone that had at least one different observation or conflicting answer on the capture sheet. Then allow pairs to explain their viewpoints to one another.
  • Visuals, such as photos from news articles, magazines, graphic novels, or even stock photos can be the springboard for introducing the concept of perspective-taking with students. Display an image from the local newspaper, preferably one that exhibits or elicits an emotion. Without providing any context or headline, ask students to respond by writing the emotion that the subject or onlooker in the photo might be feeling. Ask students to discuss in groups, specifically focusing on why they think the person in the photo feels this particular way. Next, provide students with the text or article—ask them if their assumptions were correct. As the conversation progresses, ask students to consider the last time that they felt a similar emotion. What caused it? How was their scenario different from the actual news article/event? These group discussions allow students to not only connect with and relate to the article, but also connect with each other through speaking and listening.
  • A lesson around homophones and homographs can be a great way to spark discussions about perspectives and cultural implications. For instance, take a look at the homographs below:

minute – tiny OR a unit of time

moped – behavior demonstrating sadness OR a motorcycle

number – more numb OR a numerical value

row – a line OR to propel a boat

sewer – a drain OR a person who sews

wave – to greet someone by moving the hand OR sea water coming into shore

Depending on a person’s experiences, country/language of origin, home life, environment, etc., the homographs above could generate a number of different instantaneous visuals or subconscious thoughts from person to person. Especially as students age and their abilities to take different vantage points evolves, it is important that they explore the reasons behind all of our different perspectives. Many times, our cultural identities shroud our understanding of the “other side.” Therefore, these intentional practices allow students to come face-to-face with their own perspectives and to question them.

  • “Save the last word for me” is a close reading activity that also prompts discussion and alternate viewpoints. Students begin by reading the same passage independently. Readers are instructed to mark or highlight the line or sentence that they believed was most significant within the passage. One volunteer reads his chosen/highlighted sentence, but provides no reasoning or explanation as to why he considers it to be the most significant. Group mates must add their own interpretation of why that line is significant to the passage; the original volunteer speaks last and confirms/elaborates/clarifies his original choice. This activity encourages discourse around a common text, but relies heavily on the task of “getting into another person’s head.” Students must consider why their peer selected that specific line as significant, and can then speak on how they agree or perhaps found a different line to be more crucial.