Learning to Learn

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Learning is a never-ending process. Of course, as educators, we put learning at the forefront of everything we do in the classroom. We ask ourselves many questions regarding the learning that we are hoping to witness: How am I going to see that they’ve understood? What will I do if they don’t understand? Is this a measurable objective? How can I apply this lesson to the real world? Do they care to learn this? With all of these questions about learning, it is important that we teachers step back and teach how to learn.

Especially during the transition grades—entering middle school, high school, or college—we must prepare students to learn how they learn best. Arguably, the best way to do this is to provide students with strategies that they can test out and employ. One of the major obstacles that I faced in my education involved studying. I always questioned myself in that area—Have I studied enough? Did I study the right concepts? Is memorizing the same thing as studying?

Here are a few tips that educators can teach students with regard to learning and studying:

  • Teach students how to pace themselves. It is much easier to tackle small bits of information at a time than it is to cram. Waiting until the last minute to cram before a test is also a surefire way to create unnecessary anxiety. Remind students of due dates and test dates. It is also helpful to model the process of chunking the work into manageable pieces along the way.
  • Encourage students to ask questions. Depending on the age and comfort level of a student, this may be a struggle at first. You could also provide question cards. Have students anonymously write questions that they’d like to have answered during the review session. It is also a good idea to encourage students to jot notes down during a class review or study.
  • Teach students to embrace the flashcard. This may seem like a painfully obvious approach to studying, but flashcards truly have several benefits. Creating flashcards helps to imprint the information beyond the scope of a student’s short-term memory. Writing something begins to solidify a connection in memory. Flashcards also force students to focus on only the key points. Since the purpose is to contain the important information on a small index card, students practice narrowing in on the main ideas and take-home points of the lesson. Of course, flashcards are also very handy to quickly and conveniently review material.
  • Model the mnemonic device. As crazy as it may sound, the mnemonic device was one of my best study quirks throughout all of my years of education. Even in graduate school, mnemonic devices helped to retain information that I thought I could never simply memorize. This strategy can utilize anything from a rhyme, song, pattern of words or letters, alliteration, etc., in order to solidify the information and easily recall it when necessary.

Introduce your students to these learning strategies to help them strengthen their study skills and enhance their performance across a range of subjects. As my experience suggests, these strategies will serve them well for years!

Turning Conflicts into Teachable Moments

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Any instance where 30 or more children or teens are working in one room can have the potential to ignite a conflict. An educator’s initial instinct may be to immediately extinguish the fire, which in some cases, is absolutely necessary. However, another approach to address conflict is to highlight and dissect the moment. Speaking through a conflict certainly involves tact; however, the practice will benefit future interactions in the classroom.

Address the issue headfirst: A surefire way to allow conflicts in the classroom to escalate is to sweep them under the rug. When students feel unheard or misunderstood, frustrations build. As uncomfortable as a discussion may seem, the conflict will not dissipate until it is brought to light.

Set the expectation: As the adult in the room, it is vital that the teacher creates a safe space for conflict resolution to take place. Students need validation and acknowledgment of their feelings and opinions. Educators must practice impartiality and fairness for all students involved. If students do not trust the situation, they will not open the door to allow honest conversations.

Encourage introspection: Ask students to identify exactly what emotions they are experiencing—there is a big difference between frustration and resentment. Motivate students to think about the root of the conflict. Oftentimes, conflicts arise out of misinterpreted messages. Ask students to speak honestly and directly about what they are thinking and experiencing.

Seek common ground: Frame the conversation around end goals and ask students what they would like to see as a result of this mediation. How are the students’ desires alike? How can the group compromise to ensure that everyone is heard? Highlight the fact that both students have similar feelings—just different opinions of the situation.

Curiosity kills the conflict: Effect change in students’ mindsets by encouraging everyone involved to remain curious and open-minded. Headstrong stubbornness will only help to facilitate the conflict; it’s fuel to the fire, so to speak. Keeping an open mind and truly listening to the other person allows barriers and egos to come down. When students are genuinely curious about the other person’s perspective, empathy, understanding, and resolutions will begin to smother the fiery conflict.

Conflict in the classroom is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Quite conversely, conflicts can be catalysts for learning opportunities and social and emotional growth. Embrace the teachable moments and know that every tough instance is an opportunity to advance our understanding of communication.

The Pros of Conflict-and How to Manage it Productively

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The Pros of Conflict—and How to Manage it Productively

After graduate school, one common question that I continued to encounter from one teaching interview to the next involved conflict resolution. Of course the wording varied, but the overall query went something like this: How would you handle two students that do not get along in your classroom?

My response may have been somewhat surprising, but the explanation behind the response is something that I continue to practice in my classroom regularly.

Q: How should you handle children that are having a conflict?

A: Put them together.

Now, of course, there are underlying details that correspond with this concise response—we cannot simply force friendships amongst reluctant children. But, as much as conflict is inevitable, so should be a resolution. What I try to teach my middle schoolers every day is this: life involves conflict. Life means working with people that you don’t necessarily enjoy. Conflict can simply be a difference of opinion—it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

That said, conflict is not mediated by merely avoiding certain people. An important indicator of future success involves the ability to work with others. In any phase of the personal, social, educational, spiritual, or professional realm, we must always be capable of communicating, collaborating, and respecting others, no matter the situation.

Here are a few tried and true methods of teaching conflict resolution:

Put opposing students together

The key to this notion is simple—conflicts should not be swept under the rug. Ignoring a problem does nothing to resolve it. Instead, the negative feelings continue to fester and grow. At some point, the pressure will build to a volatile level. To avoid this, encourage students to confront conflicts as they arise. Create a safe space for students to practice healthy conversations with the help of an impartial mediator. The root of many conflicts is a misunderstanding. Often times, the best way to begin mediation is by clarifying the misunderstandings or calmly explaining each person’s interpretation of the conflict.

Encourage “I feel” talking points

When putting conflicts center stage, it’s important to demonstrate healthy communication. Have children focus on their own personal feelings, instead of what the other person is doing. Model conflict resolution by beginning with “I feel frustrated when…” This phrasing removes the tendency for people to place blame and find faults. “I feel” phrases also allow both parties to display vulnerability and practice empathy. Recognizing how and why someone feels a certain emotion opens the door for better understanding.

Facilitate collaboration on a common goal

Once students have calmly discussed the conflict or issue, encourage a working relationship amongst the students in the classroom. This does not mean that the two students will end up as “besties.” Strengthening a respectful working relationship teaches children several life lessons:

  • Students learn that cooperation is key when working with others.
  • Students learn to listen to one another in order to effectively collaborate.
  • Students see that others’ opinions are valuable—and sometimes more beneficial than their own.
  • Students begin to understand that problems are solved by communication and compromise.
  • When students share the weight and complete a task together, they unknowingly build trust and mutual respect in pairs or groups.

Conflict, while not encouraged, is inevitable. The earlier that children learn how to effectively communicate with others, the more success they will have in future collaborative efforts.  Conflict resolution can also be a very introspective process. Talking through an issue sheds light on one’s own personal biases, exposes alternate perspectives, and reveals our own “pet peeves” or “tipping points.” While conflict cannot be avoided, we must teach children how to productively utilize and learn from clashes with others.

Give Thanks by Giving Back

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Give Thanks by Giving Back

The old adage “to give is to receive” may seem a bit convoluted to young children—especially since children are more inclined to care about their own needs being met. With Thanksgiving upon us, it is the perfect time to teach children about the importance of giving. Whether you give your time at a food bank, donate toys to needy children, or make greeting cards for the elderly or terminally ill, giving to others has countless positive effects.

There are many things that children can learn from giving.Giving back builds confidence and instills a sense of purpose. It is important for kids to learn that they can be agents of positive change. By volunteering and giving back to those less fortunate, children can see exactly how their own actions can have a great impact.

Children can gain a different perspective on life. Everyone is guilty of feeling sorry for themselves at some point. Children especially can get caught up on the idea that things are “not fair.” Giving back can be a very great lesson for kids—because they’re right—life is not always fair. Helping others in need is an eye-opening experience, and certainly a humbling one, as well. Yes, you get the warm feeling from the fact that you brightened someone’s day, but it’s more than that. In the day-to-day, we often forget to be grateful for the blessings we have. Kids are able to gain a new perspective on just how fortunate they are by helping others.

Volunteer work teaches social skills. Charity work and volunteer opportunities are often done in groups with others from the community. Volunteering with new “friends” allows children to introduce themselves, engage in conversation, ask questions, etc. The “teamwork” aspect of community service also encourages cooperation, problem solving, leadership skills, and listening skills. Whether kids are raking leaves for elderly neighbors, or organizing a coat drive for struggling families, giving back together allows children the opportunity to develop socially.

Giving back allows kids to explore their talents. Volunteer work can teach children valuable lessons about their strengths. There are always different charities and organizations that could use an extra hand. With the vast amount of work to be done, children can explore different roles while giving back. Perhaps your child is great at socializing and making people laugh during hospital visits. Or maybe your child has great leadership skills for helping at a youth camp. Possibly your advanced reader wants to read to young kids at a local shelter. No matter the task, giving back allows kids to show their strengths in the name of giving. Not only can kids practice developing their skills, but they can feel proud of the fact that their efforts are helping others.
Too often, children believe that their actions, beliefs, and opinions go unnoticed simply due to their age. By helping someone else, kids can begin to see that what they do does, in fact, matter.

Listen Up: Auditory Processing

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It is Audio Appreciation Month! September reminds us to be grateful for an ability that some of us may rarely think about: the ability to hear. Of course, we hear sounds all the time. We are constantly receiving inputs from the environment, but the ability to absorb and process sound is actually quite complex. The process involves the outer, middle, and inner ear structures, as well as hair cells and the auditory nerve that transports information to the brain.

Additionally, a surprising fact about hearing is that, “the human ear is a fully developed part of our bodies at birth and responds to sounds that are very faint as well as sounds that are very loud. Even before birth, infants respond to sound” (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association). While in utero, babies are able to hear sounds from within and outside of the womb. The auditory pathways, however, are still immature at this stage. This means that, while the baby is able to hear, processing and perceptible abilities have not fully developed.  

The magical aspect of the development of the auditory system is its plasticity, especially when considering our constantly changing environments and experiences. The auditory system is regularly adapting to process the various inputs we receive at any given moment.

But what happens if there is a glitch in the system? Since the auditory system stretches way beyond simply hearing, the ripple effect could greatly impact other areas of development.

Since hearing is a large aspect of human communication, obstacles related to hearing impairments may impact a child’s educational development. Specific areas of concern in the classroom for children with hearing impairments include:

  • mastering that subjects of grammar, spelling and vocabulary
  • taking notes while listening to lectures
  • participating in classroom discussions
  • watching educational videos
  • presenting oral reports

The complicated aspect is that a hearing issue may not be related to the actual hearing process at all. Instead, the auditory system may be impacted by a processing impairment. Auditory processing disorder, also called a central auditory processing disorder, is sometimes difficult to identify. Symptoms of APD are strikingly similar to symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). APD and ADHD can coexist; however, the slight distinctions between the two disorders are sometimes overlooked, resulting in misdiagnosis. Since symptoms of ADHD and APD are so similar, it is imperative that a child’s condition be thoroughly explored to ensure the best possible plan for treatment and therapy.

While APDs are not necessarily preventable, noise-induced hearing loss is. In order to prevent future hearing loss, it is important to monitor your child’s use of electronics and earbuds. Volume is not the only culprit; prolonged listening can harm hearing as well. Some safety tips include monitoring the length of your listening, monitoring the volume at which you are listening (no more than 60% of the maximum volume), standing away from loud speakers at concerts and sporting events or wear earplugs, and taking frequent short breaks from loud venues.

You should, of course, always listen to your body as well. If you notice that you begin straining to hear conversations, phone calls, or television shows, you may be suffering from minor hearing loss. Likewise, if you struggle to distinguish background noise from other sounds or conversations, you may also be experiencing hearing loss. Be kind to your ears by turning the volume down and getting regular hearing checks.

 

Tips for Middle Schoolers…Transition to Success

Tips for Middle Schoolers…Transition to Success

  1. Organization is one of the most important and necessary skills for being successful in Middle School.  Here are some tips:
    • Post your schedule inside your locker.
    • Color code your notebooks and folders for faster, easier class transitions. Example: Red notebook & folder for Math
    • Keep a small, magnetic dry erase board inside your locker to quickly write down after each class what books to bring home. Example: You leave math and know you have homework–write on your board math HW.
    • ALWAYS use your agenda.  You should be writing down any homework or upcoming tests/quizzes daily in your agenda. Do this before you leave your classroom before the bell.
    • A 3-ring zipper binder is a useful tool to hold pens, pencils, notebook paper and your agenda so that you are ready for every class. Note: D shaped binder rings tend to be more durable.
    • Get to know your locker combination and practice how to use the lock.  
  2. It is also important to communicate with your teacher.  If you do not understand something, wait for the appropriate time and ASK.  
  3. Do not spend too much time socializing in between classes.  Five minutes goes really quickly and tardies can add up fast. Several tardies can get you a detention. Use your lunch and after school to catch up with friends.
  4. Enjoy your time and get involved with clubs and other activities that are available.  Listen to what the teachers have to say and remember that being respectful can get you far.

Welcome to Middle School…Your Parent Guide

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  1. Check your child’s agenda book daily, and check not only homework, but completed homework on a regular basis.
  2. Keep lines of communication with school open. Don’t wait for school to contact you. Take the initiative.
  3. Get to know the teachers, keep in contact, and understand–regardless of what your child comes home and tells you–there is always another side to the story.
  4. Teach your child that every teacher is different, just as co-workers and bosses will be in life.
  5. Be prepared for change. Be prepared for the shock of academic and non-academic discussions in middle school about topics you never heard your child mention before.
  6. Tell administrators about teachers who make a positive impression. Do you enjoy being complimented? So do teachers.
  7. Reward positive accomplishments (agenda book completely filled in, perfect papers, etc.) on a weekly basis. A little goes a long way, and middle schoolers thrive on praise.
  8. Get involved. Research has shown that parents’ participation increases the child’s self-esteem, improves their academic performance, improves the parent-child relationship, and develops a more positive attitude toward school in both the parent and child.
  9. Ask your child to teach you at least three new things they learned each day! Listening is one of the greatest–and most neglected–skills of parenting. Don’t be too busy with the little stuff in life to miss the important moments with your child. When they tell you about their day, look them in the eye, and listen; really listen!

Be objective. Listen to your child’s teachers. Sometimes they may tell you things about your child you aren’t going to like or want to hear. But remember, your child at home is not necessarily the same child they see at school. You don’t have to take everything the teacher says as gospel, but make sure you really listen and consider their advice.

Get With the Program: The Importance of Settling into Routines at the Start of the School Year

The beginning of a new school year can be stressful for children and parents alike. Children must woefully say goodbye to carefree summer days, and say hello to alarm clocks, schedules, and routines. The truth is, as much as a routine may feel foreign to children after three months of freedom, it is vital to put routines in place at the start of the school year. Settling into the school year takes time and patience, especially if your child is transitioning to a new school. However, providing your child with a set routine will make this transition much easier.

It is especially important to begin the routine right when school starts. Have you ever tried to put the toothpaste back into the tube? Trying to implement a routine after beginning the year with a lax attitude is like trying to undo the toothpaste mess—frustrating, messy, and likely impossible.  

Beginning a routine from the get-go eliminates the stress of having to undo negative behavior patterns and mindsets. A set routine provides many advantages for parents and children. Here are ways to initiate a routine:

  • Set expectations
  • Teach time management
  • Provide structure
  • Reduce anxiety by eliminating “the unknown”
  • Build trust between parents/caretakers and children

By setting expectations, children learn what is and is not acceptable. For instance, when children know that homework must be completed by a specific time, there is no questioning or negotiating at the end of the day. Similarly, the routine creates pockets of time in which activities will take place. Children are often booked with practices, rehearsals, homework, family events, etc. Managing all of these items is stressful enough for adults, let alone children. When parents and children plan ahead together to allot time for each activity, children learn how to use their time productively. They also learn to prioritize activities.

A routine is emotionally beneficial, as well. It is human nature to stress about the unknown or unexpected. When children follow routines, they know what to expect. Thus, anxiety is reduced when children are familiar with the trajectory of their day.

Of course, a crazy little thing called life may disrupt the routine from time to time. This is ok. More than ok, actually. Like adults, children learn to be flexible, adaptable, and creative during unpredictable times. It is important for parents to recognize the likelihood that the routine may need to be adjusted occasionally. Plasticity is key to utilizing the routine.

Settling into a new routine could begin by simply implementing a family calendar on the refrigerator. Color-coded sticky notes are a great way to visually coordinate and plan for activities during the week. Children in the middle grades could certainly be responsible for posting their own scheduled activities, as well. This would highlight their important tasks for the week while encouraging personal responsibility. Keeping everyone on the same page, literally and figuratively, will help to create a much-needed routine during the school year!

Kick Start Kindergarten With Success!

 

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It is Essential to kick start kindergarten with success! As exciting as the first day of school can be, first-timers can experience quite a bit of nerves in the beginning. These are the top ten ways to help reduce anxiety and ease into kindergarten!

  1. Picture it. Research shows that kindergartners are initially concerned with knowing where the bathrooms are, when lunch is, and who will play with them on the playground. Ease these specific concerns by writing a positive story about the first day of kindergarten. Include tasks like getting around the building, lining up for lunch, and making friends at recess. Then have your little one illustrate the story.
  2. Calm the fear of the unknown. Ask the school for a schedule and create a visual list of the daily kindergarten routine. Post it in your home and discuss what a typical day will be like. Knowing “what comes next” is a big hurdle when easing anxiety.
  3. Be an Explorer. Explore the school before the first day—take a tour, walk or drive by the school, play on the playground, visit the website, or talk about the school mascot. Ask questions, such as which way do you turn to get to your classroom?
  4. Say Cheese. At orientation, snap a picture of your child in the classroom with his or her teacher. Capture pictures of the circle time, the front door, the cafeteria, and the gymnasium. Place them on the refrigerator as a visual reminder.
  5. Talk it Out. Talk about the teachers and staff who will teach and care for your child during the day. Look ahead at the school’s event calendar and talk about special activities coming up. Interview a neighborhood child that has already experienced kindergarten. Validate any concerns by telling them about your first day of school.
  6. Let’s Play. Connect with kids in the neighborhood or new friends from orientation before the start of school. Arrange for kids in the class to meet at a local playground just before school starts. A friendly face is always welcome.
  7. Balancing Act. Try out “cafeteria style” eating at a local restaurant and practice opening food packages. Teach them to use their “milk thumb” to hold a round milk container when it is lying flat. This will prevent it from rolling off of their tray. A little self-sufficiency goes a long way.
  8. Rise and Shine. Adjust your child’s sleep schedule, including bedtime and wake-up time, several weeks before school begins. Ten hours of sleep is a good rule of thumb.
  9. Beat the Rush. Shop early for school supplies. Allow your child to select the necessary items. Have your child practice packing a backpack and walking around with it.
  10. Countdown. Anticipate the first day of kindergarten. Count down the days to the start of school, similar to an advent calendar. Ask a school-related question each morning or surprise them with a treat when they open a numbered bag.