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.

 

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!

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.

 

Enrichment in the Classroom

Differentiation is a best practice for teaching and learning that you will hopefully see in every classroom. However, much of the focus and attention for differentiating instruction and materials goes towards the neediest students, those who struggle to grasp concepts and information that would be deemed on-level or grade-level appropriate. And rightfully so. It is essential that education be accessible to every level of learner. However, a natural oversight occurs when teachers differentiate mostly for the underachieving students; the gifted, above grade-level, overachievers are left with little enrichment.

 

What does classroom enrichment involve?

Enrichment activities in the classroom can take numerous forms and do not necessarily always involve prescribed lessons from the curriculum. Enrichment encourages students to take a more expansive or in-depth look at a concept or topic, perhaps by further research, approaching it with a different lens or perspective, or connecting the subject to a more meaningful or rewarding facet of the real world. Whatever the activity may involve, the notion or goal is typically the same—encourage further exploration, intrinsic curiosity, and lifelong learning.

 

Key components of enrichment

  • Teachers must use appropriate data and assessment information as guidelines to identify important aspects such as reading level, mathematical competency, etc. These data points allow teachers to provide materials that will truly elevate or enhance the learning without introducing a discouraging level of difficulty.
  • Enrichment must be individualized and match a learner’s capabilities. Assessments to gauge Lexile (reading) levels or math grade-level proficiency allow teachers to see exactly how to group students effectively for enrichment activities. Pairing or grouping students based on these data points allows students to have the option to work collaboratively among learners with similar interests and abilities.
  • Enrichment activities should account for student choice. This means that, while each option for enrichment should revolve around a similar learning goal, the method by which students arrive at that objective can be vastly different depending on their interests or selections.
  • Enrichment should connect to prior knowledge and/or account for cross-curricular connections.

Considerations for enrichment

  • If you, as the teacher, had unlimited time to spend on a subject, genre, topic, concept, etc., what would you want students to explore? Use the answer to this question as the springboard for designing enrichment opportunities.
  • What have students asked to read or learn about? Create a running list of topics in which students have expressed interest. Then begin to curate a collection of texts involving these topics so that students can begin to explore their interests if completing additional research.
  • In what way will students be able to work independently when completing an enrichment activity? Conversely, what would they need additional instruction or assistance with as they work?
  • How will you account for grades or evaluation of the enrichment activity? These learning experiences should not be seen as extra credit or bonus work that won’t be assessed. Students need to know how these additional activities will contribute to not only their overall learning, but also their overall grade.
  • Enrichment might involve multiple rubrics or tiered projects/assignments. The idea behind multiple rubrics is that students are evaluated based on their individual capabilities involving the project or task. Similarly, tiered assignments require students to meet the same basic objectives, but incorporate varying levels of difficulty using text complexity, advanced vocabulary, higher order thinking questions, and different levels of analysis.

Enrichment at Home

Enrichment is a typical educational buzzword; however, its utility is not limited to the classroom. Parents can play a major role in their child’s academic enrichment—and it is not as intimidating as it may seem. Enrichment does not have to adhere to a specific curriculum, but rather includes any activity that fosters a learning experience.

 

What are enrichment activities?

Enrichment activities at home can take infinite forms and do not necessarily mirror a typical classroom lesson or activity. Enrichment encourages learners to take a more expansive or in-depth look at a concept or topic, perhaps by further research, approaching it with a different lens or perspective, or connecting the subject to a more meaningful or rewarding facet of the real world. Whatever the activity may involve, the notion or goal is typically the same—encourage further exploration, intrinsic curiosity, and lifelong learning.

 

Considerations for enrichment at home

  • First, enrichment at home or in the classroom should never be reduced to extra practice, bonus worksheets, or additional math problems. The key to worthwhile enrichment activities is that they deepen or expand upon a learner’s understanding—they do not simply bombard the learner with additional assignments.
  • Enrichment at home should at least loosely connect to something that your child is learning or has learned in school. However, the enrichment activity itself can really go in any direction once the connection to prior knowledge has been made. This allows children to access their prior knowledge and build upon that through the enrichment activity. Your child is also able to make real-world connections from these learning experiences outside of the classroom.
  • What does your child like to read or study? Create a running list of topics that your child has expressed interest in and use that list to search for learning opportunities around the community that connect to these topics. Kids can get in on the research as well, which helps them to foster natural curiosity and intrinsic motivation for learning.
  • Consider certain learning opportunities that the whole family can partake in, but be sure that the enrichment activity is age-appropriate. This is not the time to overwhelm young learners with topics or concepts that are too abstract, complex, or mature.
  • Enrichment activities should rely heavily on your child’s choices or interests; this is not an opportunity for parents to persuade or nudge a learner’s interests to match their own.

 

Ideas for enrichment at home

  • If your child has read a book for school of particular interest, explore similar titles or other works by the same author to encourage reading for pleasure. Amazon or Barnes and Noble offer easy online searches to provide full lists of novels that other readers enjoyed based on the title you search.
  • Similarly, if a specific genre has grabbed your child’s attention, use that as a springboard for searching other titles or works that fall into the genre or subgenre.
  • If children are learning about a certain time period, author, musician, artist, or country (which they definitely are in school), do a little research of exhibits, documentaries, book talks, movies, or concerts that connect to their prior knowledge of the time period or subject area.
  • Use student-centered websites to present new material when children are on vacation or summer break. NewsELA, National Geographic, CNN 10, and the History Channel offer wonderful, grade-level organized resources for further exploration of a range of topics. You can also modify the searches to account for a child’s specific reading level to ensure that texts are accessible, yet challenging.
  • Consider enrichment opportunities that do not necessarily tie directly to an academic content area. Mentorships, volunteer opportunities, clubs and organizations provide participants with a plethora of skills. Children can learn about time management, giving back, environmental preservation, friendship, collaboration, perspective-taking, listening skills, etc.

The Value in Real-World Consequences

Many school policies and protocols today are not exactly reflective of the real world environment for which we are trying to prepare students. While these methods are put into place to encourage student success, the flip side of these practices can result in inadvertently fostering a level of helplessness, complacency, dependence, and excuses. How, then, can we ensure that students are well-supported, yet held accountable at the same time? The balancing act can be tedious, but there are some strategies that parents and teachers can utilize to prepare children and teens for the REAL WORLD.

 

Expect and accept failure, but learn from it

It is important that students be reminded of the very real likelihood that they will encounter failure in their adult lives—and probably more than a few times. They must be ready to handle challenges, setbacks, and obstacles in order to learn how to mediate those hurdles. A great student and future contributing member of society, no matter his or her career path, will be able to problem-solve. However, if problems are always solved for them, they will struggle to acquire this skill.

Parents and teachers can:

  • Encourage students to follow up directly with teachers on assignments that did not go so well. If the grade is dreadful, instead of balling the paper up and throwing it away in frustration, provide students with time to conference about that specific essay or exam.
  • Utilize opportunities for error analysis by providing specific feedback and areas of need. This way, students can use failure as a learning opportunity—a moment for growth as opposed to just disappointment.
  • Remind children and teens that the grade is just one measure of their learning; it does not indicate their total level of knowledge or ability. Instead of dwelling on the percentage, use this as a reminder of skills that still need to be practiced or acquired.

 

Get acquainted with “One and Done”

Reassessments, rewrites, resubmissions, etc., are a norm, especially for Montgomery County Public Schools. While the sentiment behind such policies is beneficial—we want students to correct mistakes, participate in reteaching opportunities, and make additional attempts to demonstrate their learning. However, there are several holes in the practice when students a) expect a second opportunity even before submitting the first attempt, and b) receive countless opportunities to increase the grade with little focus on the actual learning.

Parents and teachers can:

  • Set boundaries and limits when it comes to reassessment opportunities. Allow for 1-2 major reassessments per quarter only. Otherwise, excluding extenuating circumstances, hold to the “one and done” policy. With fewer chances to show what they know, students will be motivated to do their best the first time.
  • Help teach students how to prioritize steps and manage time for long-term assignments and final exams.
  • Emphasize chunking and proactive planning to help students tackle complex or lengthy tasks with confidence. Instead of cramming with the expectation that they’ll be able to try again, students will learn how to organize themselves to succeed on the task the first time.
  • It is okay to remind students flat-out: you will rarely get a second opportunity when it comes to college and career scenarios. This is why it is best to always try your best.

 

Hold firmly to due dates and deadlines

Another key aspect of the real world that children and teens may be missing from their classroom experiences is the importance of meeting a deadline. It has gotten to the point that some teachers will accept any work, no matter how late, to ensure that students receive credit for completed or partially completed work. This does not foster punctual planning or accountability.

  • Teachers should try their best to stick to deadlines once they have been set. Of course, if the entire class needs additional time for a task, it is necessary to make adjustments. However, extenuating circumstances aside, students should be ready to submit their work in a timely fashion.
  • Create, explain, and adhere to a late grade policy. This way, students know exactly what the penalties will be if they submit late work. Explain to them that, much like a credit card bill, late submissions are subject to penalties, and American Express is not going to care that your internet was slow if you failed to pay your bill.

 

Clearly explain the 50% rule to both parents and students

MCPS follows the 50% rule for grading, meaning that, once attempted, a student cannot earn anything less than a 50% on an assignment, quiz, essay, test, etc. While this is the county policy, it is not reflective at all of the real world—we simply do not receive credit for a job started or somewhat attempted. We receive credit for a job well done.

  • Explain to parents and students that the 50% rule means a “genuine attempt” at the task or assignment; it does not mean that a child can put their name on a paper and automatically receive half credit.
  • As opposed to accepting an attempted assignment, provide another option for students to earn more credit. Explain to students that they can take the 50 by coming in during lunch for an additional work period. This teaches students that success cannot be achieved without effort and that there will be no “participation trophies” in college or the workplace.

 

Critical Thinking Skills as an Approach to Behaviors at Home

 

Especially as children become stir crazy cooped up inside during the winter months, behaviors can begin to fall out of whack. Perhaps routines have been off, bedtimes have been extended, or one too many holiday desserts has sent someone into a tizzy. Whatever the case may be, we can always appreciate a fresh approach to dealing with misbehaviors. If time-outs, confiscated iPads, or groundings are wearing on the family, a different approach could be beneficial. With a little patience, ok, maybe a lot of patience, conversations where parents prompt children to think critically about their behaviors can change the way in which children see misbehaviors all together.

 

Critical thinking encompasses a complex set of higher order thinking skills. As opposed to memorization or fact-based knowledge, critical thinking includes relational, analytical, reflective, argumentative, or systematic thought processes. It is not so much what you know or think, but why or how you know and think that way. Because critical thinking often involves aspects of perspectives and/or decision making, these strategies can be the perfect platform for dealing with behavior management.

 

When siblings or peers argue:

  • Parents can mediate by asking questions about how an argument began. By taking a moment for reflective thinking, children begin to see how a small issue may have escalated or blown out of proportion.
  • If children are calling one another names, diffuse the situation by talking about how these are opinions; they are not based on facts. Just because someone calls your stupid certainly does not mean that you are stupid. These words hurt, of course, but ask your child why this person’s cruelness affects them; do you value this peer’s hurtful opinion?
  • Encourage siblings to take the other’s perspective for a moment. Ask why she thinks her brother acted that way towards her. Why might his friend have behaved this way? The key is, not so much in finding the exact purpose, but instead taking a moment to consider where that other person could be coming from.
  • Ask about alternative responses for next time. Is there a better option for dealing with a conflict like this in the future? What is the best way to respond to your little brother next time this happens? What are we not going to do again, and why?

When “so-and-so’s parents” let them do A, B, or C:

  • A rational explanation and some critical thinking can go a long way when children are upset over things that other kids are allowed to do. Calmly explain that everyone’s family operates differently, and so-and-so might be able to stay up until 10 pm simply because their parents work late… Or perhaps so-and-so sleeps in and rushes out the door every morning…Or it is possible that so-and-so feels like a walking zombie at the school most days. Whatever the scenario, remind your child that there are reasons behind your household routines—and another family’s routine is frankly irrelevant.
  • Discuss the implications of these decisions. If a friend is allowed to see R-rated movies, but your child is not, explain how an inappropriate movie could make them scared, uncomfortable, worried, restless, sleepless, and ultimately cranky or sluggish at school. Help them connect the dots between the rules and their purposes so that they see these guidelines as meaningful, instead of arbitrary.
  • Ask your child flat-out: “Besides the fact that so-and-so is allowed, do you have a valid reason or justification for changing the rules this time?” This forces children and teens to justify or support their stance with effective reasoning.

When frustrations boil over:

  • Encourage children to take a beat to evaluate the situation—what can we do to potentially solve this problem or ease this frustration? Think about why this particular task is causing so much frustration and use that as a new point of entry.
  • If math homework is about to cause a fit, take a brain break, walk away from the math packet, and cool down. Then, approach the problem with a cool head and fresh viewpoint. Think about it in “grand scheme of things” terms—is this something that is going to keep me up all night or ruin my month? Chances are, this meltdown will be a nonissue in a matter of hours.
  • Help them break down the problem or situation and tackle the parts that they feel confident about. Remind them to apply what they know and then use those methods to chip away at the task.
  • If the task is still complicated, encourage children to write down exactly what it is that they don’t know or are missing—what would they need to solve this problem or complete this assignment?
  • Apply the skill to a simpler problem and use that momentum to approach the more complex problem. Often times, in simplifying a question, we are better able to see aspects of the problem that we may have missed due to the complexity.

When problems are on the cusp or horizon:

  • Call it psychic power or paternal/maternal observations, but parents are often able to tell when an issue, conflict, or temper is about to erupt. Teach children this reflective skill by modeling how to gauge one’s feelings and emotions. This helps to avoid or circumvent conflicts or attitudes that could be problematic.
  • Discuss the concept of foresight and how such anticipation can help in our decision making. Remind children that everything they do has an impact or effect on those around them.
  • In considering these implications, children are able to pause to consider the ripple effect that any decision might have. The ability to contemplate and deliberate based on past experiences and logical reasoning allows children to make more informed choices, and thus behave in more considerate or responsible ways.

Encouraging Reflective Processes in the Classroom

A significant aspect of growth mindset, which we have discussed in earlier blogs, involves reflection through self-assessment and thoughtful consideration. While students might enact reflective practices naturally, and without much conscious effort, the key for growth and understanding is to actively engage in purposeful reflection. So, what can teachers do to encourage this process? Plenty!

 

Most educators have heard of a KWL chart, which asks students to consider what they already know, want to know, and what they will eventually learn about a certain subject or topic. Often times, we utilize the KWL chart as a concept starter, but then we rarely have students revert back to it for reflection after the fact. This is a missed opportunity for reflection because at the center of a KWL chart, the essence, if you will, is the chance for students to reflect on prior knowledge and how that knowledge might connect to other concepts soon to be introduced. In doing this, the KWL chart, which some educators might consider a basic activator, transforms into more of a higher level thinking practice. To utilize it purposefully, teachers should focus much of the attention on the “K” section of the chart; form the opening discussion on what students are able to muster from memory and directed reflection. This way, students are able to garner a more in-depth view of the new concept by tying it to their prior knowledge.

 

Teachers can also spur reflection before beginning a new concept by asking students to consider the purpose of an upcoming task or project before they even get started. By asking students to consider the task and then reflect on similar tasks that they have completed before that might relate, students begin to make additional connections and cross-curricular links. There is also a real-world component at play here. When students know why they are tasked with an assignment, they are able to invest more attention and effort, especially when the objective is tied to a real-world concept or practice.

 

Reflection after the fact, what most of us consider to be linked with growth mindset and self-improvement, is obviously just as beneficial. When we encourage students to reflect, the process should extend beyond the material or content—they should truly be reflecting on the process or experience of learning. That is, ask students which method, activity, homework practice, or organizer was the most beneficial to their overall understanding. Did visuals or hands-on opportunities allow for more of a grasp? If students were to design their own assignment, which options would they prefer to use to reach the final objective? These thoughts and considerations act as subtle feedback to teachers, but also help to prompt students to consider who they are as learners and which strategies work best for them in certain scenarios.

 

Reflection can also happen with peer feedback. This is especially beneficial when assessing a peer’s writing. In seeing how another student approached the essay, planned the research, executed the argument, etc., it triggers an automatic reflective response—students begin to assess their own work against that of their peers. In reviewing a peer’s writing, students are subtly encouraged to think back to their own writing tendencies and how another person interpreted the task somewhat differently. This broadens a student’s understanding of their writing as a whole and allows them to see another’s perspective simultaneously.