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.

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.

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.

Equitable Practices in the Classroom, Part II

In part one, we discussed the importance of addressing students using equitable methods. We also looked at ways to increase participation and ensure that all students feel capable of contributing in classroom discussions and group tasks. Equity is an essential piece, not only in how we teach, but also in what we use to teach.

 

Physical classroom set-up:

There are ways in which teachers can choose to organize, decorate, and structure the classroom to promote a more equitable learning environment. From simple aspects such as desk arrangements, to posters and texts selected for the classroom library, all of these decisions can either foster or stifle equity. When arranging desks, it is important that teachers consider the learning goals of the lesson or unit and the avenues with which students can arrive at these objectives. If discourse is an essential piece of the learning goal, desks should be arranged in a “U shape” or circled up to promote small group discussions, collaborative activities, and cooperative learning practices.

 

If drafting, peer review, or teacher feedback is a critical aspect of the objective, then desks should be set up in groups of twos, threes, or fours to create work spaces that allow for pair sharing and teacher conferences. Whatever the goal may be, the key is for teachers to feel free to structure the classroom as needed, even if this means moving seating arrangements regularly. The room should account for dynamic, free-flowing learning; it does not need to be the stereotypical static formation of rows of desks facing forward.

 

Familiar faces:

An equitable classroom is also one in which students feel welcomed by familiar faces and people with similar experiences. While teachers cannot always provide that face of familiarity themselves, they can ensure that the classroom is adorned with posters, student work, displays, bulletin boards, and texts that are racially and ethnically inclusive of all students.

 

Not only do students need to see themselves represented in their learning environment, but they also need to see stories of success and perseverance. When building a classroom library, teachers should be sure to include works of art, poetry, fiction, and biographical texts that demonstrate the strength of the human spirit through obstacles and hardships. When students are able to connect to texts, not only a cultural level, but through a common life experience, they become more engaged and motivated by the important themes of overcoming challenges. These essential messages help students connect to the classroom in a way that they might otherwise feel excluded.

 

Teachers can also build equity by including artifacts from the community in the classroom. If students participate in a club sport, consider hanging the team’s memorabilia or team statistics on a bulletin board. If community members primarily speak another language, consider displaying posters or motivational messages in that language around the room. Similarly, make mention of cultural holidays or other important days that represent students’ backgrounds, families, and religious or cultural roots.

 

When possible, incorporate generational influences that students can connect to during instruction. Music, television, current events, and other pop culture references can support student engagement and build equity concurrently.

 

Value multiple perspectives:

Where discourse is involved, students have the special opportunity to voice, hear, and try on multiple perspectives—a key practice for building critical thinking skills. Exposing the learning environment to new perspectives allows student to question previous assumptions, explore unfamiliar theories or viewpoints, and build an understanding for others’ belief systems.

Teachers can help to promote this level of broad thinking and consideration with purposeful modeling, questioning, and differentiation. For instance, when having a group discussion, teachers should prompt students to consider further viewpoints by purposeful phrasing such as:

 

  • “There are a variety of ways to look at this example.”
  • “There is not just one correct answer here, it is more open-ended depending on interpretation.”
  • “That’s an interesting interpretation. Did anyone else see it differently?”
  • “So-and-so solved the problem this way, but is there another way to solve it?”
  • “Can you think of another reason why the character may have responded this way?”
  • “How might someone else respond differently based on personal beliefs or circumstances?”
  • “One valid point does not negate another valid point.”

Equitable Practices in the Classroom, Part I

Equity is much more than an educational buzzword—it involves the conscious and subconscious decisions and methods that we teachers implement in the classroom every day. Equity is also closely linked to student engagement, performance, achievement, and academic expectations. Because of the serious implications of classrooms that lack culturally responsive teaching, equity has become a major focal point for professional development among educators. Equitable practices are so critical, in fact, that most districts incorporate equity standards in teachers’ evaluations and professional growth systems.

 

With such an emphasis on equity in education, it is important that teachers know how they can foster and promote equitable practices seamlessly into their instruction and classroom procedures. Many of these strategies fall under “best practices”—strategies that most teachers utilize intuitively every day. However, there are additional efforts that can be made to ensure that equity is at the forefront of our teaching and learning.

 

Addressing students:

Teachers should work to welcome and address students by name at the door upon entering class. This helps to build a positive classroom climate and ensures that students know they are each cared for and welcome.

 

Teachers should ask about correct pronunciation and if students have a preferred nickname. Often, students are shy about correcting a teacher’s pronunciation; however, it is important that teachers correctly identify and pronounce students by name to recognize their personal and cultural identities. Over time, when teachers continuously mispronounce a student’s name, it sends an unintentional message that the student’s name is arbitrary, difficult, or complicated. In essence, teachers may be inadvertently “othering” a student by neglecting to correct their pronunciation or drawing attention to the name’s unique qualities.

 

Teachers may also unknowingly address students by name only when they have done something wrong or are being reprimanded. While unintentional, this habit creates a negative rapport among teachers and students. Instead, teachers should consciously address all students by name when recognizing them for positive behaviors as well.

 

Student participation:

Best practices include random calling methods to ensure that all students get the opportunity to share in whole group and small group settings. Calling sticks help teachers to truly randomize student participation. This practice fosters equity in a few different ways: it holds all students accountable for learning, and it also establishes the belief that all opinions are valid and everyone’s perspectives matter. Calling sticks also encourage students to maintain focus and engagement because they never know when they will be asked to participate.

 

Calling sticks and other random calling methods should be used for more than just participation. Teachers can utilize calling methods to encourage students to come up to the board to lead a part of the lesson. Teachers can also use calling sticks to highlight a randomly selected student’s writing, art, poem, math strategy, etc. The key is to allow all students the opportunity to speak, demonstrate learning, ask questions, and receive praise.

 

Participation during group work or collaborative presentations can provide teachers with another opportunity to build equity among learners. Oftentimes, group work and presentations reward the talkative leaders and participatory over-achievers. Instead of allowing groups to determine who will share out or present, randomize the speaking role. Insist that the group member with the most recent birthday, shortest hair, longest bus ride, most siblings, or most colorful clothing share out. This provides the more quiet, reserved, or reticent group members with the low-risk opportunity to share the group’s work.

 

Proximity is another method to ensure equity when addressing students, particularly with student behavior. Teachers may subconsciously move toward students who are misbehaving or disrupting; however, it is just as important to use proximity when students are on task and exhibiting positive behavior. Physical proximity, whether addressing positive or negative behaviors, sends the same message to all students—“I see you; I recognize what you’re doing.” When students are “caught” doing something positive, use physical proximity to send that positive message. This subtle recognition helps to build classroom environment and an encouraging climate for students.

Lesser Known Facts about Bullying

Bullying and its effects on students are of major concern to parents, educators, counselors, administrators, and even lawmakers. Because of both the prevalence and dire consequences of bullying, communities are taking much-needed strides to overcome this growing problem. While much is known about bullying behaviors, effects, and overall statistics, there are some lesser known details about bullying that are helpful to parents and educators as we work to combat this serious issue.

 

While bullying can and does happen at any grade level, middle schools statistically see the most instances of bullying. There are several theories surrounding this research, including the increased need to fit in and/or follow the crowd, greater likelihood of peer pressure, the onset of puberty and hormones and lack of impulse control. What many middle school teachers are seeing is a combination of these factors, all of which create a pseudo-breeding ground for bullying behaviors.

“Social bullying” is one of the most common types of bullying. This is also sometimes referred to as “relational” or “relationship” bullying. Social bullying involves a group of peers, which can range from a large group, such as an entire classroom of peers, to a small gathering of only a few peers. The key distinction is this type of bullying involves a deliberate “pack mentality.” The bully or bullies will torment their target by means of intentional exclusion, spreading rumors that they know are false or hurtful, plotting to publicly embarrass the target, and manipulating others to turn against and/or join in the harmful behavior. This subcategory of bullying is especially hazardous because it aims to isolate the child, making him or her feel as though they have no one to turn to within their peer group.

 

Some effects of bullying, especially in severe cases, may last into adulthood. These include depression and anxiety, decreased achievement or motivation, and social avoidance or agoraphobia. Research also indicates that children and teens who do the bullying are more likely to suffer consequences of risky behavior later in life, such as alcohol and drug use, vandalism, sexual promiscuity and physical violence.

 

Adults who are not familiar with bullying prevention programs, adolescent behaviors, and school protocols may have a “blind spot” when it comes to instances of bullying. Children and teens often report that bullying has taken place when and where adults are present, but that the adult either did not recognize the behaviors or did not intervene.  Bystanders, especially adults and authority figures, are often looked upon by victims to de-escalate the problem. When adults fail to do this, the victim is often more intimidated and discouraged.

 

While legislation varies from state to state, bullying itself is not illegal. However, in Maryland, cases where bullying includes or results in further harassment, intimidation, hazing, misuse of electronic devices (cyberbullying), or civil rights violations could be in violation of the law. Cyberbullying, although it’s not face-to-face, is not any less harmful to the victim. In actuality, since most cyberbullying occurs via social media platforms, where adult presence is limited, the harm can be even more extensive or relentless.