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Promoting Self-efficacy

Because of the major focus on “growth mindset” in today’s educational world, it only makes sense to discuss self-efficacy alongside it. The two go hand-in-hand. Students with a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, believe that, through effort and tenacity, they can improve in their endeavors. Similarly, self-efficacy refers to one’s confidence in his/her ability to execute specific actions in order to attain a goal or arrive at a desired outcome. Essentially, self-efficacy promotes the idea that learning is all about setting your mind to something and going for it, no matter the obstacles. This level of grit and self-confidence is crucial to young learners, which is why it is imperative that teachers help students to develop self-efficacy. Below are suggested instructional strategies and practices can actually help to promote self-efficacy in the classroom.

 

  • Ask students to talk through and/or write down their method of arriving at an answer or conclusion. This deliberate level of analysis requires students to tap into their reasoning on a metacognitive level—they are asked to think about their own thinking. In being able to articulate why they arrived at a certain answer, students are subconsciously building confidence and developing self-efficacy.
  • Create lessons that promote Socratic dialogue and ask students to question what they are learning, reading, and exploring. This promotes a level of agency over the learning; they are no longer passively receiving the information, they are asked to engage in it and critique it.
  • Design activities and projects that allow for student choice. When students are invested in what they are researching, their exploration becomes more immersive—they more readily dive into the material and gain confidence while doing so. Choice also boosts motivation to succeed, reaffirming one’s self-efficacy once the goal is met.
  • Require students to “create the test” as a review or practice before an assessment. Then, if students’ sample questions are appropriate, include those student-created questions or concepts on the actual exam. Again, this practice helps to hand over the control; the teacher is not the only “keeper of the knowledge.” Instead, students are also given a hand in measuring their own learning.
  • Utilize reflection forms or surveys to practice error analysis and boost students’ self-confidence for the next task. Reflective questions after an exam, essay, or project that hone in on a student’s genuine level of effort and preparation help to show students how they hold the keys to their own success. Include questions on the survey such as, “How did you expect to do?” or, “Based on the time, effort, energy and focus that you put in, did you perform the way you anticipated?” These reflective questions encourage students to think about the way that their preparation or lack thereof has a direct impact on their success. Over time, they will recognize a sense of control over their education, which ultimately builds self-efficacy.
  • Consider creating student portfolios, in which students organize and track their work throughout the year. It is important that students have a clear view of how they have progressed over the course of the school year and how they can set goals for growth in the future. Students also develop self-efficacy by critiquing their own past assignments. Teachers might consider asking students to respond to teacher feedback to include in the portfolio as well. That is, after reflecting and seeing the feedback, how would the student modify the work or assignment?

 

New Emergency Procedures in MCPS

A dismal update, but essential nonetheless, pertains to Montgomery County Public Schools’ new emergency response initiative. Teachers and students have been or are currently receiving training and information regarding the new procedures. Parents are also to be briefed on the updates at some point in the coming months. While these are trainings intended for “worst case scenarios,” we unfortunately live in a day and age where the “worst case” is becoming a woeful reality.

 

Original protocols

The original or former protocol for intruders and/or immediate threats to the school was to simply lockdown. A lockdown meant that, no matter the circumstances, location, or immediacy of the threat, teachers would uniformly follow lockdown procedures. This meant completing a brisk hall sweep to collect any students in the hallway, locking the classroom, pulling shades, and shutting off lights. The point of the lockdown was (and still is) to make it appear as though the classroom is vacant. There should be no noise, movement, or activity once the lockdown has been put into effect.

 

Alterations and considerations

Because of the fact that, depending on various circumstances, a lockdown may not be the best strategy for surviving an intruder or immediate threat, MCPS, as well as state and national law enforcement, saw a need for more specific measures to be put into place to protect students and staff against instances of school violence. As opposed to the original plan of locking down no matter what, the new acronym, ADD, offers staff more options to consider when facing a potential threat at school.

 

Avoid (A)

“Avoid” is the first option that students and staff should consider if circumstances allow for safe evacuation. Essentially, the goal is to avoid or flee the area if at all possible. For instance, if a shooting is taking place on one side of the building, teachers and students on the other side of the building, farther removed from immediate harm, should evacuate the building using the nearest exit. In this instance, teachers would instruct students to silently and swiftly flee the building.

 

  • Through the training, teachers have been instructed to call 911 en route or once they have reached a safe distance from the building; they should not call 911 from inside the building if planning to then evacuate, as getting students to safety is the first priority.
  • They are also supposed to take students to a location that is far enough away so that the building is no longer in direct sight.
  • If students get separated from their class or teacher during that evacuation, students should continue to run to a safe location in the neighborhood and call for help or ask a neighbor to call 911.
  • Parent/student reunification plans would be made once the situation has been resolved and there is no longer a threat to public safety.
  • Under no circumstances should students or staff return to the school building once they have evacuated. Only after safety is assured and the crime scene(s) has been processed will anyone be permitted to return to the building.

 

Deny (D)

“Deny” is the second option of the new procedures for active assailants. Essentially, deny is similar to the former lockdown procedure, except for the fact that makeshift barricades have been added as a suggestion when locking down.

 

  • Teachers will still do a quick hall sweep to bring in any students who may have been in the bathroom, health room, etc. Then teachers will lockdown, quickly securing the door and covering any windows.
  • Teachers, with the help of any capable students, should begin barricading the door using as much furniture as possible. Even doors that swing outward should be barricaded as much as possible. The point here is to put as many obstacles as possible between the assailant and the civilians in the classroom.
  • On average, police arrive on scene 3-4 minutes after the first 911 call has been placed. Therefore, mere seconds can make a substantial difference in the casualty count. With this knowledge, anything that impedes an entryway or slows the assailant buys vital time for students and staff.
  • Suggested barricade items include desks, chairs, bookcases, laptop carts, work benches, etc.
  • Once the door has been thoroughly barricaded, the lights should be turned off and the room should be silent, just like in the former lockdown guidelines.

 

Defend (D)

“Defend” is the final option—essentially the last-case scenario when dealing with an active shooter in the building. Defend is the back-up plan when avoidance or evacuation is not possible and the “deny” efforts have been compromised and the room is no longer secure. As scary as this sounds, it is critical that staff be prepared to defend if necessary.

 

  • Defense measures would come into play if the lockdown and barricade fails to keep the shooter out of the immediate area.
  • Teachers have been instructed to fight off or disarm the assailant by any means possible. SWAT trainings, provided to MCPS teachers, instruct teachers and/or capable and willing students, to aim for eyes/face, throat, and groin areas if attacking the assailant.
  • Using any item in the classroom as a weapon or shield is also suggested.

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.

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.

Behavior Management Strategies Taken from the Teacher’s Playbook

If asked about observations pertaining to student trends over time, teachers, administrators, and any other school personnel will likely tell you how the culture of behavior in schools has drastically changed, even in just the last decade. While this is a generalized observationnot necessarily one that rings true for every child in every school across Americaprofessionals working in the realm of education report an overwhelmingly recognizable shift in behavior and behavior-related challenges in schools.

For parents that are struggling to manage behaviors at home, the stress can be all-encompassing. As teachers and parents may witness, when these behaviors go unaddressed, there is a tendency for actions or attitudes to escalate. While educators certainly do not have all of the answers, what they do have is plenty of experience with a wide range of personalities and demeanors.

Maintain consistency and stay strong

As teachers well know, adolescents and even young children can be masters of persuasion. Whether begging, throwing fits, crying, or pitting parents against one another, a child’s aim is typically the same when it comes to these strategiesthey are trying to break you. The reason that they attempt these methods is probably because they have seen it work before, either among siblings, at a friend’s house, or maybe they’ve even worked you over in this way before. The point is, when children are used to getting what they want when they want it, they will go to great lengths to achieve or receive.

Therefore, if you have already said “no,” do not falter; do not waiver or go back on your word. In doing this, you are showing your child that they can convince you to change your mind. Will it be embarrassing when your child throws a tantrum in public? Yes. Will they likely stop immediately if you cave in? Yes. But will they remember their success rate from throwing this fit? Absolutely. It may make your life easy in that moment, but going back on your word just to stifle a temper tantrum will inevitablely backfire because you are essentially reinforcing that negative behavior.

Ditch empty threats

Just as a teacher would not give detention and then “let it slide,” parents must follow through. If you impose a consequence, you must be ready to deliver that consequence. Empty threats or punishments that never come to fruition are just other examples of adults reinforcing negative behavior. Your child will remember how the “week without screen time” turned into just one night without the iPad before bed. In dropping the ball on the original consequence, your child will be less inclined to take those warnings seriously.

Put the child in control of the outcome

Teachers typically spend a great deal of time setting the expectations for their classroom environment, assignment protocol, and behavior. The point of setting the stage so specifically and deliberately is that students are made aware not only of the expectations, but also the subsequent consequences if those expectations are not met. Students know in advance that they will lose a certain percentage if work is submitted late. They also know that unkind words or behavior will result in lunch detention or a phone call home. Because of these known repercussions, students are careful to adhere to the rules.

It’s the same at home. Parents should calmly remind children of the expectation and the consequence that their child will be choosing if the behavior continues. This puts children in the driver seat by reminding them that they are in control of their behavior and how that behavior will play out. Explain to them that they “are choosing a consequence by behaving this way.” Children will be less inclined to continue the behavior when they know that this behavior would essentially mean that they’re imposing a punishment on themselves.

Occupational Therapy Strategies to Enhance the Classroom Pt. III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Occupational Therapy Strategies to Enhance the Classroom Pt. II

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

Balance and Coordination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching Self-Advocacy in the Classroom

As teachers, we aim for our students to become more autonomous and confident as the year progresses. In addition to the content area that we are instructing and the academic skills they will need moving forward, educators also focus a great deal of instruction on essential life-long learning skills. Self-advocacy is one of these essential skills that students must master, not only for their education, but for basic functioning and socialization throughout life. In addition to parents working to build self-advocacy skills at home, teachers can assist in that development as well by providing students with specific tools and practices to ensure that their voices are heard and understood. And the earlier children begin advocating, the better.

Self-advocacy is all about vocalizing one’s needs. However, the key to teaching children how to advocate for themselves starts with helping them to recognize their own needs. It is difficult to ask for help when you don’t know what exactly you need help doing. For some students, especially younger or inherently shy children, asking a teacher for help can be intimidating. Because of this, educators should equip students with multiple methods and strategies to foster self-advocacy and decision-making skills.

  • Teachers may choose to explicitly instruct students about what it means to be your own advocate. Depending on the age and needs of the students, the talking points could vary from classroom to classroom, but the take-away is the same: self-advocacy is all about speaking up for what you need and finding ways to obtain those needs with or without someone’s help.

  • Teachers should also be sure to stress the fact that listening is a key component of self-advocacy. Yes, self-advocates are expected to speak up; however, they are also expected to listen to the answer or response that they are seeking. Talk about how eye contact, body position, nodding, etc. are practices to enhance and demonstrate active listening skills. Remind students that, if listening attentively, they should be able to summarize or paraphrase what the other person just said.

  • For students to become strong self-advocates, they must be able to reflect and self-assess. Teachers should prompt students to consider their strengths and weaknesses as learners. The answers to questions like, “What are you good at?” “What do you often need help doing?” “How do you feel that you learn best?” allow students to see themselves as learners in progress. This self-reflection also encourages students to recognize in which scenarios they will need to stretch their self-advocacy muscle by asking for assistance.

  • Students can also learn a great deal about how to advocate for themselves as learners by looking at their likes and dislikes in school. Ask students to not only list their likes and dislikes, but explain why they feel that way about certain activities. A student who admittedly hates reading because he struggles to remember what he read will begin to understand that comprehension, summarizing, and recall are skills that he may need help developing.

  • For students that are exceptionally shy or hesitant to speak up, self-advocacy can be a challenging practice. Encourage these reluctant students by providing alternative options for them to voice their questions, concerns, and comments. With the help of technology, teachers are able to poll students digitally and see their responses in real time. Teachers can also provide students with a question or suggestion box, in which students can convey their needs in writing without getting the whole class involved. Teachers can also help students begin to feel more at ease about speaking up for themselves by creating small group activities, partnered work, academic language frames, sentence starters, and call-and-response practices. These types of activities remove the intimidation factor and allow the more reserved students the opportunity to practice self-advocacy.

Cultural Competency in the Classroom

A beneficial, yet challenging, factor of education today involves the increasing diversity in our schools. Because of the ever-growing demographics, teaching cultural competency has become a major focus in the classroom, especially for a public school system as vast and diverse as Montgomery County. It’s not only students that are getting instruction on cultural competency. These lessons start at the top with administration, curriculum writers, and educators all participating in this movement in favor of cultural awareness and appreciation.

Because culture involves a deeply personal, ingrained set of beliefs, behaviors, practices, and values, most people are at least somewhat unaware of cultures to which they do not prescribe. This is especially the case for young children who are just beginning to explore the world around them. Culturally-responsive instruction truly begins with a look at one’s self through reflection—it isn’t until we truly understand ourselves that we can begin to understand others around us.

Build a classroom environment founded in cultural appreciation by abolishing the word “normal.” Just because a behavior or characteristic might be our cultural norm, this does not mean that it is the “normal” or “right” way. Likewise, just because a behavior or trait may be unfamiliar to us, this does not mean that it is weird, wrong, or abnormal. Remind children that, just as we are all unique beings, our beliefs and values may cause us to speak, dress, and behave differently. Reinforce the mindset that cultural diversity provides learning opportunities that a culturally-homogeneous classroom would not necessarily have. Because each student comes from a different upbringing, with different customs, traditions, family structures, etc., the perspectives that we can gain by embracing our peers’ cultures are limitless. If we hold one another’s culture in high esteem by valuing it as a chance to gain knowledge about something new, we no longer see our peers as “odd” or “different.” Instead, children learn to place the emphasis on the fact that a peer’s culture has provided them with information and knowledge that they would not have known otherwise.

Beef up the classroom library with culturally diverse options for students to explore. Keep in mind that a culturally-relevant text does not receive its credit simply from the author’s culture. A novel about a child growing up during British imperialist India could provide plenty of opportunities for culturally-rich discussion—or it could oversimplify a culture or lack an important perspective all together. The key is to explore an abundance of different styles of texts, by many different authors, on a plethora of different subjects and themes. After doing plenty of research, and taking your students’ cultures into account, set up a culturally competent classroom library.  

Encourage courageous conversations surrounding cultural norms and where they originate. For instance, when examining the protagonist throughout the course of a novel, prompt the class to ask analytical questions about the character’s motivations, thoughts, and decisions. What do we know about this character’s values, background, upbringing, family structure, etc.? How are our lives similar or different because of our own cultures? How might our own beliefs impact the way that we view or characterize the protagonist? What more would we need to know or discover about the main character in order to fully understand why she behaves a certain way?

If we take steps to expose students to diverse cultures and guide their exploration of different customs, traditions and perspectives, they will learn to embrace new ideas and better navigate our world.

 

Teaching Inclusion in the Classroom

General education teachers are tasked with keeping many balls in the air, which is half the fun of working in a classroom—there are so many constantly moving and evolving pieces for which to account. One of these essential pieces to ensure equitable learning for every student is inclusion. Of course, this term is nothing new to educators—we work to create an inclusive environment on a daily basis. What might be new, however, are the many ways in which we teachers can look at inclusive practices. Since every child is different, we must continue our exploration of strategies and practices that best suit the needs of all students.

One best practice that supports inclusion is to vary the output of information. By this we mean that teachers should relay content and instruction in different ways. Some students, especially those with auditory processing difficulties, find that verbal instruction is hard to grasp. To ensure inclusion for these students’ special needs, teachers should try to present information in visual or tactile ways, in addition to the verbal instruction. Depending on the class or lesson, this might take the form of a demonstration, video, or hands-on activity. Some skills or lesson objectives may even lend themselves to a more kinesthetic or tactile approach. Even students without an auditory processing deficiency would find it confusing to listen to a verbal explanation of cursive letter formation. A demonstrated approach to writing using clay, beads, shaving cream, etc., makes more sense.

Similarly, when teachers are introducing concepts like grammatical conventions or figurative language devices, an audio or visual approach might work better than a written explanation of how a properly formatted sentence should sound. Teachers should also practice inclusion by encouraging students to demonstrate their learning in various ways. This means that, not only is the presentation of information different for each child, but the means by which a student exhibits mastery should be individualized, as well. Some students might prefer to write a formal, organized research paper to convey their knowledge of a subject, while others might feel most comfortable presenting a visual demonstration of their topic. The key is to provide multiple opportunities for students to display their knowledge so that everyone’s learning styles are being incorporated.

Another way to look at inclusion is to utilize multiple means of engagement. For students with attention issues, memory difficulties, or other learning disabilities, engagement in the classroom can make all the difference. Engagement might mean listening to music to identify metaphors, similes, or narrative voice. A film study might help students understand a new culture or part of the world. An analysis of a slow motion field goal might help students understand kinetic energy, velocity, or other properties of physics. The point is, when students are engaged, learning not only flourishes, but behaviors and attentiveness increase, as well. Engagement also assists with moving information from short-term memory into long-term memory. Inclusion, with regard to engagement, means that teachers are not only teaching with methods for each type of learner, but also appealing to each learner, so that memory of the information or skill can solidify. In order to provide engagement, there must be a level of interest on the student’s end. As different as each student’s learning style may be, so may be their interests.

This is where building relationships with students becomes essential for inclusion. Cultural inclusiveness provides students with a platform to express themselves on a more personal level. This also promotes a positive classroom environment, one in which students feel heard, understood, and accepted. Cultural inclusion allows students to see beyond themselves, as well, which fosters perspective-taking.