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Trauma Response: Tips for Parents

Part of an educator’s job is to recognize and help mediate potential trauma that a student might be dealing with. Of course, guidance counselors are much more equipped when it comes to trauma response for children and teens, but it is still something that we unfortunately see in the classroom on a regular basis. With many students now attending classes virtually, it is more important than ever that parents also be able to recognize the signs of potential trauma and respond supportively.

 

One major takeaway for parents is to remember that every child reacts differently to trauma or traumatic experiences. Furthermore, what might be considered a traumatic event for one child may not be as significant or impactful to a sibling or close friend. Therefore, it is important for parents to really tune in to what children are experiencing, even if they seem “fine” with a recent traumatic experience or event.

 

The response to trauma can occur anytime—it might involve a bicycle accident, parent separation or divorce, loss of a beloved pet, or even a current event witnessed in the news. In the same way that kids react differently to trauma, some children experience trauma right away, while others do not show any sign of distress until a bit of time has passed. This is why it is important for parents to stay acutely aware of any emotional or behavioral changes that take place. Just because a child seems fine in the immediate aftermath, it does not mean that he or she will avoid the impact of traumatic events down the line. For some children or teens, it could be days, weeks, or months before they begin to exhibit signs of trauma. 

 

In addition to maintaining vigilance and awareness after a traumatic event, parents should also be cognizant of their own responses and reactions. De-escalation should be a parent’s immediate response. Children are very much aware of stresses in their environment, so when parents respond calmly, they tend to feel at least somewhat more at ease. This is especially true for youngsters—they tend to follow mom and dad’s lead. 

 

If a child has experienced a recent traumatic event, parents should make a point to do the following:

  • Encourage their child to express whatever emotions he might be feeling—this is not the time to hold it in or retreat. Explain that there is no shame in being sad, scared, confused, etc.
  • Answer her questions and explain the situation if she asks, but always lead with the fact that she and the family are safe and secure. Remind her that she is loved and that everything will be okay. This is the reassurance that she needs during times of high stress or instability.
  • Avoid going into unnecessary details, especially with regard to current events or news-related events. Especially for young children, news coverage and firsthand accounts can be unnecessarily scary, stress-inducing, and/or graphic. With little eyes and ears absorbing their surroundings, it’s best to turn off the news.
  • Focus on the immediate here and now. Reassure their child of his/her safety by keeping routines and messages consistent. Spend quality time together as a way to provide comfort and a sense of security.

Remind their child that, like everything else in the world, there are things we can control and things that we cannot. The best way to cope when things get difficult is to focus on what is within their control.

Visualization for Comprehension

Visual learners will certainly understand thisbut truthfully, anyone, regardless of learning styles, can benefit from utilizing visualization strategies for learning and comprehending. Whether working with young readers or helping to break down and make sense of math problems, conjuring up and discussing the images that correspond to certain topics or concepts can help learners conceptualize what would otherwise be too abstract to comprehend. Below are various strategies that parents and educators can use to help students cash in on their mind’s eye for learning.

  • While reading aloud, ask children to pause at the end of a paragraph, page, or section to participate in an oral recollection of what they have just read. Ask prompting questions, such as:
    • After reading about these characters, how are you picturing them in your head?
    • What do they look like? Sound like? How are you visualizing their actions?
    • Where are they? What does the setting or their surroundings look like? Have you been to a place like that? 
    • Based on what they are doing, what do you think the weather might be like? Can you tell what time of year this is taking place?
    • What descriptive words help you to specifically visualize the story’s plot?   
  • To motivate collaborative discussions and increase perspective-taking, perform the visualization in small groups. Then ask students how the images in their heads might be similar or different from their peers’ images. 
  • Ask students to sketch, draw, or paint a scene from the book/text that they are reading. Stress the fact that this practice is not about artistic skill; it is more about conveying an understanding of the text through images or pictures. For students who are reluctant to draw, ask them to create a diagram using simple symbols or stick figures to represent the actions that they visualized. 
  • Have students swap drawings and discuss the different scenes with questions like:
    • What part of the text do you think your partner drew?
    • Which characters are present? Where are they in the image?
    • Did anyone seem to draw the same scene or section?
    • How are these two scenes depicted similarly or differently?
  • Similarly, ask students to draw or sketch predictions for what they think will happen next in the story. This makes for rich collaborative discussions, and it also provides parents and teachers with an opportunity to check in on comprehension. If a student’s prediction is off the walls, then it’s probably time to reread.
  • When reading math word problems, ask students to pause for a second before beginning their calculations. Prompt them to simply sketch the terms of the word problem using hash marks, symbols, or icons to represent the numbers they will be working with. Encourage students to talk through the problem while sketching; this way teachers can catch and clarify any missteps before students begin the actual math calculations. Visually speaking, a quick sketch helps students to conceptualize the otherwise abstract calculations and helps them to comprehend how the numbers and functions are represented.
  • Parents and teachers can also use manipulatives or tokens to represent math problems. Just like a sketch or drawing, the physical manipulatives help students see the variables while they are physically calculating terms.

Remedies for Reluctant Readers, Part II

When reading for pleasure is not an instinct, it can begin to feel like punishment for kids. This is not where we want to end up. It may not be possible to turn every anti-reader into a little bookworm, but there are plenty of strategies that parents and educators can use to help make the process less cringe-worthy. Additionally, some strategies, when put to regular use, can help students become stronger, more critical readers.

 

Movement breaks

Reading can seem like a rather dull activity, especially for little ones. This is understandable—as reading is a quiet, still, and often solitary task. But it doesn’t have to be. One regular strategy that elementary teachers utilize as a best practice is to incorporate movement breaks when students are expected to read for a length of time. Depending on the reader, a movement break might involve a trip to the water fountain or kitchen to get a drink of water after reading a chapter or section. For others it may involve jumping jacks, a quick dancing brain break, or squeezing a stress ball while reading. Some students also find it helpful to read at a standing desk, on a yoga or balance ball, or on a wobble stool to help engage the body and allow for some rhythmic movement while reading. The key is to allow and encourage reluctant readers to expel energy to keep their minds engaged and focused.

 

Preview for background info

For many students, the dislike of reading comes from the fact that it can be tedious and strenuous, especially for struggling readers. Therefore, offering various reading strategies to students can help ease the difficulty and, in effect, increase engagement. One of these strategies, especially for nonfiction or textbook reading assignments, is to preview the reading and search for background on the topic. 

 

Depending on the reading and the student, this practice will look different each time, but here are the basics:

  • Pay attention to the titles, subtitles, headings, captions, photos, bolded vocabulary terms, etc. Students can garner a great deal of what the text will involve by looking at the text features beforehand.
  • Skim sections of the text to ground their reading; this will help orient readers and allow them to plan ahead in terms of seeing how long the reading will be.
  • For terms or concepts that are totally unfamiliar, students should be encouraged to do a quick Google search to help ground their understanding of the term, concept, or event.
  • Jot down questions while previewing; this helps students begin to engage with the text and practice close reading and critical thinking. The goal is to then revisit and answer or follow up on those questions after reading. 

 

Highlight as you go

Along with previewing as a reading practice to boost engagement and comprehension, highlighting is a common tool for successful readers as well. This practice builds strong, active reading skills and helps visual learners at the same time. Students should be encouraged to mark areas of the text for any of the following purposes:

  • Highlight words or phrases that connect to vocabulary terms or important concepts from class; this visual helps to engrain definitions and understanding into working memory.
  • Highlight main points of a section, chapter, or column of text. This way, when students revisit the text, they are able to identify the key points immediately. 
  • Highlight areas of the text that they find confusing or have questions about. This will act as a visual cue to remind students to follow up with the teacher, do a little more research about the specific topic, ask follow-up questions, etc. 

Highlight answers to any of the questions that they asked themselves at the start of the reading; again, this is essentially the foundational skill for active, engaged reading.

Managing Impulsivity

Children are naturally impulsive to some degree—this is due to the fact that the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, is not yet fully developed. In fact, it is not until one’s mid-twenties that the prefrontal cortex reaches full development and maturation. While we educators see varying degrees of impulsivity regularly in the classroom, one main calling card of students with ADHD is a tendency to be impulsive to a larger degree and/or more frequently. As we slowly transition back into classrooms for in-person instruction, children will undoubtedly and understandably be excited and eager to interact. However, it will be just as important as ever to set expectations and utilize strategies that help students monitor and manage their impulsivity.

 

Important things to consider

When it comes to ADHD, it is extremely important to remember that this disorder impacts the way the brain works. This means that hasty or involuntary levels of response are not solely a behavioral deficit; students’ brains are actually hard-wired to react immediately. More importantly, no level of scolding or punishment will help to curb these impulses to act out or speak out. Reprimanding a student with ADHD for a behavior that he or she cannot fully control is not only wrong, but damaging. Therefore, teachers, as much as possible, should control their own impulses when reacting to students who yell out or behave rashly.

 

Another important consideration is the fact that students who are impulsive do not always register or recognize that they are being impulsive. They are often unaware of the disturbance or disrespect that their inadvertent outbursts demonstrate to others. Due to this unawareness, it may be helpful to try a tally chart for one day as a way to show your student the frequency of his/her disruptions. Pose this practice gently—the tally practice should not feel like as though you are trying to show them how “bad” they are. Reassure your student that this is a way to recognize our impulsivity and work to curb it with time and patience. Here’s how it should work: ask your student to estimate how many times he/she calls out during the course of a school day. Then ask him to mark a tally each time he notices that he has spoken out of turn or yelled out; you will keep your own tally as well. At the end of the day, return to the original estimate and ask whether the student still agrees with that original estimation. Then compare tally marks and discuss how or why you two may have come up with a different number of tallies. Is it because you both have differing interpretations of what is classified as “calling out?” Or does your student not always recognize when he is calling out? Again, this is meant to be an open discussion about how we can improve—not a scolding session. 

 

It is important again to lead with understanding and compassion. This is not a conversation to place blame or highlight the student’s struggles. Instead, this is meant to open up a dialogue between teacher and student about how both parties can implement strategies for a more positive classroom environment. Consider also asking the student the following questions:

  • Where in the classroom do you believe you would be most successful and focused?
  • Is there a subtle hand signal or gesture that we could use as a reminder to raise your hand before shouting out?
  • Would a small/discrete sticky note on your desk with participation protocol be a helpful reminder?
  • How many times today do you think you participated using the appropriate protocol vs. calling out?
  • Do you appreciate positive praise in front of others or do you prefer positive feedback privately?

Distance Learning Support for Students on the Spectrum: Part III

In addition to building strong relationships and maintaining consistency, students with autism who are struggling more than usual due to distance learning will also greatly benefit from specificity. Below are additional strategies that educators can use to help best support their students on the spectrum while we continue with virtual learning. 

 

Make everything as specific as possible 

When it comes to Zoom class sessions and online learning in general, teachers sometimes forget that students are not hanging on our every word like they would be more inclined to do in the physical classroom. Since Zoom meetings are often a passive form of learning—even when we try our hardest to keep it engaging—students, especially those with autism, are probably not absorbing every major point, example, instruction, etc. Because of this, students require significantly more repetition, clarification, and specificity to succeed with virtual learning. Teachers should consider taking the following steps to ensure that instruction, assignments, directions and tasks are as specific as possible:

  • When assigning reading homework, teachers should be careful to phrase the chapters and pages very specifically. For instance, when saying, “Please read chapters 1-3,” some students may interpret that to mean read up to chapter 3, not including it. Be sure to clarify specifically what page number students should stop reading for a particular assignment to avoid this miscommunication. 
  • As discussed in part two, naming or labeling assignments and resources consistently is key to streamlining materials for students. The same is true regarding specificity. Titling an assignment “Writing Homework #1” is too vague. This name does not help students to identify the details of the task when looking at Canvas. Remember, students have anywhere from 5-7 classes; therefore, specifically titling tasks in Canvas or other virtual portals will help trigger their memories and clarify the exact task that you are asking them to complete.
  • Provide specific times for assignment submission as well. Canvas allows you to just set a due date; however, some students may appreciate having a specific cut off time for submitting an assignment just to be sure. For example, I always set the time to 11:59pm whatever day the task is due. This way, students know that they always have that final full day to complete and submit without penalty. 
  • Consider providing students with a reference sheet that specifies what you mean when you say certain high-frequency, tier 2 and 3 vocabulary terms in class. Abstract words, such as analyze, evaluate, critique, and assess can cause stress and uncertainty for students with autism. Accompany these terms with specific examples and explanations so that students know exactly what is expected of them. This is a great practice for all students, especially when teachers are introducing key unit questions, objectives, and writing prompts. 

When providing written feedback, especially since virtual learning leaves less time for 1:1 conferences and writing workshops, it is especially helpful for teachers to use a higher level of specificity. If students are not able to directly connect a teacher’s feedback to an area of weakness and how they can strengthen that weakness in the next assignment, then the feedback is essentially worthless. One worthwhile activity to gauge whether or not your feedback is specific enough is to ask students to reflect on the feedback that they received on an essay or project. This ensures that 1) they have actually read the feedback, and 2) that they fully comprehended their errors and areas for improvement.

Distance Learning Support for Students on the Spectrum: Part II

In part one, we discussed the importance of implementing strategies to help build strong relationships with students remotely. This is no easy task, but establishing a strong sense of community is a critical aspect of success for students with autismthey must feel connected, supported, and heard in order to truly meet their academic potential. In parts two and three, we will discuss additional tools and methods for supporting students on the spectrum remotely, including consistency and specificity

 

Consistency is key

For students on the spectrum, change might throw them for a loop on a greater level. As if the changes that happened this past year were not enough, the sudden switch to virtual schooling undoubtedly shook many students. Now that many students, educators and families have settled into somewhat of a routine for remote instruction, it is essential to maintain those procedures and expectations as much as humanly possible. Any abrupt changes or inconsistencies bring unnecessary stress into students’ lives, especially those students with autism, who tend to thrive in sameness, continuity, and routine. Below are some simple suggestions to help keep things consistent for your students who depend on those measures and routines:

  • When setting up a new module for each new week or unit for your class, click the three dots to edit and set every new module to be “moved” to the top. This way, every time students want to find the most recent course materials, they can see everything at the very top of the page when clicking into their modules—no more scrolling! 
  • Use the same procedure for your warm-up every day. I prefer to keep it casual by asking students some sort of activator or daily question on the shared intro slide so that they see it immediately when they enter the Zoom. I ask students to respond in the chat every day so that I can use their answers as starting points for discussion, as well as for taking attendance.
  • Organize assignments clearly and consistently in Canvas. For example, if the assignment is called “Written Response: Night chapter 1” on the Google slides, be sure to title it exactly the same way in your assignments tab on Canvas. As teachers, we can of course keep track of our various assignment names. But for students, consistency will remove the second guessing when it comes to locating and completing their work.
  • Consider setting up due dates for weekly homework assignments that remain the same throughout the semester. For instance, if you are reading a novel and plan to track students’ reading and comprehension, explain that their novel notes or annotations for the week’s chapters will be due every Friday. Keeping that running Friday due date will help ensure that students are organized and better prepared to mentally or physically plan out their homework tasks for the week. 
  • Consider setting up individual check-in times for students with autism on a weekly or biweekly schedule. Students on the spectrum may need additional one-to-one teacher support that extends beyond the allotted weekly office hour. Ask students if they would like more assistance and when in their weekly schedule they could plan to chat for 15 minutes or so. Assure them that this is not a punishment or a mandatory check-in, but rather an opportunity to ask individual questions, review assignments and feedback, and gain clarity on anything. Keep the check-ins on the same day at the same time every two weeks and send out calendar reminders. Teachers can also encourage parents to pop in on these check-ins as well.

Distance Learning Support for Students on the Spectrum: Part I

Distance learning, as well as the potential for hybrid and the return to in-person learning, has presented students with many unknowns. Educators and families know a lot more about how to successfully support students than we did last spring; however, there are always areas for improvement and aspects that we may be overlooking. 

 

It is especially important to ensure that students with autism are receiving a greater level of support during this time. It is inevitable that students with autism are experiencing more significant learning challenges right now, which places them at a greater risk for learning gaps. Because of the challenges that distance learning brings, these students are impacted on a greater scale than their general education counterparts; however, there are things that educators can do to help students navigate the remainder of this precarious school year.

 

Building community remotely

Fostering relationships and building a positive rapport with students over Zoom has been one of the greatest hurdles of distance learning. Teachers are doing anything and everything to engage students and to reach them on a personal level. This is a critical element for student success, especially when it comes to students on the spectrum. Knowing your students means knowing their learning styles, their preferences and interests, their communication styles, and their areas of strengths and weaknesses. For students with autism, understanding and accommodating these ins and outs of learning can mean the difference between engagement and disengagement, comfort and discomfort, success and failure. 

 

To better reach all students, teachers should consider taking the following measures:

  • Present students with a survey on learning styles and make an effort to use that information for differentiation as much as possible. 
  • Use examples, samples, and texts that incorporate student interests, especially instructional resources that connect to your students with autism on a personal level. Making sure they are acknowledged, appreciated, and understood is the first step to building strong relationships.
  • Arrange alternative or additional modes for participation and communication. Some students, especially those on the spectrum, are highly uncomfortable on Zoombeing on camera or speaking in front of peers can be an unnecessary stressor. Some teachers may find it helpful to arrange additional office hours or check-in times to make sure students feel comfortable participating in a smaller group. 
  • Remind students of the chat function for participation as wellthis is a great way for hesitant or shy students to answer and ask questions without “putting themselves out there.”
  • Acknowledge a job well-done and provide specific examples of the growth that you have seen with your students. Those learners with unique educational needs, especially those with autism, often find that school has been a place of perpetual struggle. Therefore, when you recognize students for their accomplishments, no matter how small, the outcome of this positive reinforcement can be life-changing. 
  • Reach out to parents about their child’s learning history and preferences. As we all know, parents know their children best. So when it comes to getting to know your students, parents can provide a wealth of knowledge regarding a student’s interests, hobbies, academic and personal needs, friend group and peer history, etc. Teachers may want to set up a few parent Zoom meetings to help build a positive rapport there as well. Open and consistent communication between parents and teachers is essential for students with autism, especially during these difficult times.

Connecting with Students Virtually

One of the biggest downsides of online learning, in my personal opinion, is the loss of community and the severely diminished level of engagement that comes from no longer having a physical classroom. Regardless of our content area or our students’ age group, there is something about being in the same physical learning space that conjures up a special type of magic. Personalities emerge, connections are made, and peer interactions are lively when in the comfort of the classroom. Try as we might, much of the magic is lost in the virtual realm. For many teachers, our students are known only to us as faceless black boxes on Zoommany of whom we’ve never actually met in person. Students may be connected in the literal sense, but they are often understandably disconnected when it comes to engagement, interest, and intrinsic motivation. With such little to go on, many teachers find themselves scraping the bottom of the barrel for tips and tricks as to how to truly reach students over Zoom. In the same way that we engage students and build a rapport in the classroom, teachers should start small and recognize that a little bit goes a long way in terms of building connections with students.

 

Celebrate milestones

Although we are not physically in the same room, or even the same building for learning, teachers can take simple steps to make students feel welcomed, acknowledged, and appreciated during online class sessions. 

  • One simple detail that I make sure to use every single day is to acknowledge students’ birthdays on the opening slide at the start of each week. Since my opening Google slide format stays the same throughout the yearit’s just the agenda and objectives that changeI can easily update the birthday announcement in less than a minute when prepping for the week ahead. By checking Synergy/gradebook, I am able to quickly see which students are celebrating a birthday that week, add their name to the “Welcome” slide, and wish them a happy birthday at the start of class as they enter the Zoom session. This is a small but simple way to acknowledge a student’s special day. It may also be the first or only mention of their birthday, so I like to make a big deal out of it, even if we’re not in the classroom together.
  • If I’m lacking a good warm-up question for the day, or if students are coming back from a long weekend or holiday break, I use the activator/warm-up opportunity to check in on what students have been up to. I keep the options for response casual and conversational to prompt full participation. Some students will prefer to speak out loud to the whole group about their weekend plans; others prefer to respond privately using the chat function. As I’m taking attendance, I’ll make quick notes about soccer games, volleyball tournaments, siblings visiting from college, etc., so that I’m able to follow up with students about things other than their English assignments. Again, a little bit of personalized attention helps students to feel more comfortable in the virtual space. These small conversations add up over time, helping to build a positive rapport and encourage participation and open dialogue.
  • When I’m providing feedback on written assignments, I use those comments as an additional opportunity to connect with students, not only about their writing skills, but about the content of their writing as well. For instance, I may compliment a student who has shown growth in her sentence structure or vocabulary since her last essay. I may also ask follow-up questions in the comments. For instance, since many of my seniors are writing about their plans for next year, I use my essay feedback as an opportunity to prompt them for more detail. I’ll make a point to ask the following questions, especially when students submit personal narratives:
    • What was the number one factor for choosing that school?
    • Do you know anyone else attending the same college?
    • What was your first impression of the campus?
    • What are you most nervous about after graduation?
    • What is one thing you hope to do before leaving for school?
    • How have your goals/career aspirations changed over time?

Perspective is Reality

Attitude is everything—especially during these trying times. Students of all ages are undoubtedly impacted by not only their own daily stresses, but also by the stress that the adults in their lives are currently managing. The sponges that they are, even young, elementary-aged children are picking up on the fact that mom, dad, and other adults around them are coping with greater levels of stress and concern these days. They may not know exactly what is going on in the world right now, but they are certainly aware that something is “off.” The uncertainty of the school year alone is disconcerting for kids, but parents can help. Just as we adults may exude tension or worry, we can also work to put out a contagiously positive attitude.

 

Self-care and words of affirmation 

One way that adults can help to foster a positive attitude is to model and encourage self-care and positive self-talk. These affirmations can be especially beneficial during times of high stress, conflict, or tumult. Teach children these reminders and explain them as deliberate attitude adjustments to use when they feel themselves going into a negative headspace. 

 

Examples of positive self-talk and affirmations might include:

  • Because I’m smart, I am capable of making my own decisions.
  • My attitude is something that I can 100% control, even when other things are out of my control.
  • I am allowed to take a moment to calm down when I need it.
  • No one is perfect; everyone in the world has flaws.
  • My differences make me unique.
  • I am allowed to make mistakes—everyone does.
  • My failures don’t mean that I’m a failure.
  • I will give it all my effort and that will be good enough.
  • I will choose to lift others up today.
  • My parents are proud of me, even if I mess up sometimes.
  • Worrying will not solve problems, but creativity can.
  • People who really love me will accept me for exactly who I am.
  • I know what is best for me.
  • I have a lot to offer and my ideas are worth sharing.

 

Teaching kids about how to use self-talk to build themselves up gives them a foundation for strong self-esteem. These helpful mantras also help children to remember what is important in moments of stress or struggle—a positive belief system can make all the difference in a chaotic moment.

 

Set a purpose for the day

Another great way to change a child’s negative perspective is to intentionally articulate what positive things today will bring. Parents can use these conversations as a beautiful way to start the day. Setting expectations for a worthwhile day, especially when children are feeling down and out, can act as a positivity springboard for the whole day. 

 

Phrases could include:

  • Today I’m going to try my best to accomplish _________.
  • I plan to challenge myself by _________.
  • One thing that I’m really looking forward to today is _________.
  • I hope to have learned more about _________ by the end of today.
  • I’m most looking forward to seeing/talking to _________ today.
  • Steps that I’ll take today to reach a larger goal include _________.
  • I’m going to help someone out today by _________.

Virtual Writing Instruction: Part II

In addition to providing cross-curricular writing opportunities, arranging activities that encourage peer feedback, and building in time for formative writing assessment, educators can also capitalize on one highly underrated teaching strategy: student choice. When at all possible, I try to provide my students with latitude for their written responses and essays. Of course, with a curriculum to follow, grade books to align, and cohorts that prefer to plan in “lock-step,” this is much easier said than done. Therefore, I make a concerted effort to plan for student choice when designing the writing tasks, as well as the instructional lessons leading up to those tasks.  

 

Below are several methods for implementing student choice while providing writing instruction:

  • Set up a NoRedInk classroom for students to join, explore, and practice various aspects of sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, etc. The platform is set up for self-directed, student-driven, asynchronous work. Therefore, the activity options in NoRedInk can provide students with interventions, scaffolds, and supports, as well as enrichment and rigor for those working ahead of the group. 
  • NoRedInk allows students to choose from grammatical, sentence-level practices, standardized English prompts, and guided essay support. They can also participate in peer or self-review, depending on their level of comfort with collaborative feedback.
  • One of my favorite warm-up activities is to provide students with several gifs on a Google slide. I try to choose gifs that relate to students and their interests, such as The Weeknd’s Superbowl Halftime performance or the latest State Farm commercial. They get to choose the gif they’d like to caption. Then they must incorporate a sentence structure or grammatical concept that we’ve recently discussed in class somewhere in their caption. Not only do students get to pick the gif they want to caption, but they also get the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of subordinating conjunctions, for example. Like an exit or entry ticket, teachers can quickly sift through the gif response to make sure that clauses are punctuated correctly and that students are understanding the purpose of the dependent clause in relation to the independent clause.
  • For writing instruction involving essay revision, teacher feedback, or peer edits, ask students to consider which section or paragraph of their essay they’d like to really rework or revise. Teachers can then use strategic grouping to organize students into groups with peers who are looking to revise the same portion of their essays. This streamlines teacher feedback, allows students to view one another’s work, and opens up the learning space for discourse around different writing techniques and components. 
  • I might organize small groups as follows:
    • Group 1 should be students who would like support/guidance with the thesis statement.
    • Group 2 should include students who need help finding appropriate quotes from the text or texts.
    • Group 3 should consist of students who need support with a concluding paragraph and/or transitions between paragraphs.
    • Group 4 should be for students who need help with elaborating on their analysis or further developing their own explanations. 

 

Student choice with writing samples/models:

  • Providing teacher models at the beginning of a new writing task is another beneficial strategy for incorporating student choice. Depending on the writing task, teachers should find (or create) a few various examples of the final essay or product for students to read and review. 
  • These samples can also include student essays from previous years. Provide students with options and require them to read, review, and assess at least one of the sample essays. This activity serves several purposesit allows students to see how others have approached the essay prompt, either successfully or unsuccessfully, depending on the samples you collect. It also shows teachers if students truly understand the criteria for success after viewing a teacher model or student sample.
  • If students review a mediocre or poor essay model as “great” or “topnotch work,” then teachers immediately see that they have missed the mark on fully explaining the task and the learning goals attached. Conversely, if students are unable to articulate why the model essay was unsuccessful or sound, then they truly do not know how to approach the task successfully either.