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Closing the Gaps: How Expectations Become Reality

What began as “the achievement gap,” later called the “opportunity gap,” is now being referred to by some as “the value gap.” While there is much controversy around each of these terms for various different reasons, the value gap is perhaps the most provocative because of its assumed implications. Essentially, a value gap is a noticeable distinction in academic achievement between those who value education and those who do not. More and more educators are finding that students who value education, regardless of where that intrinsic motivation comes from, are statistically higher achieving and more successful in their education. Like motivation, however, seeing the value in one’s education is unique to each individual—there is no singularly universal way to get children to see the value in education.

 

To value something means to recognize its worth or importance. Perhaps the reason that some students find it difficult to see the value in education is because it’s not something that provides instant gratification—the pay off, figuratively and quite literally, happens down the road. It may seem tricky, but there are ways to help even the most reluctant students see how their education will be of value to them later in life.

 

We take it for granted

One way to help students recognize the importance of education is to provide examples of ways that other people have fought to have access to such an education. From the push to integrate schools during the civil rights movement, to the example that Malala set in the Middle East so that girls could have the right to go to school, highlighting the lengths that others have gone to for the right to learn shows students how priceless education truly is. By recognizing the fact that education is a privilege, a gift not given freely to the rest of the world, children begin to recognize its inherent value.

 

It can never be taken away

The common adage, “knowledge is power,” might be a little cliché, but it is true nonetheless. Education is the only form of currency that, no matter how much you use it, never decreases. Part of its value comes from the fact that whatever you learn becomes a part of you. It becomes a permanent, undeniable asset. By showing students that learning is a limitless form of wealth, they begin to see how that “wealth of knowledge” can make a concrete difference in their lives.

 

It separates you from the pack

Parents and educators can appeal to the natural competitive instincts that many teens have by discussing the fact that education is often a defining factor that distinguishes one person from another. GPA, honors courses, graduation rankings, college acceptance—all of these figures contribute to the common notion that education is something of great value. If nothing else, talk to students about the merits of academic achievement and competition.

 

It’s more than just “book smarts”

Often, students who do not see themselves as natural-born learners or gifted intellectuals become discouraged by the academic arena—to them, school can seem like an exclusive club that they haven’t “tested into.” However, it is critical to emphasize how education is about more than being a straight A, book smart, honor roll, highest percentile scholar. Some of the most successful people in history did not fall into that gifted and talented category, in fact. Countless artists, inventors, performers, and entrepreneurs have paved the way using skills they learned in school that were not necessarily academically-related. What students don’t often recognize is that, in addition to academic achievement, there is also great value is social-emotional intelligence. Recognizing that schooling is about building communication skills, problem solving skills, creative reasoning, time management, independence, accountability—the list goes on and on—can help students internalize the belief that education has lasting value beyond the report cards and diplomas.

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?

 

Accountable Talk for Behavior Modification

The somewhat recent educational philosophy of accountable talk is rooted in the idea that, through discussion, students practice accountability for their learning and their contributions to others’ learning through discourse. To simplify, the word accountable means, “required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible.” Therefore, when students are using accountable talk in the classroom, they are maintaining responsibility for accurate, verifiable evidence, support, or reasoning, and are expanding their own thinking through rigor and collaboration.

 

Since this strategy is shown to boost engagement, communication skills, and cooperative learning, why not utilize the same philosophies to support behavioral modifications? The idea translates quite simply—if students are able to practice accountable talk regarding academic content, try applying those skills to discussions involving behavioral issues.

 

 

Accountable Talk
Standard/Expectation

For Instruction,
accountable talk requires that students:

For Behaviors,
accountable talk requires that students:

Listening

  • Practicing active/attentive listening
  • Be able to summarize what another student said
  • Be capable of building upon a peer’s thoughts by adding their own considerations
  • Turn and face the peer or adult who is speaking to them; this demonstrates respect and builds positive communication skills
  • Maintain eye contact; avoid straying, daydreaming, and eye-rolling
  • Nod when in agreement to show that they are engaged and/or are aware of the other speaker’s position and opinion

Knowledgeable

  • Be able to defend their position, opinion, stance, etc. with evidence or support
  • Make connections between prior knowledge, other content areas, or a peer’s comment to establish relevance
  • Be able to verify one’s point if challenged or questioned
  • Unpack their position with details and analysis of how they arrived at such a conclusion
  • Explain why they made the choice that they did; discuss their thought process for acting or speaking the way that they did in class
  • Be able to recap or summarize the events prior to the incident or observed behavior
  • Examine the cause and effect relationship between triggers and decisions or responses

Reflective

  • Have opportunities to consider another’s perspective
  • Be provided with wait-time, as to ensure that thoughts are processed and responses are worded precisely
  • Consider how they might approach the task, challenge, or problem differently if given another opportunity or different circumstances
  • Think carefully before speaking
  • Consider the other person’s feelings or reactions to the incident
  • Connect this experience to something they have encountered previously
  • Brainstorm and discuss how this problem, quarrel, or conflict could be ironed out in more productive ways next time
  • Take responsibility for their actions and consider solutions for moving forward or making amends

 

Again, the same principles and benefits that accompany accountable talk practices for critical thinking and rigor during instruction can prove to be just as beneficial for addressing behavior concerns. The more opportunities that students get to practice accountability, whether with regard to academic content, or their own behavioral impulses, the more responsible students will become. Through accountable talk, they must not only listen to others to develop communications skills, broaden their knowledge, and expand on the ability to reflect, but also they must gain a sense of ownership in what they say and how they say it.

Creating a Positive Climate for Learning Pt. II

Whether schools are public or private, religious or non denominational, set in rural America or in bustling cities, the push for a more positive learning climate is a common thread throughout. Much like schools have their own ways of encouraging the entire student body, classroom teachers can employ different strategies to build the positivity around learning as well.

 

At the classroom level

  • Teachers can foster positivity before students enter the room with one simple tactic—stand at the door and greet students by name as they arrive. This easy, everyday practice is one that immediately sets the positive tone, not only for the classroom as a whole, but for a student’s motivation and engagement on an individual level. This is also a helpful way for teachers to gauge any academic or social-emotional struggles that a student might be experiencing. A student who slumps, walks slowly, appears emotionless or otherwise dreary might need some extra TLC that day. A student who appears to be agitated or worked up may need a moment to recover from an earlier incident before his or her learning can continue. Whatever the case, the point of greeting individual students as they enter is to demonstrate care for each and every learner. A simple, smiling “hello” lets students know that a teacher is happy to see them, excited to teach them, and open to communicating if a student needs a pep talk.
  • Encouraging growth, not instant perfection, is another way that teachers can positively reach those students who may not always get the honor roll, student of the month, highest GPA, etc. Praising and celebrating achievement in the form of growth allows students to see that, while natural intelligence is great, effort, motivation, perseverance, and grit are worthy attributes as well.
  • To track growth, teachers may want to have students create data folders or portfolios to collect and organize their work and scores. These simple folders help students recognize their own development and growth. They also motivate students to take accountability for and agency over their grades and schoolwork.
  • When students need a little extra encouragement, teachers should consider using real-life examples of successful people who once struggled. These inspirational stories of famous leaders, athletes, performers, scholars, etc., help students recognize that, with diligence and optimism, obstacles can be overcome.
  • Make it a point to recognize positive study skills, attitudes, camaraderie, behavior, and outlooks. When students are recognized for anything, the recognition reinforces that behavior, making it more likely that the student will want to repeat that behavior, practice, task, or skill. Of course, teachers should keep praise and recognition genuine—we don’t want to acknowledge when students are simply following the rules or directions; make sure that the act is praiseworthy.

 

When things are not so positive…

Consider time for a community circle or restorative justice meeting when things go off track. It takes time and effort (not to mention patience!) to establish a positive learning environment, especially where adolescents are involved. Teachers should not become discouraged after a rough day, or week, or even month—these things happen. Instead, educators might find that a restorative justice strategy is just the thing to help reroute the course. If behaviors, motivation, effort, academic integrity, or disrespect are prevalent issues during class, pump the breaks and talk about the issue directly.

    • Clear the class schedule or agenda for the day; a community circle does take up time, but it is time well spent when done properly.
    • Invite the students in as you normally do; however, ask them to sit in a circle with no other materials or distractions in their hands. You may want to have your room set up in advance, or you can ask students to add chairs to the circle as they enter.
    • Take a moment to go over the expectations of the circle: One person speaks at a time, comments are confidential and stay within the circle, participants should speak their truth, and students are allowed to pass the talking piece if they do not want to comment.
    • Review specifically what active and polite listening looks like; when a classmate speaks, students should shift to face the speaker, provide eye contact, listen attentively, and acknowledge a person’s moment to share.
    • Make sure that everyone agrees to the ground rules and that any distractions (pencils, phones, fidgets, candy, earbuds, etc.) are placed out of the circle.
    • Begin with a direct question about the issue you plan to address. An example might be, “When was the last time you felt disrespected?” As the facilitator, you should provide your own response to the question. Speak calmly and deliberately so that emotions are kept at bay, but your sentiments are still made to the group.
    • Pass the talking piece to the left or right and remind students that they do not have to speak or share unless they’d like to.
    • When the talking piece has made it back to you, the facilitator, thank the participants and ask the next question.
    • Alternate the direction in which the talking piece is passed around the circle so that everyone is able to share equally.
    • After the circle, ask students to reflect on what was said and how others felt. Ask students to reflect on their own feelings. Encourage them to think about how they as a class can use this teachable moment to make adjustments and progress forward.

 

The point of the circle is to build community and use communication as a positive tool to do so. As students get used to the process, community circles will become more proactive and meaningful.

The Value in Real-World Consequences

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

 

Expect and accept failure, but learn from it

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

Parents and teachers can:

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

 

Get acquainted with “One and Done”

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

Parents and teachers can:

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

 

Hold firmly to due dates and deadlines

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

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

 

Clearly explain the 50% rule to both parents and students

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

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

 

Critical Thinking Skills as an Approach to Behaviors at Home

 

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

 

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

 

When siblings or peers argue:

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

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

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

When frustrations boil over:

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

When problems are on the cusp or horizon:

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

Motivating the Unmotivated

While motivation is often linked to academic achievement, the same is not necessarily true for motivation and intelligence. We are all familiar with the naturally gifted student who fails consistently, not for lack of intelligence, but because of his or her lack of motivation. These seemingly hopeless situations can be difficult for parents, especially when they know that their child has all the potential and wherewithal. But what can be done to boost motivation? How can we inspire and incite action when the foundation is nonexistent?

 

Investigate the root of the problem

Oftentimes, a lack of motivation is the result of a bigger issue. For unmotivated children, there is likely some sort of deterrent or impediment between the child and the task. Sometimes the issue stems from a learning obstacle, such as a disability or cognitive barrier. Other times, unmotivated students have had multiple or severely negative experiences in school that have caused them to be “turned off” or “checked out.” It is also possible that the child simply does not see the value in putting forth effort and exhibiting self-motivation. Whatever the case may be, parents can begin to establish motivation by examining the reason behind its absence. Talk to children about why they truly do not want to try something. Is there a reason that they are so opposed to showing effort or enthusiasm for learning? Pose the questions so that they do not sound interrogative, but instead seek to understand the child’s position.

 

Set longterm and shortterm goals

Even the most unmotivated child has some sort of goal or aspiration. Parents should tap into these interests as a means to foster motivation, both in the immediate and distant future. Ask your child what he or she would like to accomplish tomorrow. Allow that answer to span outside of the academic realm. For instance, if your child is lacking motivation in school, but shows an interest in making the club soccer team, encourage that level of interest first as a springboard. Perhaps tomorrow’s goal is to juggle the soccer ball 30 times without dropping it, but this year’s goal is to make the soccer team. Talk about how these short-term goals are essentially the building blocks towards reaching the long term goal. Hone in on the fact that practicing, strategizing, focusing, and modifying will be key for reaching that short-term goal. And that while failure and outside obstacles are going to occur, resilience and motivation are 100% controllable internal factors. Then, when the topic of academics arises, remind that unmotivated student of the steps and lengths that he went to in order to accomplish the juggling goal. Discuss how you can translate that motivation into effort towards schoolwork.

 

Express excitement and admiration when they do show motivation towards anything

Kids, especially young children, may not fully conceptualize the notion of intrinsic motivation—they don’t necessarily know why they care, they just do. To boost their understanding of building and maintaining motivation, praise their effort when they exhibit it. Acknowledge their focus and drive for whatever it may be that they’re working on—the more you point out this motivation, the more likely they are to internalize this concept of self-motivation and effort.

 

Lead by example

We all know that attitude is contagious; the same can be said for effort and motivation. When children see motivated parents with their own interests and passions, they begin to see that effort comes from a true desire to achieve, create, accomplish, and grow. Passionate people inspire those around them, so parents can certainly boost motivation at home by expressing their own efforts and motivation for their genuine interests.

 

Instruct with positive and negative consequences

Different from bribery, positive and negative consequences ensure that children learn how to take ownership for their actions and level of effort (or lack thereof). Of course, no child will be intrinsically motivated to make his bed. Instead, parents should remind children that failure to complete their chores will result in a consequence—essentially, children will recognize that they’re actually punishing themselves by choosing to neglect their tasks. Thus, they become motivated by the desire to avoid the negative consequence. Consequently, a positive outcome from doing one’s chores can boost motivation and the desire to accomplish tasks in the sense that the child connects his or her effort to the reward or positive result.

International Ask a Question Day: An Educator’s Observation

March 14th marks the somewhat underrated “holiday” devoted to asking questions. Suitably falling on Albert Einstein’s birthday, International Ask a Question Day is meant to encourage the practice of seeking knowledge. In the world of education, questions are paramount in the learning process. In my own experience—and I think most teachers would agree—our job in the classroom involves asking, answering, and clarifying questions.

True story: Purely out of my own curiosity, I decided to tally the number of questions I was asked during a random school day. Any question counted—from, “Can I go to the water fountain?” to, “Should I underline the title of an article?” By the final period of the day, I knew I had a significant number of hash marks, but the exact amount of questions that had been asked far exceeded what I had anticipated. The number of questions was somewhere in the 300’s—and it was an early-dismissal day.

The point of this anecdote is to express the extent to which questions drive our work in the classroom. Students expect to get answers. Many may quantify those answers as learning. However, the real learning occurs when questions are formulated. To drum up a question, a student must first separate what he knows from what he does not know. This practice of sifting through knowledge and categorizing skills by competency takes a great deal of reflection. The saying “You don’t know what you don’t know” is thought to ring true for many students, yet in my observations, students are somewhat experts at recognizing what they do not know.

So, how can we use this almost innate penchant for curiosity and inquiry to best benefit our students?

Encourage your quiet students to “speak up” by allowing multiple ways of asking questions in class. This could mean keeping a question box or post-it notes available for students to jot down questions that they may be too shy to ask. You could also take a similar digital approach using Padlet or Google Classroom. Students are able to post questions to an online forum or webpage; they can also respond to others’ posts as well.

When reviewing for an assessment, have students create practice questions that they would anticipate seeing on the test. Have students submit or swap questions so that students can practice answering each other’s questions. If questions are well-written and relevant, use some student-derived questions on the actual assessment. This is also a way for teachers to gauge the students’ preparation for an upcoming assessment.

Play the well-known party game “just questions” in which students are only able to communicate using interrogative statements. This improv theater exercise encourages students to practice consciously phrasing and rephrasing questions. Students must think on their toes and apply knowledge of appropriate word choice and sentence structures in order to continue the conversation.

Provide students with broad or general questions like, “What is the setting of the story?” Then have students kick that question up a notch by adding another component or more complex level of inquiry. For instance, they might change the original question about setting to, “How does the setting affect the conflict that the character faces?” This practice allows students to add a layer of deeper analysis to a general question. Furthermore, this activity allows for plenty of differentiation depending on student ability.

Ready, set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!! Organization Style. Part 1 of 6

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Ready, set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!!

Organization Style

It’s that time again—the back-to-school commercials are in full swing! Backpacks, lunch boxes, clothes, and school supplies are some of the things occupying the minds of parents these days. As the sun sets on summer 2016, it is important to ensure that your child is given every advantage to begin the school year with a bang!

While much focus is put on school supplies and the “necessary” materials, one key element in preparing for a successful year ahead is to put organization in the forefront. And, as they say, practice truly makes perfect—or close to it. Organization applies to a multitude of facets in the educational realm. While all are important, organizing time or “time management” is essential. For example, consider if a student has color-coordinated references, organized notes, and an impeccable outline for a research paper, yet that same “organized” student gives himself Sunday night to complete the final draft of his research paper. All of the prior organization becomes a futile attempt if time was poorly organized.

Organization, specifically time management, is a skill that comes with practice. Even as adults, we sometimes drop the ball by failing to plan ahead accordingly. Here are some tips to ensure that time management makes its way into your household this school year.

Start from the beginning. As we all know, it is much easier to prevent negative habits than to correct them later on. Right from the start, discuss a realistic daily schedule that includes designated homework/reading time, after-school activities, family time, and reasonable sleep/wake times. Of course, be prepared to be flexible when things inevitably come up. But, for the most part, a set schedule will help your child to maintain balance and assuage the stress that comes with cramming.
Model the practice of planning ahead. Especially in the middle and upper grades, projects and assignments become more labor-intensive. With several steps, check-in points, and deadlines, it is easy for students to quickly lose track or get overwhelmed. As with many difficult tasks, showing is more beneficial than telling. Show your child how to organize by breaking down large assignments and setting at home check-in points in advance of the actual due dates. Also, show them how to prioritize more difficult tasks. For example, a five-paragraph argumentative essay is going to need more attention than a vocabulary practice sheet.
Be proactive with organizing your time. It is important to anticipate certain roadblocks to prevent last-minute school stressors. Check the printer for ink before the paper is due; plan for picture day so that the outfit of choice is clean and pressed; pack gym clothes with extra socks so that the morning rush through the dryer can be avoided; email teachers about foreseen absences ahead of time to get any missed work or important information; have a plan for sick days, in which your child has a buddy in the neighborhood to bring work back.

Teaching students how to organize their time is a skill that will prove beneficial throughout their academic and adult lives.

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It’s Not Always What it Seems: Anxiety in the Classroom

 

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Anxiety is something that educators are seeing more and more of in our children. With countless theories on the causes of this rising diagnosis, one thing is for sure—anxiety affects every child differently. Because anxiety is such a complex condition that is unique to each person, the symptoms vary from child to child. In fact, the symptoms may even vary from situation to situation. For instance, a child with anxiety may display different symptoms in different situations throughout the day.  Anxiety may manifest itself differently from classroom to classroom simply because of the environment or different stressors present.

Because anxiety presents itself in many different ways, it is often hard to initially see or understand, especially in the classroom. With this knowledge, it is important that teachers take a closer look at different behaviors and tendencies. For instance, a child with anxiety may present different behaviors depending on comfort level.

Here are a few signs to look for in children who may be suffering from anxiety:

Eye Contact

A child with anxiety may be resistant to making eye contact, especially during one-on-one conversations. It is important for educators to be mindful that the lack of eye contact is not a defiant or dismissive behavior. Instead, direct eye contact may be intimidating or anxiety-producing because the child feels uncomfortable with the direct attention. This can often be closely related to a more specific form of anxiety called social anxiety disorder. Children who suffer with social anxiety disorder exhibit symptoms of anxiety when they feel that all eyes are on them. Especially in social situations, such as in a classroom, a child may be reluctant to participate, work with others, or even answer one-on-one questions because of the discomfort.

Inattentiveness

Similarly, a child with anxiety may appear aloof, inattentive, or “checked out” during classroom instruction. Again, this may be an anxiety disorder rearing its head. A child with generalized anxiety disorder is often consumed with worries, fears, or concerns about an aspect of his or her life. When children fixate on a concern or worry, they are likely unable to concentrate in the classroom. This is very different from a student that is simply bored or disinterested. Furthermore, the constant fixation and worrying often continues at home, making it difficult for children to refocus or “power down.” The GAD symptoms will often result in insomnia or restlessness.

Irritability

Sometimes due to the insomnia, students with anxiety may exhibit irritability at school, as well. Of course, when sleep is regularly disrupted by anxiety, a child may appear to be more fatigued or ill-tempered. This type of behavior is different from a child who is simply choosing to disrupt or defy. When anxiety takes over, the irritability is simply an outlet for the frustration and stress.

With this in mind, it is important for teachers to identify behavioral concerns that are separate from the anxiety disorder. Often times, taking a little breather or moment to get a drink of water will be enough to allow the student to reset and alleviate the stress.

Alcohol and Drug Awareness Month

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Since the late 1980s, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has spent the month of April educating the public on issues related to drugs and alcohol. This year’s theme, “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use,” focuses on the important role that parents play when it comes to negative influences in children’s lives. For this year’s event, the NCADD has helped to organize a series of local, state and national events aimed at educating people about the treatment and prevention of alcoholism, especially among our youth.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence encourages the practice of open and honest conversations between parents and teens. For many different reasons, these conversations can be uncomfortable for both parents and children. Not only is trust involved, but issues pertaining to peer pressure and maturity also impact a teen’s decisions and mind set. Ultimately, you know your teen better than anyone—but it never hurts to have a few suggestions on how to broach the subject of the detriments of drug and alcohol use.

Start the conversation before you think it’s time to start the conversation

Whether we’d like to believe it or not, the average age at which a young person first tries alcohol in the United States is 13 years old. Yes, this means that the average 6th or 7th grader has tried—or at least been given the opportunity to try—alcohol. As astounding as this statistic may seem, it is essential that parents realize that curiosity about drugs and alcohol may begin earlier than expected, especially with easy access to internet information via personal devices. Begin openly discussing these matters early and often. If your child or teen knows that they can come to you openly about these topics, they’ll be more likely to seek your advice when the time comes to make the tough decisions.

Know what is going on inside and outside of your house

Technology has done wonders in terms of connecting and informing today’s youth. Unfortunately, this connectivity can be a double-edged sword. According to recent reports, over 50% of American children own a cell phone by the age of 6. With the rise of social media forums, teens can access and share information like never before. Therefore, stories and photos from last weekend’s party will hit the internet before you’ve even realized that your child may have hosted the party. Between Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram, today’s kids are able to document their every move. As the parent, it is your job to be fully aware of your child’s activities. Yes, privacy and trust are important, but parents must be aware of the possibility that drugs and alcohol are realistic temptations.

Be direct and honest about the consequences

As we all know, part of growing up and maturing into adults involves making decisions—which sometimes means making mistakes. This is part of the learning curve that we all experience throughout our lives. As the parent, you are fully aware of the lessons, morals, and wisdom that you’d like to instill in your child. Discussing the honest consequences of drug and alcohol use is a difficult yet important step in keeping the communication lines open. These conversations are not meant to scare, but rather to realistically inform about the dangers of harmful decision-making. Teenage brains are naturally curious, impulsive, and spontaneous. That said, teens will possibly make difficult decisions without the slightest bit of contemplation, especially about the severity of the potential consequences. Talk honestly about the dangers of drinking and driving—make sure that you child knows that there is always another (better) option. Prompt your child to think about everything that is important in his or her life—and be sure to highlight the fact that making poor choices could mean gambling all of these things away. As scary as it may sound, teens need to know that some mistakes, while unintentional accidents, are still too severe to be undone.
Even if you still think you have a few years before you need to have this conversation, consider using the NCADD’s “Talk Early, Talk Often” awareness campaign to introduce the topic with your child. It’s never too early to be proactive in shaping good decision-making.