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Hard Truths Part II

As we discussed in part I, our exploration of pivotal life lessons continues below. These lessons often involve the more difficult truths that reveal themselves organically in the classroom—the teachings that might not necessarily be prescribed in the curriculum, but that can be just as influential and beneficial for adolescents.

 

You’ll attract more bees with honey than you will with vinegar

This metaphor will take a little bit of explanation for teens to truly grasp its meaning; however, the realization is crucial for middle and high schoolers as they begin to navigate their way into early adulthood. Essentially, the proverb encourages students to use kindness, camaraderie, and an agreeable demeanor to assuage an otherwise worthy opponent or adversary. In social situations, especially when power structures or supremacy is imbalanced, it is to one’s benefit to appease, mollify, and react calmly when confronted. Educators can help students to understand this by modeling communicative, persuasive, and argumentative techniques. In showing students how to “work” an adversary more easily by leading with an affable manner, teachers can subtly teach students how to manipulate situations where an imbalance of power might otherwise nullify the student’s position. This hard truth also reminds students of the intense effect that benevolence can have in easing a situation or decision. Adolescents begin to learn that, while we cannot necessarily control another’s decision or behavior, we can have a meaningful impact on how that person reacts to our position or behavior.

 

Adults, including parents and teachers, have made and will continue to make mistakes

It always amazes me to see a student’s reaction when I apologize, admit fault or wrongdoing, or disclose flaws or previous mistakes. Teachers are occasionally held up on an undeserving pedestal, where students unconsciously align that adult with an expectation of faultlessness. Students tend to forget that, just like their peers, we adults are human, too. Parents, teachers, and presumably all authority figures have experienced failures, made mistakes, admitted culpability, and faced blame or defeat. This hard truth is two-fold, really. Adolescents need to know that everyone, including adults and authority figures, have flaws and commit missteps—no one is perfect. They also need to expect that, although they will age, mature, and learn, they will never be immune to errors—we are all a constant work in progress. To help shatter the impossible ideology that anyone in authority should maintain a level of perfect, teachers should be prepared to readily admit their mistakes to students. If we lose our tempers, err in our instruction, or provide misinformation, we must humbly admit these mistakes and use it as a teachable moment. When students witness adults owning a mistake, they begin to realize that to err is to be human. We all have something to gain from admitting our shortcomings or mistakes.

 

Your talents and passions may not coincide—and that’s okay—but don’t abandon either one

Wouldn’t it be nice if the area in which we were gifted or talented was also one of our personal passions? If we could simply master whatever skill, talent, or subject piqued our interests? Well, yes, of course, but the world does not work that way. Middle schoolers and high schoolers are just beginning to uncover their tendencies as learners. They have just begun to understand their strengths and weaknesses, hobbies and interests. That said, it is an important lesson to learn that, while we should always follow our passions and strive to grow our interests, we should also keep a keen eye on our natural talents and areas of strength. What we love to do might not be our greatest strength, and that is okay. It is important for adolescents to foster a growth mindset, meaning that they continue to strategize and work towards their goals, no matter the obstacles or challenges. Similarly, high schoolers should especially try to capitalize on their natural talents, as these could impact college and career options shortly down the road.

Hard Truths Pt. 1

The middle and high school years are transformative for students, marked by varied sets of challenges and mishaps. In a sense, educators have a front row seat to watch as students learn, grow, mature, and navigate their way through adolescence. Among the daily academic lessons, unit goals, and semester objectives, teachers are also given the opportunity to impart various life lessons. These hard truths are sometimes relayed covertly, often through scenarios that subtly allow students to seemingly come to these conclusions on their own. Other times, teachers impart these life lessons using a direct and straightforward delivery. Whichever the case, I’ve found that some of my most pivotal moments in the classroom, those moments in which relationships are formed and a culture of care is crafted, happen when students are gaining life lessons, rather than focusing solely on academic content.

 

Friendships will change—this is to be expected as people discover who they really are

This concept is especially challenging for middle schoolers, where peer acceptance is paramount. It is important for children and teens to understand that friendships are fluid, and while some friendships can truly last a lifetime, most are fleeting and circumstantial. Remind adolescents that as they grow older, begin to understand themselves better, and branch out socially, they will be more likely to make genuine connections with peers on a deeper level. With these sincere friendships comes the realization that perhaps other acquaintances were more surface level or temporary.

 

You will not always like everyone; not everyone will always like you

Similarly to finding their more authentic social groups, the teenage years are when students begin to discover that, while kindness is essential, there will be plenty of people that simply rub them the wrong way. It is okay and even expected that adolescents will encounter people that they simply do not care to be around. The hard truth, however, is that these “undesirable” peers are in fact going to be around. The key is to learn how to not only coexist, but to cooperate civilly. Does this mean you must befriend everyone you encounter? No, that is not realistic. But just because you are not someone’s biggest fan, does not give you the right to treat them any differently. Common courtesy is not conditional—your rudeness says more about you than it does the person you might dislike.

 

If the smartest, most educated person in the applicant pool cannot work well with others, they are likely to lose that position to a more collaborative/agreeable person with the more modest resume

For high achieving students, this hard truth is, well, hard to hear. Students are used to striving to be the best, know the most, and score the highest. However, that “every man for himself” strategy is becoming less and less desirable in the workplace. Admissions officers, project managers, and even chiefs of surgery will be seeking qualified applicants who are able to work well in collaborative settings. The person who always has to be right, or first, or fastest, or the best is also probably pretty tough to work alongside. This is where social skills truly set people apart. Remind teens that listening, cooperative learning, perspective-taking, and compromise are all exceptionally valuable skills.

Teaching Tolerance in Secondary Classrooms

Much of what goes on in our world makes its way into our classrooms in some form or another. In this sense, many view classrooms or schools in general as microcosms—mini representations of society. Ask any teacher, and tolerance is likely not part of their curriculum. However, much like with a productive and stable society, tolerance plays an essential role in creating a welcoming and productive classroom environment. Fostering a positive environment is no easy task, especially when our world is in the midst of such grave negativity. Tolerance in the classroom takes time, patience, practice, and reflection.

 

Remind students that everyone they meet knows something they don’t. Whether rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight, foreign, or not—every single person has lived a different life, experiencing their own realities and garnering life lessons along the way. Instead of viewing someone’s vastly different experiences as weird or wrong, students should be reminded of the value that varying experiences, perspectives, and lifestyles offer.

 

Change the language of the classroom when it comes to discussing differences. To avoid “othering” certain groups, encourage neutral or positive ways to address differences. Instead of allowing students to use weird, odd, strange, unusual, etc. to describe people, groups, or customs, a positive classroom environment should be one where words like unique, unfamiliar, uncommon, fascinating, diverse, various, or distinctive are used.

 

Approach confrontation with logical questions. Since students bring differing experiences and opinions into the classroom, occasional clashes are to be expected. When this occurs, teachers can use these opportunities as teachable moments by addressing the issue with open, honest, logical conversations. Guided or rhetorical questions also allow students to reflect on their own perspectives and how they react to others. For instance, a teacher might ask, “In what way does his/her different opinion or belief threaten yours?” “Is there a reason that their differences affect you?” “How can we focus more specifically on ourselves and less on how others behave, speak, learn, etc.?” “What do you think you know about certain people? What if you took a moment to consider where these beliefs/opinions come from?” “Saying that someone’s choices are wrong do not necessarily make yours right.” “This argument could simply be de-escalated by considering it a difference of opinions.” All of these talking points prompt students to reflect on their own belief systems while maintaining an open mind towards others.

 

Learn how to recognize your own implicit bias. This is often a difficult practice for teachers—we aim to be impartial, objective, open-minded educators that provide equal opportunities to all of our students. Therefore, recognizing, questioning, and shedding light on our own innate judgments goes against what we are working towards in the classroom. It also summons feelings of discomfort by forcing us to identify our own stereotypes and belief systems. As difficult and uncomfortable as this may be, we must address our own biases before we can ask students to do the same. To foster tolerance, there must first be a foundation of understanding—what better way than to begin with our own reflections?

Create opportunities for students to learn about one another on deeper, more meaningful levels. Free writes, warm up topics, discussion starters, and icebreakers are all optimal opportunities to help build a solid, positive rapport in the classroom. Ask students to respond to questions such as:

 

  • What is one way that your family likes to celebrate an important accomplishment?
  • What types of traditions are unique to your family/community?
  • Do you have any rituals, superstitions, good luck charms, etc.?
  • Where do most family gatherings happen?
  • What important memory from your childhood makes you smile?
  • What does your typical Saturday look like?
  • What do you like to do on a snow day?

Teen Textiquette Pt. I

Today’s teenage generation has pretty much grown up with cell phones, Wi-Fi and social media. With technology and connectivity practically rooted in their upbringing, they are arguably the most tech-savvy group to date. However, the combination of the teenage brain, impulsivity, peer pressure, and hormones with a smartphone always within arm’s reach can be disastrous. With this in mind, a few pointers regarding text etiquette can placate common issues before they erupt.

 

Parents can and should be instructing their teen about responsible smartphone use right from the beginning. Much like standard etiquette, manners, and socially acceptable behaviors, text etiquette will need to be explicitly taught. What we adults would consider common sense is likely not in the forefront of the teenage brain. The parts of the brain that monitor impulse control, decision-making, perspective-taking, and sympathy are not fully developed until the late teenage years and into early adulthood. Because of this, teenagers simply do not have the wherewithal to implicitly know how to handle certain situations. Just like teaching children the reason behind placing the napkin in the lap and holding the door for others, parents must be sure to explicitly state the reasons for certain texting protocols. In other words, kids need to understand that text etiquette does not involve arbitrary guidelines; they are important social skills and unwritten rules for appropriate communication via text.

 

  • Avoid using text messaging as the main platform for carrying out a serious conversation with friends or boyfriends/girlfriends. In the same way that an email doesn’t account for the sender’s tone or full intent, text messages lack these components as well. A simple “K…” response can ignite or amplify a conflict. Instruct your teen to handle serious conversations or mediations in person or at least over the phone.
  • Similarly, instruct teens that there are certain things that absolutely should not be said over text message. For instance, a break-up has to be handled face-to-face. Breaking up via text message shows cowardice and disrespect. Will it be harder to do in person? Yes, but it is the right thing to do when ending a relationship. A face-to-face conversation allows teens to explain their position and reasoning, listen to the other person’s feelings, and provide closure—all of which are crucial skills for social emotional growth.
  • Another conversation that should never be handled over text messaging is when your teen is quitting a job. A text message sends the message (no pun intended) that he/she cannot be bothered to have a genuine conversation about the topic. Professionally speaking, even for part-time or after school jobs, sending a text message to quit a job is unprofessional, disrespectful, and shows a lack of maturity. This is also a surefire way to burn that bridge with the employer. Explain to your teen that impressions and reputations in the workplace matter—that it’s not only about image. They will likely want to uphold a positive reputation to be able to ask that employer for a good recommendation or reference in the future.
  • For the same reasons, backing out of a major obligation, like quitting a sports team or cancelling on a scheduled volunteer opportunity, should not be handled via text either. Again, a text message indicates a lack of concern or disregard for the original commitment and can have negative consequences.

High School Guidance Counselors and Advisors: Key Questions for Grads, Part II

To continue the suggestions of under-utilized questions for potential college freshman to consider, we must prompt students to think about how campus size will directly affect their experience.

Small fish in a large pond, or large fish in a small pond? Again, heading off to Penn State, I knew the basic population of students on main campus. What I was not fully cognizant of, however, was how the roughly 50,000 students on campus would greatly alter the academic and social setting, thus transforming the whole experience in unanticipated ways. To my own fault, in the pamphlet and at first glance, student enrollment simply seemed like an arbitrary measure. However, upon showing up to my first lecture for a political science introductory course, the true representation of the campus size revealed itself. My 400+ class involved zero peer interaction, discussion, or engagement. There was no attendance or accountabilitywhich meant you could show up or not, as long as you were present for the midterm and final exam. While some students may thrive on the anonymity of such a setting, it wasn’t until I was immersed in it that I realized that it wasn’t for me.

Guidance counselors and advisors are invaluable resources to help prepare students for the actual experience that a university will present, helping students to better gauge their preferences. Asking questions like, “Do you prefer to fly under the radar of anonymity in class, or are you looking for more personal support from professors and instructors?” “Do you want to see, recognize, and acknowledge classmates as you pass through campus, or do you prefer to encounter, dine with, and meet new people every day?” “Depending on the campus, do you want a quick, walkable commute to your classes, or do you prefer a sprawling walk or bus ride to your lecture halls?” “Do you want to seek out a close-knit group of friends, or do you prefer to fall in naturally with the people that you get to know in the smaller setting?”

All of these questions relate to the day-to-day experiences that students will need to consider before making a decision. Another suggestion, especially with regard to class size, would be to encourage students to sit in on a few classes if possible. A campus tour shows much of the environment, but experiencing classes firsthand allows high schoolers to get a taste of how their education will look. Of course, as students progress and select majors and areas of study, the class sizes will shrink. However, the first 1-2 years of gen eds will reveal the true nature of a large state school versus the small liberal arts environment.

How could you realistically combine your strengths and interests to serve as your leg up in the workforce? This question is difficult for several different reasons. First, it forces students to look critically at their abilities and academic assets. Secondly, this question prompts students to look to the future and anticipate what they might choose as a prospective career, which can be intimidating and stressful. And finally, this question requires students to synthesize two concepts, (strengths and interests), which they may have never thought to combine. The complexity of the question, even if unanswered, helps students to envision how the university will act as a stepping stone toward their development into a self-assured, contributing member of society.

Considering this question also helps students to potentially narrow their post-secondary options. If their strength in math and interest in working with children lead them toward an education major, that student should ensure that their university offers an undergraduate education program. Does the school have a strong math department? Are their teaching internships or volunteer opportunities offered through the university? Would a study abroad program allow for teaching experience overseas? Again, these follow-up questions motivate high schoolers to look more critically at their college options to guarantee that their choices end up checking all of the necessary boxes.

How familiar do you want college to feel? Advisors and guidance counselors will want to ask students about their comfort level regarding the school’s climate, setting, history, demographics, etc. If the school has a reputation for its athletics and Greek life, students may want to consider how much they plan to participate or value those traditions. Are students looking for a serene, lush campus, removed from hustle of the surrounding areas? Or do they prefer a campus immersed in the culture of a thriving city? Do they want to experience cultures, practices, languages, and people outside of their own upbringing? Or do they want to live and study where they feel “at home” and included?

Encourage students to consider which types of school settings and locations will provide them with the most opportunities for growth. Of course, the response will vary from student to student. The goal is for them to envision their ideal college experience and then follow that knowledge.

Finally, not so much a question as it is a consideration: you can always change your mind. Choosing, enrolling, and moving onto campus is not a binding decision. As much as we would like for students to find their niche or match on the first try, this is not always the case. As much as Penn State ended up as a mismatch for me, my time there allowed me to see more clearly what I was looking for in the college experience. Sometimes you have to see what you don’t want before you can realize what you do want. In my case, transferring helped me to appreciate the change of pace, cultural environment, and different class structures that the University of Pittsburgh provided. So as much as we’d like to guide them in the right direction, students should also know that they can always diverge or detour.             

High School Guidance Counselors and Advisors: Key Questions for Grads, Part I

Guidance counselors and advisors at the secondary level have their work cut out for them. Not only are they responsible for the social, emotional, and academic well-being of each child, but their position also requires a great deal of research, recommendations, and paperwork during the college admissions process. I think back to the stress of my own college search, application, and admissions processand let me just say, I would never wish to relive that tumult. Now, think about the fact that, on top of their regular day-to-day roles in schools, guidance counselors also perform that monstrous college application process year after year for hundreds of students at a time.

With the end of the school year approaching, the nation’s high school graduates will be heading off to prove their college and career readiness in no time. Meanwhile, a whole new crop of high school juniors will be starting the college search and application process, continuing through the revolving door that is their high school’s guidance and advising office. A whole host of questions will be thrown at these young, eager students. However, what piques my interest are the many questions that aren’t typically askedquestions that, while they may be less standard, are very telling when students are in the midst of the college search.

How close is too close? There are pros and cons to looking and staying closer to home when heading off to college. Some students find a sense of comfort knowing that parents and siblings are a short drive away. Some even prefer to live at home and commute to campus for their daily classes. Not only will the comforts of homelike laundry and homecooked mealsbe provided daily, but commuters save thousands of dollars on room and board by living at home.

A drawback to this, of course, is the fact that the “true” college experience becomes sacrificed when students live at home. Dorm life, communal dining, late-night cram sessions, and weekend events are all part of living on campus, especially during freshman year. If students have the option to commute to campus, they may still prefer to forgo their childhood bedroom in favor of the independence that campus life brings. It all depends on the person, but ask them, “What is more important to youmaintaining consistency and familiarity, having family support and saving money, or independence, responsibility, putting yourself out there with new people, and the genuine freshman on campus experience?

What do you like to do on the weekends? This may sound like your typical, run-of-the-mill, “icebreaker” question, but the intent behind it is crucial for students who are on the fence between vastly different post-secondary schools. My own experience at Penn State proved to be defining, and perhaps, had I truly considered what my downtime in college would look like, I likely would have made a different decision. Beyond the course loads, exams, and hours spent studying, college life involves a great deal of downtime, especially for students who have masterfully planned a leisure-conducive course schedule.

With this in mind, students need to be ready to fill their time with activities other than parties and naps. In my own case, once the excitement of Penn State’s football season died down, the once bustling Happy Valley became a pretty bleak, homogeneous cow pasture (in my personal opinion). At that point, due to my own ignorance/naivete, I hadn’t really thought about what life would look like during a never-ending winter in rural Pennsylvania. Of course, campuses offer an endless amount of extracurricular options. From clubs, intramural sports, and philanthropic organizations, to mixers, academic workshops, and hobby groupsthe options are limitless. Students just need to ask themselves, “What do I really like to do?” Then be sure that those interests are well-represented at the universities that they’re eyeing.    

How to Plan for Summer Learning Opportunities—High School

For most high school students, there is nothing more exciting than the approaching summer months. At this point in the school year, much of the attention is focused on the freedom, leisure, and flexibility that starts as soon as that final school bell rings. Consequently, as the school year begins to wind down, summer learning opportunities are hardly even a consideration for high school students. They are more concerned about having a break from learning and school work. That said, there are ways that parents can promote various essential learning opportunities for high schoolers over the summer.

An obvious item on the to-do list is for high schoolers to explore their college and university preferences. Besides the thousands of books, websites, information sessions, and other resources that students can consult, summer provides high schoolers with the luxury to actually visit the schools that have piqued their interests. Depending on a high schoolers age, financial and academic options, and overall plans for the future, parents will want to encourage a various range of college visits over the summer. Parents should also encourage high schoolers to visit more schools than they anticipate applying for. The more campuses, schools, and programs that students are exposed to, the better prepared they will be when decision time comes. Additionally, high school students will want to visit schools on alternate ends of the “spectrum.” For instance, students should get the feel for a small liberal arts college versus a larger state school, a school within a closer proximity to home versus one that is farther away, schools with a heavy Greek or athletic following versus schools with a more academic focus.

For students nearing graduation, the summer months may be the final opportunity for students to accrue their remaining SSL (Student Service Learning) hours toward their 75hour graduation requirement. At this stage in the game, admissions officers will look for trends in service and community outreach to get a better idea of the student as a whole. Encourage your high school student to think about programs, foundations, or charities that connect to their future career goals or specific strengths. Again, these service hours contribute to the holistic picture that a high school graduate’s application will paint.

Encourage your high schooler to look into part-time summer employment. More than the extra cash that he or she will pocket, the vital lessons that a first job can provide are truly priceless. The résumé, application, and interview process alone can give high schoolers a real taste of what college and career readiness looks like. Additionally, a summer job, no matter how small, prepares students for adulthood by providing practice of major life skills. Time management, listening skills, following instructions, communication skills, and working in a team or collaborative setting are just a few of the things that I learned from my part-time summer jobs in high school. Furthermore, no matter the job, the employment itself shows admissions officers and hiring managers that this person is reliable, can handle responsibility, and can multitask while taking direction. If nothing else, the summer job provides your high schooler with a sense of independence and self-worth—there is nothing like the satisfaction that comes with that first earned paycheck! (A professional reference never hurts either!)

How to Manage Testing Time: For High School Students

Spring break has ended, which gave high school students a much-needed reprieve from the stressful school day. However, as much as students look forward to this time in the school year, it can also be met with mixed emotions because of the high-pressure testing on the horizon.

In addition to the SAT, ACT, and any other college entrance exams, testing for high schoolers might include benchmark assessments to gauge math and reading growth, as well as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Because of the “high-stakes” mentality associated with these sorts of exams, the weeks leading up to and during testing can be stressful for students, parents, and teachers. However, there are strategies that parents and teachers can use to help high schoolers prepare for and thrive during these tests without becoming overwhelmed by stress or pressure.

High school students can benefit greatly from having solid test-taking strategies to call upon when preparing for high-stakes assessments such as college entrance exams. For study tips and tricks, the success of certain strategies truly depends on the style of learner.

Some kinesthetic learners work best when rewriting, reciting, or copying notes because of the fine motor movement used for writing. Similarly, test review or recitation while passing a soccer ball, walking on the treadmill, or sitting on a yoga ball could also help kinesthetic learners. Students who benefit from movement should ask if stress balls, fidget cubes, or focusing clay would be permitted during testing. Students may also find that something as simple as chewing gum may help to summon information from memory as well.

Students with a verbal inclination can utilize acronyms, rhyme schemes, and other word associations to solidify information into long-term memory. Some word associations become downright ridiculous or silly; however, the more bizarre the acronym or rhyme, the more likely the information will stick in one’s memory. Composing notecards with information on one side and the “word game” or association on the other side helps to cement the information even more.

We all know that cramming does more harm than good when it comes to test preparation. Not only does cramming increase stress and anxiety, but it actually has been shown to disrupt the process of moving information from short term memory to long term memory. Because of the sense of urgency that students are experiencing when cramming, the process does little more than create a “muddy” recollection of the jumbled material.  

More and more students are finding success with multiple, brief stints of review over the course of several days or weeks prior to an exam. Research indicates that even in intervals as short as eight minutes at a time, students can memorize and grasp concepts much more efficiently. Not only do the rapid intervals reduce the anxiety of cramming, they aid in recall as well. To test out (no pun intended) this study strategy, students should spend 8-10 minutes organizing notes, outlines, terms, concepts, etc., and begin with the most complex or dire information. High schoolers can then return to the material 30 minutes to an hour later, seeking to reread, summarize, rephrase, or synthesize the small chunk of material that they organized during the previous eight minutes. Each day, students should add another aspect of the study material or exam content to their 8-minute review, and expand on the previous days’ content every few intervals. The key here is to tackle the concepts bit by bit in a logical sense and reasonable timeframe. This way, information builds on itself naturally without the overwhelming sense that comes with cramming.

 

How to Solve Problems with Peers: High Schoolers

Conflict resolution is an important skill that adolescents develop over time. As we adults know, it can take years to learn how to react calmly to a disagreement. For the most part, by high school, students have begun to achieve a sense of independence and maturity. However, conflicts, as we all know, are a part of life. Despite the connotation, conflicts do not have to be negative—in fact, conflicts can lead to a much more productive and understanding relationship among peers once the issue has been solved.  

How can we ensure that conflicts among high school students can produce the types of benefits we would like to see? Several strategies can help to ease tensions and foster a greater understanding during tumultuous times.

Remind students that a difference of opinion is just that—a difference. Having a conflicting opinion does not in and of itself equate to an argument. Emotions often only help to stir the pot; so teens and young adults can benefit from remaining calm during these conversations or disagreements. Taking a rational or logical approach to the disagreement, as opposed to an emotional one, will allow students to focus on the problem at hand.

Often times, a small conflict can diverge in several different directions. With each participant eager to make a point and be heard, it is no wonder that many of the small classroom scuffles can swirl into larger, full-blown arguments. Too often, the original conflict balloons into something unrecognizable, to the point that neither party remembers how exactly the disagreement began. With this in mind, encourage high schoolers to keep the conversation or mediation focused on one central issue—other issues may be discussed separately at another time to avoid escalating the situation. Keep all comments related to that central problem.

Active listening is another practice that can help teenagers mediate a situation on their own. With practice, students will learn to listen to a peer without interruption. Let each student know that he/she will have a chance to speak without interruption as well. Remind listeners to maintain eye contact, hold a neutral posture (i.e., no crossed arms), and nod to demonstrate that the other person has been heard or understood. Remind high schoolers to avoid the urge to look away, roll their eyes, sigh in disagreement, or any other gesture that displays aggression, defiance, or rudeness.

Provide students with the option to put their feelings in writing. This also ensures that a message can be thoughtfully prepared without the worry of an emotional delivery. This is also a positive cooldown practice for conflicts that have quickly become more volatile. Remind students to maintain a conversational volume and tone when speaking with a peer. A conflict resolution will not benefit from snarky sarcasm, feisty or angry tones, or yelling. A louder voice turns the listener off and only escalates the emotions involved in the conversation. High schoolers should speak slowly and calmly, being sure to put their thoughts and emotions in clear, concise terms. These open conversations can help each peer feel heard without playing a “blame game.”  

How-to Proofread: For High Schoolers

Once students have reached high school, writing becomes an entirely new beast. From the research project, to a multi-page literary analysis, high schoolers are somewhat expected to have crafted their writing skills to a certain degree. Aside from college, where many of them will be analyzing scholarly articles and writing 20, 30, 40 page papers, high school writing tasks are as advanced as they have seen thus far. Perhaps even more surprising to students, is the fact that lengthier writing assignments will occur in every class, not simply English. With this knowledge, it is essential that high school students improve in their ability to proofread.

  • High school students can use cooperative learning strategies to proofread and peer edit more efficiently. For example, if three students decide to peer edit as a group, one group member should focus his criticism and editing to one area, grammar, for instance. While one group member reviews all three papers for grammatical missteps, another should focus solely on vocabulary, word choice, and spelling. This person should be accessing online thesaurus and dictionaries to ensure that terms and phrases are appropriately used. Finally, the third member of the peer editing group should be in charge of examining content—that is, does the writing masterfully address the prompt? With the tasks split up in such a way, students are more inclined to provide solid, effective feedback—as opposed to the smiley faces and “Good job!” that we teachers are so used to seeing after a peer edit.
  • High school-level writers can streamline their proofreading practice by using symbols or digital highlighting tools to flag errors or areas of need in their writing. Students may want to read their paper through once simply to identify where any issues lie. During this process, they will only mark or highlight areas in the paper where they should revert back to during revision. After issues are highlighted, writers should go back into their paper with a more fine-toothed comb approach. This means that, now that weak or confusing areas in the essay have been identified, they can really dig into making corrections specifically on the sentence level, correcting one line at a time.
  •  As many times as we tell students, it still baffles me that they disregard the warning: DO NOT RELY ON SPELLCHECK! By high school, students must be proofreading on a cognizant, deliberate scale—simply correcting all of the red squiggles will not suffice. Moreover, many spelling or grammar mistakes are mislabeled or ignored by spellcheck software. High schoolers must be prepared to take proofreading into their own hands; their knowledge of writing skills is much more reliable than the computer’s spellcheck.

High schoolers can raise the bar when composing written work by proofreading for sentence variety. They should be prepared to do some major rewriting when sentence variety and complexity is the focus. High school-level writers should be aware of certain clauses and the punctuation that accompanies them. More importantly, students will want to double check that their writing is fluid, clear, and varied on the sentence level—this makes for an elevated paper