Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

Simple Tips for a Kinder Middle School Culture

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By Naomi Drew, M.A., and Christa M. Tinari, M.A

(Originally posted on the Free Spirit Publishing blog, posted March 13, 2017)

Kids thrive in an atmosphere of kindness. They blossom, do better in school, and feel safer when surrounded by kindness.

That said, middle schoolers can be sarcastic and just plain mean to one another. This was corroborated by a national survey we conducted with over 1,000 middle school students: 81 percent said they heard kids saying mean things to one another every single day. An eighth-grade teacher we interviewed concurred. “My kids are constantly putting each other down.” The raw truth is that gossiping, exclusion, and unkindness can be as much a part of the middle school culture as puberty and mood swings.

So what can we do?

Lots! The first thing is to remember that any investment of time you make to create a kinder, more accepting culture in your school will yield rewards far greater than just having students treat one another better. According to the America Institutes for Research,  “Positive school climate is tied to high or improving attendance rates, test scores, promotion rates, and graduation rates.” And who doesn’t want that?

The truth is we actually can teach kids to be kinder. Maurice Elias, director of the Social-Emotional Learning Lab at Rutgers University, eloquently reminds us: “Kindness can be taught, and it is a defining aspect of civilized human life. It belongs in every home, school, neighborhood, and society.”

To this we say, “Yes!” And to help you get started, or move ahead even further in fostering kindness, here are three concrete things you can do right now:

  1. Model, teach, and expect acceptance, empathy, and kindness.
    Modeling and expecting kindness is critical. Kids watch us for clues as to how to behave. Even though middle schoolers are pretty peer-obsessed, our actions and attitudes hold more weight with them than we realize. Modeling kindness is key. Equally important is expecting kindness from your kids. Never let cruel behavior go unchecked. Each time we do, we normalize meanness.  A great example of promoting acceptance, kindness, and empathy is the true story of Coach Biff Poggi of Gillman High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Poggi prized kindness and empathy over all else. The character expectations he set for his football team far exceeded his expectations for prowess on the field. Poggi’s hard and fast rule was “Empathy and kindness for all.” See if you can be as steadfast as Coach Poggi in your commitment to empathy, kindness, and acceptance among your students.
  1. Help your kids see cliques and social groups through a lens of kindness.
    Peer acceptance is more important than ever in middle school. Tightly knit groups form quickly at this stage, and some kids relish the social power of being in the “in-crowd.” Others struggle to fit in, and being excluded chips away at their self-esteem. Kindness can fall by the wayside when kids become more focused on popularity than on respecting their peers.  Social groups based on common interests can provide kids with a sense of safety, purpose, and belonging. Cliques, on the other hand, can also provide these—but at a cost. Cliques are exclusive, and kids in them often discourage members from expressing individuality. They create unhealthy peer pressure for kids to fit in. More powerful members of cliques tend to mistreat less powerful members, who often put up with bad behavior just to stay in the group. Even more problematic is the use of collective power to ignore, tease, or bully others. Ultimately, cliques chip away at the possibility of a culture of kindness.  Your kids might not be aware of the advantage of forming inclusive social groups based on common interests rather than cliques. Understanding the negative impacts of cliques will also help your kids make better choices about which group to align with. Take a look at the following activity. Discuss it with your kids and help them see the benefits of opting for social groups and avoiding cliques.

Activity: Exploring Social Groups and Cliques. 

Think of a social group you belong to. This group must include one person in addition to yourself. It could be a group of friends you spend time with socially, friends from your sports team, kids in band or chess club, and so forth. Once you have thought of a social group, read the characteristics below. Circle the characteristics that describe your social group.

People in my group:

  1. Share similar interests
  2. Place a high value on popularity
  3. Support one another
  4. Are kind to people within the group and outside of it
  5. Are encouraged to act the same as other members of the group
  6. Exclude other students
  7. May feel pressured to do certain things to fit in with the group
  8. Are given the freedom to be themselves
  9. Make fun of, or look down on, students not in the group
  10. Are members of several groups

Discussion Questions

  • Which of the above characteristics seem positive to you?
  • Which could have a negative impact on students in the group?
  • Which could have a negative impact on students who are not part of the group?

Think About It
If your group includes more negative characteristics than positive ones, it might be a clique. A clique is a social group of students who may exclude, tease, or bully other students.

Choose Kindness Over Cliques
What are some actions you can take to ensure that you and your social group are kind, inclusive, and respectful of other students in your social group and students not in your social group?

  1. Teach kindness—literally.
    You can plant seeds of kindness in your classroom every time you talk about its importance and model it through your behaviors and attitudes. Help your students understand the basic human need all people have for being treated with acceptance, respect, and empathy—the fundamentals of kindness.  Here’s something else to remember: Just as kindness spreads, so can cruelty and callousness.  A Harvard Study of 10,000 middle school and high school students reported that 80 percent of students were more concerned about their own success and happiness than they were about others’. The report states something all of us have seen: “When caring takes a back seat, youth are at risk for being cruel, disrespectful, and dishonest.”  On the other hand, when enough kids treat each other with kindness and respect, others are likely to follow. This happens because of “mirror neurons” in the brain that prompt people to unconsciously mimic others’ behaviors. According to neuroscience researchers Souvra Acharya and Smarth Shukla, mirror neurons are activated when we observe the actions of the people around us. This helps explain why kids learn through imitation. We have to fill our classrooms and hallways with enough empathy, kindness, and respect to motivate every student toward kindness and away from cruelty.

One final thought: When you wonder how you can fit one more thing into your day, please remember that your efforts will touch your students’ lives in fundamental ways. Remember, too, that in this changing world, any infusion of kindness is both necessary and valuable.

Naomi Drew and Christa Tinari are coauthors of Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School: 48 Character-Building Lessons to Foster Respect and Prevent Bullying.

 

Buying on line.

Tweens/Teens and Technology: What You Need to Know What You Need to Do

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by Michelle McCoy Barrett, Ph.D., College of Saint Elizabeth, Associate Professor and Director, Psy.D. in Counseling Psychology, Licensed Psychologist

Technology has made our lives easier, more efficient, and even more enjoyable. Socially, a new world has opened up allowing many to connect in ways that are no longer dependent on proximity. With all of these benefits, there comes a growing number of concerns, particularly for tweens/teens of Generation Z, the “Always on Generation” (born 2001-present).

Lack of Connection and Relatedness

Communication, although more frequent, can lack genuine meaning and connection when done primarily through text or social media outlets. Today’s tweens/tees may be less equipped to understand social cues and may hide behind technology to avoid genuine and meaningful interactions. Texting as a primary mode of communication lacks face-to-face interaction. How often are text messages misinterpreted because of a lack of eye-contact, tone of voice, and body language?

Can’t unplug or Disconnect

Many parents and educators worry about the amount of time tweens/teens spend online and on their phones. Some of the strongest research suggests that our sleep is being affected by technology, specifically cell phone use at nighttime. Phone notifications being on at night affects our sleep and this is especially problematic for tweens/teens. Concerns exist about attention spans, multi-screening, and the constant need to find out what others are doing, known as “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO).

Consequences of Bad Decisions

Perhaps the most frightening concern has to do with the consequences of what kids put out there (e.g., hurtful words, inappropriate images). Emotional regulation and impulse control take on new meaning when one considers how quickly and widely messages can be broadcast. Developmentally, this age group struggles with things like planning, thinking ahead, and making good decisions. It can be a disastrous combination for this group to have instant access to an audience. In addition, there is often the false belief that once something is deleted, it disappears. Teens/tweens need to know that once something is out there, it stays out there!

Today’s parents have an additional job as soon as they allow their kids to enter the world of technology/social media. Often the issue of privacy is raised, however it’s crucial remember that what tweens/teens are doing online is PUBLIC. A diary is private, while a text or post is public. The time to set up monitoring is sooner rather than later, as it’s easier to set up rules with a 12-year-old versus a 16-year-old.

Social Emotional Learning

Given what today’s tweens/teens are facing, there is an increased need to focus on social and emotional learning in schools and at home. Developing an awareness of one’s own emotional state is crucial for healthy development and building relationships. This awareness also serves as the building blocks for understanding other people’s emotional states. With a decrease in face to face communication and an increase in electronic communication, there are fewer opportunities to develop that understanding of others and more room to make errors. Because texting has become the primary mode of communication for tweens/teens that have a phone, this generation may be lacking in social awareness and understanding and the need for these skills to be intentionally discussed and taught is tremendous.

Suggestions

  1. Charge phones at night in a charging station, not in a tween/teens’ bedroom.
  2. Model unplugging as parents.
  3. Be familiar with the types of technology that your kids use.
  4. Know passwords and monitor communications. Start off with this understanding.
  5. Discuss what you see. Mistakes will happen and can be important conversations; the key is to catch these early.

References

Weiss, R., Schneider, J. (2014). Closer together, further apart: The effect of technology and the internet on parenting, work, and relationships. Gentle Path Press: Arizona.

Weir, K., (2017). Disconnected. Monitor on Psychology, Vol 48, No. 3, APA: Washington DC.

 

Preventing Microaggressions: Creating a Safe Space to Discuss Race in the Classroom

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By Chloe G. Bland, Ph.D., Chair, Psychology Department, Assistant Professor, College of Saint Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ

As white educator, my first and central responsibility is to become aware of the myriad power dynamics that exist in my classroom because any lack of awareness of my power, my privilege, and our shared cultural norms makes it very likely that I will perpetrate a microaggression as I interact with my students.

Therefore, I heighten my own awareness of where I personally fit in the system of power and privilege. As a faculty member, I always have power and privilege. Add to that white privilege and my own history of ignorance about race. It is incumbent upon me to use my power and privilege to support, validate, and legitimize discussion of race in the classroom. Otherwise I am in grave danger of creating a hostile environment for my students.

I find it important to keep up to date on strategies that work to reduce my own perpetration of microaggressions in the classroom. Sue, Lin, Torino, Capodilupo, & Rivera, (2009) suggest letting your students know that discussing race is okay by actively creating a safe space at the very beginning of the year. For example, this can be accomplished with activities where students get to bring a part of themselves to class and share it with the group.

The Artifact Game

I have used multiple variations on this theme. However, my favorite activity is the artifact game. I first learned this activity from Elizabeth Williams-Riley and Bari Katz at the Common Ground Institute sponsored by the American Conference on Diversity in January, 2016. Each student brings in an artifact—defined as some specific, tangible object but nothing more detailed than that so as not to influence students’ choices- that is representative of who they are, broadly construed. Everyone gets a chance to share their artifact and why it is important to them. The magic of this exercise is that it instantly exposes our complex identities. We often think we know our students, and our students often think they know their peers. Yet, there is always so much more beneath the surface.

Once we become familiar with each other’s nuanced identities, there is a palpable shift toward a kinder and more respectful classroom climate. I developed and teach a class called, The Psychology of Racism, where I do this exercise in the beginning of the semester, before we delve into the sensitive topic of racism. The atmosphere instantly changes. For example, I have had students from vastly different backgrounds and cultures begin to identify with each other. The personal stories that emerge from this exercise bring students closer and open a space for more difficult and deeper conversations.

Validating Feelings

Another important piece in creating an atmosphere that is safe for everyone is to validate experiences and feelings of all students. Too often, when race is discussed in a classroom setting white students get uncomfortable and try to shutdown or defend themselves (I know this from being the person who is uncomfortable with the discussion). Some of the subconscious avoidance tactics I have personally employed when finding myself in an uncomfortable discussion of race include eye rolling, shifting or slouching, doodling, fidgeting, becoming quiet or trying to defend oneself, or crying. While crying is not always problematic, it can be used by people in the majority culture to shut down conversations about race when they feel uncomfortable. Such reactions create an unsafe space for everyone in the class, but particularly for People of Color. The underlying message that is communicated when white students take these actions is, “I am fragile and refuse to engage with issues that challenge my worldview.”

Part of our jobs as instructor may include speaking to white students who display these typical reactions to discussions of race. When I was a scared white student just waking up to the racial realities in the United States, I believed anything I did or said was okay because I knew I was a good person and always had good intentions, even when i did or said something that offended those around me. I have learned that in fact, I was wrong. Good intentions do not have a privileged place in discussions of race. We must hold ourselves accountable for the effects of our words and actions, regardless of our intentions.

Chloe G. Bland, Ph.D., serves as Chair of the Psychology Department and Assistant Professor at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, NJ. Her email is cbland@cse.edu

 

Ajudando os Alunos a Identificar os seus Valores (Spanish)

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This Article is the translation, with the kind permission of the author, Maurice J. Elias, of the post Helping your Students Identify Their Values that has been published in Edutopia, the third July 2017. Due to its extension, it will be published in three parts.

Este artigo é a tradução, amavelmente autorizada pelo autor, Maurice J. Elias, do artigo publicado em Edutopia a 3 de Julho de 2017. Devido à sua extensão, será publicado em 3 partes.

Convide os seus alunos a escrever sobre os princípios orientadores segundo os quais eles querem viver, usando estes tópicos motivadores para os ajudar a começar.

By Maurice J. Elias

O início do ano escolar é uma ocasião propícia para pedir aos alunos que reflitam sobre aquilo que traz um sentido orientador às suas vidas. E colocar por escrito os seus princípios orientadores de vida é uma tarefa perfeita para esta reflexão.

Os professores de alunos a partir do 5º ano podem pedir-lhes que descrevam os princípios segundo os quais desejam viver as suas vidas. Para os ajudar a sintonizar a ideia, podem conversar sobre biografias que eles tenham lido ou visto em filmes (Também podem ver juntos extratos de vídeos ou lerem juntos excertos de livros); depois organizem um diálogo ou enumerem um resumo das regras pelas quais essas pessoas parecem ter pautado as suas vidas. Também podem colocar aos alunos a mesma questão sobre personagens de romances, adultos presentes nas suas vidas ou figuras históricas.

Para Começar:

Algumas questões motivadoras podem ajudar os alunos a começar a pensar mais profundamente sobre os seus próprios valores ou princípios.

  • Quem admiras? Enumera três qualidades admiráveis dessa pessoa.
  • Descreve um incidente ou um evento em que tenhas aprendido uma lição da forma mais dura.
  • O que poderias mudar em ti próprio para te tornares uma pessoa melhor?
  • Quais são as três qualidades que valorizas num amigo? Num Professor? No Pai ou na Mãe?
  • Quem foi mais importante na tua vida em ajudar-te a estabelecer os teus valores? Por favor explica.
  • Quais são os três valores mais importantes que pensas serem essenciais para encorajar os teus próprios filhos, um dia mais tarde?
  • Qual é a regra única que tu crês ser a essencial para orientar a tua vida?
  • Se nós vivêssemos num mundo perfeito, como é que as pessoas poderiam proceder de forma diferente do que fazem agora?

(Continua)

Sobre o Autor: Maurice J. EliasProf. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (www.secdlab.org), Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (engage.rutgers.edu)@SELinSchools

LINK…

http://cadescrita.edublogs.org/2017/07/08/ajudando-os-alunos-a-identificar-os-seus-valores-i/

GRATITUDE: At Work, Home, and School

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by Edward DeRoche, Ph.D., Character Education Resource Center, Director, University of San Diego

“GRATITUDE CAN TRANSFORM COMMON DAYS INTO THANKSGIVINGS, TURN ROUTINE JOBS INTO JOY AND CHANGE ORDINARY OPPORTUNITIES INTO BLESSINGS.” William Arthur Ward

In December 2014, I wrote a blog about “gratitude and empathy.”

I noted that Robert Emmons (see below) called gratitude the “queen of the virtues,” and I suggested that empathy might be the “king.”

Let’s focus on the “queen” during this Thanksgiving month.

Thanks to research, here is what we know. Gratitude properly understood and rendered “leads to active appreciation of others.” Gratitude has “positive effects on health,” “fosters positive relationships” and “joy;” that is, the stronger our relationships, the happier we are.

Emmons and other researchers have found “three surprising ways that gratitude influences what one does at work.”

One, gratitude facilitates better sleep because “grateful people enjoy more restful, restorative, and refreshing sleep, and reap the benefits at work the next day.”

Two, gratitude is the “antidote to entitlement” and “to other aspects of a toxic workplace culture….When people are experiencing gratitude, they are “less likely to be annoyed, irritated, and aggressive.”

Three, grateful people make better “organizational citizens” — “more likely to volunteer for extra work assignments, take time to mentor co-workers, be compassionate when someone has a problem, encourage and praise others, and are more likely to be creative at work….Gratitude promotes innovative thinking, flexibility, openness, curiosity, and love of learning.”

A National Association of School Psychologist’s article titled “Fostering an Attitude of Gratitude: Tips for Parents” suggests that parents at home help their children develop an attitude of gratitude through a variety of simple acts and activities.

These every day activities include modeling practicing gratitude, encouraging children to think about it, sharing and reinforcing grateful behaviors, using visual reminders, making grateful posters, and keeping a “good stuff” journal.

They suggest that every night parents take a few minutes with each child to write down the positive experiences that happened during the day. They recommend that next to each positive event, their child write a reflection using questions such as:

Why did this good thing happened and what did you learn from it?

What does this good thing mean to you and how can you help have more of it tomorrow?

What ways will you or others contribute to this good thing?

Studies also show that positive parent relationships are associated with gratitude. (Gratitude Works Program, wwwnaspoliner.org)

Now that we know how gratitude influences the workplace, and have some ideas on how to nurture and foster gratitude at home, let’s examine three gratitude lessons.

The lessons come from an article by Vicki Zakrzewski in the November 2016 issue of Greater Good. I selected it because I liked the format of the lessons. That is, I found it to be an excellent idea for formatting all instructional lessons that teachers create.

The format is this:

(a) a lesson objective

(b) a lesson concept –in this case the concept is gratitude

(c) a social-emotional competency

(d) the materials needed

(e) a list of instructional activities

(f) “extension” suggestions for the lesson

The three lessons described in the article all related to the topic of gratitude:

1. “Acts of Kindness” for K-2 students

2. “Food Gratitude” for students in grades 3-5

3. “People Who Make a Difference” for students in grades 6-8

One final point, researchers at Berkeley surveyed 400 students ages 12-14 and found that students “who were more likely to be grateful to others showed higher academic interest, grades, and extracurricular involvement, and had lower interest in risky behaviors.”

Who is Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D.?

He is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology. He is the author of the books Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, and The Little Book of Gratitude.

Practice Learning Knowledge

It’s About Skill Development!

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by Ed DeRoche, Character Education Resource Center, Director, University of San Diego

A “skills” quote:

“Expressing care for another is not an innate ability present more naturally in some people than others, but rather a skill that can be taught and nurtured through a supportive educational environment.”

-Scotty McLennan, Dean for Religious Life, Stanford University

A “skills” memory:

”I loved playing baseball. Our city had open try-outs for minor league teams. On day four, one of the coaches said to me, ‘Son, we can’t have players on this team without skills in every area.’ I had ‘grit’ but couldn’t hit. I also had ‘perseverance’ so I became a teacher, a principal, a dean.”

(The question of how skillfully is open to debate.)

At our Character Matters Conference (June 2017), sitting with a few teachers over our delicious box lunches, we started talking about “21st Century Skills” and the “new” character education movement – the focus on the social-emotional needs of students. I expressed the opinion that I thought the programmatic/instructional emphasis was on the emotional side of the SEL (follow the money) with some, but not too much, attention helping students develop their “social skills.”

As I noted in my 2013 blog , “The Skills Game” recent employee surveys showed that employers are looking for certain qualities in employees such as listening and communication skills, adaptability, creative thinking skills, problem-solving skills, goal setting skills, and competence in reading, writing, and computation skills. It has been reported that 85% of those who lose jobs do so because of inadequate social skills.

It seems to me that social skill development should be an essential part of schools’ character education initiatives (with character strengths and emotional skills as the other two).

A survey conducted through Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel, asked the question: What are the best skills for kids to have these days?

The responses:

90% – Communication

86% – Reading

79% – Math

77% – Teamwork

75% -Writing

74% – Logic

58% -Science

25% – Athletics

24% – Music

23% -Art

Social skills include habits and attributes that some call “Habits of the Heart.” This includes providing instruction and practice in helping students to be respectful, be responsible, be honest, be trustworthy, be caring, be courageous, be courtesy, be compassionate, and be fair.

These learned skills are coupled with “Habits of the Mind” – being a critical thinker, appreciating the importance of knowledge and learning, learning how to learn, practicing self-discipline, making ethical decisions, learning to problem solve, controlling anger and emotions, resisting peer pressure, and thinking before acting.

The third skill set is often labeled, “Habits of the Hands,” which includes knowing and practicing the Golden Rule, being of service to others, and becoming an active, participating citizen.

In my research for this blog, I found a program developed by Stephen Elliott (Vanderbilt Peabody education and psychology researcher) and co-authored with Frank Gresham, of the newly published The Social Skills Improvement System Classwide Intervention Program (SSIS-CIP).

They identified the top 10 skills that students need to succeed based on surveys of over 8,000 teachers and over 20 years of research in classrooms across the country. The skills are:

  • Listen to others.
  • Follow the steps.
  • Follow the rules.
  • Ignore distractions.
  • Ask for help.
  • Take turns when you talk.
  • Get along with others.
  • Stay calm with others.
  • Be responsible for your behavior.
  • Do nice things for others.

They report: “In our research, we found that elementary kids and teachers value cooperation and self-control. When we teach and increase those behaviors, we reduce problem behaviors and maximize learning time…. “

“If we increase social skills, we see commensurate increases in academic learning. That doesn’t mean that social skills make you smarter; it means that these skills make you more amenable to learning.”

More information about the SSIS Program can be found at: http://www.PearsonAssessments.com.

Another discovery – a web site, called SKILLSYOUNEED (https://skillsyouneed.com), which provides information and resources for each of the following category of skills: Personal, Interpersonal, Leadership, Learning, Presentation, Writing, Numeracy, and Parenting skills.

As a reminder, I published two blogs on this topic that may be worth your review:

  1. “The Skills Game: Who’s on First? What’s on Second? How’s on Third!” [Published by SmartBrief-Education, 11/12/2013]
  1. “The Skills of Question-Asking,” [February 2015 Blog]

http://sites.sandiego.edu/character/blog/2015/02/23

And finally, think about this each month during the new school year:

Children who scored high on social skills were four times as likely to graduate from college than those who scored low.”

Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grade and Lives, David Bornstein, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/24

Question/Comments: deroche@sandiego.edu

How To Counter False News By Learning How to Create News Stories

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By Maurice J. Elias

Students today will be challenged as they grow up, and as adults, to separate fact from rumor, and news from propaganda.  One of the best ways to help them differentiate is to have them learn to create a news story of their own.  A social-emotional learning (SEL) framework provides useful guidance for this task.

Because newspaper articles contain only the most critical points about an issue, attempting to write one provides practice in learning how to summarize information concisely. The following lesson series will help students learn how a social decision-making/critical thinking/SEL framework can be used to meet the challenges involved in gathering and presenting the main points of an issue.

Also, by working together to create an article, students may better understand how current events represent problems that require solutions. The task of creating a newspaper article is often highly engaging for students as many of them will enjoy creatively designing front pages, and so on. (Note that you can reformat the lesson to be compatible with any set of problem solving/decision making steps that students are being taught as part of SEL or character development lessons.)

Objectives of this Lesson Series

Student will…

  1. Understand the process used in creating a news article or story..
  2. Build decision-making and problem solving skills.
  3. Develop critical thinking skills to use when analyzing current or historical accounts of events.

Instructional Sequence

Begin the class by discussing the difference between news and “false news.”  Have them look at stories on the topic within respected news media (NY or LA Times, Washington Post, Tampa Bay Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CNN, PBS).

Discuss the “who, what, where, when, and why” of false news and the definition of the word, “propaganda”: information of a biased or misleading nature used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view

Encourage your students to understand that false news is a way to manipulate them—something they definitely will not like!.  Here is a good example of a newspaper article on the dangerous consequences of a fake news story

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/05/business/media/comet-ping-pong-pizza-shooting-fake-news-consequences.html?_r=0

Next, introduce the idea that historical and current events represent the outcomes of decision-making activities. Stress that just as personal problems require solutions, societal problems also need them. Provide students with examples of how different solutions to the same problem result in very different consequences. The examples can come from local (even school) issues affecting students’ own lives in order to better make the point. Be sure students understand how to think about current and historical events as problems before proceeding.

Then, introduce the assignment, which is titled, “Creating A Newspaper Article” (see below). Use the following questions first to help orient students:

  • How was information about current events communicated in colonial times?
  • How is information about current events communicated now? How do you get most of your current events information?(Talk about the potential strengths and weaknesses of the various sources, including the internet and various social media, and the need to use more than one source)

Either have them all work on a common topic or each define an individual topic, or some other variation as fits into your curriculum. Ask them to describe an aspect of the topic as a problem. Once the students have decided on the problem, have them identify those individuals or the different groups who are involved in the problem and to reflect on the character of key individuals in the story. Students can refer to their textbooks, newspaper articles, the Internet, and so on, to do this. After students have identified the different groups, ask them to imagine what the feelings of each group might be. Next, have them identify goals for each group.

Relevant current topics include how to address the problems of refugees and of those who enter a country illegally (and how these two problems are not the same) and how to ensure greater participation in democratic institutions at local, state, and national levels. 

Finally, as you prep them for the assignment, provide a reflective opportunity at the end with this question: What problems do you think most reporters face in trying to write an article? What problems did you experience in writing this article? How did you solve them?

The Assignment

(The following assignment can be presented as a worksheet, or digitally, as a Powerpoint or on a Smartboard.)

Creating a Newspaper Article

Directions: Imagine that you are a newspaper reporter for a well-known or a more local newspaper. You have been asked to write a newspaper article on a current events topic, or a social studies topic you have just finished studying in class.

Think about some part of the topic as an event or problem. Then, use the problem-solving outline to help write your article. At the end, be sure to give your article a headline and check to be sure that your article answers the following questions:

  1. What is the problem you are thinking about?
  2. What people or groups of people are involved? What do you know about the character/laws of life of key individuals involved?
  3. What feelings and goals does each person or group have?
  4. What are some possible solutions to achieve each goal?
  5. What are some of the consequences? (Consider both long- and short-term, for each possible solution)
  6. What solution was chosen? Do you think a different choice should have been made? If so, why?
  7. What could have been done to improve the chosen plan?
  8. Summarize the information in the article and draw some conclusions.

Tips for Instruction

Consider first introducing the lesson by bringing in an article and analyzing it with the whole class, using the eight questions above as a framework. Don’t allow students to begin working in small groups until they have demonstrated that they understand how to apply the framework.

And remember, although the students are being asked to write a newspaper article, the topic does not have to be a current event. Topics can be drawn from a variety of instructional sources (e.g., history textbooks, videos of historical dramatizations, or news broadcasts).

Give students time to do the necessary research and background checks.  Students can work individually or in small groups.  Bring back the topic of false news and how difficult it is to determine what is true or factual.  Discuss how newspapers and other newsrooms need to collaborate to try to arrive at a consensus, and to question one-another about what one has included and why, and have students/groups review and constructively critique one-another and revise their work, just as happens in responsible news media. Consider giving them a deadline for quick revision, as might happen in a television newscast, so they can understand how time pressure can affect deliberation and presentation.  And be sure to ask them to document their sources!

Letters to the editor and editorials often reflect attempts by citizens to generate solutions to problems. Ask students to read an editorial or a letter to the editor and have them critique it by applying the decision-making framework to examine how systematically the writer thought through his or her presentation of and/or response to a problem.

 (For more examples of related lessons, see Social Decision Making/Social Problem Solving by L. Bruene and M. Elias, which offers curricula for grades K-8.)

This blog is a response to a posting by Larry Ferlazzo in Education Week on June 6. 2017. You can view the original blog post here:

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/classroom_qa_with_larry_ferlazzo/2017/06/response_genius_hours_can_be_transformative.html

Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., is Director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab. He is also author of the e-book, Emotionally Intelligent Parenting and The Other Side of the Report Card: Assessing Students’ Social, Emotional, and Character Development (2016, Corwin)

 

Implementing a “Genius Hour” With Your Students

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A response to Larry Ferlazzo’s “question-of-the-week,” How can I implement a “Genius Hour” with my students?

Response From Maurice Elias

There has been a lot of talk lately about implementing a “Genius Hour” with students.  Here is my take on it. Every student has genius. And time should be set aside to celebrate the genius of every student. It does not require a single hour; it’s something that can and should be scheduled throughout the school year. You can celebrate two students a week, half hour each; you can celebrate a student each day for 15 minutes—use your imaginations!

My suggestion is that you frame a Genius Hour in terms of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences model. Gardner was interested to see if all cultures defined intelligence in terms of language arts and mathematical skills the way our Western educational culture seems to. Of course, he knew the answer would be, “No.” What Gardner also found is that there are physiological and specifically neurological bases for the different kinds of intelligence he identified—intelligences that collectively are essential for humanity and civilization, with some being emphasized by some cultures more than others.

The eight multiple intelligences (MI) Gardner has identified are:  Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Spiritual. There are formal ways to assess your students’ multiple intelligences strengths, and Thomas Armstrong has created some of the best, practical materials. But you are likely to know your students’ relative MI preferences pretty well.

Students learn well through their strengths and an opportunity to use their strengths can leverage a greater willingness to work on areas of weakness or learning difficulty. That is the importance of celebrating their strengths. Some students can go through a school day—in fact, many school days—without feeling a sense of celebration or accomplishment. A “Genius Hour” is and should be about recognizing things our students are good at and sharing them with classmates, making it clear that there is no hierarchy of intelligences, only multiple intelligences.

You can introduce the Genius Hour—or whatever you choose to all it—by introducing MI and asking students to identify what they think their strengths are—indeed, expanding their view of what a strength is. You can also have students share geniuses they admire, who display particular MI strengths.

An ongoing celebration of student strengths—or genius—represents finding windows into the soul of children and ways to reach them in powerful and meaningful ways. When students are working within their areas of MI strength, they are able to mobilize confidence and enjoyment in ways that can be cut off if they are “off-modality.”  Thus, it becomes vital for students to have opportunities to be recognized for — and to perform and learn in — their preferred modalities. 

 

Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., is Director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab. He is also author of the e-book, Emotionally Intelligent Parenting  and The Other Side of the Report Card:  Assessing Students’ Social, Emotional, and Character Development (2016, Corwin):

See Larry Ferlazzo’s full blog here:

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/classroom_qa_with_larry_ferlazzo/2017/06/response_genius_hours_can_be_transformative.html

 

Teaching Love Over Hate: A Response to the Charlottesville Incident

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by Karen Niemi, President and CEO, CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning)

Dear CASEL friends:

Like so many of you, I’ve been shaken and horrified by the events of this past weekend in Charlottesville, Va. The prospect of overt and violent hatred and bigotry once again entering the American public square of ideas is abhorrent, and again, a very real threat.

I couldn’t help being struck that so many of the participants in the violence were so young, like 20-year-old white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr., who drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring dozens and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. So much tragedy. . . a life cut short, and the living are left with pain, heartache, loss, and, for some, the inspiration for violence yet to come.

How could a society capable of nurturing so much beauty and compassion have also produced Mr. Fields? What forces stoked his fears of diversity and emboldened him with hate? How could his life have been different — not to mention the lives of hundreds of KKK members, alt-right supporters, white nationalists, and violent extremists — if he possessed the skills to understand and manage his emotions, feel empathy, and build positive relationships? We will never know.

I’m more convinced than ever that the work we do here at CASEL is part of the solution to this type of bigotry and fear. We believe in the power of education to teach nonviolence, promote understanding, endow children with purpose and meaning, and provide the skills and behaviors that can create a more inclusive, healthy, and positive future.

Our board chairman, Timothy Shriver, perfectly summed up what we must do to succeed when he said, “I want to change the cycle of stigma and prejudice that destroys lives all over the world every day. Until we can get in front of people and awaken them to the idea that this is not acceptable, it’s very difficult for people to appreciate what we do and change the way we act as a society.”

We are the educators who teach love over hate, the helpers who run toward disaster to comfort the afflicted, and the change agents who will help destroy prejudice and stigmatization.

I ask each of you not to disengage after the tragedy of this past weekend but instead to see it as a call to redouble our efforts because this work is vital, perhaps now more than ever. And we must succeed. Our children are counting on us. Our communities are counting on us. Our country is counting on us.

Together we will build a better tomorrow!

Karen Niemi

President and CEO

CASEL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning

Read the Full Post on CASEL’s Website

Promoting Student Independence & Successful Inclusion through Systematic Use and Fading of Supports

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By Amy Golden, Behavior Therapy Associates (www.BehaviorTherapyAssociates.com)

 

Being able to be as independent as possible often substantially impacts future success in all aspects of life (Causton-Theoharis, 2009; Hume, Loftin, & Lantz, 2009). Therefore, as a student moves through adolescence, it is essential for the educational team and family to place increasing emphasis on promoting student independence. This should be carefully considered when developing the individualized educational plan (IEP) for the student.

IEPs often focus on short-term goals and objectives projected for the year ahead, with supports and services to help the student achieve those skills. However, it is suggested that the IEP should be developed as a plan emphasizing independence, with long-term goals always on the forefront of the discussion. With this framework in mind, the team should focus on supports the student needs now to ultimately require less intrusive supports in the future. Goals for independent functional skills should be included in addition to those that are academically oriented. A variety of accommodations and modifications should center on promoting both student progress and independence (Asher, Gordon, Selbst & Cooperberg, 2010; Twachtman-Cullen, 2000). Areas of independence may include behaviors such as initiating tasks, transitioning between activities or locations, organizing materials, caring for one’s own daily needs, and more.

Paraprofessionals are routinely assigned to support students with autism spectrum disorders in the school environment (Giangreco, Halvorsen, Doyle, & Broer, 2004).  There are many clear advantages and disadvantages to this approach.  Paraprofessionals often provide the assistance students require to access less restrictive settings.  Some of their responsibilities may include taking the lead for implementing behavior plans, gathering important information about the student’s skills and deficits, promoting social interactions with peers, and collecting data (Twachtman-Cullen, 2000).  

A key advantage of the use of paraprofessional supports includes the ability to promote generalization for the student across environments. Having detailed knowledge of the student’s abilities and challenges allows them to plan ahead as well as prepare to assist the student in new situations and settings. While these are all reasonable tasks and often necessary benefits, providing 1:1 adult assistance can also be considered most restrictive and significantly impact the student’s autonomy. Peers may be less likely to approach and interact with the student due to an adult’s presence (Giangreco, Edelman, Luiselli, & MacFarland, 1997). The student may engage in spontaneous conversation more readily with the adult, creating an unnatural division from the student’s classmates. The potential for prompt dependency is also heightened when an adult is always present (Causton-Theoharis, 2009). Best intentions to provide support for the individual may result in too much being done for the student or the use of intrusive prompts without a careful fading plan.

Therefore, prior to establishing the need for 1:1 staffing, a thorough assessment of the specific areas for support should be completed. Teams should convene to determine what they anticipate achieving by using 1:1 supports and review if these needs can be met more effectively in other ways to promote student independence (Causton-Theoharis, 2009). For example, students may benefit from using communication devices, technology, additional visual cues, peer modeling, and environmental adaptations. Additionally, providing teachers and paraprofessionals with more advanced training can encourage the use of alternative and creative ways to assist the student (Stockall, 2014; Giangreco, Edelman, Luiselli, & MacFarland, 1997). Instructing staff on the principles of applied behavior analysis, such as content included in the training for Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT), can improve upon educators’ utilization of effective prompting and fading strategies (Behavior Analyst Certification Board, 2013).

Once 1:1 support is in place for a student, collecting data on the paraprofessional’s role can provide great insight into the student’s ongoing needs.  While it is customary to collect data focusing on student behavior, it is suggested that staff also self-monitor their own involvement with the student throughout the day.  Sample content may include the types of prompts being used, the number of prompts required, and the proximity of the paraprofessional to the student.  This information can be used to describe how the services are being used to support the student and point to areas in which the student requires further assistance.  For example, if a student has consistent difficulty with unpacking and organizing his belongings each day, a visual list or schedule can be implemented to orient the student to the required tasks with the goal of gradually removing the adult from the prompt. The visual prompt can remain in place long-term and allow the student to work independent of adult assistance. Continuous documentation indicating the need for verbal prompting can signal a potential concern, thus leading to the development of new intervention strategies specific to promoting self-sufficiency for the student.

Ongoing assessment should also help to determine if the 1:1 support is needed throughout the entire day or just for specific subjects or activities.  By reviewing the student’s schedule and targeted needs across environments, the paraprofessional can be scheduled for support only when necessary.  Thus, student independence can be promoted by fading the adult support from specific activities or subjects.  Fading may be done gradually, with the paraprofessional taking increasingly greater steps away from supporting the individual in each setting.  For example, a student may be accustomed to being escorted to the bathroom, between classes, or to the bus at the end of the day.  A plan for promoting the student’s independence would consider whether the student could learn to navigate these transitions on their own or perhaps with a peer.  Rather than relying on the adult to prompt the student, alternate strategies should be investigated.

As educational teams plan how to support students, focusing on long-term goals for greater independence will serve a student well by preparing him/her for the future.  Collecting data throughout the fading process can help to pinpoint any new concerns, allowing the team to consider novel strategies for helping the student and maximizing opportunities for self-sufficiency.

References

Asher, M. J., Gordon, S. B., Selbst, M.C., Cooperberg, M. (2010). The Behavior Problems Resource Kit: Forms and Procedures for Identification, Measurement, and Intervention. Champaign, IL: Research Press.

Behavior Analyst Certification Board (2013). Registered Behavior Technician Task List

Causton-Theoharis, J.N. (2009). The golden rule of providing support in inclusive classrooms: Support others as you would wish to be supported.  Teaching Exceptional Children, 42(2), 36-43.

Doyle, M. B. (2008). The paraprofessional’s guide to the inclusive classroom: Working as a team (3rd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes

Giangreco, M.F. & Broer, S.M. (2007). School-based screening to determine overreliance on paraprofessionals.  Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 22(3).

Giangreco, M.F., Edelman, S., Luiselli, T.E., & MacFarland, S.Z. (1997). Helping or hovering? Effects of instructional assistant proximity on students with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 64, 7–18.

Giangreco, M.F., Halvorsen, A.T., Doyle, M.B. & Broer, S.M. (2004). Alternatives to overreliance on paraprofessionals in inclusive schools.  Journal of Special Education Leadership, 17(2), 82-90.

Hume, K., Loftin, R. & Lantz, J. (2009).  Increasing independence in autism spectrum disorders: A review of three focused interventions. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39(9), 1329-1338.

Stockall, N. S. (2014). When an aide really becomes an aid: Providing professional development for special education paraprofessionals. Teaching exceptional children46(6), 197-205.

Twachtman-Cullen, D. (2000). How to be a para pro: A comprehensive training manual for paraprofessionals. Higganum, CT: Starfish Specialty.

About the Author

Amy Golden, M.S., BCBA is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She received her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduate degree in Applied Behavior Analysis at St. Cloud State University.  agolden@behaviortherapyassociates.com