Watching for even the small details can create a responsive culture that meets the social, emotional, and academic needs of students
I bet you didn't know that you signed up to be a triage nurse now did you? Meeting the social, emotional, and academic needs of middle school students is a lot like working the triage desk in a busy hospital. The process of assessing the patient, gathering data, and making a plan of action is actually quite similar to what teachers do to handle the multitude of dilemmas in our classroom each day. Let me explain.
Assess the Student
Meet your students at the door. Shake hands, high five, make a joke, make eye contact, or simply smile. Sadly, you could be the only adult who takes an interest in a child. Obviously we are looking for signs of abuse, bruises, tears, disheveled clothes, or a child who is hungry, or is recovering from a tragedy or suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These are our emergencies. We must take immediate action to help these students. Be familiar with your school's protocols for these types of problems, but also find out the network of educators, healthcare workers, guidance counselors, and others who will help you work with the child's problems. For many of us, it is an occasion to have a problem like this, but for some teachers, these aren't uncommon situations.
However, we shouldn't only be looking for the big problems, as they are most often easy to spot. Rather, we should be looking at the small details. Is a child constantly yawning? Does the child look sad or depressed? Does the child usually flash a smile, but that day look down or away? We need to act on behalf of these students too, but it might be a much more nuanced approach. Ask the child in casual conversation about what is going on. A boy today was standing at my desk, asking questions, but suppressing yawn after yawn. I jokingly said, "You need more sleep! You are making me yawn." He went on to tell me—freely, without more prodding—that his cousin is staying with them for a while, and they were up playing video games all night. This is the moment when we can let the child know we care, and we can also make suggestions.
Just as a nurse takes a patient's temperature, comparing the temperature to what it is typically, we must take note of data that indicates there might be a problem with a student. If a student never misses homework, but suddenly doesn't do it, there is something going on. If a child is always polite but has become sullen, look into it. Keep notes in your gradebook of discrepancies and surprising grades. These types of observations may come in handy later at a CSE meeting, a disciplinary situation, or a parent meeting. Letting students know that you notice is important too. If a student is suddenly late to class, even though she's been on time all year, I always ask if there is anything I can do to help her get to class on time. More times than you think the problem is something you can assist with; for example, helping a child learn a better route to your class, perhaps one that doesn't take the long way around, can show that you care, and that you are going to hold the child accountable.
Make a Plan
When the triage nurse assesses the patient, she or he must decide if the patient needs immediate attention, can wait, or doesn't need to be seen at all. When a student's problem is minor, we need to help the child address it. I frequently meet with students to help them organize their lockers, notebooks, backpacks, etc. They simply become overwhelmed—we've all been there. Sure, this type of help isn't always rewarding, as many disorganized kiddos become very flustered when they are required to "get their act together" as I call it, but this type of early action can prevent later problems.
It is important that we treat these small instances on a daily basis, ultimately acting as a triage station. If we can help the child come up with a plan (like take your lunch box with you to the class prior to lunch), we can prevent a small issue like tardiness from turning into an emergency later.
Acting as a triage station by assessing our students, gathering data to add validity to our hunches, and helping the student and other adults make a plan for the student's success is a radical departure from how education has handled the students before us. Too often, the only attention given to students is in the form of emergency care—waiting until a child had failed a class, watching a student continue to lose weight, or comforting a crying child over a divorce. Those are obviously important, but we must remember that even if a child's problem seems small, we must help him or her to figure out the solution.
Every day is an adventure in middle school, and most of us knew that before we started. However, I'd like to encourage you to look at it as a triage station as well. When we can prioritize what needs to be handled immediately and what can be dealt with later, we are helping create a responsive culture where the social, emotional, and academic needs of the child are taken into account.
Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified Teacher at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, New York, and the author of The Flexible ELA Classroom and The Flexible SEL Classroom.
Published in AMLE Magazine, February 2018.
Four ideas to encourage middle schoolers to choose kindness
In recent years, there has been a renewed focus on intentionally fostering kindness and practicing peer respect. We don't want youth to simply not do the wrong thing, but do what is right instead—treat their peers with respect, compassion, and empathy.
To be sure, sometimes educators naively expect kids to know and apply the Golden Rule in all their interactions from early childhood. However, without intentional efforts to instruct and cultivate kindness, your students are simply not going to be focused on others by default. With that in mind, here are some ways you can encourage the children and teens in your life to make kindness go viral.
Set Up a Social Media Compliments Page Most teens have a profile on one or more social networking platforms and are very comfortable navigating these environments. Perhaps you could encourage them to set up a separate account for the purpose of dishing out anonymous accolades to their classmates. This idea was made famous by Kevin Curwick's "OsseoNiceThings" Twitter feed and Jeremiah Anthony's "West High Bros" Facebook compliments page. Now dozens of social media accounts have been set up by teens for the purpose of encouraging and praising their peers.
Participate in Random Acts of Kindness More and more individuals in all walks of life are realizing that it's actually really cool to be kind. It's even cooler when kindness is dished out anonymously and unexpectedly. Encourage your students or children to engage in random acts of kindness in their school or broader community. Search online for examples of young people being kind to others to give them inspiration. Dozens of videos and even the Twitter hashtag #RandomActsofKindness can direct you to ideas as well.
Create a Public Service Announcement Many middle schoolers have great ideas for promoting positivity that they would love to share with others. Give them creative freedom and let them loose to script out and record a short video with the simple purpose of encouraging others to be kind. They could interview their classmates or "famous" people in their school or community (like the principal or mayor). Leave it up to them about how to approach the activity—they'll surprise you and hopefully come up with something compelling! Then you can upload it to YouTube, your school's Web page, or social media accounts, and otherwise use it as a teaching tool to reach so many others!
Make Posters A simple activity that kids of all ages can tackle is to design inspirational posters that can be plastered on walls around the school. It doesn't take much artistic talent to inspire others to be kind with drawings or creative slogans. Teachers could work with a particular class or a specific subset of students to produce posters that could be covertly placed all over the school on Friday afternoon or over the weekend. The rest of the student body will return on Monday and be totally inspired by what they see all around them.
In closing, remember that promoting kindness doesn't have to be a big production. The best ideas are often among the simplest. Working together, parents, teachers, and teens can make tremendous strides toward combating cruelty in all its forms during this school year. Hopefully, as you share these ideas and stories of kindness, your teens will feel compelled to write their own!
Dr. Sameer Hinduja is a professor at Florida Atlantic University and Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. He has written seven books with Dr. Justin W. Patchin and is recognized internationally for his groundbreaking work on the subjects of cyberbullying and safe social media use. As a noted keynote speaker and trainer, Dr. Hinduja provides support to K-12 institutions and various youth organizations to encourage, empower, and equip students to make wise choices online.
Published January 2018
How an LMS supports learning, communication, and collaboration
Schools are incessantly faced with implementing new initiatives and programs. Clickers in the classroom! Use cell phones! One-to-one laptops! Online textbooks! Communicate with parents digitally! The list is endless and the pressure to keep up with ever-evolving technology is constant. Sometimes educators have trouble keeping up with the latest technology as schools have a combination of digital natives and digital immigrants teaching classes.
What if there were ways to manage it all? Technology's latest solution for this issue is the learning management system (LMS). While universities have been using learning management systems for years, they are now being brought into K-12 education.
Why the need for an LMS?
Teachers are always trying to meet the needs of their students, yet many classrooms have students with varied reading levels from second grade to twelfth grade. How can a teacher help each student be successful in the classroom?
Through an LMS, the need for one system to accommodate all learning styles and levels can be met. Teachers can organize their classes and post different documents, assignments, tests, etc. for their students to work on without the students knowing they are receiving something that has been specifically developed for their own level.
Many schools are also trying to streamline courses taught by different teachers through common lessons and assessments. With an LMS, teachers can collaborate on lessons, activities, and assessments, and share these activities with ease. Groups can be created on the LMS for teachers to share resources with specific colleagues.
For teachers, an LMS has many benefits in middle level education. It is an organizational hub for teachers to upload everything they do in the classroom for students. Gone are the days when students had to get paper copies of their absent work; now teachers post worksheets, links, videos, and other resources on the LMS for students to access at home and at school. Submissions of worksheets, tests, quizzes, as well as the grades of these assignments are saved in the LMS. Tracking student progress, attendance, and class content is in one location. What could be better?
The latest movements in technology education are supported since blended learning and flipped classrooms can be created and posted in the LMS. Additionally, as activities and courses are developed on the LMS, they can be archived to be used the following year.
With an LMS communication increases. Groups are developed within the system for sharing resources, sending messages, and connecting with staff and students. Club teachers can have separate groups where information is easily distributed and visible to the members of the club. Administration can post quick messages and instructions and celebrate successes on the LMS, where staff can view the information with ease—and without crowding email inboxes. Moreover, educators have the ability to join community groups, connect with other educators, post questions, and learn from others outside the school community.
As for student benefits, most students are attracted to technology outside school; therefore, the LMS is perfect. Teachers can load educational apps on the LMS to assist students in remediation and review. Students can also add the app from the LMS to be notified when their teacher added something to the course or sent a class message. There is also a built-in reward system in which teachers can give badges to students for good attendance, participation, etc. to reinforce positive behaviors.
Students have the opportunity to communicate with their teachers via the messaging system the LMS has to offer, and they can post questions for their instructor or fellow classmates to answer. Also, the calendar in the LMS will help students get organized, as teachers post upcoming tests and assignments, and club directors post upcoming events. Students learn how to advocate for themselves, feel more comfortable communicating with their teacher, and take responsibility for their progress, as they take more control of their learning.
Class participation and collaborative work increases through the use of discussion boards on the LMS. How many students typically participate in a regular classroom debate? Through the LMS, all students can debate via the discussion boards. Students learn how to communicate in the discussions in an appropriate manner—with scholarly thought—as they type their responses. The discussions allow students to read what all of their classmates think and respond with counter arguments.
What does every parent want from their child's school? Communication. Through the LMS, parents can view their child's courses and everything their teachers post. Parents can stay up to date on their child's assignments by viewing the calendar. Parents can see the work their child is completing on a daily basis in addition to graded tests and quizzes.
Having their child's course content, calendar, grades, and attendance summary in one location fulfills most parent questions, thus lessening the amount of explanatory emails teachers need to reply to. Parents can hold their child accountable at home and supervise their work completion without being a nag.
How it promotes effective middle level education
Middle level students are a unique group of individuals. Some students know how to organize their materials and some students need a new worksheet every day. With the LMS, class materials are organized in one space. Additionally, some middle level students need help knowing how to manage an assignment book. Through the LMS, students can check to see the assignments teachers post.
The LMS is a great system for students as it allows parents and teachers to release responsibility to the students in a way that holds them accountable but supports them by giving them a hub to refer to. Parents are kept in the loop on each class and they are able to transition into a more hands-off parenting role as their child takes the driver's seat.
Through the LMS, we have organized our class pages for students' ease of use. Here is a description of what a typical class period looks like:
Students arrive in the classroom and immediately login to their devices to access the LMS Class page. They look at the calendar on the class page and see if they have any homework or upcoming tests. Students who were absent, look at the Absent Work folder and note what they have to make up from the days they were absent. Next, the teacher directs the class to updates on the class page. The folders on the class page are organized by Marking Period. Unit folders are placed inside the Marking Period folders. The teacher directs the students to a new folder that was added called, “Studying Materials for the Test.” Inside this folder are resources students can use to study for the test. Next, the teacher directs students to a formative assessment in the LMS. The students take the formative assessment and the teacher receives instant feedback from their scores. The teacher is given immediate information including how many students answered each question correct to determine what content needs to be retaught and who the students are that need to be remediated. The rest of the period is spent reviewing the formative assessment and the teacher offers remediation techniques.
As with all new initiatives, teachers need to use the LMS and feel comfortable implementing it in their classrooms, or it will not have the impact it should on students. When our school decided to begin using the LMS, it was rolled out to staff and students in the first year. The goal of the first year was to use each feature at least one time. Features like assigning a test, a discussion, a web link, or a written assignment were administration's goals for teachers' class pages.
While some teachers were excited to dive right in, other teachers were apprehensive because they did not know how the features worked. How well teachers accepted the LMS matched their comfort with using technology in general. Now that we are in our second year of using an LMS, training sessions presented to staff about how to effectively use an LMS in the classroom have proved successful as most teachers use the LMS daily.
Teachers are lifelong learners, and there is always something to learn about the features in the LMS. At times, we have made mistakes implementing the features, however, learning occurs with every mistake made along the way.
Kelly Backenstoe and Kimberly Krempasky are seventh grade social studies teachers in the Northampton Area School District (PA). The district is currently implementing a Learning Management System with the use of one-to-one laptops.
Check out this article on edudemic.com on learning management systems for education:
Understanding the Top Learning Management Systems
Published January 2018
The one bold move that evoked their compassion
Sean sat in the big gray chair in my office, his head between his knees. "I have no friends anymore," he said. I handed him a box of tissues and he wiped his eyes. "No one will talk to me. If I try to sit at someone's lunch table, they either tell me the seat is taken or they get up and walk away."
Sean knew why he was getting shunned. He had been picking fights with classmates and wearing out their goodwill. He sealed his fate when he began making racist comments. Adults held him accountable for his remarks, but he wouldn't back down. Sean was unhappy, out of control, and confused by his own behavior. "I don't even know why I say that stuff," he told me. "I don't mean it." By that point, it didn't matter. His friends were done.
Sean had come to see me before, but this time was different. He wanted to find a way forward. "Last night, I told my parents that everyone hates me," he said. "I don't know what I should do. What if it never gets better?" We came up with a list of options, but only one spoke to him. "I need to apologize," he told me. "I can understand that," I said, then asked him who he wanted to talk to first. "I want to apologize to the whole grade at once," he said.
We talked about what that might look and feel like, from the time of day to what he'd say. I told him I'd moderate to ensure the tone stayed respectful, but that he might not get the desired result. I wanted him to be prepared for any outcome. "I still want to do it," he said. "I need to say I'm sorry, because I really am. I want to say it even if they still hate me."
I consulted with Sean's teacher, and we made plans to give him the floor during homeroom. The day he was slated to speak, he arrived late to school. I wondered whether he felt ambivalent and pulled him aside. "Do you still want to do this?" I asked. "You don't have to go through with it if it feels too overwhelming." He said that he did, so I provided an opening. "Sean has something he'd like to say to all of you," I told his grade. "I hope you'll be supportive, because what he's about to do takes a lot of courage." I looked over at Sean and realized he was crying too hard to speak. We all gave him a moment, and then he told his story. He had made some big mistakes, he said, and he was sorry. He wasn't in a good place himself, and his comments didn't reflect how he felt inside or who he wanted to be. He asked for forgiveness and a second chance. He shared how painful it was to lose all of his friends. His classmates sat frozen in place, their eyes wide. When he finished, I scanned the room and held my breath. I hoped his courage and rawness would be met with compassion. "Does anyone want to respond to Sean?" I asked.
After what seemed like a long pause, Raina raised her hand. "You're really brave," she said. "I don't know if I could do what you just did." Once she broke the ice, the hands went up. Every comment was heartfelt and supportive. "None of us here are judging you." "If you ever need to talk, I'm here for you." "I think you're courageous to apologize for what you said." "I'm sorry we weren't forgiving and didn't give you a second chance." "Now you've made it safe for the rest of us to admit mistakes." "We weren't so great to you either."
By the time several kids had jumped in, Sean's teacher and I both had red eyes. When the comments came to a stop, I told everyone I was proud of them and started wrapping up the meeting. That's when Sean raised his hand. For the first time that morning, he was able to speak without crying. "I just want to say thank you to everyone," he said.
Afterward, Raina found me in the hall. "Know why I spoke up first?" she asked me. "Last week I told Sean to go f**k himself. He wanted to talk to me and my friends, and I didn't want him anywhere near us. When a teacher made me apologize, I said I was sorry, but he knew I didn't mean it." When she saw Sean crying, it triggered her memory. "I used to feel that way all the time," she said. "I was bullied at my old school, and I don't want to be the person who makes anyone feel that way."
I barely made it three feet down the hall before another seventh grader stopped me. "We tortured him, you know," Adam said. "We weren't totally innocent. People did exclude him and talk behind his back. I'm glad we had a chance to make it better. I feel better too."
The experience was intense for me, so I couldn't imagine how Sean felt. I went to check on him. "How are you doing?" I asked. He smiled. "I'm good. Really good. I think that everything will be different now," he said, then headed off to class.
Phyllis L. Fagell, LCPC is the school counselor at Sheridan School in the District and a therapist at Chrysalis Group in Bethesda. She writes about parenting, education, and counseling for
Washington Post and other publications.
Published December 2017.
Helping students succeed by becoming aware of their own thought processes
Harsh skies at noon mirror the deep, stormy sea. Winds scream at tumultuously rolling peaks and valleys. Tossing ship and tumbled crew groan in unison. The captain shouts through the chaos, "Look lively, mates. You've readied our ship and now I need your strength and experience to survive."
Louisa May Alcott knew about survival when she penned, "I'm not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship." And I am sure she advocated for a sturdy, well-centered mast and rigging with strong, well-made ropes and lines. Transferring this thought to the education world, how do we, as educators, impact student resilience? How can we help them be ready?
Ahoy, My Critical Crew
As a teacher, it is my role to help the captain (our students) learn how to sail through the storms. That role includes the opportunity to
- Promote metacognition through modeling, teaching, and regular practice
- Guide thinking and propose new thought patterns
- Provide scaffolding
- Demonstrate how metacognition uncovers erroneous thinking that causes confusion
- Support students as they mature and learn from metacognition
Take Care of the Mast and Rigging
Teachers continuously seek to build a strong framework for student success. The rigging materials include: making connections, instilling vocabulary, practice, and an awareness of pitfalls. This is the scaffolding that supports a framework for success.
This rigging highlights and then builds on connections. Those connections include thinking about past experiences, looking around to think about other students' experiences, thinking ahead to tomorrow and the adult experience, and thinking anew with exposure to new ideas.
Teaching the vocabulary of metacognition is critical because it gives students words to describe their learning process. That ability to label thoughts and experiences gives them power to see what is working and what isn't working. This labeling makes the learning or lack of learning concrete and real. Words allow students to map a plan of action, especially when facing a storm.
In Activating and Engaging Habits of Mind, Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick clearly explain the benefits of practicing metacognition. "As teachers invite students to describe what's going on inside their heads when thinking takes place, children become more aware of their own thought processes. As they listen to other students describe their metacognitive processes, they develop flexibility of thought and come to appreciate that there are several ways to solve the same problem," (p. 29).
And tuning in to student metacognition allows staff to support students along the way, rather than waiting until remediation is needed. It gives teachers an awareness of pitfalls, handing them tools to anticipate areas of confusion and to uncover misconceptions.
Are the Lines Ready?
Every teacher has a specialized collection of ropes that students can use to manage the riggings on their ship.
- Capitalize on common characteristics of your class. Writing and conversation are both essential conduits for fostering metacognition. In language arts, students can write about it. In physical education, students can dribble a basketball with their non-dominant hand and then talk about what is involved in the process of improving the skills of the non-dominant hand.
- Foster reading strategies. Metacognition is at the heart of strategic reading. Incorporate the "8 strategies that strong readers use" into day-to-day instruction and discussion.
- Find or create checklists to help students monitor their learning of your content area. These help students internalize and personalize the process.
- Encourage students to reflect regularly using a variety of modes: journal, exit slip, project analysis, pre-reading, summative assessment.
- Model metacognition with Think Alouds where you share personal planning strategies. Admit personal areas of lack of knowledge and describe ways to fill that need. Demonstrate thought processes, monitoring, and evaluating.
- Plan powerful questions. For help, access some of the multiple resources available. There is helpful and practical guidance in Activating and Engaging Habits of Mind by Costa and Kallick beginning on page 41.
- Use mindful language along with "talk aloud problem solving." Say things like, Describe the steps you took. What can you do to get started? What goes on in your head when you compare? Describe your plan of action. What do you do when you memorize? What criteria are you using to make your choice? How do you know you're correct?
- Regularly structure activities that give students opportunities to reflect on their growth—specific skills and strategies they now use often and with greater ease. Acknowledging success is encouraging and produces more success.
Watch the Wind Vane Together
Successfully surviving storms is all about resilience—knowing what to do at what point in time. It is being able to consider current conditions, consequences, alternative choices, and subsequent consequences. It is knowing when to tack, when to head straight into the winds, and when to turn tail and run.
Fortunately, metacognition is interdisciplinary. We do not live in isolation and we don't have to go it alone. Promoting metacognition helps us exercise the give and take between fellow sailors on the sea of life. It also reflects the mantra of middle level education: "Relationships, Relationships, Relationships."
Use Your Tools in Port or at Sea
Costa and Kallick in their Habits of Mind work describe metacognition as thinking about thinking. It is the process that allows me to reflect on and evaluate my thinking. I use metacognition to ask if my thinking is effective and efficient. If not, what am I going to do about it? What is my plan? And, since metacognition is an awareness of my thought processes, it then prompts me to compare another person's point of view and examine its validity.
Metacognition can help achieve higher-order thinking since it goes beyond higher-order thinking and is about the process. Higher-order thinking provides quality ingredients while metacognition supplies the instructions.
Resilience is bouncing back from failure, turning failure into success, viewing failure as necessary to growth and progress. It is about problem solving and having the patience to work toward answers. It includes a healthy dose of curiosity as well as a willingness to tolerate uncertainty for a period of time. Surviving the storms of life is about resilience and resilience is a mindset—a choice based on the awareness gained through metacognition.
And survival is not possible without a crew; those people who have committed themselves to giving aid on the voyage. The crew includes parents and teachers who have helped the captain learn and grow. Since metacognition provides a foundation for resilience, teachers who seek to ensure high levels of learning and success for all students will use a wide variety of strategies to support students as they think about their thinking—building on that foundation.
One . . . Two . . . Three . . . Heave Ho!
Costa, A., & Kallick, B. (2000). Activating and engaging habits of mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Rebecca Kordatzky is an educational coach/tutor with Bec's Basics in Milton, Wisconsin.
Published December 2017.
Four steps for helping students identify real news
Teaching with current events has always been a vital way to help students become informed and engaged citizens. But the importance of news literacy has perhaps never been as critical as it is today, with the pronounced rise of deliberately misleading and patently fake news.
While middle school students may not always intentionally seek out current events, it's difficult for them to ignore politically motivated posts on social media channels. A 2017 report from Common Sense Media found, "70% of kids say they value following the news because it makes them feel knowledgeable about the world ... [but] ... 31% of kids admitted to sharing a news story online that they later found out was false."
As educators, we have a role to play in equipping our young adults with the critical thinking skills necessary to assess the credibility of news reports as they make their own informed opinions about the day's topics.
Real News Can be Confirmed in Four Steps
Reliability: Determine if a source is trustworthy
We now know that there are intentional efforts to widely disseminate false content on social media channels, blogs, and other websites. Making sure students know how to measure the reliability of a source is a critical first step to helping them spot fake news.
Give your students a list of respected sources and remind them to look at the URL of a source. URLs such as .edu and .gov are the most reputable sources of information. Unusual URLs, such as .co, are more likely to contain unreliable information.
- Another way to measure reliability is to scan the content of the article itself. Is the layout professional? Are photos given proper credit? Are there misspellings or other grammatical errors? Awkward sentence composition and obvious spelling errors are two big red flags for spotting fake news.
Once students know how to determine the reliability of a source, they can dig deeper into the text of a news article to determine whether it is biased or balanced.
Evidence: Check sources, citations, and facts
As students learn to discern real from fake news, it is important to remember that there is a difference between fake news and inaccurate information. Reliable news sources will include links to professional sources, fact-based evidence, and will present multiple sides of an issue. Train students to check the evidence within the article they are reading.
Have students annotate articles, searching for sources and evidence and checking the professionalism and credibility of the facts and evidence provided.
- Help students use websites like politifact.com or snopes.com to cross-check an article against what professional researchers have discovered about the facts.
- Remind students to look for the sources behind each claim in an article. If the source is unverified, or evidence can't be cited properly, the article may not be real.
By reinforcing the need to confirm facts and sources, you're helping students think more deeply about the content they read. And by teaching students to look for these sources of evidence, you are also training them to develop their own writing skills.
Argument: Identify the two sides in every story
This step can be tricky, as even the most factual news outlets can still have a bias or unique perspective on a topic. A biased article does not inherently imply that it's fake news; rather, it's part of the overall formula (along with reliability and evidence) that can help students. A well-written article is balanced, representing many sides of a story. Recognizing that there are, more often than not, multiple perspectives of an event or a political issue, can lead students to better understand their community and the world as a whole.
Identifying the claim and counterclaim in an article can help students engage in healthy debate on current events topics. Sources like Reuters and Associated Press, and TIME Magazine are excellent examples of news outlets that publish all sides of a story.
Language: Show how words and tone matter
The final step of identifying real news is to evaluate the tone and level of sensationalism of an article. Incorporate analysis of word choice in evaluating the reliability of a news source.
Have students identify the most colorful words and phrases in an article. Then have them evaluate these descriptions—do they reveal a bias or an attempt to persuade a reader unfairly?
- Many times, headlines can reveal the veracity of an article by whether or not they seem to be "clickbait." Phrases like "You'll never believe what happens next" or "The most ____ in the world" could indicate a false or inaccurate source of information.
Biased language does not explicitly mean that the news is fake. If a student is reading an article that meets all the prior criteria, but uses language intended to provoke an extreme reaction, suggest that they find another source on that topic. Regularly incorporating current events and nonfiction texts into your classroom can help students better recognize sensational language. Websites like TIME Edge (TIME Magazine's middle school resource) can give students access to real news sources, without pointed or biased language.
By following these guidelines, students will be able to consistently and confidently distinguish real news from fake news.
Lina Mai is an education editor at TIME Edge, and a former public middle and high school teacher.
Published November 2017.
Building college and career readiness by focusing on effort and behavior
Life skills, also known as behavior skills, are the base on which academic and technical skills are built. In the work world, the biggest issue is not technical skill in employees, rather it's behavior skills. People get hired for their technical skills but fired for their behavior skills.
The big push in education today is to prepare students to be college and career ready by high school graduation, but to truly prepare students to be college and career ready, schools need to place more emphasis on teaching, measuring, and increasing students' life skills.
I believe schools should have a life skills grade as well as an academic grade associated with each class. The academic grade would measure and evaluate the technical skills in the class. This is the typical grade students currently receive. The life skills grade would measure and evaluate behavior skills in class: how hard a student works, how well they participate in class, how well they get along with others, their attitude and mindset, etc. Students would receive two grades on their report cards and progress reports for each class: academic and life skills.
I purposefully structure and evaluate my class based on promoting and reinforcing life and behavior skills in my students. As a robotics teacher, I have quite a bit of freedom in how I operate my classroom and its culture. Because of this, I have been able to experiment with non-traditional approaches to classroom management and evaluation. The most successful has been incorporating a daily participation grade for students.
Every day, students receive a grade out of four points. I look for the time they spend on task, how well they work with their group members, and how well they handle when their plans don't work out. Students know from the first day that this is how I evaluate their performance.
I constantly circulate throughout the room interacting with each group of students, acting more as a facilitator than as a teacher who stands in front of the room as the bearer of all knowledge.
Because of this classroom culture and evaluation system, my class purposefully supports the growth mindset by promoting three characteristics in students: intentional effort, embracing challenges, and long-term perseverance.
Students learn by doing, by making mistakes, by learning from those mistakes, and by trying again with more information. This cycle of trying an idea, learning from it, and then trying again more intelligently is the growth mindset in action.
Collaboration is one of the major skills I also focus on. Being able to work well with others to accomplish a shared goal is a skill that will not only help students in school but also for the rest of their lives. And because students have to use those skills, it is easier for them to identify, promote, and foster those skills in other areas of life.
Having a daily participation grade also supports the following quote, "Every day is a fishing day, but not every day is a catching day." Some days you are prepared for a great day of fishing, but for whatever reason you don't catch anything. Other days it happens … you catch a fish!
To be successful in school and life, you have to show up and give your best effort, both of which are totally in our control. The same is true of going fishing, you have to show up and be prepared to the best of your ability to catch something. Sometimes that happens and sometimes it does not, you have little control over that. What you can control is putting yourself in the best possible position for success.
Having a life skills grade in addition to an academic grade for each subject sets the classroom culture, motivates students to be present in both mind and body, and supports building the habits necessary for college and career readiness.
Ross Hartley is a seventh grade automation and robotics teacher at Pickerington Ridgeview STEM Junior High School, Pickerington, Ohio.
Published November 2017.
Five teaching strategies designed to challenge and engage students
"In education, student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education" (edglossary.org). When students are engaged with the lesson being taught, they learn more and retain more. Students who are engaged in the work tend to persist more and find joy in completing the work.
You may ask the question, "What types of work are engaging?" We know from speaking to students that they prefer work where they can have hands-on activities and get to collaborate with their peers. They tend to be less engaged when listening to teacher lectures or doing repetitive tasks and "busy work."
In this article, we will discuss five innovative teaching strategies that engage students: (1) inquiry-based learning, (2) QR codes, (3) problem-based learning, (4) wisely managed classroom technology, and (5) jigsaws. These teaching strategies encourage students to use their imagination to dig deep when engaging with the content of the lesson. The students are actively involved with the learning and can work with their peers in collaborative groups to showcase their learning.
Many of these strategies take students to levels of learning they never thought possible. The students actively seek knowledge and don’t just sit and receive the knowledge from a lecture or worksheet.
Inquiry-based learning is one of the most powerful teaching strategies in the classroom because research tells us that students learn best when they construct their own meaning. Inquiry-based learning triggers student curiosity. Teachers act as facilitators during the inquiry-based learning process.
According to Heather Wolpert-Gawron in the Edutopia article, "What the Heck is Inquiry-Based Learning?", there are four steps in the process:
- Students develop questions that they are hungry to answer
- Students research the topic using time in class
- Students present what they’ve learned
- Students reflect on what worked about the process and what didn’t
In a classroom where students research a topic then present their findings, inquiry-based learning allows students to "learn deeper and wider than ever before" (Wolpert-Gawron, 2016). In traditional teaching, students are less likely to ask questions and are expected to listen and answer questions posed by the teacher. Inquiry-based learning allows students to pose the questions and research and convert the information into useful knowledge, thus ramping up the level of student engagement.
QR (Quick Response) codes are easy to create and have multiple uses in classrooms at all grade levels. QR codes can lead students to information just by scanning the code on a student’s digital device. In the classroom, students can use QR codes to
- Check their answers
- Vote on answers during class discussions
- Extend information found in textbooks
- Get survey information for math units on data
- Participate in scavenger hunts
- Access video tutorials on the material being taugh
- Link students directly to Google maps
QR codes allow students to access information without leaving their seat. Students can even generate QR codes to showcase their learning with peers and parents.
Research confirms that project-based learning (PBL) is an effective and enjoyable way to learn. PBL also develops deeper learning competencies required for success in college, career, and civic life (bie.org).
Project-based learning uses real-world scenarios, challenges, and problems to engage students in critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and self-management. Once students solve the problem or challenge, they present their solutions. The problems students solve can be presented to community leaders to solve problems in their own community.
PBL uses collaboration, digital tools, and problem solving skills to come up with a solution to the problem presented. Why are so many educators interested in this teaching method?
- PBL makes school more engaging for students
- PBL improves learning
- PBL provides opportunities for students to use technology
- PBL makes teaching more enjoyable and rewarding
- PBL connects students and schools with communities and the real world (bie.org).
Wisely Managed Classroom Technology
Many schools have become one-to-one schools, i.e., each student has his or her own technology item (typically a tablet or computer) to work with each day. In some districts, students can take the technology home to complete their homework.
There is a delicate balance with technology use in the classroom. Teachers must use technology in a wisely managed way and with a variety of activities. Several activities that lead to student engagement are Google Docs, YouTube videos, Quizlet, Kahoot!, and the Remind app. These innovative apps and websites can help teachers engage their students, remind them about upcoming assignments and homework, provide visual learning through videos, organize student learning, provide group collaboration, and provide check-ups on learning through games and online quizzes.
The jigsaw technique is a "tried and true" cooperative learning strategy that helps students create their own learning. Students are arranged in groups and assigned a different piece of information. In their groups, students learn the piece of information well enough to be able to teach it to another group of students.
When using this technique, students become experts on the learning as they teach their peers. Once all groups have learned their information, they are placed into new groups with members from each of the small groups. Each group member shares the knowledge they gained in their informational group. This technique brings lessons to life and challenges students to create their own learning. This challenge engages students and encourages them to share their learning with others.
Each of the techniques in this article use strategies in which students question, research, use technology, and create meaning from provided materials and research. These techniques also allow students to solve problems, challenge themselves, and present their findings to others. Student engagement builds on curiosity, interest, passion, and attention. All of the techniques showcased incorporate several of these needed items for student engagement.
James Davis, Ph.D., is an associate professor and program coordinator at Coastal Carolina University, in Conway, South Carolina, where he works within the educational leadership department. He has been named both teacher of the year and principal of the year.
Published November 2017.
How an early career teacher created a culture of mutual respect and learning
After teaching sixth grade math and science my first two years, I was extremely nervous and apprehensive to become a robotics teacher. I did not study robotics in college, and I had never, ever pictured myself in this role. But I am so very happy to have taken on this challenge. It's my fourth year teaching automation and robotics, and I absolutely love what I do.
My favorite part about teaching this class is the atmosphere and expectations that I set up with my students. From the first day of school, I was completely honest with the students. I broke down the walls of the normal teacher-student relationship where the teacher is looked at as the bearer of all knowledge and all knowledge is passed down from the teacher to the students. I created a culture where students and their knowledge are equally valued and as important as the teacher's. This led to a culture of mutual respect and collaboration. I, as the teacher, was not viewed as the bearer of all knowledge, but as a helpful resource to rely on when problems arose. The most important part of creating this culture is setting up those expectations from the beginning of school.
The major theme of this class is "Problem Solving." I present students with a variety of real world scenarios and they have to think of a design to solve that problem. They work in groups of two to four students to create, construct, and program robots to solve the problems I present to them. This allows for a lot of different interpretations and ways to solve problems!
Several key strategies I have incorporated into the class that have proven to be successful are: purposeful grouping, incorporating student choice, and using students in a teacher's role to help other students who needed more assistance.
I incorporated a "Menus" style of teaching and learning. Students would be purposefully arranged in groups of two to four and then they would be presented with three different levels of activities: Appetizer, Main Meal, and Dessert. Within each level, students would have to choose one task out of three or four options. As a group, students would choose which task to complete. Once decided, students would work as a group to design, build, and program the robot to complete the task. I would watch the robot perform the task, sign off on their paper, and they would move on to the next part of the menu. The activities got progressively more difficult as students moved from the Appetizer to the Main Meal to the Dessert level, with the Dessert level activities being the most difficult.
As the years go, I cannot help but think about how much I have learned and how I'm a better teacher as a result of teaching this class. One thing that I realized early on in my teaching career is how much teachers learn from their students. Teaching this class has been one of the best learning experiences of my life.
Ross Hartley is seventh grade automation and robotics teacher at Pickerington Ridgeview STEM Junior High School, Pickerington, Ohio.
Published October 2017.
Empowering students to self-regulate and create a positive classroom community
Growing up in rural Nebraska there were three things I knew I would take away from my upbringing: a tenacious work ethic, a strong sense of community, and an obsessive passion for Nebraska football. Legendary football coach, Dr. Tom Osborne not only taught the Husker faithful about the finer points of running the ball behind a giant offensive line, but he knew the importance of developing his players as leaders and principled citizens.
In order to establish a culture of responsible citizenship and appropriate social skills, Dr. Osborne implemented a Unity Council. The Unity Council was a student-led group elected by their peers that held all the student athletes accountable for their actions, gave the athletics a sense of empowerment, and upheld ideals of citizenship, discipline, and a positive team culture.
The leaders of the Council were student athletes, and if there was a discipline issue or any situation that could negatively impact the team culture, the Unity Council would meet to discuss solutions and possible consequences. As most are aware, Dr. Tom Osborne is known as one of the most successful coaches of all time with 13 conference championships and three national championships.
Over the years, as I have attended professional development events on effective practices that empower students, I've reflected on Dr. Osborne's Unity Council in which student athletes became leaders, empowering them to become not just better athletes, but better citizens.
The majority of my students at the middle level were students coming from poverty and English language learners. I thought it would be beneficial for my students to have an opportunity to develop their critical thinking and communication skills. So, I began to integrate within my classroom a Community Council, in which students become leaders, and address academic issues, understand the value of character and citizenship, and take ownership of their learning environment by holding each other accountable.
Developing the Community Council
The primary purpose of the Community Council is to empower students to take control of their learning environment. The Council is established by placing students into groups of 4-6 students where each group elects one leader out of their group to be on the Community Council. The Council rotates leaders every two months to give every student the opportunity to serve as a leader on the Council.
With the help of teacher-guided questions, students write bylaws for the Council. As hard as this may be for some teachers, it's important to be open to their suggestions. Remember, this is their Council and if you truly want the students to be able to lead and hold one another accountable, they have to believe in the system.
Students may decide on class assignment expectations, behavior disruptions, bullying incidents, small group expectations, rewards/incentives, and team building activities. In my classroom, the Community Council primarily would meet to discuss behavior matters and team building activities. Of course, the environment of each classroom differs, so team building activities may not be an assigned classroom activity.
In addition to the bylaws, the classroom discusses the role of the Council and what it might look and sound like in the classroom. Classroom scenarios are provided to the students based on the items listed in their bylaws, and the entire classroom participates in role-playing the scenarios so everyone knows what to expect and how to appropriately and respectfully respond to the given situation. Ensuring all students are included in the process of creating the Council motivates students to participate fully in ensuring the success of the classroom.
After the leaders are chosen by their groups, it's a good idea for the teacher to meet with the leaders separately to discuss behavior and expectations. In my classroom, I had the students meet either prior to or after school for approximately 15-30 minutes to discuss leadership qualities and skills, speaking and listening skills, behavior expectations, and meeting guidelines.
The student leaders were provided a sheet that contained meeting guidelines and behavior expectations. For example, I only allowed 15 minutes to conduct their meetings and they had to conduct their meetings using appropriate behavior skills. I also provided my student leaders my Student Communication Model (SCM) a simple script that teaches students how to articulate their ideas and opinions appropriately and effectively.
An example of the Community Council in action would be a classroom debate over a homework assignment. The classroom teacher would announce to the class that this is an issue the Community Council needs to address. The leaders would gather the suggestions from their groups, meet outside the classroom to discuss and share ideas, and agree on a resolution. Meeting outside the classroom may not work, so you may designate an area within your classroom. Once a decision is made among the student leaders, the Community Council would present their solution to the teacher and the class. The teacher may have to ask questions to prompt the leaders to consider the short- and long-term impact on the students and community. Ultimately, the teacher has the final decision if the solution is not within reason.
Ideas to Consider
The leader is elected by the students, however the teacher may appoint one student as well. I often appointed an at-risk student, choosing someone who was charismatic, maybe perceived as the class clown, yet possessed strong leadership skills. This student may require a little more guidance on communicating appropriately, but it provides an opportunity for the student to develop their leadership and social skills, increases responsibility, and often has a positive impact on motivation.
More importantly, this may be the first time they feel they have a voice and that they're a critical member of the classroom, which, in turn, could have a positive impact on their academic achievement.
The Community Council provides a platform for students to feel valued in their ability to make responsible decisions, self-regulate, and be active participants in creating a positive classroom community. The Unity Council had profound effects for Tom Osborne and his football team. They won three national titles, which Osborne attributed a great deal to having the Unity Council.
While the Community Council did not help my middle grades math classes win national championships, it does create a positive work environment for students to achieve their goals successfully.
Victoria S. Lentfer, Ed.D. is a secondary instructor and middle school program director for the University of Nebraska Omaha.
Published October 2017.