This workshop was timely and significant for teachers and students returning to school in these unsettling times. I enjoyed the idea of meaningful texts acting as windows, mirrors or sliding glass doors. Some texts allow us to see through a window and into another world from a safe distance, yet still have empathy and connection with those they come across. Other texts act as mirrors and reflect who we are and allow us to understand ourselves better. Finally, some texts are sliding doors, which allow us to actually step into another world, experience something life-changing, and bring back that "experience" to our real world and life.
More than ever, this year's start will need to foster shared experiences through texts. With shared connections and vocabulary, a community can be formed. This can come in the form of read alouds, heart maps/identity webs or the classroom library.
For texts to be most effective, keep in mind several things. Choice is important. If you give them a focus of a topic or theme, students can choose any type of text and level--poems, novels, picture books, graphic novels--and still come together to talk and share their opinions on the common theme. Relevance is another key component. The text needs to be significant to them and engage their senses and mind.
What do we as educators want learners to become? Critical, creative problem-solvers. Instead of students simply extracting information, they need to be able to transact and interact with the text. What do they connect with? What are they interested or frustrated with? What's important to them? They need to be able to feel safe to express their opinions, ideas and viewpoints. Building the courage and the capacity to share with others is essential. Disruptive thinking interprets the book in different ways; at the book level, head, and the heart. Being able to ask questions, not just answer them, is more important.
Source: Celine Feazel, Sept. 1, 2020, Summer Institute workshop
Language-processing problems constitute the largest proportion of learning disabilities. These include hearing sounds and words, understanding meaning, remembering verbal content, and communicating clearly.
The following are just a few examples:
Speech and Language Comprehension
Students tend to process information more slowly than usual. Sometimes teachers move on when they feel a response is not forthcoming. Often these students may be considered unmotivated or lazy. Also, language-processing disabilities affect their thinking. Language (words) are necessary to name people, places and things. Social development is influenced with this disability as they struggle with speaking, so they become fearful, shy and withdrawn; some deal in the opposite manner and become bullies. Others prefer to spend time with younger kids, using simpler language.
Word usage and comprehension is found in the left cerebral cortex. Inefficient neural "networking" can also result in processing issues. Some areas are underworked while others are handling too much. There also appears to be a genetic or heredity link with family members, as well.
The best way to intervene is with early recognition and appropriate and intense instruction. Special education is essential. They can use audio materials or simplified texts to handle the information overload. Extra time is often needed for tests and assignments. Test questions may need to be read to them. Teachers may need to speak slower and with simpler one-step instructions. Technology can assist in many ways with reading texts aloud, dictation, voice-to-text recognition, along with spelling and grammar checking.
Despite reading, writing or verbal problems, students with this language-processing disability can end up achieving amazing things, especially in professions that do not rely on advanced language skills: medical technology, architecture, finance, photography, engineering, mechanics, TV production, fine arts and computer programming, to name a few. The key thing is to maintain understanding and encouragement in order to maintain their self-confidence and enthusiasm for learning.
Source: Learning Disabilities: A to Z; Corinne Smith and Lisa Strick, 2010
This chapter definitely gets into some practical classroom suggestions related to mindfulness: mindful memory, field of vision, mindful seeing, and taking a pause.
But it starts off with the first thing of the day: attendance, and its value. The authors stress the importance of not only knowing who’s present, but acknowledging their value and their state of mind. It’s important to establish that connection, first thing. I realize that with online attendance, I’m not making that eye-to-eye contact that I normally had in the past (partly because of the way my computer is facing), so I plan on going back to a paper and pen method (along with the online, as well.)
The root of mindfulness is attention, focussing on what’s important. Mindfulness also reduces mind-wandering. Being able to prioritize between relevant and irrelevant information is critical for mindfulness. Learning mindfulness is a useful skill for both teachers and students alike.
Mindful Memory is a technique that stresses process over product. In other words, although the goal of memorizing is important, the process and experience of paying attention while memorizing is equally as important. One activity is the Memory Game. Phase 1: Put a dozen objects on a table and cover them. Then students look for a minute, cover them up, and then recall the items on a piece of paper. Phase 2: Place new objects, but use Take 1 to calm their minds to focus attention prior to seeing the objects. Variation #2: While teaching a regular class, suddenly pull then over to a table and do the Memory Game again. Variation #3: Play music or read a story aloud while the students memorize new objects. This is testing the effects of distraction and multitasking on concentration. Finally, reflect and find out how students felt after each of these three variations of the memory game.
The Field of Vision activity shows where you look affects what you see--a kind of “mental shortsightedness.” What you expect to see affects what you notice. This activity entails going outside, and covering the ground with many little twigs. Pick a short twig about 7cm, and say you will place in amongst the twigs and the students need to find it. They face away and then you pretend to place it on the ground but actually put in behind your ear but with a little bit showing. See how many students actually see the twig in your ear, the “last” place they expect. Finally, ask the students what the point of the activity was.
Mindful Seeing involves simply seeing and looking--and nothing else: no judgements, no opinions, no assumptions. Then apply mindfulness to look for something--”thinking, and deciding or attributing meaning.” The difference is looking at something vs. looking for something. This exercise leads into the notion of first impressions, and how mindful seeing can help you from getting caught up in making quick judgements, which later might be found to be false.
Taking a beat or a Pause aids in mindfulness, even if it’s just one breath in and out. This momentary pause can help you determine four things: 1) the simple facts with no emotion or interpretation; 2) how you feel about it; 3) what you think about it; 4) what might be the best to do. Start with neutral objects, before moving onto objects with more emotion attached. This will give you the best chance to come up with a good plan or idea in any difficult situation or circumstance.
Source: Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness, Deborah Schoeberlein David, 2009
Chapter 2: mindfulness in the morning
Deborah David believes the morning is the perfect time of the day to begin mindfulness. It’s basically saying “Hello” to the day, and acknowledging and appreciating its value. An intention is another important aspect of mindfulness, as it helps orient your day with a clear focus in mind, like a ship’s anchor in the sea. “Intention focuses attention on a particular objective, and mindfulness harnesses awareness to sustain your focus.” An example would be “to aspire to express more patience today when I work with a particular student.” Five key points about intentions: 1) set the intention; 2) notice your experience while recalling your intention; 3) return to your intention; 4) do something to support your intention; 5) acknowledge later your success with your intention. It’s important to be realistic, especially early on, with your intentions. Start small and be specific. The author feels that since the process of working with intentions is perhaps the most important goal, don’t feel bad on the days that your (best) intentions fail miserably. The author talks about a variation of Take 5, where when you notice during your breathing session a thought or feeling comes to mind, simply say “thinking” or “feeling” and then return to notice your breathing. At the end of the chapter, David recommends trying to be mindful of all the little activities you do, from brushing your teeth to eating breakfast. I tried it for a short while, and I did notice things that I normally would have normally missed completely. I tried to fully “experience” my shower, my shaving, my teeth brushing. Trying to fully be aware and attentive of life is a novel experience, but challenging and wearing on the mind, as well. Ultimately, try to pay attention and be present and live in the moment, and having a good start in the morning helps pave the way for the rest of the day.
Chapter 3: on to school
David recommends modeling your own mindfulness to your students, which supports their social and emotional learning (SEL). The five main competencies of SEL are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. If teachers can model SEL competencies while implementing the curriculum, that promotes maximum learning. A great intention is to model SEL competencies to your class. During the day, notice when you are becoming distracted or stressed, angry or anxious, steady or confident. Go through the 5 steps of being aware of your intentions, as well as mindful breathing. David also talks about the importance of being mindful and present when students first step into the classroom; they are aware of a calm, welcoming teacher, or a harried, unprepared one. Also, the transition to work should not be a power struggle but rather a shift of their attention and interest to something else as desirable. Introducing Take 1: Mindful Breathing (for students) is a great way to prepare students to become self-aware and attentive to their breathing, as well as their environment. Finally, David describes mindfulness for students as finding that perfect balance between too much attention and concentration and too little. For example, holding a pencil. If you hold it too loosely, it wobbles and creates scribbles; too tightly, and your hand begins to cramp up. Effective learning activities need to find that balance, as well, and the author cites riddles as an example. There is enough ambiguity involved, but complexity and creativity are needed to solve them. Some similar type of morning or brain work would be a good idea to start off the day. So remember to model SEL to students, including times when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and start the class day with activities that require both mindfulness, as well as creative and critical thinking.
Source: Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness, Deborah Schoeberlein David, Suki Sheth, 2009
Brief Summary of chapter 1
“Mindfulness is a conscious, purposeful way of tuning in to what’s happening in and around us.“ Paying attention and being aware has many benefits: mental focus, academic performance, emotional balance, capacity for kindness, empathy, and compassion. You can’t often change events and people’s actions around you, but you can change how you experience them: respond, rather than react; being mindful presents to you more choices when you are in a calm, focussed mental state. There’s also mindful teaching--being present and fully connecting with the students and their learning; the contrast is mindlessness--completely going through the motions, not really listening or creating flow. Finally, the best way to teach something is to learn it first with practice, then application--”experiential foundation.” Take 5 is a simple but effective start with Mindful Breathing.
Source: Deborah Schoeberlein David, Suki Sheth, Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness, 2009
Boys can be physically aggressive and violent, but mean girls can be aggressive in often subtler ways, and it starts early--at preschool or kindergarten. Social scientists describe this systematic teasing as "relational aggression" or "social cruelty." Relational aggression actually leads to physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, as well as often have more long-lasting effects than physical aggression.
Unfortunately, these behaviours are often hidden in girl culture, so adults are often oblivious of what's happening.
One common aggressive behaviour displayed by mean girls is exclusion, one of the most hurtful actions for most people, and in particular, girls. These actions lead to problems to girls' psyches and self-esteem, as well as affect their learning and achievement.
Girls are often stuck in a social system known as a yo-yo friendship; in other words, best friends one day, then worst enemies, and then best friends again--and on and on it goes.
Source: Little Girls can be Mean, Michelle Anthony & Reyna Lindert, 2010.
Our PRO-D at Surrey Centre Elementary was on social-emotional learning, presented by Sheldon Franken, a school counselor in Delta and director of Inquiry Adventures.
According to CASEL, these are the five interrelated core competencies:
The workshop had a nice blend of theory and hands-on activities. We started with the Spot It! cards and ULead Cards, which allowed us to quickly find partners and then share based on a picture, question and quote. There were further uses with the cards, but even those three tasks were a great ice-breaker. Another really fun activity was forming a ring with mountain climbing rope/strap and then leaning backwards. That was probably the most interesting as you had to really trust others and work together to achieve a common goal. The Chaos game was also a little frustrating and fun as we had to pick two people and then stand equal distance between them. The juggling game was also interesting, especially when the rubber chicken was tossed into the mix. It shows that more focus is necessary when there are variables are in play. Finally, we also tossed around a variety of thumballs, which gives students both a physical and thinking task to do. Each ball has a variety of questions and topics to engage students to share with others.
I can see with students where these tools would assist and enhance their social and emotional capacities. Sometimes have something shared in their hands is less intimidating than simply staring at each other, face to face, to discuss a topic or question.
Another important aspect of these activities is the debriefing afterwards, to make sure students have an idea of what the purpose/function of the task was. The 3 important questions are the following: 1) What? 2) So what? 3) Now what? Our ultimate goal, of course, is transfer to real life, not simply being stuck in the classroom.
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.