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“What has Mr. Snail taught us?” asks a teacher, holding up a puppet with a bright red-felt shell.
“How to come out of my shell when I’m feeling shy,” says a boy seated in front.
“And what about Mr Grasshopper?” she asks. A little boy shouts “How to pay attention when your body wants to…” And he demonstrates a case of the fidgets.
Around the walls of this school in the Bronx are colorful construction paper displays that highlight essays like “The Things I Love” and “What Makes Me Scream.”
An article on Scholastic.com, whose source was Instructor Magazine, describes how a program called “Turnaround for Children” works.
PS 32 in the Bronx decided five years ago that its 800 students needed more than skills and drills. Nearly all the children come from very poor, stressed and sometimes chaotic families.
Principal Esther Schwartz says, “Before they can begin to learn, our children often need help with basic social skills — sharing or taking a turn. Many need help regulating their attention, their emotions, or controlling their impulses.”
In the five years since this Bronx school first implemented Turnaround for Children, the percentage of kids deemed proficient in reading has risen from 30 to 70 percent.
Turnaround for Children helps administrators identify troubled kids, and then works with teachers to build academically rigorous and emotionally healthy learning communities. It does this by making social and emotional skill-building part of the comprehensive curriculum.
“We’ve discovered that social and emotional skill-building goes hand in hand with learning,” says Schwartz.
FIVE SKILLS TO TEACH
Researchers have begun to identify the soft skills that kids need to succeed at school and in life. Below are the five most important, with some tips on what you can do in the classroom to help foster the growth of these skills.
1. Naming Your Feelings
Most parents, caregivers and teachers provide this instruction almost reflexively. If a toddler is crying, Mom may ask, “Are you upset because you want that toy?” This soothes, but it also provides a lexicon for the highly charged moment.
With kids from somewhat deprived backgrounds or with older kids, the job of helping a child sort and articulate shades of emotion becomes part of a teacher’s job.
Child psychologist Pam Cantor is chief of Turnaround for Children. She says the simple, puppet-based program featuring Mr Snail and Mr Grasshopper, developed by her staff and taught once a week, can help kids name what they’re feeling. Then they can begin to fend off tantrums and meltdowns.
If Turnaround for Children isn’t being implemented at your school, you can opt for a less formal approach involving classroom discussion.
For example, if a child refuses to speak during circle time out of shyness, you might say, “That’s okay Andre. Sometimes I don’t feel like talking either. But if you want to share later, we’d love to hear from you.”
Then talk to the child individually about ways to calm his anxiety, such as taking deep breaths. Finally, try hosting a whole-class discussion about how to overcome shyness.
2. Building Trusting Relationships
Anthony Bryk of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching wrote in his now-classic study that trust is the emollient that keeps schools running smoothly. Nowhere is that more important than in the classroom, in the teacher-student relationship.
When teachers take the time to establish trusting relationships with students, they can see a world of difference. “It makes learning more powerful,” says Mary Utne O’Brien, psychology professor at the University of Illinois.
“Many teachers bemoan the fact that they don’t feel like they have time to develop those relationships. I would argue that building trust is the first lesson before any others.”
O’Brien says small gestures mean a lot.
She suggests that you be predictable, be consistent, and do what you say you will do. Articulate that you want the children to learn. Then show them that you’re willing to go the extra mile to ensure that they do. These acts will help children learn to trust you — as well as the larger community.
“Children have to trust that their teacher cares about their education.” Having the capacity to trust allows a child to focus on what’s important — learning.
3. Staying in Control
Several studies show that the ability to inhibit impulsive mental, verbal and physical responses — and to remain engaged in goal-directed thinking without calling out, fidgeting or responding to provocation — is key for school success.
In one study, researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that children who had the strongest regulatory abilities tended to do as well — sometimes better than — less regulated children who had higher IQs. The same is true of older children.
The study found that the least impulsive and most self-disciplined of the group had better grades and study habits. They got into more selective high schools than their peers with higher IQs but less controlled behavior.
“By the time children start school, they are expected to sufficiently regulate impusivity in order to engage in learning experiences with teachers and classmates,’ says Clancy Blair, lead researcher.
Depending on the age of your students, introduce simple lessons in controlling impusivity. This will go a long way toward helping kids learn to focus.
Learning to self-talk is an excellent way to build self-control. One common approach is to encourage kids to “think aloud” as they complete a project or problem. Teach them to say or whisper each step as they perform it. This process can help boost the kind of silent self-talk that comes naturally to more disciplined kids.
4. Having Curiosity
Curiosity may be the key to success on a lot of levels, academic and otherwise. It may be even more important overall than happiness.
Curiosity leads to mindfulness, says Todd Kashdan, professor at George Mason University.
Mindfulness is the engaged, satisfied state of being one feels when absorbed in a meaningful task, whether it’s achieving an A in a class or organizing a blood drive. Kashdan is the author of “Curiosity: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life.”
According to Kashdan, teachers are in a unique position to foster curiosity in the classroom and put their kids on the road to mindfulness and mental health.
How to do it?
Rote memorization of facts is the enemy of the curious mind, he says. Whenever possible, banish rote learning. Help students understand events in the Civil War from different perspectives. Discuss whether the Civil War might have been a bad or a good thing for a Southern mill owner, a Northern shipping tycoon, a slave, or the President. Such discussions promote the kind of thinking that will pay off later.
“Children who are taught there is a difference in perspectives maintain the mental and emotional receptiveness they need to remain curious,” says Kashdan. “High levels of curiosity translates into a child’s ability to think critically, problem-solve more creatively, and even to recognize different strengths in different kinds of kids.”
If you’re still not wanting to change your Civil War curriculum, think about this, says Kashdan. As curious kids grow up, they are better able than their less curious classmates to find things to be passionate about.
5. Expressing Gratitude
Even for star pupils, school can sometimes be difficult. Help children balance some of the challenges of learning by giving them the opportunity to express gratitude.
Expressing gratitude leads to warmer feelings toward the teacher, as well as higher levels of school engagement. Even with children who struggle, this translates to better GPAs.
And a fringe benefit is that grateful kids also experience less envy and are less materialistic.
How does this work?
Jeffrey Froh, professor of psychology at Hofstra University, says when teachers encourage kids over age 7 to regularly name and describe what they are grateful for in their lives, they begin to see how interconnected they are to other people. “They see who is helping them.”
Not everyone benefits equally. “Some kids have more baseline gratitude than others,” says Froh. Certain children take to gratitude easily, but for some it continues to be an effort. “But when you make the discussion of gratitude in the classroom more fluid and regular, everyone benefits a little,” says Froh.
Start by sharing your own thank yous: “Thanks for walking to lunch so quietly.” “Thank you for picking up your candy wrapper!”
By modeling gratitude — articulating how people are helping you and your feelings of warmth toward them for their help — you can support children in becoming more grateful themselves.
source: from Scholastic.com, article whose source was Instructor Magazine. No author noted. http://www.2.scholastic.com
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