Dr. Lori Desautels 317-207-0336 brain@revelationsineducation.com

Reflections, Strategies Shared, as Second Year Teachers Ponder Serving Students who are Cognitively Socially and Emotionally Challenged

Brittany Scherer

EDU 523/525

September 10, 2013

 

For this reflection, I chose to focus on the strategy of incorporating more choice into my classroom. This has been a priority of mine over the last few weeks, and I have seen a significant increase in engagement in my classroom. To begin, when reviewing the information we discussed in class about multi-sensory simulation, “Choices” was #3 on a list of strategies to engage all students in the lesson. We have learned that choices in the classroom can increase engagement and enjoyment in the classroom for learners at all levels. Given the high number of Exceptional Learners at Arlington High School, I know that I must design my lessons to meet the needs of all my students (ranging in reading level from post-twelfth grade to first). Engaging ALL learners has been an area that I have struggled with in the past, so I decided to “start small” by focusing on offering more choices in class (see below for specific examples).

Briefly, in terms on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I believe offering your students choice comes into play as early as the “Need to Know and Understand” stage. If you look under the “School Actions” for this stage, the article suggests “assigning some class work and homework in students’ areas of strength.” I think that this clearly is an opportunity to incorporate choice in the classroom. If students are given the opportunity to choose their own strengths to focus on, they are more likely to be engaged in the lesson/activity in class. Similarly, the “Positive Psychology” article talks about the importance of helping students identify their unique character strengths, and to increase students’ USE of these strengths in day-to-day life. This study shows that by allowing students to choose what strengths they should focus on (meaning, discover their own personal strengths), students felt better about school and themselves. Essentially, the positive psychology program increased students’ reports of engagement and enjoyment in school, which I have seen occurring in my classroom as I make an effort to offer my students more choices throughout the day, and thus the ability to focus on their personal strengths. Even something as simple as allowing students to choose what color marker to use for our Gallery Walk of the Unit 2 Essential Questions seems to put happiness and focus in the air.

As mentioned earlier, in just the last few weeks, I have noticed that my students are much more engaged in the class activity when given choices. One area in my classroom that I have incorporated more choice has been in the passages that students are required to read. For example, if we are practicing the skill of finding the main idea and supporting details in a nonfiction passage, I provide students with several articles and allow them to pick which article they want to read to practice this skill. I ensure that the passages are written around similar reading levels (usually 8th grade because I teach 8th grade J), but I try and find articles that cover a variety of topics, such as science, sports, and music. This way, students can choose topics that are of interest to them, while at the same time practicing the skill they have learned that day. Another area in my classroom that I have incorporated more choice has been what questions students are required to answer on worksheets. For example, when we were practicing the skill of using context clues to discover the meaning of unfamiliar words, I gave students a worksheet with 20 sentences, but only required them to pick 15 sentences to complete. This gave students the ability to practice the skill of using context clues, while at the same time allowing students to choose which words they wanted to discover the meaning of, as well as skip sentences with words they may have already known. Additionally, while planning my unit for The Giver (which we will begin next Thursday), I decided to give my students a choice when it comes to comprehension questions. For example, I am only going to require students to answer three of four, or five of six questions. I have been very deliberate to make sure each question involves about the same amount of thinking, and covers the same standard(s) so that students do not choose to skip the “hardest” question or a question over a standard they have not yet mastered. Finally, I want to be better about incorporating choice on assessments in my classroom. I especially want to make sure that when I require students to answer an essay question, that they have a choice. For instance, I want to ensure I have two essay prompts for students to choose from so that students do not feel “locked in” or overwhelmed if they get to the essay portion and do not know how to answer the only question that they see. If students can pick one of two prompts, they are bound to feel more confident about one than the other. Essentially, I want to give ALL students the opportunity to feel successful in my classroom, and I believe incorporating more choice into my lessons and assessments will create this sense of success (not to mention more engagement and enjoyment!).

 

Alita Haque

EDU 523 A Exceptional Needs

Lori Desautels

Teenagers are in a world of their own. As a high school Algebra 2 and Pre – Calculus teacher at University Heights Preparatory Academy, I never know what to expect on a day to day basis. The teenage mind is a complex and complicated one and that is definitely true for my teenagers. As the famous Dr. Jill Taylor stated in her Ted Talk “The Neuroanatomical Transformation of the Teenage Brain”, teenagers are in a unique position to create a conscious relationships with their brains.  She speaks about how we ‘think thoughts, feel emotions’ and based on those emotions we run ‘physiological responses.’

In her almost 17 minute Ted Talk, Jill explores the teenage minds and explains to viewers how “we are feeling creatures who think.” Teenagers are in a venerable age where everything feels like the most important thing in the world. Their daily second by second emotions are created by what they are currently thinking at the moment. I can recall countless times where my students come into class “angry” or “sad” because of other thoughts in their mind. Regardless of the numerous times I try to get them on track with math, their mood is determined by what is on their mind.

Additionally, the most powerful message Dr. Taylor informs her listeners are about those teenagers who take a conscious relationship with their brain. Jill tells her views ‘I believe that those of you who are willing to create a conscious relationship with your brain – you will be the leaders  who will guide humanity back to our mental health, and you will be the game changers who will help bring our planet back to balance.’ Those special teenagers who could control their emotions and control what they think are light years ahead of their counterparts and will be the leaders for their peers.

While millions have watched her infamous Ted Talk, ‘My Stoke of Insight’, Dr. Taylor’s newest Ted Talk explores the fascinating thoughts and emotions of the teenage brain. Dr. Taylor explores how the teenage brain is in a unique and powerful development stage of their lives, and truly explains their thoughts and actions in the classroom. This educational talk provided me with a great insight on how my students are feeling. Now during difficult times in class, I take a step back and truly think about the messages Dr. Taylor spoke about.     

Rosamond Doran

Reflection #1

EDU 525

12 September 2013

 

Thinking about the various strategies we have discussed in class, the one that has made the biggest impression on me is acknowledging our students’ emotions and thoughts. I was reflecting on why this strategy has stuck with me so clearly, and I believe it goes back to when I was in middle school. I teach 8th grade, and when I was an 8th grade student, I struggled throughout that year with bullying, anxiety and relationships. What most frustrated me when I was going through that was the lack of understanding that came from the adults around me. They would try to solve the problem by looking to the future. For example, I often was told something like “oh hunny, in 10 years, you won’t even remember this.” They were correct, I do not necessarily remember the problem I was having, but I do remember their response and how I felt as though they did not understand me. I made a promise to myself to never underestimate, or belittle children’s and teenagers’ emotions when I became an adult.

As a first year teacher last year, I remember trying to put myself in my students’ shoes. The first thing I thought of was that promise to myself regarding their emotions. It can be a challenge because as an adult, we recognize that a lot of the problems of middle school students seem petty or little. But, to that student, the problems are their entire world. The acknowledging strategy allows us as adults to validate their emotions and recognize the problem, while coming up with a plan to move forward.

I have tried this strategy with several students. There is one student whose story I want to describe because through this student, I have found a great deal of success with this strategy. This student, who to protect her privacy I will call “Grace,” is a student who provides teachers with a lot of challenges. She has a lot of anger problems, she has been to residential school and she is very tough on the outside. I was lucky, in that her best friend was one of my athletes last year, so Grace decided she liked me. Due to this, whenever she has an outburst, she often comes to me or seeks me out to avoid trouble. She is the student with whom I have seen the greatest success with this strategy.

Grace refuses to do work when she becomes upset. She screams profanities and throws her work on the floor. After her outburst, I went to her desk and asked if she would feel comfortable talking with me about what had just happened. To my knowledge, she had been triggered by the difficulty of the work. In the hallway, I led with, “Grace, I sense you are feeling frustrated with your work right now, is that correct?” She immediately told me she was not frustrated with the work but that one of her classmates had been getting on her nerves and she was really trying not to get into an argument or altercation with this student. She had been working all day to avoid the problem, but they have classes all day together and it was last period. I thanked her for correcting me, and asked her what we could do to make the situation better. She had to think for a moment because I do not believe she is often given that opportunity. She asked if she could finish the work up in the Dean’s office so she could talk to him and avoid the situation. I thanked her for her idea and sent her with a pass up to the dean. Later, the Dean called and thanked me for sending her up before she exploded because we had helped her avoid trouble. Ever since that first time, I have tried to use validation with Grace. She completes all of her work in my class and is not a behavior problem, but I know that in other classes she is very distracting and causing a lot of problems. The other teachers who have begun using this strategy specifically with Grace have seen great improvement in her behavior. It is not that her behavior is always perfect, but she is learning how to handle situations. Also, I believe the validation strategy has helped me build a better relationship with Grace; a student who I do not believe has a lot of positive adult relationships in her life.

There are many benefits to the acknowledging strategy that I have found. It has helped me build relationships with many of my students. When my students have been upset about an unfair teacher, it used to carry into my classroom. Using this strategy, I have actually validated an entire class and then we discussed how I would always be fair and how I could show them that. By validating the class’ feelings and then allowing them to “teach” me how to be fair, we set up a great classroom culture. In that class, I can say “now I have to give demerits out, not because I want to, but because we decided this behavior would earn demerits.”

Another benefit to this strategy has been that the students have a sense of independence. My middle school students really want to be independent people, but they are struggling with what that means. When I allow them to decide how to best solve the situation, I have to approve it, but they walk away with a sense that they were in control and independently solved the problem.

The greatest challenge I have found with this strategy is that it takes time. The most effective way to do it is to pull the student aside to have a one on one conversation. There are moments where that is not practical in the school day. It is unfortunate that I cannot always use this strategy because of that, but if the situation escalates, or I can tell the student would greatly benefit, I try to make time.

Concluding this reflection, the acknowledging and validating strategy have positively impacted my classroom and my school. It has helped me build relationships with students and has allowed me to de-escalate heated situations before they turn into altercations among students. I am working on sharing this strategy to all of my peers so that we can all recognize the importance of our students’ feeling and how can help our students continue working past an upsetting situation.

 

Emily Amendola

9/10/13

EDU 523 Exceptional Needs

Reflection 1

            I have thoroughly enjoyed our class and discussions so far this semester. I assumed with a course description of “Exceptional Needs” we would strictly be talking about how to best accommodate students with special needs and other disabilities. With a degree in psychology, I am more than thrilled that we have taken our discussions of accommodations and strategies to the next level by taking a more well-rounded approach and focusing a lot on the brain of all of our students. I absolutely love the brain and discussing the adolescent brain is fascinating. My first reflection will focus mainly on the positive psychology article and the two short articles about stress in the classroom and around testing.

I found the positive psychology article very intriguing. After reading this article, I now know that there are three different types of happiness. The ebb and flow to find a balance between positive emotions and an engaged, meaningful life is something that I believe we are all striving for, but we have never had this brought to our attention. This information was not new to me, but I found it very informative. To me, this article was most helpful in its description of the Strath Haven Positive Psych Curriculum case study at the Geelong Grammar School. I appreciated how they described a number of concrete ways and areas where the school had implemented the curriculum and even further plans to continue its use. I loved the “Blessings Journal” and semi-circle ideas where the students share their “WWWs” or “What Went Well” from the previous days (Seligman, 13). I plan to begin implementing a strategy similar to this in my class. I have found that a majority of my students tend to focus on negative things in their lives and some even take an apathetic approach to school. I feel that if I can help them to focus on positive things that occur in their lives, they may change their outlook on other things such as school.

I also liked how the article highlighted the parts of the curriculum that focus on their character strengths. I believe it’s very helpful and even powerful for students to know the areas of their lives where they thrive. I think that some students may be aware of a few great traits they possess, but to have several pointed out to them is very empowering. I also loved how the Geelong School implemented the use of these strengths. They had their students write a narrative about a time they did something well. Then after taking the strength assessment, they were made to reread their narrative and find examples of these strengths within it. I feel this would be a very powerful activity for my students; however, after looking at the website for the assessment, this may not be possible. I am planning to brainstorm a similar process though.

As a coach, I also appreciated the example the article gave about how this can be applied to sports. I think it is a very helpful practice to go back and review how a competition went. However; most of the time we as coaches and athletes simply go back and watch film or talk about the things we didn’t do so well so that we are able to practice to correct them. The Geelong School’s coaches took reflection to a new level by having the athletes look at the competitions through the lens of their character strengths. As a team they reflected on areas where character strengths were highlighted and parts of the contests where their character strengths could be improved or implemented (Seligman, 14). I think this method of reflection and analysis of sports is phenomenal and I plan to find a way to implement this into the sports I coach and play.

While my reflection focus is mainly on the positive psychology article, I did want to comment a bit on the two stress articles. The main reason for this is because I have used a few of the strategies they used in these articles in some of my past classes. Last year before ISTEP/ECA, I had my 8th grade algebra class write down all of their worries and fears about the test a few days before it was to happen. Then we had a discussion about them. At the conclusion of our discussion, I had them crumple their papers and throw them at me, to try and signify that they had lifted their worries and that they were now mine to carry. After reading the stress articles, I will probably have them do that again this year, but more than likely it will be the day of the test instead of a few days before. Both of the articles state how having students write out or relieve their fears and worries immediately before will help to clear their working memory, where most of their learning and thinking takes place (“Test Anxiety”, Strauss).

 

Reflection #1                                                                  Heather Young

 

At this point in the year I have gotten to know most to all of my students. Of course, I have some students who are just now getting to school or switching schools. But, that’s the way of urban education. We have an ever transient population so new students are not uncommon or a surprise. With that being said, I have been doing a lot of reflection lately about the attitudes and self-efficacy, personally and academically, of the students. I am constantly wondering what they value, where they see themselves in 10 years, what influences them and if they have good role models at home. All of theses things factor into whether or not a student is going to have the drive and the grit to become a successful adult 5 years from now. I teach both middle and high school, so the differences in the mentality and willingness to learn and listen are very intriguing. High school students see themselves as adults and expect to be treated like they are adults, yet they are more needy than the middle school students. The middle school students drink in knowledge, but still daydream about going home and playing outside. I keep thinking what a privilege it is to be a part of so many lives and so many dreams.

I am a very self-reflective person. I am always going over my day in my mind. What did I say, what did I do? What worked? What failed? What are some new ideas? What do I need to go back over? Because I value reflection for myself I think I therefore also am constantly reflecting and thinking about the students and their values, dreams, hopes and lives. I try so hard to break through their tough little shells and get them to open up and embrace the possibility of a great future and an excellent education, and I believe some of the techniques we have discussed in class and genuinely the keys to getting students to think before they react, to get in touch with what they are feeling and what they need. I have noticed lately how much trouble some of the students, especially the girls in my school, are having getting along. There have been about 11 fights this week. “That broke a record!” one of my students told me. I couldn’t respond with “Wow!” I had to respond with “Why?” Why have there been so many fights this week? What is going on? Not to mention, most of these fights are between girls and occur in the lunchroom. What’s up with that? I mean, I just can’t quite grasp what the problem is. I never had these experiences of these issues in high school or college. I can’t quite wrap my head around how fighting and mouthing off has become the solution for these girls. Where are there role models that teach them to talk, think and not react to every negative comment said to them? Since when is it okay to throw punches for not getting another person’s hot sauce? How can I change this? What can I do to make a difference, even if it is small?

Yesterday I got such an opportunity. I have been using validation on a regular basis in the classroom and it is a genuine cure. Many students just crave to be understood and giving them the opportunity to name their feelings and talk about them is just what they need. Having someone listen, genuinely listen and relate to them is like a hug. They relax, they refocus and they begin on the right path. It’s fantastic! So yesterday I happen to be walking through the hallway when an altercation began brewing between a male and a female. I brought the female to my room. I have her in a class as well. She is a good girl. She just gets upset and can’t seem keep her mouth shut. Yesterday she was in her JROTC uniform. I brought her to my classroom to cool down and used validation by asking her if she was feeling disrespected. She said YES! And then she proceeded to spill her feelings and frustrations and everything else she felt about the situation. I listened, I nodded, I consoled. Then, I asked many other questions about how it escalated, what could be done next time, and if she had ever started writing instead of talking when someone upsets her. She said she had never tried any techniques to calm herself down or tried to think about the big picture before she acted. We ended up having a great conversation and I had her picturing herself 10 years from now and not concentrating on the here and now but the long distance future. I told her my own story about how when attitudes or people got me down, I always told myself that one-day I would show those people my value, not with violence, but with success. I told her that the people who doubt her now will see her success and feel the same defeat as they would if she were to act without thinking now. I feel as though this conversation opened a new door for her. I saw a realization that she can be successful and that really looking down the road will actually be helpful in diffusing a situation rather than having it escalate into something that may ruin her future.

I have also used the writing technique before a test and it has been a great success. It absolutely helps diffuse the students’ worries and release tension become an exam or quiz. I gave them the option to turn them in for me to read or to crumple them up and throw them in the garbage on the way out. I read a variety of worries and concerns, big and small and after the exam I saw very focused answers and I witnessed a testing environment that was calm, collected and confident. Again, just letting the students name an emotion, think about their needs and concerns and be validated by the teacher reading them, is something that develops a true and accepting classroom that is filled with valuable relationships that will extend beyond the classroom and into the students personal lives.

I think the best thing to do in a school is really get to know the students. Gain their respect and use validation and other techniques to get them to open up to you. As long as the students know you care about them, they will not only be better students, but their academic self efficacy will increase because they know someone at the school genuinely cares about them and their successes.

 

In these few weeks of school, I have spent a lot of time considering how my students interact with the world based on their own experiences and physiology. As we discussed in class, my 10th grade students are in the height of their adolescents. Their brains and bodies are in a constant flux that impacts how they react to their environments.

The video we watched on the adolescent brain has been the most impactful when I am interacting with my students, particularly in regards to the 90 second rule. When I see a student become triggered into anger, my first reaction now is to try to change their environment. For example, in my last class, two girls’ conversation escalated into a screaming match. My co-teacher and I immediately went to the girl we were closest to and separated them. I was able to use my body and proximity to turn my girl around to face another direction and my co-teacher was able to remove the other girl from the room. Once my student no longer had her adversary in her sights, she was able to calm down and discuss the problem. She immediately de-escalated from ready-to-fight to simply frustrated.

In all honestly, I have found this course to have what I consider a “haunting” effect on my psyche while in the school building. I view both mine and other teachers’ interactions with students based on what I have learned and consider if we as a staff are using the healthiest methods. I can unequivocally say we are NOT using the best methods with all students. The biggest issue I see most often is teachers not actually LISTENING to students. Yes, our students are often offering us stories that will keep them from getting in trouble, but they still need to be heard. When the teacher immediately tears into a student who is showing some emotional disconnect, all it does is upset the student to the point where rational thought is gone. I swear, there have been moments where I can literally see a student’s hippocampus react to the stimulus and in the eyes you can see the switch off the prefrontal cortex.

Unfortunately, for my personal day, I think one of the worst offenders is my co-teacher. He creates an immediately fight-or-flight response in the students to the point where even if he shows incredibly empathy, students refuse to listen. There is an instinctual response against him. This does not result in the best classroom. I think one of our most intense moments was with our student, Tico. Tico is 15, sweet, and completely lacks the ability to sit still. He wants to do well in school, but is still working on the skills needed to be successful in a classroom. He is often very disruptive by talking and moving around. The Day of Infamy occurred with Tico being his usually chatty self. I believe he finally recognized his behavior and was ready to get back to work. However, he had lost his place in our story. He turns around to ask a friend, and that was the last straw for my co-teacher, who then sends Tico out of the room. I was able to talk to Tico in the hallway. He was so upset about what happened that he started to cry. He felt that the other teacher was picking on him and not considering what was truly happening. Tico didn’t take into account that he had been truly disruptive for the last fifteen minutes, only that he got in trouble for what he thought was productive behavior. I had to be careful with my reaction. I cannot outwardly undermine my co-teacher, but I couldn’t brush Tico off. Instead, we sat together in the hallway. He explained what happened and his feelings. I asked him what else had happened in the class. He was able to calm down and identify his inappropriate behaviors. As a result of Tico’s incident and others like it, I am trying to work on different techniques to improve my co-teaching situation. I want my students to trust him and be willing to learn from him.

 

Morgan Hython

Reflection for Exceptional Needs

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

 

Pick a topic discussed or read about (brain compatible strategies, brain research, stress, etc.). Explain and demonstrate your understanding or proficiency as it applies to your own situation.

As a teacher of students in the primary grades, I find the topic of brain compatible strategies extremely interesting. I taught third grade last year and I am currently teaching second grade this year at a challenging IPS school. My students often don’t seem to be very motivated to learn and it is certainly difficult to capture their attention for any long period of time. After learning more about Judy Willis’ brain compatible strategies and reading an interesting article by Dr. Pam Schiller and Dr. Clarissa A. Willis on brain-based teaching strategies for early childhood education, I am actually really inspired to begin using more of these techniques in my classroom.

The research and articles mentioned several brain-based strategies meant to optimize learning for all children. The strategies engage students through brain research strategies as well as reaching children through the given learning standards. The areas that I find to keep coming up in the research include the following: (1) Creating safe environments, (2) Using emotions as effective tools, (3) Implementing multisensory practice, (4) Differentiated teaching, and (5) Incorporating sense and meaning into lessons (Schiller & Willis).

To start, I am beginning to think a lot more about my student’s safety and well-being. The brain attends to these needs first and if they are not met, children will not be able to focus on classroom tasks. I hope to start, as my research from the article states, the student’s day with a safety ritual/greeting. Also, keeping in mind that emotions affect memory and brain function, I have been trying to incorporate more humor, song, dance, and movement into my lessons. So far, it has proven to be very helpful. For our plant unit, students learned a song about the parts of a plant with coordinated movement and I have seen it really help improve their memory of the different parts.

Furthermore, the more senses involved during learning, the more likely the brain will receive and process information (Schiller & Willis). After discovering this information, I really hope to work more on appealing to children’s multiple senses to help them learn. Using chants, rhythms and rhymes can help patterns to stick in the brain. My students were struggling with their doubles facts in learning about even and odd numbers. I just found this Doubles Rap and I can’t wait to use it to appeal to my students who are clearly auditory learners.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the plant song and dance I previously mentioned, we are also planting our own plants in cups to appeal to my more tactile learners. If students are able to use multiple senses when learning standards, they will more easily be able to process new information to add to their prior knowledge.

Finally, one thing I hope to do more of this year (and didn’t previously consider its importance) is show students how to make sense and meaning from the learning standards. The brain is able to process new information by making sense and meaning so it is essential for children to be able to do this to learn new things (Schiller & Willis). One major way to do this is incorporate more time for reflection. My students need to find relevance in the things we are learning and if they are able to discuss and ask questions (i.e. “How can we use this new information?”) in a non-threatening group setting afterwards it would help them to do this.

In all, I had no idea how much simply analyzing brain research and using brain-based strategies can help primary students get off on the right foot in school early on. These particular strategies are proven to appeal to students’ brain and memory capacity. Some I think I have already began using and some I am excited to try to further engage my students.

 

*Information taken from class discussions, given reading materials, and the article: “Using Brain-Based Teaching Strategies to Create Supportive Early Childhood Environments That Address Learning Standards” – Beyond the Journal • Young Children on the Web • July 2008

 

 

Wesley Fleming

EDU 523/525

Dr. Desautels

Marian University

September 11, 2013

 

Reflection #1

 

The beginning of the school year is a time of intense newness that feels threatening to students and teachers alike. Over the past month I have seen the impacts that these new beginnings, and the stress that has come with them, has had on my students. This stress has brought many students near their breaking point and I see them mentally shutting down. In the first month of the school year our school has lacked structure and joy, two things our students need desperately in their lives, not just for rigorous academic achievement but also for their own well-being.

To help combat the stress of adapting to a new school year I have begun to use the practice of validation with my students. By helping my students to feel “seen” I am able to relax some of the tension that has too often flared up in the classroom. The beginning of the school year has been very frustrating, for teachers and students, with many last-minute changes being made on a frequent basis. Students feel cheated by all of the confusion and are constantly searching for the “why” behind all of the seemingly arbitrary decisions being made by the adults who are controlling their lives. This is obviously an extreme view on recent administrative decisions, but extreme is exactly how it feels to a 14 year old. When I am able to empathize with my students I gain a glimpse into exactly what it is they are feeling, diffusing a little of their stress and simultaneously giving me incredibly valuable information about how I can best serve them.

Many of our new students feel frustrated by the expectations and discipline policies of the school. They feel as if every teacher is “out to get them.” By validating a student’s feelings teachers are able to acknowledge the student’s frustration without lowering the expectations. The responses from my students have been staggering. While validating my students’ feelings has not always caused their negative behaviors to disappear, after these conversations it begins to feel like we are now on the same team, working toward a solution (rather than focusing on the problem).

Our studies in EDU 523/525 have focused heavily on stress and the effects that stress has on the brain. That is, when we are stressed our brain filters out any information except what is necessary for survival, making it nearly impossible to process any new information regarding today’s science lesson or tomorrow’s math quiz. These concepts continue to prove themselves true in the lives of my students. As I mentioned previously, the beginning of the year at our school has been nothing short of confusing. There is often ambiguity around a student’s most basic needs, such as what time they will eat lunch, what class they will go to next, what time they will go home, which bus they need to get on to go home, and what their schedule will look like when they come to school the next day. Many of our students’ physiological needs (i.e. the bottom tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) are not being met (or there is frequent confusion about how and when the needs will be met), causing them to be unable to engage with academic content in class. Confusion about schedules and logistics has led to crowded, noisy hallways that do not help students to feel safe (i.e. Maslow’s second tier). These unmet needs have caused passionate emotional responses from many of our students. These outbursts reveal a deep longing for a school that provides them with structure, joy, and investment.

A large majority of my students are freshmen, making their list of stressors even longer. They are in high school for the first time, walking the halls with upperclassmen and worrying about earning enough credits to graduate. All of this pressure, combined with the typical worries of a 14 year old, have pushed many of my students to the edge. The juniors and seniors at my school have had to endure frequent schedule changes (for some students, upwards of 10 new schedules), leading to worries about whether or not they will finish the year with the right credits to graduate. When these students feel that the school is not serving them they shut down. After all, if they are going to high school so they can graduate but their school seems to be making that impossible, why should they put forth the effort to succeed, or even come to school at all?

Although many of the chaos of the past month has been out of my control, I have made every attempt to bring stability and normalcy into the lives of my students. I see them reaching out desperately for structure and joy and all too often coming up empty handed. I am being made more and more aware each day of the stresses that plague my students and will work relentless to ease these stresses away, bring my students to a place of significantly increased academic achievement, attitude, self-esteem, and overall well-being.

 

Eric Kuehl

Exceptional Needs I & II

Professor Lori Desautels

09.11.13

Reflection One

 

Over my time as a teacher I have realized that my personality tends to lend itself more towards the organizational, planning and implementation skills that are needed for the profession. Unfortunately, I have realized that I often lack the skills to connect with middle school students in way that shows that I understand their feelings and what they are going through. I tend to treat my students like adults and often think about how they are currently behaving and how they need to change that behavior rather than looking beyond the behavior to see if there is something more. I treat my room like a professional place, so when a student acts up, rather than attributing to the endless changes going on in their body or the emotional unrest that is inherent in middle school, I treat it as an unacceptable act in a professional arena that needs to change if they ever want to grow up, go to college and get a good job. Some kids respond well to this type of reaction from their teacher, many others do not.

So, as I learned about the various ways teachers can react to students that show that they are thinking about their feelings first and that they understand where they are coming from, I was definitely interested in trying them out. First, I must note that I have always cared about my students’ feelings. The problem is the fact that, having worked in a professional setting for many years before becoming a teacher, I learned that people will often not care about your feelings and care more about your work ethic and what you produce. So, acting with that knowledge, I wanted students to understand that no matter your attitude, you don’t get the choice to suddenly not “show up” in class or decide to “act a fool.”

I will admit, my first attempts to validate a students’ feelings were hard because often I would correct the behavior first and then try to come back to validating the feelings. My first reaction is to give them “tough love” and get them back on track. So, often it was too late for students to want to open up to me and share what was causing this behavior. But, what was helpful about the strategy, was that it started making me think about what the student was thinking and feeling in the moment rather than just focusing on the behavior. I got better at starting off with that question and ended up having some pretty good conversations with students. In one class, I have a student who tends to act up in class because he understands the material quickly and often gets done with his work before everyone else. I have work for him to do, but he still will call out in class. After class, instead of going straight to correcting the behavior, I said, “It must be frustrating when you get done with your work early every day and have to wait for everyone else.” He agreed with me and we talked through how we could work on not calling out because I explained to him that he needed to allow other students to concentrate on their work even though they took a little longer than him. We came to an agreement that I would give him more work and would also find ways to reward him when he didn’t call out throughout the whole class rather than just punishing him if he did.

Another positive interaction occurred with a student during breakfast the other day. This young man gets angered easily and often ends up making poor choices when he is in that mode. This day, he had gotten a written warning from the assistant principal about wearing a belt with his pants. He ripped it up in front of me and I made him go over to the assistant principal and get a new one. When he sat down at the table I could tell that he was fuming and he started making fun of the principal and teachers at his table. I asked him to come over and talk to me and I gently explained to him the 90 second rule. I told him that I understood why he was angry about the belt but I also explained to him that due to how the brain works, it can only be mad about something for 90 seconds. I also explained that the only way he could be mad again, or for the rest of the day about the belt would be to continue thinking about it and making himself mad. So, I explained that he was in complete control over whether he was going to have a bad day, where he was mad all day, or a good day, where he moved on from the situation and started thinking about the rest of the day. Immediately after the conversation he was in a better mood and for the rest of the day he was fine. I now plan on using these methods consistently throughout the rest of the year and I also plan on teaching the 90 second rule to my class because I know that it would benefit all of them.

 

 

Luke Lennon

Marian Reflection

 

Mindfulness in the Classroom

http://www.parentherald.com/articles/2056/20130828/study-shows-mindfulness-training-help-reduce-teacher-stress-burnout.htm

 

Two weeks before beginning this class, I read an article (see link above) concerning teacher burnout and the role “mindfulness” can play in preventing it. “Mindfulness?” I wondered skeptically as I read the headline, “Another vague buzzword for paying attention or being detail oriented. What good teacher isn’t ‘mindful,’ really?” And with that I put it out of my mind.

After our first class, I stopped by Kroger and, after stocking up for the week ahead, began reading a special edition of Time while the line inched ahead. Again I found an article championing meditation and—that word again—“mindfulness” in the everyday. Fine, I’ll bite. The magazine laid out the psychological, spiritual, and biological benefits of focusing your mind and taking note of what it is you are thinking while you are thinking it. The journalist and his sources prescribed letting the mind wander but mentally documenting each turn in the hopes of refocusing and steering the brain back on track. The Time article proved convincing enough to revisit the first, which I gave more gravity during the second read.

Because I teach middle school boys, a demographic with a special proclivity for acting out and reflecting after the fact, I am always looking for ways to get them to understand the connection between their growing bodies and the environment around them. Mindfulness asks students and teachers to take note of their breathing, posture, and thought process. A mindful student asks himself “What am I thinking about right now? What do I need to be successful? What feelings am I having? Where do these feelings stem from?” Getting middle school boys to think proactively is difficult; getting them to discuss the questions with each other is (near) impossible. Reflecting on how to present mindfulness in my classroom brought me to a simple solution: chunking. Just like rigorous academic material, I can’t expect my students to digest the entirety of the subject. Instead, I need to offer it to them in bite-sized pieces. And, continuing the academic parallel, I need a good hook.

During the third week of school, in an attempt to keep discipline in-house, I implemented a push-up system. Students who talked out or broke basic classroom rules were not written a referral, they gave me ten. Strangely, other students began to ask for the same “punishment.” “Oh, I can do them better than that!” and “Can I do sit-ups?” they crowed. By the end of the week, I had students advocating for my physical variation on discipline. I was struck when a sleepy student raised his hand and pleaded, “Can I do some push-ups in the corner? I need help staying awake.” The only thing I could say was “Of course.” In fact, the lesson had a hit a bump in the road and we—certainly I’m included—could use a reset. Those who could not do pushups were asked to do jumping jacks while we grunted out twenty. A student led us, unprompted by me, shouting out “Down!Down!Down!” Once students returned back to their seats, I had a new group before me. Though some were breathing heavy, they were all focused. The pushups and jumping jacks were my hook and now it was time to give my students a chunk of mindfulness.

I asked them how they felt before and after the pushups. Most told me they felt more energetic and happier. It reminded them of sports. They laughed about whose form needed the most work. Because so many were breathing differently from the mini-workout, I was given an opportunity to discuss breathing and how it affects our learning. Without going into much detail, I instructed them to slow their breathing and “find a good rhythm for learning,” a phrase meaning nothing more than “let’s focus.”

Last week I again had my students perform pushups and jumping jacks, taking the breathing piece a bit further. “If we can actively think about how we breathe when we learn,” I asked aloud, “what else can we actively do within ourselves to better understand our readiness to learn?” Eventually we stumbled upon thinking, or, more specifically, paying attention to what it is we are thinking. As existential as it sounds, the boys were receptive to the topic. Discussing honing in on what were thinking and how other thoughts creep in on what we are thinking gave them a feeling of empowerment. If you can audit your thoughts and become more aware of their direction, you can attempt to make your thoughts more purposeful.

Currently, I still use pushups and jumping jacks in my classroom as a brain break and segue into a mindfulness exercise. I feel I have hit a ceiling, though, and would like more materials and forms of engagement. I’ve never been one for yoga, but I think focusing on poses or breathing through something yoga-like would add variety to our mindfulness practice.

My goal in all this is to brighten the lines of class. Students should have anchor thoughts for specific classes. The same questions should be floating around in their brains while we read a book. “What is the author trying to tell me?” or “What might this character interaction represent?” come to mind. By giving a few minutes to mindfulness, I brighten the lines of academic content time. When we do pushups, we let our mind run; when we read out loud, we attempt laser-like focus. I fear students who feel they are always “on” will always be “off.” If, however, students understand where to send their thoughts, or recognize their breathing and current emotions, they can adapt and make their present self more appropriate for the environment.

Finally, a goal of my instruction, which consists of reading books of deep meaning and getting students to write intimately and vividly about their experiences, is to foster empathy among my students. In teaching habits of mindfulness, normalizing attunement with mood, and giving students a safe place to encounter themselves, I hope to probe empathy and understanding. An ELA class is only as strong as the discussion within it, and without vulnerability and understanding, such rich discussion is impossible.

I’m not nearly as skeptical of mindfulness as I was just a month ago, and I’m eager to learn more about the subject. I think this subject is intimately tied into what we have done in class—the prefrontal cortex, alleviating stress before exams, and the absurdity that is the teenage brain. All are encompassed in the above reflection.

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