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

The Power of Validation !! Changes Everything When Our Goal is Connection and Learning…

These three reflections are from my second year graduate students and they are just outstanding and I learned deeply from each one of them! I am sitting here amazed at how they are connecting with these students who “dare you to teach them” and validate , question and connect…I hope you will enjoy and learn!!

Reflection 1: Stress and Response to Learning

 

This year at school, I have been focusing a lot on adolescent development and how it affects our students’ learning and behavioral responses.  Before this year, talk of ISTEP and ECA testing resonated through the school hallways.  This year, we added an extra layer of pressure by ensuring that all courses are ACT aligned in their delivery, test design and messaging.

Interestingly enough, though we have increased the rigor with the intent of bringing our students closer to success, our data from the first five weeks of school seems to suggest otherwise.  While five weeks is early in the year, pass rates significantly lower than normal, and behavior issues resulting in referrals are off the charts.  Our children are losing valuable instructional time because their behavior is out of line, which only puts them further behind in terms of grades.

Our class discussion on stress and its effects on learning provided me a lens through which to view the contradictory rigor/messaging v. data predicament that we are currently experiencing.  A few specific things stuck out to me.  Student lose clarity of thought and memory function when they encounter over packed curriculum, excessive test taking, frustration with difficult material, and boredom.  I would say that all of these encounters can be associated with our new ACT focused messaging.

The ACT itself is more difficult than any test that our kids have ever taken. As we pack more ACT standards on top of our state/common core standards, our kids are more overloaded than ever.  While I believe that ACT preparation is important for our kids, I wonder if our over the top consistent messaging is causing poor performance.  As we consistently tell our children how hard the material is, their fear of being wrong only increases.  They recognize that taking a risk may result in consistent negative feedback, which harms a child’s ability and desire to think and problem solve to their full ability.

After thinking about stress in relation to student learning and analyzing some of the results in my own classroom, I decided to do my own experiment that was somewhat based in brain compatible learning.  I noticed that when I gave my students passages straight from the ACT or modeled off of the ACT, they seemed to go into flight mode.  Their fears took hold of their brain, and many of them either froze or acted out (which may explain heightened referrals around the school from less experienced teachers).  I knew that my kids knew the basis of the content that they were analyzing, but something about the format and messaging was so stressful, that they literally could not perform to their maximum capacity.

The next week, I changed the tune in my room.  I only brought up the ACT specifically once or twice.  Instead, I consistently talked about what academic life would be like for students who want to go to college, and what type of problem solving encounters students who were not going to college would encounter in their careers.  Similarly, I made sure that each exercise was prefaced with an inquiry based “hook question” that forced students to think about something seemingly unrelated in their daily lives.  Students immediately engaged in something that required their participation and creative thought.  By the end of the period, I could ask the same question, and students could re-answer it with the scientific knowledge that they had learned that day.

I also modified ACT passages in to projects, mini-labs, or quick challenges.  Not only did the material become relevant to students lives, but they were able to engage in it in a more hands-on and “fun way” while still accomplishing the learning targets at high levels of rigor.  After looking at school wide progress reports this week, there are many students (even SPED students who often struggle in the sciences) that are passing my class, but failing several others.  Looking at the reasons for why students drop out of school or do poorly at school, I can assume that these trends have to do with a lack of engagement or understanding of relevance.  When sitting in on conferences with a parent and advisor of a 10th grade student, the advisor asked “what is going on in Chemistry that isn’t going on in the rest of the classes?”  The student responded “she actually makes it interesting, and I get why I need know it and how it will help me.”

That statement provided me a lot of clarity in terms of teaching with brain compatible strategies.  I don’t feel like I necessarily have enough time in a 50 minute block to provide “brain breaks” for my students.  I can, though, provide brain compatible teaching by making all learning applicable and tangible for every student in my room.  Sometimes, the best way to get students to engage in seemingly daunting or stressful tasks is to change the way in which it is delivered.  Just like our parents often disguised medicines in food or treats when we were little, I can hide extremely rigorous tasks in hands on activities delivered with the correct message.

Brain compatible learning takes a lot more creativity on my end.  I find, though, that I enjoy class time a lot more because my students are engaged.  Behavior becomes a small if not non-existent issue.  I also believe that this type of learning builds respect and trust on the part of the students.  They understand that my class is serious, but know that it is serious because there is a lot of content to get through in a variety of ways, not because they need to be silently reading from a book for an hour in my room.  I wonder what school wide results would look like if we could employ more of these strategies on a regular basis.

 

 

 

Reflection Two

There have been two topics in class that have made an impact on the way that I interact with my students. The first was the Ted Talk of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, and the second was the discussion regarding the use of positive reaffirmations when students are struggling. Growing up in a traditional school, there was not a lot of time devoted to understanding how the students were feeling. The mindset was one of “suck it up,” and almost all of the time was devoted to gaining knowledge with no thought to emotions or feelings. In fact, most of the teachers at my school did not know the names of all of their students nor did they care how they were feeling or what was going on at home. The school atmosphere was very business-like and any display of emotion was frowned upon.

The Ted Talk did a great job of demonstrating how gaining knowledge and emotions are more connected than anyone could have ever imagined. Knowing that the brain could shut down the location where knowledge is stored (amygdala) based on how the individual was feeling was revolutionary information to me. In my first year of teaching, I noticed that students became very attached to our classroom routines and would show some anxiety if there was an unexpected change. I did not understand why having small changes could really affect the learning environment in the class for the entire period. After listening to Dr. Bolte Taylor, I can understand that my students could not focus as well or retain knowledge because this disruption in the routine was causing a flurry of activity in their brains and keeping them from retaining information. Before learning this information, I thought that students would enjoy mixing things up in the classroom and being spontaneous. From what I observed, there were a couple of students who enjoyed the spontaneity, but for the most part, there was an overall feeling of anxiety.

The second topic that impacted my teaching practices and ties into the Ted Talk is when we discussed really listening to students and validating their feelings. When I first heard this, I struggled with the idea of this being more like coddling especially when I have mostly seniors. I was not sure if I was going to implement this technique, but an opportunity to do so presented itself the day after our discussion. I had a student (17 y/o, African American male) who was not really participating in our Cell project and had a general air of opting out. I approached him and instead of scolding him for not working, I asked him what was going on because I could tell that he was not himself. He proceeded to tell me that he was very tired and “just not feeling it today.” I responded by listening to his reasons for being tired and empathizing with all of the activity that he had going on his life. I finished by stating that it sounded like there were a lot of valid reasons to justify his fatigue. I offered him an alternative to the project where he would do the same amount of work but in a different way yet still get all of the required information. He jumped at the chance, and he turned in a project that took more time and was more detailed than anyone else in the class. He also was one of my top performers on the quiz covering the material from the project. All it took was me taking the time to listen to him and also being willing to see things from his perspective to avoid a situation that could have resulted in me losing him for the rest of the semester due to hard feelings and anger.

The combination of the Ted Talk and the class discussion has helped me to get a better understanding of how the brain functions under stress and anxiety. I can now see a clear connection between how we think and what we feel. Before the idea of emotion affecting performance was very nebulous, but now I can visualize what happens when a student’s emotional needs are not considered as part of their education. Going forward, I am going to make sure to form really strong routines that I will not deviate from in my classroom. I already have a firm routine set up, but I need to focus on having a more stringent one for giving assessments. Test anxiety is a foreign concept to me as I have always enjoyed taking assessments and demonstrating my mastery of a subject, but I now understand how debilitating it can be to those who suffer from it. I am going to make sure that my room is very mellow with maybe some light, classical music playing in the background during our next assessment. Hopefully, these changes will help to alleviate some of the anxiety that students are feeling on assessment day.

 

 

Reflection Three

 

It can be really challenging to be patient with a student when he/she is angry and upset about a pencil. It’s a natural instinct to just tell the student to stop crying and give them another pencil. In your head, you’re probably thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” The last two weeks were very challenging for me, because I couldn’t believe all of the minuscule problems. I had to really concentrate to validate my students’ thoughts and emotions. In fact, I believe it actually worked and brought my students back to a normal level.

 

One specific example came from my student Luis. He is constantly sitting with his head down and will only do a worksheet if he gets to play on the iPad. Last week I went over to him, and I did not want to hear his excuse this time. It was a very simple and stern, “Luis. Get your head up.” He didn’t even budge. Of course I had to try again. “Luis. I need you to sit up straight!” He didn’t move again. My third attempt was a very swift, “Get up!” as I walked away. As soon as I was across the room, I realized that I had made a huge mistake, and that was never an appropriate way to handle the situation.

 

I walked back across my room and over to Luis, kneeled down next to him and apologized for being short with him. I then said, “I can tell you’re really frustrated right now. I am all ears, and would really like to know what is bothering you.” Suddenly, Luis lifted his head and was crying. He told me that he couldn’t read. I grabbed a leveled reader and asked if he wanted to read it together. Luis was really, excited, and for the first time in 4 weeks, I saw Luis actually trying and being excited for learning. I just had wished that I had validated him before reaching with my emotions.

 

Another concept I have shown and discussed with my students is always realizing the purpose of an activity. I showed them a video where two teams are passing a basketball. Their goal was to count the number of passes the white team makes. While the teams are scrambling a guy dressed in a bear costume moonwalks across the screen. My students loved the video. We discussed how it can be very easy to focus on ourselves, and that we could then miss the bigger picture of working together as a group. We have many activities to help build classroom culture and environment.

 

To be completely honest, I have really enjoyed experimenting with not just my students, but on my roommates. When one of them is complaining, I validate their thinking and see how far I can dig.

 

Overall, it is amazing to learn how much individuals just want to be heard. If you can just give them an ear, and a tongue that doesn’t immediately try to fix the problem or invalidate their statement, you can get to the heart of the individual. This will help them feel less stressed and help eliminate worries.

 

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