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October 1, 2015
Vol. 73
No. 2

Tell Me About … / How You Help Your Students Support One Another

Tell Me About … / How You Help Your Students Support One Another- thumbnail

Poem of the Week

Last year I implemented a "poem of the week" activity with my RTI reading groups. On Mondays each group receives its poem. Throughout the week, groups practice 3–5 minutes daily, and then on Fridays each group recites its poem. Upon conclusion, the audience (the other groups who are waiting for their turn) has the opportunity to give positive feedback. The original goal was to have an authentic reason to practice fluency, but I noticed two additional benefits. First, shy students experience success presenting to a group. They have five other people reciting with them, and their confidence is bolstered by experiencing success weekly. The second benefit comes from the compliments. Giving compliments makes kids feel good, and receiving the compliments makes kids feels proud. For my RTI students, receiving success and compliments with their reading is something they are not used to, so our poem practice turned out to be pure gold!
—Jennifer Sharer, LAP coordinator, Kelso, Washington

Advisory Groups

At Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, our advisory system enables students to support one another socially, emotionally, and academically. Advisory groups stay together for two years, enabling students to get to know and support one another and the group, with support from the teachers. Each group uses three core strategies to benefit our students. Focusing on college in advisory creates a college-bound community for our school. Navigating the emotional roller coaster of applying to college is vital because the majority of our students will be the first in their families to go to college. This social support around applying and attending college starts in the 9th grade and continues until senior year. A focus on extended learning opportunities (internships, after-school programs) helps students find and apply to organizations that they are interested in participating in. This positive peer pressure lets students see learning as something that occurs both inside and outside the school building. Finally, through restorative circles, we develop caring communities that focus on current events, issues in the school, and/or student-decided topics.
—Jeff Palladino, principal, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, Bronx, New York

"It's Cool!"

From day one, our students learn to use the phrase "It's cool" whenever someone makes a mistake. We don't make fun of others but support them, knowing we are all learning. Students say those two words to each other or even to teachers … yes, teachers make mistakes, too! This idea is from Chris Biffle's Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids.
—Melissa Williams, 1st grade teacher, Dalton Local Schools, Dalton, Ohio

Student of the Week

At the beginning of the school year, every student in my 3rd grade class gets assigned five days when they will be the student of the week. They must create a poster about themselves at school or at home (I'm more than willing to lend necessary resources). Each poster is displayed in the classroom, where the students and I post compliments and questions for this student on sticky notes throughout the week. On Friday afternoon, the student of the week sits in my special chair and answers the questions. He or she gets to explain what it was like to be student of the week. This practice helps students get to know and appreciate one another and builds self-confidence. The students work diligently on their posters, writing compliments, and recording questions. Viewing each poster and listening to each of the students helps me get to know all students better on a personal and academic level.
—Todd Feltman, literacy achievement coach, New York City Department of Education, New York, New York

Defining a Fair Teacher … and a Fair Student

I ask students for their definition of a fair teacher. I then highlight the adjectives, verbs, and nouns in their definitions and create a word cloud. This is made into a class poster, and students are encouraged to kindly redirect me to the poster if I am not living up to their expectations. I tell them that I will expect the same of them. This gives us equal footing and is a first step in building trust and respect.
—Charity Stephens, teacher and doctoral student, Liberty Public Schools, Liberty, Missouri

Taking a Risk with Art

I tell my art students and their parents that I feel my biggest responsibility in the classroom is to honor the fact that children choose to expose their inner thoughts and feelings, risking their emotional well-being by being creative in class. Art is personal for me, so I choose to believe it is for them as well. Because of this, I have a policy that says, "We lift each other up, not tear each other down." That means we never laugh at or make fun of someone's work; we offer help or ask questions to seek understanding, and we give constructive feedback. I model this so that they get an understanding of how it looks. Sometimes it's as simple as asking, "You only used red in this project, is there a reason?" versus saying, "It's too much red, I don't like it." I find this policy especially important in my middle school classes, where students seem the most reluctant to stand out or be different from their peers. I know this practice works because they remind one another of our motto.
—Deborah Hargadon, art teacher, Sonoran Science Academy DMAFB, Tucson, Arizona

Adventure Programs

I take students from my 7th grade math class canoeing in order to develop their self-regulation skills. John Hattie recommends adventure programs for improving participants' sense of self-regulation—and it works. In addition, outdoor experience promotes peer relations, identity, belonging, competence, and autonomy, all of which are foundational to their emotional intelligence.
—Bill Shively, teacher, Willows Unified School District, Willows, California

Beyond Their Comfort Zone

I introduce a "Comfort Zone, Learning Zone, and Panic Zone" poster at the beginning of each course. Staff and students refer to its language as we work through our challenges as learners. Students are asked to recognize what it feels like when they are pushed out of their comfort zones. We are transparent about helping them know that the uncomfortable struggles of learning are necessary to push through to the learning zone. We start each class with a check-in, discuss how we are feeling, and share challenges we overcame and how we can apply that knowledge to the new day's work. Students encourage one another when they see peers struggling and use the "oh no, you are in the panic zone" language to support and encourage their peer to push through, while offering suggestions. This practice helps build a learning community within my classroom. Admitting that learning is a challenge and a struggle that can make you panic is a step to creating kids who will take healthy risks and think outside of the box.
Cynthia Elkins, art instructional specialist, Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center, Estes Park, Colorado

Be Kind to Yourself … and Each Other

The last 10 seconds of every class, I leave students with the same saying: Be kind to yourself, and be kind to each other. Along with this daily reminder I give them "Elevation Assignments," such as the time I instructed them to show a creative way to say thank you to people they wouldn't normally thank. One of my students wrote personalized, handwritten notes for every student in class and put them in balloons with a personalized drawing on them. I have never seen so much joy as the students were popping their balloons and reading their letters. It felt like we were on Oprah.
Another "elevate" moment came after a student shared his journal entry about once having a dream of becoming an astronaut. Everyone around him said it would never happen, and so he gave up his dream. The next day one of his classmates gave him a toy astronaut helmet with a note saying, "Never give up on your dreams." When we make showing love the centerpiece of our class, we elevate lives and take one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.
—Steve Schultz, English teacher/head boys' basketball coach, Fountain Valley High School, Fountain Valley, California

Interviewing New Students

I help new students connect to others in their new community by interviewing them and sharing their responses with their teachers. I ask them to complete the following statements: What I miss most from my last school or home is … ; I am good at … ; I am not so good at … ; These are the things I like to do …; I am proud of …; I hope that …; Some of the things that will help me to settle here are ….
This year I have encouraged the students to reflect upon their resilience skills as well. Areas of resilience I measure for include their social connections, optimism, problem-solving ability, and level of independence. I then create structured settings for them to practice building an area of their resilience. This practice could include public speaking, being a playground buddy for a younger student, and 'Friendship Snowballing,' meaning students meet friends of friends, so that one friend becomes two, then four, and these combine with four others.
—Jonathan Coward, deputy principal, Southbank International School, London, United Kingdom

Supporting Five Basic Needs

For my doctoral dissertation, I observed a great teacher applying William Glasser's choice theory in her class. Her students were taught their five basic needs—survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun—and learned how to meet these needs themselves and how to help others. Each need was represented on a chart wheel, and each day students placed clothespins marked with their names on the need that was most desired for that day. Students who clipped survival were given immediate attention by the teacher to address a critical need for food, shelter, or a related necessity. The class discussed ways they could meet other basic needs. Freedom was expressed when students used the restroom without permission as long as it did not interrupt a lesson. Power was exhibited by students through helping others. Love and belonging were displayed through care for others, and fun was expressed through laughter, energy, and creative activities.
—Terri Kinsey, grants coordinator, School District of Lee County, Fort Myers, Florida

The Glad Game

There's something to be said for old-fashioned values. In the vintage Disney movie Pollyanna, the young heroine plays the "glad game" to cheer others and herself. When students seem sad, I often help them make a list of all the things that make them happy and sad, including things like dimples and popcorn. Eventually, the glad list grows much longer. It creates an opportunity to help children realize their blessings and all they actually have in our wonderful country. It cheers me up at the same time!
—Marguerite Clarkson, assistant superintendent, Greenburgh Central School District, Hartsdale, New York

Team Meetings

The "Wolfpack" grade 6 team at Fairgrounds Middle School in Nashua, New Hampshire, ends each school week with a team meeting. All 100 students gather into one classroom for the last period on Friday to highlight and deepen a variety of social and emotional skills. One regular component of the team meetings is the sharing of kudos. Teachers select students (or students select other students) who have displayed a particular virtue or act of courage within the learning community during the previous week, and validate their social and emotional risk taking with written cards of thanks that are read aloud.
Other regular components include showing a YouTube video that models and demonstrates a particular skill or healthy habit of scholarship and inviting students to share work they have revised for improvement or an important learning discovery they have made. Students might be asked to set an academic or "habit of work and learning" goal during a team meeting, with the understanding that they will be able to share progress made in a future meeting. As a result of their commitment to the weekly team meeting, students have developed a wide variety of social and emotional strengths such as empathy, collaboration, perseverance, and risk taking. This one practice not only sustains community building throughout the entire school year, but also fosters a culture of reflection and revision.
—Diane Vienneau, districtwide peer coach, Nashua School District, Nashua, New Hampshire

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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