6 Strategies to Engage Families of Digitally Limited Learners

By Erin L. Harden, Jimmeka Anderson, and Keith Burgess

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers, administrators, and school personnel from across the United States came together to ensure that students were able to continue their education. Although many schools and districts took actions like sending home digital devices, they were often unable to prevent other learning disruptions, such as students having limited experience with digital learning at home and school due to a lack of technology or not having adequate access to the Internet (Burgess & Anderson, 2020).

Failure to recognize the needs of digitally limited learners and their families may lead teachers to misinterpret students’ lack of engagement online as a motivation issue, when it’s actually due to inability. Teachers and administrators need to equip families with the skills and resources to increase their digital competence and confidence to serve as co-educators with remote or hybrid learning.

1. Partner with businesses and organizations.

Be proactive and assess the technology needs of the students you teach. If you require technology devices for some of your under-resourced students, research community partnerships with companies and businesses that may have resources available for the families you serve. Additionally, establish relationships with local organizations, nonprofits, and corporations that had donated technology devices to students’ families who needed them before and during the pandemic.

2. Implement onsite tutorials.

Schedule families to arrive for device pick-up with enough time to give them a brief orientation on the technology and its use. Offer guidance on the main features of the devices that their students will use throughout the semester. Teachers who are not bilingual may want to have a translator available in case you have non-English-speaking family members. Be sure to provide a printed copy of the information in English and Spanish for families to reference later.

3. Bookmark digital resources on devices.

Make sure that information and resources for families are easily accessible or just a click away. Bookmark resources on students’ devices prior to distributing them to support families’ digital literacy. Websites such as the Northstar Digital Literacy project will help families improve their digital competency by providing free online basic digital literacy training and skills tests.

4. Develop a list of digital terminology for families.

Teachers should comprise a list of basic digital terminology and meanings to serve as a guide for families to navigate in the online environment. Understanding the affordances of language use in different spaces is important when developing your digital terminology list. Dividing the list categorically by social media, online browsing, and email correspondence may contextualize the relevance of certain terms.

5. Upload how-to videos on YouTube.

Support families of digitally foreign learners by incorporating familiar apps like YouTube. Teachers should create a playlist of how-to videos for families and students on how to use digital technology. You can email links to these videos and put them in a document. This platform is beneficial to non-English-speaking family members, as YouTube allows videos to be translated into multiple languages (Almurashi, 2016). Be sure to include captions on videos so your content is accessible to all students.

6. Create hard-copy back-ups.

When in doubt, print it out. Leave a number of these copies in the front office for families to pick up as they need them. Make sure you let families know to exhaust all provided resources and use hard copies only as a last resort.

Concluding Thoughts

We did the very best that we could amidst a global emergency. This year, it’s time to be better. As an educator, administrator, or school staff member, you have an opportunity to ensure more a successful school year. Let’s support families as co-educators of digitally limited learners as part of our new normal.

Erin L. Harden is a doctoral candidate in the Curriculum and Instruction program at UNC Charlotte. She also serves as an adjunct instructor at UNC Charlotte and supports national educational organizations with professional development facilitation and instructional design. Erin completed her B.A. in English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina and went on to teach Language Arts in high needs Middle Schools, while pursuing her M.A. in English at UNC Charlotte. Her research interests include College and Career Readiness, Multicultural Education, and Gifted/Advanced Education for Students of Color.

Jimmeka Anderson is a doctoral candidate at UNC Charlotte. She is the Founder of I AM not the Media, Inc. Her research interests include Critical Digital Media Literacy and technology inequity among historically marginalized students.

Keith Burgess teaches science at a Title1, K-8 school in Charlotte, NC. He is also a Kenan Fellow for teacher leadership through North Carolina State University. In Spring 2021 Mr. Burgess won the Burroughs-Wellcome Career Award for Science and Math Teachers (CASMT) for his distinguished service as a science teacher in North Carolina. Mr. Burgess was voted 2019-2020 teacher of the year by his colleagues.

References

Almurashi, W. A. (2016). The effective use of YouTube videos for teaching English language in classrooms as supplementary material at Taibah University in Alula. International Journal of English Language and Linguistics Research, 4(3), 32–47.

Burgess, W. K., & Anderson, J. L. (2020). Leveraging community partnerships to engage digitally foreign learners in response to COVID-19. Middle Grades Review, 6(2). https://scholarworks.uvm.edu/mgreview/vol6/iss2/10

What Do I Do About Hitting? Tips for Managing Aggressive Student Behavior

By Michelle Simmons

It was the first day of school and the first day of my teaching career as a special educator. I arrived early, anxious, and dressed for success! My classroom was set up just as I had planned in undergraduate behavior-management courses, and I was eager to teach. Unfortunately, my best-laid plans unraveled quickly. A student in my class had severe behavior challenges. Instead of spending the first day of school teaching classroom routines and getting to know students, I spent this precious time responding to hitting, spitting, running, and yelling. By the end of the day, I was wearing someone else’s lunch and had chased a student outside the building twice. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and concerned that my teaching career might be ending as quickly as it had started.

This first-day experience with a student who exhibited severe behavior problems led me to two notable conclusions: 1) I was trading my cute heels for a pair of running shoes, and 2) I needed a practical plan for managing aggressive student behavior.

Obvious and direct links exist between academic achievement and student behavior. One seriously disruptive student can limit the potential for all students in the classroom to learn. The following approach is designed to help you manage severe student behavior —biting, hitting, screaming, kicking, running—so that you can focus your energy on instruction (Sprick, 2006).

Be Proactive

Proactive means teachers focus on preventing an aggressive behavior problem instead of reacting to it.

  • Create a therapeutic environment. Students who exhibit aggressive behavior are more vulnerable and are likely to have specific, individual needs. A classroom that is sensitive to individual needs is clean and provides students with comfortable places to sit, interesting things to look at or do, and opportunities to engage in age-appropriate, functional activities (Alberto & Troutman, 2013).
  • Communicate clear, enforceable expectations.  Students who are aggressive struggle with impulse control. They will often react before thinking through a problem. Determine two or three individualized behavior expectations for the student and give frequent visual cues or reminders of these expectations (Lehto et al., 2003).

Be Positive

Even with positivity, the aggressive student will likely still exhibit aggressive behavior. “Positive” means responding during the aggressive event with support as well as consistency to build a collaborative relationship with the student.

  • Remain objective. Do not take the student’s behavior personally. Remember that the behavior usually has nothing to do with you and is not a conscious attempt to defy or intentionally engage with you in a competition for control.
  • Manage the situation. Stay out of arms/legs reach while actively monitoring the student’s movements. If the student is kicking or throwing objects, keep objects out of the way. If necessary, remove other students from the classroom. Avoid touching the student and only use restraint (physically holding the student in any way) as a last resort. Never use restraint without certified restraint training and the support of a campus team who has also participated in restraint training.

Be Instructional

Instructional means that effective teachers treat misbehavior as an opportunity to learn and teach appropriate behavior. Directly teach expectations at the beginning of the year, throughout the year, prior to the occurrence of aggressive behavior, and afterward as well (Sprick, 2006).

  • Teach the student. Seek ways to teach the student about tantrums and how we all feel when feelings are expressed in an inappropriate way. Equip the student with strategies for self-monitoring. Help them understand warning signs when their own negative feelings arise and teach them what they are supposed to do when these feelings occur (Lehto et al., 2003).
  • Develop a plan. Under the right circumstances, students who exhibit aggressive behavior can learn to find appropriate replacement behaviors that are acceptable for relieving tension. Identify the problem behavior, observe the behavior, determine its function, teach the student a replacement behavior that serves the same function, and create a plan to reinforce the student for choosing an acceptable behavior (Alberto & Troutman, 2013).

All teachers can expect to encounter a student with severe behavior challenges. When you use proactive planning, positive support, and intentional instruction, a situation that you might have considered stressful or even scary can become predictable and easier to manage.

By the end of the school year, the same student who exhibited severe problem behaviors and I had reached a shared instructional relationship in which we both thrived. I was proactive by creating a predictable environment with expectations individualized to the student’s needs. When the student did become aggressive, I had a plan to respond to the behavior that was supportive for the student and safe for everyone in the classroom. And, finally, when the student was comfortable, we spent time engaged in shared learning that equipped us all with appropriate behavior-management strategies. The year concluded with the student’s increased desire to be at school and the beginning of my lifelong professional commitment to serve children with significant behavioral needs.

Additional Resources

Behavior-Specific Praise

Choice Making

High-Probability Requests

Proximity Control

Dr. Simmons is the Lanna Hatton Professor of Learning Disabilities, Director of the Center for Learning Disabilities, and an Assistant Professor of Special Education at West Texas A&M University. Dr. Simmons is actively involved in service to educators, families, and students with learning differences and developmental disabilities statewide, and in the Panhandle area. Dr. Simmons maintains a record of scholarly activity that includes educational assessment, university-based special educator preparation programs, and progress-based classroom management strategies.

References

Lehto, J. E., Kooistra, L., Juuiarvi, P., & Pulkkinen, L (2003). Dimensions of executive functioning: Evidence from children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 21(1), 59–80.

Alberto, P. A., & Troutman, A. C. (2013). Applied behavior analysis for teachers (9th ed.). Pearson.   Sprick, R. S. (2006). Discipline in the secondary classroom (2nd ed.). John Wiley & Sons.  

4 Student Behaviors That Matter

By Jeanne Qvarnstrom

In a positive classroom environment, students will thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. To explore the foundations of such an environment, I surveyed over 100 practicing teachers and gave them a list of both 10 student behaviors that promote a productive learning environment and 10 student behaviors that hinder one (Qvarnstrom, 2018)..

In the survey results, teachers identified the two most important student behaviors to cultivate and the two most significant behaviors that undermine a positive classroom environment. By considering these findings, we can put greater emphasis on creating the positive classroom that  contributes to the foundation for a more democratic society.

Positive Student Behaviors to Cultivate

  1. Teachers who were surveyed rated “responding respectfully to the opinions of others” as most important. In the classroom, mutual respect is the foundation for all interactions. Respectful relationships are essential (Borba, 2018).
  2. Teachers rated “successfully managing conflict” as the second most important behavior. Irvine (2018) recommends that “teachers use discussions of controversial issues to help their students understand various points of view” (p. 105). She concludes that “these skills and predispositions are fundamental for a responsible, thoughtful, and active citizenry” (Irvine, 2018, p. 105).

Negative Student Behaviors to Address

  1. Teachers rated “sarcasm” as the most negative and prevalent behavior they observed in the classrooms. When students practice verbal aggression, it undermines the victim’s self-esteem, sense of well-being, and productivity.
  2. Teachers rated “inability to take personal responsibility” as the second most negative and prevalent behavior. Unless students become aware of their own responsibility for their actions, they will not hold themselves accountable for their actions.

In the survey, I also asked teachers to identify strategies they used to promote the positive behaviors and minimize the negative behaviors. Their answers varied from simulations to role playing to social justice projects to videos and movies. Many of them also identified the value of incorporating literature. In the article “Learning Character From Characters,” Boyles (2018) agrees that books can be a valuable resource for addressing questions about the ways in which we interact with one another in the classroom. Consider the books below to discuss these key behaviors.

Be Kind, by Pat Zietlow Miller
Key Question: How can we show others that we respect and care for them?
Grades: K–3
Behavior: Respect
Some Places More Than Others, by Renée Watson
Key Question: How can family conflicts be resolved?
Grades: 4–6
Behavior: Conflict resolution
The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander
Key Question: How do you take personal responsibility for your life?
Grades: 4–6
Behavior: Personal responsibility

Concluding Thoughts

The classroom environment must provide all students with an equal opportunity for success. Literature opens a lens on positive behaviors that support success.  A class reading of The Undefeated, for example, gives students insights into respect and understanding of how others deal with conflict.  Author Kwame Alexander describes overcoming conflict beautifully: “This is for the undeniable.  The ones who scored with chains on one hand and faith in the other” (Alexander, 2019).

Rich literature in the classroom exposes students to values that promote a positive classroom and ultimately a more democratic society. By attending to these key behaviors, identified by seasoned teachers, students can learn how to live and work productively with one another.

Dr. Qvarnstrom is an Associate  Professor of Education at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. Her research and teaching focus on new teacher training and positive classroom and campus environments.

References

Alexander, K. (2019). The Undefeated. Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Boyles, N. (2018). Learning character from characters. Educational Leadership, 76(2), 70–74.

Borba, M. (2018). Nine competencies for teaching empathy. Educational Leadership, 76(2), 22–28.

Irvine Jordan, J. (2018). Teaching in an increasingly polarized society. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 54(3), 103–105. Qvarnstrom, J. (2018). Civility survey. Sul Ross State University.

Joining the Work of Sustaining Our Futures

By Django Paris

Dr. Paris is the inaugural James A. and Cherry A. Banks Professor of Multicultural Education and director of the Banks Center for Educational Justice  in the College of Education at the University of Washington on Coast Salish homelands. His most recent collaborative books are Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies: Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World and Education in Movement Spaces: Standing Rock to Chicago Freedom Square. He is also the editor of the new Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies series with Teachers College Press.

His article in the current KDP Educational Forum, “Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies and Our Futures,” is available for free in the month of November.

I write this as climate-crisis disasters wreak havoc on two places dear to my family.  Hurricane Ida has barreled over New Orleans, leaving the city without power and water. Raging wildfires have scorched the Lake Tahoe region and large areas of forest in Northern California. As is always the case, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, and other global majority communities are disproportionately affected by such disasters.

It can sometimes be hard to make necessary connections between this continued violence against the Earth, ongoing movements for racial justice and decolonization, the global pandemic, emboldened white supremacy, and our role as educators in working with young people and families toward more just and sustainable futures. And yet, here we are: the world on fire, a virus variant tearing through communities, just as children, families, and educators are being required to return to in-person instruction, all in the midst of a continued movement to ban the teaching and learning of past and present truths about race, colonialism, gender and sexuality, disability, migration, and more.  

In my own ongoing journey as an educator seeking to join the work of sustaining our futures across this heavy time, I have found inspiration and community in contemporary movements for Black Lives and Indigenous Sovereignty that center and love and fight for communities, lifeways, and lands that will ultimately benefit all people, all beings, and a possible future for us together on this Earth. Although this has meant learning alongside the leadership of elders, young people, families, and the land on the frontlines of social movements, I have also learned to internalize the frontlines in the classroom. I have learned that, indeed, our P-K through university classrooms, community organizations, and other education spaces must be understood as part of, not apart from, social movements. The students with whom I currently have the honor of learning, in the culturally sustaining pedagogy (CSP) courses I teach and across the communities and university where I work, have powerfully brought this truth home. The questions they are asking, the projects they are embarking on, and the organizing they are doing seek a way out of a system that is fundamentally unsustainable.  

Foundational to my learning within social movements and from students has been understanding that, for educators to invest in centering and sustaining communities, we must divest from whiteness (and the ways whiteness casts White-normed practices and bodies as superior­­) and settler logics (and the way dispossession, extraction of the Earth, and damaging logics of competition and individuality are normed as the right and only ways to be). Whiteness and settler logics are, indeed, baked into nation-state education systems, across state-sanctioned institutions (from health to law) and are foundationally linked to racial settler capitalism (most commonly called “capitalism”), the violent system of economic, social, and cultural exploitation and dispossession that emerged from and perpetuates the colonial legacies of land theft, genocide, and enslavement.

As more of us argue not for the return of nation-state education to what it was before the pandemic, but rather for reclaiming and reimagining a radically different vision of education, it is time to double down on joining the leadership of the students, families, and communities we learn with. The current moment, full of so much pain and loss, but also brimming with possibility for a more loving and just future, has invited us to better understand what we must divest from and invest in to more completely embrace such needed reclamation, transformation. In my article in the current issue of The Educational Forum, I more fully share and cite the confluence of research, theory, and practice that undergirds the ways CSP and other strength-centered approaches to teaching and learning can and must be part of such divestments and investments. I remain thankful to all the families, communities, elders, and young people who are leading the way, to the lands, and to our CSP collective. May we be part of building the world we need.

Helping Children—And Ourselves—Through Times of Uncertainty

By Lisa Self

Children need consistency in their lives. They like to know what to expect. This is one of the reasons children can watch the same movie over and over again. (Enter eye-roll emoji from adult.) No surprises, the ending is always the same.

Children like structure, even a schedule, and want to be able to count on the adults in their lives to lead and follow that structure. That doesn’t mean that children don’t like a surprise visit to the sno-cone stand, but they like to know when things are going to happen. They like warnings before things are going to change. Have you ever told a child to immediately clean up his Lego creation with no warning? Oof! Not pretty.

Thinking back to Psychology 101, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) shows that when children (and adults) feel unsafewhen they need security, protection, and stabilitythey have trouble reaching the higher levels of self-fulfillment needs, like using critical thinking skills or even being able to see another person’s point of view. Uncertainty and stress will impact the ability to learn.

What can we do to help?

Listen: Children might want to talk about how they are feeling. Listen. Don’t minimize their fears. Don’t just wait for them to stop talking so you can give them your ounce of wisdom. Just listen. Repeat back what you heard from them.

Alexa says, “I’m worried that I’ll never get to see my friends again.”

Adult: “It is sad when you don’t get to see your friends at school like you used to.”

Hugo says, “Is my family going to get sick and die?”

Adult: “It sounds like you are scared for your family.”

Peopleall people, young and oldwant to be heard. They want to know that their feelings are understood and respected.

Plan: Make a plan for how your week will go. Let those around you contribute to the plan. The plan doesn’t have to be extremely detailed, but it should have structure. Talk about the plan so everyone affected by it knows what to expect. Talk about the plan through the week, follow a routine, and include reminders and time notices to upcoming transitions.

S.E.E.E. Well: That is . . .

Sleep well!
Eat well!
Exercise well!
Enjoy!

Children need adequate hours of sleep—and so do adults! Anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter in college learns that sleep is needed for effective cognitive function, which may include solving a complex problem—or just not putting your eyeglasses in the refrigerator. It’s the same thing for children, except they need even more sleep than adults. Whether it’s a school night, weekend, or holiday, they need the same amount of sleep.

Encourage and model healthy eating! Children do not need sugary treats to reward them for behaviors or make them “feel” better. Volumes of research show that both are unhealthy practices for children. Use activities that involve trying new fruits and vegetables! Our lab school does a “taste test” every month. Our kitchen manager, Ms. Marcie, offers a food item that the children might not have tried before. They take a poll on whether we should incorporate this into an upcoming menu. It may not make the cut, but it’s always a fun food activity that introduces a new healthy flavor to their palate.

Model exercise and movement for children! During an explanation of her upcoming final unit, one of my college students said, “To keep children calm, we have to keep them moving.” That’s some of the wisest advice for guiding children I’ve ever heard.

How do we manage a group of small children? Keep them moving. And we need to move with them; whether in person or through virtual learning, we can model that movement and learn through movement with games, acting out a story and even with your best made-up song with large motor movement! (Instead of the “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” with fingers, how about the “Biggly-Wiggly Spider” using whole arms?) It’s good for them and good for us.

Enjoy! In the midst of the unknown, don’t forget to take time to unwind, connect with others, and do something you love every day (other than your job!)—and allow children to do the same. Listen to what they want to do and try to say “Yes!” every chance you get!

We can get through stress and anxiety, learn from it, and be healthier people on the other side. Then, we can teach children how to do that as well!

Resources

How to Have Better Conversations With Your Children

10 Reasons A Daily Routine is Important for Your Child (and How to Set One)

Children and Sleep

Kids’ Healthy Eating Plate

How much physical activity do children need?

Getting Children & Teens Outside While Physical Distancing for COVID-19

Mrs. Self is an Assistant Professor and the Program Coordinator of Child Development at Tarrant County College at the Northeast Campus in Hurst, Texas. She has been teaching children and adults since 1994.

References

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivationPsychological Review, 50(4), 370–396.

What We Can Learn From Students’ Body Language

Today’s blogger is Sue Ellen Henry, Professor of Education at Bucknell University and author of the article “Body Language Signals, Social Class, and Implicit Bias,” which appears in the October 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of November.

Quick question: As a teacher, have you ever been annoyed at the body language a student has used in class? If you’re a human being, the likely answer is yes.

Anyone who has spent any time at all in classrooms knows that body language can be palpable. Multiply this communication by 25 or 30, and there’s a whole lot being “said” without being verbalized. But because so much of this communication remains tacit and unexplored, it’s easy to ignore it, or at least think we’re ignoring it.

Such was the case when I was supervising a student teacher in a kindergarten classroom several years back. It was September, and the classroom routine was still in flux; new students were arriving daily, as this school had a lot of what educators call “enrollment instability.” Kids were learning where to hang their coats and to move a popsicle stick to indicate that they were a “packer” or a “buyer” of school lunch. On this particular day, the student teacher invited the students to the carpet to assess the weather and count the days of school, manifest in a paper clip chain that hung from the chalkboard.

That’s when the cooperating teacher said something to me that made the body language of these 24 5- and 6-year-olds manifest: “I can predict right now who will have to repeat kindergarten,” he said, scanning the class.

I’m sure this teacher knew that the majority of these children were from low-income backgrounds, with limited financial resources, and in some cases severe home instability. But in our conversation, he didn’t mention these factors. Instead, he saw children who had difficulty holding a pencil, tying their shoes, and knowing when and how to sit still on the carpet.

What I saw were children who were quite poor. Our interaction made me wonder how he was seeing their social class status revealed by their body language.

Research suggests that most of the nation’s 3.3 million teachers are solidly middle to upper-middle class (NCES Fast Facts, 2018; Thompson & Hickey, 2005). But the social class of the school-age population lags behind; according to the Center for American Progress, 14.4 percent of the school-age population, 1 in 7 children, or 11 million in total, lived below the official poverty line in 2019 (Haider, 2021). This factor alone makes social class an especially important component of communication in schools.

As someone who studies social class, I was intensely curious about how what the veteran teacher was seeing was potentially connected to the social-class background of the students. I launched a research project aimed at trying to better understand what elementary teachers might be seeing—without looking—as social-class signals in children’s nonverbal behavior. Although limited by the size of the survey sample and all respondents being from the state of Pennsylvania, the study nonetheless revealed some interesting trends.

What I personally find important about this research is how I apply it to my own teaching. When I find myself provoked by a student’s body language, I’ve begun to employ an “if/then” strategy: If I find myself annoyed, confused, bewildered, or uncertain about a student’s body language, then I will investigate it, write about it, consider it, and perhaps ask the student about it.

To investigate it, I will note for a couple weeks whether it happens again, and my reaction to it. I write about it to myself, noting that being provoked doesn’t necessarily mean that the student is in the wrong. It could well be that I have been over-sensitive or that it’s an isolated situation.

But if things continue in this way, I may well ask to meet with the student to say, “I’ve noticed this trend. For example, [you turn away when I invite questions from the class; you have a habit of rolling your eyes when I welcome folks to class; you often speak to a neighbor when I’m giving instructions for an in-class activity]. I often interpret this as meaning that you are bored or uninterested or irritated. Can you tell me more about this?

With this small measure, I hope to interrupt judgments about students’ interest or ability that I might otherwise conclude based on my assumptions about what motivates their body language. If nothing else, at least we’ve had a chance to be human with each other. And I might just learn that in this person’s growing up, looking someone in the eye was an aggressive stance. And that’s why the student looks away when I’m addressing him.

References

Haider, A. (2021, January 12). The basic facts about children in poverty. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/poverty/reports/2021/01/12/494506/basic-facts-children-poverty

NCES Fast Facts. (2018). Teacher characteristics and trends. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=28 Thompson, W. E., & J. V. Hickey. (2005). Society in focus (5th ed). Pearson.

Wiggle While You Work: Brain Breaks to Increase Productivity

By Rebecca Reppen and Natalie Andzik

Off-task behaviors among students with and without disabilities negatively affect their productivity and learning, disrupt the flow of the classroom, and adversely impact other students. Those behaviors can be minimized, however, by introducing “brain breaks,” a proven strategy can maximize instructional time.

Brain breaks can increase on-task behavior for allstudents, especially those who have trouble focusing for extended periods of time. The purpose is for students to take a mental break from the content knowledge they’ve been focusing on and give their brains time to process information before they move on to the next task.

You can easily implement 10–15-minute brain breaks for the whole class, a small group, or even an individual student throughout the day, every day. This helps students “reset” their brains before they start a new task.

Recess and passing periods alone do not increase on-task behavior, but shorter and more frequent recesses can have a positive impact on students’ engagement during instruction time (Mahar, 2011). One option would be to implement recess for 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes after lunch, and again for 10 minutes approximately 1 hour before the school day ends. Brain breaks that integrate physical movement, such as a quick dance party or yoga session, will allow students to increase focus and retain academic information (Popeska et al., 2018). No space for physical movement? Use interactive technology such as Kahoot! or pop up a music video for a sing-along. Students who engage in technology-based brain breaks reported feeling they learned better and could pay attention and focus more (Popeska et al., 2018).

Ms. Melina decided to use brain breaks with one of her students, George, who was rarely on-task during instruction. First, she asked him what he liked to do, so his breaks would be related to his interests (walking outside and playing basketball). After the timer rang at 10 minutes, he re-entered the classroom quietly, without disturbing his classmates, and began his work. His on-task behavior in the classroom increased from an average of 20% of the time to an average of 85%, and he no longer interrupted other students with his off-task behavior.

Some suggested brain-break options include allowing students to draw, tell jokes, lay on the floor, or complete a puzzle. Researchers have used this intervention with a variety of students, ages, and settings, and results always show an improvement in on-task behavior equating to an overall positive impact on the academic success of all students in the classroom (Gaastra et al., 2016).

Ms. Reppen graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2020. She is currently a 5th grade teacher at Harrison Community Learning Center in Peoria Illinois. 

Dr. Andzik is an Assistant Professor at Northern Illinois University. As a former special education teacher, she enjoys working closely with preservice teachers to prepare them to work with kids with disabilities.

References

Gaastra, G. F., Groen, Y., Tucha, L., & Tucha, O. (2016). The effects of classroom interventions on off-task and disruptive classroom behavior in children with symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A meta-analytic review. PLoS ONE, 11(2), e0148841. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0148841

Mahar, M. T. (2011). Impact of short bouts of physical activity on attention-to-task in elementary school children. Preventive Medicine, 52, 60–64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2011.01.026

Popeska, B., Jovanova-Mitkovska, S., Chin, M. K., Edginton, C., Mo Ching Mok, M., & Gontarev, S. (2018). Implementation of Brain Breaks® in the classroom and effects on attitudes toward physical activity in a Macedonian school setting. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15, 1127–1145. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15061127

Playing Games: A Lost Art in School

By Sarah Guthery and Amy Corp

The focus on students’ emotional well-being in schools is greater now more than ever. As teachers, we can help facilitate that by fostering community and team building—but how? Research has shown that playing games cultivates such a sense of community (Chlup & Collins, 2010).

Many of us are already using review games, or quiz games as part of instruction; however, games also can foster a sense of community and improve class morale. Teaching games to students requires an initial investment of time, but once they know the rules, you can use them anytime with no preparation or materials required. We commonly use games for younger students on rainy days, when lessons run short, or while waiting for the bus, but they serve a purpose for older students, too. I once heard a high school teacher say they call roll because that might be the only time all day that student hears their name at school. Playing games with students sets aside intentional time to connect as a class and build openness and trust (Boatman, 1991).

Teacher and school children playing card game in classroom. Taken on Toronto’lypse 2012. Playing cards are Property relased by http://www.istockphoto.com/diane555.

Ice Breakers and Team Building

As adults, we recognize the importance of community building, and an entire industry has sprung up around corporate team-building. However, we have yet to apply that same fervor to our classrooms and our students. Icebreakers are a great way to start introducing games into your classroom. An icebreaker is a game in which the main objective is to get to know others better. As you and your students feel more confident with one another and playing games, team-building exercises are fun ways to learn about classmates and build connections.

How to Select a Game

  • Start small: Choose icebreakers to ensure students know one another’s names and build from there.
  • Start safe: Consider the amount of personal risk-taking involved; students are unlikely to potentially embarrass themselves in front of classmates.
  • Start secure: To keep the game experience positive, choose games that don’t require physical contact or oversharing of personal information.

Games for K–4

Elementary students enjoy short, active games with lots of opportunity for engagement. The classics like 7-Up and Simon Says are always popular, but you can add new games, too, like Secret Circle. Students stand in a circle facing out with one student, blindfolded, in the middle. The student in the middle tries to listen for a noisy object being passed around, like a bag of bells, and point to where they think they hear the noise before time runs out.

Games for 5–8

Middle school and high school students love games, too, and since they are older can enjoy games with more complex rules. One of my favorite games with this age is Giants, Dwarves, and Elves. This game is a mashup of Red Rover and Rock, Paper, Scissors; the game (and many others) is explained in detail at the link.

Games for 9–12

Even though their days of playing tag are probably over, high school students still need community and trust-building activities. Playing games targeted at adults can meet this need and prepare them for working in teams in the real world. One fun game is concentric circles that rotate so everyone has a partner to talk to, and after 30 seconds the inner circle turns one place to the right, giving everyone a new partner. They introduce themselves and share one interest or hobby. By the end of the activity, every student has engaged with half the class in short conversations.

How and When to Start

If you have never played games with your classes before, starting midyear is the perfect time to introduce new life and community into your classroom. You can use the trust you have already built with students to introduce new ways to end the day. Rather than always ending on an exit ticket, packing up, or with reminders about homework, leaving just 3–5 minutes at the end of a class for a short game can transform your room into a community over time. Playing games to build community also ends the day on a positive note. Often a simple game can end the day in laughter and send everyone home happy and with a sense of belonging. Perhaps for some students, that sense of belonging may be the most important few minutes of the day.

Suggested Resources

How to Games for K–12

Low Risk Icebreaker Games

Fun Games for Older Students

Dr. Guthery is an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas A&M University Commerce. Her research and teaching focus on the preparation and retention of new teachers in the classroom.

Dr. Corp is an Associate Professor at Texas A&M Commerce, where she teaches education courses and supervises student teachers. Previously, she taught for 13 years in public schools in four states.

References

Chlup, D. T., & Collins, T. E. (2010). Breaking the ice: Using ice-breakers and re-energizers with adult learners. Adult Learning21(3–4), 34–39. Boatman, S. A. (1991, April 11–14). Icebreakers and group builders for the classroom [Paper presentation]. Annual Meeting of the Central States Communication Association, Chicago, IL, United States.

Keeping Your Sanity: 6 Strategies to Promote Well-Being

By Angelica Ribeiro and Kent Divoll

Being a teacher is rewarding, but it can also be stressful, which can negatively affect your emotional and professional well-being. This can impact your performance in the classroom and lead some teachers to leave the profession (McCarthy et al., 2015). It is crucial, therefore, that teachers focus on their own well-being to manage stress.

Below are six strategies for teachers to improve their well-being:

1. Make time for social connections. Connecting with others can reduce teacher anxiety, positively impact their work performance, and improve their concentration, well-being, and optimism (Achor, 2018). Make time to be with others and build relationships, even if it’s through brief calls or text messages.

2. Focus on what is in your control. When teachers feel stressed, they must focus on what they can control. Doing so activates the prefrontal cortex (responsible for decision-making and planning) and decreases the activation of the amygdala (linked to feelings of stress; Suzuki, 2015). Teachers more successfully manage stress when they focus on concrete actions they can take. Next time you feel stressed, make a list of things that are in your control and just take steps to improve them.

3. Meditate. Meditation promotes positive emotions, alleviates stress, calms the mind, and helps teachers redirect their attention (Suzuki, 2015). You experience the benefits of meditation after a few minutes, so a session doesn’t have to last long. Meditate at least 5 to 10 minutes every day to experience the benefits. You can find YouTube videos and apps, such as Calm (https://www.youtube.com/user/calmdotcom), to help you with meditation.

4. Practice gratitude. Among other benefits, expressing gratitude helps teachers create a positive mindset by training their minds to search for good things (Ribeiro, 2018). Having a positive mindset can help teachers reduce stress because they can more easily see positive realities and find solutions to problems (Dweck, 2016). Take a moment to think about your last 24 hours and then write three things you appreciated during the day.

5. Be a benefit-finder. Negative emotions and feelings are part of teaching. One way  you can deal with them is by accepting your feelings, looking for the good in difficult events, and reminding yourself that challenging situations can help you grow (Ben-Shahar, 2012). Being a benefit-finder helps teachers experience situations in a more positive way, which reduces their negative feelings.

6. Focus on increasing happiness. Reflecting about your day and taking steps to increase your overall happiness can help you manage stress and improve your well-being. In addition to the books listed in the sidebar, personal journals are tools to improve your happiness. My Happiness Habit Journal is a comprehensive journal that provides teachers with a systematic, metacognitive approach to setting happiness goals, creating happiness habits, and focusing on the positive. Make time to reflect upon your happiness to better deal with stress and improve your emotional well-being.   

You can be more effective as a teacher when you understand how to take care of yourself emotionally, manage stress, and be happier. You will be better able to cope with the demands of teaching and life. As Jensen (2008) suggests, “Only when you are effectively managing your own stress can you be at your best for others” (p. 48).

Book Recommendations

Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change, by Shawn Anchor

Choose the Life You Want: The Mindful Way to Happiness, by Tal Ben-Shahar

My Happiness Habit Journal, by Angelica Ribeiro

Running Into Happiness: How My Happiness Habit Journal Created Lasting Happiness in the Midst of a Crazy-Busy Semester, by Angelica Ribeiro

The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does, by Sonja Lyubomirsky

Dr. Ribeiro is an Adjunct Professor at Houston Baptist University and a Curriculum Specialist at Houston Independent School District. She teaches courses on second language teaching methods. Her research interest is second language acquisition. She is passionate about preparing future teachers and spreading positivity.

Dr. Divoll is an Associate Professor at the University of Houston–Clear Lake. Between his K–12 teaching experience, doctorial work, consulting, and college level teaching, Dr. Divoll has more than 20 years of experience in the field of classroom management and teacher education.

References

Achor, S. (2018). Big potential: Five secrets of reaching higher by powering those around you. Virgin Books.

Ben-Shahar, T. (2012). Choose the life you want: The mindful way to happiness. The Experiment.

Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

Jensen, E. (2008). Brain-based learning: The new paradigm of teaching (2nd ed.). Corwin Press.

McCarthy, C. J., Lineback, S., & Reiser, J. (2015). Teacher stress, emotion, and classroom management. In E. T. Emmer & E. J. Sabornie (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management (2nd ed., pp. 301–321). Taylor & Francis.

Ribeiro, A. (2018). Running into happiness: How my happiness habit journal created lasting happiness in the midst of a crazy-busy semester. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Suzuki, W. (2015). Healthy brain, happy life: A personal program to activate your brain and do everything better. Harper Collins.

Creating a Cache Stash: Going Beyond “the List” to Meet the Needs of Every Student

By Natalie Young

Meeting the needs of every student does not end at ensuring every student is provided with your classroom’s school supply list. Students need much more than just materials and supplies. As an elementary classroom teacher working in a high-poverty school district serving mostly minority students, I created an essential stash of goods for my students each year. This “cache stash” went beyond providing typical school supply needs—it provided students with peace of mind. 

Ms. Young, my grandma tried to do my hair, and now it look a hot mess.

Ms. Young, I ain’t get to eat no breakfast today.

Ms. Young, I forgot my gloves at home.

Throughout my teaching career, I’ve had many conversations that began like that. I just recently discovered that some preservice and new teachers are unaware that every teacher needs a cache stash. Research has shown a correlation between poverty and school achievement.  Low-socioeconomic kids often earn lower scores in core subjects like reading, writing, and math (Jensen, 2010). Creating a stash for your students is simple and you can easily remembered it by using this simple acronym: STASH.

S—Snacks: You should consider snacks one of the most important items in your stash. When children are hungry, it’s difficult for them to focus and pay attention in class. Try to provide a variety of options, but also include go-to snacks like cheese crackers, popcorn, and pretzels. Be aware of any allergies students may have and keep only peanut-free items in your stash.

TTalking: Students talk all day long, so having fresh breath is important. We ask students to share and collaborate multiple times throughout the day. However, a turn-’n-talk isn’t always the best strategy if a student has bad breath. Making sure to have mouthwash and mints in your stash can help students avoid being on the receiving end of ridicule from other students.

AApparel: Being a teacher in the Midwest, I am deeply aware that our winters are long and fierce. Extra gloves, scarfs, hats, and earmuffs are an essential part of fighting our cold, windy weather. Supplying your students with essential clothing items throughout the year can make a big difference.

SSkincare: Adding items like lip balm, lotion, and sunscreen helps soothe and protect students’ skin. When adding skincare items, be sure to include fragrance-free items to avoid issues for students with sensitive skin.

HHair: Hair is very important in African American culture. As a Black woman, I grew up understanding the importance of Black hair, and I possess a vast quantity of Black hair knowledge. If you don’t have a full appreciation and thorough understanding of the uniqueness of Black hair, I strongly advise against any attempts to adjust African American hairstyles. Regardless, your stash should always include essential items like combs, brushes, hair ties, and common hair products used by students in your school’s community.

Be sure to ask close friends and family for donations to your cache stash. Give them a list of essentials you need at your next family gathering or text them your list. Most people are aware of the monetary struggles teachers face and are happy to donate items. As a new teacher, creating your own cache stash will help you meet the needs of every child, including the unexpected needs.

Dr. Young is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education at Northern Illinois University. She enjoys preparing future teachers to be successful in today’s diverse classrooms. She has been active in KDP since 2016 and is a faculty co-counselor for the Delta Epsilon Chapter.

Reference

Jensen, E. (2010). Teaching with poverty in mind: What being poor does to kids’ brains and what schools can do about it. ASCD.