In the hit musical Bye Bye Birdie, written in 1963, the adult members of the cast express their exasperation with the teenagers by singing, “Kids! I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today.” The opening lyrics portray the youngsters as being inarticulate, disobedient, disorganized, and lazy. As the lyrics develop, the annoyed adults begin to question their thinking, and the final stanza declares, “There’s nothing wrong with kids today.” Does this sound familiar?
In their book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, authors Kristin Souers and Pete Hall examine the “kids today” philosophy that can sometimes be present within schools. Souers and Hall (p. 158) ask the following questions: Have children really changed? Are our kids actually less respectful or more troublesome than we were? What metrics are we using to measure those characteristics?
After much reflection, Souers and Hall (pp.158-159) conclude that students are generally as they have always been, but the world in which they live has changed. Students now frequently face challenges at home that negatively impact their ability to function, and they bring those challenges into the classroom in ways that disrupt the educational environment. We cannot control the environments in which students live and the challenges they represent; however, we can strive diligently to create schools and classrooms that are safe and stable places children need. Let that be your goal as you plan for next week. Your students will benefit greatly!
All students need your classroom to be a very safe place, but it is especially important for students who have experienced trauma. In their book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, authors Kristin Souers and Pete Hall identify several things teachers can do in their classrooms to enhance the feeling of safety (pp. 103-104):
- Assigned seating. Assigned seating tells students they have someplace they are supposed to be. This leads to feelings of belonging.
- Check-in and Check-out procedures. Having students check-in/check-out daily helps gives them the opportunity to interact with a teacher, and it gives the teacher the opportunity to see how the student is doing at the beginning and end of the day or classroom period.
- Posting pictures. Think of your own home. You display pictures and artifacts from your family members and create a sense of belonging. Why not do that with your classroom “family”?
- Notes or calls home. Be sure to share school successes and concerns with the parents/guardians of your students. When you care enough to share, your students will know that you are genuinely concerned with their wellbeing.
- While human beings tend to be creatures of habit, we find comfort in those routines and rituals. Incorporate routines and rituals into your classrooms to help make your students comfortable on a daily basis.
As you prepare for next week, plan for ways to improve the sense of safety and belonging in your classroom. You and your students will benefit greatly from your efforts!
SPIDER WEB discussion in the classroom increases student engagement and provides a vehicle for improving student skills in the area of dialogue. In her book The Best Class You Never Taught: How SPIDER WEB Discussion Can Turn Students Into Learning Leaders, Alexis Wiggins notes the following additional benefits of regularly employing the SPIDER WEB discussion practice that she has observed in her own classroom (pp. 132-141):
- Better Assessment Data on Individual Students: All the coding involved in monitoring discussion and creating the web graph provides teachers with a tremendous amount of data on individual students. That data makes it easier to identify things students do well and things that need improvement.
- Increase in Homework Completion: Students generally do no want to look bad in front of their peers, so they will do homework in order to meet the participation requirements. Students understand that for a SPIDER WEB to work, all strands must be firmly attached. No one wants to be the weak strand.
- An Ethical and Safe Classroom Environment: Since SPIDER WEB discussion results in a group grade, students are more willing to step out of their typical behavior to participate (i.e. the students who are shy are more willing to speak, and the students who are overly talkative are more willing to sit back and listen). Students are more willing to ask good, open-ended questions, often questioning thoughts and beliefs that may have otherwise been taboo in class (i.e. race, religion, beliefs, values, and the like).
- Greater Student Autonomy: Students are frequently their own best teacher. SPIDER WEB discussion gives students voice in their learning process, and it allows the students to learn from each other, which allows the teacher to take on a coaching role.
- Opportunities for Greater Equity: SPIDER WEB discussion lends itself to equal participation in class. This helps students of all varieties find a voice in the classroom. SPIDER WEB discussion can be enhanced by allowing students to write questions and responses for sharing discussion, further strengthening writing for all students.
SPIDER WEB discussion, as a pedagogical practice, can be regularly used in classrooms of all grade levels and content areas. Over time, students and teachers are likely to become more comfortable with the process, thus increasing student engagement and voice. Keep trying the practice in your classroom. You and your students will learn much in the process!