Read this for a 3 minute overview on how to enhance your teaching practice to engage your students and help them connect the knowledge: https://www.teachthought.com/learning/6-targets-teach-way-brain-learns/
Ideally, classrooms are busy, active, and stimulating places. There might be out loud reading, collaboration and brainstorming, a teacher guiding conversation and dialogue, and a number of other activities that keep the volume level high.
And on any given day, there might be a student who needs to take a moment to disconnect and regroup. The student who needs a moment is usually easy to spot - sometimes disruptive to their group or completely disengaged from the surrounding activity; body language is also a good indicator.
We’ve all had those moments and we’ve all had those students in our classrooms.
Consider having a space, in class, for students, (or teachers) to take a moment.
And no, this isn’t a new take on standing in the corner; it’s a space where a student can step back, by choice, without fear of judgement or punishment, and freely observe/acknowledge how they are feeling, use a calming down tool from the “I need a moment space” and decide after two minutes, if they need further discussion with a teacher or they can handle it on their own.
You can ask for students’ input on what they would like to have in the space or you can start it on your own.
Here are some suggestions for your “I need a moment” space:
- Make the space inviting and warm, a little piece of “home” in class. A small rug, pillows, maybe a meditation or a bean bag chair.
- Provide a journal for students to share how they are feeling or use this feeling chart (or something similar). Consider modifying to add a column where the student can check off if they’d like to talk with their teacher or another professional.
- Colouring books (and pencils) are a great, physical way to help a child temporarily disconnect and take control of their emotions.
- Stock your space with healthy snacks. Consider nut-free energy bars, trail mix, crackers, bottles of water. Jeremy Mettler, one of the teachers featured in the film, always has snacks on hand because, “If a kid is hungry, they’re not paying attention to my class.”
- Remind your students most emotions pass in 90 seconds.
- Most of all, model the behavior so students know that it’s really ok to utilize the space when needed.
Photo credit: http://at-riskyouth.org/wp-content/uploads/23148-90seconds.png
Setting the emotional tone of your classroom is the most important thing a teacher does.” (Dr.Mariale Hardiman, founder of the Brain Targeted Teaching Model)
Grey Matters was recently included in a teacher training on social emotional learning, in particular, how to work with stressed children.
Stress is a funny beast. It’s kind of like chocolate - small amounts are fine, but it’s the larger quantities that can do you in. Here’s what we know about stress - large and consistent exposure to stress shrinks the hippocampus, the region of your brain involved in memory, and neurons in the pre-frontal cortex, the area of your brain responsible for problem-solving. Read the research here.
So what does this mean for your classroom?
It’s simple - stressed brains aren’t learning.
If a kid shows up to your classroom, having started their day with stress or encountered stress along the way, they are going to be sitting in that stress. A simple “shake it off” or “slip into a learning mindset” or “let’s leave our baggage at the door” isn’t going to shift their brain from the “protective fight or flight mode” into the “thinking thoughtful mode”.
Social-Emotional Learning offers teachers a basic understanding of emotions and the brain and equips teachers with tools and strategies to help students move out of the stress and their emotions, and into the learning day.
In the film Grey Matters, we see the Peace Path used by Justin Holbrook in his Grade 4 classroom, offers students and teachers, a way acknowledge their emotions, communicate calmly and make a resolution for future behaviours. Holbrook designated a space in the rear of his classroom for his Peace Path which offered students a way to vocalize what was troubling them. Maybe someone had called them a mean name, or grabbed something from them. “My kids know that they can go to the Peace Path at anytime, even if I’m teaching. I’ve had kids ask me to go the Peace Path and I’ve asked kids to go to the Peace Path,” Holbrook explains.
One of the biggest things teachers talk about is how to handle external situations that result in stressed students. From home life to peer relationships - there are a lot of things that teachers can’t control. Yet, those outside the classroom situations, often spill over to the classroom.
Do you deal with it? Or ignore it, in hopes it’ll sort it self out?
Turns out neither of those.
A 2007 research study suggests acknowledging the emotion and redirecting the student (barring a life-threatening issue) may be the most effective approach. In action, that could look like, “Did you want to chat after class or do you want to have lunch with me?”, effectively creating some distance between the student and the emotion.
But what if you can’t tell when a student is upset?
Here’s what one teacher did and this piece is excerpted from “The Brain Targeted Teaching Model for the 21st Century School” by Dr. Hardiman, “She designed a simple emotional temperature form with a row of emotions and corresponding adjectives (e.g. good, bad). Students circled how they felt that day and wrote a word or sentence or drew a picture to express his or her emotion. They would take the form, complete it, and return it to a basket, before beginning their work Two things came out of this approach - kids had the opportunity to acknowledge the emotion which helped them to detach. And the teacher was able to quickly spot where further follow-up or intervention might be needed.
Yours in learning and filmmaking.
I recently read J.D.Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (fascinating read and I highly recommend) where he credits his academic turnaround in high school to the stability he gained after he moves in with his grandmother. Throughout the latter part of the book Vance talks about the importance of role models and expectations - thinking that you can do something - and most of all, how a support network can help, even in the most challenging of family situations.
One of the things touched on in Grey Matters is the impact of stress on learning. Keep in mind, all stress is not equal. The stress of a kid not having their favorite cereal versus hoping there’s something to have for breakfast this morning. Or the stress of not finding their new jeans versus hoping there are clean clothes. It’s an omnipresent stress. If a student is stressed, they’re not focused on learning. Research has found stress physically changes the brain, shrinking the hippocampus, which plays a key role in memory.
Dr.Mariale Hardiman, author of the book, “The Brain Targeted Teaching Model for the 21st Century School,” the basis of Grey Matters, discusses stress and learning in Brain Target 1 - establishing the emotional component for learning. When a teacher prioritizes establishing a positive emotional classroom climate and striving to connect with their students, it “broadens cognitive associations and results in better performance on creative thinking measures” (Fredrickson B.L.)
So what does this look like in a classroom, when a teacher understands how severely stress impacts on learning? Jeremy Mettler, a high school teacher at Batavia High School, a rustbelt city in upstate New York, aims to eliminate the barriers to learning in his classroom. “I keep pens, pencils, snacks, and water in his classroom. It’s there. They know where it is. If they need something printed, I can do that. I want them to know that I care. Because when they know I care about them, I can get them to go so much further in my classroom.
For Vicky Krug, a developmental education professor at Westmoreland County Community College, it’s a tougher crowd. Students in her classes arrive angry, because they’ve tested, and unfairly they feel, into her class. For Krug, when she was a student, the most important thing to her was knowing that she mattered and she wants her students to know they matter. Despite feeling like they’re starting their college career off at a disadvantage.
Hardiman’s book quotes research studies that show “students who report having personal connections with adults in school have stronger academic performance (WIlson, 2004), attendance (Croninger and Lee, 2001), and school completion rates (Connell, Halpern-Felsher, Clifford, Crichlow, & Usinger, 1995; Finn & Rock, 1997). They are also less likely to engage in disruptive behavior and violence in school (Goodenow, 1993; Lonczak, Abbott, Hawkins, Kosterman, & Catalano, 2002).
If you want your students to care about learning, let them know they matter.
Show your students, you care about them.
Yours in learning and filmmaking.