Students have definitely changed!
My first years of teaching were spent in a therapeutic classroom in a therapeutic school. The students who sat in front of me then are the profiles of the students who are sitting in general education classrooms today.
These are the students who struggle to regulate their emotions. Their responses to problems do not match the problem. They are unmotivated to learn. They struggle to learn because they can't pay attention. They have been exposed to more trauma than most adults I know. They do not know how to socialize or communicate effectively.
Research indicates that success for students with learning difficulties depends on both effective academic programming AND the development of positive social and emotional environments. So what this means for us is that we have to teach strategies for approaching difficult tasks and teach students to believe in their own capacity and ability to learn.
effective academics + positive social emotional environments = student success
By teaching social emotional skills, we are preventing, modifying, and altering the effects of risks and outcomes associated with the typical trajectory of academic failure (Haft, et al., 2016).
So how can we teach SEL skills in our classrooms?
*Have students write a story or write role play (or just role play without adding the writing) typical situations that happen when they are together. Then, discuss! “How would you feel if this happened to you?” "What are some strategies we can use if this does happen to us?
*Make a Feeling Wheel with a spinner. Students can spin, label the feeling face that the spinner lands on, and share (or write) about a time they felt that way.
*Make Feeling Dice (cover milk cartons with paper and drawing different feeling faces on each side). Students toss the dice, label the feeling that lands face up, and share (or write) about a time they felt that way.
*Use read alouds to teach about an emotion. You can choose a picture book or a longer novel. No matter the choice, the discussion should focus on the SEL learning takeaways.
*Show students a photograph of a child's face, showing a certain emotion. Prompt students to think of words to describe the emotion displayed. Write a list of all of the different words students come up with. Then, ask them to turn and talk to their neighbor about a time they have felt that way. Challenge students to use a word from the generated list while they are sharing. The next time you play, make sure the photograph represents a different sort of emotion. The goal is that over time, students will develop an active vocabulary of words that describe their feelings.
By: Miss Rae
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About half of the students in the United States are presented with challenges when learning to read (National Center for Education Statistics, 2014). This statistic may seem staggering, and it should. But worse, let’s put it into an even more staggering perspective - literacy is an essential element of academic proficiency. It is the medium through which most learning in schools takes place.
There are years of research behind the teaching of reading, and we learn from this research in our "How to Teach Reading" teacher training courses. There is one component often forgotten in our training though - reading also includes an emotional component.
Struggling learners can be stigmatized by continual reminders of their reading challenges in classrooms, and what does this lead to? Learned failure. Struggling students are two times more likely to drop out of school, experience peer rejection, develop low self-esteem, battle anxiety, and suffer from depression (IDEA, 2002).
If a student can’t read, a student can’t access our academic content. Naturally, academic failures, resulting from repeated reading challenges, can potentially lead to social emotional impacts on students (Haft, et al., 2016).
Our goal as teachers, then, is to not only teach our students to read, but to also develop strong attributes of emotional literacy. We can do this by infusing social emotional resilience into our curriculum. Through the development of social emotional literacy, we can teach protective factors that positively modify or alter the effects of risks and outcomes associated with the typical trajectory of reading failures (Haft, et al., 2016).
So how do we teach our students social emotional literacy?
1. Create and promote supportive classrooms!
A supportive classroom climate protects against the detrimental impacts of reading challenges (Kiuru et al., 2012). Such climates build students’ confidence and optimism through the development of a positive and proactive system for classroom management and learning. Teachers should provide consistent praise for perseverance and effort. Through modeling of such feedback, peers will also begin to encourage each other to develop and meet learning conflicts.
Strategies to meet these challenges can be taught by utilizing cognitive strengths in instruction and differentiation. Great teachers tailor instruction to meet every student’s needs. To support social emotional literacy, differentiation means that we accommodate, intervene, and modify students’ learning to challenge them to meet learning targets, strengthen lagging skills, and essentially, close the achievement gap.
2. Develop strong and positive interpersonal relationships!
Close, positive interpersonal relationships have been identified as increasing the social emotional resilience of students with reading difficulties (Haft, et al., 2016). Specifically, close and constructive peer relationships help struggling learners with acceptance and support in the classroom, leading to positive engagement in school (Shany et al., 2012). Teachers can work to foster these meaningful and productive peer friendships in their classrooms.
Prosocial skills should be taught and reinforced through explicit instruction. This begins by identifying the lagging skill (i.e. turn taking in conversation). Teachers should then explicitly define the skill, model the skill, allow students to role play the skill, and provide performance feedback.
Furthermore, application of social skill learning can be trialed, generalized, and reinforced through teacher mentorship of struggling readers. Student-teacher mentorship can improve students’ social and interpersonal skills, while also providing a positive aspect to school (Ahrens, et al., 2010).
3. Instill a sense of control!
Struggling learners experience a sense of loss of control as they hit continual roadblocks in learning and attempting to read. This, inevitably, increases stress which can lead to maladaptive behaviors, ranging from work and school avoidance to social isolation to acting out in the classroom.
Believing that they exhibit a low academic self-efficacy, struggling readers often view their intelligence as fixed and unable to be changed. However, research has proven that the theory of growth mindset can influence academic growth and achievement (Baird et al., 2009).
By teaching adaptive coping strategies, that involve confronting problems directly, students can improve their functioning and social emotional literacy skills. Teachers can do this by explicitly teaching growth mindset principles and strategies for approaching difficult tasks. When confronted with a problem, students should learn to assess it, identify a strategy for solution, and apply the strategy. They should also learn that if the strategy does not work, it is acceptable to go back to the drawing board and revise the plan of attack.
4. Build student confidence!
Student confidence begins to increase through the successful application of learned coping strategies. Essentially, this teaches students to believe in their own capacity and ability to learn to read! Teachers can strengthen and reinforce improved student confidence by teaching social emotional learning to all students.
Students should cultivate a strong sense of self awareness. Through self awareness, students have a keen sense of their strengths and lagging skills, which enables them to tackle learning goals in a more effective and efficient manner for academic advancement.
Through a self aware goal setting process, students nurture the social emotional skill of self determination. Teachers should help students set realistic, short-term learning goals that utilize and further develop strengths. Short-term goals support more success for the development of both academic and social emotional skills due to immediate and on-going positive praise and reinforcement; thus, facilitating greater strides in academic progress.
Reading is one of the most important gifts we can teach our students. By teaching our students to read, we give them the ability to achieve their life goals, but we cannot forget to target all components of teaching reading, including social emotional literacy!
Ahrens, K., DuBois, DL., Lozano, P., & Richardson L.P. Naturally acquired mentoring relationships and young adult outcomes among adolescents with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice. 2010; 25:207-216.
Baird, G. L., Scott, W. D., Dearing, E., & Hamill, S. K. (2009). Cognitive self regulation in youth with and without learning disabilities: Academic self efficacy, theories of intelligence, learning vs. performance goal preferences, and effort attributions. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 28, 881-908.
Haft, S. L., Myers, C. A., & Hoeft, F. (2016). Socio-Emotional and Cognitive Resilience in Children with Reading Disabilities. Current opinion in behavioral sciences, 10, 133–141.
IDEAdata.org. Exiting by Disability, Ages 14-21. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); 2002.
Kiuru, N., Poikkeus, A-M., Lerkkanen, M-K., Pakarinen, E., Siekkinen, M. Ahonen, T., & Nurmi, J-E., Teacher-perceived supportive classroom climate protects against detrimental impact of reading disability risk on peer rejection. Learn Instr. 2012; 22:331-339.
National Center for Education Statistics. The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2003/2003495rev.pdf; ii. Colker, L. J. (2014).
Shany, M., Wiener, J., & Assido, M., Friendship predictors of global self-worth and domain-specific self concepts in university students with and without learning disability. Journal of Learning Disabilities. 2012.
Dear Miss Rae,
How can I help a student who has ZERO coping skills?
My student is a sweet girl who greets her teacher with a hug every day. She can follow routines. She rarely shuts down in class, but when she does it is around academics. When things are hard for her, she completely gives up. Her shutting down is crying and quiet. She will cover her face with her hair, but she does not ask for help. She does NOT like making mistakes. Help me so I can help her! Because the truth is I don’t know how to help her!
Approximately 4.4 million students, aged 3-17 years, have been diagnosed with anxiety (Ghandour, et al., 2018).
So teaching coping skills in schools is a must!
Coping means to make a conscious effort to solve problems and master, minimize, and handle stress or conflict!
Here are some coping strategies that I teach to my students:
ONE: Deep Breathing!
Oxygen helps our bodies relax. Have students breathe in through their nose, expand their bellies, and then, breath out. Try using a pinwheel or bubbles! As students breathe out, get the pinwheel to spin or make some bubbles float into the air!
TWO: WRITE ABOUT FEELINGS!
Writing helps students get their feelings out and learn from them. Give students time to free write about their feelings. This is a private place to confess how they feel. Writing down anxious thoughts helps take them away and allows students a chance to vent their frustrations. Through writing, students are able to connect and listen to themselves as well. This self-reflection allows them to evolve and gain control over their own thoughts.
Try these writing activities for stress:
*Keep a worry journal. Have students write down the worries they are feeling, but then, end with one positive feeling. This helps to break the negative thinking cycle!
*Start a feelings journal. Students write one feeling (i.e. happy, mad, sad, scared) on a page. Students should then think of something that gave them this feeling. Write or draw about what happened.
*Write and Rip! In this activity, students write or draw their worries on a piece of paper. They can read them to themselves, a teacher, counselor, or peer (if they choose). Then, rip up the paper and throw it away.
*Use a question and answer activity to help students process and reflect on their stress experiences.
Three: FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE!
Get students to change their thinking! Oftentimes, when we are anxious, we engage in negative self-talk. How we talk to ourselves affects our outlook on the world. So help students change their mindset!
Teach positive self-talk! Brainstorm ways to revise negative talk.
I can’t make this any better.
What can I improve?
I can’t do this.
I have to practice.
This is too hard.
This may take some time.
I’m never going to get this.
I’ll use a different strategy.
I made a mistake.
Mistakes help me learn.
Create lists! Students can create gratitude lists of things they are thankful for. They can also create favorite lists. Creating a list of things students love to do gives them choices when they are stressed out.
Four: GET MOVING!
Exercise releases endorphins. These are natural painkillers that the brain releases. This helps to reduce stress. So get your kiddos moving! Students can walk in place, run in place, dance, do jumping jacks, stretch, take a walk, or do some yoga all in their classroom!
Relaxing helps students to calm their minds and thus, regulate their emotions.
Create a calming corner within the classroom. This gives students a place to go to for some relaxation time. Students can ask to go to this safe space within the classroom. Once there, they can use a sand timer to track the length of their stay. Then, they can engage in relaxing activities that are all available within the calming space. This could be fidgets, coloring books, clay, books, a mini sandbox, and more. Teach your students how to use these tools to relax prior to introducing the space.
Teach students a trick to release this stress from their bodies:
Tense all of your muscles in your body (really tight...make fists even). Hold your muscles tight for five seconds. Release. Notice how you feel. Repeat two to five times.
You can also teach tensing one muscle group at a time, holding for five seconds, releasing, pause to notice how you feel, and then, moving to the next group.
Let students create a character that represents their anxiety. Have them talk to their character about ways to feel strong and deal with their anxiety. Practice visualizing talking to this character. This will help students use this strategy in a moment of anxiety.
Have your students create video game remote controls for their anxiety. Each button can be a strategy that works for the student. Practice pressing a button and using this strategy.
Create a worry box for the classroom. Decorate a box for the classroom. Students can write their worries on a piece of paper and place them in the box.
Seven: TRACK THE DATA!
We use data to motivate our students in their academics so why don’t we do this with their stress. Students can track their stress in a notebook in order to analyze it. Does their stress have a pattern? Conference with your students to help them gain a deeper understanding of their stress. What was the catalyst for the student’s stress? What was the antecedent to the stress? What was the consequence of the stress? What can a student do to prevent this pattern from continuing
For the most severe cases of students who lack coping skills, teachers can help them by creating IEP goals for them!
Sample IEP Goal:
Given direct instruction, XXX will develop coping skills and strategies to manage frustrations in 3 out of 5 observable opportunities.
1. XXX will be able to use calming strategies when frustrated (breathing exercise or counting backwards) in 3 out of 5 observable opportunities.
2. XXX will be able to verbalize difficulties and accept when no further help can be offered for completing tasks or tests in 3 out of 5 observable opportunities.
3. XXX will put forth effort when confronted with perceived difficult tasks in 3 out of 5 observable opportunities.
Coping skills are skills that our students need to be successful in life - no matter where their journey takes them. Let’s help them to have success in life!
By: Miss Rae
Ghandour RM, Sherman LJ, Vladutiu CJ, Ali MM, Lynch SE, Bitsko RH, Blumberg SJ. Prevalence and treatment of depression, anxiety, and conduct problems in U.S. children. The Journal of Pediatrics, 2018. Published online before print October 12, 2018
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