Social Studies: Teaching about Elections

How to teach politics without getting too political

The tricky thing about teaching politics to any grade level of students is leaving your own politics out of it. I always knew I had taught a successful unit if by the end, students still did not know which way I leaned politically. I have had colleagues who make it very clear which way they lean, even going so far as to have bumper stickers or signage touting specific candidates hanging in their classroom. This always bothered me because although I think teachers are responsible for influencing our students to be learners, there are certain topics we have no business influencing. I subscribe to the Linus theory:

“I’ve learned there are three things you don’t discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

Linus Van Pelt (Charles Schultz)
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ADHD: Recognizing the Symptoms

Children who have ADHD present predominantly with symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, or a combination of these symptoms. The disorder has had numerous names over the last several decades: minimal brain damage, minimal brain dysfunction, hyperkinetic reaction of childhood, attention- deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity, and, since 1987, attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Diagnosing ADHD

Symptom lists that are used for the diagnosis of ADHD are split into inattentive and hyperactive- impulsive criteria. If an individual has six or more symptoms from both lists, he or she would be diagnosed with ADHD, combined presentation. If an individual has six or more symptoms in one list but not the other, he or she would be considered to have ADHD, predominantly inattentive or ADHD, predominantly hyperactive- impulsive form.

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Media Literacy: Argument, Persuasion, and Propaganda in English Education

English educators are generally familiar with the topic of propaganda, as it is a theme of much of the literature that is emphasized in courses for high school and college students. For many teachers, it may seem as if dystopian young adult novels have become the default genre of a generation. Dystopian literature like Huxley’s Brave New World and other works critique mindless consumption, instant gratification, reliance on technology, and the resulting atrophy of language and critical thinking. When reading this novel, one teacher asks her students to reflect on these questions: “Is life easy for us today? Is it too easy? How do people escape from everyday life? Is it necessary to do so? Why or why not?” (Wilkinson, 2010, p. 24).

M.T. Anderson’s young adult novel, Feed is a popular work that considers the ubiquitous nature of advertising as propaganda. The novel uses satire, humor, and exaggeration to depict the world of the future, where the Internet is implanted into your brain as the Feed. As people grow up, their brains cannot function without the Feed. They attend a classroom run by corporations where students learn how to use technology, find bargains and decorate a bedroom. Through education, in this dystopic world, students are trained to be consumers.

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ADHD: Helping Students Regulate Attention

Is it an Attention Deficit?

One of the greatest misconceptions about ADHD is that it renders a person unable to pay attention. In fact, many educators contact me and say, “He can’t have ADHD! He can spend hours on the activities he wants to!”  What science has taught us is that because of the below-normal activity in the neurotransmission of dopamine and norepinephrine, some people struggle regulating their attention, leading some professionals to suggest that we rename ADHD “deficits in attention regulation disorder.” People with ADHD can pay attention, but not always when they need to, for as long as they need to, or on what they need to—especially when they are not interested or internally motivated. Sometimes, when a person is very interested in what he or she is focused on (such as playing a video game or building with blocks), the individual is actually “hyperfocused.” This means that the person is deeply and intensely focused to the point that he or she has shut out other thoughts or stimuli. This is why very often people with ADHD have a hard time transitioning from one task to another.

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Bullying: How to Foster Empathy

Despite the intense pressure in public education for students to perform well on standardized tests, there is no research evidence indicating that test scores lead to better overall outcomes for kids in adulthood. There is abundant evidence, on the other hand, that having good social skills results in positive outcomes for young people during their school years and throughout their lives (Winner, 2013). Integrating SEL into standard school curricula, from the earliest years through high school graduation is a proven way to fortify kids with the skills they need to cope with bullying and to thrive in all of their interpersonal interactions.

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Bullying: 5 Common Responses to Avoid

While we all want to do the right thing when confronted with a bullying situation, the right response may not always be clear to us. It is clear that some strategies are more effective than others. Here we review a few strategies that researchers suggest are not effective at reducing bullying or stopping it from reoccurring. While some of these may surprise you, others will probably make sense when you consider the reasons why they are not recommended, because they either increase bullying behaviors or make the situation worse.

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Back to School: Creating a Safe Learning Environment

On the last day of my last class before beginning my first teaching job, the professor asked us if there were questions – perhaps things not addressed in class.  My determined hand shot up. “What are we to do if we ask students to do something and they refuse?”  This was not just my burning question – it was my biggest worry in the middle of the night.  I was embarking on a high school position with over 150 students in my charge– how would a young woman who looked a lot like a teenager have any credibility with these students? Would they even do what I asked of them? What were my next steps if they did not comply? How long would I last? What if things spiral out of my control? What if I get fired?

The very nice professor became a bit flummoxed, stammered a bit, but no answer came forth.  Fast forward: After teaching a jillion students, working with thousands of teachers in professional development, coaching educators, and being honored to witness fabulous work in countless classrooms, here’s what I know: It was the wrong question to ask.  Rather than ask about mechanisms to control students – an impossible task – our focus is really: How can we ignite an intrinsic joy in learning that significantly reduces the need to manage, control, or even kick out kids?

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Back to School: Learning about Students

I love the beginning of school.  August and September hold new possibilities full of hope and promise, a chance to start fresh, to learn from last year’s failures as well as successes, and to build something even better than the year before.

I didn’t always look so excitedly toward the beginning of another school year. When I was new to the field, I taught the prescribed curriculum that was handed to me.  Although I was “teaching by the book,” my students were struggling. I came to realize they were struggling precisely because I was teaching the prescribed curriculum.

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Back to School: Finding Stillness

The beginning of the school year can be stressful for students and teachers alike. What better time to introduce a calming break within the school day? By structuring a quiet minute at the start of class, after lunch, or when transitioning between activities, we offer students and faculty a chance to catch their breath, literally. By offering our students the gift of quiet, even for a moment or two, we can transform our classrooms into a zone of peace. I hope this post, composed of excerpts from my book, Classroom Yoga Breaks (2016), will inspire you to create some moments of stillness in your days at school.

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Back to School: Promoting English Learners’ Assets

The proportion of English learners (ELs) in the United States public school system has reached nearly ten percent of all students, and is on a nationwide growth trajectory1.  Along with this growth in numbers, ELs tend to experience an opportunity gap, which generally refers to the impact that factors such as students’ English proficiency, socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity have on their achievement. For example, 79% of English fluent eighth graders scored at the basic or above reading level in 2017, while only 32% of ELs scored at those levels during that same year.2  In addition, ELs have one of the lowest graduation rates among all students on a national level, approximately 63% as compared to 82% of all students3.Gaps such as these have helped lead far too many educators to see ELs as one-dimensional, defined primarily as being lacking in areas such as English proficiency, achievement in content areas, and/or ability to graduate. Recent research4 on teachers’ perceptions of ELs in kindergarten through second grade suggests that classifying students as ELs has a “direct and negative effect on teachers’ perceptions of students’ academic skills.”

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