The Effects of COVID-19 Are Not Just Academic: Preparing for Reopened Classrooms

By Jonna Kuskey

To say the 2020-21 school year will begin a little differently than most is an understatement. Public health experts have indicated schools may still be dealing with the effects of the pandemic in the new year, which means more remote and online learning may be on the horizon, and we need to be ready if that occurs. We also need to be ready for the COVID-19 slide, much like the typical summer slide, only steeper. A study by Kuhfeld, et al, “Projecting the Potential Impacts of COVID-19 School Closures on Academic Achievement,” projects students will begin this year with “approximately 63-68% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year” and 37-50% in math.1 

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Pay more attention to mental health than to test scores

By Peter Smagorinksy

Republished with permission from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Mental health has emerged as a critical social and educational topic during the COVID 19 crisis. My contact with my University of Georgia students throughout the shutdown has found many of them struggling with mental health issues. Many of them had pre-existing conditions of anxiety, depression, and other mood and neurological challenges that were ramped up by their return home.

The home is often celebrated as a sanctuary from the world’s ills and evils, but many homes are very insecure. Some of my students left their college dorms for homes characterized by abuse, alcoholism, crowded quarters, anxious and frustrated parents, and other sources of stress and fear. Others developed anxiety and other challenges when cut off from friends and social lives and forced into baby-sitting or home schooling duties with their younger siblings by parents who were deeply stressed by demands of their own.

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The Future of Education: Trauma Informed Practices

By Cathleen Beachboard

As schools start making Covid-19 contingency plans for next school year, we must address a secondary crisis that will affect school systems and classrooms everywhere: traumatic stress. Even before this pandemic, almost half the nation’s children had experienced one or more types of serious childhood trauma, according to a survey on Adverse Childhood Experiences by the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH). This pandemic, unfortunately, is adding to that trauma with its far-reaching ripple effects from families losing jobs and income, people going hungry, children seeing family members sick and dying, and a looming fear to leave home due to threat of illness. Even the parents or guardians whom students normally turn to for stability may be overwhelmed trying to keep their own mental health stable. A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 56 percent of adults said that this pandemic has affected their mental health, and 19 percent stated that it has had a major impact.

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STEM: Leveraging SEL Skills to Improve Science Instruction

Let’s begin with a conversation among fourth graders. These students were sitting in a group of four and discussing structural and behavioral adaptations in plants and animals.

DeVon: Hawks have sharp claws that kill their prey.

Casey: What is this? (looking at a worksheet)

Reshma: Bear?

Diamond: A artic fox has…

Reshma: Insects are shaped like a leaf so predators think they are real leaves.

DeVon: A rosebush has thorns to…where’s this go [inferring the question: is this a structural or behavioral adaptation]?

Reshma: Frogs have long strong legs to hop really far.

At first glance, this sounds like a conversation. The students are talking about the science topic and they are facing one another around the table. But, unfortunately, this isn’t a conversation at all. To qualify as a real conversation, students need to talk to one another, listen carefully to each other, and take turns in the discussion so that one idea builds upon another. This scenario falls short. Although it is terrific to see students actively engaged in a science activity, there is so much more that is possible and necessary in a science classroom so that students get the most out of the instruction. High quality science discussions require students to use social and emotional skills (Hunt, Rimm-Kaufman, Merritt, & Bowers, in press). Without those skills in use, students remain focused on their own ideas. The quality of their answers reflect individual, not collective knowledge.

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Social Studies: Reading to Foster Perspective-Taking

Perspective-taking is especially important as teachers and students think more deeply about the meaning of equity—how we might achieve it, and what might be standing in the way of social justice and fairness to all. Students must learn to pose essential questions: Who makes decisions and who is left out? Who benefits and who is left out? Who suffers? Why is a given practice fair or unfair?

There are many books available for teaching the importance of perspective-taking so students can begin to think about equity and respond to questions such as these. Some are light and humorous, like The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf. Others are more thought-provoking, and explore personal issues such as bullying or sensing what it feels like to walk in someone else’s shoes. There are other books that examine historical events from perspectives that are different from the commonly held view. For social emotional learning, I have selected stories of a more serious nature, listed below, though each is intriguing in its own way.

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Social Studies: Integrating Social and Emotional Learning

Teachers have always known that they have a duty to teach students, not just content. Most of the skills taught beyond the core curriculum fit under the umbrella of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). CASEL identifies five competencies of SEL: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making. While all of these competencies should be practiced in the social studies classroom, I want to focus on two: 

Social Awareness

  • Perspective-taking
  • Empathy
  • Appreciating diversity
  • Respect for others 

Responsible Decision-Making

  • Identifying problems
  • Analyzing situations
  • Solving problems
  • Evaluating
  • Reflecting
  • Ethical Responsibility 
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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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Congratulations to our Book Giveaway Winners!

In celebration of the first day of summer, we are happy to announce the winners of the Norton Books in Education Social and Emotional Learning Solutions Series book giveaway!

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