Kids can surprise us every day. After teaching in an elementary school classroom for almost a month, I learned unexpected things about the students and their dreams for the future.
We had just learned in social studies about the dreams of African Americans in moving to the North during the Great Migration. We listened to a song and a poem with the theme of dreams by great Harlem Renaissance artists Louis Armstrong and Langston Hughes. Then, I asked students to write about their dreams. I was impressed at what they shared.
One student wrote that she dreamed of playing in the WNBA. Another explained her hope of publishing piano music she had written.
Another girl wrote that she wanted to invent hovercrafts—because no one has been able to do it yet.
A third student described his goal to become a millionaire, and a fourth discussed her intention to become a paleontologist—and a doctor.
Still others revealed their interests in creating video games and holographic rooms, publishing piano music, playing professional football and soccer, becoming entrepreneurs, and entertaining as famous actors, singers, and dancers.
Finally, a student explained her desire to help resolve conflicts in society and create world peace.
What powerful responses. What amazing dreams!
I remember as a child, at different times I wanted to be a zoo keeper, a dolphin trainer at Sea World, a children’s book author. I didn’t realize until college that I wanted to be a teacher, to helps others make their dreams come true. I want these students to know that they can do anything they put their minds to—and more.
—Leah Davis Christopher, Stance
Next week, I'll discuss how parents can help their children
set goals to reach their dreams.
As technology in education has gone from chalkboard to whiteboard to smartboard, children still typically learn best through examples and practice, not just lectures. Lucky for us in today’s technology age, many resources are available to help children, parents, and teachers with academics.
Resources for children to practice skills and explore concepts
Kahn Academy is a site complete with video explanations, visual models, and practice problems that align with the Common Core State Standards. You can track your progress on concepts and get hints on tricky problems.
The Worldwide Telescope, a free downloadable application, helps students learning about space. You can see images and diagrams of the Milky Way, learn about astronomy, and take tours of interesting nebula (clouds of gas and dust).
Time for Kids is an online newspaper written by kids and for kids that includes current events as well as special interest articles about holidays and historical events.
Resources for parents to support children
PBS.org offers several articles with great suggestions on supporting kids in math homework, finding creative ways to play with math at home, and maintaining kids’ math skills over the summer.
ScienceBuddies.org helps parents and kids with tips, directions, and supplies for science fair projects.
Project Gutenberg has many older classic novels that parents would enjoy reading to or with children at home.
Saylor.org is a free online learning academy that can help parents delve into subjects they want to study to help their children with school work or just for themselves.
Resources for teachers to use in teaching children
Kidblog.org offers a way for teachers to encourage students to write. They’ll love writing for an audience, even if it’s just their class or their parents.
Commonlit.org has selections from famous texts, filed by general theme. These would be great for shared reading with the whole class during upper-grades’ social studies periods.
iCivics.org includes games, readings, discussion topics, current event outlines, and curriculum units for teachers to use. I personally like the games section for students—you can practice your Bill of Rights knowledge, control the federal budget in People’s Pie, design laws and court cases in LawCraft, and determine if immigrants have the right to live and work in the US in Immigration Nation.
—Leah Davis Christopher, Stance
Thanks to Royce Kimmons and the IP&T department for pointing out many of these resources.
As I began my book group in the 5th grade class I’m teaching in this semester, I could tell that two girls were frustrated with one another. Here’s what ensued: dirty looks, obviously offended gestures, teasing, and complaints that the other was kicking her under the table.
Questions came to my mind—should I give them a punishment for their behavior? Would that motivate them to cut it out, cheer up, and make up with each other? On the other hand, they did begin to read—however reluctantly. Should I praise them for at least being on task? At least then they might feel reinforced.
Punishments and praise. These two opportunities constantly arise with children, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell which will elicit the desired behavior.
Great examples of how to motivate behavior, right? Read on to understand more on how you may or may not be reinforcing a child’s behavior.
Reinforcement is sometimes misconstrued as a synonym to praise. However, reinforcement is just a consequence that maintains or increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur again—whether positive or negative.
For example, we may think that giving praise to a child who is behaving well may inspire him or her to continue the good behavior and help nearby children comply as well. However, a child who is shy may despise that praise and feel embarrassed in front of peers, so praise will not reinforce the behavior but rather decrease the chance of the child doing it again.
The same is true about punishments—we may think that we are giving a consequence that decreases the likelihood that a behavior will occur, such as sending a child into time out or making a student stay in from recess.
But if the child actually doesn’t mind going to time out (“this is just play time in my room”) or staying in from recess (“at least the bullies will leave me alone”), then it’s not a punishment. It’s actually a reinforcer. B.F. Skinner, the behavior theorist, described more on these ideas.
Consider the Outcome
The nuts and bolts of this whole idea are to figure out what will increase or decrease the desired behavior. If a punishment is repeatedly not working (e.g., grounding a child isn’t solving the homework slothfulness), then consider whether that punishment is actually working as a reinforcer. On the other hand, if an intended word of praise or a prize is not increasing good behavior, consider whether a different reinforcer should replace it.
You’ve seen it at the grocery store—kid asks for candy, mom resists, kid throws a fit, mom gives in.
While this situation may be the reality for parents on some trying days, it’s helpful to understand what’s behind this childish behavior. You wouldn’t want to encourage such tantrums, would you?
A couple weeks ago, Steve Andersen, a behavior specialist from the Provo School District, visited one of my elementary education classes. I was surprised at how many simple, yet powerful tips he shared about behavior modification. I’ll impart some of his wisdom, with the hopes of applying these concepts in my own teaching and helping others do the same with their children.
Fundamentals behind behavior:
Behavior is learned.
Behavior is purposeful.
To obtain something.
To escape/avoid something.
Think you’ve heard this before? Hang on, and read carefully: the difference between a peaceful and an out-of-control trip to the store—or the park, or church, or even time at home—may be in the details.
Behavior is learned
So, behavior is learned: we all know we are creatures of habit. We do the same things over and over—order the same entrée every time, take the same route home, tell the same cheesy jokes—because we can expect familiar consequences. (Note: in this context, “consequence” means the result of an action, whether positive, negative, or neutral.)
Children also learn what they can and can’t get away with. If they realize they can cause mayhem in order to get what they want—such as a lollipop or candy bar— they’ll keep doing it. Likewise, if they realize that parents will not give in when they fuss, they’ll stop doing it. That’s right, they’ll stop! But . . . how?
Behavior is purposeful
Since behavior is purposeful, children will realize that their tantrum didn’t obtain something—even if that something is just attention. (For example, in classrooms, many times the class clown just wants a laugh; he doesn’t intentionally try to drive the teacher bonkers. Watch this video to how one theorist would handle similar situations using logical consequences.)
If parents aren’t responding to their fits, children will also realize they can’t avoid or escape eating broccoli, doing chores, or working on homework. If a certain behavior does not cause an intended consequence, the child will try something different until it works, or they will eventually give up.
Giving up, not giving in
Eventually. That’s the part that can get exhausting for parents and teachers. The formal term for disciplining a child to “give up” a problem behavior is called extinction. Here’s what that means: if parents or teachers don’t “give in” to a problem behavior, then the behavior will go extinct—stop, dry up, die off.
Steve told us of a young mother he knew who was accustomed to giving in to everything her 2-year-old daughter wanted. Steve coached her through the extinction process. One night, the toddler begged to eat dessert first instead of dinner. When her mama said no, the baby girl shrieked and hollered and cried and whined—for almost two hours. The mother’s only task was to completely ignore her, which she successfully did.
When the whirlwind of emotions paused, the mom asked her to comply, and the tears started back up for another 30 minutes, but the mom ignored her again. This cycle continued until, shaking, the 2-year-old decided to surrender. She accepted the consequence. In the next few days following this pattern, she showed a huge improvement in her behavior.
So there you have it—a couple of wise tips and the flat-out reality of improving problematic behaviors. It may not be easy, especially when those wails at the grocery store are louder than police sirens, but Steve, the behavior specialist, insists that with time, the goal behavior will be learned.
—Leah Davis Christopher, Stance
Next week, I’ll describe how to use praise and punishments in discipline.
I’m coming to the end of a one-block (seven-week) BYU class on special education for elementary school students. Not only have I learned more about various disabilities—cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, ADHD—I’ve also learned to see the great potential in children with special needs.
Before I took this class, I thought differently about teaching children with special needs. I was nervous to help students with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and emotional disturbance—and to tell the truth, I thought that it would be difficult to include them in my general ed class with the other students.
In class, we shared thoughts on the question, what stops us from being open to learning from those with special needs?
Some eye-opening myths about disabilities we discussed include:
MYTH: Individuals with disabilities are always dependent and always need help.
FACT: We don’t always have to step in—we need to learn when to intervene, when to ask if these individuals want help, and when to give them time to struggle through a task.
MYTH: Individuals with disabilities should be treated differently.
FACT: If we keep treating these individuals differently, they will have trouble learning to be integrated in the classroom or into society.
Image from autismspectrumexplained.com
MYTH: Individuals with disabilities are all the same.
FACT: We can’t believe stereotypes—there is a wide range of abilities. For example, the autism spectrum includes abilities from nonspeaking to typical speech.
MYTH: A person’s disability defines who they are as an individual.
FACT: These individuals have personalities and preferences. We need to think of these individuals’ assets and not complain about the challenges of interacting with them.
Throughout the class, my attitude changed and my bag of tricks grew. Guest speakers touched my heart when they expressed their own challenges or their work with individuals with disabilities. I cried more than once.
I learned many ways to accommodate for students with special needs—including ways to use materials, position the environment, instruct in various subjects, and provide behavior contracts. The LDS Church offers great guidelines on adapting lessons to help individuals with disabilities as well.
Volunteering with a student created the biggest adjustment in my thinking. Twice a week, I visited a local elementary school and worked with an upper-grade student during math. Although he was socially proficient—and even quite comical with his jokes—the academics side just did not come easily for him.
As I saw the difficulties this student faced in accessing the content and using the procedures that his peers caught onto so quickly, my heart went out to him. Frustration also came when I asked questions to help him understand or to encourage him to explain his thinking and we both ended up confused. Laughter helped us bond. I discovered that he thought really well about problems when we used real-life contexts, like candy or pizza or iPads or mountains. I’m not sure how much he gained from our interactions, but I gained a lot of insight.
Instead of dreading the responsibility of teaching individuals with disabilities, I’m looking forward to the opportunities. Building an inclusion classroom to help all students succeed is now my goal.
—Leah Davis Christopher, Stance
In my next post, read excellent tips for cracking the code behind misbehavior.
Special thanks to Staci Hartline for these myths and facts on views of disability.
When kids write biographies, as I discussed in my last post, they engage in thinking of questions, asking them, and getting feedback.
What is the power of asking questions? Think about it—you just spent a second feeling curious about the answer to this question, and you read on to find out more. Children—and all learners—discover and remember more when they are curious about finding out the answers for themselves. This type of learning is called inquiry or discovery learning.
Moving away from traditional telling
As a student or a child, how many times have you sat through a lecture without participating in any way? Do you remember anything from that lecture?
How would it be any different for children who hear, “You need to sit quietly,” “You don’t fold it like that, it’s like this,” or any other phrase that is more of telling than inviting to learn? We might say that this is the kind of thing that goes in one ear and out the other.
Elder David A. Bednar has expressed that teaching is more than talking and telling. As teachers help children to become active learners—which includes asking questions and helping children ask questions—they will better remember and understand concepts.
How does this advice apply to parents? In a recent BYU forum address called “The Power of Not Knowing,” Liz Wiseman describes her struggle with rounding up her three young children—the “6, 4, 2 combo pack,” as she refers to their ages—and the constant telling what to do to get ready for bed: brush your teeth, get in your PJs, pick a book. Complaining to a friend, she received the advice to speak with her kids only in the form of questions. Intrigued, she began that night. “Kids, what time is it?” “Bedtime?” they chorally responded. “What do we do first?” “Brush our teeth?” She was surprised that they knew what to do and she didn’t have to tell them to do it. Start the video around 31:30 to hear her experience.
Helping children become active learners
In my elementary education classes, we learn a lot about helping children learn through inquiry. Inquiry includes asking questions and helping children ask questions, express their own ideas, and try things out for themselves.
Powerful questions. Teachers in various settings quickly learn that there are different types of questions to ask learners. Some questions shut down conversation because they only invite a yes or no answer or one-word answers. Rather than looking for one right answer, powerful questions invite many different responses.
One of the benefits of helping children discover their own questions, as the YouthLearn initiative suggests, is that “when students choose the questions, they are motivated to learn and they develop a sense of ownership about the project.”
Discussion. Eighty percent of what we learn is through discussion, as one of my professors frequently reminds students reluctant to participate. Involving children in discussions—whether about academic or family-related topics—will help them increase their confidence in having opinions and in interacting with others.
Hands-on learning. Some classmates and I interviewed students all over our university campus about the best way to learn science. The overwhelming response was that students learn science best through hands-on learning—getting in there and doing it, rather than reading about it or only watching demonstrations.
Here are some ways that parents can help their children ask questions, discuss ideas, and learn in hands-on ways:
Go for a nature walk or to a museum and model how to ask questions about the surroundings.
Ask children, “What do you think about . . .?” and listen to their answers.
When young children ask questions you don’t know the answer to, find a book or other resource and look up the answer together.
Help children try out daily tasks by modeling first what to do and having them practice. Refrain from telling them what is wrong, but encourage them to try again.
Show children a picture or an object and ask what they know about it and what they want to know about it.
—Leah Davis Christopher, Stance
Images credited to LDS Media Library. Link to license here.
After my posts about helping kids write in journals, I’ve had another writing activity for kids on my mind—writing family biographies.
Last year, I wrote a biography on my great-grandfather, Rockwell Albert Davis. I hadn’t imagined the work it would require—interviewing family members, clicking through newspapers and yearbooks archived online, finding photographs in our family files, not to mention writing—but the outcomes made my work worth it.
Writing a biography on my great-grandfather, in the hat and white shirt in the middle, helped me grow closer to my family. Kids can do the same as they interview family and write biographies!
Writing the biography, I learned about historical events such as World War II, the Great Depression, and the statehood of New Mexico. I found personal connections—I realized that I share his birthday, and I am going to be an elementary school teacher like his wife, Mary, was. The best reward came when I received kind letters of thanks from distant relatives who had read the biography. I felt closer to all of my family on my dad’s side.
Kids can also learn about history, find connections, and feel close to their families as they participate in this family history centered activity.
With a little help from parents, kids can begin writing a biography:
Choose a family member. If research on a deceased family member isn’t possible, focus on the living. Does Grandma Jane tell great stories? Does Cousin Fred have a lot of photo albums? Does Aunt Lily or Uncle Phil love to talk? Parents can ask the family member for permission for kids to proceed.
Prepare questions. Start with just a few questions about important events in that person’s life. Find a list of questions here or check out a simple graphic organizer from TIME for Kids:
Hold the interview. Speak in person, call, or videochat with the family member. Help kids audio-record the interview. Kids can assess what they have and decide if they want to set up another interview to ask more questions.
Write the biography. Parents can help kids put responses in chronological order. If kids know how to type, they can begin writing, or parents can lend a hand. Remember the stages of prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing? Guide kids through the writing process for a more orderly biography, or settle for a more simple write-up.
Share the work! Hold a family home evening or gather together after dinner to read the biography. Sharing a family story is one of the Faith in God requirements for both boys and girls in the LDS Primary organization.
Children can learn to write and draw about their testimonies.
In my last post, I wrote about how teachers can help students get excited about practicing writing in personal journals.
Parents of young children can do the same, but for a different purpose—writing in their journals can help kids increase in faith and gratitude. Check out the following ideas to tune kids in to the spiritual benefits of keeping a journal:
Look to the scriptures for models. Just as Paul in the New Testament and Nephi in the Book of Mormon kept records of their lives and teachings, kids can keep records of what is happening to them. As you help them get started, remind them that they are following the examples of scripture heroes! See how one kid did so for his little brother.
Hold a family home evening on the purpose of journals. The Church offers a whole FHE outline on journals. See what will work for your family situation.
Brainstorm different angles to take. The New Era magazine suggests ideas for journal entries such as telling stories about a pet or recording family traditions. In my own life, I found that by recording special events such as my baptism and chances to teach or give talks at church, I could later look back and see how my testimony had grown!
One example of a fill-in journal page by the Friend magazine.
Writing is a skill that will help kids prepare for the future not only temporally but spiritually. As kids keep journals, they will develop more appreciation for the blessings in their lives and see their own spiritual growth.
Do you enjoy deciphering kids’ writing as much as I do? Kids can grow leaps and bounds in writing as they practice journal writing each day.
Kids in the early grades are learning to express themselves in a foreign language—writing. One way to help kids get better at writing—whether you’re a teacher or a parent—is by helping them keep a journal. Not only will students love writing about their favorite subject—themselves—they just may choose writing as their favorite subject in school.
Teachers may face some push-back when trying to implement a daily journal writing time. It’s a foreign language, remember—we weren’t born knowing how to write, and it’s tricky for kids to think of ideas and spell words in our crazy language of English.
Good news for teachers: Beyond reading popular books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dear Dumb Diary to inspire students, here are some tips to help students succeed in journal writing.
6 Tips for Journals in a K–6 Classroom
Choose a daily journal time: Prioritize journal time in your schedule. Help kids know that when they enter the classroom at the beginning of the day, after recess, after lunch, etc., they’re expected to get writing right away.
Build stamina: Some kids may not be used to long periods of writing. Set a timer and help them increase writing stamina by a minute or two each day.
Make it free-style: Let kids write about whatever they want—don’t give a prompt. Younger kids might start with drawing a picture and labeling it. That’s just fine—their writing will improve if they are writing daily!
Sharing experiences from your own journal can inspire kids to choose topics for their daily journals.
4. Help inspire new topics: Inevitably, there will be students who can’t think of what to write or who always write about the same topic—sports, video games, etc. Read from your own journal to give them ideas and help them get out of a rut!
5. Respond to entries: Did you ever get a note from a teacher? Likewise, kids will love reading your comments on their writing. Keep it content-related; red marks for punctuation and spelling are off-limits for journals.
6. Let kids share their journals! Kids love an audience. Choose just a couple kids a day to read in the author’s chair. Invite other classes or parents to listen. Make it a reward to share or an incentive for kids to get writing if they’re slacking off. Help kids publish their writing using online tools. Check out my how-to videos on ReadWriteThink.org’s Stapleless Book and Printing Press.
—Leah Davis Christopher, Stance
Thanks to literacy professor Brad Wilcox of the BYU Education Department for many of these journal-writing ideas.
Next week’s post: Public school teachers may not be able to explain to kids
the spiritual benefits of keeping a journal, but parents can. What are some of
The Sloshen in the Ocean, written by Chelsea Jamison and illustrated by Spencer Bugg, is a delightful children’s book that was accepted by Stance for our Fall 2014 issue. Unfortunately, it was not able to be placed in the printed version of the journal. However, we have placed it on our Issuu account for all of us to enjoy.
The story follows the adventure of a boy on the high seas, where he learns that opening up to someone different can lead to great friendships. A fun story about understanding and adventure that all children will love!