As students across the country await their A-level results, elements of anxiety and stress may start to emerge. Months of hard work and sustained focus coupled with the pressure of having to make crucial decisions about the immediate and long-term future can leave students feeling overwhelmed. As a lecturer at the University of Westminster who previously changed careers and started a course as a mature student through Clearing, I know from experience that selecting the right career path, the right university, the right course, deciding whether to have a gap year and how to finance it, devising a realistic Plan B and worrying about what one’s friends will be doing can all play a part in the build-up of stress.
Stress is a natural and essential survival response that can enhance performance at optimal levels. However, if the perceived or actual demands exceed available resource, the stress can have a negative impact on health and well-being. Although the effects of long-term stress on the mind and body vary for each individual, common features include muscle tension, palpitations, pain, fatigue, low mood, attentional difficulties, and poor concentration and decision-making.
Learning how to manage stress is an invaluable tool for students throughout the run-up to Results Day on 18 August and will be crucial, especially on the day, for those who do not achieve the grades that they expected or needed. It is always difficult to cope with negative emotions and perceptions, but it is even harder to cope with them at such a pivotal point when efficient cognitive processing, psychological resilience and flexibility will be required to make effective decisions quickly. Psychologists acknowledge how important it is both to process emotions and to be aware of how emotions can distort our perceptions, thereby validating the feelings that are naturally associated with disappointment and the sense of social judgement.
# Stress-management techniques
As a clinical psychologist and mindfulness teacher who specialises in cognitive neuroscience, I often work with people who are experiencing a wide range of symptoms associated with stress-related conditions. One of the most effective stress management techniques that my research focuses on is the understanding of the biological and psychological mechanisms that contribute to stress, including the impact of negative thoughts on our bodily sensations, feelings and the way we respond. Common cycles may originate from thoughts of not being good enough, which in turn can lead to tightening in the chest or stomach, a sense of fear and a strong desire to avoid similar situations. Noticing these automatic negative thoughts and the effects that they can have on emotions and bodily sensations is key to interrupting these cycles and managing the stress. Taking deep breaths to calm the sensations in the body and acknowledging that these are natural stress responses that will soon pass can be a powerful way of coping with the physical discomfort.
Research has shown that regular mindfulness practice can reduce stress and increase cortical connections in the brain regions that are involved in emotion regulation, self-awareness and psychological flexibility. Our ability to engage in “mental time travel” – looking at the past, present and future – largely underlies our natural tendency to worry about future events and ruminate about the past. Adopting a mindful approach to the mental time travel between the past and the future can help with staying focused on the present moment and accepting that thoughts are mental events that can change over time rather than long-standing, unchangeable facts.
# Personal reflection
Understandably, there will need to be a time for students to pause and reflect on what may have gone wrong with their results and to consider what can be put in place for the future. Perhaps anxiety was a key factor that influenced exam performance, perhaps revision strategies were poorly constructed, perhaps time or effort was an issue, or perhaps unexpected life events were contributory factors?
Personal reflection and discussions with a compassionate and objective listener can be incredibly helpful, as talking about your feelings and realising that you are not alone are key steps in building confidence and developing coping strategies for life’s unexpected setbacks. Honest appraisals of past events and examining what is important in terms of personal goals and personal values can also provide us with an exciting opportunity to re-evaluate and reframe our situation and to create a new life course and a new narrative based on personal strengths, resilience and passion.
Students should not have a carefree attitude when taking an online course, because some may prove to be more difficult than traditional classes. For students who are considering online courses over in-class instruction, here are tips for success :
# Connect with instructors early : After taking online courses in the past, Finley says he assumed his previous experiences would dictate future successes at Wake Forest.
“I know initially for me, I didn’t contact my instructor because I felt like [the course] was going to be really easy for me,” he acknowledges. But after multiple writing assignments were returned to him to revise, he says that he quickly changed his approach to the course and reached out for help.
“Once I started coordinating with [my instructor], I realized I needed to change my writing style,” Finley says. “You have to really stay in contact; it’s extremely important.”
While instructors are available to help throughout the courses, Finley advises students to also find answers to class questions independently, if possible. “Help is available but it’s not going to be available at the snap of a finger,” he says. “You can’t just think you’re going to be able to reach right out with a problem. You have to be willing to go out and find things on your own.”
# Confirm technical requirements : Online classes can benefit students with busy schedules, but only if they can access the materials.
“You’re going to need to understand what the technical requirements are,” advises Andrew Wolf, coordinator of online learning at the University of Rochester School of Nursing. “Make sure before the course starts that your computer will work with [all the online tools], and that you know how to navigate them so that you don’t have to spend time during the course trying to figure out the technology.”
# Create a schedule : Quality online instructors will create courses that are easy to navigate and have clear expectations, notes Wolf. “Really good professors will help you put the framework in place,” he says. “If you don’t have that type of framework in place, you’ll have to do it yourself.”
When Finley began his online course, he says he needed to dedicate two-to-three hour time blocks to log in and complete assignments. “I had to change around my entire schedule to complement my course,” he adds. “I’m using Microsoft Outlook more than ever to set up when projects are due and to stay on track with the assignments. You have to dedicate time to this.”
# Stay organized : Students enrolled in traditional courses usually have a consistent schedule to follow each week, with in-class instruction followed by out-of-class assignments. For online courses, students may have to find their own ways to stay on top of their work, notes Karen Stevens, chief undergraduate adviser of the University of Massachusetts—Amherst’s University Without Walls program.
“Students really, really need to be organized from the beginning to be successful in an online course,” Stevens wrote in an E-mail. “All assignment due dates should be in their calendar, online or paper folders should be created for each week, [and] the work area should be not only quiet but clean—keeping all coursework materials together.”
# Have a consistent workspace : One thing online and in-class courses have in common is that students still need a place to study or complete assignments, whether that’s at a coffee shop, the school library, or at home. Wherever students choose to study and complete assignments, they should make it a consistent location that’s free of outside interferences, notes Rochester’s Wolf.
“I’ve actually had students who have told me that they’ve been in the middle of an exam and their 2-year-old starts crying,” he says. “You need a place to study that’s quiet for a time that’s set aside where you can focus on your work without distractions.”
# Set Your Objectives
Don’t communicate with families simply to check a box on a checklist. Create a conversation in order to further your aims in the classroom.
Do you want to have better student attendance? Do you want to bring more parents into the classroom to share professional experiences with students? Whatever your goals are, keep them in mind when designing your plan.
# Communicate about the Entire Classroom, as well as Individual Students
Make sure that parents are aware that you’re responsible for more than just their student. Setting this context will help parents see your point of view when and/if you need to make a decision that is best for the group, but which might not be ideal for each individual student.
# Communicate Early & Often
When the time comes that you need to execute a parent-teacher communication with a family about academic or behavioral problems in the classroom, the family’s reaction is far more likely to be supportive if you’ve already demonstrated you commitment to high standards. Communicating high standards from the beginning for the year, will set you up to have much more objective conversations with families about individual students.
# Communicate High Expectations
Research has shown that parental expectations are one of the strongest predictors of student achievement. Your parent-teacher communication plan should be designed to set clear, consistent and high expectations for student performance in class. This will put parents on your side and enable them to reinforce your expectations in the home.
# Be Aware of Schoolwide Communications
Parents will not only be hearing from you. The school will be communicating with them about schoolwide issues as well. You don’t want parents to feel like the only thing that is being communicated to them is fundraising requests.
At the same time, you want to be sure that they are aware of the full range of resources, such as after school and summer programs, that the school offers as well as how other services connect to the shared goals that you have for their student. Parents need help in making these connections to create a more holistic education and will appreciate sound advice about what students can gain from specific activities offered by the school.
# A good laptop computer (it’ll need to last)
This is probably the most obvious and easy thing on this list to recommend. Universities offer a vast range of services online, from checking exam results to accessing reading materials and even just to keeping up with events on campus, so having a computer is essential. Given the likelihood that you’ll be travelling between lectures, working on group projects, working in the library or even just getting out of the house, having something you can carry around with you is paramount. It’s also true, however, that laptops are expensive, and there are a huge range to choose from that could probably take up a guide all on their own. An option to consider should you wish to save money, however, is to get a Chromebook. These are essentially laptops that use Google’s Chrome OS software rather than Windows or Mac, and are considerably cheaper than most laptops. They do have a number of limitations, however, so remember to do your homework before buying one. Also, don’t forget to get a good quality laptop bag to carry it around.
# A basic first-aid kit
Living at university, you will find yourself mixing with a huge variety of people on a daily basis and trying out new things you’ve never done before. As a result you might find yourself with bumps, scrapes or the occasional cold. Now obviously, if you’ve even moderately hurt yourself you should seek advice from medical staff, most universities have them on campus. Similarly, you shouldn’t take medications without reading the directions first and being aware of any possible side-effects. All you’ll want to do is just make sure you have some very basic over-the-counter medical supplies on hand like painkillers, plasters, and various cold and flu remedies such as Lemsip or Alka-Seltzer. Additional things like sun cream (you’re more likely to use it if you’ve already got it), nasal spray and anti-histamines (even if you’ve never had allergies before) will go a long way to improving your quality of life. You won’t exactly be performing open heart surgery, but you’ll be glad you stocked up the morning after a rough night out. Also, if arachnophobic, a spider-catcher can save you an awkward conversation with a neighbour should you find one in your room.
This is one of the most boring, grown-up, and totally necessary things on this list. Halls of residence will generally be very safe, but peace of mind costs very little (certainly an awful lot less than you might have just paid for that laptop). Contents insurance for students is inexpensive compared to what you could lose should something go wrong, so finding a solid plan is extremely important. Thoroughly reading a ‘what to take to university’ guide will count for nothing if all your new stuff gets stolen or damaged. It should also go without saying that you should shop around for the best deal before you buy.
# Bathroom supplies
Most of this stuff you should (hopefully) have already. Basic things like toothbrushes and hairdryers need no introduction, but another thing to consider would be an anti-slip bath mat. Many university en-suites will have showers in wet-rooms rather than cubicles, and so floors can get very slippery when showering. A bath mat goes some way to alleviating this. Spare towels are also essential; you never know when you might need to clean up an emergency spillage. Things like bleach can be a lifesaver should you find yourself with a blocked drain, but make sure you know how to use it safely. Removable wall hooks are incredibly useful for hanging up towels if your university bathroom doesn’t have a rail, as well as for hanging up coats and hats (again, you’ll be amazed how many people simply throw their stuff on the floor). Collapsible laundry baskets, one for clothes and one for bedsheets, are a necessity also, and it’s best to get ones with a handle if you’re going to have to carry them to a communal laundrette.
# Kitchen supplies
Pots and pans of various sizes can be had for very little, as well as a cheap set of plates and cutlery (make sure to get something distinctive to keep track of what’s yours). It’s also worth getting multiple plates, bowls and glasses so you don’t have to borrow anyone else’s should one of yours break. Things like can-openers and corkscrews are important (you’ll be amazed how many people don’t bring them) and a thermos flask will serve you well in those 9am lectures. It’s also worth considering a Tupperware box, so any food you make can be easily stored for later if you get the quantities wrong. Clingfilm and kitchen foil is very useful, so get a lot. You can use Clingfilm to cover up any unwanted food for later, and kitchen foil can be used on baking trays to help save you on washing up. A pair of scissors will also be very useful for everything from cutting up pizza to cutting up toasted sandwiches. A measuring jug and/or some cheap electronic scales make the prospect of following a recipe for the first time a lot less daunting, and a sharp serrated knife with a blade cover is needed for cutting up tough meat and vegetables. Oven gloves and kitchen towels will also prove themselves useful, although a full-blown apron takes things a bit far.
# General fix-it items
Many universities won’t allow bluetac to be used on painted walls, and will provide a corkboard in your room in order to give you wall space. It’s for this reason that you should remember to bring along pins in order to secure stuff onto it. Whitetac is also a good idea, it won’t leave a mark on walls and will give you more space to play with if you want to personalise your room. Sellotape and a small screwdriver will be useful, as well as a torch in the event of a power cut. This is as far as you’ll really want to go, turning up with a hot-glue gun and a drill will only really serve to get you strange looks from your flatmates.
Most halls of residence will have your bedroom door open out into a corridor or flat, and most bedroom doors will be heavy fire doors that won’t stay open of their own accord. Having a door stop so you can keep your door propped open while you’re in your room can, strange as it sounds, be a nice way to socialise with people as well as keeping your room cool during the summer. Door-stops are cheap-as-chips too, so if you decide not to use them you won’t be losing out on much.
# Adapters and extension chords
How much you’ll need these can vary depending on your accommodation, but they’re a handy thing to have nonetheless. Electronics can start to pile up once you move in. What may start off as a laptop and a phone charger can easily wind up becoming a table lamp, a hairdryer, a printer, a TV, a desk fan and speakers. A good surge-protected adapter can quickly become a necessity if you don’t want to start plugging and unplugging things every five minutes, and an extension cord proves useful when trying to keep your electronics spread out across your room.
# There are more options than ever
Over the past 10 years, international visitors and students have been going “deeper” into China, choosing to travel to a wider range of cities than before.
In the past, Shanghai and Beijing were the only cities where it was common to see international students.
In 2006, nearly 50 per cent of international students were in Beijing or Shanghai, but this has fallen to 32 per cent.
Today, there are 13 cities across China with more than 10,000 international students, with seven cities having more than 20,000 students.
Popular cities include Guangdong in the south of China and Liaoning, north of Beijing.
# The government is investing heavily in international students
Financial support is an important factor in the decision to study abroad and the Chinese government is offering a wide range of funding opportunities to attract international students, including more than 40,000 scholarships at 277 institutions.
In 2015, 40 per cent of all international students new to China received government sponsorship. The number of scholarships available has increased fivefold since 2006.
# You’ll be joining a growing trend
China is an increasingly popular destination for students from around the world, with the number of international students in China doubling in the past 10 years.
China is already the fourth most popular destination for travel generally and has the third-largest population of international students, behind the US and the UK.
This number has been growing by an average of 10 per cent a year for the past 10 years, a far quicker growth rate than any other popular study-abroad destination.
Ten years ago, more than a third of all international students in China were from South Korea. Now, the demographics are far more diverse and there are 10 different countries that each make up more than 3 per cent of the international student population, while South Korea’s contribution has fallen to 17 per cent.
Gracibelt Rendon, originally from Mexico, studied in China for five years in both Beijing and Shanghai.
She says: “My experience was great; I got to meet people from all over the world, mainly from Europe and South America, but I also had the opportunity to get to know the Chinese culture and made great friendships with Chinese people.
“In my first six months, I lived with a host Chinese family in the typical hutongs, which are traditional [residential areas]. I lived with about 10 Chinese people from the same family. It was amazing as we always had dinner together and none of them spoke English so this really helped [me to] penetrate the culture.”
Choosing to study in China is a smart move for anyone looking to try something slightly out of the ordinary, while knowing that you’ll be in good company.
# Chinese universities have a growing reputation
Whether you intend to secure a graduate job or continue studying at postgraduate level, the reputation of your university is important for your future prospects.
Chinese universities are increasingly well respected; the number included in major global university rankings has risen significantly over the past five years, particularly compared with the UK, which has fallen in many rankings.
In 2011, there were only six Chinese universities in Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, whereas in 2015-2016 there were 37, more than either Canada or Australia.
# It could be great for your career
Knowledge and experience of China is an increasingly valuable asset in many industries.
As the fourth most popular destination for international travel, with nearly 12 million business trips to China in 2015, the country is growing in economic and cultural significance.
Experience of China and Chinese, which is the third most popular language to learn in the world, could give you a great career boost.
Marie Rosszell, an international student at the University of Macau, secured a job with Google in Japan partly as a result of her international experiences. Read her blog here.
Gracibelt Rendon, who chose to study in China to differentiate herself from others in the workplace, explains: “There is a saying that my friends who went to university together share, which is; if you survive living in China, you can survive and be prepared to face anything in the world.
“[The experience] allows you to be an open-minded person, ready to adapt and be flexible, which at the end of the day is what every employer is looking for. Studying in China gives you experience about how things work in this part of the world and helps you to become more independent.”
# Understand the writing style expectations for each type of online assignment : For example, discussion forum posts may encourage a conversational tone, reflection or journal assignments may allow sentence fragments and term papers usually require formal academic writing. A student’s ability to write appropriately for the assignment’s context will positively influence their class performance. When in doubt of appropriate style, students should err on the side of formal writing.
# Consider using one device, in one place, exclusively for academic writing : For example, limit social media use to a mobile phone and use a tablet or laptop at the kitchen table or library to write for an online class. Compartmentalizing classwork to a device and location can help a student focus on academic writing.
# Actively schedule time to write for an online class : Resist the temptation to communicate or view social media during that time. Switching back and forth between academic writing and texting with a BFF is a bad recipe.
# Remember that professors have advanced degrees for which they had to write a thesis : While faculty do not expect thesis-quality writing on a regular basis, they do appreciate formal, clear, crisp writing that is free of colloquialism, jargon and conversational tone. Correct spelling, punctuation, grammar and excellent word choice should all be present.
# If the class allows, have someone trusted proofread written work. When having written work proofed, it is key to finish the draft in enough time to receive feedback. At minimum, students should complete their writing with enough time to re-read it multiple times prior to the submission deadline.
The takeaway: As students spend the majority of their waking hours engaged in mobile social communication, they must consciously switch from social media and less formal communications to their work in online classes. Academic writing style, ability and formality in online classes is a paramount skill for students to be successful.
Online students have many advantages. They can control when, where, and how they study in ways that on-ground students cannot. While such convenience is a primary attraction of online learning, students should safeguard health and wellness to encourage good academic performance, longevity and personal happiness.
Common ailments associated with extended computer use include musculoskeletal problems, repetitive stress injury, vision problems, headaches, obesity and stress disorders. In order to remain physically and mentally healthy, prospective online students should consider their work environment and actively aim to reduce any technology-induced health risks. Below are five recommendations to minimize health risks as an online student.
# Make sure you have a comfortable workspace : An ergonomically correct chair can adjust to fit your body perfectly. Experts say the correct posture is 90-90-90 – the angle of your back and thighs should be 90 degrees, the angle of your thighs and legs should be 90 degrees, and the angle between your legs and feet should be 90 degrees. While such chairs are expensive, it’s worth it if it avoids years of pain, needed chiropractic care, pain medication and eventually surgery.
Finally, choose a work environment that has good ventilation and sufficient natural ambient daylight to avoid seasonal affective disorder and to reduce eye fatigue.
# Limit screen time before bedtime : Experts say there is significant correlation between screen time and sleep disorders. Never work in bed, and avoid intensive computer work directly before going to bed.
# Avoid isolation : It is easy for online students to become socially isolated. It is important to human happiness to have authentic and meaningful friendships and relationships with others beyond virtual relationships in online classes and on social media.
# Get plenty of fresh air, exercise and good nutrition : The Centers for Disease Control have definitive studies linking academic achievement with proper nutrition, sleep and exercise.
Play time isn’t only for kindergarteners any more. It is an unquestionable requirement for any educator coordinating tech in the classroom.
One of the greatest blunders I’ve made as a technically knowledgeable educator was not permitting understudies adequate time to “play” with innovation. Understudies need time to commit errors and go out on a limb with a specific end goal to wind up capable at something, particularly innovation.
During my first year teaching, I planned an assignment using Microsoft Publisher and wanted everything to be just right. I had a great presentation for my science classes on how to create a flyer using Microsoft Publisher and for the most part I thought students were “getting it’. After all, when I finished showing them step by step, click by click, what they had to do I asked, “Does anyone have any questions before you log onto your computer and begin creating your flyer with Publisher?” No one raised a hand. I turned off the projector and instructed them to begin. Mission accomplished. I taught them how to use Publisher and create a flyer. That’s what I thought.
After a stroll around the classroom, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my students had no idea how to begin using Publisher, let alone create something with it.
I was angry and frustrated. How could this be? Surely it was their fault for not being attentive during my presentation. Wrong. It was my fault. What I neglected to do was something that teachers overlook all the time. After introducing the new piece of technology I didn’t give my students enough time to “play” with it.
Since that experience I have made some changes. Now, every time I introduce a new type of technology to students I start by showing them just the basic keys, this usually takes no longer than 10 minutes. Allow them the rest of the period to practice using the technology.
Don’t assign the actual assignment yet. Instead, give them an alternate one that requires them to focus on the technology rather than content. For example, if your assignment asks them to create a PowerPoint presentation about animal and plant cells you could first have them create a quick PowerPoint about their family pet or favorite sport. It should not be an assessed assignment. Encourage them to make mistakes and responsible risks. Remind them throughout the period that they should master the basic keys and then build off of those keys by trying others. In doing so they will learn much more than you would be able to teach them. They are learning by doing.
Encourage them to have a mistake-filled day. The quality of work that they complete and the confidence they develop will again remind you why you wanted to become a teacher.
Giving power to my students? Won’t that mean school days full of texting, non-educational movies and zero learning? Maybe not..
Student empowerment as “student ownership of learning.” That is a good way to look at it – helping students take control of their own education. But how do you do that?
# Let Students Choose
— Homework Assignments
Give them a page of math problems, but let them choose any 10 to complete. If you usually do written book reports, allow students to write a traditional report, film a book review, or create a comic-book-style summary of the major events. You can’t do it for every assignment, but why not try it occasionally?
Make up an essay test with three different questions and let students choose which one to answer. Or create a test with 20 short answer questions and ask them to pick 10. Some teachers even let their students choose between a long multiple-choice test, a short multiple-choice test plus a brief essay, or a long essay-only test.
# Engage Students in Evaluations
Take five minutes at the end of a class period for students to respond to the following questions:
- What did I learn today?
- What do I still have questions about?
- Could I use this knowledge to take a test, complete an assignment, or accomplish something in my life?
This makes them responsible for their own learning in a very concrete way.
— Self-Review / Peer Review / Teacher Review Cycle
Take an essay, lab report, or other comparable assignment. Create a rubric for it. When the assignment is due, provide students with the rubric and ask them to grade themselves. Then give each student another copy of the rubric and have them evaluate a classmate’s paper. Then collect the assignment and use the rubric to evaluate it yourself. Have students compare the three completed rubrics – the self-evaluation, the peer evaluation, and your evaluation – and ask questions.
This can help students recognize where they may be too hard (or too easy) on themselves and it may help you recognize attitudes in yourself that impact your grading. Average the results of the three rubrics to get a grade so students realize their self-evaluation actually matters.
— Student Feedback
Consider having students evaluate you, the course, or a specific assignment. Maybe students really liked a book you planned to get rid of, or maybe students felt they rushed over material they needed more time to study.
While you will always get jokers who suggest no homework or pizza every Friday, you may find some interesting ideas as well, and students feel heard.
# Put Students in Charge
— Learn Students’ Goals
Ask students what they want to get out of your course or this school year. Students may be uncomfortable – they are used to being told what to do – but if you push past their joking to get real answers, you might discover that some students genuinely want to learn, and even those without a passion for your subject may be motivated by goals like raising their GPA or getting into college.
— Solicit Input on Class Activities & Homework
Next ask them: how do we get there? Invite their input on class activities, homework schedules, etc. Write down suggestions without arguing with them.
Once students have had a chance to share, you can provide an alternative perspective: “Yes, I’m sure you’d like to have no homework all year, but we have to get through this textbook and there isn’t enough class time, so we have to have homework.” Maybe you can find a compromise.
For example, Sarah was a high school honors English teacher. The class required reading a lot of novels, but her students felt overwhelmed. After gathering student feedback, Sarah was able to adjust her schedule. Rather than homework every night, she gave students due dates once a week when larger sections of the novel were due. This allowed students to plan their workload and still kept the English class on track.
# Broaden Students’ Sense of Responsibility
The fastest way to empower students is to make their work matter in the real world. Try service learning or project-based learning. By creating an environment where their effort will impact other people, you can help students recognize the tremendous power they can have, even while they are still students.
Having students write an essay on “why I shouldn’t do drugs” is boring and the kids won’t care. Turn that essay into an assignment to film an advertisement that will be posted on the Internet and screened at a school assembly and watch the difference in student attitudes!
At times, empowering students can feel like a risky move. But if you can bear with a little bit of chaos, you may end up with more engaged, interested, and empowered students as a result!
Here are essential ingredients to teaching for social responsibility :
# Make Your Classroom More Democratic and Participatory
In the spirit of Occupy Wall Street, many teachers are considering how to “occupy the classroom” by infusing democratic principles. Think about how to give your students more say in the curriculum and what happens in your classroom.
— Are you willing to let students determine classroom rules/guidelines and consequences?
— How can students share their ideas about reading assignments, areas of study, and homework?
— Can some decisions be made by consensus?
— How about letting students take turns teaching the class, either individually or in groups?
Remember that it is human nature to be more invested in something if you have a say about it.
We’ve all felt the frustration of watching the same five hands shoot up over and over again in whole class discussions. Think about ways to get more students to participate. Mix up your teaching strategies to get more kids to contribute to the conversation: try small groups, pairs, fishbowls, collaborative groups, and micro-labs. Students who are usually quiet in class can sometimes be motivated to participate through activities that involve writing, theatre, or art.
# Address Controversial Issues
We live in a world filled with controversy. It is all around us, and it is compelling. Students are usually passionate about the hot topics of the day, and will want to discuss them in school. Be both proactive and reactive: Bring up difficult or controversial topics yourself, and also respond to their questions.
If students’ questions come up at a moment when you don’t have time for a long conversation, don’t just change the subject. Acknowledge the question and come back to it if you can. Let the students know that nothing is off-limits.
Be sure to bring parents into the loop, Let them know what you’re doing and be sensitive about what topics might hit particularly close to home.
And of course, always consider what’s appropriate for your students’ age. For example, if your third grade students want to discuss a devastating earthquake that has been in the news, you might focus on the science of earthquakes, how people have helped the victims, and perhaps how students themselves could help. High school students can better handle discussions about the death and damage the quake caused.
# Ask Essential Questions & Promote Dialogue
When you begin a new area of study, determine what students know and don’t know by listing and analyzing their questions. Start off by discussing content questions — who, what, where, why, and when. But eventually get students to dig deeper until they reach some “essential questions.”
For example, instead of asking “What is the role of different branches of government?” students might consider: “What would happen if we had no government?” Or if you’re discussing a piece of literature, a question might be: “What causes some people to prevail in the face of adversity and others to fail?” These kinds of questions will help students think more deeply and critically.
Help students explore their own opinions as well as others’ points of view. Do an “opinion continuum”: Read a statement expressing a particular opinion about something, and have students choose: I agree, I strongly agree, I disagree, I strongly disagree, not sure. Then have students explain why.
Assign opinion articles reflecting different points of view. Have your students interview people with different perspectives — each other, friends, or family members. This will complicate students’ thinking and encourage them to reflect more on the opinions they hold.
# Develop Social Action Projects
Find ways to encourage your students to take action on issues that concern them. This not only fosters active citizenship and builds students’ leadership skills, it provides an antidote to feelings of powerlessness or apathy.
Whether the topic is the war in Afghanistan, climate change, or gay marriage, social action projects can connect students to your curriculum and to the wider world. Begin by having the students identify the problem(s) that need to be addressed. Brainstorm possible solutions, including a wide range of possibilities. Then vote or use consensus to narrow it down to a few options.
Actions can range from activist projects like letter writing, protesting, or testifying, to service-oriented projects like raising money or working at a local organization to help a group of people. Making the leap from investigation to action can be a powerful experience for young people.
# Teach Kids to Solve Conflicts
Conflict is part of life. In fact, conflict often makes life interesting and can lead to greater understanding and deeper connections between people. Unfortunately, conflict in schools often causes disharmony, fighting, or even violence. That’s where social and emotional skill-building comes in. Having these skills will help students navigate their social world, and help them do better academically (as a new study of Morningside Center’s 4Rs Program – and other studies like it – have shown).
- Begin by helping your class develop a sense of community by doing team-building activities and collectively determining the classroom rules (see above).
- Teach active listening and practice “I-messages” (saying how you feel rather than blaming the other person) to cut down on the number of conflicts.
- When conflicts do arise, don’t brush them under the rug; use them as an opportunity to teach skills and promote healthy relationships.
- Help students learn concrete problem-solving and negotiation strategies. Teach them how to stand up for what they need without putting down the other person in the conflict. We call this being “strong not mean.” Help them get underneath their position to identify their underlying need. Work towards win-win solutions.
Be aware that sometimes prejudice and stereotyping are the root causes of conflict. To address this, integrate concepts of diversity and intercultural understanding into your curriculum as much as possible.