|Reflection is a process for looking back and integrating new knowledge. Reflections need to occur throughout the building blocks of constructivism and include teacher-led student-driven and teacher reflections. We need to encourage students to stop throughout the learning process and think about their learning. Teachers need to model the reflective process to encourage students to think openly, critically and creatively.|
Techniques for Reflections
Closing Circle – A quick way to circle around a classroom and ask each student to share one thing they now know about a topic or a connection that they made that will help them to remember or how this new knowledge can be applied in real life.
Exit Cards – An easy 5 minute activity to check student knowledge before, during and after a lesson or complete unit of study. Students respond to 3 questions posed by the teacher. Teachers can quickly read the responses and plan necessary instruction.
Learning Logs – Short, ungraded and unedited, reflective writing in learning logs is a venue to promote genuine consideration of learning activities.
Reflective Journals – Journals can be used to allow students to reflect on their own learning. They can be open-ended or the teacher can provide guiding, reflective questions for the students to respond to. These provide insight on how the students are synthesizing their learning but it also helps the students to make connections and better understand how they learn.
Rubrics – Students take time to self-evaluate and peer-evaluate using the rubric that was given or created at the beginning of the learning process. By doing this, students will understand what areas they were very strong in and what areas to improve for next time.
Write a Letter – The students write a letter to themselves or to the subject they are studying. This makes the students think of connections in a very personal way. Students enjoy sharing these letters and learn from listening to other ideas.
By using a variety of ways to show what they know, such as projects, metaphors or graphic organizers, students are allowed to come to closure on some idea, to develop it and to further their imagination to find understanding. Understanding is taking bits of knowledge in all different curriculum and life experiences and applying this new knowledge. When students apply new knowledge, connections are made and learning is meaningful and relevant. Application is a higher order thinking skill that is critical for true learning to occur.
Possible Student Exhibits
Analogies – Students compare a topic or unit of study to an inanimate object such as comparing something known to the unknown or some inanimate object to the topic.
Blogs – Blogs, short for weblogs, are online journals or diaries that have become popular since the mid 1990’s. Bloggers post personal opinions, random thoughts, connections and real life stories to interact with others via the Web! Weblinks and photos can also be added to the blog. A learner may choose to have their own blog to record their learning on a specific topic. A group of learners could choose to share a blog and read, write, challenge, debate, validate and build shared knowledge as a group. Check out Blogger.com to set up your own personal or professional blog – develop your digital voice and model for your students.
Collage – Students cut out or draw pictures to represent a specific topic. To evaluate the level of understanding, students write an explanation or discuss in small groups the significance of the pictures and why they are representative of the topic. This technique encourages students to make connections, to create a visual representation and to then explain or exhibit their understanding.
Celebration of Learning – A demonstration where students have the opportunity to share their expertise in several subject areas with other students, teachers and parents.
Graphic Organizers – Graphic organizers, also known as mind maps, are instructional tools used to illustrate prior knowledge.
Portfolios – A portfolio is a representative collection of an individual student’s work. A student portfolio is generally composed of best work to date and a few “works in progress” that demonstrate the process. Students show their knowledge, skills and abilities in a variety of different ways that are not dependent upon traditional media such as exams and essays. Multiple Intelligences Portfolios are an effective way for students to understand not how smart they are but how they are smart.
Project-Based Learning– Students create projects by investigating and making connections from the topic or unit of study to real life situations. Multimedia is one effective tool for students to design their projects.
T-charts – A simple t is drawn and students jot down information relating to a topic in two different columns.
Venn-Diagram – A graphic organizer that is made with 2 intersecting circles and is used to compare and contrast. Using this tool, students identify what is different about 2 topics and identify the overlap between the two topics in the shared shared area.
The Power of Self-Esteem:
Build It and They Will Flourish
The term “self-esteem,” long the centerpiece of most discussions concerning the emotional well being of young adolescents, has taken a beating lately.
Some people who question this emphasis on adolescent self-esteem suggest that it takes time and attention away from more important aspects of education. Others contend that many of the most difficult adolescents suffer from too much self-esteem and our insistence on building higher levels is detrimental to the student and to society.
But many experts and middle school educators stand firm in their conviction that since self-worth is rigorously tested during the middle school years, attention to it can only help students become successful. Perhaps, they say, self-esteem simply has not been defined properly or the strategies used to build it have done more harm than good.
For example, “Praising kids for a lack of effort is useless,” says Jane Bluestein, a former classroom teacher, school administrator, speaker, and the author of several books and articles on adolescence and self-esteem. “Calling a bad job on a paper a ‘great first draft’ doesn’t do anyone any good. I think we’ve learned that. If I’m feeling stupid and worthless and you tell me I’m smart, that makes you stupid in my eyes,” she says. “It doesn’t make me any better.”
But Bluestein and others say that simply because the corrective methods are misguided doesn’t mean middle school educators should not pay close attention to their students’ self-esteem.
Jan Burgess, a former principal at Lake Oswego Junior High School in Oregon, explains, “We’ve all seen kids whose parents believe self-esteem is absolutely the highest priority. But heaping praise without warrant is empty praise. Self-esteem is important, and it comes from aiming high and reaching the goal. That is much more meaningful.”
On the other hand, James Bierma, a school counselor at Washington Technical Magnet in St. Paul, Minnesota, says he is wary of those who want to reduce praise for students. “I don’t see heaping praise on kids as a big problem. I work in an urban area where we have more than 85% of students in poverty. I wish our students received more praise,” he says. “You can go overboard, but that rarely happens in my dealings with families. Students respond well to praise from parents and school staff.”
Robert Reasoner, a former school administrator and the developer of a model for measuring and building self-esteem that has been adopted by schools throughout the United States, says there has been a lot of confusion about the concept of self-esteem.
“Some have referred to self-esteem as merely ‘feeling good’ or having positive feelings about oneself,” says Reasoner, who is president of the National Association of Self Esteem. “Others have gone so far as to equate it with egotism, arrogance, conceit, narcissism, a sense of superiority, and traits that lead to violence. Those things actually suggest that self-esteem is lacking.”
He notes that self-value is difficult to study and address because it is both a psychological and sociological issue and affects students in many different ways.
“Self-esteem is a fluid rather than static condition,” says Sylvia Starkey, a school psychologist and counselor for 16 years in the Lake Oswego School District. She notes that the way adolescents view themselves can depend on how they feel about their competence in a particular activity. It also is influenced by the child’s general temperament and even family birth order, all of which might make it harder to identify the causes of low self-esteem—or raise it.
Reasoner says self-esteem can be defined as “the experience of being capable of meeting life’s challenges and being worthy of happiness.” He notes that the worthiness is the psychological aspect of self-esteem, while the competence, or meeting challenges, is the sociological aspect.
He notes that when we heap praise on a student, a sense of personal worth may elevate, but competence may not—which can make someone egotistical. Self-esteem, he says, comes from accomplishing meaningful things, overcoming adversity, bouncing back from failure, assuming self-responsibility, and maintaining integrity.
Self-Esteem at the Middle Level
Middle school students are particularly vulnerable to blows to their self-esteem because they are moving to a more complex, more challenging school environment; they are adjusting to huge physical and emotional changes; and their feelings of self-worth are beginning to come from peers rather than adults, just at a time when peer support can be uncertain, Reasoner says.
“Early on, it’s parents who affirm the young person’s worth, then it’s the teacher. In middle school, peer esteem is a powerful source of one’s sense of self,” according to Mary Pat McCartney, a counselor at Bristow Run Elementary School in Bristow, Virginia, and former elementary-level vice president of the American School Counselors Association. No matter how much students have been swamped with praise by well-meaning parents, she says, what their friends think of them is most important.
Beth Graney, guidance director at Bull Run Middle School in Gainesville, Virginia, says adults gain their self-esteem through accomplishments and by setting themselves apart from others, while adolescents gain it from their group. “Peer relationships are so critical to kids feeling good about themselves,” she says.
Opportunities to Succeed
The solution, rather than praising without merit, seems to be providing students with an opportunity to succeed.
“Self-esteem that comes from aiming high and reaching goals helps build resilience for students as well,” says Burgess. She says teachers can help kids target their learning and fashion goals that are obtainable, while giving them constructive feedback along the way. “Self-esteem rises and students feel in charge—and this can help parents understand how to heap praise when it is earned.”
Bluestein says students often want an opportunity to feel valued and successful. As a group, they can perhaps make a simple decision in class (which of two topics they study first, for example) and individuals might gain from helping others, either collaboratively or as a mentor or tutor. She suggests having students work with others in a lower grade level. As a result, the self-esteem of the students being helped also improves.
“Peer helpers, lunch buddies, peer mentors often help kids feel that someone is in their corner and can help them fit in with a larger group,” Graney says. She says parents should encourage their children to find an activity that they like where they can have some success and feel accepted.
Bluestein recalls a program she began in which her “worst kids” who seemed to have lower levels of self-worth were asked to work with younger students. Their sense of themselves improved, she says, and eventually they were skipping recess or lunch periods to work with the younger students.
Mary Elleen Eisensee, a middle school counselor for more than 30 years at Lake Oswego Junior High School, says if kids can be “guided to accept and support one another, the resulting atmosphere will be conducive for building self-confidence and esteem for everyone.”
|Special Care for Special Students
Michelle Borba, nationally known author and consultant on self-esteem and achievement in children, says there are five things middle school educators can do easily to improve the self-esteem of their students:
Adult Affirmation Is Important
Adults play a role, too, by helping students find areas where they can have success and making note of it when they do. They can also just notice students.
“Legitimate affirmation makes a huge difference. But plain recognition is just as meaningful. Greeting a student by name even pays big dividends,” says Starkey. She says adult volunteer tutors and mentors help students with social and academic skills and encourage them. An assessment of factors that promote self-esteem in her school district showed such adult attention is very valuable.
At Bierma’s school, counselors call parents on Fridays when students’ scores on achievement, attendance, academic, and behavior goals are announced. “It has helped students turn negative behaviors into positive ones.”
McCartney says simply treating students respectfully and listening carefully affirms a student’s self-worth. She says teachers can also bolster self-esteem if they allow the students to accidentally “overhear key adults bragging about one of their accomplishments.”
Reasoner points out that despite thinking to the contrary, strong self-esteem is critical in the middle school years. Students without it withdraw or develop unhealthy ways of gaining social acceptance, often by responding to peer pressure to engage in sex, drinking, drug abuse, or other harmful behaviors.
“Many of these problems can simply be avoided if a child has healthy self-esteem,” Reasoner says.
Learning Disabilities: Signs, Symptoms and Strategies
A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language. The disability may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations.
Every individual with a learning disability is unique and shows a different combination and degree of difficulties. A common characteristic among people with learning disabilities is uneven areas of ability, “a weakness within a sea of strengths.” For instance, a child with dyslexia who struggles with reading, writing and spelling may be very capable in math and science.
Learning disabilities should not be confused with learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; of mental retardation; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages.
Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities:” the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.
A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.
In Federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the term is “specific learning disability,” one of 13 categories of disability under that law.
“Learning Disabilities” is an “umbrella” term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia. Find the signs and symptoms of each, plus strategies to help:
A language and reading disability
Problems with arithmetic and math concepts
A writing disorder resulting in illegibility
Dyspraxia (Sensory Integration Disorder)
Problems with motor coordination
Central Auditory Processing Disorder
Difficulty processing and remembering language-related tasks
Non-Verbal Learning Disorders
Trouble with nonverbal cues, e.g., body language; poor coordination, clumsy
Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit
Reverses letters; cannot copy accurately; eyes hurt and itch; loses place; struggles with cutting
Language Disorders (Aphasia/Dysphasia)
Trouble understanding spoken language; poor reading comprehension
Symptoms of Learning Disabilities
The symptoms of learning disabilities are a diverse set of characteristics which affect development and achievement. Some of these symptoms can be found in all children at some time during their development. However, a person with learning disabilities has a cluster of these symptoms which do not disappear as s/he grows older.
Most frequently displayed symptoms:
- Short attention span
- Poor memory
- Difficulty following directions
- Inability to discriminate between/among letters, numerals, or sounds
- Poor reading and/or writing ability
- Eye-hand coordination problems; poorly coordinated
- Difficulties with sequencing
- Disorganization and other sensory difficulties
Other characteristics that may be present:
- Performs differently from day to day
- Responds inappropriately in many instances
- Distractible, restless, impulsive
- Says one thing, means another
- Difficult to discipline
- Doesn’t adjust well to change
- Difficulty listening and remembering
- Difficulty telling time and knowing right from left
- Difficulty sounding out words
- Reverses letters
- Places letters in incorrect sequence
- Difficulty understanding words or concepts
- Delayed speech development; immature speech
What are instructional strategies?
Instructional strategies are methods that are used in the lesson to ensure that the sequence or delivery of instruction helps students learn.
What does effective mean?
The term “effective” means that student performance improves when the instructional strategies are used. The strategies were identified in studies conducted using research procedures and guidelines that ensure confidence about the results. In addition, several studies exist for each strategy with an adequate sample size and the use of treatment and control groups to generalize to the target population. This allows teachers to be confident about how to apply the strategies in their classrooms.
Strategies to use in designing effective lessons
These six strategies have been proven to work with diverse groups of learners (Kameenui & Carnine, Effective Teaching Strategies that Accommodate Diverse Learners, 1998). All students, and particularly those with disabilities, benefit when teachers incorporate these strategies into their instruction on a regular basis.
- Focus on essentials.
- Make linkages obvious and explicit.
- Prime background knowledge.
- Provide temporary support for learning.
- Use conspicuous steps and strategies.
- Review for fluency and generalization.
Identify important principles, key concepts, and big ideas from the curriculum that apply across major themes in the subject content.
- Big Ideas: Instruction is organized around the major themes that run through a subject area. This helps students make the connections between concepts and learn to use higher order thinking skills. Kameenui and Carnine (1998) gave these examples of big ideas for social studies:
- success of group efforts is related to motivation, leadership, resources, and capability
- Graphic organizers: Important ideas and details are laid out graphically to help students see connections between ideas. Semantic webs and concept maps are examples of graphic organizers.
- Thematic instruction: Instructional units combine subject areas to make themes and essential ideas more apparent and meaningful. Lessons and assignments can be integrated or coordinated across classes.
- Planning routines: The Center for Research on Learning at the University of Kansas website (go to http://www.ku-crl.org/sim/lscurriculum.html) has developed the Learning Strategies Curriculum, systematic routines that include graphic organizers to help teachers plan a course, unit, or lesson around the essentials or big ideas. Teachers guide students to use the organizer to monitor their learning.
Actively help students understand how key concepts across the curriculum relate to each other as you are teaching.
- Give clear verbal explanations and use visual displays (such as flow charts, diagrams, or graphic organizers) to portray key concepts and relationships.
- Help students use techniques like outlining or mind mapping to show connections among concepts.
Connect new information or skills to what students have already learned. Provide additional instruction or support to students who lack necessary background knowledge.
- Ask questions to prompt student recall of relevant prior knowledge.
- Make comparisons between the new concept and things students already know.
- Relate the topic to current or past events that are familiar to students.
- Relate the concept to a fictional story or scenario known to the students.
- Use instructional materials that provide easy access to critical background knowledge.
Provide support (scaffolding) while students are learning new knowledge and skills, gradually reducing the level of support as students move toward independence.
- Provide verbal or written prompts to remind students of key information or processes.
- Physically assist and guide a student when learning a new motor skill, such as cutting.
- Provide study or note taking guides to support learning from text or lectures.
- Use commercial materials that have been specifically designed to incorporate supports for learning.
- Use mnemonics to help students remember multiple steps in a procedure.
Teach students to follow a specific set of procedures to solve problems or use a process.
- Model the steps in the strategy, using a think-aloud process.
- Name the strategy and give students prompts for using it such as posting steps on the board, providing an example of a problem with the strategy steps labeled, or using memory strategies, such as mnemonics to help student recall the steps.
- Prompt students to use the strategy in practice situations.
- Reduce prompting as students become proficient in applying the strategy.
- Explicitly teach students the organizational structure of text and prompt its use.
Review for fluency and generalization
Give students many opportunities to practice what they have learned and receive feedback on their performance to ensure knowledge is retained over time and can be applied in different situations.
- Use multiple reviews of concepts and skills.
- Give students specific feedback about what they are doing well or need to change.
- Give students enough practice to master skills.
- Distribute reviews over time to insure proficiency is maintained.
- Provide review in different contexts to enhance generalization of learning.
- Provide cumulative review that addresses content learned throughout the year.
In order for learning to occur, students need to connect to their own prior knowledge. Connections are like building bridges between the old and new. This building bridge can be brief or in-depth as long as it serves the needs of all learners. Pre-assessment determines prior knowledge whereas connections provides the link between old knowledge and new knowledge. This step is critical to applying constructivist theory in a classroom.
How do I build community?
- create trust between teacher and student and among the students
- build self-confidence so students will take risks, engage in dialogue
- move from competition to collaboration
- form ‘community clusters’
create learning circles of like-minded teachers to provide support and share ideas
practice working in collaborative groups and assign specific roles and tasks
encourage partner or peer tutoring situations
begin using reflective journals and/or learning logs
be open with the students that you are trying a different way of teaching and explain why – allow them time to express thoughts & feelings throughout the process
How do I group my students?
- students need to be taught how to work in a collaborative group
- keep groups “fluid” where students move in and out as needed
- use a variety of groupings based on ability or readiness, instructional needs and interests
- heterogeneous – a group of students with varying ability where each student takes a role in an area of strength that adds to the knowledge of the whole group
- homogeneous – ‘cluster’ grouping of a group of students with similar abilities or interest area can be effective for certain areas of study
- a group of 3 or 4 students works well in most settings
- teacher may choose and at other times, students may choose group members
- establish home-based teams and work teams to blend a heterogeneous group with a homogeneous group
- multiage groupings allow students of similar interests to learn from each other and work together
What strategies or instructional approaches can help students make connections?
Blogs – Blogs, short for weblogs, are online journals or diaries that have become popular since the mid 1990’s. Bloggers post personal opinions, random thoughts, connections and real life stories in order to interact with others via the Web! Weblinks and photos can also be added to the blog. A learner may choose to have their own blog to record their learning on a specific topic. A group of learners could choose to share a blog and read, write, challenge, debate, validate and build shared knowledge as a group. Check out Blogger.com to set up your own personal or professional blog – develop your digital voice and model for your students.
Graphic Organizers or Mind Maps – instructional tools used to illustrate prior knowledge. Student sample page
See Best Practice Graphic Organizers for more information and examples.
KWL Charts – K-what do the students already know? W-what do the students need and want to know? L-what did the students learn? An effective pre-assessment tool but also an effective tool to evaluate the level of understanding. Many teachers use the L part as an open-ended question on an exam allowing the students to share the depth of knowledge that was gained in the unit of study.
Questioning Techniques – Questions are a key element in each of the building blocks of constructivism. Categories of questions are guiding, anticipated, clarifying and integrating.
Reflective Journals or Learning Logs – Journals can be used to assess for process of learning and student growth. They can be open-ended or the teacher can provide guiding, reflective questions for the students to respond to. These often provide insight on how the students are synthesizing their learning.