Tag Archives: teaching

Book Review: The Invisible String

invisible-string

Did you know that everyone has an invisible string connecting them with their loved ones? You might think it is impossible but surely you can feel the tug from heart to heart even when we are alone or far from our family and friends.

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst is a favourite children’s story book that was specifically written to address issues of loneliness and separation. It uses a very simple approach with a heart warming message that there is an invisible connection of love. Even if you can’t see or touch it you know it is there because you can feel it deep in your heart.

Many young children experience separation anxiety. Perhaps it is because it is their first time away from their primary caregiver or a close relative has left or died.

In The Invisible String Jeremy lets his mother know that he feels sad when he is away from her, she reassures him with the knowledge that she is still there as they are connected with an invisible string that he only needs to tug and he will feel her love. The invisible string represents the love people have for each other.

The need for a sense of connectedness is important for children to develop resilience. Feelings of separation anxiety can arise which are difficult for a child to manage without guidance. The Invisible String is a great learning tool to address this issue and facilitate discussion with young children around separation anxiety.

Some feedback about this book include

“We can’t read this to a class without a few tears, as this simple story really touches young and old alike.”

“It was a great help when my children’s grandfather died. They could believe that the invisible string reached all the way to heaven and that their grandfather’s love was still with them.”

“Nice picture book about how we don’t stop loving each other just because we are apart.”

“The most requested book in our house, and has held this status for quite some time.”

“Great if you or someone close to you are moving or if a loved one dies to explain how love works at a distance.”

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Do You Hear Me? Building Listening Skills in the Classroom

listening

Do you really listen? Many people lack really great listening skills, and so why should we be surprised if kids also are unable to listen. Listening skills are important in classrooms as they allow us to make sense of information communicated. Children with poor listening skills are disadvantaged immediately as they do not understand what is being taught, and have difficulty with social situations.

There is an exercise I like to do when teaching adults to communicate (though you can also use this exercise with all ages) It goes like this: people work in pairs, one person talks about a topic and the other person just listens. They are not even allowed to ask questions, only use non-verbal cues to keep the other person talking.

Believe or not, most people can’t get through this exercise without asking questions or worse yet, just talking about themselves instead of listening. However a good listener can keep the other person talking without a single word.

Listening skills are rarely part of any curriculum and so mostly we hope our students will be able to listen and are surprised when they don’t. Most teachers learn skills so they can communicate their message. However shouldn’t we also be helping kids learn skills to improve their own listening. Here are some practical ways to teach kids listening skills.

1.     Show Leadership and model listening behaviour

One way that children learn social and communication skills is by copying what others do, especially adults. If you want children to listen then you have to also listen to them.

There are lots of activities where teachers can listen to kids. One of my favourites is where you brain storm ideas as you might do with creative writing. You are showing how to listen, you are modelling non-verbal language to encourage the speaker, asking questions for more information and writing down the information. All skills that we would like kids to have as well.

2.     Play listening games in the classroom

There are plenty games and activities that encourage and build listening skills. They are useful as break out activities and also build useful skills.

  • Simon Says is the classic game with a range of different variations.
  • Drawing games, where one group describes a picture that the other group can’t see. They have to try and draw the picture from the description. It also teaches kids to put themselves in the other person’s position and clearly communicate.
  • Follow instruction games. There are many of these. Maybe they have to follow a set of instructions to go to a location. Walk 3 steps forward, turn left, walk 2 steps, turn right etc, or maybe build something or solve a problem.

3.     Get kids to explain information to others

Some people might call this turn and talk, and it works really well when you have self-paced activity time. When one child has finished a task that you taught them how to do, they then have to teach another student how to do that task.

4.     Repeat it back

This is one of the tricks they use in the military. When an order is given to you personally, you can’t just say “Yes sir”, you have to repeat the instruction back to show that you were listening and understood the instruction.

Want to know if kids understand the instructions that you have given, ask them to repeat it back to you. If you have explained something to the whole class then ask students to tell you what you have told them. It is also a great way to find out if what you have said made sense to them.

The core skill here is called reflection. This is where we repeat what was said back to someone in our own words to clarify that we understood what was said. This can also be a great skill to model with students when we listen to them.

5.     Getting kids to ask the right questions (active listening)

While paying attention, listening and understanding first time are important skills, learning how to ask the right questions when you don’t understand is another useful skill. A lot of the time when we think kids don’t listen in reality we have given them instructions that were wrong, incomplete or they failed to follow our meaning. A skill that they need to build up is asking intelligent questions when they don’t understand.

20 questions is the classic question asking game but you can incorporate question asking into any class. Great teachers often start by simply saying something like “We are going to play a game.” and then wait for the kids to ask “What game?”, “How many teams?”, “What is the size of the team?”, “How do we play?”

 6.     Story time

A great way to get kids, especially the younger ones, to actively listen is through stories. Great story readers are always asking the listener what they think is going to happen next, how different characters might be feeling and so on. This encourages thoughtful listening. Having stories read to them is also one of the best ways for young children to develop listening skills and increase concentration span.

Conclusion

The first thing any teacher or parent should do after reading this is to go out and practice their own listening skills. In fact writing this has reminded me that I should do some things to practice my own listening. It is not that we are bad listeners but really good listening is a difficult skill worth pursuing.

If we want kids to be great listeners we have to help them learn the skills be great listeners. Do you have any activities you use to build up listening skills in your students, then please share them in the comments section.

Bonus – Taboo

Here is a bonus game I use to help students learn to listen to multiple sources of information and filter out wrong, contradictory, unhelpful and extraneous information. This game comes under different names, such as Taboo, Hot Seat or I prefer to call it, Don’t Say That Word.

The class is divided up in the middle into two teams, with one team on the left of the classroom and one on the right of the class room. Volunteers from each team are brought to the front of the classroom. Usually I take two from each team so no one feels too shy. The players at the front face the other students so they can’t see the secret word that I will write on the board. Their classmates will give them clues until one of the players at the front calls out the correct word.

Now here is the trick. Players from the left side of the classroom stand on the right side of the room and the players from the right side of the classroom stand on the left side of the room. The other players will call out clues and the students at the front must guess the words. Students always complain, with everyone calling out clues it is hard to listen; which is exactly the point. The students at the front are being bombarded with sentences, clues, sounds, various signals, actions and so on. A lot of the clues are unhelpful and some are often wrong. For example, if you write the word money and someone thinks the word was actually monkey and starts talking about eating bananas and living in trees the students at the front have to filter out this information to work out the correct word.

Mindfulness and Self-Regulation

 seagulls

How aware are you of what is going on around you? How aware are you of yourself at this moment? How aware are you of the things you have done today? We are so distracted by our constant access to technology and sources of instant entertainment and communication that many people rarely have any time to be truly aware of themselves or the world around them.

Let me give you a little challenge. Try and remember exactly what your favourite food tastes like. What about the smell or the texture? Chances are that you can’t.

To expand your awareness try this lovely little exercise you can do by yourself or in groups. Get various foods and eat them slowly, savouring everything about them. It is best to choose a range of foods to include foods you like, feel ambivalent about and also don’t really like. This can really change your perception of these foods. Some people we have done this with, who had eaten chocolate all their life decided they didn’t like chocolate anymore. Other people learnt to appreciate foods they have always avoided.

The term mindfulness has been borrowed from Buddhism. It refers in general to the “attentive awareness of reality, both external and internal.” When we are being mindful we have a “Clear comprehension of what is taking place.”

Since the 1970s the term has been adopted within psychology to describe techniques and methodologies that encourage awareness and self-regulation as means to deal with stress, depression and other psychological issues. Numerous studies have shown these techniques to be successful with adults and recently attention has been paid to applying these techniques to children and adolescents where they have also been found to reduce anxiety and increase academic performance.

There is a strong relationship between mindfulness and self-regulation. When you relax and focus not only does this reduce anxiety and stress but allows better responses to your own feelings and self management of behaviour. Researchers believe it is this self-regulation that leads to improved academic performance.

If you are thinking that mindfulness involves sitting around meditating and so it is not for kids, especially the young ones, Pathways to Resilience Trust staff have many techniques and exercises that work with all ages.

Mind in a Bottle/Mind in a Jar

mindinajar

We have previously blogged about this method. Have a bottle filled with water and

glitter, shake the bottle and it becomes cloudy. Put the bottle down the glitter will settle. Kids will watch the glitter while relaxing and gathering their thoughts. It is also a fun craft project for kids to do as well. Read more about this in our blog https://pathwaystrust.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/helping-kids-also-helps-families/

Concentration beads

beadsIf you ask younger the kids to lie down and relax they will quickly start to wriggle, fidget or worse . However if you give them something to concentrate on it is much easier for them to sit or lie still. Give them a glass bead, the bigger the better. Have them hold it in their hand or even put it on their forehead. Simply ask them to concentrate and focus their attention on their bead.

Observe objects

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Have students observe an object, either something you bring into the classroom or an item that is already there. Take them through different aspects of the object. What is the objects shape, what is the subject’s colour, is it heavy or light, what is special about this item, how does it feel when you touch, how do you feel about it and so on?

Observe yourself

How do you feel when you listen to this poem, song or sound? Not only do students learn to become aware of their feelings, but also learn to label and talk about them.

Left hand (non-dominant hand)

We do so many things without really thinking about how we do them. If you ask students to do something they often do but with their non-dominant hand you will firstly provoke lots of giggles. You can then ask students to concentrate and be aware of all the little steps it takes to do something like write the word cat or draw a dog. You can also tie this into step plans which will we look at in a future blog.

Favourite Personal Mindfulness Exercises

ocean

At Pathways to Resilience Trust we believe that teachers are also leaders. To lead others to be more mindful and self aware we also must find ways to practice our own self awareness. Here are some of ours.

Anne (Executive Officer):  Likes to take time out from work at her desk. She focuses her attention on what is happening out of the office window, watching the wind sway the trees or the sun reflect on various objects (she is the boss so she can get away with staring out the window).

Kate: Takes a timeout for herself to relax, she particularly likes to sit and watch the ocean waves.

James: Simply concentrates on breathing to anchor himself into the present moment.

Roy (Blog Editor): Can’t beat long walks for reflection and self awareness.

Practical Skills for student wellbeing: Our placement student gives her opinion on the Trust

Pathways to Resilience Trust relies on the help of a range of volunteers and students doing work experience placements to help our already hard working staff. Currently we have a student – Lisa Gazan from Griffith University – undertaking her practical placement with us. She is currently studying a double degree in Education and Child and Family Studies. I asked Lisa about what she has learnt from her time here.

While she has learnt classroom management techniques from her studies and through practical placements in schools, she was impressed by the different approach used by Pathways to Resilience Trust to achieve better outcomes through social and emotional learning. Lisa appreciated the way these programs looked deeper into “Why” children act-out, as opposed to just the simplistic controlling and managing approaches that make children appear like robots.

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One thing she has taken from the Pathways to Resilience Trust is that the goal of teachers and schools is not just education, but the students’ general wellbeing. While teacher education in universities supports this ideal, she felt her studies have lacked practical methods and strategies to achieve student welfare. Lisa felt academics dominated Australian school curriculum and left little time or mind-space for important life skills. She felt that she will take away a lot of useful and valuable knowledge and skills from the evidence based programs used at Pathways to Resilience Trust that she can apply in her career to assist learners become resilient individuals.

Lisa feels the most important lesson she has learnt is leading through the power of mirror neurons. She advised “If we want students to display certain skills, we must model those traits to the children by re-examining ourselves first. We must take part in life-long learning with the children”.