I am here in the classroom during a pandemic. Many emotions surround me, and the students who have entered my life by a random chance, and me teaching Grade 7.
This is the huge tree out of the front of the school I work at, and it, with branches that end, or continue on, kind of remind me of how these first two weeks went. Watching it move and flow with the wind, but staying rooted. Dear how I am trying to stay rooted.
To say that the first two weeks didn’t hit every emotion would be a lie. I was honestly excited, to be with a class again, and get to know students as the gradually entered in small groups, I was nervous, were we going to be safe? Could I look them and the eye and guarantee their safety? I was rushing. Feeling like there was so much to do, and not enough time. Not enough…at all…
I imagined having rich, deep, meaningful conversations from the get go. Playing with math, and getting a chance to make their voices in the forefront.
Well, I don’t know…sitting here about to enter week 3, there are so many things that I am fumbling through, and my mind is constantly thinking about what could make things better, clearer, richer, and, this level of heightened existence can’t sustain, but I will most likely try. I owe them that much. Some sense of control and comfort during a pandemic, during massive racist events around the world and in Canada, around wildfires and wonderings about what next? Building community, through working through what safe means for our class, what norms we want to create, and what space we want to honour, as been a huge focus. Students have been talking and sharing ideas and we are compiling from a shared Google Doc…however…
This is true fumbling. I feel, even though I consider and think and re-think every move I make in the classroom, that I am never quite there. I missed a piece. I didn’t say something the right way. This constant nagging feeling of I am never going to be quite the teacher I want to be; am I going to be good for these kids? Am I the best teacher for them?
Accountability, putting it all out there, seems like it might help, I am not sure. I would love feedback.
Here are some items from what we did this week:
My rough, very rough, “plan” of where I want to head in terms of the next month or 2 (I can only really ever hold that long in my mind; knowing how much will change, and how much I will be responsive to my students). Even as I look through this, I haven’t done a fraction of what I have wanted.
Slides from week 1 – week 2 aren’t ready yet, but, I will include the math game “Can you represent…but not use…” This gives you a sense of how my head works; I walk through my day in slides so I remember. Many of my students remarked they like the slides.
Trauma-Informed Education. Three words that have received much buzz over the last year on social media and in the educational field. There is a lot of information, tips, PDFs, and ideas around how to create a trauma-informed classroom and community.
However, how accurate are they? Do they take into account the nuances and individual experiences of each trauma-affected student? Through research, this paper will explore 5 misconceptions or misunderstandings around what a trauma-informed classroom and school might implement.
Myth 1: Behaviour = Trauma
When asked about common trauma symptoms, many educators would most likely identify anger and defiance as behaviours associated with trauma. Some teachers might pinpoint anxiety, jumpiness, or a lack of interest (Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development, 2018).
These may all present themselves, however, a student who is experiencing trauma could exhibit many different symptoms, and they could change from moment to moment (Cole et al., 2005). Age and the complexity of trauma is another factor (Walkley & Cox, 2013), and symptoms of PTSD can reveal themselves months or years later (Perry, 2013). This may come as a surprise to teachers, and may result in punitive measures rather than an empathetic response since there is a huge time gap between the traumatic event and the symptoms of trauma (Cole et al., 2013).
Even if a teacher does not outright punish a student, there could be exclusion from peers, and a general negative narrative about the student throughout the school community. This narrative could be based on the behaviours of the student, and not take into account the complexities, experiences, and strengths of the student (Durto, 2011).
Truth: Trauma doesn’t always look like trauma
Trauma can show itself in a variety of ways; sometimes with no outward symptoms at all (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2008). Students can internalize their trauma, or, are not even aware of the actual trauma they are experiencing (Kenardy et al., 2007). Some students will overachieve, and seek perfectionism (Cole et al., 2005), some will dissociate from peers and activities (Perry, 2003, 2017). Some will just be there; the student in your room who just goes along with everything, not raising any flags (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2008).
The vastness and complexity of trauma in itself manifest differently for each individual. The stage and time of the trauma can impact reactions as well, for example, or for the child who is experiencing complex trauma. Complex trauma is defined as, “…children suffer(ing) the most severe, long-lasting, and harmful effects when trauma exposure begins early in life, takes multiple forms, is severe and pervasive, and involves harm by a parent or other primary caregiver—often referred to as complex trauma.” (Bartlett & Steber, 2019, para. 6). There is also community trauma, defined as “…the impact of chronic adversity (e.g., violence and structural violence) across a community.” (Cantu, 2019, Slide 13). Children could be experiencing both, and there may be inconsistencies in their lives, and therefore, (i.e., a mentally ill parent can have “good weeks”; a generally gun-violent community can have quiet weeks, etc.) in their behaviours.
This means that trauma-informed practices need to be whole school focused (Walkley & Cox, 2013) with administration, community members, and teachers all involved. Students need to feel safe in their environment, wherein they can be challenged at an academic level (Venet, 2019) with support, and feel that all of who they are can be explored. If a child requires de-escalation, a plan, created with the child, should be implemented and debriefed (Cole et al., 2013). Specific, detailed feedback should be given to the student, and a strength-based approach executed (Ginwright, 2018). As Crosby, Howell, and Thomas (2018) explain, empowering students through a social justice curricula could help them engage in the larger macro world, and see their experiences past their own viewpoint.
Myth 2: A caring teacher will heal the trauma-affected student
While there is copious amounts of research pointing to the importance of relationships for a trauma-affected student (Kinniburgh et al., 2017), both in quantity and quality, a “kind and caring” teacher is not the total fix for a student. This idea, though probably not specifically stated, is problematic for a number of reasons. One, the idea of toxic kindness (Tabbi, 2018), that being kind will heal, is a misnomer. Students who are experiencing trauma may associate kindness with untrustworthiness (Cole et al., 2013), especially if they have experience with social workers and police officers, that kindness may have then taken them from home, or, their abuser may use/used kindness as a weapon (Stines, 2019). Trauma-affected students can be very intuitive, and may see over kindness/overbearingness as triggering (Cole et al., 2013).
Another reason the idea of kindness will heal stems from media and public perceptions of teachers, who may feel the need to “save” the child (which, is predominantly a white female teacher teaching in a well-known ‘urban’ community; also known as white saviourism) (Aronson, 2017). In some cases, “personal handshakes”, designing a “Harry Potter” classroom, for example, can be suddenly ‘needed’ to ‘be a good teacher’, and, oddly, associate with making students ‘feel better’ or ‘part of a community’, thus, a universal design like approach resides (Venet, 2018). Teachers then feel that these unrelated, and sometimes unrealistic procedures, are vital. If they do them, their students will be happy, and therefore, not feeling the effects of the trauma.
Truth: Relationships are crucial; but they are not designed by kindness alone
Of course, a teacher taking the time to get to know their students and their individual experiences, culture, and identities is proven to assist trauma-affected students in becoming trauma healed (Brunzell et al., 2015). This takes time, patience, and true empathy. A teacher needs to be open, calm, and responsive to a trauma-affected student (Downey, 2012), and encourage their interests and strengths. For example, if music is an interest for the student, a homeroom teacher may take the time to make a relationship for the trauma-affected student with the music teacher, and/or students who are also motivated by music. The relationship needs to be built on observing the student’s moods and feelings and reacting accordingly. Sure, a personal handshake each morning demonstrates interest in the students, but on any given day the trauma-affected student may not want that particular interaction. Choice is always optimal (Davidson, 2017).
Understanding the child’s intersectionalities and cultures is also vital. If a student’s trauma comes from their experience as a, for example, transgender individual, connecting that child to community members who can support and share their experiences and emotions is imperative. Though some teachers want to be “the one” to “make the child better”, interconnecting that child’s life to other students, educators, and community members will have more long-term benefits (Venet, 2020). As an educator, you will make mistakes when dealing with a trauma-affected child, especially if their behaviours and symptoms change, and you become emotionally drained. Be ready to embrace the mistakes, and make a plan to rectify them.
Myth 3: Trauma-Informed is a pedagogy
It’s easy to think so. There is a lot of information on what a teacher should and can do, and these suggestions easily become itemized as a list. Something to check off. An anchor chart of strategies that can be posted in a classroom. However, there is increasing evidence that there is a lot of information around trauma care, and how it can be quickly applied in education, that there is not enough critical evidence base for trauma-informed implementation in schools (Chafouleas, Johnson, Overstreet & Santos, 2016).
Another issue is that teachers think that self-regulation and mindfulness is best practice, and what all trauma-affected students need. Many schools have calming areas, yoga for students, and meditation spaces. However, Schwartz (2019) gives examples of why mindfulness can actually cause harm for a traumatized student. Giving specific directions (close eyes, for example) before gaining trust, and a loss of control that a trauma-affected student may already deal with, are all potential triggers.
For a teacher to be truly trauma-informed, these practices based on workshops, short in-services, articles, and books are not enough to fully grasp the purpose and ideas around mindfulness.
Truth: Trauma-Informed is working understanding
Like any topic involving research, new information around trauma is constantly changing and expanding. New information and ideas are being developed all of the time. In fact, many of the various definitions and concepts we use were developed in the last 20 years (National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, 2020). We learn more and more about how trauma affects the brain, and a person’s reaction to that trauma (Perry, 2007).
This means that there is no one strategy that will start the process of healing for a trauma-affected student in the classroom. Odds are, there are not a few, either. The process is varied, long, and dependent on the child’s experiences and reactions (Bartlett & Steber, 2019). So what can a teacher do? First and foremost, as stated by Brunzell, Waters & Stokes (2015), create a consistent and predictable classroom. Another big suggestion is to be strength-based in focus. Venet (2020) encourages the teacher to be the catalyst for making connections for that student, both teacher, peer, and the wider community.
Myth 4: Trauma happens at home
You might hear this kind of conversation in a staff room. “Oh, that student is having a hard time at home.”. There is usually a complacent nod, and then that is the end of the conversation. The statement alone seems to be almost trauma aware enough; the fact that the student is experiencing trouble at home, and I can hear behind the statement lowered expectations, ‘extra attention’, and may avoid interactions for fear of responding ‘wrong’ (Minero, 2017).
Truth: School, community, and society can cause trauma
However, what if the school itself is causing the trauma? Bullying, racism, sexism, islamophobia, xenophobia, and general prejudice toward that student could make school itself full of trauma. The curriculum expectations as Johnson (2020) points out can be violent (think of re-creating slave trade enactments, or digital escape rooms based on breaking out of Residental Schools). As Blitz, Anderson & Saastamoinen (2016) state, “In this study, the school personnel’s insistence that all children are treated the same suggests a lack of understanding that in the context of structural racism children of color and their families are likely to have experiences and needs different from their White counterparts…For example, students of color may experience school climate more negatively than White students (Voight 2013), in part due to microaggressions, the repeated small, often unintentional, insults that build to greater psychological injury.” (p. 536). Schools fall short when they do not approach trauma experiences with intersectionality in mind. Yes, events could be perpetuated at home, but school itself could be exacerbating and triggering, for example, the trauma of community (Cantu, 2019), race, and the colonization of curriculum (Gaffney, 2019).
Trauma-informed practices cannot be implemented without the awareness of systemic traumas that occur daily, including the biases that a teacher or trauma-informed practitioner brings into the space (Blitz et al., 2016). Exploring your own biases and experiences as a teacher should be required practice in all trauma-informed educational practices.
Myth 5: Trauma affected students require learning intervention
Research, again and again, discusses brain development, and how many learning opportunities do not fully develop because the brain is in constant fight, flight, or fear (Perry, 2017). Memory is one crucial portion of the brain that is skewed (Kenardy et al., 2007). Students need to rely on other parts of the brain to function academically and may require assistance with their learning (Cole et al, 2005). Not only is the student preoccupied with the stressors of the trauma itself, but to have to worry about school and being successful exacerbates their trauma.
Truth: Students can flourish academically
In fact, perfectionism can be a symptom of trauma, “She may become . . . an academic achiever, a model of social conformity. She brings to all these tasks a perfectionist zeal, driven by the desperate need to find favor in her parents’ eyes.” (Cole et al., 2005. p. 38). This is the student who is ‘doing’ everything to get away from the trauma; not have that trauma define them. I know this because this is how I coped with my trauma. School, the routine of school, was a place to escape. I could control what I did. I saw academics as a road to get out of my trauma. Sure, I faltered here and there, and perfectionism still plagues me, but I did well in school overall. I am not advocating for perfectionism, however, I am stating that being academically focused and invested can be as much of a symptom of trauma as the opposite.
As Crosby, Howell & Thomas (2018) state, bringing social justice curriculum could empower students. Blitz, Anderson & Saastamoinen (2016) talk about how a culturally responsive experience can “…learn from an early age to locate problems in the context of social order rather than internalizing troubles only as individual, family, or community deficits.” (p. 521). Ginwright (2018) is also in favour of taking in a holistic approach to healing, with all of the student’s experiences and intersectionalities being explored, and letting the student direct their learning.
Academics can also be a place for healing, for example, in writing (Batzer, 2016). Batzer (2016) discusses how trauma goes through various phases, but, at the right time, writing can be a therapeutic and a way to express their feelings and process the trauma. This aligns with Durto (2011), and the idea of creating a critical witness to trauma, and finding avenues for expressing trauma along with being given explicit feedback on the writing itself; therefore, giving the trauma-affected a sense of self outside of their trauma (Cole et al., 2005; Ginwright, 2018).
Myth 6: Self-Regulation is Trauma-informed care
Self-Regulation is generally seen as a need for trauma-affected persons. For example, students struggle to control their emotional responses to daily events, as their brain is in constant fight, flight, or fear (Morton & Berardi, 2017). Students may struggle to express their feelings, knowing their internal states, or may have aggressive or self-destructive impulses (Cook et al., 2017). Students may also experience dissociation (Cook et al., 2017), which may present as ‘daydreaming’ (Perry, 2003), However, Cook et al., (2017) also note that students may struggle with some of the more common school requirements: Problem solving, sustained focus on tasks, and general learning difficulties, for example. In Ontario, we also use self-regulation for provincial assessment, and some of the terms written on the report card around self-regulation, which include ideas such as “…reflects critically on own strengths, needs, and interests…sets own individual goals and monitors progress towards achieving them.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 11). In a way, even the ideas of self-regulation in an Ontario school may be perceived differently.
Under the guise of trauma-informed, the later definition – difficulties with behaviour, for example – would be assumed a trauma-affected student would struggle with. As Shanker (2013) points out, self-regulation is often confused with self-control. The question of what self-regulation is is still being researched (Shanker, 2013). Being that there is a lot of confusion, there is a lot of misinformation of what a classroom teacher can be doing in the classroom to promote self-regulation. Calming corners/areas, yoga, and mediation can be seen in many classrooms. But, should these practices be used without proper instruction and knowledge? Can a classroom teacher teach self-regulation in a way that really encourages students to work toward calm in their bodies (Machado, 2014)? Could more harm be done than good?
Truth: Self-Regulation is only part of creating a trauma-informed classroom
Self-Regulation is a tool; a part of a larger set of systems that a trauma-informed school needs to put into play holistically. This includes academic, social, and self-regulation support (Chafouleas, Johnson, Overstreet & Santos, 2017). However, as stated by The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (2008), sometimes students who are experiencing trauma may not exhibit any symptoms at all. Cole et al, (2005) discuss the idea of perfectionism at school, wherein students might be so caught up in being perfect, that they over-regulate their emotions. In terms of being calm, that particular student may not require that portion of self-regulation. Using self-regulation strategies as a main or only form trauma-informed practice would not be necessary.
A school-wide trauma approach would have self-regulation as a part of the learning process, but it would not be the entire program. Students, since poor self-regulation skills are related to attachment (Ludy-Dobson & Perry, 2010), creating relationships is a strategy toward self-regulation healing. It also provides pro-social experiences, another area of need for trauma-affected students (Ludy-Dobson & Perry, 2010). Trauma is such an individual experience that emcompasses so much part of what and who a person is, relying on self-regulation alone will either only create an idea of a safe learning environment, and/or reject those who do not need self-regulation to be successful at school.
Myth 7: Trauma-Informed practices are separate from curriculum
Since trauma-informed care was originally a clinical practice (Cole et al., 2005) , transitioning trauma-informed practices to the classroom can be interpreted as an ‘extra’ piece that happens for trauma-affected students in the school (Cole et al., 2005). For example, a trauma-affected student might visit with a school counselor, have de-escalation strategies in place, and might have outside organizations who support their journey. As a teacher, your job was to ensure that you helped the student academically by giving that student more time with content, an ‘out’ if they were feeling overwhelmed, and generally ensuring that safety protocols were implemented.
Teachers may feel this way: That trauma-informed practices require specific therapy practices, and that is not the teachers job (Portell, 2019). There may have been a sense of helplessness for the teacher, and their reactions to behaviours may have been punitive (Crosby, Howell & Thomas, 2018), with the idea that “if the child learns the rules, maybe they will be more successful’.
Truth: Incorporating Trauma-Informed practices in all aspects of school is most effective
As Laffier (2020) said, educators can only “remove barriers to learning”. As teachers, our role is to provide that safe learning environment where students who are affected by trauma can grow and learn. Teachers may never get students to a trauma healing position (Laffier, 2020), but they can work to assist the student in being successful with the curriculum. In this regard, it makes sense to make trauma-informed practices embedded and cohesive with the ebbs and flows of the classroom. As Crosby, Howell, and Thomas (2018) state, curriculum should “Draw(ing) on students’ lived experiences and integrating those into the classroom through curriculum, instruction, and assessment promotes deeper more authentic connection to students’ lives.” (p. 21). There needs to be an authentic and student-driven focus so that students can explore their strengths and be able to practice skills such as problem-solving in a safe space with educator and peer support (Brunzell et al., 2015). A student is going to have different needs at different points of their education; and being responsive and flexible to these needs (Blitz et al, 2016), whether they are self-regulation, social, or academic, is vital. Students who are active participants in the development and implementation of curriculum will raise their sense of self-worth and independence (Cole et al., 2015). An empathetic group of teachers and students who support the student throughout their educational experience will assist the student in converging their experiences in a holistic way.
Technology can support the process of creating a safe place for a trauma-affected student to engage in their learning. Writing specifically can provide a structured outlet not only for students to develop their expressive language skills, receive structured and specific feedback, but also engage in a process of reflection of their experiences, and who they are, even if they don’t specifically engage in writing about their trauma (Batzer, 2016). After all, telling the story, whether that story of the trauma is told outright, is one step toward healing. Batzer (2016) notes “At the heart of therapeutic writing is (re)constructing a narrative that often appears in the mind as a jumbled and incoherent series of stimulus-induced emotions. In a strictly literary sense, writing about trauma requires, in James Hillman’s words, a process for effectively ordering thoughts (130), which serves to make a coherent story out of a traumatic event. Telling this story requires confronting the emotions that are often circuitously linked to pain.” (p. 4). Having a student create a blog via Google Sites, for example, can assist the students in giving them a space to express themselves. As Tan (2008) discusses, “From our perspective, blogs are a particularly fertile field for mental health research because of the strong evidence that creative expressive writing can produce health benefits.” (p. 145). A blog or digital space where students can express who they are and explore their interests and talents lets them have full control of their own learning environment, and lets them decide what and when to post. This ultimately engages in their choices of how to showcase their learning in a method that is powerful to them (Cole et al., 2013).
Trauma-informed education involves exploring who you are as an educator, and what biases you bring to the table. It involves opening yourself up in a vulnerable and honest way as you may not understand the trauma a student is experiencing. As a white educator, for example, I will never understand the microaggressions and constant racism a Black student and their family would encounter daily. However, I have to be open to empathy, and work with the Black community to listen, work alongside, and put away my reactions and defensiveness when I am called out.
It also involves sliding into the discomfort of not being able to fix things immediately, by yourself, or ever move a student to a place of trauma healing. Focus on creating a safe place with your active listening skills, flexibility to let go of power, and involve your trauma-affected student in their own learning experiences.
What is your personal experience with trauma-informed education? What do/did you feel about them?
What are some ways you are going to feel discomfort when working with trauma-affected students? What ways will you perpetuate reactive behaviours, and what will you do to fix the situation?
Who in the building can you reach out to? Who can your trauma-affected student? What community organizations do you know about, or need to find?
How will you address your own biases entering into trauma-informed practice, and what will you do to address them?
What person(s) do you need to contact to become more trauma-informed, and plan with?
What did you feel after reading this article?
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Blitz, L. V., Anderson, E. M., & Saastamoinen, M. (2016). Assessing perceptions of culture and trauma in an elementary school: Informing a model for culturally responsive trauma-informed schools. The Urban Review, 48(4), 520-542.
Brunzell, T., Waters, L., & Stokes, H. (2015). Teaching with strengths in trauma-affected students: A new approach to healing and growth in the classroom. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 85(1), 3.
Chafouleas, S. M., Johnson, A. H., Overstreet, S., & Santos, N. M. (2016). Toward a blueprint for trauma-informed service delivery in schools. School Mental Health, 8(1), 144-162.
Cole, S. F., O’Brien, J. G., Gadd, M. G., Ristuccia, J., Wallace, D. L., & Gregory, M. (2005). Helping traumatized children learn: Supportive school environments for children traumatized by family violence. Massachusetts Advocates for Children.
Cole, S. F., Eisner, A., Gregory, M., & Ristuccia, J. (2013). Helping traumatized children learn: Creating and advocating for trauma-sensitive schools. Massachusetts Advocates for Children.
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Crosby, S. D., Howell, P., & Thomas, S. (2018). Social justice education through trauma-informed teaching. Middle School Journal, 49(4), 15-23.
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Walkley, M., & Cox, T. L. (2013). Building trauma-informed schools and communities. Children & Schools, 35(2), 123-126.
As I was writing my personal blog post here about my experiences with trauma, both as a student and a teacher, I was simultaneously taking (this is my second) course on Problem-Based Learning. This course is Higher Ed focused, but I have a lot of thoughts, wonderings, and quite frankly, more questions than actual well-thought out and researched ideas, around how Problem-Based Learning could be a vehicle for students who are dealing with trauma.
From my understanding, Problem-Based Learning, or PBL, students, or the learner, would be deciding on what the problem they were trying to solve was. This, to me is an excellent example of using an authentic experience. In my experience, those who are experiencing trauma are problem-solving/decision making constantly, especially in instances of ‘fight or flight’ in their current state.
Having students tap into their already present survival skills, but seeing them used widely, could assist in the slow healing process. For example, if a student is experiencing neglect and poverty, they might become interested in looking at poverty as a social condition on a wider scale. They could empathize directly with poverty and neglect, and therefore, bring personal perspective and experience to their research. If students were given the opportunity to outreach into their community organizations around poverty, perhaps this would help them macro lens their experiences with poverty, and help them see the complexities and systems that are in place to hold people in poverty, rather than ‘blaming’ those in their care. My hope is a wider understanding will be developed about their specific trauma experiences, and, the student can then begin to see the various perspectives in their own trauma, as, in PBL, would be the goal if researching the problem.
In my experience, my memory of my personal traumatic experiences has gaps, incompleteness, and is discontinuous. Students who have experienced trauma may feel as though they only have ‘parts’ of their experience at their disposal. Being able to look at the ‘big idea’ of their trauma may help them zoom out of their experiences to start to make connections, and begin healing.
This is also to say that a student would identify one of their traumas as a community/global problem to being researching and learning about. They may, and in fact, might avoid anything to do with their trauma experiences. However, giving the student the power to choose an area of curiosity to look into, and begin to see multiple perspectives, and start to dig into understanding.
Reasons Why I think PBL Would Work for Trauma-Effected Students:
Students will be able to explore their own ideas/interests with guidance from an educator who will ask questions, help them navigate, and provide feedback for them as a learner, not just a ‘student in trauma’;
I believe (and I realize this needs more research) that students who are/have experiencing/experienced trauma use problem solving skills daily, they just not might be fully aware of the types/styles of problem solving they are doing, and not all of it healthy (example: I used anxiety and putting undue pressure on myself for all tasks, since I had no external guidance with how to prioritize issues – everything was equally weighted in my mind as urgent, as if I weren’t ‘on top’ of even the small things, negative events would occur. A general idea that I could control my choices whereas most aspects of my life were chaotic). I feel students using these problem solving strategies to work through an issue of interest may help with navigating and making better problem-solving choices for them;
The ability for the trauma-affected persons to engage in learning, questioning in feeedback with both other learners and a teacher may help them gain strengths and skills, and to be able to accomplish something ‘beyond their trauma’.
I feel that healing includes understanding and approaching trauma from different perspectives, creative outlets, and time. As an educator, giving the student feedback needed to encourage their curiosity, explore who they are with and without their trauma will help them take a more global approach their learning, and defining who they are.
In general, most PBL research is done in the Higher Ed community, with less on in the K-12 realm. This leads to the following questions:
How would an educator set up PBL effectively in the classroom? What resources would they need?
Would the entire school-community need to become PBL, or PBL focused, so that teachers can co-plan and share resources, etc.?
Avoidance might be a strategy for trauma persons, and therefore, a lack of problem-solving skills. How could researching a topic, delving into building their knowledge, help parallel their experiences as students, and their experience in trauma?
What would assessment look like? I personally imagine consistent conferences and student to educator check-ins, discussions, and immediate feedback of their learning. Students would be able to find a creative way to visually show their research.
The idea here is that strong teaching, building students’ experiences through their interests, and guiding them through their learning experiences, could provide self-insight into trauma.
What Do You Think?
Educators, do you have students who you think would benefit from PBL? Would working through them identifying a problem, researching perspectives, identify possible solutions perhaps lead to students examining themselves as learners, and therefore, tap into their experiences with trauma?
Savin-Baden, M. (2000). Chapter 9 Critical Perspecitves on Problem-based Learning. In Savin-Baden, M. (2000). Problem-based Learning in Higher Education: Untold Stories. The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press: Philadelphia.
I walk into the classroom for the first time. The teacher and I, excitedly, have been planning to focus on data management. I suggested Google Sheets at our planning meeting as a way for students to focus on the types of charts/graphs they can create with simple data collection. Sheets will pump out a graph quickly, rather than students drawing their own. The benefit of this speed is so that students can create multiple graphs and charts, and be able to discuss and determine which graph is better at giving information that another, and why this might be so. The teacher agreed, and so we set the dates to co-teach the lesson.
It was Hallowe’en, so the class was excited. I walked in with 100% energy and began the lesson. The teacher supported by asking me and students’ questions and played with the program as I worked with students so they could become more comfortable with Google Sheets.
The room was loud as students stacked cups, built linking cube towers, or did jumping jacks. I gave simple data input instructions, told them how to find a timer on the internet, and I let them go. Students started immediately, the engagement was palpable in the room.
The kids ran the show.
Some had time to create a few different graphs, and I lead conversations around what graphs were more effective (and, first, with a few groups, what an effective graph meant), and why. We managed to share our graphs in a shared slide. We had a quick whole group summation of our data — hey! Data collection can be more than me walking around the class asking questions. It can be helpful when we have chosen an effective graph because the reader can interpret our data quickly and efficiently.
Then I left.
My time was up with those students and that teacher for that day…
And, since I support 19 schools, I wouldn’t be back for a month.
Sure, I emailed the teacher all of our work and gave them a chance to ask any follow-up questions as needed.
But that was it.
But did I do anything? Did I create change? Would that teacher now move ahead in two ways:
Consider ways to make the curriculum come alive creatively?
Continue to use a piece of technology meaningfully and with purpose?
Metrics: Collecting Data
The first response to this is to collect tangible data. In this case, when I am completing a cycle of schools, I send out a survey to collect data from teachers. This is dependant on if teachers fill out the survey, and I always wonder if they are being completely honest. I think many fill it out to be kind, which doesn’t give me a sense of how my time with them will be beneficial in the future.
Another tangible piece is total bookings. If I am booked a lot, in theory, I am reaching more teachers, and assisting in curriculum and innovative connections. I have some of this data — it is quantative, but is it really showing what is going on in the daily use of instructional practices by the teacher?
How do I, without a doubt, know that my time with that teacher has contributed to long-lasting educational change? Are teachers really thinking about their practice after I work with them? Or am I stand alone show? Sure, metrics can show some data, but does this tell me if I have really created long-lasting, sustainable change?
Student Carry Over
I also wonder about the students: Sure, a teacher may not have had sustainably changed practice after co-planning and teaching with me. But, perhaps, a student took the tool that was used and is now using it for another purpose. Perhaps when another math task comes up, they will open up Google Sheets, for example, if they feel it is the tool for them. How do I measure student success — because maybe the student is the one taking leadership, and encouraging other students (and teachers) to use a particular tool, or try a certain task.
Stages of Coaching
Perhaps it is in the next steps. For this particular example, maybe the change isn’t happening yet. It will come when I check in with that teacher the next time I arrive, and have a face-to-face conversation. Or, theywill book me for a second round of co-planning and teaching, this time wanting to explore at different angle of math, or a different tool that can bring, perhaps, student reflection about their math (the first tool assisted the students completing the math task, the next step might be for a tool to help students speak to their understanding).
I am learning that this means that I am going to be having a different conversation with this teacher the next time around. I am not completely sure what that conversation will be. It may be as open as “What have you done since the last time we were together?”
Teachers, this is a great chance for you to let me know: What do you hope your Coach does with you? How do you know that your Coach has been effective? How do you like to be approached? Feel free to continue to talk with me here, or on Twitter (@heidi_allum).
It’s about that time of year when teachers are making decisions, whether real or imagined, about how they want their classroom to feel. I say feel because I think that we underestimate how our students will feel walking in. There is such nervous excitement, that to be honest, I think many kids forget their first day. I cannot really remember any single ‘first day’ of school.
What I do remember is how the first few weeks set the tone. I remember the moment I could feel comfortable, or I got a sense of the teacher’s expectations, and what the year was going to be about. Super organized and structured, more relaxed and flexible — once I figured this out, I could navigate my way through the classroom.
Sure, the first day brought on way too hot ‘fall’ clothes, a new hair cut, and clean sneakers – but it’s the following few weeks that I tasted my classroom.
That’s right: A very visceral experience that one could taste. For me, it was a mix of chalk dust, someone’s wilting lunch, and polished floors. Whatever flavour or recipe was set out in the beginning generally told me how the rest of the year would follow out.
Strangely enough, I found when we had our first math lesson that I really got a sense of what was going to happen — was this teacher patient and valued thinking, or wanted a right answer now? Willing to listen, or plow through?
Now as a teacher, I know better. We know better. We know to give students voice – listen and respond to their learning needs. So what are some ways to make our mathematics classroom the ‘it’ place to be – which, in turn, will set the tone for the rest of the school year (being an elementary teacher, I teach it all)?
Of course, these are just some suggestions that I have personally used and found open the doors to students engaging with mathematics. There is so much out there – so explore and find out what works for your curriculum and your students.
Children’s Rights to Mathematics:
Before we talk about specific mathematical ways we can create the flavour of our room, we have to decide what we want students to feel, do, and think about mathematics.
This tweet was posted, and it got me thinking. Rather than decide on ‘rules’ for the math classroom, I thought about how we could decide on what students need in order to flourish in mathematics. I started a conversation with Matthew Oldridge, and between us, here is what I think, overall, you should consider when starting your math classroom, or, the student’s right to mathematics:
Let students work/struggle on interesting math problems
Math is action – make sure math is being done and investigated
Encourage talk in mathematics – it should be loud
Play with math concepts
Process and reflect while doing the math
and, as the teacher, listen more.
Perhaps rather than thinking in terms of what you want students to finish with, consider the experience with math you want to give them.
Sure, the final meal is rewarding, but the dinner company, conversation, atmosphere, and anticipation of the meal is what you walk away with.
Do and Play with Math Right Away:
Remember Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan? Sure you do.
Just jump in and start with math. Make it fun and playful.
Do an interesting math problem:Matthew Oldridge has a great post here of problems that are engaging, fun, and interesting to solve. Start with one of these, and let students play.
3. Do Dot Number Talks: These are fun, non-threatening, and get kids talking about math. Check out my blog post here. They encourage and validate all ideas, force processing and thinking time, and facilitate talk between students. This can start your conversation about prompts to continue math conversations.
4. Estimate: Estimating is fun, especially with a website like estimate 180, and again, this starts the math conversation flowing, and justification happening. See more of how I got my kids engaged (human number lines) and up and active around estimation here.
5. Play Sarah VanDerWerf’s 100 Game: Can you tell I am a fan of Ms. VanDerWerf? This game worked exactly as her blog said — this got my kids yelling, working, and defining what collaboration in our classroom means. Here are photos of my students engaged, on the first day, in this task.
Sarah also has a first day blog post with lots of ideas — check it here.
Making Math More Visual:
Awhile ago, I blogged about how my daughter ‘wrote’ in the sky with her finger to help her fall asleep. I noticed that we could follow each other’s ideas and thinking by placing our mental ideas in the air.
We need to embrace, and help students embrace, that math is visual. It is something that can be imagined and experimented with. I love the ideas that these prompts below create situations where students are forced to see math in their mind’s eye. Tracy Johnston Zager brought forth some exciting work from Christof Weber — I am so eager to read more of Mathematical Imagining! How are you seeing this brought to life in your classrooms?
At the beginning of the year, if we give students opportunities to flex their mathematical imagination, then we are demonstrating how math is a human endeavour – creative and dynamic.
So, as you think, plan, and consider your new year with new students — make math human again. Take into consideration student backgrounds, experiences with and knowledge of mathematics. Let them dive in and talk about the math. Be the guide of wonder and curiosity. Above all: Have fun with the math curriculum you are using, and enjoy learning math with your students. You may want to read Sunil Singh‘s post about this.
So, let your students be chefs with math this year. Sure, your end goal is a good meal, but let them add too much child powder and have the experience of figuring out how to fix it, let them make a mess. Math is complex and messy, too.
How many other blogs have you seen with that title?
Summer = change.
Reflection. Wondering. Thinking.
Thinking, and, let’s be honest — stressing.
Am I going to be enough this year? What should my focus be, and why? Where should I put my emotional and intellectual energies?
All of these questions swirl around my mind like paper caught in a dust storm. I spend my summer trying desperately to grab hold of one. This almost never happens. Generally, I let my fingers skim each floating idea, never settling on one for fear another could be more important.
To add to this state of “hmmm”, I am starting a new role this year.
Change Is Good – but I am not good with change:
I believe that educators should change when the opportunity arises. I also think they should change when they don’t think they are ready. Actually, this is not educator specific: Change happens.
However, if you are like me (which I assume many of you are), change is not your strong suit. Sure, I can smile during change, press on through change — but deep down I am constantly wondering if the change is doing any overall good. Is anyone benefiting from the change? Is the change moving anything or anyone forward?
Essentially, change makes you the newbie. And hanging out in newbie status is always super hard. Because you are going to fail, and people will see you fail.
I don’t think I truly innately have a growth mindset.
I think in terms of all the mistakes I will make in my new role, and yes, I will learn from them and grow from them, but before that happens I beat myself up about them, stress on them, and replay them over and over.
My first plan is to, rather than harp on a mistake, sit with it, take responsibility for it, and move on from it. Change is always a process.
Educational Technology Coach
This is the title of my new role. I am honestly not 100% sure of what that role means, but I know I am excited at the prospect of learning, and learning with others. The first word in the title is educational, after all.
What I Envision/Goals for myself:
Listening to teachers – what are they seeing? Doing? Wondering? What/How can I help that will be most beneficial?
Connecting – making the curriculum come alive for teachers, and help them continue to make it engaging for students.
Collaborating – with teachers and students; how can we use technology to make education more fluid and dynamic? Access experts? Share our ideas? Have students share their ideas with each other/teachers to gain immediate feedback?
I have this goals and visions, and hopes, but right now it is all single minded. I am going into an unknown role, and so on top of goals, I want to keep focus questions in the back of my mind. Here are some that have been floating around:
How can I help teachers explore and expand their experience with the curriculum? What pieces of technology will compliment the content? And bring out the global competencies? (I selfishly admit, I can’t wait to get into classrooms and do some math — and add tech when it enhances!)
If a teacher isn’t sure of what is next, what questions can I ask to help teachers discover what is next for them?
How can I create a positive attitude toward technology?
How can I help teachers find thinking technology vs. skills?
These are just a few to start my thinking journey.
Anyone else out there been in a coaching role? What did you find most helpful? Any books, resources, etc. that you would suggest I look into to help me visualize and refine my goals for myself as a coach? I would love to hear from you.
My mind is swimming with ideas and thoughts — and I believe this is all part of the process of moving into a new role. I hope to document with photos and blogs how the year is going, and discuss all of the ups and downs. At points in the year, I hope to refine my questions and goals — and see if I have measurable data to support my learning, as well as teacher and student learning.
One of the most powerful educational tools that I have loved this year is Google Slides. Recently our Board started using Google Education Suite, and Google Classroom. I happily tried it out, and have not have looked back.
I am going to go through with what worked for me and my class, and many of you may find these tips intuitive and repetitive, but I feel knowing this, or considering these, ahead of time for those who have not tried making Google Slides collaborative (or any Google Suite program) somewhat helpful.
At first, it’s easy to click that little triangle and assign “make a copy for each student” — but let me try and steer you into choosing “each student can edit”.
However, I can understand how this could be a scary thing. What if students ruin each other’s work?
So, though some are predictable, I have created a list of the most helpful ideas in order to make Google Slides collaborative (and less work for you — looking at student work on one slide is so much faster!).
Here are some tips – based solely on my experiences – in no particular order:
Tip One: Let Them Play
Sure, at first, you may want to give a copy to each student. Let them explore the features and muck around in a low-stakes setting. One of my colleagues, Michael McClenaghan, actually had his students ‘ruin’ a slide.
Tell students “I am not sure”, shrug, and walk away a lot. They may work on one slide to start, but they will inevitably start talking, asking, and helping each other solve problems.
The key hear is to consolidate. Have students discuss what went well, what didn’t and what they need to know for next time.
Tip Two: Start With Math
The first time I gave a shared google slide, it was a group problem that students could read together, and work on. Students could do the math in Google Drawings, and then import the photo of their work into Google Slides.
Students are generally more used to working collaboratively in math — be it over a white board, chart paper, or manipulatives. Students may ‘ease’ into working on shared slide a little faster through a rich math task.
Tip Three: Teach Version History/Restore
Show them under file they can see version history. If everything, or things, get erased (and they will), they can restore to a previous version. This has saved many a shared slide — and once students know this, they are more willing to want to share slides without the fear of ‘their work being erased’.
Tip Four: Consolidate After Each Session
This may seem redundant, but so important. Each time your students are working on a shared slide, talk after about how it went. Troubleshoot together. Ask:
What went well?
What needs to change?
What should we do next time?
Create a classroom norms of collaborative spaces chart — adding new information as you go (my students taught themselves how to share a slide amongst themselves – So they taught the class how. Next time I would have a working ‘chart’ or space to have definitions, directions, etc. so we students can reference as needed).
Tip Five: Use the Comment Feature All of the Time
View the slides in grid view, and comment as students work. Circulate and conference with your laptop, and comment on the slides as to what you conferenced. Add links, videos, etc. so students can access together. Teach them how to read and apply your comments, and write back to you. Comment, and comment widely (Trust me: You feel very accomplished when you write feedback on each slide).
Tip Six: Some Organization Ideas
Write the partner/triad/group name at the top of the slides you want them to work on as they go off to work;
Make the last slide the interesting links/videos slide that students can ‘dump’ ideas/links into;
Put your learning goal/success criteria on the first slide(s). Tell students not to edit this, but use it for referral.
In general, once collaborative Google Slides becomes embedded in your classroom, you will use Google Slides as a way for students to demonstrate their learning, and a place for you to give feedback in. It becomes a loop of learning and assessment.
These tips also work with any of the other Google Suite programs that can become collaborative — Google Docs, Sheets, and Drawings. These only become powerful when students see the power in using them to work together.
One final note: There will be problems, but they will be overcome. When you consolidate and reflect, the experience becomes even more valuable – the learning from each other’s mistakes leads to a better understanding of Google Slides, and the content itself.
Give it a try! Let me know how it goes. Share any other tips – I would love to hear how you are using Google Slides (Docs, Sheets…anything collaborative!) in your classroom.
And, truly – it is fun! This strand screams play. Dice, cards, games, odds – esepcially in play off season.
However, I can attest to overly simplifying probability: Guilty. I have left it until June, played a few games, and called it a day.
There is nothing wrong with playing games with probability – in fact, I can’t think of anything else more engaging and enticing for students. What is missing is the rich conversation – and connections – you can make within other strands of mathematics.
Let’s take a closer look at one of the specific expectations in the Ontario Curriculum. I am choosing a Grade 6 expectation because this is where I live:
There are some key terms in here that may be focused on, and other parts missed.
Dice, favourable outcomes, and equally likely. Skimming, a teacher may have a quick conversation about the odds of getting even vs. odd numbers, out of a total of 6 – since there are 6 sides on the dice. What may get missed is ratio – how can we turn dice rolling into a fractional conversation – and help students make these connections.
Now, in this would you rather, students are going to actually think first by making an assumption before they roll any dice. I used a shared google doc to show their thinking. Then students got a chance to try it out – what should happen (theoretical) compared to what actually happened (experimental) is now defined.
Students are now forced to explain why – and how- they would choose option A or B. Now it’s a great time to describe their odds in a ratio – to pull how the game leads to mathematical explanation.
It’s also amazing how simplicity – rolling some dice, and letting them explore what happens, and challenging students to represent their findings – leads not only to rich conversations about probability, but dissecting why everyone had different outcomes.
Another expectation that may be skimmed and glossed – some may focus on the words game, and the simple fraction (1/4). The richness comes out of this expectation is extending to what would happen if the spinner was spun 100 times – and the comparison of predicted and experimented outcomes.
Probability can also become richer when you look at individual results versus group results. I used small Smarties packets and we estimated all of the Smarties we had altogether as a class. We talked about which colours we might continue to pull once we pulled out 3-4 from a single package. When would get our first ‘double’ colour, and why? What should happen with colour distribution if we opened all of the small packages? We recorded our class predicitions on one Google Sheet, and then students recorded their own findings in another. Now we have data to compare.
Students recording their predicitions and outcomes of Smarties on a shared Google Sheet.
Probability can also be extremely visual. This amazing visual by Sara Van Der Werf brought fantastic conversation. Using visuals in probability was not a natural link for me, but it proved to be for my students.
So, pull out the probability games.
I am learning to make the connections with students to the deep math connections that happen through the games. There is a lot of rich, amazing math here that is worth more than just June.
My next go to is to try these rich, visual probability prompts that invite wondering and conversation about the complexity of probability, and connect to other strands in mathematics.
What are some ways you are adding complexity and richness to your probability tasks? I would love to hear your thoughts!
From Patterns to Algebra, the second that I was given the chance to explore, play, and investigate, stands at the forefront of an amazing patterning and algebra resource.
This blog is essentially a love letter to Dr. Cathy Bruce and Dr. Ruth Beatty — and how they seamlessly weave play, patterns, and rich opportunities for students and teachers to immerse themselves in the joy of patterning (Hey! I said I was going to write the blog, so here I am):
I’ll let the introduction of the book speak for itself (as seen on page 1, and in the pdf sample you can access here):
Mathematics has been called “the science of patterns” (Steen, 1988). Young children enjoy working with patterns, and older students enjoy discovering and manipulating patterns. In fact, it is human nature to nd patterns in our everyday experiences. Some educators and mathematicians would go so far as to say that patterning is the foundation of mathematics (Lee, 1996; Mason, 1996)
Let’s start with how the first lesson revolves around playing a game: Guess My Rule. Right away this game is A) super fun, and inviting to students — all of students really loved playing it, and B) gets students to make the relationship between term number and the output — and how the two interact.
My students loved this game so much that this happened:
(also cool is how this student used Google Draw to create the table, screenshot it, and add it to Kahoot).
My students willingly played this game — and often. I added some elements by using cards- whatever you flipped up became the pattern rule — and putting the black line master in page protectors so my students could play when they were finishing other work – or for recess (yes, a lot of my students like to stay in and play math for recess).
Playing Guess My Rule was fantastic, because, when we got to creating and looking at patterns, we already had some understanding of the relationship between input and output.
This is another reason why this resource is so great — the patterns are visual. Everything students do with this resource is creating and analyzing visual patterns; making students see how accessible and tangible patterns can be. Students can manipulate patterns, and can play with them – and feel like anything they create can easily be added to, changed, or redirected without losing the visual representation. Students were able to make connections quickly – and talk about the patterns we were examining. Students could also identify the pattern quickly, move to graphing linear patterns, and determining the nth term.
Below are some of the awesome ways we used the resource — and really, we’ve only just touched on it. Dr. Beatty and Dr. Bruce have created a place where non-intimidating patterning play can happen; and deep connections can be made.
See the images below – -some have captions so you can see a little more about what we did as a class.
Students used Ontario Mathies Coloured Tiles to play with, too.
Students created patterns, and went around and wrote down the pattern rule. This lead to great conversation. Is there pattern reflective of their pattern rule?
I laid out patterns with constants for students to guess.
Students talked about the pattern, then checked the pattern rule to see if they were correct.
There is a lot to be said about the problem solving model that sits at the front of the Ontario Math Curriculum. It’s common place to hear and see teachers discussing and using a model, or a similar model, in their classrooms. It seems for some, it works, or, at least, it gives a framework for teachers to assist students to work through a math problem.
However, it never fully sat with me quite comfortably. First of all, I will make many non-friends writing this, but, it created zombie-like problem solvers. I witnessed many students who would be messy, take risks, and think during their math problem solving. The four step problem solving model was introduced, and suddenly, I found these creative math thinkers felt like they had to follow a path, or a formula, to solve a problem. They weren’t thinking as richly and deeply, and, in fact, were rushing to get through the steps rather than taking their time, and really questioning their math choices.
I have re-looked, re-examined, and re-thought of this model many a time. In fact, it has been the focus of math workshops and district meetings I have attended, and I not once could say that following this model in a linear manner made any of my students any better at math.
Don’t get me wrong: I see it’s purpose. I have found it most helpful with students who struggle to organize their mathematical thinking, and I present it more of a way of thinking, or a framework, they might want to consider if they find they can’t focus on the math, and are getting jumbled in the process of their mathematics. I never ‘forced’ a student to use it, as I always felt that solving a math problem – or any real problem in life, really – isn’t linear. Many times we might jump to carrying out what we think is right, find it didn’t work, then go back to realize we probably didn’t quite understand.
I recently revisited the front matter of the the Ontario Curriculum to really investigate the process expectations, as I was thinking to myself:
Don’t we go through processes of thinking while we are solving mathematics tasks, and also taking steps to do so? Could the two not be intertwined?
But, then I saw this:
A problem solving model hasn’t been re-investigated since 1945?
So now my head is really spinning. I wanted to know a few things:
What do students really do and think while they are solving a complex mathematical problem? Do they naturally go through ‘steps’?
What processes do they consider, or act through, when solving a math problem?
How do we bring a problem solving model back to the actual mathematics?
In my mind, I started to visualize what I had noticed my students were doing during math. Over the months, I have been able to listen to many math conversations, and sat in on many math problem solving sessions with my students.
Right away, I wanted to depict how mathematics is a flow; people move in and out of their thinking process depending on what they are working on.
I feel that this is what my students do in the classroom while they are working on math. More than that, this is what I would like my students to consider as they solve a math problem.
I decided to take it one step further: I asked them to consider their thinking while they were working on some math.
I created a Google Form, and asked students to reflect what they were thinking before, during, and after their math task. Here are some results.
You can see the top two for before were noticing and wondering the math information, and choosing a tool. This was great — this means they were actively processing the problem, and selecting a tool (which is also one of the aforementioned process expectations).
During the problem, students were fixing mistakes and changing their ideas. This means students were actively seeking math connections, and finding and fixing their misunderstandings. Using a tool is still high on their choice, which means that tool must help them represent their thinking.
Students did reflect at the end, as the Polya Problem Solving Model states, which in the re-vamped model is embedded in the questioning themselves area — students, even at the end, are ensuring their mathematical ideas are complete.
I was really excited to see my student responses, and I am going to continue to check in with them as they work through math.
What do you think of my re-vamped Mathematical Thinking Flow Chart (because I am not sure what else to call it)?
Would you use this in your classroom? Do you see your students doing this?