Genius Teacher Idea
What Health Teachers Can Learn From "13 Reasons Why"
Editor's note: The hit Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why, has both teens and adults talking right now, and since the show was renewed for a second season set to premiere in 2018, it's likely these discussions won't be going away anytime soon. Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith—a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher's Guide each month—explores what she learned from the show and what you need to know if it comes up in class.
By now, we've all heard about 13 Reasons Why. A large number of teens have watched it, and an even larger number of adults are concerned. In fact, this new drama depicting teen suicide has garnered warnings from school psychologists, district administrators, and government officials alike.
There are many reasons to be concerned about the content featured on 13 Reasons Why, especially the graphic how-to style depiction of the main character’s suicide. The story—which plays out like a revenge fantasy for a teen who has dealt with bullying, stress, and sexual assault—has experts rightfully speaking out about the risk for suicide contagion.
But we can’t ignore that the show is hugely popular with our students, and as health teachers, students are most likely to bring it up in our classes. The show offers a large amount of teachable moments for students and adults alike. But while we certainly don’t want to stigmatize mental health issues or sweep things under the rug, it’s important to remember that the majority of us teachers are not licensed counselors. We need to make sure we’re listening to the experts and going about these discussions in the right way.
Here are the main messages I took from the show.
1. Health curriculum needs to be more comprehensive, and it needs to happen past ninth grade.
I think we can all agree that our kids need comprehensive health education as they get into the upper grades and actually start facing many of the risk behaviors we teach them about when they’re younger. College prep shouldn’t only be academic, and a skill-based health education that teaches kids about important life skills—like decision-making, communication, and healthy behaviors—should take a priority in all of the grades.
Many of the articles written by experts about the show have brought up the importance of health education, so we should be using this as an opportunity to advocate for a more comprehensive curriculum in all of our schools.
2. Mental health and well-being needs to play a key role in health education.
Mental health has taken on a more prominent role in health education over the last several years, and it’s helped break down stigma. However, we need to make sure the lessons go even further than mental illness and focus on helping all kids maintain good mental health.
Many of the risk behaviors the kids in the show engage in before and after Hannah’s suicide are unhealthy coping skills they’re using to deal with high levels of stress. Rather than focus on a reactionary curriculum that just warns students about these risky behaviors—drug use, bullying, fighting, alcohol abuse—we should focus on prevention, helping them identify healthy ways of dealing with stress instead.
3. Sexual assault, consent, and bystander responsibility need to have a central role in sex education.
If you’re still spending two weeks going through the gory details of different STIs and not addressing consent, you’re missing an important opportunity and doing a disservice to your students. They need to understand the signs of sexual assault and they need to learn the communication skills needed to step in and stop it when they see it happen.
4. We need to pay more attention to kids that "fly under the radar"—and those who fly over it as well.
Hannah often says that she feels invisible. As teachers, we have an opportunity to make sure that doesn’t happen on our watch, as the kids who don’t draw attention to themselves are often the most in need.
On the flip side, students who are extremely visible in school—the star athletes, the class presidents—might develop a sense of entitlement that can lead them to commit crimes, including sexual assault.
5. Schools need to make social/emotional counseling as big a part of their program as college counseling.
When Hannah tries to go to her counselor for help, he’s distracted and gives her very little time and some terrible advice. As a teacher, I found this part of the show the most infuriating, as it gives kids the wrong message about coming to us for help.
We have to see what we can learn from that though, and acknowledge that many guidance counselors are overwhelmed with college admissions and just don’t have enough time to be open to students in need.
This year, our high school hired new social/emotional counselors who have nothing to do with college admissions, and they've been helping students around the clock. Just the simple fact that kids know they have someone to go to who can help them with their stress has been beneficial beyond belief. This shift to a separate counseling model is happening in schools all over, and can be especially important in communities and cultures where mental health can still carry a stigma and parents are reluctant to get their children help.
For more on how educators should handle 13 Reasons Why discussions, check out this comprehensive guide from the National Association of School Psychologists.
4 Surprising Ways Teens Can Practice Mindfulness
Amy Lauren Smith is a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, as well as a Choices teacher-adviser and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher’s Guide each month.
As I’m writing this, I’m on a high-speed train headed through the Chinese countyside. Seated next to me are two seventh graders who are involved in a particularly heated game of Uno. We’re returning to our international school in Shanghai after a “Week Without Walls” trip to Wuyishan, a beautiful mountainside town deep in the Fujian province. It’s best known for its culture of tea and pottery, so naturally I was worried about how my smartphone-dependent students would handle four full days there.
As it turns out, I didn’t need to be.
On our first day, during an extremely slow and quiet tea ceremony, I looked around anxiously at the kids. While one of the tea masters played an ancient Chinese instrument and the other demonstrated the many steps involved in the traditional ceremony, the kids were all fixated and completely tuned in. Not a small feat for these kids—especially since it was conducted entirely in Mandarin, a language many of them can’t quite fully understand.
Even with my limited grasp of the language, I found myself completely transfixed. After it was done, the tour guide explained to me that the ceremony was considered a Chinese form of meditation, and I could fully understand why.
With the hyper-connected lives of our students, mindfulness is rightfully a big buzzword in education. It’s become an integral part of our health program, with the kids doing guided meditation most days of the week. But this experience made me think about the other ways they can experience mindfulness and pay attention to those opportunities throughout the week.
Here are just four of the times I saw them connect with the present moment and fully disconnect from their phones. Perhaps you can adapt these techniques to fit your own school communities!
Before the kids learned how to seep and pour the tea, they had to get out into the field to pick it themselves. Working in teams to gather a kilo and a half of nothing but hand-selected leaves, they were physically and mentally switched on, and I didn’t see a single one of them reach for their phones. (Can't take your students to an actual farm? Gardening would likely have a similar effect!)
The next day, we went to a pottery workshop. For all of the kids, this was the first time they were able to use a pottery wheel and experience the joy of getting their hands dirty while concentrating on forming the perfect bowl. While not all of them were able to get it just right, each one of them enjoyed the opportunity to try.
Yesterday, as we were riding through the tea plantations on bicycles, one of the students in front of me shouted out that he felt so free with the wind in his face. Even though he rides a bike to school everyday, it’s much different when you’re out on the open road, rather than on the crowded streets of the big city.
Being Surrounded by Nature
Studies show that giving kids access to nature can help improve their mental health and well-being. And whether we were hiking through tea fields, skipping rocks, or floating down the river in a bamboo raft, these city kids were in awe of their surroundings and fully appreciative of where they were.
So many of the experiences we took for granted as kids—playing in the dirt, learning cultural traditions, making things with our hands—are rarely experienced by today’s overscheduled teens. If we want our students to practice mindfulness and connect with the present moment as much as they do their devices, we might have to go back to basics—and just give them a chance to be kids.
Teaching Teens to Be Conscious Consumers
Editor's note: In this month's debate, Is It OK to Buy Cheap Clothes?, we tackle fast fashion and its impact on our world. Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith--a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher's Guide each month--did a little digging to make sure she thoroughly understood the subject before teaching it to her students.
I haven't always been the most conscious consumer. I'll admit that up until about ten years ago, I didn't even know what corporate social responsibility (CSR) was. (For those of you who still don't know, it's a company's sense of responsibility toward the community and environment in which it operates.) It wasn't until I moved to China that I began to understand how important it is to become familiar with the supply chain of my favorite brands.
One of the first friends I made here is now a rock star in the field. After studying Mandarin in college, she came to Shanghai absolutely determined to save the world. Over the years, she has taught me countless lessons about the environmental and social responsibility of corporations and the individuals who buy from them. Now back in the States, she's working as the "Green Chief" for JetBlue, where she spearheaded a program to recycle 18.5 tons of old uniforms when the company updated to new ones in 2014.
When it came time to write an activity to go along with this month's debate, Is It OK to Buy Cheap Clothes?, I knew I had to consult her first.
Right away, she told me to check out the CSR sections on the websites of a few of the more popular brands. I started with Forever 21. There was very little in the way of information, no images, and just black text on white background. Pretty strange for such a massive and popular brand.
Then she told me to check out H&M, as the Swedish company is known for their environmental and social efforts. I discovered a CSR site that was updated, full of links, and that clearly outlined their company values and goals. There were also separate sections detailing their efforts to minimize their environmental impact and to ensure better working conditions for all.
She told me to dig around a little more, and I discovered that--like with many other products and services--all brands were not created equal. Some expensive brands don't do a great job of looking out for the workers manufacturing their products, while some other less expensive clothing brands are making an effort. This came a relief to me, as I believe (and suspect that many of our students will too) that cheap clothes can "level the playing field" and increase the self-confidence of teens who can't afford higher-priced trends and fashion.
Eventually, my friend sent me the link to a study out of Australia, which gave global fashion brands a letter grade for their approach to worker welfare. Sure enough, H&M had received a B+, and Forever 21, a D-. She also pointed out that some of the more expensive designer brands also ranked pretty low.
She could have told me all of this right away, but like a good teacher, my friend knew that I needed to find the information out for myself. And just like that, she helped me create the perfect activity to go along with our debate.
Conscious consumerism isn't something that can be directly pushed on someone. Just like with the other skills we teach, it's something our students need to practice and develop on their own.
After reading the debate and picking a side, have your students use the activity sheet below to have to conduct their own research and share their findings with the class.
Stress Relief in the Classroom: This Genius Activity Will Teach Students to Manage Stress!
Editor's note: When teens are overwhelmed with stress, it can be hard for them to function--so it's essential that they learn about healthy stress busting techniques. To help with this, Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith--a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher's Guide each month--shares a creative project she's been using in her classes for years.
I work at an international school in China, so my students come from all over the world. When I started here in 2009, I quickly realized that I would have to adapt my old curriculum from suburban California to suit the very different health concerns of my new students. This was a high pressure, high stakes environment. Rather than my usual lessons about alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, my international students needed to learn about time management, stress, and the importance of getting a good night's sleep.
I worked over the course of that first year tweaking my projects and activities to align with their needs. And as I did, I decided to share what I was doing with other health teachers in the region who might be facing the same concerns. That's when I discovered that what I was dealing with wasn't unique after all. I began facilitating health education workshops at other international schools, and then eventually, back home in the states.
During these workshops, I always start out the with the same question. What are the biggest health concerns for the students in your community? And over the last few years, whether I'm at a prep school conference in Asia, a health convention in the U.S., or a conference with teachers from the very same district I started at back home, it's consistently stayed the same:
Not unlike the celebrities in this month's article, Secret Stress Busters of the Stars, today's teens are always "on." In our high-speed digital world, disconnected alone time is something we must now actively seek out, and we need to teach our students to do the same.
For this month's Teacher's Guide, I adapted a project that I've been doing with my kids for the last few years. Here's how you can bring this idea to your own classroom:
1. Teach kids about the physiological signs of stress and read Secret Stress Busters of the Stars as a class.
2. Using the worksheet below, have students brainstorm a list of their own coping skills, both healthy and unhealthy. Then, they'll answer a few reflection questions that will push them to analyze what methods truly work for them. (On our worksheet, we suggest working in groups so they can collaborate, but students can always work individually if you prefer.)
3. Each group creates a video (usually using their phones) that teaches four of their favorite healthy stress busters to their friends.
Over the years, this project has adapted from making a bookmark to a poster to a video blog. So regardless of the technology available at your school, you can adapt it to the resources you have on hand.
As I was writing this post, I asked my seventh graders about what they learned from their stress buster projects the year before. Here's what they told me:
- "I liked it because it was a time where I could be funny and teach people."
- "It was fun coming up with creative ways to deal with stress. I really liked watching everyone's videos because they were funny and I got to learn even more ways to deal with stress."
- "It was nice to teach other students and to express myself in a unique way."
- "I got to be creative and figure out ways to relieve stress. I still use my stress buster whenever I feel stressed out."
I was happy to hear that the project had stuck with them--and that they still go back to those coping skills when they begin to feel overwhelmed today. Regardless of the health concerns our current students are facing--alcohol, drugs, stress, bullying, unhealthy eating habits, technology misuse, or something we haven't even thought of yet--it all comes down to using healthy techniques to deal with the issue. After all, if we teach our young kids to recognize healthy coping skills, we won't have to spend so much time trying to protect them from the not-so-healthy methods they encounter later on.
Click on the image (above) to check out Secret Stress Busters of the Stars, for more techniques on teen stress relief!
Public Health Lesson: What Do Soda and Cigarettes Have in Common?
Editor's note: In order to fully tackle our debate feature this month, it's important that students take a look at a similar public health issue from our past: cigarette warning labels. That's why Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith--a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher's Guide each month--created our Surgeon General's Warning handout to help teens research and analyze warning labels from around the world, so they can apply that knowledge to our debate, Should Soda Have a Warning Label?
Do warning labels encourage healthy behaviors, or are they a waste of time? Our debate this month (click the image below to read it!) tackles this controversial idea. It's an interesting topic, and one I have thought about and discussed quite a bit with my students over the years.
FDA warning labels have a long and interesting past in the United States. For years, anti-tobacco groups have advocated for a stronger warning label, rather than the simple "Surgeon General's Warning" placed on the side of American cigarette packs.
Other countries have gone with different approaches, from putting graphic pictures of the side effects on the package to limiting branding by forcing companies to use only white packaging and black text.
In 2011, inspired by the success other countries were having in smoking cessation, the FDA came out with a series of possible photos to add to their mandated warning labels. They released the 27 possible images for the American public to view and vote on. My students and I were excited about the new mandate and thought it was great that they wanted to get the public involved.
I printed up the 27 possible warning label pictures, which ranged from very graphic photos to subtler graphic designs. The kids decided which ones they thought would be the most effective--interestingly enough, there were many different favorites in the class.
After the deadline passed for public voting, my students were eager to hear the results. Which labels would end up on the cigarette packs?
To their palpable disappointment, none of them would.
These labels, like so many other anti-tobacco regulations proposed by the FDA, got held up in court. The powerful and seemingly unscrupulous lawyers from Big Tobacco had found a loophole and got the labels shot down.
My students, seventh graders at the time, were disappointed and confused. How could these lawyers and government officials not want what was best for the health of everyone else? It was an eye-opening moment for them, and it stirred up a sense of frustration leading to a drive for advocacy that I hadn't seen in middle school students before.
The rest of the semester, these students were driven by a passion to "stick it to the bad guy" that I don't think I'll be able to replicate again. However, I have come close by letting subsequent students dig up research on the fight between Big Tobacco and governments around the world.
That's why looking at tobacco labels is a natural extension to the soda warning label debate. Do these warning labels actually work? And if so, what keeps shutting them down?
In the course of this research, my students have found some things that have gotten them really fired up over the years. Here are a few quotes:
- "Big tobacco actually tried to sue the country of Venezuela when they wanted to put warning labels on cigarettes?!"
- "Wait... the Chinese government owns all of the country's cigarette brands? That might explain these tiny little warning labels."
- "Oh dude, gross! Check out what they're doing in Thailand and the UK." (There are some pretty graphic images on the packaging!)
The fight between corporate interest and public health is a constant in our lives, whether it be with Big Tobacco or Big Soda. The sooner we teach our kids to look at this fight with a critical eye, the more likely they are to make choices that are best for their health, whether or not there's a label there to warn them.
To try this activity with your students, download this PDF:
More debates from Choices:
Why You Should Try Text Mapping With Your Class
Editor's note: If they're like us, your teens are eager to dive right into a new magazine the second they get it. However, some research suggests that pre-reading activities can make a huge difference when it comes to student comprehension. Tracy Potash--one of our fantastic teacher advisers and a language arts intervention teacher from Pennington, New Jersey--shares how she used one such pre-reading activity to expand on the Choices story, "The League of Extraordinary Losers."
It might sound crazy, but pre-reading activities are perhaps even more important than the actual reading of an article or document. That's because they're all about considering what you bring to the text as a reader--from your personal experiences to your prior knowledge on the subject matter. Even if you're not a language arts teacher, I think you'll find that this technique can play a pivotal role in your students' understanding of class materials!
Text mapping is one of my favorite pre-reading strategies. The idea is to think of the article like a scroll, where everything can be seen in one visual scan going from left to right. That makes it easier for students focus on the visual topography, the author's thought process, organization of ideas, and the big picture. (For more on the text mapping strategy, try Textmapping.org and this super helpful guide to text mapping.)
- Integration of knowledge and ideas: interpretation of information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively and explain how the information contributes to the understanding of the text
- Comprehension and collaboration: engage effectively in a range of collaborative activities and discussions, building on others' ideas and expressing their own
- Vocabulary acquisition and use: determine or clarify the meaning of unknown words/phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting reference materials
- Language: use words and phrases to convey ideas precisely
- The Choices article, "The League of Extraordinary Losers" (or any other article you want to discuss!)
- Copies of a text mapping color key (Mine is pictured below, and you can get more info about making one here.)
- Colored markers/pencils/pens
- Copies of a non-fiction text features guide (I purchased mine here.)
Step 1: Students watched a short video on nonfiction text features.
Step 3: We discussed the importance of pre-reading, how the visual information (text features) helps to contribute to the meaning of the text, and the advantages of seeing the article in its entirety.
Step 4: I demonstrated how to map a text, and then students were partnered up and given their materials to begin the text mapping process. Students moved around the scrolled articles while discussing, circling, and highlighting all the features according to the key.
Step 5: Scrolls in hand, students reconvened on the carpet and we discussed features that posed some difficulty to identify. We also talked about how visual information presented in a scroll format helped to identify the author's thought process and her organization of the material.
Step 6: I introduced the idea of a visual summary. Students were given the opportunity to use all the text features that they just mapped and choose 10-20 vital words seen during the mapping activity to summarize the visual information. They came up with the following words and phrases:
- Beyonce, Michael Jordan, J.K. Rowling, Lady GaGa, Steven Spielberg
- Famous fails
- Accidental inventions
- Failing up
Step 7: Lastly, we discussed ways to transfer this pre-reading strategy to other classes, as well as using this technique for studying non-fiction texts at home.
Text mapping does require a decent amount of preparation, but it is totally worth all the time and effort you put into it once you see how the sequence of events helps to solidify students' understanding of the topic. Activities that include movement, color, and high interest topics are almost always a hit with the students. And the best part is, this is all in the pre-reading stage! All those connections made and the article itself hasn't even been read yet. Now that's a fabulous technique to increase comprehension, differentiate according to learning styles, collaborate with peers, and encourage focus!
How to Get Your Students to Stop Procrastinating
Editor's note: We're all guilty of procrastinating sometimes, but teens are especially prone to this bad habit. Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith--a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher's Guide each month--has rounded up the resources you need to tackle this topic in class.
My grades were due last week. We use a standards-based reporting system with no percentage grades, so it calls for a much more comprehensive narrative. For each of my 120 students, I must write at least a paragraph detailing their strengths, areas for growth, and next steps for learning. It gives students more to work with than the canned comments of the past, like "He was a pleasure to have in class!" and "Keep up the great work!"
But with more writing comes more margin for error, so our vice principal has us proofread the report cards for the students in our advisory group before they get sent home. Reading through the comments that my colleagues had written about my darling little seventh grade angels, one thing was abundantly clear. These kids were struggling with time management. Big time. The majority of them had comments from at least one teacher about putting things off until the last minute.
Now, this tendency for procrastination is nothing new for middle school students--or human beings in general--but it has certainly taken on a life of its own in the age of the internet. Procrastination can lead to stress, sleep deprivation, poor academic performance, and conflicts at home. It's important that we teach kids how to acknowledge and manage their procrastination habits now, before they're facing much bigger consequences.
Ready to take on procrastination in your class? These activities will help you make your point:
After reading through the report card comments, I approached my fellow seventh grade advisers with a plan. We gathered all of the kids together in one room and showed them this TED Talk.
Not only does Tim Urban do a fantastic job of explaining procrastination, he does so in a way that is relatable, digestible, and downright hilarious. The kids loved this talk, and now characters like the Panic Monster and the Instant Gratification Monkey have become regular parts of our seventh grade lexicon.
In this quick read from Choices, there's a great flow chart that helps students identify what type of procrastinator they are. After, group them according to type and have them brainstorm a list of possible solutions that can help them deal with their specific style of procrastination.
Then, have each group share their ideas with the class and gather additional suggestions to add to the list. Once everyone has presented, they can create posters to hang up in the classroom to help keep everyone on track.
3. CREATE: The Infographic Project
This ready-to-go project was originally designed to help students analyze the influence of technology on personal health. They get to pick their topic, but without fail, the majority of them decide to focus on procrastination.
They'll find facts online about procrastination in the digital age, and identify some solutions for how to keep it in check. Then they use a free online program like Canva to create infographics that you can hang around the school to help the people who need it. (Like... say, everyone?)
Some of the projects are so good though, they never even make it out of the classroom.
"Why is my infographic up there next to your desk, Ms. Smith?"
"Well, believe it or not, Z, we teachers can procrastinate too."
Take Your Students on a Kindness Quest!
Editor's note: We could all use a little warmth and kindness right now. Tracy Potash, a language arts intervention teacher from Pennington, New Jersey, shares her lesson plan to teach her middle school students about the importance of paying it forward.
With social media harassment on the rise in middle school, and the aftermath of an angry election season looming over everyone, I recently realized what my class really needed was some kindness. Inspired by World Kindness Day (which takes place in November, but can be celebrated at any time!), I put together the following Kindness Quest.
Key skills: Vocabulary acquisition and usage; identifying key ideas and author's purpose; collaboration; integration of knowledge and ideas; research to build and present knowledge
Time: 1-2 weeks
Step 1: We revisited the Choices article "Mission Positive" from the October 2015 issue. If you didn't catch it the first time, this piece encourages students to get creative while knocking out cruelty. The task: to rack up as many points as possible by expressing thanks, showing compassion, giving back, acting selflessly and spreading good vibes. It was a perfect addition to our lesson.
Step 2: My students were intrigued to learn even more about kindness, so they researched how kindness can affect the brain. After delving into the topic, they were psyched up and wanted to create a momentum of goodness.
Step 3: We spent a week participating in Kindness Quest activities, such as:
- Students wrote uplifting messages on the bathroom mirrors with erasable markers.
- They wrote messages with sidewalk chalk near all the entrances to our school.
- In the mornings, they greeted administrators, teachers, and students who were entering the building with cheers and high fives.
- They designed Kindness Cards, which were handed out throughout the week to classmates who they saw being caring to others.
Step 4: While the Kindness Quest was ongoing, I sought to keep the students reflecting by having them complete a vocabulary word map on kindness. (See format example below.)
Step 5: Students researched an article about performing acts of kindness and its effect on the brain. After, they summarized the article with a partner by answering the 5Ws & 1H (who, what, where, when, why, how), using the key ideas from the article to complete a written short summary (format example below).
Example: The Short Summary
Read the article, identify the key ideas by answering the 5Ws (who, what, where, when, why) and 1 H (how) in 5 words or less. Then write a summary of the article by including all the information below.
Author's Purpose (include title of the article, author, publication and publication date):
Written Summary - include any direct quotes from the article:
Step 6: After the week of activities, my students debriefed about how it went and discussed plans for future events. Below is a list based on their reflection of the lesson and ideas for looking ahead:
- Kindness recognition increased kind acts in the school
- The school appeared to be uplifted and positivity permeated the halls.
- Continue the momentum throughout the year
- Plan weekly positive, uplifting announcements in the morning to start off the day.
- Design a "Random Acts of Kindness" bulletin board and post pictures of acts of kindness so everyone can be a part of it.
- Branch out the Kindness Quest to beyond the school walls.
- Promote the positivity on social media.
So it appeared that kindness was contagious, planting seeds of goodness that sprouted throughout our school and beyond left an impact on all of us that we will never forget. The serotonin was definitely flowing. Mission Positive was a success!
More Choices Resources for Teaching Kindness and Improving School Climate:
How to Teach Teens About the Importance of Failure
Editor's note: It's hard to accept, but failure might actually be good for you. Choices teacher-advisor Amy Lauren Smith--a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher's Guide each month--explains how she helped her students understand this important lesson.
Failure and grit are buzzwords in education right now, and for good reason. While kids are terrified of failing, it's truly the only way they'll grow. Getting middle school students to accept this fact is especially challenging though, as they'd often rather not try at all than risk looking like they tried too hard.
My school has a pretty robust advisory program, which means that in addition to teaching health, I have a homebase of twelve students who I see three times a week for social and emotional learning. Seventh grade in particular is a year when pressure can really start to mount, so I'm always looking for ways to address failure with them. Luckily, this month's issue of Choices features The League of Extraordinary Losers, a piece about failure that highlights some of the world's most creative and successful people and the failures they experienced on their way to the top. When I shared it with my fellow seventh grade advisors, we agreed it would be a great jumping off point for discussion with our groups.
It's important when doing this type of activity with younger teens to stress that failure isn't just about academics and sports. Social "fails" are also a key part of the adolescent experience, but it can often take years to get over the sting of embarrassment and rejection that can come along with them. That's why it was great for the students to read about people they admired embracing their failures, as it helped them open up about theirs without fear of being judged.
After reading the article, we had the students reflect on a time when they've experienced failure, and what good came out of it. They were given the following prompts, and then if they felt comfortable, they shared as much or as little as they wanted to with the class.
My Big Fail
1. What was your initial goal?
2. What was the 'fail'?
3. How did you take it at the time?
4. What good came out of the experience instead?
5. What was the big take-away? What did you learn from the experience that you would like to share with others?
Once the kids started sharing and realizing how much they had in common, they began opening up more. Some of them were able to laugh at themselves and it brought up one of life's great lessons: the things that feel like a mortifying disaster at the time often end up being a funny story later on. (They especially enjoyed my tale of trying to perform a rap for my seventh grade election speech. Needless to say, someone else was voted vice president that year!)
Touching base after the lesson with my fellow advisors, we all felt that the activity had led to great conversations with their students, and they too had shared examples from their own middle school years. It was a great lesson for the kids about failure, resilience and grit, and a bonding experience for us all as well.
Want to try this lesson in your classroom? Here are the tools you need:
1. Download the Choices FAILURE REFLECTION WORKSHEET to try the REFLECTION ACTIVITY. It'll get your students thinking critically on how to apply the fail up method to a past setback.
2. Forget about resumes of accomplishments--our fascinating Failure Resumes Slideshow highlights even more famous figures and the roadblocks they've encountered throughout their careers.
What Teens Can Teach You About Screen Time
Editor's note: Feeling glued to your smartphone? Choices teacher-advisor Amy Lauren Smith--a 6th to 8th grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher's Guide each month--collected some surprisingly poignant advice from her class.
Last month, I had the pleasure of going to the Hong Kong headquarters of one of my favorite athletic wear brands. The office director (an old friend of mine) had asked me to facilitate a "lunch and learn" workshop on balanced technology use.
This is a company that's well known for its culture of wellness. When I walked in, half of the team was just finishing up a yoga class, and inspirational sayings covered the walls. I was in health teacher heaven.
These are people who really know how to strike a balance. But sure enough, even in this land of mantras and mindfulness, when I asked who felt they might need help cutting back their screen time, all of their hands shot up in the air.
Granted, this was Hong Kong (which has the highest percentage of smartphone users in Asia), but it was an international team. The people in that room represented a wide variety of cultures and age groups. There were locals, expats, and those just passing through on business trips. It just goes to show that we're all struggling to strike a balance, and it's something we need to talk about more.
The day before, I had asked my students for their help. Having just finished their own unit on technology balance, what advice would they like to give adults about managing their screen time? The kids wrote their words of wisdom on four big pieces of chart paper, which I brought with me to the adult workshop. I hung them on the walls, put out markers, and asked the team to do what teachers like to call a "gallery walk"--take a look at what's on the papers, and circle or star anything that resonates with them.
The advice from the kids was thoughtful, touching, and a little bit eye-opening:
- Talk to people face to face.
- Finish your work before coming home.
- No phones during the weekend unless you really have to.
- Be mindful of your surroundings.
- Look up.
- Close all your apps and be with your family instead.
As we took in the words of these 13-year-olds, one thing became abundantly clear. They weren't just writing this advice for random strangers. It was for the adults in their lives--parents, teachers, the people in their community--who were often neglecting the real world for what was happening on their screens.
All of us gained something from the activity, and I plan to do it the next time we have parent/teacher conferences. Today's teenagers are often chided for their screen time, but they aren't the only ones who need to step back and take a break. (In fact, a new report found that parents of teens spend as much time on their devices as their children do.)
Not wanting to return to class empty-handed, I asked my new friends for some advice to take back to my students in return.
Their overwhelming response? Go outside and play.
For a more in-depth look at how screen time is impacting family life, check out The Common Sense Census: Plugged in Parents of Teens and Tweens.