Journaling is a common way to encourage young learners to express themselves while also supporting the academic skills of reading and writing. As a reflective tool, journaling is popular among therapists as the therapeutic benefits of journaling are well-established. It’s not surprising that journaling can also be an effective way to help children enhance self-awareness, one of the 5 core competencies of social emotional learning as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).
What is self-awareness?
Self-awareness is the ability to assess one’s own strengths and limitations. It includes identifying and understanding the different aspects of oneself, such as emotions, traits, behaviors, and achievements. Self-awareness is important for children because it sets the stage for greater academic and social success. Children who have a better understanding of themselves tend to make better choices to help them be successful in and out of school.
To attain increased self-awareness, it is necessary to focus attention on oneself. While we are born with a rudimentary sense of self-awareness that continues to develop as we mature, it is a competency that children can improve even more through purposeful reflection and introspection. Journaling, specifically guided journaling, is an effective strategy for this.
What is guided journaling?
Guided journaling involves providing meaningful writing prompts to which the child responds. The prompts give the child a specific starting point that guides them to a particular place and help the child explore their feelings. In some instances the prompts necessitate a full page response, while other prompts may require just a few words.
The goal is to provide young learners a unique opportunity to reflect about themselves and their experiences in order to achieve gains in self-awareness. While the same information can be shared verbally, the physical act of writing deepens the reflection and enhances the learning. The addition of prompts helps guide the student to look inward to examine and understand the many aspects of themselves.
When should guided journaling be used?
The starting point for social emotional growth is an understanding of self. That requires looking inward. Students are not often asked to proactively look inward in a meaningful, consistent way. They are more likely to be asked to examine their emotions and identify their personal qualities and achievements in response to a problem. Integrating guided journaling into the curriculum as a weekly practice can help support the social emotional development that every child needs.
A good place to start are prompts that ask students to recognize personal qualities. I typically ask students to journal about their hobbies or subjects they enjoy at school. I sometimes ask them to describe an achievement and how they feel about it.
After spending time reflecting and responding to these types of prompts, students are likely to discover that they have many positive qualities, including qualities they may not have given much thought to in the past. Examples of comments from students after this type of journaling experience include, “I’ve done a lot!” and “I’m not boring!”
To a child, this process is empowering.
Other journaling prompt ideas that support self-awareness include:
Prompts that identify personal qualities or achievements, e.g. Describe a situation when you helped a peer at school.
Prompts that help students identify and respond to emotions, e.g. What are some things that make you sad?
Prompts that help students set goals, e.g. What are some goals that you have at school?
As a result of the simple yet powerful practice of guided journaling, students will realize gains in confidence which is a sign of increased self-awareness. When guided journaling for self-awareness is practiced regularly, the social emotional learning gains are more likely to be lasting.
We want our kids to reach for the stars, dream big, think for themselves and grow up with a life and career that they happily built. But how when the winding path to achieve such goals involves so many variables and, sometimes, challenges that may be out of our control? Well, there is a way, and the path is actually straight forward. I’ve walked it myself with the many students I’ve had the honor of teaching. It’s a ticket that our children can take anywhere and it opens all doors no matter the variables. It’s Reading to be a Critical Thinker.
In education, all roads converge with Reading. Reading is key to becoming a Critical Thinker. And Critical Thinkers reach whatever stars they set their eyes on. Simple Reading strategies to obtain Critical Thinking Skills are easy and exciting.
The technical definition of Critical Thinking is to utilize data, decipher fact from fiction, gather information to synthesize, reflect and find resolution. Because our kiddos are not quite ready to knock out a dissertation, it’s easy to swat the entire concept away. After all, we want them to enjoy reading. Not to fret. The real-world, enjoyable, application of Critical Thinking that I teach is much smoother: Emphasize conversation not curriculum.
Two simple strategies reap indispensable rewards:
Set a comfortable reading routine; 20-30 minutes daily and if the child wants to read longer, then great. However, never allow reading to be a chore or punishment.
Check in with your child by asking about what they read; a 5-10 minute conversation twice a week can accomplish this and when you can do more, then great.
Yet, there isn’t always time to read every word your child read. So how will you know what to ask? Simply ask anchor questions like the examples below and keep the conversation lighthearted. When a child has this consistent interaction, they naturally find deeper meaning as they connect to the story and build a greater awareness of the world around them.
Ask about any fiction book:
Before you read, glance at the pictures. Can you predict what the story will be about?
Have you had a similar experience to that of the characters?
Did you read about an idea or situation that surprised you?
Where did the story take place and how did it eﬀect the problem in the story?
Can you tell me in your own words what you read about today?
Describe a character’s personality? Do you agree with their actions? Why?
Ask about any nonfiction book:
Before you read, take a brief glance at the pages. Can you predict what the text will be about?
What is the main purpose the author wants to share? How do you know?
Did pictures, maps, graphs or visuals help you better understand the information?
Did a person share information about the subject? What did they say?
Did you learn a new fact?
Do you think combining the diﬀerent pieces of information is helpful?
Playing an active role in a child’s reading is nothing less than exceptional. Encourage them and you will engage them. Have fun involving your child in book selections, yet also expand their palette by seeking a variety of fiction and nonfiction. Soon, it will be second nature for your extraordinary child to read beyond the page. Critical Thinkers are lifelong learners, reflective, more responsible, innovators and their opportunities are plenty. They pave their own road ahead and won’t just reach for the stars, they will probably find and name a few new ones. So begin sharing the joy of reading today.
The Story Behind Education’s Recovery After the Pandemic
Is everyone really ready for all of the faces hiding behind the computers to return to the brick-and-mortar classroom?
Jose’s alarm rang. He rolled over and turned off the alarm on his cell phone. He was used to his new routine of rolling out of bed and opening his computer, as he sat up in bed. Who needed breakfast?
He rubbed his eyes as his day got started and he stared at 16 other black boxes with letters inside of them. It was the usual math lesson with his teacher doing most of the talking as she flipped through her Nearpod slides. Jose toyed with the idea: Do I stay in this class or roll over and drift back off to sleep?
Then his teacher shared that all students would need to return back to school next week. All Jose could think was: What? Am I ready?
The landscape of public education has undergone a seismic shift, as school systems scrambled to reinvent public education after Maryland schools closed on March 16, 2020. Some systems provided their first wave of support via paper copies that were shipped or picked up by families for about two months. No one believed that it would last beyond two months, and then it did.
The second wave lasted for the remainder of the school year and into the summer with the central office curriculum teams working around the clock to create online resources for students who were attending four synchronous instructional blocks with one asynchronous day, with four classes each day. Every Sunday, these curriculum resources were delivered (from the central office team) to teachers so that they could provide instruction as they figured out how to master their Google classrooms or Canvas online instructional platform.
The third wave lasted from the beginning of the school year, in September 2020 and lasted through March 2021. Many Maryland teachers struggled to develop daily lessons using all of the technology tools that were needed to make their lessons come alive for students. Tools like Nearpod, Pear Deck, Zoom, Screencastify, and Kahoot. Regardless, many teachers watched so many students become disengaged in instruction and there were so many phone calls home. Eventually, some parents stopped taking their calls.
When schools began to open again in March 2021, we moved students back into schools in phases with some grade levels beginning first: elementary school students and students in Special Education programs first and secondary students later. Even when students began to come back, schools had to figure out how to balance their classrooms to comply with social distancing guidelines and maintain buses at 50% capacity. It all worked out because over 60% of the students were kept home by their parents and continued to attend virtual school.
Over a year and a half later, the next leg of the journey will be all about how parents and schools will be able to navigate the learning journey to make sure that students can be accelerated towards grade level expectations in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, and other curricular areas. Many districts are exploring various intervention programs. However, they are also exploring something new: expanding tutoring support for students to individualize instruction to get back on track.
Some of the recent research by Brown University emphasizes the benefits of establishing effective tutoring supports for students, emphasizing the importance of small groups (3-4 students), frequency (at least three times a week), focus (aligned to the grade level curriculum resources), and scheduling (tutoring during the day has been found to be more effective). Time will tell as school leaders, teachers, parents, and students figure out how to navigate the shifting world of teaching and learning, as more people are vaccinated and the learning space shifts back to a normal brick and mortar setting. Who knew that schooling could be reinvented after doing school, basically the same, for over 200 years!
Early Childhood Education is a vital foundation for children of tender age. Not only are they introduced to various experiences, but they are also taught how to form and maintain positive social relationships, a sense of belonging, and developing specific skills to reach their full potential.
We see regular acts of racism, sexism, and prejudice being displayed among people of all ages in society. The need for greater diversity, inclusion, and equity is becoming more evident, from videos we see on social media to news headlines.
Raising a tolerant, accepting, fair and empathetic child should start from an early age. Incorporating equity and inclusion into the early childhood curriculum is one of the best ways to do this.
Equity is simply displaying the quality of being fair and impartial. On the other hand, inclusion is incorporating people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other minority groups.
Educators incorporating equity and inclusion in the classroom will help them to combat prejudice and racial discord by supporting positive behaviors among students, fostering a sense of belonging for all students and their families, and teaching respect for everyone.
How Do Children Benefit from Incorporating Inclusion and Equity in Early Childhood Curriculum?
The benefits of inclusion and equity are numerous for all children. Schools including these vital lessons into their curriculum can help children to reach their developmental potential. We have compiled a list of some of the many benefits of successfully incorporating inclusion and equity.
Improved problem-solving skills
Develop positive self-image
Respect for others
Being accepting of differences
Being more understanding
May reduce bullying
Being able to recognize unfair and discriminatory scenarios
How Can your School Incorporate Inclusion and Equity in Early Childhood Curriculums?
It is no secret that children are more comfortable, grounded, and able to learn more when their school, classmates, and instructors respect their diversity.
Strategies that schools can use to successfully incorporate and promote inclusion and equity in early childhood curriculums include:
Use a multi-tiered system of support
Using this strategy involves Collaborating with early childhood special educators and other allied education and health professionals when needed. Facilitate each professional establishing a relationship with each child to maximize potential.
Provide high-quality early childhood learning resources that demonstrate a commitment to equitable outcomes for all children.
Schools can arrange budgets within their means to equitably meet the needs of children and staff. Recognize that high-quality programs will positively reflect the values, beliefs, and practices of specific children, families, and communities.
Develop opportunities for multiple voices with different perspectives to participate in decision-making.
Recognize that unspoken biases have often resulted in limited opportunities for members of marginalized groups.
Prepare current and prospective early childhood educators to provide equitable learning opportunities to all children.
Schools can ensure that educators understand the historical and systemic issues that have created structural inequities in society, including in early childhood education.
Involve children, families, and the community in the design and implementation of learning activities.
Involving children, families, and the community in learning activities will help children to embrace the idea of inclusion and equity. This will also help to build a sense of belonging with those involved.
Introducing and incorporating equity and inclusion into early childhood curriculums will benefit children and the instructors, family, and the wider community. This strategy will also help build a better future where people will practice more accepting and respectful lifestyles.
When it comes to STEM and literacy, one can’t exist without the other. STEM teachers emphasize the Engineering Design Process and computational thinking, as well as technology tools. But the work of engineers and scientists goes much further than the traditional STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math. They are also communicators, collaborators, writers, readers, and global citizens.
“The work of engineers also involves collaboration, communication, global citizenship, and literacy skills.” – Jorge Valenzuela, education coach and author.
STEM initiatives abound, from the Department of Education to the National Science Foundation. And for good reason; recent studies show a correlation between early STEM experiences and success in school in later grades . Also, exposure to STEM relates to more students pursuing careers in STEM fields (an important factor in global competitiveness). Probably most importantly, STEM comes naturally to most children. Experimentation, problem-solving, and creativity are traits we see when we watch kids at play.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) indicate for K-5 students, there should be a 50-50 balance between nonfiction information texts and fiction. STEM and English Language Arts teachers can communicate and collaborate so that the standards are implemented across the curriculum. Interdisciplinary units can be developed and co-taught so that skills are reinforced in multiple ways.
Fiction + STEM
Work with your English Language Arts teacher or school librarian to find a high-interest novel that connects to your content. You can also find recommendations on the School Library Journal Website. Here are a few ideas:
In 1994, my 6-year-old son Nicholas failed first grade. Testing revealed he could read ten words, showed no strengths, and had a low IQ. The prognosis was dire, his future bleak. Finally, the diagnostician called him: “The worst child I’ve seen in twenty years of teaching.”
I had the option to remove my son from school for six short months. Teaching him myself, I began by using a recommended standardized set of books, titled Success for All. Their focus was on decoding of isolated words. They too, were an abject failure. Nicholas appeared to have no memory for letters, sounds, or words.
It was at this point, I was given some unforgettable advice from my mother-in-law: “Lois,” she said, “make learning fun.” Now I have no books and a son to teach. I felt totally responsible for his learning. Having a blank slate forced me to examine my son’s learning. What can he do? Does he have strengths? I recalled some previous successful learning activities. He can see patterns and he can rhyme words.
Poetry. Write a poem. But I don’t write. I, too, am dyslexic. Despite this being an enormous challenge for me, I felt pushed – no, driven to try something—anything.
Putting rhyming words together into a simple poem was easier than I imagined. The act of writing a poem transformed our little classroom, as I read the poem to him. Nicholas laughed. We found more rhyming words, illustrated the poem, and finally, he recited the poems from memory to his family.
Every day, I had a new poem waiting for Nicholas. He blossomed. Instead of panicking about learning, he recalled the words in the poems. Poetry provided a cocoon for letters and sounds. Illustrating the poems engaged us in multi-sensory activities and in reciting and performing words as we searched for deeper meanings.
But it was the poem to learn the oo sounds as in book, look, and cook which metamorphosed our learning. Instead of talking about cooking, I wrote about Captain James Cook, one of the last great explorers. Through poetry, we explored the changing map of the world to which Cook contributed greatly.
“Who came before Captain Cook?”
“Who came before Christopher Columbus?”
His questions stumped me. I could not answer many of them and I thought these were not the questions that come from a child with a “low IQ.” Using my son’s learning, I became a literacy specialist, teaching children who failed to learn to read in normal settings. I developed the knowledge and skills to turn around children’s lives.
What can parents do?
Turn fictional texts (books or short stories) into plays or dramas. Why? The child is connecting the text with actions. Book language varies from oral language. By re-writing the story, the child is now the “author” and can change the words in the text to use their words.
Read and recite poems. Poetry is the foundation for phonemic awareness. (Phonemic awareness is the ability to play with letters and sounds.) Building on rhyming poetry, the parent enables the student to hear the rhyming words and sounds.
Sing and enjoy songs, rhymes, & limericks. Use the beat and the words to engage the child with words and actions.
Show language as “dynamic.” Find, read, and tell jokes and riddles. Jokes and riddles often depend upon wordplay. Many students with learning disabilities see the world “concretely.” They struggle with the abstract nature of language. Enjoy the language and wordplay and teach children how to “look” for additional meanings.
Use audiobooks! Audiobooks or reading to a child is the most powerful way to engage the child in literature.
Above all, enjoy learning. Make it a game. Find time to enjoy learning together. When children “fall in love” with books and learning, it becomes an activity they want to do. That’s when learning happens.
All children like to read things they can relate to or that make them feel good. And the best children’s stories I “read” were those on the laps of my parents.
In order to write books for children of a different mold than our own, we need to know them. I grew up in a homogeneous environment. When my junior high social studies teacher inadvertently opened my eyes to the fact that youth around the world had many things in common, my interest was sparked.
My first goal achieved was learning the importance of communication. Not only in English, but in Spanish. I lived and studied in Spain, where I achieved fluency. It has served me well!
I taught Spanish and used Spanish language children’s books as motivators for my students.
I worked for the employment/unemployment office in Iowa’s capital. We had many Latino clients. I did much translating and interpreting to help communicate a concept difficult for many people in their native language.
Aside from this, I had many stories in my memory that I wanted to share with children and those reading to them. That is where my dream launched.
I wrote my first picture book, Mommy and Mikel Go for a Walk. It was a memory from the mid-1980s with my son Mikel. After writing it in English, I decided to tell it in Spanish, too. Working with many Latinos in the USA has taught me that Spanish in Spain is not the same as Spanish in the rest of the world. I was glad to know alternative words to use that would be more neutral help me communicate better.
I learned that not only native language readers liked each language, but learners of the other language.
My second book, Surprise in Auntie’s Garden! made me pause. I am blonde, as is most of my family. Many young people would not relate to blonde people in every book. I decided to use different race and ethnic characters in each book to include other young readers and parents. This time I used Latinas as the characters. My messages are universal, so this merely allowed different readers to see themselves in my books.
My first three books were published in pairs. One in English and the other in Spanish. I had requests to try publishing the stories as bilingual stories to include both languages in one book. I did this with Do It Again! and Lexi’s Special Tooth Fairy Pillow. The reception was wonderful.
During this time of writing, I also began working with Royal Promise, a mission that works with underprivileged children in Anun-Asikuma, Ghana, West Africa. This opened the door even wider. My new friends and the students loved my stories because they knew me and were eager for new literature. I feel very connected to them and feel the need to assist with their literacy opportunities.
It is important to include many aspects of childhood in the characters as well as the stories. Literacy is important to all people and gives them the confidence and initiative to seek and achieve new and unforeseen goals in life. Invest in our future and include everyone, at home and abroad.
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