OCM BOCES-Responsive Classroom® Blog: Trauma in the Souls of our Classrooms: Deeper Learning – Part 2 of 3

Last month I started a 3 part series on childhood adversities. This blog series was inspired by an individual study that I did as part of my professional development for my Responsive Classroom Certification.

The main resource we used for the study was one that I would highly recommend, Paul Tough’s book Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why (2016). You can visit Tough’s website and either buy the book or download it for free! It would make for a great professional book talk book for whole faculties to share with one another. I made so many connections with Tough’s book with the work I have done with Ruby Payne and Eric Jenson and their work on Poverty. Tough starts his book answering the question why poor children struggle in school and what to do to best respond to children who live in stress.

In the Responsive Classroom we have a Guiding Principle that says Teaching Social-Emotional Skills is as important as teaching Academic Skills. Tough would agree, “non-cognitive qualities like grit, curiosity, self-control, optimism, and conscientiousness are often described, with some accuracy, as skills, educators eager to develop these qualities in their students quite naturally tend to treat them like the skills that we already know how to teach: reading, calculating, analysis, and so on.” (Tough, p. 15) Much of what Tough says that teachers need to do in the classroom aligns not only the with the practices of Responsive Classroom but also the other work I do in Project-Based Learning. Shifting away from a behaviorist approach to education, what he calls “getting past stickers and pizza parties” and moving to intrinsic motivation that both Responsive Classroom and Project-Based Learning embrace. It establishes a positive classroom culture with autonomy, competence, relatedness, self-directness and a growth mindset. A combination of all these classroom practices switch off the “fight or flight” triggers in the brain, Tough says.

I was particularly drawn to chapter 12 on “Deeper Learning”, due to the work I do. Tough looks at the demands of the 21st Century labor-force, “When most of our current pedagogical practices were developed more than a century ago, the essential economic purpose of public schools was to produce industrial workers who were fast and reliable when assigned repetitive mechanical or clerical tasks. In this century, deeper-learning proponents argue, the job market requires a very different set of skills, on that our current educational system is not configured to help students develop: the ability to work in teams, to present ideas to a group, to write effectively, to think deeply and analytically about problems, to take information and techniques learned in one context and adapt them to a new and unfamiliar problem or situation. In order to develop those skills, advocates say, students need opportunities to practice them in school. And right now, in most schools, they don’t get those opportunities.” (Tough, pp. 121-122). Tough says that these deeper learning opportunities are seen more in affluent schools where as “high-poverty schools are given the kind of rule-following tasks that mirror much of factory and other working-class work.” (Tough, p. 123)

Bob Lenz, co-founder of the Envision Schools and author of Transforming Schools (2015) advocates for deeper-learning school environments where Project-Based learning is more readily available to students of poverty. Tough’s research agrees with Lenz, “There is a growing body of empirical evidence that suggests that Lenz is right: deeper-learning methods, when employed well, do actually produce measurable benefits for students in poverty.” (Tough, pp. 124-125)  Visit Paul Tough’s Website

Scholastic has a great resource for teachers written by Dr. Bruce Perry Principles for Working with Traumatized Children. In this article Perry provides guidelines to support the child of trauma:

  • Don’t be afraid to talk about the traumatic event
  • Provide a consistent and predictable pattern of the day
  • Be nurturing and comforting
  • Discuss expectations
  • Talk with the child
  • Watch for signs re-enactment, avoidance, and physiological hyper-reactivity
  • Protect the child
  • Allow for Choice”

Click Here for Perry’s deeper explanation of these guidelines

In the Responsive Classroom, teachers are encouraged to know their students deeply and observe them as part of the job as a teachers. By using Responsive Classroom practices such as interactive modeling, role-play, democratic rule creation, guided discovery, reinforcing, reminding and redirecting teacher language, morning meeting, closing circles, energizers, quiet time and academic choice a teacher can providing that consistent and predictable patterns of the day which Perry asserts are so important for that child of stress and/or trauma.

Read Part 1 of this blog series here
Stay tuned next month for Part 3 of 3 on Childhood Adversities.

Patrick Shaw @pshaw63
OCM BOCES – Staff Development Specialist
Certified Responsive Classroom® Trainer by the Center for Responsive Schools (Developers of the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching and learning)

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