Mindfulness: Simplicity and complexity in one lesson

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When I returned to school after missing the first 8 weeks to take care of my nugget, I spent a lot of time trying to catch up. I’m still catching up. But one thing I couldn’t wait to get back into – visiting classrooms to do lessons! Still, I had to figure out how to start, since my beginning of the year wasn’t the beginning for everyone else (Does that even make sense? Sorry, I’ve got the mom brain).

mindfulness-tools

Anyway, I landed on mindfulness. Why? I am often incorporating mindfulness techniques in my individual sessions with students, and even in some form during classroom lessons. Basically, my students need it! And I decided it was best to teach it more explicitly to 100% of my students.

Here’s what I did:

To keep things simple, I introduced the topic in all K-6 classrooms, and stuck to doing 3 basic mindfulness activities.

  1. Mindful moment – we practiced keeping our bodies still and quiet while we listened to silence. I called it a listening game that began with a chime sound, and challenged them to listen to the chime as long as they could hear it, and then to stay quiet for a while longer to listen to any sounds in the room. They shared what they heard after the game was over, and we discussed if staying still and quiet was hard for any of them, and it was!
  2. Deep breathing – I used my mini sphere ball to help with the inhale/exhale rhythm. I knew this was going to be difficult for some of my students to do without getting silly, so I instructed them to just bring their focus back to the ball and no one else.
  3. Relaxation – in the younger grades, I played relaxing music while they each colored their own mandala however they wished. In most classes, this was the activity that really seemed to bring their energy to a nice, calm state. In the older grades, I played relaxing music while I read a guided imagery exercise about a magic carpet. The students could sit or lay around the room however they were comfortable.

There were of course some variations in what I did depending on the grade level. In K-1, I had the students do belly breathing while laying flat on the floor and watch their hands rise and fall with each deep breath. In K-3, I read the very short story called Take the Time by Maude Roegiers to help us talk about how mindfulness can help themselves feel better.  And in grades 4-6, students completed a stressed vs mindful emotions worksheet, to help us discuss how mindfulness strategies can help them reduce stress and focus on what’s important.

Also in grades 4-6, I asked each student to do an “exit ticket” by writing on a post-it about how mindfulness can help them. This was a way to summarize the lesson, see what they learned (what “stuck” with them), and to use as evidence about why mindfulness is important for our students to learn and practice. I have been blown away by many of their thoughtful responses!

mindfulness post its2.jpg

mindfulness post its3.jpg

While I was a bit worried how the lessons would go; if students or teachers would think it was silly or a waste of time, I have been very impressed so far! Many students have thanked me for the lesson and said they wish they could do these things everyday (which I tell them they can, of course!), and many teachers have enjoyed the calmness of the lesson and asked for more mindfulness resources to continue to use with their students.

If you would like a copy of the lesson plans I created with ASCA standards and the purpose/skills listed, please click on each link below:

Mindfulness grades K-1

Mindfulness grades 2-3

Mindfulness grades 4, 5, 6

If you would like access to free mandalas to print and color, go here: printmandala.com.

These lessons have been so much fun to teach, and leave me with a calm feeling too! Definitely a win-win! Hope you enjoyed reading and find these resources helpful. 🙂

A perfect combination: Mindsets and standardized tests

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Ahh, testing. In education, you can usually count on at least one time of the year when the energy in your school shifts. As School Counselors, I think we are in a unique position to see and feel the shift in our students, staff, administrators, parents, etc.

In my experience, this energy shift usually occurs slightly before, during, and shortly after state testing. And it comes as no surprise. Almost everything changes when testing comes along – schedules, closed doors, seating arrangements, staff assignments, access to materials like laptops, and my personal favorite: voice level expectations – it seems like everyone goes around whispering, even when no longer near a testing environment.

This year, I had a few teachers reach out to me about doing a lesson to address their students’ concerns and anxieties regarding the state tests. I thought about doing simple test taking strategies or stress reduction techniques, but then my previous work with mindset seemed to make the most logical sense. After all, how we think about things greatly impacts our stress level and ability to perform on challenging tasks.

So, I put together a lesson for my 3rd-5th graders to talk about the upcoming testing and mindset. I let the students share their thoughts and feelings about the tests – many admitted to feeling stressed, pressured, nervous, and worried. We then shifted to talking about what they thought mindset is, and the difference between open and closed.

I wrote a couple of statements on the board to help them understand the difference. Under closed mindset, I wrote: “I can’t do this” and “This is too hard.” They told me someone who said those things to themselves wouldn’t learn or do very well on the tests. Under open mindset, I wrote: “This is hard, but I’m going to keep trying” and “I can’t do this…yet.” Comparing the two, students commented on how much better someone who said the last two statements would learn and perform on test.

Closed Mindset Statements

Next came the fun part. We formed a circle and I put a recycling bin in the middle. I gave one student at at time a slip of paper that had a closed mindset statement on it. After reading it out loud, I asked the class how we could change the words to make it open mindset. Once I was satisfied that we really changed the words to change the mindset, I instructed the student holding the slip of paper to crumple it up as tightly as they could and chuck it into the recycling bin. My students had a blast with this activity!

Crumpled Mindset Statements

To wrap up, we watched Rock This Test! The video is adorable and the tune (set to “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz) is super catchy! I asked students to be thinking about what kind of mindset the students in the video have, and I let them share their opinions and reasons why afterward.

I received great feedback from students and teachers alike about this lesson and how they could easily incorporate mindset for not only the state tests, but any challenge they ask of their students!

If you would like to access the mindset statements I used in this lesson, please click here.

I hope this gives you another tool to address testing anxieties in your own schools! And if your school has already completed state testing, I’m sending an online high-five your way! 🙂

 

The not so invisible boy

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When I came across Trudy Ludwig’s book The Invisible Boy, I couldn’t wait to use it with my students. In the overly social environment that is most schools, the quiet kids tend to be overlooked. I know this because I was one of those quiet kids, and now I’m that quiet adult.

brian

I absolutely love the way Brian, the “invisible” boy in the book, is shown through beautiful pictures existing among his classmates, but not really noticed by many. At the same time, the pages showcase Brian’s many talents and positive attitude, regardless of how he is treated. The use of black and white vs. color pictures draws the students in from beginning to end.

I ended up reading this book with grades 2nd-6th, as the messages inside are so varied that all ages enjoyed the story. Particularly, my students had great discussions about why Brian felt invisible and how he helped a new student feel welcome, even when he wasn’t feeling so welcome himself.

When we got to the page that posed the question, “Brian wondered which was worse, being laughed at or feeling invisible,” I polled the class for their thoughts. Their opinions were split pretty equally, in each class.

After we read the book, I prompted the students to use their creativity to write or draw three ways they could help a kid like Brian feel welcome in their classroom. Many of them had some pretty great ideas! These two are from a third grade class:

invisible boy pic1   invisible boy pic2I love it when the book I choose has enough depth that it takes up most of the lesson, while capturing students’ attention cover to cover. This book is one of those!! The topics it covers is vast – diversity in personality, appreciation of differences, celebrating talents, friendship, teasing/bullying, respect, kindness, and much more.

If you haven’t read The Invisible Boy, do yourself a favor and get a copy!

Being MEAN can leave lasting scars

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My third grade classes this year have challenged me to try new interventions – whole class, small group, and individually. They are spirited to say the least, chatty, opinionated, and many of them have difficulty taking direction. As fun as they can be, they also cause their fair share of conflicts. Many of them will cry and tell when someone is mean to them, but won’t own up when they do the same mean thing to someone else.

I want to share one whole class intervention I tried with them a few weeks ago. This is my “keep in my back pocket” lesson that I pull out when nothing else seems to work.

To start, I asked them to raise their hands if they have seen each of the following things happen to them or their classmates:

-Someone give a mean look.

-Someone whisper about you.

-Someone tell a secret about you.

-Someone share a secret of yours and break your trust.

-Someone tell you that you can’t play.

-Someone tell you that you can’t sit next to them.

-Someone call you a mean name.

-Someone make fun of you.

-Someone laugh along when someone is making fun of you.

For each mean thing I read off, there were multiple hands in the air. I heard comments such as, “That happens to me a lot” and “I see others doing that.” After I read all of them, I told my third graders that all of these mean things are things that I see and hear happening in our community and it’s not okay.

Then, I introduced my friend. I hung up a life-size cutout of a person. I told them I was going to show them how hurtful their mean behaviors can be to someone. As I read each mean thing again, starting with “Every time YOU….” I cut off a part of the person and let it fall to the floor.

The first time I cut a piece off, you should have heard their gasps. A few of the boys got very silly about it (their usual), so I gave them my stern “take this seriously or else” speech, and we were good to go for the rest.

Green guy

Once we had only a head and shoulders left, I told them we needed to rebuild my friend with kindness. I asked for ideas of how we could help my friend feel better. For each kind idea they shared, I taped a piece of the person back on. Then, we talked about how the kind acts helped a lot, but the person doesn’t quite look the same as before.

There are scars. Scars from mean words and mean actions. My third graders told me that when someone is mean to you, you remember it, even after they’ve apologized. My friend with scars all over his body showed us how we can feel on the inside when someone is mean to us.

While the meanness hasn’t ceased completely, the visual left its mark on my students.

I hung up my scarred friend in my room for reminders to be nice, because no one likes to feel all cut up.

RAK, bingo, and secret missions

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The week before Christmas vacation, I decided my school needed some help in being a little more kind. And I decided to find a fun way to incorporate random acts of kindness into my guidance lessons that week.

The result was outstanding!

RAK board

I came across a RAK Bingo Board featured on Confessions of a School Counselor. I loved it and decided to make my own. Using a similar format, I created a 4×4 Bingo Board with very simple acts of kindness that students would be able to do over and over again in their classrooms.

Click here for the RAK Bingo Board I made. I made four versions of my bingo board to allow for some variety while playing Bingo in classrooms.

To begin the lesson with my 2nd-5th graders, we had a discussion about what random acts of kindness are, allowed for some examples, and talked about why they matter. Specifically, we talked about RAK’s being anonymous; meaning, being kind isn’t about recognition, it’s about giving to someone else.

Then, we played Bingo. This was an immediate hit because kids love Bingo! As I read each act of kindness, the students were able to hear ideas that they could try themselves. We played until everyone had Bingo at least once on their board. Because the boards are small, this didn’t take long. In some classes, we played until everyone had blackout (their whole board was filled).

brown paper bag

Next came the REALLY fun part! I presented the class with a brown paper bag and asked a student to read the words I had written on it with marker: “Secret Mission Shhh!” We discussed that a secret mission is something you do and don’t tell anybody about it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One by one, each student came to pick their secret mission from the bag. The secret missions were little folded cards that had the acts of kindness from the Bingo boards. All I did was cut up some of my Bingo boards, fold the squares, and pop them into the bag!

Once each student had their secret mission, I told them their challenge was to complete their secret mission before the week was over. To combat a few of the grumblers, I reminded them they would have a lot more fun if they kept a positive attitude! Plus, their secret missions were really easy and didn’t take a lot of time.

This lesson was not only fun, but it created a ripple effect of kindness throughout many classrooms and into the hallways of our school. My favorite part was having several students come up to me after the lesson and say, “I already did my secret mission. Can I have another one?” 🙂

Finally, I know the lesson made an impact because I received an anonymous card thanking me for the lesson. (One of the secret mission RAK’s was to make a card for your favorite teacher.)

The card said “To: A special someone, Merry Christmas. As you can see I hope you have a good Christmas and a happy new year. I really like you and I’m excited for today. I was happy that the class got to see you and I really liked the game and getting to pick the cards. All my love.

How kind is that? 🙂

Mindsets, mindsets everywhere

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Since I spent most of my summer changing my own mindset after a rather trying school year, I decided I really needed to teach mindset to my students.

Here’s why: Teachers can teach, support staff can support, but a student’s mindset really controls what is learned and how successful each student becomes.

I came across a wonderful mindset lesson from Barbara’s blog, The Corner on Character. Barbara was kind enough to encourage me while I planned my own lessons, as I found myself having a closed mindset along the way (I’ll explain this later).

Well, I’ve completed almost all of them in grades 1-5, and I’m happy with how each turned out!

Here’s how my lessons went….

I introduced the word mindset and allowed students to guess what it meant. I got some great answers: “when your mind is set on something” and “how your mind thinks about things.”

Then, I told them about closed vs open mindset. Students paired up and were given a minute to discuss the difference. Again, I got some great answers: “open is when you’re thinking about things, closed is when you’re not” and “open is when you want to talk about something, closed is when you aren’t willing to talk about things.” 

I gave a few examples of what someone with a closed mindset would say: “This math is too hard,” “I can’t do this,” “I’m not going to try,” “I can’t make any friends,” and “No one here helps me.” I asked them how well someone with that kind of mindset would learn; they said not very well at all!

I gave a few examples of what someone with an open mindset would say: “This math is hard, but I’m going to keep trying,” “I can do this,” and “I don’t have any friends….yet.” Students told me someone with this kind of mindset would learn much better. We also discussed the power of yet – adding yet onto the end of a sentence can make all the difference!

We practiced the sign for each mindset:

(closed on the left, open on the right with fingers wiggling)

Hand fist     Hand open

Finally, we read this book to discuss the mindset of each character and how the mindset of little Vashti changed over the course of the story:

the dot

 

I was quite impressed with my students as they were able to show me, using the hand signals, when mindsets changed and why, as well as how Vashti was able to pass on the idea of an open mindset to a younger friend.

As mentioned above, I found myself having a closed mindset as I planned my lessons. The reason for this was I felt the idea of mindset, while important, might be over the heads of my younger students in grades 1 and 2. I had a vision of young faces staring up at me blankly, completely uninterested or unable to grasp the concept. With some support from Barbara and others in the Elementary Counselor Exchange group on FB, my mindset became open and my lessons were delivered with ease. My students not only got the concept, but they remember it. AND, some of my teachers are continuing to use the concept already! Perfect-o!

I will say that I chose to use open vs closed instead of growth vs fixed mindset, to help with understanding the concept. It worked!

I’ll end with this little story from one of my 4th grade classes: In the middle of my mindset lesson, a boy was attempting to untie his knotted shoelaces and retie them. As he did this, he was talking out loud, which disrupted others, but I let it go. After a while, another boy offered to do it for him, to which the boy replied, “No! I think I can do this myself!” I started applauding him and told him he had just modeled for everyone how to have an open mindset. He was beaming with pride!

Now that I’ve taught mindset, I find opportunities to reference it all the time with students. Examples of mindset are everywhere! Mindset is a powerful thing! 🙂

Career Unit K-5

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I have a confession. Here it is: I don’t like doing career lessons. I know, I know, career lessons are important! Because I know this, I made it a goal of mine to expand and improve upon my lessons in this area. As it turns out, I actually had a lot of fun doing them this year!

This post is all about the lessons I did in each grade K-5. Some of the ideas are borrowed, others I made myself. Please feel free to borrow any ideas/materials you’d like to use for your own lessons!

Kindergarten & First Grade

For the young ones, I started the career unit with a borrowed lesson from the Elementary School Counseling blog. We discussed what a job and a career is, and then we looked at the Whose Vehicle Is This? posters. Students guessed which career the vehicle would be used for, and we talked about why each career is important in our community.

Here’s an example of one vehicle:

ambulance

Next, each student was given a vehicle page and was instructed to draw a person who does that job on the back. We shared with the class when finished. This is a good time to discuss with students that jobs are not gender specific – we see this when we look at each student’s picture. Here are a few examples of student work:

A garbage person

A garbage collector

A farmer

A farmer

An ice cream truck driver

An ice cream truck driver

Second Grade

For second graders, I borrowed a “career toolbox” lesson from Lisa, a counselor who posted it in the Elementary School Counselor Exchange Facebook Group. I collected various items and put them all in a box with a cover. For the lesson, I called students up one at a time to reach their hand in and pull out an item. Once they saw what the item was, they guessed what career(s) the item might be used for. The rest of the class also shared their ideas.

Examples of items I put in the box: a ruler, pencil, flashlight, compass, map, dog leash, manicure set, book, screw driver, rubber glove, floss, cell phone, walkie talkie, etc.

The students had a lot of fun with this activity! It was engaging because they wanted to see what item would come out next! It also covered a lot of different careers quickly.

As a follow up, we read “When I Grow Up” by Al Yankovic (always a favorite for kids) and students shared various jobs they’re interested in having.

When I grow up book

Goal-Setting Lesson (K-2)

To expand on the career lessons, I presented a goal-setting lesson and discussed how setting goals for yourself is a part of having a job or career. I was pleasantly surprised that in all classrooms, students were able to understand that there are two kinds of goals – the kind you score on a sports field, and the kind you set for yourself because you want to get better at something. We discussed that part of goal-setting is making a plan to meet your goal and thinking about people who could help you get there.

I created goal-setting posters and laminated them. Some of the posters showed an example of a goal and asked what that person could do to meet his/her goal. Other posters asked students to identify a goal for themselves that related to school, home, friendships, recess, etc.

In K & 1st, I laid several posters on the floor and had each student pick one they wanted to talk about by giving it a good swat with their hand (this got out some energy!). In 2nd grade, the students did a ‘long jump’ and whichever poster they landed on was the one they talked about. The students liked this, although it was a bit slippery because the posters were laminated…so some simply stepped on the poster they wanted to choose.

I was impressed that the majority of students were able to come up with appropriate answers for how someone could meet their goal!

Here’s a link to the posters I created: Goal-Setting Scenarios.

Third Grade

I employed the use of my career dolls that I’ve used in years past.

Career dolls

Career dolls

The activity that third graders completed was in groups. I put students in small groups and had one person from each choose a career doll from a bag without looking. Once they had their career doll, I gave them a notecard that listed the career (to avoid any confusion), and a worksheet.

The worksheet had the following questions:

  • What are the strengths of a person in this career?
  • Why is this career important in our community?
  • Is anyone in your group interested in this career? Why or why not?

After the groups finished, we came back together to share about each career. In one class, a group had the teacher doll – they shared that no one in their group wanted to be a teacher because “it’s too much work” and “kids are too loud.” 😉

Fourth Grade

Fourth grade lessons were all about multiple intelligences! I truly believe that all kids are smart and so many of them don’t believe they are because they’re not smart in the traditional reading/writing/arithematic way. I wasn’t surprised that when I opened the lesson by asking how do you know how smart you are, many students answered with “scores on a test” or “how easy the work is for you to do.” When I said there are 8 different ways to be smart, I got some crazy looks!

I had each student complete this Learning Styles Survey:

Multiple Intelligences Quiz

On the back of each survey was a visual of the 8 intelligence areas:

Multiple Intelligences Cartoon strip

After completing the survey and tallying their scores, students were grouped based on their highest intelligence area. Many had a tie for highest, so I had them choose the one they felt was most like them or the one they were most interested in. I reminded them that this is just a short survey and does not tell them everything about how smart they are.

In groups, students were given a poster of their kind of smarts to help them answer questions. I used these wonderful You’re a Smart Kid posters for free!

You're a smart kid poster pic

Each group worked together to answer questions and then each group shared with the class. Here are few examples of their work:

MI1

MI2

Check out the first career this group listed :)

Check out the first career this group listed 🙂

MI4

Fifth Grade

I spent a lot of time searching for a paper and pencil survey or quiz that my fifth graders could take to open their eyes to possible career opportunities. I know there are many online surveys, but I didn’t want to rely on technology. 😉

Each student completed a four-page Interest Survey that, when scored, brought them to career clusters they may be interested in pursuing. I was impressed with my 5th graders because they took their time answering each section to really narrow down their interest areas. Because they took their time, we didn’t have enough left over to do the group work portion of the lesson, but that’s okay….you gotta be flexible, right?

After the students had self scored their surveys, I had as many as time would allow share their top career cluster and answer a few questions about it:

  • What kinds of careers fall under this cluster?
  • What are the strengths of a person in this career?
  • What will you have to do in order to have this career? (College? Special training? Improve a specific skill?)

After sharing, we briefly discussed that as they continue their education into middle school, knowing their interests is important because they can expand their knowledge and skills by taking certain classes or joining certain clubs/groups. My 5th graders, at this point in the year, are ready for this kind of conversation. I was pleased that so many of them already had a career they were interested in and it came through in their surveys! 🙂

And, finally…

Whenever I do a unit like this, especially for the first time, I like to share it! Hey, we have to promote all the good stuff we do, right? So, I pieced together the career unit into a one-page newsletter for parents. Here’s the link if you’d like to check it out: May Newsletter 2014

Phew….the career unit was a lot of work to create and plan for, but it was worth it! 🙂