Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Measuring Degrees of Hurtfulness on a Bullying Thermometer

People who know me, know how much I love the school where I work. It is a teacher's version of heaven on earth. My colleagues are caring and dedicated. The students are earnest and hardworking. The halls are brightly decorated and orderly. The classrooms are buzzing with the sounds and sights of meaningful learning.

For the most part, the teachers teach and the students learn from 8:28 until 3:09, Monday to Friday. I recognize my good fortune, and I work very hard to maintain this optimal learning environment for my students. That's why I took swift action when I recently started hearing rumblings of inappropriate social behaviors that were posing a potential threat to the emotional and psychological well-being of my students. The behaviors were relatively minor, name calling on the internet and razzing each other in the hallways, but I know how quickly these things can spiral out of control and wreck havoc in an otherwise peaceful classroom, so I wanted to nip the situation in the bud.

I spent a few days searching for an activity, or some resources, I could use to remind my students that their actions can have hurtful consequences. Eventually, I ended up on a site sponsored by the University of Kentucky. There are several resources at http://www2.ca.uky.edu/4h-files/STC11_Bullying_Program.pdf, but it was their Bullying Thermometer Activity that really caught my attention. Knowing my students, I was confident they would benefit from discussing the different types of bullying behaviors identified in the activity, so I printed out the bullying behavior cards, and I was on my way.

The cards became the basis for a three-day lesson sequence that resulted in the bulletin board pictured above, a few new tentative friendships in my classroom, a bit of meaningful student self-reflection, and some great blog posts from the fledgling bloggers of Room 202.

I used our Closing Meeting time last Friday to start the lesson. We started with Alexis O'Neill's "The Recess Queen", a cute story about the stereotypical schoolyard bully, followed by a class discussion about the inappropriate behaviors that were being brought to my attention. Next, I introduced the Bullying Thermometer activity. We counted off from 1-6 and made random groups of four. Then, I distributed the bullying behavior cards from the website and we discussed what each one meant. Once I was sure the kids knew the vocabulary they needed, I sent the groups off to work on a pretty challenging task.

They had to narrow down the eighteen behaviors on the cards to the five most problematic behaviors for kids their age. Then, each group had to rank the behaviors by degree of hurtfulness. They created the Bullying Thermometers in the photo above to display their ideas.

The task spilled over into our Monday Morning Meeting, and the kids were so sincere and focused during their group work that I had to document the moment.

I hadn't anticipated the overwhelmingly positive response the kids would have to this lesson, so I made a decision "on the fly" to monopolize on their enthusiasm and have them blog about the activity for homework on Monday night. It was immensely rewarding for me when I logged on to read their blogs. With permission, I am reprinting a few snippets from their reflections:

"When I first thought of bullying I thought of being physcial and really hurting people, now that we are doing this project about bullying all my thoughts changed. So far in this project I have learned that bullying is more than hurting each other and more than being physcial. Bullying is making people feel uncomfortable in the place they  were they should feel comfortable. It's also making people feel uncomfortable in their own skin because people make fun of them for their weight, their color and their hair or glasses."

"By doing this project I learned some things about myself. I learned that working in a group helps build up your bonds between you and others. Another thing I learned is that people working in a group don't make choices themselves, but ask the other people what they think they should do. The last thing I learned is that working together and talking with one another will make you want to volunteer more in class because you will be used to talking around others."

"And, I learned that there are many types of bullying like teasing, harassment, isolation, name calling, etc... I not only learned the types of bullying, but also how hurtful they can be. I am glad that I am not a bully."

"From doing our bullying thermometers I found out that I would NEVER want to be a bully, because there are soooo many things a bully can do and I never want to do them. I also realized I was once a bully and now knowing I was one I NEVER want to be a bully again. Bullies are hurtful, mean, and cruel. I never want to be like that. People who are bullies are normally jealous or were once was made fun of and they take their anger out on other people. Why do we do that? Making other people feel our pain. It's just not right! There should be a room or a class that people who are bullies go and talk about why they bully so we can try to make them stop!"

We wrapped up the activity today with a shared writing activity. The groups reconvened and wrote a short essay to explain their rationale for selecting the behaviors they chose, as well as the way they ranked those behaviors. It was an authentic opportunity for them to write argumentatively and defend their position. 

Tomorrow, they will use the following rubric to assess their group participation skills.

This is the first time I am using this rubric with them and I am eager to see the results. I want to see how honest they are with one another, how honest they are with themselves, and how they use the feedback they get to reshape their behavior. 

That's a lot of good stuff jammed into a few instructional hours. Most importantly, it was motivating and relevant for the kids. Secondarily, I can rest assured knowing that we were "covering the Common Core." 

CC.1.5.5.A (CCRS.SL.5.1)

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions on grade level topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.

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