Teaching in a Time
Marieke van Woerkom
over a year now, we've been hearing alarming reports about the economy. People
have lost their jobs, homes have been foreclosed on, and many families have had
to cut back in one way or another. Few communities have gone unscathed and inevitably
the kids in your classroom are aware of the crisis in one way or another. Even
if the situation hasn't been discussed with them directly, they know something
is up, especially if their parents or caregivers have been hit financially or
are worried about their future. Though they may be too young to grasp the details,
elementary and middle school students sense what is happening and their concerns
may show up in their behavior or mood.
kids need most in situations like these is to talk. Through class meetings you
can provide a safe environment where students can share feelings and thoughts,
clarify information, and receive support. If you have spent time building community
with your class and establishing supportive group norms, much of the groundwork
for dealing with sensitive issues such as these is already in place. In addition
you may want to consider the following tips, pointers and thoughts about how to
deal with crises or other sensitive information in your classroom:
ignore issues. They
are present whether you talk about them or not and are likely to come out in one
way or another. If you, the adult, provide a supportive environment in which to
address challenging and sensitive issues constructively, they can become powerful
teachable moments. If you don't, these very same issues can become disruptive
and divisive in similarly powerful ways.
present and available. During
any crisis, students need to know that the adults in their lives are present and
are available and ready to provide support when needed.
student feelings and thoughts. When
students are worried or upset, it is helpful for them to know that they are not
alone. Feeling a sense of connection and support is more reassuring than a detailed
explanation of what happened. Consider providing a space where all students have
the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings about the issue in question.
You might do this through a "peace circle": pass an object (a talking
piece) around the circle. Whoever is holding the object can either talk about
what they are thinking or feeling about the issue, or pass. Students who pass
will have another opportunity to speak when the talking piece comes around again.
You can keep the talking piece going around for as long as it seems constructive
and useful, or for as long as the time allows. Peace circles structure a conversation
and ultimately allow the group to moderate itself.
a peace circles to work well, you need a good opening question and supportive
group norms--for instance, speaking for oneself, confidentiality and no put downs.
Also make sure that students use the time wisely. You may want to introduce a
time limit for each person to speak, or perhaps just ask students to be mindful
of their speaking time. Peace circles are useful in times of crisis, but can be
introduced to encourage sharing throughout the year, allowing students to build
the kind of community and trust that will allow them to deal more constructively
with difficult situations, when they arise.
Acknowledge student feelings and thoughts. It is important, especially in difficult
times, for students to know they are being heard without judgment. Listening,
paraphrasing, and acknowledging students' feelings and thoughts allows students
to process their feelings and possibly move beyond some of their worries so that
they can begin to explore the issue and generate questions that might further
student feelings and thoughts. Let
students know they are not alone in feeling confused, upset or angry. Many people
feel this way in times of crisis. It is not at all unusual and talking about it
will help kids understand that they are not alone.
in with students. Some students will reach out themselves when they
are struggling. Others need to be encouraged. Look for kids who are acting out
of the ordinary, because even if they are not reaching out verbally, there may
be behavioral telltales that they are struggling.
times of uncertainty and crisis, it is especially important to structure how information
is shared (whether through peace circles, pair shares, triads, microlabs and/or
fishbowls) and to re-emphasize community norms. These structures and norms can
provide some comfort and reassurance for kids to hold on to when their community
is shaken. This is especially true if these structures have been used before and
will continue to be used regularly.
students to generate questions. Generate lots of questions, open-ended
questions, questions from different perspectives. (For more on how to generate
good questions, see Alan Shapiro's Thinking
is Questioning on www.teachablemoment.org.) The world is a complex place and
the tools we use to engage it should embrace that complexity, rather than ignore
it. It's easy to resort to black-and-white thinking, assuming that things are
either good or bad. But this thinking promotes polarization and pits people against
each other. Instead, try to promote thinking that recognizes not only shades of
gray but the spectacular colors that bring the real world into view, accepting
and respecting a multitude of varied thoughts and opinions.
open-ended questions that do not assume answers, especially not "the one
right answer," cultivates critical thinking and encourages students to think
creatively, without judgment or fear of giving the wrong answer. A classroom environment
that emphasizes good questions rather than right answers prepares students for
the complexity of today's world and the wealth of information that is available
to them if they know to look for it.
dialogue. Too often young people are only taught to debate issues.
And though debating skills are useful to have in today's world, dialogue is perhaps
a more valuable skill when it comes to better understanding complex issues. Debate
is about competition and convincing your opponent. Dialogue, on the other hand,
is about cooperation, understanding your partner and opening up new ways of thinking.
Dialogue promotes a widening of horizons and openness to change. (For more on
teaching on controversial issues, see our guidelines for Teaching
on Controversial Issues, on www.teachablemoment.org.)
don't need to be an expert to facilitate a discussion on the economy. But to feel
more confident and to prepare a lesson (or series of lessons) on the economic
downturn, once students' personal feelings and thoughts have been processed, you
may want to review some materials on the subject. This website, www.teachablemoment.org,
includes many lessons for high school students on economic issues, including,
most recently, 'The Roof
is Caving In."
consider using some the following multimedia materials:
"How to Explain The 2008 US Financial Crisis To Your Kids (And Most Adults)"
by Say It Visually!
This short video explains how the financial crisis came
about in a fun and engaging way. The explanation moves very quickly, though, and
may require you to pause or rewind it a few times to capture what is being shared.
Though marketed as a student piece, it may be better suited for adults wanting
to teach the subject to their younger students.
"What does a trillion dollars look like?"
Over the past year there
has been a lot of talk about stimulus packages and bailouts. Huge numbers are
thrown around as if it's nothing. This slide show allows you to grasp these numbers
somewhat better by showing images of what the different amounts look like.
NPR's "This American Life Explains the Economic Crisis in 59 minutes"
NPR radio show This American Life tackles the financial crisis, explaining
the collapse of the banking system, in 59 compelling minutes.
"Finding the Flexibility to Survive," from This I Believe
particular essay was written by Brighton Earley, who was a high school senior
at the time her piece aired on NPR's All Things Considered (June 2, 2008). It
is a very personal essay detailing a teenager's thoughts and feelings around her
family's economic struggles:
"The Growing Divide: Tools for Teachers" & "A Glossary
of Economic Terms" by United for a Fair Economy
The educational materials
provided on this website were created to raise awareness about "how concentrated
wealth and power undermine the economy, corrupt democracy, deepen the racial divide,
and tear economies apart." Though the materials are too complex for your
elementary and middle school students, they provide a useful perspective and backdrop
for any teaching you plan to do on the economy:
recent years, terms like trade deficits, deregulation, financial derivatives,
subprime borrowers, mortgaged backed securities, stimulus packages and bailouts
have been introduced to us without much explanation. A glossary of these and much
other terminology and jargon can be found at the United for a Fair Economy website:
"Understanding the Financial Crisis: Origin and Impact" by Junior Achievement
These two pdf pieces were created by Junior Achievement Worldwide
to explain, and help young people understand, the financial crisis. Junior Achievement
Worldwide develops "hands-on experiential programs [that] teach the key concepts
of work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy to young people all
over the world." The first PDF is geared towards adults, the second towards
young people. Once again, the resources are quite complex. Both may provide background
information for adults wanting to grasp the economic crisis better themselves.
pdf 1: http://www.jamiami.org/pdfs/financialadult.pdf
pdf 2: http://www.jamiami.org/pdfs/finacialstudent.pdf
did this activity work in your class? Please share your stories and other feedback
with us! Email: email@example.com.