Classroom, Just for Teachers, Social Cognition, Social Regulation

Holy Moly Whole Body Listening

Let’s play a game called concrete or abstract. I’ll say a word and you decide if it’s concrete (simple to picture, describe and define) or abstract (context-based, dynamic, challenging to consistently define). Here we go:

1. MOOSE: Concrete or Abstract?

2. SUCCESS: Concrete or Abstract?

3. FORK: Concrete or Abstract?

4. LISTENING: Concrete or Abstract?

Today’s post is all about number four: Listening. Despite being one of the most common words I hear in K-8 classrooms (and I have no doubt it’s a high frequency word in high school as well), LISTENING is an abstract concept. My image of listening may be very different than your image of listening. Listening on the playground may look different than listening during a math lesson. Some teachers want students to listen with their ears alone, while others expect students to freeze whatever they might be doing in order to listen. Neurotypical students struggle to form consistent rules for listening, so imagine how challenging this is for children with language processing challenges, lack contextual awareness, challenges recognizing social cues, and overly rigid interpretations of social situations. We need a hero!!!!!

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WHOLE BODY LISTENING to the rescue! Whole Body Listening (WBL) is a term coined by Susanne Poulette Truesdale in 1990, and later adopted into the Social Thinking Curriculum (Michelle Garcia Winner). The goal of WBL is to transform an abstract concept (listening) into a concrete, highly comprehendible one. Rather than require children to determine what is meant by “Listen to me,” each part of the body is described as either active/on or quiet/off:

Active/On:

  • Ears are hearing what is being said
  • Eyes are looking at the speaker
  • Brain is thinking about what is being said
  • Heart is caring about how the speaker is feeling
  • Body (upper body) is facing the speaker

Quiet/Off:

  • Mouth is quiet
  • Hands are quiet and not distracting self or others
  • Feet are quiet and not distracting self or others

Reinforcing WBL requires a shift from “Listen to me,” “I need everyone listening,” and “I’ll wait until the whole class is listening” to “I’m waiting for quiet mouths and eyes looking at me,” “Let’s be whole body listeners; brains, ears, eyes, and hearts on and mouths, hands, and feet quiet,” and “I will know you’re listening with your whole body when your hands and feet are quiet.” Taking the guesswork out of listening allows children to more quickly and easily understand the whole-body expectations of being a strong listener, allowing them to engage more successfully in classroom tasks.

At The School of The Madeleine in Berkeley, CA, we are bringing WBL to every classroom, K-8. Here are some creative ways to teach WBL skills to students in all grades:

Kindergarten through 2nd Grade: Read the Whole Body Listening Larry Books to teach students the components of WBL with the help of Larry, a lovable illustrated character: Whole Body Listening Larry at School by Kristen Wilson and Elizabeth Sautter and Whole Body Listening Larry at Home by Kristen Wilson and Elizabeth Sautter. You can then play “Larry says,” a spin-off of “Simon Says.”

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3rd through 5th Grade: Create crazy character collages and ask students to label whether the parts of WBL are being done in an expected way or an unexpected way.

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6th through 8th Grade: Collaborate with students to translate the traditional WBL Larry poster (most appropriate for younger students) into a foreign language being taught across the school. Additionally, older students can be encouraged to reinforce WBL for younger students during assemblies, transitions, buddy activities, etc.

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Whole School: Encourage “contagious quiet” across all grades in a school. Create a hand sign that represents WBL (like a ‘W’ with your fingers) and challenge students to see how quickly they can all “catch the quiet” when they see the hand sign.

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A happy child is a child who feels successful, and WBL is a fantastic strategy to allow all students to feel like successful listeners!

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Classroom, Executive Function, Just for Teachers, Social Cognition, Social Regulation

Mini Minute Executive Functioning (EF) Tuck-Ins

This one goes out to all the teachers who are looking for ways to support Executive Functioning without giving up your carefully planned lesson times. I work with a lot of K-8 teachers who are always on the lookout for quick and easy ways to target foundational EF skills within their existing classroom routines. The thing is, EF isn’t something you do separate from your regular curriculum. The more you know about EF, the better you get at realizing that so much of what teachers are already doing is supporting and improving students’ skills. It’s like a hidden super power! The goal of this post is to help teachers become more intentional about using their otherwise lost minutes of transition time to keep that EF momentum going!

Let’s say you have two minutes between the end of your math lesson and the lunch bell. What do you do?

(a) Tell students to take out a book and read

(b) Play the “quiet game”

(c) Use an EF tuck-in exercise

(d) Let absolute chaos reign

Using our own inferential skills, let’s examine the likely outcomes of each scenario:

(a) Your announcement = 20 seconds, getting out books = 40 seconds, opening to the right page = 15 seconds, reading one paragraph = 25 seconds …then…time to clean up (followed by copious amounts of “grumble grumble grumble”). Effective? I think not!

(b) Students are annoyed with having to be quiet, you’re annoyed they can’t be quiet…who wins at the quiet game? No one!

(c) Students have fun and improve their EF skills!

(d) Total destruction of the classroom (and your sanity).

In case you’re still scratching your head, I’ll give you a hint: the answer is C. There are countless EF teachable moments (and I do mean moments) during a typical school day: lessons end a little early, students need something to keep them busy in line, you name it! Here are some ideas to turn those lost minutes into EF learning treasure troves, while simultaneously supporting general education skills.

 

EF Tuck-Ins for Cognitive Flexibility

  • Word Association: Begin by saying a random word. Snake through all students in the class, having each student say the first thing that comes to their mind when they hear the word from the student just before them. This fun game strengthens association pathways in the brain and supports cognitive flexibility during conversations (i.e., the ability to connect to others’ ideas).
  • Two-Word Association: Create a jar of random words. During the tuck-in, select two words from the jar and ask a student to come up with some way those words can be related. This task encourages strong concept association and mental flexibility.
  • Ask students to generate antonyms, synonyms, or a shade of meaning (i.e., a word that means slightly more or less intense than the provided word) for a target word. For example, if the word is happy, the antonym could be sad, the synonym could be glad, and the shade of meaning could be content (less intense) or excited (more intense).
  • Ask students to respond to yes/no questions with an answer that doesn’t involve yes or no (e.g., “Do you like carrots?” response: “Only when they are dipped in ranch”). This task requires engagement of “slow thinking” over automatic “fast thinking.”

EF Tuck-Ins for Working Memory (all tasks done verbally)

  • Ask students to repeat back increasingly longer sequences of numbers in the opposite order of how you give them (e.g., if you say “3-5-7-2,” students say “2-7-5-3”).
  • Give students a target word and ask whether various letters are in the word. This requires students to hold the word in their mind while scanning it for letters.
  • Ask students to verbally spell a target word forwards, then backwards. Switch between common, overlearned words and grade-level vocabulary or spelling words.

EF Tuck-Ins for Inferential Thinking

  • Provide three attributes of a secret object and ask students to make a smart guess about the object you’re describing (e.g., it’s white, it comes from a cow, you drink it). The more nuanced the clues, the more challenging the task.
  • Provide students with an obscure word that has a commonly known root (or a word in a different language). Ask them to make a smart guess about the meaning of the word based on a recognizable root.

EF Tuck-Ins for Problem Solving

  • Provide age-appropriate What Would You Do scenarios to students (e.g., “What would you do if your friend got an ugly hair cut and asked what you thought?” or “What would you do if you were invited to a party and didn’t want to attend?”), and ask them to generate the most expected response they can think of.
  • Ask students to judge the grammaticality of a sentence. If it’s incorrect, ask them to correct it.
  • Present If…Then verbal problems for students to solve (e.g., If Jenny is shorter than Billy, Billy is shorter than Mark, William is taller than Tony, and Mark is the same height as Tony, who is the tallest?”).

EF Tuck-Ins for Categorization

  • Provide four+ words or numbers to all students. Ask the students to determine how they can be sorted into two+ categories based on attributes, functions, locations, materials, appearance, etc. You can use random words/numbers or ones that relate to a current lesson.
  • Provide four words that all connect through a shared attribute except for one. Ask students to identify which one word does not belong and why. The more nuanced the isolating difference, the more challenging this task will be.
  • Provide a category to students (e.g., animals, literary genres, Greek Gods, vehicle types, colors, etc.) and ask them to generate as many items as they can that belong in that category in a given amount of time.

EF Tuck-Ins for Gestalt vs. Details

  • Show a picture scene to the whole class. Ask each student to write or say the gestalt (i.e., big idea) of the picture scene and the three most relevant details that support the gestalt. This helps students improve part vs. whole awareness and how parts are relevant to the whole.
  • Ask students to tell as many parts of an object as they can think of (e.g., parts of a tree: roots, trunk, branches, leaves, etc.). Encourage students to use a strategy to determine parts (e.g., move from the bottom to the top of the object, move from small to large parts, etc.).

Here’s to a whole new, EF-filled school year!