Though this approach works well with both fiction and nonfiction, the nonfiction lessons have the added benefit of demonstrating to students that if the real-life protagonist managed to overcome so much adversity and still persevere, students can, too.
2. Teach their brain’s biology and give them the tools to influence it
We rightly think of the brain as the center of knowledge, and yet we don’t spend enough time building up knowledge about the brain, especially in the elementary and middle grades. Without this information, young people might not realize that their brains are malleable and involved in important processes, believing instead that their brains are static containers for facts.
Have your students read about the biology of brain and impulse and how during their key development years their prefrontal cortex is still forming. Show them how stress and other emotions impact their brains. Teaching them what’s happening in their bodies is the first step to empowering them to take control of their behavior and their state of mind.
Next, they can read about the power of positive thinking and their ability to choose their own mindset. Augment your lesson by watching and discussing powerful podcasts and TED talks, many of which feature young people. Kid President was a personal and class favorite.
Use what they learn about biology and mindset to create a resilience toolkit. As they’re reading, they can collect strategies for resilience and write down meaningful mottos. Whenever kids are experiencing setbacks like frustrations with their comprehension of a text or disappointment with a test result, encourage them to refer to their toolkits for reinforcement and support.
3. Help them find their voice
Students today are a part of a unique generation. They are engaging in less risky behavior, and their performance on the famous marshmallow test of delayed gratification has actually improved vs. previous generations. The Parkland student advocates are a notable example: They’re showing many students that they can choose to find their agency and their voice when they perceive a need for change.
Start with a working definition of injustice. What is the activists’ role in relation to injustice? To connect history to current events, read and discuss times in the past when kids were activists. Activism may look different at different schools, but research shows that it’s good for kids.
Help your students take active roles in their own communities by examining the role of the individual, their concerns, and what influence they can exercise over those concerns. This approach reinforces students’ own agency, and how it can be deployed for positive change. Teachers looking to amplify their students’ voices can also reference this free Newsela text set.
We know so much more today than we did just a few years ago about why some students are hindered by adversity, while others persevere and even excel. With SEL-informed literacy instruction, we have the power to help them build the resilience they need to be successful today, tomorrow, and throughout their lifetimes.
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