What would be the best way to notice, identify and assist an elementary age child who was experiencing otherness- being the "us" in the them verses us situation, made to be an outsider and less than- in your classroom?
I am studying to become an elementary teacher and since I have not dealt with a real classroom situation such as this, I was hoping some who have could give me insight.
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It is also useful to work with the individual to identify the source of their 'otherness' and teach some resilience in dealing with this. For some students the forced playdate or inclusion is torture if they do not understand the 'rules' of socialisation which are obscure and transient for even the most accepted kids. Some kids - I was one - are happier in their isolation or with adults than with same age students. As an adult I do not require my friends to be close to me in age, and I do not have to enjoy the company of all of my colleagues. The key is being able to operate socially by choice.
I worked with bright students ostracised in the playground and set them individual tasks which they could discuss with others. They were of mixed ages, genders, backgrounds and interests. I was encouraging them to find 'peers', who may not be the same age, gender, etc. I gave them a common subject to research and discuss in their own time. Some chose to share their findings with staff, parents or older students, some were just relieved to be noticed and accepted for wanting to explore things their own way.
The teachers I have observed deal with this best are the teachers that are able to instill the feeling of community and family in their classroom. I have been amazed at the transformation of some kids from one year to the next when they have had the opportunity to be with one of those types of teachers.
While teaching middle school, I noticed a large number of "outcast" students sitting isolated or alone during lunch. I decided to sit down with a different one of these students each day in the hope of somehow relieving their own apparent shyness/loneliness. Strangely enough, other "outcast" students began to join me, and soon we had a regular table full of these kids. Many of them made friends with one another and eventually found their own tables elsewhere.
Building a classroom community and establishing expectations of behavior and respect during the first few weeks of class is crucial in both the elementary and secondary classroom. I find that when students really know what behavior is expected of them, they are more likely to exhibit positive behavior. Defining respect and discussing treating others as you would like to be treated can sometimes prevent a lot of student-student conflict issues from occurring, and when they do occur, provides a good frame of reference for discipline. It is imperative that students understand why what they are doing is wrong and how to correct it.
To establish community, I like to play a game called "Fruitbasket". In this game, students sit in chairs in a circle, one student is in the middle and says something about him/her self such as "I have a dog" or "my favorite TV show is Spongebob Squarepants" then everyone who has that in common switches chairs. It is fun for the teacher to play along too. If a student is stumped and having a hard time coming up with something about him/her self, the teacher can say "fruitbasket" and require everyone to switch seats. Students are usually surprised about how much they have in common with everyone else in the room.
Maybe you could try some "get to know you" type activities to help the students connect on a deeper level than just the criteria which is causing the "outcast" child. Once students see that they have things in common with the child they repeatedly leave out of activities, it will be easier for them to accept the child.
One of the games I play at the beginning of the year is a classroom scavenger hunt. I have a list of items on the paper such as:
Find someone who has a brother/sister, who was born in another state, who has been out of the country, who likes broccoli, who is allergic to something, who has a pet, who speaks another language, etc.
You can make up as many things as you need, or look online for similar "teamwork" type activities.
Recess and playground times are always the most difficult for children who, for whatever reason, don't fit in with the rest of the class. That's tough to combat unless you plan some organized games which include everyone. Inside you classroom, there are all kinds of opportunities for group work and cooperative learning. The key with these activities is to keep everyone engaged both on the task and with each other. I appreciate that you're already thinking ahead to these kinds of issues.
If you are positioned in a situation when you get into your career to connect with parents, the play date suggestion always helps that "other" kid. I have that "other" kid as a child and every time I have had a teacher recommend a student to invite over to our house to have the kids play together, we have seen immediate changes in our student's attitude about school and feeling connected to the group. Keeping in touch with parents via email is so appreciated in today's fast-paced world. Our children appreciate it in the long run too. :)
I agree with the above post in that, in Elementary School especially, you see these same 25 - 30 kids every day, all day, and are able to observe and learn how they interact, socialize and what their typical personality traits are. This will make it pretty obvious, pretty quickly when some students are being bullied or alienated. Pairing the child with supportive and friendly students in activities, offering lots of positive reinforcement and providing social education to those who would bully or alienate are all techniques and strategies for dealing with this situation at an elementary level.
Well, I think you will have to be blind to not notice the kind of situation in your classroom. It should be obvious in terms of the feeling of being left out and that they will not be included in playground activities at recess or other students will not want them to be in their group etc. There are lots of ways of handling this and one of the best is to discuss it with the whole group and ask them to imagine what it would feel like to be constantly left out of activities etc.
There is a wonderful picture book, The Lovables, in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem written by Diane Loomans. I have read it to 4th, 5th and 6th grade students to lead into a discussion of accepting each other's strengths and differences. It has beautiful pictures as well as fantastic lessons. The students really enjoyed the book. I would start with this and a discussion after. I would also choose one of my stronger more popular students to become this student's buddy. They would be responsible to assist the student to know the proper procedures. You as a teacher have to role model what you want the students to do.
Hopefully you will learn this in your pre-service education classes (personally, this ideal was beaten into me throughout my courses---I'm now student teaching), but KNOW YOUR KIDS.
Talk to them, play, laugh, grow and learn with them. If you create an environment where students feel loved and comfortable, you will be able to see which students may be struggling socially, and ideally they will feel they can come to you.
Provide the students with an advisory time in the day. 15-20 minutes where they can get to know one another, do team bulding exercises and enjoy learning as a team.
Also, maybe find a peer buddy for that student in your classroom. Be sneaky and pair another student with them who will be kind and nurture them socially.
I have also found that the students who may be on the outside looking in tend to be fantastic "buddies" with students in younger grades. I love sending my 7th graders to spend time with 3rd and 4th grade students---helping them and tutoring them. Both buddies get so much out of these connections.
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