Dealing with Students’ Anxiety in the Classroom

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Anxiety by Mariana Zanatta is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common disorders to impact children (McLoone, Hudson, & Rapee, 2006). There are a number of different types of anxiety that children can typically present with, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Phobia, Separation Anxiety Disorder, and a few others. In addition, there is a high degree of comorbidity with anxiety, meaning the diagnosis of other disorders, such as ADHD in conjunction with an anxiety disorder (McLoone, Hudson, & Rapee, 2006, p. 224). This has important implications for schools and teachers because having a student with some type of anxiety disorder is common (10-21% of all children) although they are often undiagnosed (McLoone et al., 2006, p. 221). Until a child receives formal treatment, typically cognitive-behavioral therapy (McLoone et al., 2006), classrooms teachers are left to use their own resourcefulness and basic classroom accommodations to support anxious children.

I took time to learn more about childhood anxiety disorders this past week and then paused to reflect on the ill-structured problems teachers and students might experience when these disorders are present in today’s classrooms. An ill-structured problem occurs when a variety of different variables come into play uniquely with a problem, meaning that each variable needs to be examined and considered in-context, before the problem can be solved and even upon reaching a solution, the problem will likely manifest in new ways in other contexts (e.g., with a different child) and require a different solution (Spiro, Coulson, Feltovich and Anderson, 2004).

Some examples of ill-structured problems in a classroom with an anxious child might be, trying to meet the needs of all children at the same time and dealing with the competing wants of young first graders who need to stand up and move around (maybe through an active, responsive classroom greeting like “hit the floor”) and a child who feels overwhelmed and extremely worried about being the center of attention. A similar situation could arise for a child who has separation anxiety and has a difficult transition into the classroom each morning. Unfortunately, if a teacher is trying to warmly welcome each child as he or she enters the room and help the children start their morning work and possibly deal with other behavioral or emotional issues of other children, it would be difficult to also support a child who is crying in the classroom each day after separating with her or his parents. Therefore, the teacher is left with an ill-structured problem that needs to be addressed.

Luckily, I think technology can be a great tool to help assist teachers with these tricky ill-structured problems. One app in particular that came to mind for me was Stop, Breathe, & Think, a free mindfulness app that was designed for students. Mindfulness training has been shown to be an effective approach to helping students with anxiety disorders (Semple, Lee, Rosa, & Miller, 2010). Although there are a limited number of studies of mindfulness with young children and in a school setting, existing research clearly shows benefits for adults (Semple, Reid, & Miller, 2005). Research also suggests that when materials are adapted to be developmentally appropriate for young children (e.g., shortening meditations, adapting the language that is used), clinical levels of anxiety show a significant decrease (Semple et al., 2010).

The Stop, Breathe, & Think app is great because it prompts students to do a self-assessment each time they use it to explore and name how they are feeling in three distinct categories: mentally, physically, and emotionally. This can help students identify their feelings without judging them and come to better know and accept their thoughts and feelings (Semple et al.,  2010). With younger students, the app could be used as a support tool for one-on-one meetings or conversations between a teacher and an anxious child. Over time, it could become a go-to resource that the child could use whenever he or she wants support in dealing with anxiety, for example, before speaking in front of the class, when leaving for a field trip, or after participating in a high-stress group activity that might drain an anxious child. Older children (middle-high school) could probably begin using the app independently from the outset and could be encouraged to download it to their own device. Check-out the screencast below for a more in-depth review of the app.

Would you add this app to your teacher toolbox as a resource for your anxious students?

What about for students who might need support learning to redirect their attention or improve self-regulation?

References

McLoone, J., Hudson, J. L., & Rapee, R. M.. (2006). Treating Anxiety Disorders in a School Setting.Education and Treatment of Children, 29(2), 219–242. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42899883

Semple, R. J., Lee, J., Rosa, D., & Miller, L. F. (2010). A randomized trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children: Promoting mindful attention to enhance social-emotional resiliency in children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 218-229. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/10.1007/s10826-009-9301-y

Semple, R. J., Reid, E. F. G., & Miller, L. (2005). Treating anxiety with mindfulness: An open trial of mindfulness training for anxious children. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 19(4), 379-392. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.msu.edu.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/docview/89071356?accountid=12598

Spiro, R.J., Coulson, R.L., Feltovich, P.J. & Anderson, D.K. (2004). Cognitive flexibility theory: Advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structured domains. In R.B. Ruddell, N.J. Unrau (Eds). Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading (5th Ed., pp 640-659). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

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Reflecting on Becoming a Maker Educator

As I wrap up my work for CEP811, a course focused on the Maker Movement and adapting innovative technologies to education, I took time to reflect on all of the different projects I have worked on over the past seven weeks.

I realized that each project was a piece of a larger #MakerEd puzzle. The thread of making runs through them all and by engaging in each one of them (e.g., remixing, playful exploration, creating lesson plans and assessments, etc), educators can begin to own and embody the mindsets associated with the Maker Movement. Stepping back to look at each project, I reorganized them in a cycle that I think could help educators begin to dip their toes into making and become more comfortable with it before integrating it into their teaching and later their classroom (design) and everyday practice. Although I organized the cycle to be completed as an ongoing, step-by-step process, educators could jump in at any point. Just start with the projects or activities that you are most comfortable with before continuing to the next “piece of the puzzle.”

Designing the Maker Educator Cycle (see below) allowed me to see how the projects I created over the past seven weeks and the readings I have explored, have truly led me deeper down the Maker Movement path. I had an opportunity to more deeply infuse maker projects in my curriculum and explicitly explore making in the classroom in a way that is meaningful and supports students (and teachers) in developing maker mindsets. I think these experiences, particularly designing a unit plan and a maker assessment, reminded me how vital it is to explore how teachers are makers and designers in our daily practice. To really improve and innovate, we have to continually be making (e.g., lessons, assessments, remixes, etc) educational content as well as maker projects (e.g, a robot maze, an LED student response system, etc). I am excited to continue this work as a maker educator and iterate the lesson plans, assessments, and projects I designed to make them even better. If you are an educator using making in your classroom or if you are trying to help an educator start exploring the Maker Movement, I hope the Maker Educator Cycle is helpful and I welcome any feedback on its design.

The Maker Educator Cycle (click to see links)

Creative Commons Attributions

Learn icon-o1 by MCruz is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Personalized Learning)

Paper Blank Pencil by ClkerFreeVectorImages is licensed under Public Domain CC0 (Design Lessons)

Pictogram Resolved by AzaToth is licensed under Public Domain CC0 (Create Assessments)

Remix is a Creative Commons Trademark icon (Remix)

Toolbox by ClkerFreeVectorImages is licensed under Public Domain CC0 (Toolbox)

Two Point Perspective Room by maburaho26 is licensed under CC BY-ND 3.0 (Redesign your Environment)

Wikimedia Deutschland icon explore by Cornelius Kibelka is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 DE (Playful Experimentation)

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