So I recently came across an article about the importance of teaching children to properly label their emotions. I was online looking for ways to help my ESL kids learn better ways to express themselves in English. Every morning I ask my students how they are feeling and post an image next to their names on this board I made for them. For example, I’ll ask one of them, “How are you feeling this morning?” And they will answer, “Happy” or “Hungry” and I’ll attach the “happy” or “hungry” face next to their names. The problem is, the kids are beginning to do group-think. Instead of expressing their own emotions, they wait till the more popular student declares how she’s feeling and then claim to feel the same way. Argh! This is so frustrating as an ESL teacher. The point of me doing this every morning is to get them to stretch their vocabulary so they can properly express themselves, not follow the crowd. But it’s occurred to me that the idea of expressing a vast range of emotions is not highly encouraged where I’m locate. As Michelle Murray said in her article Children Need Words to Put On Their Emotions, “Mixed messages make for confused children. Denial of emotion is a dangerous practice because it denies reality and suppresses feelings that must find expression elsewhere.” I feel that’s what I’m combating every day in my classroom. The children are taught to deny how their feelings and follow suit with the dominant person in their life. Yet, I want these children to not only learn a range of words to express who they feel but to actually mean it. I think overall, parents and teachers MUST be on the same page so kids can really make that connection. I’m pretty sure this disconnect is not only where I am in the world, but is in the US as well. Nevertheless, we need to be on the same page: children should express themselves in a healthy way and done so often. Box of Feelings in RESILIENT Children, I think will be a great lesson plan to combat the group-think. It’s going to take some time to teach my kids all of the different words for emotions, but I think it will help them understand that variety is good and that my classroom is a safe place to express it. I also think that my kids’ parents will be impressed with their knowledge of so many English words that it could be a win-win. They will be happy that their children know so many words, that perhaps it will be okay to use them versus suppressing them. We shall see. If time permits, I’ll capture the lesson on video when I teach it and share with you so you can see how it works out.
Compromise is a skill that most people should have mastered I would imagine by their teen years. You and a girlfriend want to see a movie but need to pick either the chick flick or the adventure movie. Maybe you compromise by offering up the fact that the lead in the adventure movie is extremely good looking, so you both win. This is a silly example but one nevertheless that is relatable in the sense that sometimes we have to make concessions in life for both parties to be happy.
But at what point do we learn this? I would imagine the simple answer is during our childhood. Now as a teacher, I can see the foundation being poured by me and my kids’ parents. Most times my kids get along. They are 7 year old Korean Kindergarteners. They are a delight, but like any room full of eagerness and easily hurt feelings, there is the occasional standoff by the little devils. When I’m in the room it is rather simple to solve the problem, after-all, I am familiar with the art of compromise. However, what happens when I’m not around? What happens when the parents aren’t around? Like Jennifer Luchesi Long said in her article, Teach the Art of Compromise “But what about when there is no adult around, when no mediator serves as the facilitator of dialogue? Do kids respond with closed fists or open handshakes? It depends on how well they learned the art of compromise and internalized its importance.”
So what can you do? I love her list of suggestions which can be found at http://redondobeach.patch.com/articles/teach-the-art-of-compromise. What jumped out at me was point number 5: Teach Social Skills. I consider my responsibilities as an ESL teacher to be more than just teaching conversational and grammatically correct English to my kids. I feel I have to help shape my kids socially as well. I have found tons of lesson plans on the subject and they really works. Specifically, in RESILIENT Children, the lessons on Conflict Solution obviously are perfect for this subject. For example, the lesson Is It Fair? was a great starting point to help two of my boys in my class understand respect and compromise. Originally I had 3 little boys in my class, my Jason, my Thomas and my Jamie. Each one had their role in the class with Jason being the most well-liked boy by all. Jason had to leave my class for the summer to go to America. This left a void for top-dog in the class. Both Thomas, the funny and adorable one, and Jamie, the savvy and clever one, decided for the first few weeks to jockey for this position; resulting in screaming matches, minor fights and then all-out big fights. Well I just wasn’t going to have that. I needed peace to return to my classroom. And I found that using stories and role playing from the lesson Is It Fair? to be a great introduction to conversation about how to treat each other. In the end Thomas got the top dog spot, but Jamie carved out is own special niche in the class. And actually, all of the children benefited because we got to practice reading other stories about conflict which helped improve both their reading and social skills.
I think at the end of the day, reinforcing social skills specific to conflict solution can open up into so much more, especially with these lessons. If you want more updates on the Wonderful World of Ms. Amber’s classroom, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And believe me there’s more because my Jason has returned and now the games begin again. ( =