To Classroom Teachers, From Dr. Strayhorn
I began my work on psychoeducation in schools. I worked with whole classrooms of students, from first through sixth grade. I worked with after school programs and taught methods to teachers who very successfully used these methods in their classrooms. I have conducted “pull out” programs with individual children in schools.
In recent years it appears that teachers and principals have had less freedom to choose what to teach. There has been more pressure to “teach to” standardized tests.
It was partly in response to the political and bureaucratic difficulties encountered in schools that we began to bypass schools altogether, and deliver services by phone, directly to students at home.
The need for psychoeducational curricula in schools is, however, extremely large. The estimates of the fraction of children with “serious emotional disturbance” vary widely (see, for example, Brauner and Stephens, Estimating the Prevalence of Early Childhood Serious Emotional/Behavioral Disorders: Challenges and Recommendations, Public Health Rep. 2006 May-Jun; 121(3): 303–310.) But we know that even according to the lowest estimates, U.S. children with “serious emotional disturbance” number in the millions. And we are also quite sure that psychoeducation can benefit millions of children who have no identified emotional disturbance at all. Indeed, we believe that principles of anger control, conflict resolution, friendship-building, decision-making, emotional regulation, and the like can be usefully taught to almost 100% of children.
We hope that the teachers out there who have the freedom – or the mandate – to teach psychological skills will find this page, and feel free to get in touch with us by email. In this section of the website we give a sampling of our curricular materials that may be used in schools. These include both activities intended to strengthen psychological skills directly and some that teach foundation level skills for reading, as reading difficulties and behavioral and emotional difficulties are close relatives. But there is too much to include here. Interested teachers may get more, directly from us.
Resources for Teachers
Phonemic awareness (segmenting and blending) and spatial awareness (image versus mirror image, left versus right skills), along with oral language skills, make up important foundations of reading. It's very important to get these skills firmly in place, early in children's reading careers. This first set of activities focuses on building these skills, as well as letter-sound correspondence.
Singing the Letter Sound Songs
The Letter Stories
More Phonemic Awareness Activities
The Blending Exercise with Names
In part 1 of this exercise, you segment one of your student's names, and the students guess who it is. For example, if a child is named Richard, you would say rrr-ih-chuh-ar-duh. If you want, you can call on one student to guess, or if you prefer, you can figure out ways for everyone to guess at once – for example everyone looks at the person, or everyone points to the person, or if you want to have some silly fun and think your kids can keep things under control, you give everyone a foam rubber ball (or a wad of paper) and everyone throws their ball to the person.
Part 2 of this exercise can be done when the students have heard you segment their names enough to be able to do the segmenting themselves. You pick student #1 to think of the name of student #2, and to segment that person's name. Then you call on student #3 to blend those sounds so as to guess who the mystery student is. Then it's student #3's turn to do the next segmenting.
Spatial Awareness Activities
Once learners can say the most frequent sound for each of the 26 letters, and once the foundation skills of phonemic awareness and spatial awareness are on solid footing, an extremely useful exercise is “sounding and blending” with “word lists.” In the Manual for Tutors and Teachers of Reading is a series of word lists, ranging from very easy to fairly hard; the learner works the way from the lowest to the highest points of the hierarchy. Sounding and blending means saying the sounds of each of the phonemes in the word, then blending them together to say the word. After a good deal of skill in this is gained, the learner can sound and blend by syllable rather than phoneme. Word list work of only about 10 minutes a day can reap large gains in reading recognition. Since word list work puts demands on self-discipline reserves, it's good not to stretch it out too long. We have had many, many successful experiences when such work is carried out individually. One way for such work to be done individually is by training older children to do word list work with younger children.
As soon as learners get enough reading recognition skill to start reading connected text, such as stories, then, in our opinion, is the time to start introducing stories that model psychological skills. The Reading manual contains illustrated stories that involve short vowel words only, where the characters exemplify one or more psychological skills. The learner moves up word lists, and moves up the hierarchy of difficulty also in reading stories.
The three central components of our phone psychoeducational session are 1) alternate reading, 2) skills exercises, and 3) social conversation. These are directly translatable into classroom activities.
Reading Programmed Manuals
The first level programmed manual is Programmed Readings for Psychological Skills; the next is the Friendship-Building and Social Skills manual. The programmed manuals on Anxiety, Anger Control, Self-Discipline, Psychological Skills Exercises, and Being a Successful Student are a step above in language complexity. A really simple activity, that can do much good, is for you to simply take a certain time each day and read aloud from a programmed manual to your students, calling on them to answer the comprehension probe that occurs after every minute or two of reading. You don't need any preparation for this, (other than to psyche yourself up for reading enthusiastically, and being very reinforcing when your students answer the questions correctly) or any lesson plan. In fact, one of our challenges with tutors has been to get them to refrain from quizzing and lecturing and further didactic activity, but just to let the instruction in the manuals be enough. If the students want to comment on what they are hearing, welcome those comments with open arms.
In variations, you can have students take turns reading the manual aloud to the rest of the class. You can have students, of different ages or of the same ages, divide up into pairs, and do alternate reading with each other, just as we do in tutoring.
Another variation involves a computer program that presents each section of the manual one at a time, prompts the learner to respond with an A or B answer, and then gives feedback as to whether the answer was right or wrong. If the answer was wrong, the learner is asked to read the section and answer again. At the end of the session, the program gives the total number attempted and the number gotten right. This program will run on old or new computers running Windows, as far back as back as Windows 95, if anyone has such, wasting away in a basement or garage. You can amass several old clunkers for very little money through Ebay, and have work stations that give lots of individualized practice in both reading comprehension and psychological skills. By picking the passages judiciously, you can individualize the level of difficulty that the learner encounters. If you're interested in trying this, get in touch with us.
Psychological Skills Exercises
Two books in our curriculum describe psychological skills exercises thoroughly: Exercises for Psychological Skills, and A Programmed Course in Psychological Skills Exercises. In addition, there is more on how to do the exercises in the Anger Control manual, the Anxiety manual, and the Self-Discipline manual. Further explanation of certain exercises are provided below. It's not easy to do these well and to teach others to do them well. Careful reading of the examples in the manuals will pay off. But the brief descriptions here should give you a taste of things, so that you can decide whether you want to delve further into these.
The psychological skills exercises can be adapted for classroom use in at least three ways. First, the whole group can do them together. You can pose the question or challenge, and call on various students to contribute to the answer. Second, you can divide children into pairs and let each pair do the exercise together. And third, you can make the exercise into a written assignment, where you give the question or challenge and the students write their responses.
To adapt this component of the curriculum for classroom use, you can use any of the three methods used for the exercises. You can 1) hold a classroom wide discussion, on any topic, shifting topics as you please, just for the fun of it; 2) divide the children into pairs and let them chat with each other (be ready to see lots of them look at a loss on how to do this) or 3) you can give a writing assignment in which the task is to take two characters, of your choosing or the student's choosing, and have them chat with each other and get to know each other better.
This next set of activities expands on these three further.
Singing the Psychological Skills Songs
Learning the Sixteen Skills and Principles
Reading the Definitions of the 16 Skills and Principles
As your students learn to read, they can practice learning to read the brief statements of what the 16 skills and principles mean, as follows. This version is from page 8 of Programmed Readings for Psychological Skills.
1. Work hard. (productivity)
2. Be cheerful. (joyousness)
3. Be kind. Make people happy. (kindness)
4. Tell the truth. (honesty)
5. When you don’t get what you want, handle it. (fortitude)
6. Think carefully about what to do. Talk calmly when you don’t agree with someone. (good decisions)
7. Don’t hurt or kill. (nonviolence)
8. Don’t use hurtful talk. (respectful talk, not being rude)
9. Build good relations with people. (friendship building)
10. Choose long term goals over short-term pleasure. (self-discipline)
11. Stick by people who have been good to you. (loyalty)
12. Don’t waste the earth’s resources. (conservation)
13. Take care of yourself. (self-care)
14. Obey when it is good and right to obey. (compliance)
15. In your fantasy, practice doing good things. Don’t have fun pretending people are hurt. (positive fantasy rehearsal)
16. Be brave enough to do what’s best. (courage)
When children have heard lots of stories that model the sixteen skills and principles, they are ready to start making up their own. Now the question is, “Can you make up an example of something that someone could do, that would be a smart or good thing to do, that would model any of our sixteen skills?” You can respond to these just as with the celebrations exercise or with celebrating others' choices. As with all spoken exercises, at some point the students will be ready to write down their own stories. My advice is not to jump to this stage prematurely. If they find it fun to write down their own stories, that's a good sign that you haven't done it too soon.
A variation of skills stories is “skills stories with pictures.” In the past I got pictures by actually cutting them with scissors out of magazines. Now you can find a huge array of pictures on the Internet and print them out or electronically transmit them. The task of the student is to make up a story about a certain skill, that goes with the picture that they are randomly given. Pictures involving people will be better prompts for stories than pictures of objects or landscapes.
Our recommendation is to teach children keyboarding (a.k.a. typing) skills early in life. If you do, and if your children have access to computers, this makes it easier to collect an every-grown anthology of positive models that your children have come up with. This anthology can be read by both present and future groups of students. In my opinion, the creation and compilation of hundreds of positive examples of psychological skills is a very important activity for humanity. It enriches the person who does the task, as well as the others who read the output.
Topics from the rest of Programmed Readings for Psychological Skills and beyond
The Vision: As students generate the various pieces of writing alluded to here, these can be collected and held onto and organized into banks of materials that others can learn from and work with.
The choice points students generate, for example, can be added to a growing list, which future classes can practice with. As this list grows, the choice points will reflect more and more closely the children's own life experience. As the children write celebrations, celebrations of others' choices, and skills stories, these become added to the growing set of positive models. As they write examples of social conversation, conflict resolution, twelve thought or four thought exercises, and others, these become added to an archive that can serve as models for future students. Hopefully, students can relish the feeling that they are writing, not just to fulfill an assignment, but to benefit lots of potential readers – which is what writing should be about.
The Reminder: Stick to hypothetical situations for the most part.
Classrooms are not the place for students to disclose intimate personal details of their lives. Classrooms are not group therapy sessions, and teachers are not therapists. One of the distinguishing features of psychoeducation, as contrasted with psychotherapy, is that you are not trying to solve particular problems in the students' lives. You are trying to work with hypothetical situations that employ the same problem-solving and decision-making skills that children use to solve their real-life problems. Most of the choice points that children contribute will be derived from their life experience. But it's good to render the situation generic and hypothetical by making it unidentifiable, adding or subtracting specific details, and waiting for some time to go by before doing exercises with those situations.