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You May Be Wrong Though You May Be Right

Penny Wang

Penny Wang is a research programs assistant at ExpandED Schools.

Spring is in the air, and that can only mean one thing for the ExpandED Schools research team: Spring site visits! As the largest external evaluator of 21st Century Community Learning Center grantees across the city, we visit over 30 sites twice a year throughout New York City. Observing activities in the field is always a pleasure for research team members, like me. Our evaluation team uses a validated assessment, the Out of School Time (OST) Observation Tool, to focus on observable indicators of positive youth development. Although the findings from these observations are meant to provide useful feedback directly to the site director and supervisor for program planning and improvement purposes, I often find myself witnessing many "teachable moments" that would benefit a broader audience. 

Students at PS/MS 89 Cypress Hills, which partners with Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation to expand the school day, collaborate on a video project.

During a recent visit I observed an interesting situation: A group of middle school students were discussing literacy concepts about “themes” and “main ideas.” The question was: Are the "theme" and "main idea" of a story the same? Why? Why not? After a brief group discussion, student A was asked to share her thoughts. She stated that “theme” and “main idea” were the same. While student A was still giving her rationale for why she thought so, student B called out, “No, they are not!” Student A was obviously not happy about being interrupted, but student B insisted that she was right. In the end, student B asked the teacher, “She is wrong and I am right, right?”

How would you deal with this situation? 

It was actually a perfect opportunity to teach some important social-emotional skills, such as showing respect to others and maintaining positive relationships. If I were the teacher, my answer would be, “You’re both right and wrong.” The behavior of disrupting others when they are talking is still wrong even though the answer to the question might be right. Unfortunately, such opportunities could be easily missed, as was the case in this instance. Many activities I have observed tend to score low on the indicator of “guide for positive peer interactions,” which measures whether staff intentionally encourage positive interactions and/or directly teach interpersonal skills. 

While it is beneficial to teach these skills through planned activity content, equally, if not more, important is to teach how to apply these skills in everyday life. As outlined by the instrument, staff could do this by: intervening constructively and calmly to address bullying or teasing behavior, redirecting youth and/or explaining or discussing why negative behavior is unacceptable. Set curricula designed to explicitly teach interpersonal skills exist. However, more implicit opportunities to teach social-emotional skills are all around us. Opportunities like what I observed can always be found by a purposeful mind. Educators, parents and other community members should intentionally encourage social-emotional learning wherever and whenever possible, be it during the school day or beyond.  



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