Sunday, May 13, 2012

Starting the Discussion - Anti-Bullying

This is my promised blog entry that includes anti-bullying curriculum components utilizing Carol Gorman's Games: The Tale of Two Bullies and Dori Hillestad Butler's The Truth About Truman School.  The ideas involve all school reads, author visits, and much discussion.  But first a little background.

Forty-seven states of the fifty states are reported to have passed school anti-bullying legislation requiring a plan to deal with bullying.  Curriculum components aimed at curbing bullying, in some form or another, are mandated in these states.  As of now there are no federal laws dealing directly with school bullying.  However, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have unveiled a revitalized Stop Bullying website–, — “to encourage children, parents, educators, and communities to take action to stop and prevent bullying.”But it seems clear that this is a problem that can not be ignored.  Sadly sometimes adults do not deal with the situation in the most effective manner.  Here are cases -- you decide.

CASE #1: Several bullies harass an overweight female (high school) student in the classroom.  Instead of dealing directly with the harassment, the teacher moves the female student to the other side of the room to separate her from the bullies.  This does nothing to stop the bullying behavior in the hallways and tends to perpetuate the idea that it is the fault of the person being bullied rather than putting the blame where it should land – on the bullies.

CASE #2: An intermediate student does not deal well with loud unexpected noises.  They frighten and cause her great discomfort and she visibly reacts to loud unexpected noises.  Fellow classmates delight in coming up behind her and make loud noises.  The teacher’s efforts to curb this is to have the girl work with a mentor who will regularly surprise her with noises and thus, eventually “condition” her to the loud noises.  While this might be a compassionate conditioning for other situations; the students maliciously making the loud sounds were not dealt with.  That should be a FIRST step.  Meeting the situation head on should be the norm not the afterthought.

CASE #3:  A sixth grade class had two female students in the class.  One had a congenital eye deformity and the other had a very scarred face and arm caused by a kerosene fire when she was a toddler.  The student with the scarred face never smiled nor was she a pleasant student to have in class.  The girl with the eye deformity smiled a lot (but it seemed to be a "put on a brave face" defensive move) –  neither girl was treated well by their classmates.  They teased, ignored, did not include them in playground games, did not choose them for games, in general they mostly showed that each of them was a big bother and too insignificant to be part of their “circle.”   The teacher in this case arranged to send the girls to the library (with instructions that they not be allowed to return until the all clear signal was sent).  Then she proceed to “read the riot act” to the remaining students. Of course, the one girl was not pleasant to be around – would you be if no one was ever nice to you?  How would you feel if you were ignored and teased and shunned throughout every day?  Once it was clear, that future incidents of the negative behavior was NOT going to be tolerated the class settled down to create a list of actions that they could take to include the girls positively.  When the girls returned the classroom, the teacher explained forthrightly that the class had been discussing their collective bullying behavior and that collectively they wished to apologize and hoped each of them (the girls) would accept the apology and allow each of the members of the class to begin to show their friendship as the days went on.  This forthcoming approach embarrassed the girls for a moment but even that day other members of the class were quick to extend a new welcome to each of them.  Students vied for the girls to be in their group.  By the end of the semester both were smiling daily and by the end of the school year each of the girls had made some lasting friendships.  And new students and students in other classes took their cue from these girls’ immediate classmates.  There was no bullying, no exclusion, no ignoring — each was treated as a valued member of the class and the school community.

Case #3 exemplifies the type of progress we can make if we just discuss and talk about the effect bullying has on those that are being bullied and if the group as a whole shows that bullying will NOT be tolerated within their learning community.
As a teacher you may not be able to pinpoint the subject as clearly as in Case #3 – the bullying was so concentrated on these two girls that the discussion focus was pretty clear.  However, there are other successful methods of starting a conversation about bullying.

A common experience can bring a discussion into focus.  Award winning authors have written books that deals with incidents of bullying.  These incidents, the personality of the bully, the vulnerability of those being bullied, the background of all of the incidents, and so forth can all play into the discussions that come about because of the focus on bullying.  

Several lists of books exist which contain ideas for starting discussions about bullying -- The Pirate Tree.  The blog is maintained by a collective of children's and young adult writers interested in children's literature and social justice issues.  Two posts by Ann Angel concentrate on bullying:

Annangel.  (5 April 2012) "We Can Learn About Ways to Stop Bullying from Teens in the Civil Rights Movement." The Pirate Tree. (WEB)

Annangel.  (4 May 2012) "More Thoughts on Books, Bullying and Standing Up." The Pirate Tree.  (WEB). 

To find the other posts about bullying, use the search function on The Pirate Tree's blog.

Penguin Young Readers Group has published a booklet authored by Jerry Michel, titled Think Twice Play Nice.  The booklet is available from the Penguin Group teacher/librarians website at or from this archival depository.
To start that process one successful method is to hold an “all school” read.  Each child would read, or have read to them--the same book as each of the other students in the school.  After the book has been read or throughout the reading discussions for the events in the book can be shared and solutions/ideas sought.  

One of the most effective culminations to an all school read is arrange for students to have the perspective of the author who wrote each book.  One author, Dori Hillestad Butler often uses a previsit bullying survey to elicit what is going on in their schools in regard to bullying.  These comments/facts are then incorporated into her presentation/discussions with those who have read her book.  Carol Gorman elicits discussion about the “games” that were being played in her book about two bullies.  Games played by all bullies as well as those who merely stand by and provide passive approval/encouragement to the bully are also discussed. 
An author appearance by either Carol Gorman or Dori Hillestad Butler is a powerful element in focusing on anti-bullying efforts.

Carol Gorman — Games: The Tale of Two Bullies
The story of Mick Sullivan and Boot Quinn is written from two perspectives in alternating chapters — From the publisher: "Mick Sullivan likes reading thrillers, daydreaming about Tabitha Slater, and teasing his archenemy, Boot Quinn.  Boot Quinn likes playing his guitar, daydreaming about Tabitha Slater, and punching his adversary, Mick Sullivan.  The two eighth graders are rivals in every way, and with two fights in the first week of school, they've set the stage for a yearlong showdown. That is, until a new principal arrives on the scene and forces Mick and Boot to spend an hour and a half each day playing games together. Two enemies, one small room, and no adult supervision--battle lines are bound to be crossed. As the wins and losses are tallied, the boys find themselves fighting for their classmates' attention, a cute girl's affection, and their own fathers' respect.  But how far are they willing to go to win? And who are they really fighting? There's only one way to find out.
Game on."
Carol Gorman is an exciting and accomplished author presenters who engages students in active and involved conversations.  Invite Carol to your school to be part of the anti-bullying discussions as part of your all-school reads and your anti-bullying curriculum.  Plan an all-school read, schedule a date for the author's appearance, and begin now to promote a no-bullying tolerance in your school community.

McBookwords has a dozen or more authors that speak with young readers.  If you would like to investigate having an author visit your school or library -- for an author appearance please contact us at McBookwords.  Each of these authors often speak  in schools with young readers, and at all types of groups that are interested in literacy and  books.


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