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Voices Literature & Writing Extends the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program

Voices Literature & Writing can extend the Olweus program by improving classroom and school climate and creating positive interactions among students. As you read on, keep in mind the following:

  • Voices Literature & Writing is not an add-on program, it is taught during the literacy block or morning meeting, ensuring critical social skills are deepened each day.
  • Voices Literature & Writing grade-level curriculum resources reinforce social skills in the classroom each day and throughout the year that are critical to fostering empathy and reducing conflicts, which are key to reducing and preventing bullying.
  • The daily Voices Literature & Writing thinking, discussion, and writing activities can help “internalize” the weekly Olweus content.
  • The combination of Olweus specifically targeting bullying behaviors/incidents and Voices Literature & Writing focused on social skills and prevention is a powerful approach to reducing teasing, bullying, and harassment.

Lack of social competence, perspective-taking, conflict resolution skills, empathy, and compassion create growing serious and dangerous antisocial behavior in the nation’s schools. A recent federal department of education summit indicated that youth ages 8 to 15 years rank bullying as more of a problem in their lives than discrimination, racism, or violence (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). Research confirms that school-based social and emotional learning can play a significant role in reducing bullying and harassment (Elias & Weissberg, 2000; Farrington & Ttofi, 2009).

Below are five ways that the Voices Literature & Writing program can extend the Olweus program by improving classroom and school climate and creating positive interactions among students.

1. Help Students Find Their Way to Positive Behavior.

Voices Literature & Writing for Grades K–6 consists of multicultural literature, curriculum resources, and professional development focused on developing students’ social skills, prevention skills, and academic skills. The program promotes these skills through reading and discussing highly relevant stories that students can relate to and then gradually apply to their own lives.

Voices Literature & Writing is a research-based program with twenty years of field-testing and evaluations that helps students build healthy relationships through sharing personal stories related to the themes in the literature. Within these relationships, students develop strong attachments to classmates and their teachers. This positive relationship-building approach enables students to internalize the lessons and resist becoming involved in negative and self-destructive behaviors.

2. Create Positive Classrooms.

The Voices Literature & Writing activities and discussions stimulate social and emotional learning and create a positive classroom environment. For example, in Grade 3 students read the award-winning book Yanni Rubbish about a young Greek boy who is teased because of the job his family has in their village. Through role playing, standing in the shoes of the characters, and partner sharing, students come to understand that exclusion and teasing are forms of bullying—all in the engaging and academically enriching context of reading and writing about literature from around the world.

3. Foster a Positive School Environment.

Voices Literature & Writing can be implemented as a school-wide program, where all students are working on the same themes at the same time. Six Program Themes anchor students to the curriculum. The year begins with students deepening their understanding of themselves and concludes with strengthening their commitments to our democratic society.

  • Identity Awareness, in which students discover their own unique personalities as they gain a strong foundation for developing healthy relationships.
  • Perspective Taking, where students develop empathy as they become aware that other points of view are valid and should be respected.
  • Conflict Resolution, where students learn new strategies for resolving differences and how to get along with others.
  • Family, Friends, and Community helps students learn about the nature of relationships with family and friends as they begin to understand the importance of helping and caring for others.
  • Social Awareness, in which students learn to foster relationships and begin to understand the pitfalls of stereotyping and prejudice.
  • Democracy, where students learn to value fairness and respect and learn that they need to contribute to society and practice good citizenship.

Schools can also use the Voices Literature & Writing literature as part of a family reading or family outreach program that brings the resources home and develops the same prevention skills at home as in the classroom. With a variety of positive activities that engage everyone, a school can create a positive culture that is friendly, safe, and conducive to learning.

4. Provide Ongoing Support.

Professional development is a critical ingredient to build a positive school community. For example, our A Focus on Anti-bullying Strategies workshop demonstrates activities that use carefully selected children’s literature to help students deal with issues of bullying, create a more positive classroom and/or school climate, and allow for greater academic achievement. Zaner-Bloser Professional Development can also provide training and support for parents, counselors, and community members on how to use the Voices Literature & Writing pedagogy and lessons to promote positive behavior and classrooms and to prevent negative behavior like bullying.

5. Research and Results

Voices is an evidence-based method of developing students’ social skills and reducing problem behaviors and violence:

  • Voices was rated a top program by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) from among hundreds of programs.
  • Voices was ranked as a top violence prevention program in the country by Drug Strategies, a nationally recognized organization that evaluates drug and violence prevention programs.
  • Case studies and evaluations in schools across the country show that Voices has a significant effect on improving students’ social skills, reducing fights and suspensions, and improving literacy skills, particularly reading comprehension and writing.

Voices Literature & Writing Instructional Strategies That Support the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program

At point-of-use within the Voices Literature & Writing Teacher Guides, there are multiple strategies and resources that help teachers address the needs of students in Olweus classrooms and schools.

1. Culturally Responsive Literature Provides Equal Access for All Students

Voices Literature & Writing utilizes the power of Teacher Read-Alouds to provide equal access for all students to the content of culturally relevant literature, a developmentally appropriate approach which invites participation and helps promote perspective taking and other social skills.

For example, Voices Literature & Writing literature and lessons can be used in classrooms as “read alouds,” in small groups through shared reading and partner activities, and in one-on-one interventions. Further, to enhance small group work and classroom instructional needs, Voices Leveled Library includes brief titles aligned with the six themes.

2. Perspective-Taking Strategies

Taking another person’s point of view is a “first step” social skill that lays the foundation for developing empathy and positive behavior.

Research shows that students who can take perspective are less likely to lean on aggression or violence. In Voices Literature & Writing, the carefully selected multicultural literature and social skills lessons that accompany it help students become aware that other points of view are valid and should be respected. Voices Literature & Writing students learn these critical social skills by standing in the shoes of the characters of the stories they are reading and express their thoughts and feelings as if they were those people. Students can then extend this practice to their fellow classmates as their personal stories are shared.

For example, the fourth grade Voices Literature & Writing title Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear shows students how to accept other people’s values through a young boy who has immigrated to the United States from China who wants to play baseball instead of music. In one activity, student partners share ideas and write about what Yang’s best friend Matthew sees when he looks at the world through Yang’s eyes. (Sample response: He sees how important music is to Yang’s family; how difficult it is to start a new life where you don’t know anyone, can’t speak the language, and don’t know the customs.)

Teaching empathy, caring, and respect is particularly important for students who tease or bully others.

3. Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution Strategies

In order to treat others respectfully and be able to deal peacefully with conflicts, students need first to be able to express themselves and coordinate different points of view.

For this reason, the Voices Literature & Writing conflict resolution theme builds on the perspective taking activities previously taught. Students learn to identify different kinds of conflicts, how they escalate, how they can be de-escalated, how to use the ABC Problem-solving Method, and how to use different conflict resolution strategies. Students start by applying these strategies to conflicts in the books they are reading and then to real-life situations.

For example, Voices Literature & Writing students read and discuss the award-winning story Amazing Grace, about a young girl who is told that she cannot play Peter Pan in the school play because she is a girl and she is black. In one recent classroom demonstration of a Voices Literature & Writing perspective-taking exercise, a young Latino boy role played Grace, who is an African American girl, and was asked to analyze Grace’s conflict resolution choices while standing in her shoes.

One conflict resolution strategy Voices Literature & Writing uses is the ABC Problem-solving Method, which Asks children to first identify the conflict, then to Brainstorm possible solutions, and finally to Choose the best solution to the conflict.

The Voices Literature & Writing approach is embedded in a high-interest story, which gives students the opportunity to develop problem-solving approaches in a comfortable setting.

4. Role Playing

Students use the culturally responsive literature as a jumping off point to engage in drama and role plays to practice the lessons and develop communication and social skills with their peers.

5. Partner Learning

Research has demonstrated that students who have a sense of security are better able to share their inner thoughts and feelings. Developing a trusting relationship with a partner is a good way to build that sense of security. Voices Literature & Writing includes three partner-based routines to promote social development:

  • Partner Sharing
  • Partner Interviewing
  • Partner Brainstorming

6. Positive Teacher Language

Voices Literature & Writing teachers weave Theme Vocabulary throughout the lessons (Example: Grade 1, Conflict Resolution, Big Moon Tortilla: independent, influence, persuasion, plan, rules).

7. Teacher Modeling of Social Skills

Voices Literature & Writing teachers share a personal story related to the theme of each lesson and literature as a way to connect to students and create a warm, caring relationship and a positive classroom climate.

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