Cyberbullying Prevention in the Classroom

These days even young children have active digital lives through texting, instant messaging, and multi-player online games such as Club Penguin. However, children who are adept at using digital devices such as smartphones and tablets often lack the digital social skills needed to be safe online. Unless adults directly teach such skills, children may inadvertently hurt others’ feelings, escalate their own negative emotions, or share private information widely.

Whose job is it to teach children to stop and think before they press the send button, avoid casual cruelty in texts, or keep private information private? Hopefully, all the adults in children’s lives are working together to teach these life skills. Classroom teachers can and should take an active part in this aspect of preventing cyberbullying. Otherwise, meanness practiced in the digital world will overflow into our classrooms. Bully and cyberbullying impact children’s ability to learn; if we can help prevent them, we should.

But teachers are busy! Fortunately, you can teach digital social skills and cyber-safety in ways that interweave with your existing curriculum. I asked Tracy Mercier, a Responsive Classroom consultant whose third grade classroom I wrote about in How to Bullyproof Your Classroom, how she managed this challenge. Here are some of her suggestions:

  1. Try Skyping. Starting with a platform where children are not in the same space but can still see each other is a way to teach foundational skills. Are your students in book clubs? Use Skype to join a book club where some of the members are in a neighboring town or another state. You’ll need to explicitly teach skills such as turn-taking and careful listening; of course, these are skills you’d teach for successful face-to-face book clubs, as well! Other skills to teach are important for face-to-face discussions but even more so for Skype™: keeping one’s attention on the speaker, reflecting about what the speaker might mean, and asking clarifying questions. Building these skills will help your students be more thoughtful as they interact digitally both inside and outside of your classroom.
  2. Try blogging. Set up a classroom blog that children in other classes or children’s family members can read. Blogging will allow your students to practice communicating with others when they don’t see their faces and aren’t receiving body language cues about how readers are thinking and feeling. In order to be successful, children will need to think about how the person reading the blog might feel when they read their words. They’ll also need to know how to respond with clarity and tact to comments made. Notice that these are skills we teach as part of a quality writing program: how to write clearly and awareness of audience. Explicit instruction about how writing skills apply to communicating on a blog will help students with writing they do online, inside and outside of your classroom.
  3. Try Pinterest and Instagram. Try having students post “How I solved the math problem” pictures on a classroom Pinterest or Instagram page. To do this well, students will need to choose visuals that depict their thinking and describe their thinking clearly in writing. They’ll also need to learn to write respectful comments on other people’s work. These skills are among those we already teach children in order to communicate mathematically; they’re also skills children need to communicate safely and respectfully in digital environments.

A recent University of Phoenix College of Education study found that 80% of teachers surveyed use social media, but only 18% have integrated it into their classrooms due to worries about possible negative repercussions. The reality is that our students are already in the social media world. Without guidance from adults, there will be negative repercussions that lead up to and include cyberbullying.

In our classrooms, we teach students the skills of listening carefully, speaking clearly, and monitoring responses to keep them appropriate and kind. Children won’t automatically apply those skills to the digital world unless we build that bridge for them. By using digital platforms and experiences to teach skills of reading, writing, math and inquiry, we build the bridge. By teaching skills of digital safety as part of this instruction, we help to keep children safe both inside and outside the classroom.

Caltha Crowe is a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher with nearly forty years of experience teaching elementary school students and twenty years of experience mentoring new teachers. She is the author of three books: Sammy and His Behavior Problems (NEFC 2010), Solving Thorny Behavior Problems (NEFC 2009), and How to Bullyproof Your Classroom.

Tags: Bullying, Challenging Behaviors

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