For the most part schools are stuck with the view of education as imparting information. Shifting the educational mindset to one of discovery that includes discovery of self and other has huge benefits to students, teachers and the world.
When students sit in a class isolated from others, listening to just the teacher, only a small part of their brain is activated and learning is superficial and lonely. RedRover Readers presents a model that uses the power of stories and question strategies to activate the discovery process and help everyone in a classroom understand each other, feel better and build better relationships. Questions like, "How do you think she feels in this picture," "How do you know" and "How would you feel," help students understand emotional states, develop awareness of their own and other's emotional states and practice skills necessary for empathy (like perspective-taking). The model combines research in education and psychology; such as: reciprocal teaching (shown to increase comprehension), dialogue education (designed to maximize engagement and learning with adults), use of high-quality fiction (increases Theory of Mind/empathy) and narratives (activate/integrate the whole brain), in unique ways to make learning personally relevant and deep.
We help teachers let go of control and become a facilitator who starts conversations and is genuinely engaged in what students think and feel. They learn how to use stories and ask questions that activate a student's whole brain and challenge pre-existing narratives (which the brain uses to encode attitudes like "I hate cats"), making learning deeper and more personally relevant. We utilize carefully selected children's literature that illustrate positive relationships between people and animals as an easy way for kids to understand relationships in general. The strategies we share with teachers shift their entire mindset about teaching. In fact, the most impactful dimension of this program may be the ability for teachers to take the strategies and apply them in multiple ways, such as using the question strategies across subject areas and teaching kids the strategies to strengthen peer relationships and practice listening and responding with empathy with their classmates.
When implemented school-wide there is also the potential to build a new school culture, one of a close-knit, supportive community woven together through active listening and discovery. During RedRover Readers lessons, teachers guide discussions around carefully selected books that help students understand emotional states and take the perspectives of characters in books, both human and animal. The curriculum works best with 8 and 9 year old's, who are just developing more complex perspective-taking skills. Often education around emotional states stops after kindergarten, so this program also offers the opportunity to continue exploring emotional states -- especially those that are more complex, like mixed emotions -- as well as understanding emotional states in the context of relationships. In sum, the program helps students tap into their own knowledge, memories and emotions to interpret illustrations and narratives that help build their awareness of self, other and community.
Teachers model active listening, how to use questions to understand and connect better with others and responding without judgement. They reinforce participation and learning through genuine listening and acknowledgement instead of praise (which can increase the power differential and reduce the likelihood that students feel empowered to really express themselves). They ask questions like: "How do you think Buddy feels in this picture?" "How do you know?" "Tell me more about that," "Who else has another idea?" "What does everyone else think about what Maria said?" "Can a person and a dog be friends?" "What would that look like?" "Why would anyone listen to a dog?" "How is listening a part of friendship?" The illustrated books used in the program model positive relationships between people and pets, relationships that kids find much easier to unpack and discuss than human-human relationships (even if they do not have pets in their home).
As a class, students reflect on how they would feel in a similar situation as the characters; they listen and respond to their classmates' thoughts, feelings and ideas; and they practice what they've learned in play-based activities. They learn how to use clues from illustrations and text to interpret how others are feeling, and they practice the perspective-taking and self-awareness necessary to feel empathy for animals and each other. Lastly, they use the curriculum to reflect and share ideas about individual and collective responsibilities towards animals and people in need and how to make the future a more compassionate place for all.
Although the RedRover Readers program has been successful in helping RedRover achieve its mission of developing stronger relationships between people and pets as a means to address animal neglect and cruelty, because the methodology of the program has such potential to address many areas that impact education and children's social and emotional wellbeing, our long-term plan involves creating a new educational division or stand-alone social enterprise, RedRover Learning, with a broader, more holistic, inclusive mission of building stronger relationships and a stronger sense of community in a classroom and a school as a means to increase wellbeing and empower students to create a more compassionate society.