“No! I’ll take him!” I yelled, jogging toward a crying student at the bus dock. I wasn’t sure that I could convince him to get on—but watching another student get carried onto the bus wailing was more than I could handle.
“Why don’t you want to get on the bus?” I asked Brandon. No response. (Unless you count crying and pointing at a different bus). Another teacher called out: “He was supposed to go on the other bus today, but he has to get on this one because his dad is picking him up”.
“Ok,” I said, and turned to him. “Brandon. Do you remember watching your animated friend Peter? He’s your favorite character, right?” He nodded. “You have two choices, Brandon. You can get on this bus even though you don’t want to, or I’ll take you inside and we’ll have to call home. What do you think Peter would do?”
I held my breath for the next 10 seconds, as Brandon looked back and forth between the bus and the school doors. The other teachers eyed me, wondering what would happen next. Talk about pressure! Finally, Brandon sniffled, nodded, and allowed me to walk him onto the bus. No screaming, no crying, and no carrying on.
Brandon didn’t get on the bus for me, and he didn’t get on because of the threat of calling home. He got on the bus because I reminded him of his relationship with Peter. His favorite animated character reminded him that he knew how to make the right choice, and this is one of the many reasons why I use animations to support successful behavior in my resource room and inclusive classroom.
This story is an example of my number 1 reason for using instructional animations with my students. Let’s go through my top 10 reasons, one by one.
1. Students in K-2 Classrooms Relate to Animated Characters
After three years of using the Habits of Mind animations in my classroom, this is a no-brainer for me: kids connect with characters. What child doesn’t love cartoons? Outside of school kids are immersed in animation. I believe their ability to relate to fictional characters – whether in books or cartoons -impacts their ability to relate to one another and to adults. The relationship my students develop with the Habits of Mind animated characters can be cultivated and used to help them refine social and critical thinking skills that will support healthy relationships – with themselves and others – throughout their lives. We couldn’t ask for more for them.
2. Animated Stories Can Teach Empathy
When I taught 4th grade, I was introduced to “mean girls”. WOW. When did being a mean girl start so young? I quickly learned that empathy is not easy to teach. For us, it involved endless conversations, tears, and a realization that the person being picked on is, in fact, a person, who also has feelings. This took weeks! I researched how to instill empathy in kids, and found that reading books to young children is a powerful way to teach empathy and kindness. Ideal books involve a character that kids like and connect to, who later learns a lesson that makes them feel a particular way. Animations work the same way, and can be even more effective. A research study proved that children who watched Sesame Street developed better interpersonal skills by seeing and hearing a character’s emotions- even if that character was a fluffy bird or trash can monster. By viewing Sesame Street, kids internalized what sadness might look like in their friends; and by viewing how friends help one another, kids internalized how they might do the same. (Sesame Workshop). A minimum of once a month, I share the Habits of Mind animation “Listening with Understanding and Empathy” with my students for this reason. It works!
3. Animations are a Multi-Sensory Teaching Tool
We’ve all been to intervention or differentiation professional development seminars that talk about using multi-sensory techniques. This is another strength of animation! In an animated lesson, students can SEE their favorite characters in tough situations, HEAR them responding respectfully to other characters, and TALK about the viewing experience with peers and teachers. If you add in the printable extension lessons available from the Habits of Mind Animations website, there are also opportunities to involve other senses like TOUCH. The bottom line is that reading, writing, math, and tests are important… but using a multi-sensory tool like animation to teach SEL and critical thinking is highly effective.
4. Animations Help Separate a Child’s Behavior from their Person
I use the Habits of Mind animations to teach social skills to make behavior corrections less personal. In my crisis intervention class in college, my professor taught us that if we want to prevent a correction from becoming a crisis, we must ensure the student we are addressing does not feel personally attacked. Being corrected and introduced to replacement behaviors is part of growing up (for adults, too). The truth is, no one likes to be corrected; children (and adults) get defensive. This contributes to the crying, screaming, and tantrum throwing that happens with some of our kids. I use animations to avoid this outcome, and it often works. I start my year with regular viewings of the Habits of Mind animations, because they give me context to refer to. By reminding students what the character Maria did in an animated lesson and discussing what she will do differently next time, I have a non-threatening opportunity to explore the present situation. My students figure that ‘if Maria messed up, it’s ok if I mess up,’ and ‘because she corrects her behavior and does the right thing, so can I’.
5. Students Imitate the Character’s Behavior
Like it or not, they do it. And they’re going to imitate animated characters whether or not you show animations in your classroom. We can combat the fact that they want to fight like Power Rangers by offering alternative animations that help them think through their choices and behavior. The alternative is to be reactive and constantly punish students after the roundhouse kicks have already caused the damage. Because kids are already imitating characters, why not give them some animations that model the behaviors we WANT them to imitate.
6. Animated Stories are Efficient Way to Convey Information
Animation can say a lot in a few minutes – just like a good song or a good poem – and all three have a lasting impact. In animated stories, students hear the characters’ tone, see the character’s body language and expressions, and listen to the words they are saying simultaneously. Much can be understood about characters by observing their environment, their appearance, their likes and their dislikes. In many ways, students connecting with animation is no different than adults watching Game of Thrones; they are enthralled by the characters, make predictions as to what will happen to them next, and react to good or bad character choices. But, I love the convenience of easily accessed animated stories that teach a powerful lesson and fuel sensory connections (just like songs and poems) in just three minutes!
7. Animations are a way to “Hook” the Students
I had a college professor who was obsessed with always finding a hook. He would say, “what is your hook for this lesson? You need to hook ‘em and reel ‘em in!” We know that students who are entertained by a lesson are likewise engaged. In the HOM Animations, content serves as the hook, making the experience not only enjoyable but in alignment with how students learn best from animated stories. The loveable recurring characters are immediately recognized and trusted, allowing kids to focus on what is happening in the story – which is shaped by the lesson the students are meant to absorb. Students learn best in a safe and light-hearted environment; research shows classrooms with familiar characters on posters and bookshelves make students more comfortable and open to learning. The Habits of Mind animated stories introduce students to the lesson and get them seated, quiet, and eyes pointing in the right direction. In 2-3 minutes, the kids are engaged, entertained and ready to learn. The students are hooked, and instantly you are reeling them in!
8. Stories Create a Shared Viewing Experience
Animations in the classroom provide students with a shared experience. Why is that important? One of the best ways to practice language, verbal or written, is to have something in common to talk or write about. It’s no surprise to me that kids absorb pro-social behaviors from educational programs more effectively when they watch them in a group setting. These animations serve as engaging and ongoing shared experiences that help them develop new ideas, learn communication strategies, and debate with each other respectfully and constructively. Shared viewing experiences also serve to involve my atypical learners; leveling the playing field so that every student feels included, acknowledged and integrated in the learning. Shared viewing is a valuable activity that can be assessed and enriched by student writing and discussion.
9. Animations are a Powerful Social Emotional Learning Platform
The Habits of Mind animations let me teach social emotional and critical thinking skills without feeling guilty. Guilt? About teaching kids the vital skills they need in life? Between high stakes testing for the kids and academic-based evaluations for me, the thought of adding a “behavior” or “social skill” lesson to my day might give me a mild panic attack. How do I justify the time? With the HOM animations, I can integrate these skills into academics. Writing is my go-to: after an animated lesson I prompt the students to write letters to the characters, or write how they’d handle the given situation, or write about a time they’ve used the skill. In addition, each Habits of Mind animation comes with 28 printable extension lessons that can be adjusted for all student levels. These fluency passages adapt to each student’s learning goals to reinforce the social or critical thinking skill they just learned. Weaving social skills into my academic plan makes for a more efficient classroom, more thoughtful student behavior, and therefore a happier teacher.
10. Animations Provide a 3-Minute Opportunity for a Breather
Short animations allow me to get myself together before transitions. Yep, I said it: I don’t always have it all together. I forget things, I get phone calls, I lose scissors, I get stickers stuck in my hair, and sometimes, I accidentally touch a booger someone wiped on the table. Whatever the situation, sometimes I just need a few minutes before transitioning. The 3-minute length of the Habits of Mind animations provide the perfect amount of time for Mrs. Vargo to search for the stapler that she JUST HAD IN HER HAND. And by the time the animation ends, I’ve found the stapler, the students have calmly watched a critical thinking skill brought to life with their favorite characters, and I’ve even dispatched a wet wipe to that stray booger on the table. Moving right along.
We couldn’t ask for more for our kids than including life’s most important lessons and skills as a vibrant part of their everyday learning experience. I believe that every day is a good day to leverage the potential of educational media; and my go-to are the Habits of Mind animations. In the words of Deb Delisle, Director of ASCD: “Every student, every day; some success, some way!”
Janelle Vargo is an elementary intervention specialist for Northridge Schools in Dayton, Ohio. She has been using Habits of Mind animations and lessons for her students both in the resource room and inclusive classrooms since their creation. Janelle has written lessons and articles for private educational companies as well as consulting with companies and school districts looking to make their interventions simple, efficient and meaningful to children. As a local business owner of Two Birds Artwork which specializes in custom artwork and art classes for kids through adults, Janelle strives to incorporate multi-sensory creative learning opportunities for young students who are often bored and uninterested in school. She and her husband also run The Athletic Proving Grounds in their hometown which houses workout groups for adults, speed groups for 5th grade and up, and Sport differentiated training for student athletes. Through these experiences, she seeks to instill a “beyond the test” mentality in her students where they are able to participate in activities that engage imagination, movement, problem solving, and perseverance. She can be contacted at Janelle.email@example.com.