Part 4: Embedding Opportunities for Students to Practice Assertiveness
- Embedding Practice Opportunities for Part 1: Defining Assertiveness
- Embedding Practice Opportunities for Part 2: Understanding Your Ability to Be Assertive
- Embedding Practice Opportunities for Part 3: Understanding Yourself
Part 4: Embedding Opportunities for Students to Practice Assertiveness
You have explored instructional activities to address three learning targets:
- Part 1: Students define assertiveness; differentiate between passive, assertive, and aggressive behaviors; and provide examples of why learning to be assertive is important.
- Part 2: Students identify their strengths and challenges related to assertiveness.
- Part 3: Students use the Feeling Words Wheel to understand their feelings better and express them effectively.
You should understand the two components of assertiveness and how to help students better understand their feelings and express them appropriately at any given time. This portion of the module will explore ways to embed opportunities for students to practice concepts covered in Parts 1–3 with feedback and facilitated reflection.
Let’s begin by revisiting the Six Instructional Criteria (Gaumer Erickson, Noonan, and Cooper, 2017) for assertiveness instruction.
Instructional Criterion 4 entails providing students with opportunities to practice assertiveness. Ideal practice opportunities are when students interact with each other and are expected to convey their wants, needs, and thoughts. Group projects, collaborative learning activities, and asking for help provide students with opportunities to practice being assertive. Many students may need to start practicing assertiveness in small chunks of time or in individual situations—such as asking for assistance—to experience the benefits of being assertive more quickly. For example, students could set a goal of expressing themselves during a 10-minute small group activity. After the activity, the students could reflect on how well they applied assertiveness, and you (or their peers) could provide feedback.
Just as we provide students with specific feedback on their writing, math, or extracurricular activities, we also need to give them feedback on their assertiveness efforts. Feedback is the fifth instructional criterion. We can provide feedback by noticing when students begin to express themselves respectfully or empathize with others.
Giving students opportunities to reflect as they practice assertiveness will result in students being able to express their wants, thoughts, and needs while respecting what others want, need, and think. Here are a couple questions to prompt students’ reflection and fulfill the sixth instructional criterion:
- What is going well or what is not going well in your ability to express yourself?
- Are you able to understand how others may be feeling in certain situations?
4. Reflect and Apply: To help you better understand embedding instructional criteria into content, review this video of an educator who provided assertiveness practice in her middle school social studies classroom. As you watch this video, listen for the first four instructional criteria and how Sandy addressed Criteria 5 and 6 (providing feedback and reflecting on practice efforts). Record your thoughts on page 6 of the Educator Workbook.
Let’s review how Sandy addressed each of the instructional criteria in her social studies class.
- Sandy addressed Instructional Criteria 1 by defining assertiveness and using the activities in the lessons. We hear her talk about being on Lesson 4 and know that at some point, she has already defined assertiveness for her students and has also helped them understand the two components of assertiveness.
- Sandy addressed Instructional Criteria 2 (understanding how assertiveness is important to them personally) by asking her students to complete a T-chart of things that got in the way of their group collaboration projects. This helped students understand that in order for the group to work more effectively together, it was important that they use assertiveness.
- For Instructional Criteria 3, Sandy talked about raising the student’s awareness of their strengths and areas of challenge in being assertive by thinking about their own behavior. She mentioned that her students understand that there are times when they are passive and aggressive during their group work and now know how to respond to those behaviors in others and themselves.
- Instructional Criteria 4 was addressed when Sandy created opportunities for her students to practice increasing assertiveness with their group projects. Students practiced using the assertiveness concepts each time they were asked to work in a group.
- Sandy addressed Instructional Criteria 5 by providing her students with feedback on their collaborative work through a rubric. She asked the students to rate themselves on their behavior, and she also provided them with written feedback using the rubric.
- Finally, Sandy also addressed Instructional Criteria 6, reflection, by using the rubric for collaborative work and asking her students to reflect on their progress in being assertive after completing a group project.
Embedding Practice Opportunities for Part 1: Defining Assertiveness
It is important to use your course content to deepen students’ understanding of what assertiveness is and why assertiveness can be important to people (e.g., literary characters in English, historical figures in Social Studies, scientists in Biology or other sciences). As students are introduced to content-specific figures, ask them to reflect on how being assertive helped these people accomplish their goals. Provide written or verbal feedback that reinforces the connection between being assertive and managing the outcome of a situation. Encourage students to reflect on their learning, including how that person’s example of assertiveness might be relevant to their own life.
You can also provide students with the opportunity to practice understanding assertiveness and why it is important by asking them to keep an Assertiveness Log (Handout 4. linked on page 9 of your Educator Workbook). Periodically allow students time to write about recent interactions with others and how they reacted. Questions that will help emphasize the importance of learning and practicing assertiveness are:
- Were you practicing assertiveness in this situation? Why or Why not?
- Why is being assertive in situations like this one important? How might you be more assertive in a similar situation?
Embedding Practice Opportunities for Part 2: Understanding Your Ability to Be Assertive
In Part 2, you explored activities to help students identify their strengths and challenges related to assertiveness. The activities focused on how to assess students’ learning and help them identify which component of assertiveness is their area of strength and which component they find more challenging. Prompting students to identify their areas of strength and challenge could be done through brief reflective conversations or written responses. Ask students to reflect on how well they applied specific assertive behaviors (e.g., speaking openly without interrupting others, making eye contact, participating in groups) to determine which behavior they are doing well and which continue to challenge them. Consider using this prompt to generate more meaningful responses from your students:
Last week I acted (passive, assertive, aggressive) when I…
I acted this way because:
a. It was difficult for me to express my wants, needs, and thoughts.
b. It was difficult for me to understand others’ wants, needs, and thoughts.
If the situations comes up again, I could be more assertive by…
Students can also practice understanding their ability to be assertive by identifying passive, assertive, and aggressive behaviors in content and relating it to their own experiences. First, ask students to identify characters that portray strengths and challenges in being assertive. Then, using the questions below, prompt students to relate to the character.
- How is [insert character name] like you?
- Which component of assertiveness do you think [insert character name] finds difficult? Why?
Embedding Practice Opportunities for Part 3: Understanding Yourself
In Part 3, you explored how to support students in describing their emotions and learning how to express those emotions respectfully. There are many ways you can embed opportunities for students to practice describing their emotions and expressing them respectfully in your classroom. One way is to use the Feeling Words Wheel when your students have emotional reactions to situations. Ask them to identify the more complex emotions they may be having and determine why they might be having these emotions. Students can also reflect on the emotions likely felt by characters in a book or historical figures.
Allowing students to journal about their feelings and how they could express them more appropriately is another way to provide students with opportunities to understand themselves better and why they have emotional reactions to different situations. Prompt students to reflect on feelings they might be having related to learning new content, extracurricular activities, or their interactions with others. Then, ask them to journal about these emotions and include ways they can respectfully express their feelings.
Additional instructional activities to teach students how to plan, monitor, adjust, and reflect are described in Teaching Assertiveness in Middle and High School Classrooms by Noonan & Gaumer Erickson (2017). Facilitated virtual and onsite professional learning is provided internationally by recognized Competency Framework Trainers. Determine your next steps using the checklist on page 10 of the Educator Workbook.