Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Preparing Students for Middle School?

Assemblies are pretty common in our school. We have everything from musical assemblies to book presentations to holiday celebrations. I have always been someone who spends time before assemblies talking to the students about how to behave. Be sure you clap, never boo. Pay attention and show the presenter that you are interested and listening. Be polite and respectful to all those around you. And, for the most part, the students are great audience members.

Today, our assembly was a science assembly. It was loud and exciting. The presenter was enthusiastic and engaging. And the students were totally enthralled by every minute. But I observed something interesting with them.

You see, in our classroom, Christine and I work to make sure that all of our students know how to be active learners. They are expected to do what they need to do in order to stay focused, be productive, and remain engaged. That means that they sometimes move around the room. Sometimes they grab a laptop in the middle of a lesson. Sometimes they get reference books or a Franklin Speller. There are fidget toys and highlighters, a Relaxation Station and a water fountain. Whatever they need to do to learn, they do. Without asking. Without disturbing everyone else. Without making a scene.

So back to the assembly. There we are, sitting in the gym with the rest of the fourth and fifth graders. We got into the room last so we were sitting in the back. And once the assembly began, the children began to take care of themselves. Some of them moved to the very back and knelt so they could see. Some students actually stood in the back of the room. Two students were video taping the whole assembly so they were moving around the edge of the room throughout the presentation. One student ran back to the room for his glasses. Two students started a very quiet conversation about energy while they were learning. I am sitting behind all of the students watching. And I am feeling proud. They are engaged. They are excited. They are learning. And they are doing what they need to do without disturbing the other students or the presenter. And then I saw the shocked faces of the other teachers in the room. And I realized that our students no longer fit into the "school mold."

We have gotten our students to be active learners. We have taught them the importance of advocating for their education. But now we are going to send them off to middle school where there might be teachers who find their behavior insubordinate. And I'm not sure how I feel about that. Do we stop teaching them to learn, regardless of what it takes? Do we spend the rest of the year teaching them to fit back into the "school mold"? Or do we just hope that they can teach their teachers next year that, just because they are standing in the back of the room or playing with a fidget toy, does not mean they are not learning? What do you think?

Images: 'Guess the shape'
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10 comments:

Paul Bogush said...

Wow--do I ever know what you are talking about. It makes me so sad. They come back to visit from HS in such dismal moods. When I ask them just try asking to do something different...offer your teacher an acceptable alternative, they just smile like don't you get it Mr. B, my one year in your class was just an oasis--poof--it dissapeared the second we graduated.
Don't you dare stop doing what you are doing just to teach them to fit into school. My hope is that the kids will at least remember what school could be like and someday become teachers, or parents who demand change. Maybe, just maybe, one of them will stand up and say to a future teacher I an idea and share it to improve their class.
This is a real difficult problem isn't it...

John Howell said...

From where I sit I would say keep blazin' the path for others to follow. The mold needs to be broken and I am sure your students will certainly adapt to their new Middle School environment next year.

Your post had me wondering if there are other teachers in your building that have embraced the idea that we need to transform schools and the way we reach the students of today?

I am fortunate to work in an elementary building where conversations about transformation of pedagogy and a shift in our own thinking as a staff are everywhere. This is a very recent shift but there is a buzz in the building and we seem to be going through this journey together.

I have actually forwarded a few of your blog posts through our building to share with others and perhaps I should do the same with this one.

Thank you so much for your transparency and all that you do!

Keep on keepin' on.

SherryC said...

As a middle school teacher, we ask the same questions about high school. We have this lovely little environment where we nurture our kids and teach them to be active learners. Then we send them off to a high school of 2400 kids and KNOW they won't be much more than a number. I try and prep them for that, but I refuse to teach differently. I must do what I can for them while I have them. I applaud you for the way you teach your kids. Keep up the good work and perhaps someday, the kids will have demanded more often enough above you to cause change!

Jenny said...

I was smiling and smiling through your post and then I felt like a balloon was popped. (Probably similar to how you felt, actually.)

I agree with the other comments that you should keep up what you're doing with these kids. However, I would add that it might be worth having some conversations about how to deal with the changes in middle school. It's natural to have those conversations in general, because it's such a big switch from elementary to middle. You could just include some questions prompting them to think about how they'll deal with different teachers and their different styles.

Louise Maine said...

I am sad thinking with my 9th and 10th graders are just now learning to think and question, yet when they go one they will be working with drill and practice and lecture. I wish we had middle school teachers who were working with students this way as it is tough to teach differently at the high school setting (many of my students do well with the present concept of school, but they are not good at inquiry and find it difficult and a threat.) I would keep up with what you are doing. It will serve them well in a variety of aspects in the future.

loonyhiker said...

This was a great post! What a great opportunity to teach students to be self advocates when they move away from your safe environment. It would be great to role play some possible scenarios and discuss the best way to handle the middle school teachers without seeming disrespectful or disruptive. I would also invite the middle school guidance counselors to observe your class so they can make their teachers aware of strategies these students are using. Maybe invite the sped teachers from the middle school too so they can explain to the general ed teachers. Just some possible ideas...

B.Davis said...

So sad and yet so true- as an administrator in a middle school of about 1000 kids and 90 or so staff, I see all different types of teaching and learning. I am still surprised to see that so many teachers are of that mindset...kids should be sen and not heard. We have some teachers who let the students use ipods while they are writing and others who, if they see a bulge in the students pocket at lunch will ask them to hand over the device.We are trying to teach our students how to be resourceful an how to be responsible for their own learning but we ask them to do things like "power down" when they get to school. Instead of embracing these "acts of resourcefulness/defiance we are making the actions and/or the devices out to be evil.

Ann E said...

I read this post while at a women's leadership conference (#welv), and the group at my table wound up discussing it during a conversation about educating The Whole Child. Part of our discussion centered around the whole notion of what student engagement looks like these days---clearly, there are descriptors that remain true from year to year, but also some new ways of describing engagement in the 21st century classroom. One of the principals in the group suggested that it would be a good conversation to have with faculty: "What does student engagement look like? Can we, as a learning community, generate some agreed upon descriptors?"

I think that would be a great discussion! Thank you for a post that enriched our conference conversation. (@ann1622, @vascd)

educationontheplate said...

You've already done one of the two best things you can do for your students; you've busted them out of the school mold and helped them figure out for themselves how to direct their own learning.

The other best thing you can do for your students, and I have no doubt you are doing it, is too make them strong enough to resist when future teachers try to push them back into the mold.

v said...

you should get their parents involved in seeing how well they learn in your class. educate the parents on what you are doing. they have to advocate- it can't be on the shoulders of minors who will get yelled at and punished.