Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Instruction: Building on the Realities of Middle School Kids

"Middle school teachers make the best of our students when we accept and build on the realities of middle school kids. We can't wash away, discipline away, or program away a time of life. We're there to help our students open a window on adulthood, on what really matters in life; we help by opening our curriculi to young adolescents' preoccupations, perspectives, and growing pains."--Atwell

It's interesting to reflect on this statement made by Atwell. As a first year teacher the question I often ask to more seasoned teachers is, "How can I harness all of that electric energy of my students for something great? How can I work with their energy, instead of against it? I find it interesting that seasoned middle grades educators seem so surprised by their students behaviors. The suggestion that I often get to my questions about high energy in the classroom is to not allow group work, discussion, or engagement. Just take the engagement away. Well, I'm not going to judge another teacher for what works for him or her. However, that answer just doesn't work for me.

Adolescent teens need engagement, but learning must be the focus. It is very easy for kids this age to get out of control. I believe the key lies in excruciating details and organization. The teacher must predict and plan for every move within the classroom, being on top of the action at all times. This is not an easy task, but I believe that this is what could make middle school great. However, it would take passionate, dedicated teachers to make this happen. The more I research and learn about middle grades, the more I realize that the most talented teachers should be teaching middle school.

"From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in school comes from his inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside of school in any complete and free way; while, on the other hand, he is unable to apply to daily life what he is learning at school. When a middle school begins to reflect the nature of its kids, the great waste in our schools wanes, and great purpose waxes. School can be good for something. School and life can come to terms in practical, rigorous ways. We make the best of adolescence when we make the classroom the best context we can for the mercurial minds at work and play there." --Atwell

Today, I read the chapter on developing a writing workshop. It is intense, and it will take diligence to make this happen, but the more I read and research, the more I believe that this is where I need to go with my instruction. I already utilize many of Atwell's techniques. However, she goes much deeper with it, and she is very detailed. Atwell offers an education to her students that I never had, but would love to offer to others.

She suggests more freedom in choice of reading and writing themes and texts, but she presents and assesses in a very structured way. She teaches exacting systems of reading, writing, and discussion, Furthermore, Atwell allows her students to read during class, but she has a system for doing so, It is not just a time filler.

In The Middle has captivated my attention, and gotten me excited about the upcoming year. Her philosophy on teaching middle grades resonates with my own, so I trust her judgment. Again, although I know and believe in my own abilities, I am always open and ready for suggestions. As long as I am a teacher-- I will also be a learner. I just know that I must pull it all together over the next two weeks. I want to start the school year off right! I may have some work ahead of me, but the reward will be sweet.

Another article I read--Atwell talks frequently about Graves in her work.
The Write Way
Donald Graves started a revolution just by watching young children as they wrote in school


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