Reaching and Teaching Middle Schoolers…

IMG_0971The image on the left was created by me (using Noteography). It sums up what I know and believe from nearly 20 years of teaching middle schoolers. I just call them the characteristics of middle schoolers and it’s one of the first things I share with my undergrad preservice teachers each semester. The sharing of/discussion of what these characteristics mean launch our semester and are revisited many times over throughout our semester-long classes. The image on the right I quickly sketched (using Paper 53). (The image that combines each of these lists was created with Inkflow). These are the “essential” attributes of a middle school education for young adolescents as developed by the National Middle School Association. Never having seen these four essentials prior to generating my list, the similarity serves to confirm what I believe–what I know to be true. So, how do I interpret the NMSA listed essentials?

Developmentally responsive means that you need to know what makes adolescents tick. You need to consider their social, emotional, cognitive growth just as seriously as you would consider developmentally responsive education for the kids in primary grades. Many of the ills of chaotic discipline originate from not understanding that adolescents are very unsure of themselves. They need to find ways to find confidence–to not fail, They need social outlets–all the livelong day. They are social creatures, first and foremost. They are at their best when they feel a creative spirit and can turn loose imaginations. They don’t do well, in fact, they wither and retreat when set in rows and asked to be quiet, work alone, and listen while the teacher lectures for a grueling 50 minutes or more.

Challenging means just that! They love to puzzle something out. Notice how much they love digital games?? It’s the challenge. They want and need project learning where they can start almost from nowhere and with some basic tools and skeletal outline of instructions they can produce amazing things. Reading the textbook and answering the questions is not a challenge–it’s boring and they will have no problem in telling you so.

Empowering means giving them the flexibility to discover. Trust them to be powerful thinkers. Give them the tools with which to build, to author, to fix, to puzzle it out.

Equitable means to really put into practice the jargon-like statement all teachers say–“They all can learn.” Begin with where every learner is and provide them a path within their grasp to follow. Reach and teach them all.

So…when I set my beliefs alongside the beliefs of a national professional organization, I am affirmed and hopeful that through the voice of a powerful organization such as NMSA, these beliefs are out there and hopefully in practice.

(I had another purpose here: to highlight three of my favorite sketch note tools: Noteography, Paper 53, and Inkflow–all tools students would LOVE).