Schooling Magazine

We're Supposed to Be Helping Students Move Forward.

By Mrsebiology @mrsebiology
We are currently having discussions regarding how to improve the student transition from 8th to 9th grade.  A lot of our 9th graders come in with the idea that they don't have to do any of the assignments given by teachers, and they come in without a lot of the study skills required to be successful.  They don't know how to take notes on their own or persevere through tough problem-solving rich tasks that require a lot of time, effort, synthesis, application, and failure.
Knowing how my freshmen had struggled this year, today I asked my students in Physical Science what words of wisdom they would offer freshmen taking the joy that is Physical Science next year.  Here's what one of them said:
"I would tell them that the school year is going to be hard and in science you learn to do things that you never thought you would know how to do, but you will get through the year. Looking back at things we did in the beginning of the school year, I remember thinking that they were the hardest thing in the world and Mrs.E was the smartest person I knew. High school is a BIG change from middle school and not all the kids are ready for it when they get here."
In other words, they aren't really ready for the demands that our high school places upon them.
Unfortunately, the suggestions that were offered in the discussion amongst adults to help our freshmen more easily transition leaned towards making things the same for them all.  Making all freshmen take the same type of notes, making sure all freshmen teachers had the same amount of grades in the gradebook so they would have a harder time failing classes, making them do things on pen and paper rather then use technology because "there's just nothing like pen and paper."  Everything was geared towards sameness.
Instead of standardization, how about preparation?  Instead of trying to make things easier for students (and, in turn, easier for ourselves, really), why not teach students how to make the appropriate choices for their learning so they can actually be those "life-long learners" that are always mentioned in mission statements pasted on cinderblock walls?  Instead of one-size fits all strategies, how about differentiation and teaching students several strategies from which to choose--and having them reflect and give feedback on the strategy they chose and whether it worked for them in that particular learning instance? 
How about we stop telling ourselves that students "just can't do that yet at their age" and start finding ways to enable them to do the thinking and learning we need them to do? Why don't we give the control to the students over their own learning instead of micromanaging/packaging them into learning that we feel is appropriate (or easiest) for them?  Because when we start dictating how the page is laid out or what blanks to fill in or how to do anything in just one way, we're shoving them all into little boxes that teach students only helplessness and dependency on someone else to tell them how to do everything.
Don't believe me?  Count how many times students ask you how you want something written, typed, arranged, and organized.  They are used to being micromanaged.  But when we micromanage, we teach students that NOT thinking is what to do.  Go ask someone else, they learn; they can do that thinking for you.  
By the way, the student I quoted earlier was one with whom I tussled all year to try new things.  I had to push her out of her comfort zone several times, and she shot me looks of frustration and said some pretty snarky things to me.   I had to tell her often I wasn't smart (a fixed mindset label)--I just took my learning into my own hands all of the time.  I had to tell her that learning several web tools to do the same thing was a good thing after she kept wanting me to tell her one she should use.  When she told me what I was making them do was too much work, I thanked her for her opinion and told her to keep working.  And never once did I ever accept that she couldn't do what I asked her to do.
And, in the end, she realized she could do what she didn't think she was capable of doing.  She had moved herself forward.

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