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Middle School Thoughts on a Snowday

January 28, 2015

For the last two days, New England has been rocked by the winter storm Juno that has dumped more than thirty inches of snow and given us two days off of school.  Being the grinch that I am, I assigned homework for students to complete during their time off, and I asked them to write a story depicting their perfect snow day.

That got me thinking: if I had all the power in the world to create the best middle school possible, what would it look like?  How would I create a school that would be a great place for students to learn and a rewarding and fun setting for teachers to teach.  Here, off the top of my head, is what I came up with

My perfect middle school would be:=

  • skills focused – I’ve long believed the middle school years are the most important period in a student’s academic career, as they are the time to teach all-important academic skills such as reading, writing, speaking, listening, collaboration, research, self advocacy, executive functioning, and critical thinking.  Often, when students reach high school, they are expected to have these skills, therefore, the perfect middle school would make it its mission to ensure students learned how to be a student during their time in between their elementary and highschool years.  To ensure success, students would be given plenty of opportunities to learn and practice these skills.
    • Writing would occur across the curriculum and not only would students write about information in order to learn to write but they would also write to learn.
    • Active reading skills would be taught so that students could learn from what they read.
    • Public speaking would be practiced in each class and at every grade level.  Additionally, every 8th grader would give a 10 minute presentation to their peers at weekly assembly on a topic they are passionate about.
    • Groupwork skills would be taught in constructivist classrooms where group work would be the cornerstone of instruction.
  • Interdisciplinary – Students need to be taught about a concept or a theme in a variety of ways and settings in order for them to gain a thorough understanding.  Teachers would be given time to collaborate so each would be able to support the instruction of their their fellow teachers and cross-curricular projects would be the norm.
  • Flipped – If skills are to be taught, then teachers need to have the flexibility to work with students one-on-one and in small groups to not only teach these skills but to help students sharpen them.  In order to make that happen, some of the instruction would need to take place at home in the form of videos or readings so that students can be introduced to ideas that they can strength with the help of their teach and peers in class.
  • Well-behaved – There needs to be a culture of learning, but learning can’t occur if teachers and students are distracted by poor behavior.  Students would be given clear guidelines about what is expected in each class with rules phrased in a positive way.  Instead of posting a rule that said “No Talking”, a more effective sign would be “Listen Well”.  For those students who did not follow the behavioral guidelines, teachers would meet with parents and students to clarify expectations, and if rules continued to be broken, then students would meet with a discipline committee, composed of teachers, administrators, and students, who would give both rewards and consequences to prevent future problems.
  • Engaging and passion driven – Students should have the opportunity to be taught in a way that they are engaged.  Lesson plans need to be developed along best practices with the goal of engaging each student.  To make this happen, effort needs to be made by the teacher to connect the lives and interests of their students to the content being covered.  Students also need to be given the opportunity to pursue their passions.  Genius Hour should be a weekly activity not only because it’s interesting for students but because Genius Hour provides students the opportunity to practice those critical skills they are learning in their classes.  Finally, when students are engaged, behavior problems recede to the background.
  • Extracurriculars aren’t extras –  They are a place where students can discover a new skills and passions.  Students needs to be given the opportunity take a variety of classes so they can discover if they have an interest.  Also, learning how to do something new builds confidence
  • Challenging –  Meeting and overcoming challenges is incredibly important.  Students need to learn to be resilient within a supportive middle school environment.  Students who are appropriately challenged by their teachers will not only be engaged, but the confidence that comes from meeting those challenges will motivate them to learn more.
  • Relationship driven – Students don’t need to be spoiled.  What all people want, especially self-centered adolescents, is to be known.  Teachers should go out of their way to get to know their students and make connections with them.  Students who trust their teachers will be more inclined to respond to challenges in a positive way.  Nearly as important, teachers need to get along with each other so that “work” is more enjoyable and rewarding.
  • Where differences are celebrated in a safe environment – Teachers need to create a safe learning environment where students can feel safe and secure.  Students who feel safe will be more inclined to take academic risks in the classroom.  More importantly, they can try on parts of themselves to see if that “part” is a fad or a component of who they are.

What are your thoughts?  What Am I missing?

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