Teachers are adaptive. We are always ready, even when we feel never ready, and we approach new challenges with willingness and enthusiasm.
Even when the changes come as a surprise!
For the first time in many years, I am teaching middle school. I’ve taught high school exclusively for at least fifteen years, so it was quite a change to approach these students. I have been giving it my best attitude, attention, and effort, but somehow I knew it wasn’t enough. A few weeks ago I realized why: I was trying to teach my seventh grade students the same way as I was teaching my high school students, only changing the content.
While I realized that I have to approach middle school students differently, I wasn’t sure how. They aren’t just little high schoolers. They are in a different developmental stage, and I have to be attentive to that.
One of my classroom mantras has been don’t share your answers; share your thinking, and when it comes to talking to high school students about it, it seems like they “get it.” That’s not to say they always value the thinking and don’t look for the “right answers,” but they do seem to mostly understand what it means.
With middle school students, I don’t always get that same feeling. I’ve experienced that they aren’t always sure how to show their thinking, but instead sometimes tend to want to parrot back my thinking, or the thinking of others.
When we’ve worked in our readers/writers notebooks, I’ve also seen that middle school students often ask if they can doodle and draw. I love it when my students get creative in their notebooks, no matter what grade they are in. I just noticed that my middle school students seem to especially enjoy this activity.
That led me to realize that middle school students can show their thinking through drawing, sketching, and illustrating, in addition to talking and writing.
I am introducing the Notice and Note fiction signposts this week, and instead of asking students to write about them, I’ve asked them to sketch and illustrate them.
The buzz in the room while students were drawing, illustrating, and processing the different sign posts was fantastic. While circulating the room, I was able to interact with students in a fun and academic way. I learned that middle school students love to be creative, and I was able to get a window into their thinking. That was before I even saw their finished products.
Students have illustrated a couple of the signposts now, and I feel like I am on to something. Students are able to express their thinking through drawing, and even think about things more deeply than if they were only doing the discussing and writing. The illustrating has increased their processing, and I’ll keep using this strategy alongside the writing, reading, and discussing. Perhaps every other middle school teacher on the planet already understood this, but now I do, too.
I’m going to add more illustrating and drawing components to all of my classes now, no matter what level they are, from grade seven to AP Lang.
I’d love to hear how others have reached students who are in different grades and levels. How do your students show their thinking?
Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.
Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie