I always wanted to write a hard-hitting, year-end story

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But, I think I will wait until next year…

In the meantime, I’ve been musing about several ideas related to young adolescents, middle level schools, learning, technology. While I have some thoughts about each, I certainly have more questions than answers…and that is where I need your help.

• Where are our young adolescents hiding? In the 1980s and ’90s we talked about meeting the unique needs of 10-through 14-year-olds, many of whom were in middle level schools. Today we talk about meeting achievement standards and improving test scores? Here in Maine some towns have shuffled the deck yet again, moving  young adolescents from the middle grades (typically 5-8) and depositing them in K-8 or 7-12 schools. Have middle level students lost something in these transitions, particularly in grades 7-12 schools where the focus is almost always on high school issues? Any school with young adolescents must meet their needs even if the term “middle school” isn’t on a sign out front. Does your school or district consciously plan to meet the unique needs of its middle grades students as it most certainly does for younger elementary students and older high school students?

Why don’t we take advantage of young adolescents’ drive, motivation, enthusiasm, passion for learning, compassion for others, and perhaps most notably, their expertise and familiarity with the tools and strategies of the digital age? John Lounsbury, an icon of the middle school movement for the last six decades, likes to say, “School is where kids comes to watch their teachers work”. If true, and I think it is, why do we ignore the strengths our students bring to school? Why do we do so much to and for them without giving them opportunities to develop their own way? I know, we give them some “voice”. Do you want to read book A or book B? Do you want to work in group 1 or group 2? But, why not go all out and teach them how to contribute to their own learning? An excellent example, particularly in Maine, would be to use student knowledge of technology. Not just reimaging or fixing computers or setting up an LCD projector, but expecting our students to teach their  teachers and peers what they know about technology and learning? We already have some excellent examples of middle schools doing just that, but we need many more. What about real opportunities for students to take leadership, show initiative, and work collaboratively? Don’t all of these skills show up on every list of desirable human traits?

Why, when we have hired excellent and knowledgeable teachers, administrators, media people, counselors, and other school specialists, don’t we turn them loose and let them do what they need to do? I’d like some feedback on this one in particular so I will stop with this question.

Happy Holidays and happy ruminating on these and other fascinating topics. With all the budget woes we are facing, I still believe that we are in one of the most exciting times in the history of formal education. What is coming next…and what are you doing to make schools better for your students?

[Creative Commons—licensed Flickr photo “Question Mark Sign” by Colin_K]

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