Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Biorhythms of Learning

The New York Times just concluded a three-part series on the difficulties of teaching Jr. High School students And something that jumps out at the reader is that Jr High School is the wrong place to try to drill facts. In watching the compelling videos and listening to the teachers describe their experiences it becomes obvious that subject matter is less important than psychology and sociology.

And you cannot help but feel that there is a biorhythm that introverts during the Jr High school years.

For Teachers, Middle School Is Test of Wills by Elissa Gootman is a worthwhile read.
The most recent results of math and reading tests given to students in all 50 states showed that between 1999 and 2004, elementary school students made solid gains in reading and math, while middle school students made smaller gains in math and stagnated in reading.

Yet many middle school teachers land there by happenstance. “More people end up in middle schools because that’s where the openings are,” said Carmen Fariña, a former deputy chancellor of the New York City school system who is now helping 35 middle school principals reshape their schools. “It’s not necessarily a choice.”

JoAnn Rintel Abreu, 40, an English and social studies teacher at Seth Low, graduated with a masters’ degree in English literature, the “bare minimum” teaching requirements and glorious visions of turning high school students on to Shakespeare and Chaucer. She was offered a middle school job first.

Now, after 16 years at Seth Low, Mrs. Abreu takes great satisfaction in trying to figure out how to reach adolescents. The rewards come with breakthrough moments, like when a sullen eighth grader who rarely does his homework handed in a bitterly descriptive, beautifully written memoir about his father’s new girlfriend, “the witch.”

“Middle school is like Scotch,” she reflected in the teachers’ lounge one afternoon. “At first you try to get it down. Then you get used to it. Then it’s all you order.”

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