Preserving a Middle Level Focus

I have been contemplating lately about how all the changes in education fomenting around us are influenced by entities on “the outside” of school buildings like ours, and they include government and business, testing and publishing companies, colleges, and societal shifts in thinking. We continually hear terms like “skill levels” and “proficiencies” and “college and career readiness.” Additional tests and time spent on testing are a new reality in schools. A big part of the new landscape of teaching and learning means using more tools of technology.

I know change can be a good thing. I realize that making change is difficult. It seems to be that more than at any time in history schools are undergoing dramatic changes and all at the same time. It can be overwhelming.

What we have to continue to focus on, however, is our vision for who and what our students can aspire to become. And while that includes proficiencies and skill levels, it means so much more. As I observe classes, I see wonderful dialogues taking place. These classroom conversations engage students in meaningful discussion and debate. They, too, involve those higher level critical thinking skills as students form opinions and are enlightened by what they hear in an exchange of ideas in a classroom or cooperative learning group. 

They do some other things as well, including developing public speaking as well as collaboration and social skills. Not every moment is a Google moment, not every search requires a search engine, and with all the demands on testing and time I am afraid that we risk losing important interactive components of the learning process.

Here is an important tenet for us to protect: middle schoolers are in formation. This unique age group needs and deserves to have a developmentally appropriate curriculum and program. We teach students about meta-cognition (learning how to learn), as well as about their own learning styles and how to develop coping mechanisms, and how to organize themselves and manage their time. 

Learning about the values of community participation, leadership, and service are important to a developing citizenry. And they take time as well.  

Important, too, is promoting well-rounded, informed individuals where learning is messy and incorporates investigations, deliberations, and creations. Students are coming into their own, and there is a distinct difference in the presentation and pacing of instruction for students in this age group.

The value of transpires every day in our classrooms cannot always be measured on a test or captured in a teacher’s evaluation. We cannot let the test and the technology become the curriculum. And even if the conversation that is taking place outside of school does not take into consideration who our students are and how to help them become young adults, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that we don’t throw the tween out with the bath water.

February 2015

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