How to be a student: Part II

Yesterday I wrote about how confused I was with Sweet Child o' Mine and his inability to follow through and do the simplest things like completing classwork, and coming in to make up said incomplete work, and remembering for five minutes to walk back to the damn classroom and finish the freakin' work.

As I pondered, I had an epiphany. And maybe it's pretty minor as epiphanies go, and maybe it's something all of you already know....but it was new to me. Just a simple shift in thinking, and I feel like I understand a whole bunch of my students on a whole new level.

SCoM doesn't know how to be a student. He's years behind in it, and without intensive interventions, he may never catch up. Though he's in eighth grade, he's maybe a fifth grade level student.

I'm not talking academically, though he's behind there too because of this. I mean in knowing how to do homework. How to focus in class. How to ask for help when you don't understand something. How to remember when a teacher offers extra help. How to walk into the room at that time and sit down and get additional assistance. How to even know that you need additional assistance. How to know where your materials are. How to get to class on time. How to make choices about your studies. How to advocate for yourself when you feel a teacher has been unfair. Generally how to be a student.

It's linked to
the responsibility issue I wrote about a while back, how I'd like to know what I should be able to expect kids to do at different grade levels from a responsibility perspective and not just academically. Because then if we did that, I'd be able to look at what SCoM can already do and what he's lacking and then I could say, okay, he needs to be retaught x, y, and z to get him closer to behaving the way a fourteen-year-old kid should behave in school.

I've been delighted this year in my move to eighth grade at how much more responsible the kids are; how much more likely they are to show up when they say they're going to, in particular. And of course they should be better at that than sixth graders since they're two years older. But just because you age two years chronologically doesn't mean you do the same in actual maturity, particularly if you don't have anyone at home supporting you in that process. Not all my kids have that.

We have to teach them how to do that. We have to teach them, over and over, explicitly, how to do these things. Why it matters.

We have to support them in their process of trying to improve, because if we don't, they won't. If they don't have help in getting better in these areas, they're not going to make the academic growth they should make either. And when a kid is reading at a fourth grade level in eighth grade, we don't shrug and say, "Well, he's old enough to know how - it's not my problem if he can't." Why would we do that for being a conscientious student?

I don't know what that looks like yet, not really, but I'm working on it. If you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them; otherwise, I'll keep you posted.

(Image credit to bengrey)


Rachel said...

SO TRUE!! When I see this, I believe a significant cause is that parents aren't involved in their children's academic life. Teachers have to give students expectations and hold students accountable to those expectations. But we can't go home with them, we can't teach them self-discipline when faced with temptations at home. That's up to the parents, who aren't doing it because A. they aren't home or B. they're too self-absorbed or C. they've forgotten responsibility is a learned skill. (related question: Did SCoM's mom ask him where his backpack was when he got home??)

In many middle schools, it's a requirement that students have school agendas that they bring around with them. I love this idea and wish more middle schools did it. Heck, I wish we did it for HS. One of our APs was working on this when I left. When teachers remind students about an assignment, they can wait and watch EVERYONE pull out that agenda and write it down. It can also be used as a hall pass, student handbook, etc. Make it an integral part of the student's academic career so that, in turn, responsibility becomes an integral part of their well-being. But, of course that costs money. I'm not saying we give up or don't do it, but I just get tired of all the responsibility falling on the teachers to parent these kids. I love 'em...but I'm not their parent. I think it's worth the money to teach students this critical life skill...but then again, if parents were doing their jobs, this skill could be taught for free.

Sarah Garb said...

That's a really good point about the difference between how people view academic skills and how they view "being a student" skills. I've been really impressed with one of my second grade students this year who doesn't always get every lesson, but who frequently asks for help and for me to explain more. I'm more than happy to do so--what I don't want is for kids to sit there not getting it and not saying anything!

teachin' said...

Rachel - I know, for reals. I wish the parents would do it....and they often do, in middle class families. But my kids, if they don't get it at school, they won't get it anywhere.

Sarah - your 2nd grader is awesome. Can s/he come model for my 8th graders how to do that? :)

luckeyfrog said...

I've had teachers that tried to teach us organization by requiring us to have a single binder for their class only. It was a pain, but I see why they did it. We also had to carry around our planners. Now our 4th and 5th graders have to carry planners and their teachers work with them to make sure they know how to use them before they go on to middle school.

I think this is all very important because I just graduated college and it is absolutely amazing how many college freshmen still don't really understand how to be a student. It's a particularly tough transition, actually, for students who didn't have trouble academically in high school. Those students are used to being able to get by without much studying, without going to ask for extra help, and without all that much effort, honestly. I was one of them, and didn't think it until I started college and my chemistry class was HARD. I wasn't used to that, and like a lot of other students, I had to either learn how to deal with it or switch majors. (Personally, I got better at dealing with it, but eventually switched majors anyway.)

Maybe I just saw that a lot because I went to a school with a great engineering program, but I still think it's a big problem. When students are given so much freedom AND faced with a challenge they aren't used to, they struggle.

"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
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