Lesson I: A Day in the Life of a Middle School Student

#1: Teach in the moment.

I think we hear conflicting information about how kids learn. We’re told that kids are great at multi-tasking and we take that to mean that they can keep up as we allow school life to happen during class. I know that sometimes we have things which must be taken care of, but the first lesson I learned as a middle school student was how important it is for a teacher to be in the moment, completely invested in the process of learning.

As I walked into my 7th grade English class on Monday, I was escorted to my seat by the teacher. She took time to tell the class multiple times to ready their supplies, which they did quickly. When it came time for the warm up, she gave clear instructions, waited a minimum amount of time and reviewed the answers with us. The students were clearly familiar and comfortable with this process.

Next, she handed out a short story by Amy Tan. For this, she clearly explained her reasoning for choosing that particular sample, stating that we, as writers, have the same job as Amy Tan. She provided schema as she explained what the Ed Sullivan show was, as it was referenced in the story we were about to read. She empowered us as readers by giving clear instructions on our purpose. All this led up to her dramatic reading of the text. 

About two-thirds of the way through the reading, we were interrupted by someone who opened the door holding a desk. “You wanted an extra desk?” she asked as it slipped from her fingers and clanged on the floor, producing a reverberating metallic noise as if the desk legs were not legs at all, but instead a huge tuning fork. Students screwed up their faces and sighed a little. I was surprised at how much this bothered me and it got me thinking. As an Educational Technologist, I frequently go into classrooms. Almost always, I wait outside until I hear a transitional activity is taking place, but on Monday, I realized that the “almost always” should be always. When that lesson was interrupted, I had a really difficult time focusing again. Although the teacher attempted to bring everyone back together, I had to reread the last paragraph before I could figure out the next assignment.

I thought of my own class again and how I’d prided myself in putting out so many fires while still moving forward, but the fact is, I probably lost kids along the way. They probably mentally checked out, at least for a little while, and I can’t say for sure whether they all came back– which is a big problem.

The really great thing to focus on at this point, however is this great teaching style. The teacher created a world in that classroom that allowed for learning, individuality and an escape from reality. The reason the interruption with the desk bothered us so much was because we were all in the moment with Amy Tan. We were all right there with her on stage as she kept playing the wrong notes at her piano recital and a departure from class as we knew it was unwelcome.

The teacher continued after the reading by asking specific questions to guide in students’ annotation of the text. On the document camera, she took a red felt-tip pen and added the suggestions for annotation provided by each student who shared (and a lot did). The teacher in me thought at first, “What is she going to do when the next class has different suggestions?”…and then I got it. It didn’t matter. She was our teacher and she cared about our ideas enough to write every single one down on paper in permanent red ink. 

When it came time to write in our writer’s notebook, she sat down at a student desk with us and wrote in her notebook as well. After a few minutes, she thought out loud about how she was having difficulty writing about the prompt because she found it hard to think of something specific. This helped us because we could see that difficulty in writing is okay– that even teachers have difficulty. 

I was particularly intrigued when she asked her students who thought they had a possible blog post from what they wrote about in their writer’s notebook. A couple of hands shot up, but more took time to think about it before raising theirs. They weren’t just thinking of whether or not they had enough to say, they were thinking about their readers, their audience. See, when each student began his or her blog in Tracy Kriese’s class, they chose a theme and in so doing, an audience. Now, when she asks if they’ll blog about something, they’re thinking like writers.

When the bell rang, I can honestly say I was sad to go. I had been part of a class where the teacher taught in the moment and I left having a better day for time spent there.

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