This week students are taking the ELA tests. It's grueling for them and stressful for the teachers. As I was proctoring the exams, I began to consider what, exactly, could help these students.
Middle school, before the state tests became an annual event, is full of difficulties. Students have body changes, their hormones pull them off center, their friendships can undergo change as a result of these changes thereby creating self-doubt and the need to be popular. None of those things are part of what we test or measure for intelligence. Adding to the stress of change, middle school is where students are asked to move from rote thinking to critical, analytical reasoning. Sadly, some students, despite all the changes they are experiencing, are simply not ready to do the analytical thinking.
What's a teacher to do?
One of the lessons I teach helps students -- even those who are not quite developmentally ready to do analytical thinking -- think beyond what is in front of them.
Middle school students enjoy children's books. When a teacher reads one to them, they sit with rapt attention eager to hear more or to relive a favorite. I like to bring that feeling into the room. My favorite book to teach to middle school students is Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. I read the story to students and ask just two questions: What is the story about?
What does the story mean?
Even my less confident students can answer both questions. The lesson for me is that, given the correct lesson brought in at the correct level, all students can do the analytical thinking when presented with material they can easily comprehend. It has been my experience that when students see what analytical thinking is, they can apply those lessons beyond children's books.