Student Writing Programs Are Seriously Distorted

Whwnever I speak to an elementary or secondary student, I always question them closely about the kind and frequency of the writing assignments they get. Almost invariably I hear the same story: “We are writing “Book Reports” each month (elementary kids); We are writing paragraphs on any topic we choose (middle school); we do a major paper in grade 11 that requires research , quotations, and proper citing techniques.”

Since leaving school, how many Book Reports have you been required or asked to write? How many formal “research” papers have been assigned to you by your employers? How is it that K-12 teachers are still locked in this horrible practice of making kids adapt writing skills that will never be either required or helpful in real life?

The alternatives are painfully clear! Have students write a news article on specific national, international or local events (one that could be published). Have them write persuasive arguments to their parents, friends or public officials. How about film or book reviews designed to encourage or dissuade potential readers and viewers? Couldn’t they get familiar with someone in their family that runs a business, and explore how it could be expanded or run better?

My point is that there are so many practical, realistic writing tasks teachers could assign that would build useful skills and have lasting value, if only a little thought and creativity were put into creating the assignments.

Is this too much to ask of our teachers? Can we put an end to Book Reports and 11th grade research papers?

The Beauty of Middle School

So I’ve written seventy-five of these musings over the past two and a half years, and I have tried very hard over that time to write pieces that span across all school divisions, and relate to all educators regardless of what age group they teach. Well, I cannot hold back anymore…….today I’m going to write about how much I love the Middle School! In my opinion, Middle School students are the most beautiful creatures on the planet, and they inspire me so much that I’m literally struggling to put it into words. If I think about all the grade levels in a traditional school (from Kindergarten through to twelfth) as a burning flame, I see the Middle School years as that blue part right smack in the center…..the core….the place where it burns the hottest, the place that shapes, and the place that transforms the overall identity of the fire.

From the sweet innocence of the 6th grade class, who come to Middle School so excited, and scared, and hopeful, and nervous, and who still think it’s okay to go on play dates and cry when they they get hurt……to the confusing and formative 7th Grade class who learn so much about their changing bodies, and hormones, and how to fit in and make friends, and about who they are starting to become as people…….to the desperate to be adult 8th grade class who want so much to be given independence and autonomy, but still silently scream out for boundaries and guidance…… can you not love the struggle? All the awkwardness, all the mistakes, all the tears and heartache, and all the relentless hope truly makes my heart want to burst! Their search for themselves is so open and honest and pure……. and it draws me in day after day after day.

The best part of my day is watching them all come off the buses first thing in the morning ready to start it again…….they walk past me smiling, sleepy, and eager to learn about life…….hoping to be noticed and inspired and validated by the ones that matter the most….their peers. I watch them, I joke with them, I try and set a good example for them, and I love them……..and I understand their struggle. If you ask anyone about their Middle School years you always get a passionate response…..some people loved Middle School and some people hated it, but everyone remembers it intensely. The first crush, the hopeful first kiss, all those risks that were taken that either fell flat or successfully catapulted you ahead with relief…….constantly failing forward, and growing, and doing things you wish you hadn’t done……it changes you, and it sets the tone for your life. For some people these are the best years of their lives and for some these are their worst, and for me it’s beautiful to watch it all unfold……..I love Middle School and I love Middle School kids, and I’m inviting you all this week to watch them, and marvel at them, and be inspired by what they’re going through. Praise them, set high expectations for them, embrace those teachable moments, and hold them accountable……..encourage them to take risks and make mistakes and when you do, watch them learn and learn and learn.

Being a Middle School Principal is the most incredible job on earth because I get to live vicariously through all of them…….and I get to feel that burn that comes from being right at the center of the flame……everyday. They make me feel alive and I’m honored to be a part of their journey. It’s a struggle for sure, but there’s no better place to be than right in that flaming blue core….where life burns the brightest. Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for our Middle School kids and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……..
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are!

  • E.E. Cummings

Attached Article –Tuning a Middle School to the young Adolescent Tuning a Middle School to the Young Adolescent

TED Talk on the Adolescent Brain – Sarah Jayne Blakemore

Great MS Specific Websites