March is Middle Level Education Month, a time to recognize and celebrate education for young adolescents, ages 10 to 15. The Association for Middle Level Education lists these key messages for celebrating:
The importance of parents being knowledgeable about young adolescents and being actively involved in their lives;
The understanding that healthy bodies plus healthy minds equal healthy young adolescents;
The realization that the education young adolescents experience during this formative period of life will, in large measure, determine the future for all citizens; and
The knowledge that every young adolescent should have the opportunity to pursue his or her dreams and aspirations, and post-secondary education should be a possibility for all.
How will you celebrate? Are your middle school students doing interesting work that you could share with the public? Has your school implemented a new project or program designed for the unique needs of young adolescents? Get the word out by contacting your local newspaper or through your social media. For more ideas and inspiration for planning your Middle Level Education celebration, check out AMLE’s Planning Your Celebration page.
We’ve all seen it. We give students a reading assignment and they pretend to read it. They get by in class because we feed them what we want them to know, and they give it back on the test (often with a little help from SparkNotes). If you ask, many middle and high school students will admit that they haven’t read a book from cover to cover since elementary school (and some not even then).
This is the issue Penny Kittle openly and honestly addresses in Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers. Most students are not reading much and therefore are not building the stamina they need to keep up with the reading that college courses require, around 200-600 pages a week according to Kittle. This may in part account for the low percentage of college students who actually graduate, but success in college is only one of the consequences of increasing reading volume. People who read often and a lot are lifelong learners who make wiser decisions and are more likely to pass the reading habit and love of books on to their children.
A large portion of this book is devoted to the idea that students will read more when they are given choice and allowed to find and read the books that interest them. They also need time to read in class and guidance (mostly through conferencing) in setting goals, choosing books, overcoming challenges, and responding to what they’re reading through writing. Kittle provides advice gleaned from years of experience as an English teacher whose classes are workshops where students read independently, reflect on their growth as readers, and share their love of books with each other. While she understands the curricular and assessment requirements imposed on ELA teachers, she advocates for a balance of individual choice and required whole-class text study, but suggests a greater percentage of time for the former.
In the last chapter of the book, Kittle addresses the challenge of creating a school-wide reading culture, a community of readers. In my mind, this is the greater challenge, but one that must be met if our goal is to inspire lifelong readers. We’ve all seen attempts at school-wide sustained silent reading time, and most of them fail, generally through a lack of commitment and shared intent. Kittle describes her success in creating a school-wide reading break, as well as other ideas for creating a reading community.
A few years ago, Kittle created a video where she asked students about their reading habits and whether they read assigned books. I’ve asked this question in my school with similar results.
Our students’ lack of reading stamina is something most of us will acknowledge, but how do we turn it around? Is allowing more choice the answer? Is this something we can do while focusing on standards-based instruction and proficiency-based assessment? How important is it that all students read the classics? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
The start of the school year is a perfect time to talk to students about managing their screen time. Although many students have personal smart phones and tablets, for some 7th graders, receiving an MLTI device will be their first experience with 1:1 computing. Suddenly they will have in their possession a wonderful tool for reading, writing, viewing, creating, and gaming. It will be available at school and at home, 24/7, and while it’s a necessity for schoolwork, it can also become a bone of contention in the classroom and with the family.
Excessive screen time has been linked to obesity, insufficient sleep, and social issues for children and teens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day. This includes TV viewing time as well as interactions with computers and mobile devices. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, however, only 27% of young adolescents meet that limit. Given that they are expected to use laptops or tablets for schoolwork, it’s unlikely our students in 1:1 computing classes will meet that goal, but we can help them monitor their screen time and become self-regulating. Here are some strategies that may help.
Make classroom expectations clear.
Give kids clear guidelines for using their MLTI laptops or iPads and their personal devices in the classroom. There are times when students should not be looking at a screen but should be giving their full attention to you or to other students in the room. Come up with a verbal cue to let students know to put their devices away. For years MLTI teachers used “close and focus” (or some variation) to let kids know when to put the lid down on their laptops. A similar cue can work for tablets too. Many teachers have students put their iPads and phones face down on their desks when they enter the room and leave them there when they are not needed for classwork. Your school should also establish guidelines for using devices in the library, cafeteria, hallways, and other common areas.
Allow some personal use, with limits.
Electronic devices are a part of students’ lives and we can’t realistically expect them to unplug when they come to school. Work with your team and your administrators to establish a time in the day when students are allowed to check their email, communicate with family and friends, listen to music, or play an approved game. This is also an opportunity to introduce some digital citizenship goals. Common Sense Media provides an excellent curriculum with plenty of free resources to help students learn how to behave safely, ethically, and responsibly in online environments.
Talk to parents.
While our students have grown up with this technology, their parents have not, and many of them will need help managing screen time with their children at home. Most middle schools in Maine have a parent night in the fall when they discuss the MLTI devices. This is a good time to make parents aware of some of the challenges and help them develop strategies and guidelines that work for their families. Parents are excellent resources for each other too, especially those who have older children and who may already have some family practices in place. A few years ago I met a parent up in Aroostook County who knew how to deal with the problem of late-night screen time. She had a shelf in her house where all members of the family (adults too) placed all their electronic devices at 9:00 P.M. each night and plugged them in to charge. They didn’t pick up the devices again until after breakfast the next morning. It was simple but effective, and it made a lot of sense. Parents can also take advantage of Common Sense Media‘s resources for setting screen-time limits.
Model appropriate use.
One of the most effective ways we teachers can help students is by moderating our own digital lives and modeling appropriate behavior. If you expect students to have their phones turned off and put away in class, you should not be using yours. We have a rule in my school that students may not have their iPads out of the carry cases in the hallway. I make a point of using my carry case whenever I’m in the hallway too, even if I’m just stepping into the next room to show a teacher something on my iPad.
If we set clear expectations while allowing students some freedom, and if we partner with parents and model appropriate behavior, our students are more likely to develop healthier habits and learn to moderate their own screen time.