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Steps to Learning

I am still trying to figure out middle school. It IS different from high school. Many of you are thinking, Duh! I'm still figuring out the steps to learning for early adolescents.

Last week my teaching assignment was changed. Instead of team-teaching 8th grade science and social studies, I'm team-teaching 7th grade Language Arts. It's hard to make such a change after a month of school, but these things happen.

I'm sorry to leave the science classroom, because that is a new subject for me and I was looking forward to that experience. Mr. Spence and I were developing into a good team. I'm also sorry to leave social studies, because History is my first love, and I believe that students become better people by studying the impacts of events and decisions on individuals in the past. Mr. Tegen is a dynamic teacher who seeks, first and foremost, to engage the students in learning. I can learn a lot from him. Language Arts is also good, though.

This class, with Mrs. MacBride, starts every day with independent reading. The students can choose a book to read from her extensive collection, or can bring reading from outside. They have sticky notes to place their questions and ideas on the pages, and a review form to complete when they are done. It is a pleasure to see students engaged in a book, even if many of them struggle with reading.

Mrs. MacBride is the LA Department Chair, a highly organized, very knowledgeable teacher. I'm a little intimidated by her experience. She knows the curriculum, and how to teach it. Thank goodness there is still room in the 7th grade curriculum for independent reading. I've been reading a lot of articles and commentaries about the NCLB debate, and the costs associated with the standardized curriculums of standardized testing. From the opinions I have read, many teachers feel like they have become standardized, too.

I found myself alone in the classroom on my second day in Language Arts, as Mrs. MacBride was absent. I asked the students to suggest a book for me. The catch was they had to convince me to read it. Half the class raised their hands. I choose three at random. One girl said just that she "liked" the book. One boy said a book was "educational". I guess he thought I'd like a book that was educational. A third girl called me to her desk before answering. She wouldn't speak out loud to the class. "I like this book because it's really sad," she said. "But please don't tell the class I like a book with sadness in it." I would have liked to continue that conversation. She's thinking about what she's reading.

Then I sat down at a chair in front of the room, and began reading. I read for ten minutes silently to myself. I figured that if I had asked them for a recommendation, I'd better act on it. Some of the kids just watched me read. So I smiled while reading, and raised my eyebrows, and sighed out loud. Honestly, I don't know what I read, I was concentrating so hard on how I looked while reading. Maybe during independent reading some of our students are also faking it, just trying to look like they are reading. After a couple of minutes, I forgot I was being watched and just started reading. When I looked up next, most of the heads were on their own books. I guess it got boring watching me. A few minutes more, then we moved onto the rest of the lesson.

I took the recommended book home, and read the first three chapters. It isn't really sad yet, but I'm hooked. And when I'm done, I'll whisper to this student, "I liked the book (or didn't like the book). Thanks for giving me your recommendation. Can we tell the rest of the class about it?"

I think I'll write some notes and put them in the books students are reading, to ask them a question. I can leave a blank note, in case they want to answer. Independent reading is most satisfying when you share your experience with someone else.

Independent reading is the second step to independent learning. The first step is finding the courage to ask questions.

The more I teach, the more questions I have. The more questions I have, the more I need to read. The more I read, the more I need to share it with someone else. All steps to my learning.

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