This year I only made it to one of her workshops, but it was well worth it: The Well-Prepared Middle School Student. If you didn't get to hear it at the convention, she has graciously made her slides available at her website: The Well-Trained Mind, Workshops and Handouts. (Other sessions by SWB and her mother are also available)
These notes I'm sharing with you are not as thorough as the pdf I mentioned above, they're just the notes I took while listening to her speak. I took 3 closely-written scribbled pages of notes during this session: so much valuable information!
SWB talked about three aspects of a middle-school student:
- starting in middle-school, have the student keep track of how many hours are spent on each task, with a log or journal. This is preparation for highschool when hours spent will equal up to credits (1 credit = 120 hours class work)
- assign real book reading, gradually moving toward higher difficulty
- she strongly suggested using Norton Anthologiesof Literature for help in assessing text difficulty
- concentrate on grammar in 1st-8th grade so the student can concentrate on writing in high school instead of the mechanics of writing
- make sure the student can use both outlining and diagramming
- continue (or begin) to talk about books together. Ask questions and expect answers in complete sentences.
- pre-algebra must be taught no later than 9th grade
- be sure the student begins to do real life math. Two books she recommended for teaching "real math" were:
- For Science a student should a) understand the Scientific Method, b) know how to conduct an experiment and c) be familiar with the format of a lab report
- For History a student should use a timeline (she explained that middle grade students do not make connections easily and a timeline helps them to do this), cover the basics of 18th century American History and you need to teach the student the difference between primary and secondary sources
- For a Foreign Language she recommended 1-2 years of Latin and Rosetta Stone or another ear training program
- This is the time to experiment with new ways of learning: correspondence courses, a class at a community college, online, a tutor, or a co-op
- Choose an easy course because the primary goal of these new experiences is the student is learning to meet a deadline and the expectations of a teacher other than you, not necessarily the subject matter
- They need to experience taking a test when they don't necessarily feel comfortable or rested. She even suggested sending your student to an adult friend's house to take a test, just so they are slightly less comfortable with the situation
- They need to know how to use the library catalog. She suggested making an appointment with a librarian so the librarian can instruct the student.
- They need to know the difference between mediated and unmediated content.
- They need to be moving toward independent learning: keeping his / her own alarm clock, keeping track of how much time is spent on a subject, using a checklist or assignment sheet, using a planner or calendar but don't let them get bogged down in details. This is not meant to be tedious.
- Allow questions from the student when they are posed in an appropriate manner.
- Allow them to have input in teir course of study. She said if there is a curriculum the parent loves but the child hates, the child's opinion should carry the argument. (And a groan went around the entire group of session attendees when she said that!)
- Discuss "trigger points" with the student and how to avoid and / or recover from them. She offered her mother's (Jessie Wise) advice for this: a) have a snack, b) have a nap or c) have a shower. Once everyone is calm (both parent and student), you can discuss what happened and why. A meltdown will occasionally happen - don't ignore them or brush them off, but instead teach the student how to deal with them. (I thought this advice was one of the most helpful parts of her session!)
- Deal with lingering learning problems. If they are still struggling in 7th grade with something they've struggled with for years, it's time to get it evaluated. Ask your pediatrician for a recommendation. (These are things like eyes not tracking properly, still reversing letters, etc.)
- Encourage the student to think about courses, curricula, & areas of study that interest them. The goal is for them to look forward to highschool and help shape their own studies.
In other words, nothing quite goes how we plan it. NO ONE follows those schedules mapped out in The Well-Trained Mind, not even Susan Wise Bauer. I left this session encouraged and invigorated for tackling these middle school years with our oldest. We had already implemented some of this advice (assignment sheets, keeping track of own work, having a thorough grammar background in the younger years, Latin) but there are other things we can be doing to prepare for high school.
Have you ever heard Susan Wise Bauer speak? If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend her sessions.
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