Quotes from N. Atwell
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From In The Middle (1st edition,1987) by Nancy Atwell

excerpts from Chapter 2: Making the Best of Adolescence

"You dont have to suffer to be a poet. Adolescence is enough suffering for anyone."

John Ciardi

Surviving adolescence is no small matter; neither is surviving adolescents.

Our main concern as teachers seems to be to skirt all the messiness - and exuberance - of these years, mostly by regimenting our kids behavior: tracked groupings, busy work, and seat work few opportunities for students to initiate activity or work together, and fewer opportunities for any demonstration of affect in our classrooms. Our policies tell junior high kids that their active participation is too risky an enterprise. Its safer to keep them passive and under control, thereby avoiding the certain discovery that our students tastes and values are alarmingly, not our own.

First, teachers of junior high have to accept the reality of junior high students.

Next, we have to recognize that adolescence is as special and important a time in students intellectual developments as any other in a childs life.

Finally, we have to organize our junior teaching in ways that will help our kids begin to understand and participate in adult reality. This means more independent activity, more say in what happens in the classroom, and more responsibility in their own learning. It also means teachers who model the importance and usefulness in our own lives of the subject we teach, demonstrating our own processes as learners and our personal knowledge of our fields, inviting students inside academia by showing that inside is a worthwhile and interesting place to be.

8th graders shuttle back and forth between everything . . . experience wide swings of mood and deep extremes. This stirring of new, dark feeling is balanced by the awakening of new intellectual powers. Adolescents begin to go deeper into ideas - political, moral, and artistic.

Ive seen 8th graders work harder than I thought possible on claims they staked for themselves.

When I listen hard to my junior-high students, their message to me is, "Were willing to learn. We like to find out about things we didnt know before. But make it make sense. Let us learn together. And be involved and excited, so we can be involved and excited."

When I listen to educators talk about junior high, I hear a different message. Im told that my role is to keep the lid on, consolidate "basic skills" covered in the elementary grades, and prepare my students for high school, regardless of the logic or appropriateness of the high school program in question.

Our junior - and senior - high classrooms too often function as holding tanks.

Schools is our students social milieu.

Junior high students look in school for what really matters in life; they dont look at school as a place to get ready for what really matters in life.

70% of their class time is spent listening to teach-to-student talk.

Losing control looms as our greatest fear; rather than risk overstimulation, we consciously choose not to stimulate.

One result is increasing conformity as students progress through the grades, rather than the increasing independence adolescents might reasonably be expected to assume as they approach adulthood.

The subject rated "interesting" by the fewest numbers of students at both junior and senior high levels is English. Students [chose] as their favorite classes ones where they routinely collaborate with other students and the teacher, where they have some degree of ownership of the educational product, and where they can be active - where whole-group listening and busy work are minor components of the educational process.

Learning is more likely to happen when students like what they are being asked to do . . . engage as learners . . . grouped.

When students are tracked according to ability levels, the possibilities for collaborative learning are severely diminished.

Those students place in lower homogeneous sections also need interesting, challenging, worthwhile instruction.

Tracking denies lower-place students basic right to equality of educational opportunity . . . creates an "instructionally disadvantaged" subclass.

Classes containing a heterogeneous mixture of students "were more like high than low track classes.

Tracking doesnt produce gains in student achievement.

The issue [is] how collaboration can move an individual forward in the context of what the individual is trying to do.


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