Baron Reflections

Let the Students Be the Guide
By Deborah McInerney

It’s the first day of Form 6 and it is controlled chaos.  Wide-eyed students are frantically trying to remember their locker combination, check their schedule, and see what class they have for first period.  Standing at my door to welcome each one, I wonder how much we will accomplish this year.

Flash forward to December, and my seventh period class is discussing the impact of conflict on characters and plot in literature.  Marco grabs his book to find the section of the novel that supports his point in this discussion. The students continue to discuss how the novel they are reading uses Shakespeare’s plays to reinforce life journeys that people take in the course of a single year, and it hits me how much this group of students has grown in the four-month journey of this year. 

What has to happen for a student to grow and develop academically and socially from August to May?  Just like every student is unique, every year’s trajectory of growth is as well.  There are definitely certain elements that have to be in place if I want to motivate my students to grow.  

  1. Creating a safe place for students to take risks in their learning and thinking is certainly an essential component of a successful year.
  2. Providing learning opportunities where students can share ideas and try out their understanding encourages them to refine their thinking. 
  3. Integrating a diversity of learning opportunities is another important factor in motivating students to grow.

Middle School is a montage of experiences, and the typical middle school student bounces from one new experience to the next.  It’s like a buffet of learning.  These students are taste testing what they like or don’t like.  Do they prefer online Kahoot games for review, breakout box activities, inner-outer circle discussion groups, or just plain old paper pencil tasks?

Of course, mixed in with all this is the nuts and bolts philosophy of teaching students how to study and the value of becoming an independent learner. I provide them with the skills and tools that will enable them to feel successful as well as bounce back after a challenge knocks them down.  It’s all about finding ways to make middle school students interested in making these strategies their own. 

Finally, the students must be my guide in what they need moving forward. There are pearls buried in the essays they write, in the observations they make, and in the ideas they share. Flexibility is key. What works for one class might not work for the next and that’s ok. It’s what makes teaching so much fun.

Before I know it, May will be here. I know that I will always wish I could have done just a little more, spent more time on this skill for that concept, but if I set in motion the motivation my students need to carry them through the summer and into Form 7, I will have done my job.  Giving students the confidence and encouragement to grow will lead to new ideas, journeys, and experiences.

Deborah McInerny

About Deborah: Deborah McInerney teaches Form 6 English, and she has more than 20 years teaching experience.  She and her husband, John, are the proud parents of Connor, a graduate student at the University of Houston.