I am not sure many know how deeply I love working on a middle school campus. This passion for investing in middle schoolers comes from a less positive place in my own life. When I was the age of today’s middle schoolers it was not a time that would be categorized as “fond memories.” In my youth it was a time noted by descriptors like: awkward, unaccepted, unloved, misfit, and misunderstood.
Today I champion the cause of the early teen. The middle school student is enthusiastic, passionate, constantly challenging and exploring their world and defining who they are. They hold fast to the ideal, “if you can dream it you can do it.” They believe, as I do, that they will change the world.
When I took on the “Shadow a Student Challenge” I decided to shadow a student I had come to know earlier in the year when she enrolled at my campus in late November. I had already gotten to know a little bit about this delightful 7th grade young lady, “D,” while helping her get acquainted with our district’s student issued device, online learning management system and district provided Google account. I was eager to spend a day with “D” and get to see how school-life was through her eyes.
I joined “D” first period in Theater 2. She was in a collaborative group with two other students (one was absent) and were already working collaboratively on the finishing touches of a skit in Google Docs before the tardy bell rang. As the bell rang they never looked up, and with minimal distraction the teacher took roll as the rest of the class worked in the other groups pieced together around the room. All of the students were collaboratively writing a modern day Greek myth script. About 10 minutes into first period they all moved to a make-shift stage (raised platform (stage) with chairs in rows for the audience). Each group presented their skit. The audience provided feedback on different techniques used with dialogue and how they transferred the original Greek myths into a modern day skit. My knowledge of Greek mythology was a bit rusty, and my understanding of theater techniques were greatly lacking, so I decided my feedback would neither be necessary or beneficial. I did note that when “D” and her partner performed their skit with the assistance of a “stand in” for the absent student in her group, her explanations and justifications during the feedback/questioning after the performance came from a place of passionate understanding and deep well of knowledge. Not to mention, this girl can act.
We went from Theater Arts to Science for second period. There was a sub for this class. Her teacher was writing curriculum as part of our district curriculum writing team. The class was mid-way through a “Biome Project.” Students were working in groups. I was impressed how “D” took charge of the group. There was one student that was sitting back and “waiting for it to get done” but “D” persisted and would not let her sit and do nothing. Her persistence with that student indirectly motivated the other group member and before too long all of them were working collaboratively to complete their “biome project” via Google slides. I probably slowed them down, as I kept asking questions about vocabulary (I was needing a refresher) as they added certain academic vocabulary into their slides at the appropriate places. I was able to show them a couple of tech skills to create a more visually pleasing slide presentation. Now their information is not just being shared through text, but they now have images and symbols to represent their knowledge.
The next class period was a double blocked PreAP Language Arts class. At this point I was in dire need of a restroom, but classroom policy is to wait until the 45 minute break. I tried to pay attention, but I was constantly watching the clock and wondering how can 45 minutes seem so long! We worked on revising and editing both for the “Do Now” and in two different passages with different multiple choice questions over the passages. I have to say it wasn’t like when I was in school where we diagrammed sentences. Many times when it asked us what the best transition word would be for the situation, I either didn’t like any of the multiple choice options or thought more than one answer could work. Aye yi yi! Whew, was I glad to make a run to the restroom when our break came! I asked if “D” was going to take a break too, and she replied,”No, I am going to read while I have a moment.” When the second half of the class began we took a summative assessment over our revising and editing skills. I couldn’t wait for my results so I asked the teacher if I could grade mine… I have some work to do! As a former 7th grade Language Arts teacher, I was not real thrilled with my score of 84%.
Our next adventure was lunch. I was truly amazed at how many students DO NOT eat lunch! Oh was my mama instinct in over drive. “D” didn’t completely abstain, but all she had was a bag of Doritos! Not even a water or milk (probably why she isn’t having to go to the restroom!). How do these kids brains function without some sort of fuel for their thinking? I also noticed how many students were on their devices. I asked “D” what they were doing. She said that many of them were working on homework either due after lunch or due tomorrow; or they were playing games. I also notices that there were a few side conversations, but many were doing their own thing side by side. They were in what preschool teachers would call “parallel play.” I hesitate, though, to say they weren’t interacting. I observed and noted that students are more accepting of one another now than when I was their age.
After lunch we headed to Lifetime Nutrition and Wellness. They were learning about the 6 Essential Nutrients. The teacher had provided a document and a PowerPoint on his Moodle with information for us to reference as we filled out a note sheet on paper. “D” worked with one student while l worked with another at the same table. It was a solo project, but we talked quietly with one another, asked questions and conferred with one another. We didn’t finish the work for the class. “D” had homework- finishing the notes on the 6 essential nutrients.
At this point we had to go one hall back from where we were to get to our 6th period class…Texas History. It did seem like the school grew by 200 people during this passing period. Not sure why all the congestion, but “D” navigated it like a stealth lion. I, on the other hand, stepped on a few people, was stepped on equal to my own personal trampling. Oh, and I needed a restroom, again! We pushed our way to Texas History and then I ran to the restroom. I made it back into the classroom just as the bell was ringing… and lucky for me the teacher was still talking to another colleague in the hall and didn’t notice I was not yet in my seat! We had a bell-ringer activity and then moved into finishing up questions based on information in their textbook. Many students opted to grab one of the classroom copies of the textbook rather than reading the digital copy located in the teacher’s Moodle page. I asked “D” why she would rather grab the actual book instead of accessing the information in the online textbook. Her response, “I remember it better when I read it from a ‘real’ book.” Hmmmm…. something more to contemplate.
The next class I journeyed to with “D” was 7th Grade on-level math. It took a little time to refresh my skills but before long I was working the problems with the rest of my table group. I liked the format of the class and “D” and her classmates seemed to respond well to this style as well. The teacher utilized a “catch and release” style of instruction within a workshop model framework. The constant conferring between table groups, sharing out with classmates and the teacher’s continual monitoring and specific feedback made me feel like I was a mathematician rockstar. It seemed to have the same effect on “D.”
As we were getting ready to head to the last class of the day, “D” was picked up early for an orthodontist appointment. Frankly, I was secretly relieved. We were headed to P.E. and at this point there wasn’t much fuel left in my tank! Being a 7th grader is hard work.
This day is still rolling around in my head. I have reflected over and over about this experience. One thing I know for sure #shadowastudent should be an ongoing event. I would love for students to select teachers and administrators to shadow them, rather than us picking them. Perhaps we could do “mini-shadows” by class instead of by day, and shadow more frequently.
Every time we have an opportunity to “walk” in the “shoes” of another we gain perspective. I have loved this experience and the new perspective I have gained. All that aside, I am just excited to have spent the day with “D.” She has made an impact on me, and I hope, in some way, I have made an impact on her.
For more information on the “Shadow a Student” challenge visit: http://shadowastudent.org/.