Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Surviving Middle School: A Practical Guide from 8th Graders

8th graders respond to this question:
"What advice would you give to incoming 6th graders about surviving middle school years?"

  • “Don’t cuss. It’s not cool.”
  • “Don’t carry a binder with a strap. It’s nerdy.”
  • “It’s going to be tough, so be strong.”
  • “Don’t wear makeup.”
  • “Really just forget about trying to be popular.”
  • “Be prepared to hate a lot of people, but cope with them.”
  • “Don’t go to ISS (in school suspension). It’s not cool, either.”
  • “As cliché as it might sound, just try and be your normal self.”
  • “Stay away from the wrong crowd.”
  • “Actually try working in school.”
  • “Don’t remediate everything all at once at the end of the six weeks grading period.”
  • “Go to tutoring.”
  • Get on the teachers’ good side in the first semester, so they can be more lenient with you during the second semester.”
  • “Stay focused on your grades and don’t get distracted with all the new extracurricular activities offered to you. If you don’t keep your grades up, you’ll be kicked out of the activities.”
  • “Don’t go to the 8th grade hallway.”
  • “Keep a low profile and prepare to lose your social life for the first few weeks.”
  • “Middle school is not as scary as it seems. Just do your work.”
  • “Don’t procrastinate and stay organized.”
  • “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.”

Monday, April 28, 2014

Middle School Students Tell Me What They Value Most in Life: Passion, Happiness, Inspiration

As a bellringer exercise this morning, I gave each of my students a sticky note to jot down what they valued most in life. I told them that this was not a writing assignment, but they still had to write something down; it wasn’t anything required for a grade. I said I just wanted to learn from them because sometimes adults need kids to keep them grounded on what’s important. While I typically get the usual eye rolling and the whiny complaints about writing, it didn’t happen today. They were very eager to complete this task. I was forthcoming about my request, so in return, they were receptive to share with me.

This is what they told me:
  • ·         “What I value most in life is my passion: singing, playing guitar, and God. I feel like all of these things make me very happy no matter what.”
  • ·         “Pencils. I value pencils the most because they can be used to express a person’s pain through methods that don’t hurt anyone, such as drawing or writing.”
  • ·         “It’s hard to admit this, but I value money because we don’t have much of it. I feel like if we had more money, our lives would be easier.”
  • ·         “I value happiness the most because you could be the richest person in the world but still be miserable. When you choose to live happily, you make your life worth it and meaningful.”
  • ·         “Passion is most important because it leads to success and happiness.”
  • ·          “I value my mom and my friend. Centering myself around my mom is important to me especially after my dad died because I realized that I had to appreciate what I currently have.”
  • ·         “I value inspiration the most in life because I like something new to look forward to and to be inspired differently each day.”
  • ·         “I value my dad. My dad has done so much for me, and he has been so supportive. I am so thankful for him.”
  • ·         “I value happiness because if you’re always gloomy, mad, or sad, you’re never going to get anywhere in life.”
  • ·         “I value fairness because just about everything in life isn’t fair. It’s always biased, but I want to change that.”
  • ·         “I value my ability to make people laugh.”
  • ·         “I value my culture the most because it defines me.”
  • ·         “I value every single thing in my life. The people that have been part of my life have inspired me to be who I am.  My coaches push me and made me realize how valuable my passion and goals are.”

From the wise words of a 13 year old, he says this about his values: “In life, I value the sense of value the most. It doesn’t matter what I value at the time because for most humans, their values change from day to day. I value simply the knowledge that I value something, the idea that I have a goal in life.  For me, having values means you are an individual.”

My favorite moment after this bellringer exercise? No whining after I did assign them a checklist of ten different reading and writing tasks to complete before submitting their final passage analysis essay by Friday. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why Hire a Private Music Instructor When There's YouTube?

In our experience, most parents don't know why they want to hire a private music instructor. We have been fortunate enough to teach children of parents who simply want their children to learn and apply with a higher level of knowledge. We do this by showing them discipline and self-respect. By discipline, we don't mean scaring them into practicing their scales for hours on end, but by developing the inherent motivation to listen (to music, to lectures, to adults, etc), to understand, and to communicate. How do we do that? We talk to them. We listen to them. We get to know them. We develop their interests. We inspire them.

This requires a conscious understanding and commitment between all parties involved: parents, students, and instructors communicate what they are experiencing together at that particular moment. It's hard to capture that synergy on YouTube.

As instructors, we communicate rather than administrate. This conscious commitment and understanding has achieved desired behavior outcome for our students. We have yet to come across a family whose goal is to have their child to join an orchestra or a prestigious musical group. However, they are secure in knowing that they could follow that path if they wanted to based on what they have learned. If you are a parent or adult in search of an instructor ask yourself why? If it's because you want to turn your dinner party into an endless recital of the current popular songs, then by all means use YouTube. If you want them to learn and apply with a higher level of knowledge, then find a good instructor. Learn more:
Why Hire A Music Instructor For Private Lessons

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What I Learned From My 8th Graders About Discrimination

There will always be discrimination everywhere about everything because pointing out others’ differences masks people’s own insecurities.” -8th grade girl

The intensity of the themes in To Kill a Mockingbird can get pretty tough to handle when you’re reading it for the first time at 13 or 14 years old. This is why teaching the historical context is so important in order for our young adult readers to gain a better understanding of the novel. I was surprised, though, that I was the one who got a lesson about discrimination from an 8th grader’s perspective. These kids have such strong voices that need to be heard. This is why I’m sharing this teaching/learning experience with all of you.

One of the corresponding lessons in TKAM is learning about Black Tuesday, the Great Depression, the Dust Storm, and Jim Crow laws. We read a selection in our textbook about a list of segregation laws and how they were enforced. After reading, we discussed some issues that could help us connect how different characters in the novel may have felt during this time period. I thought some of their responses were insightful. It made me think of looking at the world through their eyes, so I asked a few critical thinking questions about their own views on discrimination. A couple of questions brought some very interesting responses.

1.       Do you feel there is discrimination at our school? In what ways?
2.       What has your experience with discrimination been? How has it made you feel?

  • ·          “I’m an athlete and in GT (Gifted and Talented – advanced level) classes. People think I suck at sports since they assume I’m a nerd.”
  • ·         “Just because I’m white, people automatically assume I’m wealthy.”
  • ·         “Some people think that all Muslims are terrorists. It upsets me because I wear the hijab, and some people judge us from that one thing.”
  • ·         “My personal experience with discrimination has to do with my race. I am Mexican, but have light skin, freckles, and I don’t speak Spanish. Many of the Hispanic students (and adults, too) say that I’m not a ‘true Mexican.’”
  • ·         “Some students think I’m the smartest person in class because I’m Asian, but I’m really not that smart.”
  • ·          “I have been discriminated against based on my sexual identity, musical choices, intelligence level, and favorite hobbies.”
  • ·         “I have been discriminated against when I went through a voice change in 6th grade. People made fun of my high voice. Now I’m the choir manager for my Advanced Choir group.”

·        This one is a personal favorite of mine:
“There will always be discrimination everywhere about everything because pointing out others’ differences masks people’s own insecurities.”

This girl is so right! Discrimination exists because people believe they are superior to others. Not only that, but it’s obvious to this young teen that narrow mindedness prevents any progress to the development of positive social change.  

What this girl said about discrimination really embraces one of the major themes in the novel. It even sounds like what Scout would say reflecting on how her father would pass on his moral values to her:
 “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” ~To Kill a Mockingbird

Thank you, my dear GT 8th graders in English I, for teaching me what it truly means to "stand in borrowed shoes."