Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Habits of Learning in Middle School

After at least 35 years of working in the fields and factories, Ms. Liter Matson spent an additional 17 years teaching middle school, for a combined work-life of 52 years.  Not only is this impressive, it is real, which makes her first year of RETIREMENT suh-weet!  Here she describes habits that guide middle school students towards being lifelong learners.  What a treat to have one of my closest friends and former colleagues share her practical views of what it takes to be an effective middle school student.  Read on and enjoy! 

Middle school is that place in our lives when students have acquired and developed school skills which now needs to be organized into the mind and body of the person that will emerge from middle school to a budding young adult.  In my experience at Sherman Middle School,  students are taught the five habits of learning:  Communication, Imagination, Determination, Analysis, and Point of view.  Most of my discussion with students revolved around these habits.  I noticed that when students adjust to using these habits, they become better learners and increase their chances of turning into productive citizens as well.

Let's start with Communication. First students learn that communication is the key to success. And that’s not an understatement or a cliche.  Being able to understand and be understood is important in any relationship. Whether it be school, work, family, friends, strangers...etc., we must know how to relay what we want or need clearly. Opposite, we must clearly understand what they want or need from us.  This is integral to a subject area such as literacy, because we know that the more we read, the more literate we become and the better we can communicate.  

Imagination is something that is innate to most children and increases with learning.  Imagination takes us beyond what we can see into a realm of possibilities. Imagination teaches empathy. While someone may not have your same experiences or feelings, imagination helps them think about how it may possibly feel or be.  It’s interesting that imagination and empathy seem to go hand in hand, as both appear to be very important to building character and values when as a young person, and ultimately into adulthood.

Analysis is the  cornerstone of an insatiable curiosity that can only be cured by taking something apart and putting all the pieces together again. Even then, as we have learned through science and math, the question still may not be answered, but it opens up a new wave of curiosity and begins yet another adventure. As students began to analyze to look closely at people, situations or objects, and learn to ask questions before making decisions, they tend to make better choices in studying, making friends and choosing significant others.

Point of View is critical in middle school. Without being able to state your point of view or form your own opinion, you may easily become a follower, and followers are usually bullied or bystanders.  Being able to state how you feel or think enables you also to be an advocate for yourself and others.  One thing students must understand is that not everyone's point of view is the same as yours and this needs to be experienced and respected.  Giving and getting respect is a huge part of point of view. You have to learn to agree to disagree for your opinion to be valid. This is a difficult concept in sixth grade, but by eighth grade, students have a better grasp of it.

The final habit, Determination, is a little harder for some students because it means maintaining hope, being optimistic, and most importantly, believing in yourself.  Determination is that skill that makes you finish that book report, create that science fair project, pass that math test and finish whatever it takes to reach your goals.

When taught in a caring, safe environment by knowledgeable staff and supportive parents and guardians, these five Habits of Learning can really assist a child throughout middle school, especially into their teen years and beyond.

Ms. Matson is a mother, grandmother, and recently a great-grandmother.  Ask any of her former students what she taught them, and most everyone will say, "LIFE."   She enjoys reading, spending time with her grand-kids, and playing BINGO. 

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