My young charges do not believe me when I tell them that no brain truly multitasks, but we all “toggle.” Teaching 7th grade has also been, well – interesting. It dawned on me the other day that I am not teaching one year younger, but at least two: I sent young adults, high school students, off into the world last May; however, now I am growing sixth grade students.

I have had the discouraging report that our school’s test scores, which were steadily climbing, precipitously fell. If one were to correlate the fall of test scores with change in philosophy or pedagogy, it may have a link between the introduction of a quasi-RTI model, change of schedules, a hobbled PLC model, and the like. We shuffled, danced, and placed kids in basal reading programs, had teachers from all content areas teach these reading programs, and then scratched our heads when our scores plummeted. But I cannot blame external systems completely: I am holding up a harsh light to my own pedagogy skills. I will take the credit for much of our students’ successes: as a curriculum leader, I worked tirelessly to get the best resources in our school, novel units, novels, engaging lesson plans, and the like. I shared and shared and shared. Maybe too much. What did I do wrong? How did I not help the 7th grade teachers? How did I not help the 8th grade teachers? Most importantly: did I lose my voice and vote while advocating for my students? Was anyone listening to me and the other curriculum leaders? (Echo, you lonely little goddess…can you hear me now?)

But now everyone seems angry all the time, and confused. We are now practicing an ‘inclusion’ model and already I have had angry parents, from honors to special educational needs.  I see the swirls of dollar signs flocking metaphorically over our heads, flying out the windows, while we get copying budgets and toner cartridge rations. The students still enjoy their laptops, but already are playing games, games, games, and the new discipline policy lacks teeth at the moment. Doesn’t mean things won’t change, but for now, it is definitely a ‘grassroots’ sort of procedure. I always like my students–that is never a question. And fortunately, those seventh grade kids like me, too. Not too many problems, yet.

In order to reinforce the technology rules, and ever-striving to give ‘reasons why,’ I gave them a demonstration the other day, where I put a chair in front of the room. I “volunteered” a student to be the “great book,” while I cast myself as “awesome music.” We jumped up and down and played musical chairs, vying for the spot of our “brain” (played diligently by “chair”), until I made my toggling point. (Of course, helped them with background knowledge of a toggle switch, with a cameo appearance by “light-switch.”) They laughed, and got the point, although the next day, still had to remind, remind, remind.

But I think what might be happening to our kids may be something else besides fighting for attention in the language centers of their brains: we are pruning their ‘growth mindsets’ too fast and too much. And, I need to really think on this: do I have what it takes to be a mastery teacher? Am I willing to push, push, push for their higher scores on the state tests? It always was a meta-question for me: if I teach it, they will learn it, and the test itself will be fine. Now I am not so sure. Just wondering if I drink the Koolaid and focus solely on test scores. I have always agreed with the state standards: we have eleven targets, and they are fair and just in my opinion. They are things I want my students to know how to do. Period. But that test…huh.

But if I do that, teach the test and how to take it, how does that fit in with my knowledge of fixed versus growth mindset? 

From: Wired Magazine: In this new paper, Moser et al. extends this research by looking at how beliefs about learning shape these mostly involuntary error-related signals in the brain, both of which appear in less than half a second. More specifically, the scientists applied a dichotomy first proposed by Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford. In her influential research, Dweck distinguishes between people with a fixed mindset — they tend to agree with statements such as “You have a certain amount of intelligence and cannot do much to change it” — and those with a growth mindset, who believe that we can get better at almost anything, provided we invest the necessary time and energy. While people with a fixed mindset see mistakes as a dismal failure — a sign that we aren’t talented enough for the task in question — those with a growth mindset see mistakes as an essential precursor of knowledge, the engine of education.

I’m not even sure what I am asking, it’s that bad. I’m just glad I kept all my resources and lessons from when I taught 7th grade. Dusting off Edgar Allan Poe and ‘The Highwayman.’ Somehow, their scores went up, so I guess it’s not hopeless. Just have to get the lightbulbs to work.

3 thoughts on “Light-switch.

  1. “It dawned on me the other day that I am not teaching one year younger, but at least two”

    So true! I like 7th grade, but I think 8th grade is education’s best kept secret. They get a bad rap for the attitude, but I’ll take a little of the attitude, because of the maturity, the depth of thought and the potential.


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