In sixth grade, I was painfully shy. I never raised my hand because I was a perfectionist and I was afraid of people noticing me. Being called on was the worst thing that could have happened to me. Being called on and then getting an answer wrong would have been unimaginable.
My sixth-grade teacher, a Ms. Frizzle1 look-alike with a matching personality, tried her best to coax me out of my shell, but my crippling shyness continued throughout middle school. (Those who know me well know that this changed somewhere after that!) But it didn't matter, because Mrs. T understood that there were more ways for me to demonstrate my learning than to raise my hand or go to the board. She offered small-group work, which helped me grapple with the content less publicly, and she focused on how we would use the content we were learning well beyond our middle school classroom. I think fondly back to her classes and on the practical skills I learned.
ENACT teachers build profiles based on their own experiences in sixth grade, as part of the Summer Institute.
My reflection on my own middle school experience was motivated by a recent training for sixth-grade Milwaukee Public Schools teachers, where they discussed the same topics. In August, REL Midwest's ENgagement and Achievement through Computational Thinking (ENACT) partnership brought these teachers together for a Summer Institute to launch the second cohort of ENACT teachers. Over two days, ENACT coaches focused on increasing the teachers' knowledge of computational thinking and student-focused teaching practices and how to integrate these practices into their existing math curricula.
To kick off the training, the ENACT teachers were asked to reflect on their own sixth-grade selves as students and to identify what kind of learner they were in middle school. After considering their own sixth-grade learning styles and the things that were affecting them both in and out of school, they reflected on what advice they would give to their past teachers on how they could have better engaged them in learning. The advice the ENACT teachers gave proved that even as sixth graders, they understood that using student-focused instructional practices2 is essential to support learning.
Student-focused instructional practices
Source: Paunesku, D., & Farrington, C. A. (2020). Measure learning environments, not just students, to support learning and development. Teachers College Record, 122(14), 1–26.
Highlighted below are four essential student-focused practices used in the ENACT approach, along with some of the teachers' responses. The responses were edited for clarity.
Reflecting on their experiences as students, the ENACT teachers shared what they wished their former teachers had done:
As you reflect on your own experience as a middle school learner, what advice would you give your past teachers? For teachers, how can you incorporate these reflections into your own classroom instruction? The ENACT partnership has resources that outline strategies for integrating computational thinking and student-focused teaching practices in existing math curricula to support middle school students' engagement and achievement.
1 Ms. Frizzle is the star of The Magic School Bus book and television series. Her character is an eccentric fourth-grade teacher who uses a magic school bus to take her students on unusual field trips to teach scientific concepts. If you are not familiar with the series, I highly recommend it!
2 Paunesku, D., & Farrington, C. A. (2020). Measure learning environments, not just students, to support learning and development. Teachers College Record, 122(14), 1–26.