By Judianne Jayme
A natural question that people ask after I reveal I’m an educator is, “What grade do you teach?” After replying that I teach sixth graders, I see faces drop and eyes narrow. “Was that your first choice? That’s a tough age group.” People are often surprised that sixth grade was genuinely my first choice as an educator.
There is no “trick” when it comes to getting sixth graders to cooperate. There are definitely qualities you should have before venturing into a middle years (grades 5-8) classroom. You need to be patient; you need to know when and how to put your foot down, and you definitely need to have a sense of humour. You also need to be able to understand your students along with the developmental changes they are going through, in the physical, emotional, and social sense. While your job isn’t to get the students to like you, the truth of the matter is that those same students will be more motivated to learn if they, at the very least, have a positive working relationship with you. It all comes down to relationships and interactions. This is where purposeful teaching comes in.
Direct and purposeful
I begin my lessons with developing the intent, task, and criteria of the activity. Don’t underestimate how much more motivated and independent children will be when they understand why we are doing what we’re doing. The task is usually what I write down first. This is simply the step-by-step instruction explaining what we are doing at that moment. The criteria are equally important. This answers how we know we are doing our task correctly. I take this process a step further – I get students to collaborate with me.
My first article described the importance of collaboration. When I go through the lesson’s intent, task, and criteria with my students, often I will ask them to help me fill it out. This prevents me from doing the thinking for my students. We are now working together for the same goals. We are at the same understanding of the lesson. Usually, they come up with a criteria or intent that I would not have thought of! This is the importance of giving them that voice. This is direct teaching.
Children are naturally inquisitive. They are curious about the world around them. This is why they ask so many questions. We do them a disservice when we set those questions aside, especially the question of “why?” This question, if attached to an action, is attempting to identify the intent of that action you are requesting of them.
“Why do I have to go bed early?”
“Why do I have to do the dishes?”
“Why do I need to take medicine?”
My parent tip in my previous article urges parents to throw the question back to their children. This is another perfect opportunity to guide children to make meaningful connections, to communicate their ideas, and to think for themselves! They will not always be correct, which is when we must address misconceptions, but the process of thinking becomes meaningful. You will have a deep thinker!
Parent tip: What’s your intent?
Before your child can even ask you why you are doing something, have your bases covered! While explaining an expectation, add in the reason why it’s important. This will seem awkward at first. You will feel very “teacher-like” doing this. Eventually, it will become second nature. You will no longer need to make a conscious effort to explain your intentions. I find that I do this, not only with my students, but with my colleagues and my family and friends as well. It has made all the difference. Good luck!
Judianne Jayme is a third year educator teaching sixth grade in the Winnipeg School Division.