This is Not a Test- José Vilson Part 1

It has been really hard to focus on my thoughts and reading when others have already posted on this with my book group.  I want to get my thoughts out there first before I am swayed by others insights



At first it took me a little while to understand José and his writing style.  In fact, I reread this part about 4 times.  He blends what he wants you tell you with many different stories and accounts in his life which sometimes convoluted his message (at least to me).  Since I have spent the past 12 years teaching on a public school on a reservation, he has my attention when he talks about teacher perceived behaviors versus actual student ones.  I have often wondered how many teachers have dealt with student in the same way before they walk into my door.  Students who have great ideas on how to do mathematics have been hammered by the rules.  Students are so ingrained on drill and kill that they are unwilling for months to work openly on a problem that I have not previously demonstrated a solution path.  In my class I have students who feel that they are unable to work on math because I do not send a textbook home with each of them every day (I have a classroom set only, and usually that is for reference).  They also feel that they are not learning mathematics because they are not doing problems 1-72 from each section.  They can’t see that being presented a situation where they ask questions themselves, work in groups, refine their work and defend their answers are teaching them as much as a worksheet.

Many of my students are of mixed nationality as well,  so hearing his account on how he feels like he is never welcome in either of his parent’s culture really spoke to me.  When I look at my classroom, I only see kids.  I don’t break down nationality, and try real hard not to break them down by behaviors (but I will happen, I normally have to check myself every 2 months on this behavior).  When he talks about the “lazy” comment his teacher makes to him, it makes me more conscientious of what off hand comments I may say in class.  I also respect that we all need to be heard, no matter what our opinions are.  This is something I stress in our classroom- that every idea is valid and needs attention.  One thing that really surprises my students is when we pick up their ideas (and others think it is wrong) and run with them, usually resulting in a correct solution.  It starts to change how they think about their education up until now and increases their confidence about their abilities.

Please Put Your Pencils Down:

This section kicks off our favorite subject, testing.  Not just end of year testing, but progression/monitoring testing.  Once again José flips back and forth between his inner self and teacher self (it looks like I will need to get used to this).  He flips back and forth in this section about testing and school opportunities- especially charter schools.  I have not had contact with charters, although we have 3 in our area, I have always been in a public school- both professionally and as a student.  I can relate to his framing of “the only school” since in my rural home there was only one option.  There is a lot of local investment in this setting, a single school really pulls together a community.  Of course, there are problems with that type of setting (mostly meeting student needs and physical needs- location/distance), but what would it be like if we were able to support structures big enough to house all students in one location, no matter what their needs?  What kind of impact would that have on the community and learning?

José then goes back to giving this assessment test.  He gives us the typical student responses (that we all have experiences), as well as how he (and most of us) handle this situation professionally, as well as his (and ours) internal thoughts.  Testing fatigue is a problem, progression testing is taxing on teachers, students as well as data protocol members.  It seems like we all are starting to move into a common belief that understanding of mathematics is as important as obtaining a correct answer- yet our testing methods do not reflect this.  There are many of us who comment on this via Twitter or our Blogs, why has that message not been heard?  What can we do to change this for all students?  How can we measure student learning in a way that allows them flexibility in thought and answers but is accessible for data interpretation?  Those are questions we need to answer.

Can It Be That It Was All So Simple Then?:

This was a insight to the atmosphere José experiences in school.  He also mused, like I have, whether things seemed so easy back then because the pressure of assessments were not existent.  Teachers taught, students learned (some more than others), and there never was the question of the quality of education.  Quality of education is a very large topic, and we are still collectively struggling to properly define it in mathematics.  While I believe we need to have some common benchmarks so we can be reasonably assured of any student’s given mathematical skills, I am still not satisfied with our assessment methods that are in place to measure these benchmarks.  José also relates how teachers are creatures of their own education, they tend to present in the ways they learned.  This does need to change.  Our students have totally different home and social experiences than we did.  In order to meet student’s needs, we need to know about them.  I agree with José that is does unlock some barriers to student involvement when you bring their topics into the classroom.  Every year, during the first couple of days I have student fill out an “All About Me” that gives me some insight about the students and how to tailor my instruction to help capture interest.  José then goes into student tracking, a process that is still very debated in my school.  Students learn the best from their peers, how can we expect our “lower” (I really hate this term, how do we accurately define a lower student?) students to be successful if they have the concept that they are in the “dumb” class?  We do send this message all the time.  Instead of splitting students into groups, perhaps one hour of the day is an elective where students are grouped by instructional needs.  Even with this model, you have the feeling of smart and dumb groups- would there be an effective way to offer an student picked elective that could address student’s academic needs or is an RTI model the best?

Band of Brothers:

In this chapter José mentions the years that he was the most inspired- the middle school years at Nativity.  He remembers how they gave him experiences he may not otherwise experience and pushed them to use their gifts to better themselves.  I hope we all experience this at some point, that we learn about ourselves and our strengths.  Many teachers strive to recreate these atmospheres in our classroom, hoping to bring our students the same successes.  This is a great goal, as long as we also realize that we need to inspire our students according to their strengths, not ones imposed onto them by us.

What Happened:

Hey teacher, teacher

Tell me how do you respond to students?

And refresh the page and restart the memory?

Respark the soul and rebuild the energy?

We stopped the ignorance, we killed the enemies…

José wonders if this verse by Slick Rick is a framework for pedagogy.  Do teachers reflect enough and know how to connect with their students?  Are they educating or schooling their students?  I agree with José that education should be a process where teachers, students and parents work together to help future citizens succeed and become a positive contributor to general society.  He talks about how there have been successful people who did not pursue education, but that was because they did not feel connected to their learning or educators.  Education has become a tough profession, we need to be able to connect to a very diverse population that makes up our class.  We have the responsibility to ensure that we are offering our students the best education according to their needs so they have the best chance to be successful.

Negotiating My Own Skin:

This chapter probably has struck me the most, because teaching 8th grade, students really struggle with finding themselves.  By the time students are in our 8th grade, they are the top of the Middle School- but they also start getting a taste of high school through elective classes and sports.  This starts a whole new dynamic with the students as they are now trying to create a new identity to present to older students and peers to align with for support.  One thing that alleviates this to some degree is the fact that we are THE school, students do not have to worry about which high school they will choose, unless they decide to open enroll to another district.  One big difference between my student’s issues and José- there is no classroom where dialect for minorities is an issue.  Our white population is so small in fact (less than 5%) that in most cases, the minority dialect is the one that students emulate.

I am also deeply saddened by José’s tale about the councilor, in our school we are fortunate to have a good staff on hand for students, and classroom teachers empathize with students.  There are some student issues I take care of by talking one-on-one with a student outside in the hall, and there are others where I let the student know that I am concerned, but I have to refer them to a professional (and they are seen within the day).  When I read this I realized that I may have to change how I approach certain issues, there are deeply seeded cultural trauma within the community- and even though I am aware of it I did try to not dwell upon those issues but teach students how to deal with their current issues.  That is a mistake since many of their current issues take root at the home where this cultural trauma resides.

I hope that I am one of those teachers who create a positive experience for our students, I try to encourage students to think to their futures and give them opportunities to explore options they will have once they are done with high school.  I am always open to ideas others may have on how I could improve myself in this area.

It’s Not About A Salary:

This chapter talks about the disparity of minority teachers in education, as well as the lack of male educators.  As a non-minority male teacher, I always try to really connect with my students.  I realize that this may take longer than it would if I was a minority, but I also hope that I make a positive difference and connection for these students.  I have had students tell me “what do you care, you won’t see us or care about us after this year.”  That comment really spoke to me about how students perceive their elementary teachers.  I started out in high school, where I would see students for four years.  I constantly kept in contact, asking how classes were going, home lives- if I could help them in any way.  At first students were a little put off by my efforts, and from that one comment I can see why.  After a year, students began to see where I was coming from, that I really did care when I would ask “Who has seen ____?  She has been gone for 2 days and I am worried about her.”  When I was moved to the middle school, I was worried about this- but I kept going to the high school to talk with my old colleagues and make sure vertical alignment of curriculum was going well.  This (and coaching) allowed me to maintain those relationships, I have been very blessed to have old students come up to me to talk about how things have gone for them- and usually they give me insight to current or future students I will have.  I agree with the statement that it’s not about salary, for me it’s about the students- plain and simple.

The Answer:

This chapter also connected with me.  When I started college I wanted to be in engineering/computer science.  I also had a class that basically forced me out of the field- operating systems.  It was partially the teacher and partially my own disinterest in the class.  I had two previous classes, assembly being one, that I loved.  I was a debugger- I can get lost in code, looking for the errors and fixing it.  One of the criteria of our assembly assignments was space, so we would get the program working, then dig into the code to see where we could blend lines to create a smaller more efficient program.  I loved it, I spent hours in the lab trying to condense my code- usually I was the best programmer on that account.  After OS pushed me away from CS, I started to look at my mathematics homework in the same way.  What could I do to get the right answer?  Was there a better way?  More efficient?  I started applying my Assembly habits to my mathematics and loved it.  That is why I connect with process teaching, am confident in CCSS, and believe I can connect with students.  I look at mathematics a different way now than when I was a student in high school.  Although I didn’t have the cultural barrier José did through school, I too had to find myself and my path.  We all have, and we have chosen the most important one.


Creating a Knowledge Base by Scott Willis

Creating a Knowledge Base by Scott Willis, Educational Leadership (2002)


 Q1) How is our concept of effective professional development changing?

The standards movement has really changed professional development.  It is now directly related to teacher’s practice, given on site throughout the school year, and it is curriculum based.

Many teachers want to receive professional development in the same manner as their students, through active learning.  Professional development should have teachers in the role of students- this gives them a working base knowledge of how their students will receive instruction and they can adjust instruction accordingly.

Q2) How would you describe past professional development practices?

Professional development has been given off-campus, at a hotel or university.  It has been generic so that it can be given to a large number of teachers.  They have been varied- independent consultants giving presentations without tying into an overall curriculum for schools, it was not research based.

Going to professional development programs was tricky for some educators.  You needed to examine what they were presenting and how it would fit into your curriculum, if it actually did.  Schools would typically send teachers to different professional development workshops which may or may not actually provide useful knowledge for their curriculum.  Teachers attended and were not expected to implement practices into their teaching or to even report out to peers about the workshop.  Different sessions would even provide conflicting information about best practices in the classroom.

Q3) What do teachers need to learn from professional development?

Teachers need to learn 3 things in order to change the effectiveness of their classroom instruction.  They need to learn how to analyze practice, they need to be exposed to alternative methods and they need to develop a feel for when to implement different methods into instruction.

Teachers need to think about the relationship between teaching and learning.  If students are not learning a concept, teachers need to be able to identify where in their lesson students are struggling.  They need to be exposed to multiple methods of presenting information to students.  Every student brings a different skill set to the classroom and teachers need to be able to meet those diverse sets, or be able to research different ways to present information to those students.  Teachers also need to develop a feel for the best teaching practice in their classroom based on student knowledge and skill set.

Q4) What is your vision for a better form of professional development?

A good example if a lesson-study program.  Teachers collaborate on instructional planning, observe what happens when it’s implemented, analyze what went wrong, formulate ideas on improving instruction, and reapply to classrooms.  Teachers find this model valuable, and are able to reproduce the activity easily.

Teachers need to be active learners in their curriculum.  They need to experience lessons in the same context as their students.  They can then make adjustments to instruction or develop alternate strategies to present if students struggle.

Q5) Do US teachers need to overcome reluctance to participate in these collaborative activities?

Yes, and many teachers are doing this.  When other teachers notice what is happening, they generally want to participate as well.  This shifts teaching from a private profession to public- which could be daunting for some teachers.

Some teachers are very self conscience about what they are doing in their classroom and are unable to discuss methods with others.  They need to be able to talk about instructional practices in a way that they will not internalize bad practices but be encouraged to implement methods that will benefit students.

Q6) What other challenges do we need to overcome to improve professional development practices?

We need to develop a knowledge base for the teaching profession.  They learn from their individual experiences but need to have a way to share that knowledge with peers.  We have relied on academic researchers to generate this knowledge alone, but it is not designed to solve classroom problems.  We also need to develop contexts where collaborative work can be sustained, shifting focus from having enough time to something teachers consider valuable and integrate into the classroom.  We need to encourage teachers to participate in these activities so they can be more successful for their students.

The MTBoS is a place that addresses these concerns.  Starting my own blog and professional twitter account has connected me in a way I could have never hoped to in the past.  It provides a large Professional Learning Community for a variety of different topics/focuses.  It allows us to collaborate on instruction without sharing a common locale.  In my opinion, if teachers are not connecting in this way they are really missing out on a great resource for their classrooms.

Q7) How could we create a knowledge base for teaching?

Teachers need to have a knowledge bast that is organized in accordance to standards and curriculum because that is how they need to access it.  It needs to have multiple representations: videotaped lessons, teaching aids, lesson plans, supplemental materials, etc that is available online for any teacher.

This has been done over the years since this article was published.  SciMathMN and MathShell are examples of this type of work.

Q8) Ideally, wouldn’t that knowledge base be centralized so that it could be shared by the whole country, or even internationally?

The most feasible design is to develop a platform where teachers can store their own knowledge, share it with their colleagues and begin to gather contributions from various other sources.  These would be built by teachers, districts and states in a format that is easily shared.

Once again, this has happened to a large extent (with the exclusion of video components).  the MTBoS is more individualized per teacher, where MathShell and SciMathMN are at a larger scale.  Teaching Instructors should either promote or develop a central base for their district to make this more accessible for new teachers and administration.

Q9) Why is it important to have a video component?  What are the advantages?

Teaching is a performance, it occurs real-time.  In order to improve, you need to study live classrooms.  Video allows you to capture, revisit and reflect.  It shows you the complete picture of a lesson that paper can’t convey.

Video is a powerful medium through which we can improve our teaching.  We all can recall times when we wished we had done something different in a lesson, but video allows us to see things we can’t- those students who we miss while we are in the front of the room.  It allows us to observe the whole classroom, playback parts of the lesson to hear discussions or questions that my may mentally dismiss.  It also shows our appearance to students, our body language, facial expressions and tone that students see.

Q10) Should teachers contribute only videotapes of classes that they think are exemplary, or should they also use a tape of a class that fell apart or a mediocre example?

It is probably not useful to watch video of a disastrous lesson, there are different things that can go wrong in a lesson and if we see all of them at once, it is hard to analyze.  Every teacher makes mistakes, and it is important to leave those in.  Show the lesson for what it was, and allow observers of the lesson to determine where improvements can be made.

I would use both medium and exemplary lessons for video analysis.  It will allow you to determine what it takes to transform your lessons into great opportunities for student learning.  There are too many things that can be learned from videotaped lessons, use it.

Q11) One finding of TIMMS was that the major difference in teaching among Germany, Japan and the US lay more in the quality of the lessons than in the skills of the teachers.  Should we focus professional development on improving lessons rather than polishing teacher’s skills?

There are three ways to improve the quality of teaching that students experience: improve the applicant pool, improve the competence of the people in teaching and improve the methods teachers use.  The focus of the US is to get better people in the classroom rather than improving the methods of teaching.  This is backwards, we need to work on competence of teachers.

There are  a lot of great teaching methods accessible, we need to make sure that everyone is exposed to them.  Many teachers are creatures of habit, we get comfortable with our teaching and lose focus on how effective it is for our students.  Teachers need access to new methods through professional development or professional learning communities.  Some teachers just need that extra nudge to transition out of their rut.

Q12) Is there resistance in the US to determining a standard method of teaching because we have an individualistic outlook, or is that overstated?

There is resistance.  Some teachers think that if they only do the standard practice that they are not being professional, they feel they need to do new things.  There is nothing wrong with using the standard practice as long as you have a means of improving it over time.  A lack of knowledge base is what has kept teaching stagnant for the past 100 years.

A standard method is like a curriculum, it is an guideline for your classroom- not the classroom in it’s entirety.  There are great methods that should be implemented across the board for teaching, but you also have to customize your style to fit yourself as a person and professional- play to your strengths.  You also have to modify what happens in your classroom based on student need, if you neglect that then you are the opposite of professional.

Q13) From your experience, what helps site-based professional development flourish over time?

First, you need a strong principal and superintendent.  Second, you need to focus on the end result- improving student learning.  Third, maintain a focus over time, such as a three year cycle.  Persistence goes hand in hand with leadership, if you persist you will see results of what you are doing.

Just like in the everyday running of your classroom, administrator backing is the key for professional development.  Having a strong administrator who will commit to a long term plan will show the best results on improved teaching methods and student learning.  Create good relationships with them, it will only help your students succeed.

Q14) How will the accountability movement affect professional development?

On the long run, it’s going to have an excellent effect because it creates a context in which everyone is motivated to improve.  There will be glitches: alignments between standards and assessment isn’t well set, teachers focus on assessments since that is their accountability.  A good thing will be that all teachers in a state will share the same learning goals for their students.  If everyone is teaching different things, it’s harder to create a professional knowledge base.

Over the years, I am not sure his first statement is correct, accountability is not providing a positive motivation for improvement.  Many teachers have negative feelings toward standardized testing, and teaching to the test is rampart in school systems.  Recently there is a movement towards a growth model, which has promise as long as it is focused on true student growth and not state or national norms.  With any type of assessment or accountability program, we can never lose sight of the reason for them in exchange for convenience of statistical number processing.  It’s about the students, and has to be about them to make things work.  It can’t be about what is more efficient for the state or district- as soon as it does, we shift our focus from our students and they lose out on the great experiences they can encounter in their classrooms.  We teach for the adults our students can become, never lost sight of that.


Achievement for All Ch2

Chapter 2: Cognitive-Intellectual Development


Characteristics of Cognitive-Intellectual Development

  • Wide range of intellectual development
  • Ability to think abstractly
  • Faces decisions with sophisticated cognitive and social-emotional skills
  • Curious about a wide variety of topics
  • Active learner
  • Learns while interacting with peers
  • Enjoys learning in real-life situations
  • Sees their abilities clearly but will criticize them in company of peers
  • Sophisticated humor
  • Challenge adult authority
  • Observant of adults

Keeping these in mind, we need to rethink instruction in Middle School.  If you are always in rows of desks lecturing at Students, then you are doing it wrong.  They need activity, projects, conversations about their mathematics so they have the best opportunity to learn.

During adolescence formal, operational thought develops.  They begin to learn abstract concepts and think of possibilities other than reality.  By age 14, they become capable of deductive reasoning.

During these times students will often take unjustified risks due to the rudimentary nature of their analytical thoughts.

Learning slows down during periods of high stress and growth- patterns evident in middle school students.

Most of my students are in a continual state of stress.  Just because they are in school doesn’t mean they forget everything about what is happening at home.  I have had many students call home during the day just to “check up on Mom.”  This needs to be in the forefront of every teacher’s mind


~The ability to establish new neural pathways by forming new habits

Learning potential is increased during this time.  Learning becomes easier, but it can also create patterns that may not be beneficial to students in the long term.  Setting habits early can create a foundation for great learning of students.

It is important to establish routines for students early in the class year, preferably within the first 2 weeks.  This allows students to become comfortable with the classroom atmosphere and anticipate what will happen.  


~The relationship between parts of the brain that work together on a task

The increased speed of making connections and the ability to produce new connections creates great learning potential.  It will allow students to learn faster than they could have in earlier grades.

Middle school students’ minds are growing as fast as they are.  They are capable of great things, most often more than teachers expect.  Push students to increase their limits and produce incredible work they can be proud of, don’t create an atmosphere where they use their creativity to find ways to “cheat” they system.

 Prefrontal Cortex and Limbic System:

~The relationship between the prefrontal cortex of the brain (executive-control) and the limbic (emotional) system.

The two systems do not develop at the same time.  The cognitive control system doesn’t mature until the early 20’s, while the sensation-seeking system develops in your teens.

This explains why students do “dumb” things.  They are driven to experience the rush of thrill-seeking, but are unable to rationally think about or control the situation or consequences.

How is this all impacted by under-resourced enviroments?

  1. Vocabulary: A 3 year old in a professional household had more vocab than an adult in a welfare household
  2. Abstract vs Formal: Students do not have familiarity with printed words and numbers in welfare housesholds. In poverty, time is kept emotionally- in school, abstractly.
  3. Syntactically communicating:Students who can’t ask questions syntactically rarely get past the 3rd grade reading level.

Limit introducing new concepts to 2 -4 things, don’t overflow their memory.  Working memory only has 2 ways to accept information: visual and audio.  Have students outline pre-printed notes or examples.

Identifying Resources:



Having students fill this out as well as filling it out yourself will give you a good idea of what type of interventions the student will need in the classroom.  Never think about what is best for you as a teacher, always think about what is best for the student.

What Interventions Can Help?

  1. Give students step sheets
  2. Use mental models
  3. Make sure every lesson contains the what/why/how
  4. Monitor how much working memory you are asking students to use
  5. Direct-teach vocab using roots, suffixes and prefixes
  6. Make sure students have a future story (future goals)
  7. Form a relationship of mutual respect
  8. Engage each student in thinking
  9. Use the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model: a) I do, b) We do, c) You do
  10. Provide tools, processes and practices to help students critically think and analyze


Distributed Leadership by James Spillane

Distributed Leadership by James Spillane.  The Educational Forum, vol 69, Winter 2005, pp 143-150.

Stories of leadership successes follow a familiar structure: A charismatic leader, often the CEO or school principal, takes over a struggling school, establishing new goals and expectations and challenging business as usual within the organization.  This leader creates new organizational routines and structures that with time transform the school’s culture, contributing in turn to greater teacher satisfaction, higher teacher expectations for students, and improved student achievement.


School Principals, or any other leader, do not single-handedly lead schools to greatness.

  • It is often who they bring into their leadership committees that determine greatness

These stories dwell on the “what” of leadership (structures, functions, routines and roles) rather than the “how” of school leadership (daily performance of leadership routines, functions and structures).

  • Do not only focus on what people do, but how they do these things, how it impacts the school, and why.

Putting Leadership Practice Center Stage

Distributed leadership is about leadership practice rather than leaders or their roles, functions, routines or structures.  Leadership practice is viewed as a product of the interactions of school leaders, followers and their situation.

  • Distributed leadership is interactions between people and their situations.
  • Situations define leadership practice by interactions with leaders and followers.

People and Practice

The responsibility for leadership functions typically are distributed between 3 to 7 people.  The principal emphasizes goals and standards, coordinators identifies problems in instruction, teachers describes implementation of interventions.

  • All roles are important and necessary to properly address issues that occur.
  • Each leader needs to hear/understand concerns from other members.
  • Individuals play off one another.

Leadership five-week assessment

  • Coordinator creates student assessment instruction.
  • Teacher administers the assessment.
  • Coordinator scores and analyzes results.
  • Principal and Coordinator meet to discuss results.
  • Coordinator compiles resources and strategies to assist in problem areas.
  • Coordinator reports results of assessment to teachers via meetings.
  • Coordinator, Principal and Teachers interpret assessment results to identify instructional strategies to address problem areas

People, Place and Practice

  1. Ostensive aspect refers to the routine in principle
  2. Performance aspect refers to routine in practice in specific places at specific times.
  • Most of the 5 week assessment is Ostensive, reporting student assessment results to teachers is Performance
  • Assessments of student is Ostensive, how districts analyze results and implement intervetions is Performance

Situation does not simply affect what school leaders do as an independent, external variable- it defines leadership practice in interaction with leaders and followers.  Aspects of the situation can either enable or constrain practice, while practice can transform the situation.

  • How leadership is distributed is what is important, each member needs to interact and be understood together in order to benefit the whole.

Achievement for All Ch1

Chapter 1: Physical Development


Characteristics of Physical Development:

  • rapid, irregular physical growth
  • body changes that create awkwardness
  • varying maturity rates
  • restlessness and fatigue due to hormones
  • need for daily physical activity
  • junk food preference
  • sexual awareness
  • body change concerns
  • seeks info on sex and health
  • high-risk sexual behavior
  • poor habits

The key classroom factors are: physical activity, sexual awareness and awkwardness caused by bodily changes.  8th graders, especially boys, are very “hyperactive”.  They NEED movement.  Use transitions or kinetic activities to alleviate this, which will also improve classroom behaviors.  Awkwardness will cause students to withdraw and not participate in class.  This is a very delicate position to tackle.  Start with small groups of peers that these students relate to.  As they grow in confidence and skill, swap groups around to eventually include all students.  The results of sexual awareness is many.  Students will start to blurt out in classes or “act up” in order to gain recognition from the opposite sex.  Conversations become side tracked with innuendo, and the choice of wording becomes important.

Risk Factors in Early and Late Maturing  of Girls and Boys:

Girls:     Early Maturing                                        Late Maturing

  • Lower Self Esteem                                        * Four times the rate of self-harm (cutting, poisoning, etc)
  • More Depression
  • Poorer Body Image
  • Earlier Sexual Activity
  • Higher Level of Pregnancy
  • Harsh Parenting
  • Absence of Biological Father
  • Lower Grades (failure by 9th grade)
  • More Vulnerable to Sexual Abuse

Boys:     Early Maturing                                        Late Maturing

  • More Aggressive                                          * More Anxious, Depressed and Afraid of Sex
  • More Delinquent                                         * Four times the rate of self-harm (cutting, poisoning, etc)
  • More Alcohol Abuse
  • Absence of Biological Father
  • Lower Grades (failure by 9th grade)

Stress, illness, violence, divorce and addiction can cause puberty early in students.  Early puberty correlates to the absence of a biological father and increased early sexual activity.  In all cases, students will need support through these times, and normally from someone other than a parent.


  1. Students are normally sleep deprived, they are more alert in the evening than morning so they tend to stay up late.  This causes problems when getting up early for school- they feel sleepy in classes.
  2. Females tend to be on a monthly hormonal swing, Males operate on a daily one.   This explains shifts in behavior throughout the day- sometimes a class schedule switch is needed for these students.
  3. Adolescents tend to worry about an “imaginary audience.”  They tend to have exaggerated concepts about how others think of them.
  4. Most students gorge themselves often, their body is always wanting food.  Normally this tends to be the wrong food types: soda, candy, fried foods.  While they are getting the calories they need, they are not getting the right amount of vitamins and nutrients.  Only half of US adolescents get the recommended 15 mg of Iron and 85% of females do not consume enough calcium.
  5. Skipped breakfast normally results in unresponsiveness, poor academic performance and decreased attention span.
  6. Students typically develop some sort of eating disorder because of heightened awareness of body image.

How Physical Development is Effected by Under-Resources Enviroments:

  1. Factual information about body changes is limited.  It is normally gained from family and friends who may not have their facts correct.
  2. Food is normally high in fats and empty carbohydrates since it’s cheaper than proteins, fruits and vegetables.  Poverty is defined by not having a protein in their diet on a daily basis.  By this definition from the UN, only 20% of the world is not in poverty.
  3. There is a greater level of stress, relating to early puberty and higher level of teen sexual activity.  This typically results in early teen pregnancies.
  4. Sleep is problematic, typically background noise it drown out by TV or music at a loud volume level.  There tends to be multiple individuals sleeping in one room; causing erratic schedules, sleeping in clothes and an absence of alarm clocks.  In a violent neighborhood, there is a heightened sense of alertness preventing the deep sleep that is needed.
  5. Physical activity is limited since space is limited.  Participation in sports is also limited because of the problem of transportation, discouraging many adolescents from participating at later ages because of a feel of “being behind” in sport skills.
  6. Sexual activity is related to culture and peers.  Being a “real man or woman” typically equates in having a child.  This leads to an increase in early puberty, sexual activity and teen pregnancy.

This really defines many characteristics found in the middle school.  Being able to identify these factors will allow us to evaluate student situations and devise interventions to help these students.


Achievement for All- Ruby Payne

I will start keeping tabs on what I am reading- I seem to misplace too many good ideas.  I am also going to keep a page where these will also be posted.




Important Development in the middle grades:

  1. Physical Development: puberty and body image
  2. Cognitive/Intellectual development: changes in their brain
  3. Moral Development: moral compass
  4. Psychological Development: identity and differentiation from adults
  5. Social/Emotional Development: safety and belonging

These tend to be what is at the core for any issue a middle school student faces.  Being aware of these and talking with students so they can identify them are important steps in building a reflective, stable, independent young adult.

Three interlocking factors that impact cognitive framework of students:


These are things that influence your student, and are out of your control.  They are a student’s home conditions, what they have access to at home, and relationships with people beyond the classroom.  Our students come to us with prior experiences established, being able to understand what they are, which ones you can overcome, and others you can help with are crucial to helping your student succeed.

Resources that Build Stability:


These are characteristic that will help us determine where our students are, and what resources they have available to them.  It will allow us to provide interventions to assist with developing resources for our students.

“That which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”

  • Ability to survive
  • Clear understanding of concrete reality
  • Ability to defend oneself
  • Strong sense of connection to others also in survival mode
  • Ability to problem-solve and “make due”
  • 6th sense about adults who may not be safe
  • Capacity to go all day without food
  • Informal, casual approach to living
  • Ability to entertain and be entertained
  • Capacity for enjoying the basics of life

 All of our students will come to us with some of these traits.  Keep them in mind, know what reactions are prompted from Strengths built from previous experiences.  Use these strengths to make connections to your student, which will in turn create trusting relationships.  This will allow your students to learn.