November is a good time to reflect on the school year so far. A few months are in and I have a decent handle on my classes and students. As with any reflection, my mind casts a wide net on topics – especially when I consider those areas where I can improve my practice. For instance, at our recent visit with members of Senator King's staff, we often brought up the employability of our students. As I consider my 6th and 7th graders, I wonder what makes them "employable" and am I providing the skills necessary for their success? Is it an ability to divide fractions, know the amendments of the Constitution or what understand what the digestive system does? Or, is it something more?
In the middle of this muse, I was interested to learn that the national classroom at Sesame Street is celebrating its 45th anniversary of teaching our young children to be good citizens. While I am of Captain Kangaroo vintage, I have been known to chase a few clouds away with The Count or Cookie Monster from time to time. According to the Children's Television Workshop press release, this season's curriculum is introducing lessons on self-regulation, emotion control and following directions because these are the skills that students need to be successful in school and in life. Similarly, according to Forbes magazine and America's Job Exchange employers want their future employees to be dependable, self-motivated team players who are positive and persistent. Consistently, these Habits of Mind are cited as important markers of present and future student success.
For many in my classroom, I am convinced that Johnny's lack of progress forward is increasingly becoming less about concept acquisition than it is about lack of persistence and impulsivity management skills. Flexible grouping, clear expectations and feedback, rewards and a transparent curriculum are a few of the ways I provide my students pathways to these necessary skills. Nevertheless, I feel that my supplemental approach to exposing my students to the Habits of Mind is a far cry from the benefits of directly teaching these habits to my students. I would rather my classroom support a direct and specific Habits of Mind curriculum.
Last school year, my 6th grade colleagues asked the students to rate themselves on a subset of Habits of Mind. Based on their self reflection, we created classes and assigned students to the habits they needed the most work on with some success. As our schools move deeper into a proficiency based environment, where students may move at their own pace (or at least my pace), without a firm foundation of the habits of mind essential to be successful in the marketplace, are we setting up our students to fail? In other words, are we giving them a shiny new car – but failing to give them the keys to drive it?
I understand that there is the ever present question of time, staff and/or money resources to fulfill this idyll. Nevertheless, if we are to believe what is told to us, graduates who lack these Habits of Mind are less employable. If employability is our goal, then what is the option?
Sing with me. "Sunny day, chasing the clouds away..."
Dan teaches middle school students in the subject area of Math at Hall Dale Middle School. He started at Hall Dale Middle School in 1999 teaching English Language Arts. In 2005, he became the Teacher Leader in Mathematics. Daniel holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies from Colby College, a Master of Arts in Public Administration from University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Master of Science in Middle School Mathematics from Walden University. Dan is a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching nominee this year.