A View from the Middle - Middle School
Welcome to A View from the Middle by Corinna Crafton, Head of Middle School, a blog featuring interesting educational observations and commentary.
Dr. Crafton will be posting here regularly. Please be sure to scroll down to read more and check back frequently for updates.
Celebrating An Alumna Who Embodies Importance of Rigorous Inquiry
Pictured to the right is Jacquelin Sibblies Drury, Wardlaw+Hartridge graduate, Class of 1999. While a student here, “Jackie” was encouraged to delve deeply into complex and controversial issues. Her work at W+H helped to prepare her for the exciting world of theater and the success she has enjoyed as a writer and dramatist. We were thrilled to learn last week that Jackie has just won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Fairview, which challenges the audience to examine their own ideas about race, stereotypes, and privilege.
Many things have changed in the 20 years since Jackie graduated W+H. We have seen enormous advances in technology and medicine, the rise of social media and instant access to information. Scientists have mapped the human genome and immunotherapies are being developed to deliver targeted treatment for a wide range of illnesses. We have also witnessed celebrity culture and reality television alter the collective consciousness and civil discourse devolve into shouting, or worse. If the two decades since Jackie walked these halls has shown us anything, it is that rigorously questioning our world and our actions remains critical to the achieving one’s fullest potential across any measure.
Students must dive deep into thorny issues, learn all they can about topics of personal interest and global significance, engage thoughtfully with others as they challenge assumptions, convey informed opinions in writing and the spoken word. These vital skills are a hallmark of the student experience at Wardlaw+Hartridge.
To develop the habits of mind and the behaviors necessary to closely examine complex issues requires that we help our Middle School students understand how they learn. Metacognition is the fancy word for “the awareness and understanding of one's own thought processes” (www.oed.com) and knowing this about ourselves can help us to prime the brain for new learning. In the Middle School, we have used a fantastic curriculum called MindUP, which was developed specifically for use with young adolescents to explore how their brains change during puberty and how they can tap into the great potential they each possess through positive mindsets and putting to use their knowledge of how they think and learn. To learn more about the resources available through the MindUp organization, click here: MindUp
The young adolescent brain is truly fascinating. Developing from back-to-front, the prefrontal cortex (located just behind the forehead) is the last region to fully develop, and is not fully matured until we are in our mid-twenties! This area of the brain is responsible for many things, including abstract thinking, voluntary movement, aspects of speech, and executive functioning skills. Thus, providing students with activities to assist in its development is imperative. Attention, organization, and forward planning are essential components to the sophisticated level of inquiry we pursue in and beyond our classrooms, and these attributes are honed as the prefrontal cortex develops. Knowing the frontal lobe is a work-in-progress and that each child matures at different rates, we scaffold instruction to include many activities that build their capacity for complex decision-making (such as choosing from an array of possible research questions to ask), impulse control (by using non-verbal cues and feedback to help students self-regulate), and focusing attention (breaking reading and writing activities into “chunks” to allow for pauses from intense focus).
As we learn more about cognitive development, we are able to inform our own practice as teachers to cultivate opportunities to stretch young minds, challenge perceptions, nudge beyond the easy answer, and foster a love for deeper understanding. In so doing, we tap into the natural proclivity children have for asking big questions.
I cannot help but wonder what big questions Jackie asked when she was a student here. Did she ponder the structures of a cell when peering through a microscope in laboratory life science? Did she consider the etymology of a word as she dissected language while rehearsing for a Shakespeare play in English? We know from her yearbook entry that she loved poetry, expressive writing, and taking a stand. It is no wonder then that her professional life is one that blends inquiry, performance, and social justice. In that that yearbook entry, Jackie included a powerful passage from the classic novel The Secret Garden: “At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they see it can be done--then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.” How fitting for a Pioneering Thinker to reflect on a beloved book and the powerful message it provides about taking risks and asking those big questions. Do it! Take that chance! Ask that big question! Hunt for answers!
I wonder what terrific things our current Middle School cohort will have accomplished 20 years hence...but first, let’s finish the 2019 school year!
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