Middle School Visit

On Monday I visited a cooking/gardening class at Willard Middle School in Berkeley. One student told me it was his favorite class. “Why?” I asked. “Because you can talk,” he said. He and two friends were standing by a stove. They were making grits and waiting for the water to boil. Out in the vegetable garden — the students are divided into three groups, and one groups spends the class period in the garden — another student told me it was his favorite class, too. “Why?” I asked. “Because you can move around,” he said. I was very impressed. Two different students say the class is their favorite — for two different simple non-obvious reasons. The cooking and gardening program at Willard is run by Matt Tsang, who has been at Willard ten years.

Later that day I saw a slide show of architecture theses. One slide showed a page of a thesis that said: “Work with nature, not against it.”

Maybe middle school students have strong desires to talk and move around. Maybe “work with nature” means, in that context, teaching in such a way that students can talk and move around. Maybe classes can be set up so that the existence of those desires makes learning easier rather than more difficult. Like swimming with the current rather than against it. In the typical Willard class students can’t talk and move around. And teaching at Willard is hard; the average teacher lasts only five years.

The existence of the slide in the slide show showed that work with nature, not against it needs to be learned; it wasn’t obvious. Nothing like that is taught in schools of education, I’m pretty sure.

3 Replies to “Middle School Visit”

  1. Seth,

    I noticed that that both students quoted were “he”. One of the arguments for single-sex schools is that boys and girls have different learning styles. Boys do best in classes where they can move around and don’t have to be quiet. Girls do better in the traditional format– sit at your desk and listen quietly to the teacher.

    “In its all-boys’ classes, students are not required to sit still and be quiet. They are welcome to stand or sit or curl up under their desks, or jump up and down if they like. Just about anything is allowed, short of punching a classmate. When I first entered the classroom, it didn’t look like any classroom I had seen before. It looked more like a can of worms or a beehive, with boys gyrating, bouncing, and buzzing like bees. But the boys’ dynamic teacher, Jeff Ferguson, assured me that his students were paying attention and, in fact, they were thriving with the more relaxed format.”

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