* I had a class where a teacher drew a maze on the ground and told us to get through it. The only way to get to the end was to walk outside the map - literally think outside the box. Some students called it "cheating" but my teacher insisted that it "there were no rules dictated against that tactic" and "cheating" was really just "utilizing resources".
I liked her a lot.
Here's the deal:
Middle school brains are terrified of becoming adults.
So how do you teach a whole classroom of kids who not only are programmed to think that the process of "fill in the blanks, pass the test, forget everything" is learning, but they ALSO enter your classroom with the words "Do I HAVE to be here?" on their minds? Actually, I heard those words out loud yesterday. That was not awesome, to say the least. I just felt BAD. All I could say to this kid was "No, you have options." His other options sucked. We both knew it. "I want to stay in here, but do I HAVE to participate?" he asked me. "I'd like you to try," was all I could say. He didn't, and another teacher wound up sending him into the hall. (She had had enough of him by 3:30 - understandable, this kid is moody.) After the hour was up, he was disappointed he missed everything. I was, too. I found him after class and said "I'm sorry your day sucked. Maybe next week?" "If it's not boring," he threatened. "Well, that's actually up to you," I tried to explain to deaf ears.
Here's what I'm trying...
The "I'm not your babysitter" speech. Make it clear that this is their time to do something more than sit around - that we can accomplish something together. Goals are important, guys. I have really fun ones to try. I promise. (Secretly thinking: I HOPE.)
The "this class is yours" approach. You can't lecture straight at them and expect them to absorb it all. Especially not in an after-school program. You give them brief instructions and THEY create something out of it. You use THEIR ideas. You let them compete against each other rather than against the work they did yesterday, or worse, against you.
Apply it to skills they want to have. They won't care about a moment in history unless you let them live it. They won't understand a concept unless you put their hands on it. They won't want to do it unless they get to put their own personality into it, to show off the important work they've done.
Time to socialize. They are gonna do it anyway. "Sit down and shut up" IS WILDLY INEFFECTIVE.
Teach to the one kid who is interested, the rest will follow.
Lesson plan like this:
Ask a major question: put forth a challenge
Discuss possible solutions
Once ideas are sparking, hand over the tools to put the ideas to work
Look at what they made individually, let them show it off
Talk about all the ideas made tangible - synthesize them together, aknowledge what they've accomplished together
Try again tomorrow
Some times the challenge is taking a little bite of growing up
and there are ways to make that bite bearable, interesting... even fun.
That's a teacher's job. That's a teacher's impossible task. Making a group of unmotivated people want to do something.