March 16, 2011
Today I inaugurate a new category on the blog: Stupid Things That Help. Posts carrying this title will describe tricks, tips, and maneuvers that I would normally never blog about, except that when I mention them in conversation or in writing, blushing at their banality, the response I always get it is “WOW– that’s really helpful.”
So I’m taking your word for it, readers and colleagues. You have only yourselves to blame.
So: Page Protectors. Not for me, mind you (although I use them constantly): for the kids.
Seventh graders, it will come as no surprise to anyone, are notoriously disorganized. Turns out here’s a neurological reason for this, as Linda Perlstein writes in her wonderful book _Not Much, Just Chillin: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers_:
The human brain has two major growth spurts: in infancy and preadolescence. Though it’s nearly full-size by this age, it is no longer thought to be fully formed….Right before puberty, brain cells grow extra connections, far more than are needed, like trees wildly putting out extra roots, twigs, and branches. This growth in the frontal cortex peaks at age eleven for girls and twelve for boys.
(Linda has a fabulous blog on education issues, too. Check it out. )
This wild tangle of development is not only often primarily responsible for the mood swings, attention issues, and curious mix of dependence and independence we see in our middle school kids, but also for the ridiculousness of the idea that because a kid is twelve, they should have “learned some responsibility by now,” as I have heard countless times in the faculty room.
This is not to say that we don’t set high expectations for our kids’ physical management. But it also means that we’d better be doing everything possible to help them achieve those expectations, instead of throwing them to the Maturity Wolves.
Page protectors– stay with me here– do this. I use them in two major ways.
One: if I have an assignment where clean, neat presentation is important, I hand it out in a page protector. Page protectors don’t solve all the problems of wrinkles, rips, jelly, and Backpacks from Hell, but they do solve the majority of them. There’s also a gravitas to them that middle school kids dig. They require some manipulation, like a tiny puzzle, and the result is immediate and college-y-looking.
Two: If we’re embarking on a long-term process-oriented writing assignment, kids store all their related materials in a page protector. Initial directions, brainstorming pages, notes, drafts, rubrics, feedback sheets– it all goes into the page protector, which is stored on the rings in their English binder until the project is complete. At that point, the kids place their final copy in the front of the page protector, and turn the whole kit and caboodle in. I don’t accept an assignment otherwise; there is no way they can demonstrate their growth, challenges, and successes without this longitudinal proof of their work. I also grade these assignments on a process continuum, so I need to see the rubric I marked up for their first draft in order to correctly assess the final copy. More on that in a future post.
The basics: Page protectors come in many weights and sizes. It’s helpful, as I mentioned, to use ones with hole punches. The three types I use, generally, are lightweight single page protectors; heavier ones with deeper pockets for longer-term writing assignments; and 4X6 photo protectors, which neatly hold four index cards back to back for oral presentations or research notes.