After spending the first week of summer break in a sloth-like existence, I've buckled down over the past two weeks to work on my 7th grade curriculum. What's wrong with what I do in seventh grade? Nothing, really, except that after ten years of teaching, I'm still not satisfied with it, and that means there's work to do.
Eighth grade is easy for me. Maybe it's the age or the content, but I've always been more satisfied and enthusiastic about what my class holds for eighth graders, and I know that impacts their learning. I don't think there will ever be a time when I don't prefer eighth to seventh, but I owe it to myself and my students to keep trying. It's become a standard part of my summer work to come up with changes to seventh grade. This year, I finally have a plan that's bringing me closer to where I want to be.
Writing workshop runs smoothly in eighth grade because my students already know me and my classroom routines. We can hit the ground running with relatively few bumps along the way. The beginning of seventh grade, however, is a struggle for me and my new students. I know this is mostly my fault. I want them to adapt to my expectations as quickly as possible, and I'm not giving them enough explicit instruction on what a writing workshop is. In fact, if you asked my students, they probably don't even realize that they are in a writing workshop because I rarely use that term to explain it to them. Seventh graders enter my room having never participated in workshop before, and my frustration in the first month often shows. Instead of trying to force seventh graders to play catch up to where I want them to be (unfairly comparing them to eighth graders), I need to spend more time at the beginning of the year teaching them how and why my class runs the way it does. More focus on structure. More teaching them how to be productive, independent writers instead of throwing them in the pool and expecting them to swim.
As I've written in the past, I rely heavily on Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle as writing teacher mentors. On any given day in my classroom, you can find some idea that I've tweaked from one of their books, and no matter what changes I make to seventh grade, that won't. But now I'm adding ideas from Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice by Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz to my arsenal. I'm only twenty pages in, and I'm already forcing myself to think about how often I've set seventh graders up for failure by not giving them enough structure to be successful from the start. It shouldn't have to be a trial by fire to learn to write in my classroom. I can ease them in if I take the time to plan ahead.
After a few days of work, I'm already excited for next year (is it August yet?!). I know this is the biggest step I've taken toward improving 7th grade, and putting in the work now will hopefully lead to a smoother transition once school starts. I want to look forward to seventh grade as much as I do eighth, and having this plan in place might be what helps me finally overcome the gap between the two.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.