Teaching Freshmen about Thinking

Teaching Ninth Graders (Freshmen)

New teachers of ninth grade or freshmen students often are surprised at how literal their students are at the beginning of the school year.  Some are disappointed that these high school students don’t seem very mature; so few are able to see the subtleties in literature and seem inept at writing clever imagery.  The fact is few young adolescents are mentally ready for this kind of thinking.  No need to despair.  Give them time.  In the interim, help them see the goals for the course and then design lessons to help them reach those goals as their brains mature.

One way to help your ninth graders buy into the idea of increasingly more sophisticated thinking is to have them do a self-analysis. With one of the Bloom’s Taxonomy charts adapted by the Six-Traits of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratories, you can show your Freshmen where we, educators, expect them to be by the time they graduate from high school. Yes, at the top of the chart. Help them understand the language, first. (See this link).  Then, ask them to rank themselves on a scale of 1-5 on how well do they do on assignments that ask them to do the tasks for each level.  Be aware that this academic language may be new to your freshmen.  That may be a one of the problems you may be helping them to solve.  Understanding “teacher talk”.

This completed check sheet can be stored in the portfolios (folders) kept in class to hold their graded assignments (writing, rubrics from oral presentations, answers to tests, but not tests themselves.)  Or, if you have a secure website, you can store the information electronically.  If your students will be be using a class website, you may keep the HOTS/LOTS chart in full view so students can see it on the page you post assignments.

During the first semester, it’s helpful to inform students of what thinking skill different assignments seek to develop and ,on assessments, which of the skills are being measured. It’s important for students to see the purpose for both. Then, at the end of the first semester, you can look at those charts again and ask the students to write a reflection on what they’re doing better now than at the beginning of the school year, and a projection on what kinds of things they’ll be working on for the second semester.

Recommendation:  When you prep students for a test, you could review the language you plan to use on the test and point out how your questions measure their thinking. For example, “The first section of the test will be objective questions to test your recall of facts and ability to interpret quotations, however, the second part will be short answer where you’ll be expected to show you can analyze a new passage, and then apply what you’re learning about writing an expository paragraph.”

As an experienced teacher of ninth grade/freshmen, you probably are aware of the leap in development of the brain’s frontal cortex that occurs in early teens. Usually at the beginning of the school year, Freshmen still are pretty literal ,thinking in concrete terms, but as the year progresses and their frontal lobes mature, these youngsters more consistently are able to look at literature and life more abstractly, able to recognize and use more subtle metaphors in their speech and writing. Here’s one of several reports on research about adolescent brain development by National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) that you may find useful as you design lessons and assessments for these delightfully young people.


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