How to Build Better 9th-graders?
August 3, 2011 5:12 AM   Subscribe

What resources/lessons/books/videos would you use to teach a class of high school freshmen to help them become better/more successful people?

Next year I’ll be teaching a class for incoming high school freshmen on...well, anything to help them transition from “middle school kids” to “young adults.” I expect to have a lot of freedom in what I teach and how I teach it. I’m trawling for any sorts of resources: books, articles, philosophical discussions, TED talks, etc.

What resources/subjects/ideas would you recommend? What media opened your mind/spoke to you when you were a teenager? What do you wish you had known/read/seen when you were a teenager? What do you think every teenager should know/read/see?

For what it’s worth, other teachers have had the students:
* Read “7 Habits of Highly Effective Adolescents”
* Create 10-year plans
* Write resumes (for summer jobs, etc.)

I would like to:
* Teach peer mediation/conflict resolution
* Stress that failure is an important first step toward success
* Many of these kids would be the first in their family to go to college, so I’d like to somehow address the feelings of uncertainty that can come with that
* On a related note, I also want them to be able to recognize and avoid the “crabs in a bucket” mentality that may try to bring them down

In my experience, this age group is more like post-8th-graders than high school freshmen, so I’m trying to keep that in mind. Many of the students will be reading at a 6th-grade level. For what it’s worth, many students come from a background of poverty, broken homes, etc.
posted by audiodidactic to Education (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Critical thinking, budgeting and the ability to advocate for themselves are some of the basic skills skillgaps that are very, very common.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:26 AM on August 3, 2011

I don't have a specific recommendation for you, but something around self-esteem would be good. They are going to be under a lot of pressure to follow the crowd and potentially make bad choices. Anything you can do to give them tools to deal with that I think would be great.

And please, no 10 year plans. It's overwhelming, and mostly bullshit anyway at that age. A one year plan makes more sense to me. Help them put some specific, actionable goals down on paper to get through 9th grade, or maybe high school. 9th graders should not be worrying about what they'll be doing 2 years post-college.

On preview - we did a critical thinking / logic book with our kids when they were junior high age, and it was very useful. I think this was the book.
posted by COD at 5:30 AM on August 3, 2011

I'd strongly recommend some lessons in Personal Finance. Kids are never too young to start learning about money management, and these days, that stuff isn't taught at all. If the kids are coming from a background of poverty and broken homes, more than likely no one at home is teaching them about making smart financial decisions. You can relate these lessons to getting ready for college, and to reinforce to them that despite their socioeconomic status, college is an option for them, if they start preparing for it now.
posted by litnerd at 5:41 AM on August 3, 2011

Please flag this if the answer is a bit too negative.

I remember a class that I had like this during my high school years, and I just couldn’t buy into it (and I absolutely would have tuned out if I were instructed to read “7 Habits”, too). I tended, however, to read things on my own and never really connected classroom = learning (at that age), but something that I read on my own at that age that inspired me and in retrospect would have probably fit in with an idea of a class like this were biographies of people like Madame Curie or Malcolm X. I had no idea who these people were when I picked up the material that I read, but I remember being touched by the idea that someone was very passionate about science and would skip meals to get through college or if someone wanted to improve their vocabulary, they would start reading the dictionary while in prison nonetheless. Not very good at my words here, but “7 habit” type books and how to study books were not real and were a bit on the fluffy side (to me), whereas the biographies had examples of real life people who struggled and took steps to deal with real life. The versions that I read were Reader Digest type biographies, so it did not require a massive text, just the highlights.
posted by Wolfster at 5:57 AM on August 3, 2011

Some good old-fashioned etiquette instruction will serve them very well. I was just thinking about how a college rising senior I know is sorely lacking in this regard.

Public speaking lessons and practice would also be good.
posted by jgirl at 6:22 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I taught this age group in Chicago, I found most of my kids hated reading so I'd occasionally just end course work a few minutes early and read excerpts that were just plain interesting - like about climbing Everest. I'd put the book under a doc cam so they could follow along and I modeled what I do naturally when I read - ask questions like "I wonder if ___ will do ___ next? I'm not sure what that word means but from the context I think ___." It sounds silly but the kids got into the book and saw what a strong reader does naturally.

I found my hs kids in a different school were fascinated about brain/learning research. Medina has a website to go with his brain rules book with video segments (also on a DVD in the hardcover book) and I showed the videos and modeled some basic learning experiments and asked students to developed their little learning labs. Things like showing them lists of words either randomly listed, sorted alphabetically, or sorted by categories for 15 seconds then they'd see which list they remembered the most from - it was VERY convincing about why they should work on study skills and organizing notes. The kids developed simple labs on their own (studying a random vocab list with or without music, one got a teacher to come yell at a small group and raise their stress levels while studying, several asked teachers if they would divide the class in half and have them do brainstorming before a quiz while the other half silently studied.) I also had them look at excerpts from Jensen's book. They LOVED it. They liked seeing the research and knowing why teachers made them do certain things and they go to do labs!

Along those same lines, there are programs to help teach students metacognition and learning skills. Here is one program with two products.
posted by adorap0621 at 7:18 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Study skills! My students (in a high SES district) still have absolutely no idea how to study for a test/quiz when they get to high school, and for some of them, who really want to do well, it's a dreadful hindrance. (They think that studying == staring at a list of words to be quizzed on or whatever and doing absolutely nothing else; then they feel "cheated" when they don't do well. "But I studied for an HOUR!" they'll tell me, and don't understand why I'm telling them that they did not, in fact, study at all. And then there's the time a kid was really put out because he'd "studied with a friend" for a quiz for "hours:" turned out they'd asked each other words occasionally while playing Xbox. Yeah.) I'm sure all their teachers will be covering it to some extent (as a World Languages teacher, I spend a lot of time talking about/modelling how to study vocabulary/grammar), but it's piecemeal: an organized curriculum of it would help *SO* much! I would love to see topics covered somewhere like: how to take notes in class (pace our middle school principal who actually dictates that kids "cannot take notes and listen," and therefore they are not allowed to), how to take notes while reading/strategies to retain what has been read, how to study for a test/quiz, how to approach doing a long-term project, periodic review of material (i.e., that you probably shouldn't "learn it once" and then forget it; this will harm you on exams, if nowhere else!), why "no homework" is not always "no homework;" etc. I think 'lack of study skills' is in fact the number one complaint I hear from other teachers about our ninth graders!
posted by lysimache at 7:18 AM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Students love when you talk about money and "the real world" and Freshmen year is a great time for my "You Can't Live on Minimum Wage Lesson":

I have students make up a mock monthly budget (you can find lots of resources on the internet for this. I give them rough estimates for rent, utilities, internet service, transportation (are you going to take the bus, or buy a car?) insurance, groceries, clothing, etc. Most students at this age are unaware of the monthly bills their parents pay like electric/gas/water/sewer. Student come up with a monthly total of how much they will need to live "in the style they'd like". I have them put that number aside for now.

THEN I have them do the math for a minimum wage job: Min wage (in your state) x 40 hr week x 52 weeks a year x (about 12%) tax rate. Take that total and divide it by 12 and the students will see how much they will make a month with a minimum wage job.

THEN have the students compare the numbers. There is usually a really large difference between what they think they need and what they'll really make at a minimum wage job. This is a bit of a wake up call for them to see that they're going to need a better job to make the amount of money they will need to live the way they'd like. Freshmen year is a great time for them to see this because they'll still have 3 years of high school in which to prepare for their future education/career, whether it means taking college track classes or start their training at a vocational-technical school.

We also go back to their monthly budget and talk about ways to reduce it to bridge the gap. I follow this lesson up with others on how to read a paycheck ("who is this FICA guy and why is he taking all my money!!?"), the importance of getting a job with benefits, why you should open a bank account and start building your credit line, how credit cards work and other types of personal finance lessons.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:21 AM on August 3, 2011

...And coupling some simple finance lessons with NoraCharles's lesson on a year's income, you also show them how to make a concrete one-year or six-month personal goal (i.e., save up for something they want).

I was often told to "make goals" but never given any examples. Same for study skills, now I think about it...and they wondered why there was so much goofing off in study hall!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:06 AM on August 3, 2011

Teach active listening skills and have the kids practice them: nodding, paraphrasing, reflecting, mirroring, etc.

Instead of a 10-year plan, how about a list of doable things they want to accomplish? Like, learn French, go to college, run a marathon, buy a car, write a poem, that sort of thing. Could be in the next year, few years, or in their lives. I think it's a fun way to get people thinking about what's really important to them.
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:24 AM on August 3, 2011

If you go with NoraCharles' lesson (which is great), you must show the scene from the Cosby Show when he explains it to Theo with monopoly money.

Interview skills would be good. And maybe something on "how not to be stupid on FB/the internets" - like make your wall private and don't friend possible future employers.

I would stock the room with all kinds of biographies, business, and personal growth books and let them have a free reading period where they could choose whatever they wanted. Chances are they are not going to just come across books like that and probably won't seek them out. And your favorite may not be their favorite.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:26 AM on August 3, 2011

I really really like Cal Newports books: How to become a Straight A Student was something I wish I had read before I started college. He has a new book geared specifically for High School students now called "How to Be a High School Superstar".

I had graduated High School AND College before I realized that I wasn't properly prepped with study techniques that other more successful students had.

I really want students to understand that education is empowerment and it can be extremely fun and exciting. They don't know yet how to draw connections between the research that's done in college with the foundations they are learning in High School. I know that I was totally blown away that people were still finding out new things about the world in University. I thought everything that there was to know were in books already.

But really, I stress study techniques, motivating students perhaps with real-life examples of how what they're learning in High School can really affect the world in the future (I show them the video of the Nokia Morph concept, and tell them that this is something that is in the near future, and real people, real engineers who studied the math and science they're learning in High School are creating it. They draw the conclusion that they might create even more amazing things if they really get amped up about math and science. -- I'm also partial to Carl Sagan's "The Pale Blue Dot" speech on youtube, but I think I might be one of the few people that actually find that speech emotional and moving because I've gotten reviews that it's lame or boring.)

Let them work with real scientific journals. Give them advanced books with interesting storylines (honestly, if the story is amazing, kids will read the books even if they're written at a college level or beyond -- they'll learn the patterns and glean the meaning from the books themselves with very little help, or they'll seek out help).

Good luck! The period between middle school and high school is a tough one!
posted by Peregrin5 at 4:47 PM on August 3, 2011

If the kids are coming from a background of poverty and broken homes, more than likely no one at home is teaching them about making smart financial decisions.

I don't know about that. Often it's just that if you're in the US poverty system, the currency at play (WIC, vouchers, section 8 housing credits, food stamps, TANF) is different than the straight up paycheck in > bills out debits and credits system taught in accounting. Poverty is not commonly caused by poor financial planning. It is generally caused by lack of income with which to make sufficient plans.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:02 PM on August 3, 2011

Poverty is not commonly caused by poor financial planning. It is generally caused by lack of income with which to make sufficient plans.

I didn't say that poverty caused poor financial planning, I was just saying that impoverished homes are less likely to be managed properly with regard to finances--there's less money to work with, far more likelihood of credit card debt, etc. Not to mention, if the child's parents are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, do they really have time to sit down with their kids and teach them how budgeting works?
posted by litnerd at 5:16 AM on August 4, 2011

I saw DarlingBri's the ability to advocate for themselves and I thought "negotiating skills." A lot of people (girls especially, but lots of boys too) have a really hard time asking for what they want, negotiating toward a solution that works for all sides, and understanding how to develop their strengths and discuss those strengths. It could be really useful to talk about the messages we often get about not coming across as conceited and how that affects our ability to negotiate in the workplace or even in personal relationships.

Also, I think a brief encounter with a 10-year plan can be great - especially if it's not taken too seriously, and especially if you have the opportunity to introduce people who had major plans but then later changed them. In my experience, getting to the goal at the end of the plan is often irrelevant - but having a plan you're really working on gives you the impetus to acquire skills and move forward.
posted by kristi at 9:44 AM on August 4, 2011

In our 9th grade advisory program, we cover the following:
-college/career planning
-healthy relationships
-basic study skills
-basic sex ed
-community presentations about various topics (guest speakers)
-grade analysis and goal setting
-credit and transcript information

We also do lots of relationship/team building. It's a really great program and the end result is far fewer students failing - down from about 1/3 failing to less than 8%. Our rival high school is at more like 35-40%.

If you want more info on any of it, memail me. I don't have access to it yet, but I have curriculum I can get to you when school starts.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:36 PM on August 6, 2011

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