Re- revisited in the Middle Grades

A Prefix that Fixes

By: Dru Tomlin


We've checked out Red. We've reviewed Relationships. Now we've got "Re-." True, it's a prefix and not, therefore, a complete word in itself ... but work with me because young adolescents need the "Re-". And, in fact, there are so many words for middle level education that can don the prefix "re-" that the prefix itself really needs its own time in the spotlight. "Re-", which of course means “again”, is precisely what our young adolescents need from us—because early adolescence is a time for second chances. It's a time when kids stumble, fall, and get down about themselves, questioning their worth in the world when they mess up. So they need opportunities to "re-".

Perhaps the "re-" word that resonates with me the most as it reflects the middle grades is “revision.” Typically, we think about revision as something students do in ELA class when they are creating a second draft of something. But revision means to “see again”, and I contend that it is a cross-content, social-emotional, positive-behavior, college-and-career-readiness school-wide action that students need every day. Yes, students need chances to redo assignments and retake tests, but it's not to replace grades or balance grade sheets or get parents/guardians off our backs. Students need redos and retakes to help them fix a narrative, a story. The story about themselves. Think back to your days as a young adolescent. Did you see yourself as a major or a minor character in the story of school? Were you a protagonist or an antagonist in that narrative? Did it vary class to class? Day to day? What kind of rekindling, resuscitation, revitalizing, retaking, redoing, reminding, revising and many other re- words supported you when you stumbled and fell as a young adolescent? I can tell you honestly that I needed all of them.

"Re-" is also an important prefix for middle level leaders to acknowledge, take in their hands, and incorporate into the cultural soil of their schools.

Not only do students need second chances in the middle grades, but teachers need them, too. Teachers who work with young adolescents are superheroes: especially flexible, nimble, and thoughtful, and able to make instructional adjustments in a single bound! And all of that depends on what their students bring to the table socially, behaviorally, and more. Every day, every minute of every day, can feel like you are riding a thin-wheeled bike in soft sand. Some days you're moving forward, but the handlebars are wobbly, the tires are shifting, your legs are cranking like crazy, and you're pulling a cartload of pre-teens behind you! On other days, you are on well-paved ground pedaling with ease through lessons and interactions with your bright and beaming kiddos riding shoulder-to-shoulder with you. 

In other words, teachers need second chances—because the daily and hourly landscape working with young adolescents can be unsteady and unpredictable. So middle school leaders (whether they are administrators, grade level chairs, team leaders, or district supervisors) should keep "re-" in mind when they are doing their walk-throughs, observations, and evaluations. No teacher's worth and pedagogical goodness can be captured in one 30-minute observation and transferred to a triplicate form. Middle grades leaders must give more time and more "re-". It takes leaders who walk by classes and stop in just because. It takes leaders who provide specific, supportive feedback in a face-to-face way with teachers. It takes leaders who understand that learning happens when risks are taken, mistakes are made, and time for reflection is provided. It takes leaders who acknowledge the reality of middle level education and who understand the power of "re-".

So how do you support "re-" in your classroom and school? If it's a key ingredient in the middle grades, is everyone in the pedagogical kitchen using it in the recipe for all students and teachers? How do you know?


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