First, the stats:
The Children’s House Jr. High is “on the road” for nearly two months every school year. Included in our many adventures are two, week-long city trips, one, four-day backpacking trip, and two, three-day, “warm up trips,” one to Detroit, another to Beaver Island and/or various points north. The remaining day-long adventures surround our spring and autumn “freshwater” and “ecosystem studies” workshops, both of which take us to destinations throughout Northern Michigan and the Eastern Upper Peninsula.
Confused? We don’t blame you. It’s a LOT of traveling, and everywhere we go, people greet us with one or both of the following refrains:
“I wish I did this when I was in school,” or
“You must be crazy/saints!”
Well, we may be crazy and none of us are saints, but we do know just how important it is to take adolescents on the road. It all begins, of course, with Dr. Maria Montessori who made it very clear in her writings that in order to successfully transition to adulthood (e.g. practice and master independence) teenagers require meaningful time away from their childhood homes.
Throughout our eight years traveling with adolescents, we have witnessed an almost universal transformation from childhood to the beginnings of adulthood, and in some cases adulthood itself. Beyond simple separation from their parents, traveling, as we have devised it, provides adolescents with ample, “right of passage” opportunities to practice adult skills, such as planning, budgeting, navigating public transportation, and living in community, including and especially division of responsibilities (preparing meals, cleaning, establishing and respecting boundaries, and resolving conflicts when inevitably they arise).
For our students, living in the hinterlands of Northwest Michigan, traveling also offers the invaluable gifts of context, perspective, and diversity, the seeds of which are so important in our global society. Moreover, by venturing far afield we empower our otherwise isolated adolescents with opportunities to draw connections between the places where “big history” happened, and the local history that lives and breathes all around them. In doing so, our 7th and 8th graders are simultaneously rooted deeper in Traverse City while their minds are set free to imagine lives beyond the familiar.
Suffice it to say, we are hooked on travel, and continue to imagine new and expansive vectors for our students to venture outward. Presently, we are pleased to share the following examples of our Jr. High travels.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, one of two destinations for our annual backpacking trip, takes place as the culmination of our school year during the week following Memorial Day.
Washington D.C. is one of two destinations for our spring Humanities workshop. This, student-planned experience culminates our workshop on Democratic Movements
The Timbers Recreation Area serves as our “Land Lab” and home away from home, 3-5 days a week every year for the month of September into mid-October.
The Mackinac region is one of two alternating destinations for our Northern Michigan Experience, a three day, two night trip that kicks off our first full week of school.
Beaver Island, and the Central Michigan University Biological Research Station, is the second of our two Northern Michigan Experience overnight locations.
Every autumn we stay in Detroit for three days and two nights to visit cultural institutions, learn about Detroit (and US) history, and acclimate to urban overnight experiences.
Follow the child. They will show you what they need to do, what they need to develop in themselves, and what area they need to be challenged in.
Precisely. As Montessorians, we know this. We live this. Parent teacher conferences, historically, have been a place for parents to listen to their child’s teacher highlight areas in which they excel and areas in which they are challenged. In the early stages of development, guides observe with the intention of gathering each learner’s interests and proclivities in order to guide the learner along the path of building in areas of challenge, and exploring further their areas of great enthusiasm. As a learner moves into adolescence, they become more self aware of this process, and are capable and ready to describe it themselves.
Student led conferencing is a conference, or more aptly, a presentation, created and led by the student for their parents and guides. Students collect samples of their work, including notes, drafts, practice, and published works and organize their collection into a portfolio. The learner then presents their work by explaining what they did, evaluating their effort and performance, reporting what they learned, and more importantly, sharing what they would like to study additionally, as well as future expectations for performance.
The purpose of shifting the act of assessing a student’s learning from the guide to the learner is to recognize that the learning belongs to the learner; it is not a process dictated or coerced by the guide, parent, or other outside force. One’s successes, failures, motivations, and struggles are a personal experience, and therefore are best described, evaluated, and directed by the individual.
The benefits are infinite. Through verbalizing their learning process, students own it. They realize that they are in charge of and responsible for their actions, or inactions. The student, through their presentation, acknowledges how their effort and understanding created their results. Parents and guides are not left wondering why a student excels in math and struggles in writing, or vice versa; the learner explains. As the audience, we learn about what excites them and why, what their dreams are, what their worries are, and get a glimpse of what role they will play in the future. Guides gain insight to each student’s individual understanding and perception of their learning while parents get to see their children as self aware, independent learners. With all of this information, we then can best support each student as they continue to grow academically, socially, and personally.
Instead of leaving traditional junior high conferences exhausted, I leave student led conferences invigorated, and inspired. Invigorated by the love of learning described in twenty-five unique ways, and inspired by the twenty-five new perspectives I have gained looking through the eyes of young adolescent learners.
So, when the time comes for your child to present, be prepared to listen well, engage in their learning as a partner, and celebrate beside them.