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The Move to High School: What to Expect

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Updated on Oct 10, 2008

Fall is fast approaching, and your teen is about to enter high school.  What now?

Academically, your child’s education is about to make a huge shift, and not just in the overall difficulty of the work. The biggest shift is the transition from “process-based” learning to “product-based” learning; from an environment in which kids are rewarded for their hard work and into an environment in which hard work is merely a necessary step on the way to an outcome.

This shift is a natural part of learning. Children in elementary and middle school are rewarded for the effort they put into projects and assignments. This is key, as it instills a strong work ethic in students. So, when you or your child’s teacher says, “Wow, Mikey, you’re really working hard on that painting. I’m really proud of you,” you’re teaching your child the importance of hard work.

Educators of younger children do this because it works—praising the effort a kid puts in tends to produce more and more effort from the child. This is not to say that elementary school teachers don’t care about the end product of a given task. Far from it. Rather, they rightly focus on the intermediate accomplishments in order to encourage future successes.

Take, for example, a typical reading assignment. In the younger grades, kids read shorter, less complex passages. In a sixth grade Language Arts class a reading assignment is typically accompanied by a worksheet that contains very specific questions, designed to guide their understanding and comprehension. By ninth or tenth grade English class, a typical reading assignment is much less scaffolded. A highly typical reading assignment might be: “Read chapter five and be ready for a short comprehension quiz.”

Your child, three years wiser, is now expected to be able to read, comprehend, and remember the text without the aid of a worksheet. Of course, many teachers in the upper grades do use worksheets to guide their students through complex reading assignments. But these worksheets are usually far less structured than their elementary or middle school counterparts. Jim Burke, noted author, speaker, and high school English teacher, frequently uses graphic organizers to guide his ninth graders through their reading assignments. His worksheets have the student create his own questions, rather than simply answering the ones provided to him. He says this kind of self-questioning is what makes for successful readers.

As students progress upward through the educational system, they will be given increasingly complex tasks, while getting less and less support along the way. While that may be a hard pill to swallow, it will ultimately prepare your child for college and the workplace, where there are no graphic organizers or worksheets to help her—only the strength of her work ethic.

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