By DAVID GREEN
Any homework today?
“I don’t have any homework; I have a test tomorrow.”
Wrong answer, says Morenci science instructor Kerry Neiman. If you have a test tomorrow, then you have homework.
That answer might be classified as a freshman mistake. It’s one Mrs. Nieman doesn’t want to hear again as Morenci’s ninth grade class members advance onward toward their senior year.
Along with the help of two other teachers, she’s doing her best to improve the study habits of the school’s freshman class—the first to face the stiff graduation requirements set by the state education department.
Math and science teacher Kim Mohr came up with the idea for what’s being called “Freshman Prep,” a high school readiness class. She read about the concept in an education magazine and it made a lot of sense to her.
It sounds simple—taking notes, reviewing notes, following directions, studying, preparing for a test, taking a test—but those skills aren’t specifically taught in the lower grades.
Some kids might come into high school with good study skills, but many don’t. Even if it’s something they’ve been taught in the past, most students could benefit from learning how to better put the skills into practice.
As a practical example, Mrs. Mohr points to the new requirement in mathematics. General math isn’t even offered anymore. To graduate in 2011, students needs to pass algebra II.
“We want to make sure they know how to use their textbook,” Mrs. Mohr said. “Rather than raise their hands and wait for a teacher, they’re going to need to be able to take a more proactive approach.”
Mrs. Nieman says they’re giving students “the skills to succeed” and helping them put the skills into practice.
Freshmen used planners in middle school to write down homework and test schedules. Well, at least they were issued planners. They weren’t always taking advantage of them.
“They’re going to be using them a lot more than in middle school,” Mrs. Nieman said. “They’ll be getting in the habit of that.”
Updating planners is part of the new course, along with 20 minutes of homework time. A study skill is discussed followed by an activity to put the skill into practice.
The class often addresses a topic or skill that students will encounter the next day in their regular classes. Other teachers are asked for ideas that should be covered in the prep class.
There was no set curriculum to buy and creating the class takes a lot of time, said Deb Hojnacki, the third teacher involved. However, there’s a definite advantage to having three teachers.
One of the three takes charge of planning for a week. She creates a lesson plan, then shows it to the other two for review and suggestions.
“It really helps to have three different points of view,” Mrs. Mohr said.
“You get a lot of ideas from each other and we do a lot of brainstorming,” Mrs. Nieman added. “We’re learning each day.”
Mrs. Hojnacki, who teaches students with disabilities, got involved with the freshman class for two reasons. Her students could clearly benefit from special study skills, and there’s concern that the state might do away with resource rooms in favor of inclusion where all students learn in a regular classroom.
“We’re erring on the side of caution,” she said, by trying more inclusion, but with a co-teaching format.
In the current trimester, she’s spending some time in Jesse Bach’s social science class to help special needs students there and also to handle some presentation of subject matter.
The Milan school district has done away with the resource room completely, Mrs. Hojnacki said, but Morenci isn’t yet ready to make that jump.
In the meantime, all of her students are joining the freshmen in learning how to study better.
And don’t forget, kids, if your planner indicates there’s a test coming up next week, you could do a little review of your notes today.