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One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” in which a hiker mulls over the and physically, they note. All approaches variability of children but also the vari-
the nature of brain development in ado-
must take into consideration not only the
lescence helps explain why adolescents
can vacillate so often between mature
choice he made at a crossroads in a yellow ability of their needs. To neglect their
and immature behavior, writes Laurence
wood. Why did I start down one leaf-
emotional development in favor of the
Steinberg (p. 42). Early and middle
strewn path rather than down the other?
academic is not likely to be beneficial, and adolescence, in particular, are times of
he wonders. Was it really the road “with
vice versa. Here are some of their other
heightened vulnerability to risky and
the better claim”? Will I ever return to try insights.
reckless behavior because the brain’s
the other way? He doubts it. And finally,
Don’t rush progress. In “Are We Paving reward center is easily aroused, but the
Did my decision make a difference? That
Paradise?” Elizabeth Graue (p. 12) traces
systems that control impulsive behavior
answer he knows will be “yes,” but he
the evolution of kindergarten
are still relatively immature.
will only know for sure “ages and ages
from its focus on children, to
hence”—in other words, in hindsight.
its emphasis on outcomes, to
As they start on their lifetime journey
its current focus on literacy
of learning, kids may seem content to
skip carefree down the yellow brick
road. It’s often the adults who voice
(DaCapo Press, 2001), William Bridges
enumerates families’ concerns for their
and math. The early childhood
parts of kindergarten are
losing ground. She believes a
kindergarten must provide
time to build teacher-student
Assignments that require teen-
agers to think ahead, make
a plan, and carry it out may
stimulate the maturation of
brain systems that enable more
worries. In his book The Way of Transition more ecological approach to
Help kids back on the path.
children, which he describes in a series of relationships and incorporate
remind us why it is important
multiple-choice questions: (A) “Will my
both academics and play. The
to provide multiple paths for
child get lost—and end up nowhere? (B)
kindergarten experience should include all students who struggle. Robert Balfanz
Will he squander his talents—and end up dimensions of development.
(p. 54) describes Diplomas Now, a model
nowhere? (C) Will he fail to get a good-
Balance challenge with engagement.
that reduces dropout risk and raises
paying job—and end up nowhere? Or, (D) Fourth grade is a pivotal year, in which
achievement in some of the most chal-
Will he get frustrated, take up drugs—and students commonly face increased aca-
lenged high-poverty schools. An early-
end up nowhere?”
demic demands, Mike Anderson (p. 32)
warning system alerts teachers as soon as
Adults know that their own cross-
writes. Teachers can smooth the transition students begin to demonstrate off-track
country route to wherever they are at
by introducing these new challenges in
behaviors. The program also incorporates
present has often not been straightforward, ways that are in line with 4th graders’
teams of young adults to serve as coaches
Bridges writes, and they fear their children developmental characteristics: incredible
will meander. Some, like the Tiger Mom
we have been reading about lately, want
to draw their kids a map and drag them
energy and emotion, industriousness
and curiosity, increased awareness of
the world around them, and heightened
Keep the journey in perspective.
Michael Thompson (p. 84) describes the
anxiety he sees among high schoolers as
down what they view as the right path.
anxiety and sensitivity. He offers strategies they go through the rite of passage called
Other parents might be so involved with
that teachers can use to establish the safe, “the college application process.” Families
their own circumstances that they cannot
ease the way for their children.
This issue of Educational Leadership
supportive classroom environment that
enables students to perform at their best.
Teach students to navigate. Middle
obsess over whether a child will get into a
particular elite college when they should
care most that the teenager grows up to be
addresses the topics of transitional stages
years are crucial to high school success,
an independent, productive, loving adult.
for students on the K– 16 formal school
when students are developing skills
Teachers can play an important role by
path. These are periods of mental, social,
needed in the larger world and discov-
helping kids sort out college options and
emotional, spiritual, and physical change, ering the direction they want their lives to by supporting young people through this
when kids have enormous potential for
take. So why, asks Rick Wormeli (p. 48),
growth and when choices—whether made would anyone leave the transition into this
Then, when they arrive at their next
by families, children, or schools—have
phase to chance? Certain mind-sets can
crossroads, they will be ready. They will
implications for their future choices.
help educators guide their students on the have already been somewhere.
Many of the authors write from a devel- path from elementary to middle school,
opmental viewpoint, emphasizing that
including understanding students’ con-
kids reach milestones at different times.
cerns about belonging. His article offers a
Children of the same age dramatically
wealth of practical strategies.
differ academically, socially, emotionally,
Seek to understand. Understanding
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