When wide-eyed 12-year-olds leave the safe cocoon of elementary school for the fast-paced world of junior high -- where classes change every period and students encounter a new teacher for every subject -- they tend to become some of the world's most disorganized people.
"We hear from a lot of parents whose children had done well in elementary school but find their grades falling when they get to intermediate school," says Ann McCallum of Fairfax County's curriculum services department.
McCallum and other educators blame some of the decline in academic achievement on the fact that students in intermediate school are responsible for their own study time -- and they simply don't know how to use that time well.
"Back in elementary school they had one teacher all day. That teacher would never give students a math test and English test on the same day. In effect, the teacher was taking responsiblity for the student's study habits," theorizes Lauren Sampson, a social studies teacher at Rocky Run Intermediate. "Once in intermediate school the student becomes responsible for his own study skills."
Last January, at a countywide meeting of intermediate school principals, Fairfax educators decided to tackle the problem by asking county curriculum specialists to devise a method of teaching study skills to seventh and eighth graders.
A year and a half later, some Fairfax County educators are saying the answer to the problem is CRAFT -- an acronym for Content Reading Approaches for Teachers and the brainchild of Ann McCallum.
The program is designed to teach instructors how to teach students to understand what they are reading while developing study skills that school officials hope will last a lifetime. The program is aimed at seventh and eighth grade social studies teachers who were asked to adapt the CRAFT methods to their classrooms.
"Let's fact it, for students to do well in science or any subject they first have to be able to read," says Sampson, who has used the CRAFT spproach in her classes during the past year. "The program has really been a success . . . I can see a big difference between the way my students are learning this year and the way they learned in the past."
Using CRAFT, teachers preview upcoming subjects with students before assigning any reading. They also direct the students to read the chapter summaries in their textbooks before tackling whole chapters. Students are told that they should read all captions and examine charts before getting into the meat of their reading.
"There are a number of pre-reading activities which the teacher uses so that when they finally open the book the students have some idea of what they're going to read about," explains Bruce Oliver, an administrative aide at Key Intermediate School and one of the framers of the CRAFT program.
Enthusiastic social studies teachers say they see signs that students are comprehending more of what they are reading. They say that CRAFT, with its emphasis on reading for content, is really just an avant-garde step back to basics.
"Students used to look at a new textbook and say 'Oh no, where do I start?'" recalls Sampson. "But now the kids know, "Here's where I start'". s
A look at the teachers' guide to CRAFT shows explicit instructions for nearly every step of teaching intermediate school social studies.
Each section outlines exactly what skills students should acquire by the end of the lesson, along with specific "teaching strategies," or specific activities, teachers can use to get those concepts across.
For instance, on a section dealing with the effects of the Civil War, which comes near the end of the year-long social studies course, the CRAFT guide suggests that teachers have their students listen to "I'm Afraid to Go Home," a song from the Civil War era.
The guide then suggests that teachers ask students to list specific results of the war as indicated by the song. They also can ask students to put the song into story form.
The skills the students are supposed to demonstrate are the ability to make logical inferences and the ability to write unified, coherent paragraphs. By the time students reach this section, they should have had some experience in both skills.
Teachers concede that sticking closely to CRAFT suggestions can mean more work, but few teachers using CRAFT have complaints.
"It's been a lot of work," Sampson says, "but well worth the effort."
In the CRAFT approach to social studies, the teachers' guide outline skills students should acquire and suggests ways to teach those skills.This is a sample from one part of the guide, used in teaching the effects of the Civil War. Skills
Make a logical inference froma poem.
Write unified, coherent paragraphs. Teaching Strategies
1. Play for the students the record "I'm Afriad to Go Home."
2. Choose one (or both) of the following alternative activities connected with the song, depending upon the time remaining in the unit.
a. Ask the students to list all specific results of war as indicated by the lyrics of the song.
b. Play the song twice for the class or read the lyrics to them twice. After they have heard the song, tell them to put the song into story form. I'm Afriad To Go Home I'm afraid to go home I'm afraid to go home, Worries on my mind, Afraid of what I'll find, Will my family be gone, I'm afraid to go on, Afraid of what I'll see.
As I walk down this dusty road, Got a heart with a heavy load, Ain't a thing that's the same, So much sorrow and pain, Headed home in a single file, Every inch is a quarter mile, Ain't heard nobody sing, Ain't seen one living thing. Someone's waitin' for me, Honey sweet as can be, Wanna hold her tight, Lord, make her be all right, Maybe 'round the next bend, All the ashes will end, Valleys will be green, Instead of what I've seen. I'm afraid for the scrubby pine, All the sweet honeysuckle vine, I'm afraid for my home, I'm afriad to go home. Sherman's been in my town,
Burned it all to the ground, Now there's not a tree, 'Tween Memphis and the sea.