Teaching Junior High School
(by Dr. Mary Clark )
Any teacher will tell you that adolescence is a difficult age to teach. Boys and girls are starting to deal with new emotions and a spurt in physical growth. They are leaving the world of childhood and moving toward becoming adults.
We have often written about the importance of fathers for a successful home schooling program. Adolescence is an especially important time for boys to have their fathers as role models. Boys are looking around and wondering what life is all about, and more specifically what life is all about for them. What is Dad doing with his life day in and day out? What is important to him? Should that be important to me? Why do I have to study? What do I have to study? Why is study so hard? Why is learning important? Will these books help me be what I want to be?
And mothers know that girls at this stage often become more interested in babysitting and helping with the household chores, yet wondering about careersat the same time. Some days, the girls work like crazy on the lessons and once in a while have a day when they don’t understand why they have to study at all. They are receiving the societal message that women are only fulfilled through a career outside the home, yet they also see the importance of having a strong family life.
There is not one easy answer, but there is one not-so-easy answer. And that is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus the Divine Person wants to touch the hearts of our children. And His plan is that He touches them through their parents.
Quarter Report Forms
The quarter report forms have spaces where parents may write weekly grades. These parent-given grades are averaged with the tests and reports sent to Seton. Although weekly averages are not required by Seton, they tend to help the overall grade. If you wish, the grade can be based only on the tests and reports (which are noted on the form) to be sent to Seton for grading. If students return papers which have been redone, be sure the original quarter report form is included. Our FAX machine is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 540-636-1602.
Grading may be done by the student at this junior high level. The student should be able to use the answer key provided, then divide the number of correct problems by the number of total problems to obtain the grade. Self-grading is an educational process as the student sees immediately if he has not learned a concept.
If a student needs help, mother and father, or older brothers and sisters should be the first to help. Seton teachers are available to answer questions, mainly during regular business hours. We encourage parents to help students at this age to start calling themselves.
Students often do not finish up all the subjects at the same time. If most of the subjects are finished, send those in first, and make a notation on the cover sheet that certain subjects will be coming later.
Since it is a preparation for eternity, religion is the most important subject in every grade. But for the adolescent, religion becomes tremendously important in answering questions about life and the meaning of life which arise in the mind of students of this age.
In 7th and 8th grades, the Baltimore Catechism No. 2 is used again, and though students may have studied this before, the words take on new meaning, a deeper meaning, as they mature and come to more understanding. The text Living in God’s Holiness gives further understanding with explanation and discussion questions.
When a student enters Seton for the first time at the 7th grade level, it may be necessary to extend the religion course, maybe even for two years if there has not been sufficient previous catechetical instruction. This is solid doctrine, not a discussion of religious feelings and social social attitudes. The Review for Confirmation helps our adolescent students become aware of their responsibilities as soldiers of Christ, particularly important at this age when heroes and challenges are being sought.
If a student enters Seton at the 8th grade level, he may need to omit Church History, and concentrate on the catechism. He may want to read the Church History during the summer. The Church History text is a treasure-trove of saint-heroes and heroines, exactly what the adolescent needs. Ask your child to retell the stories at the dinner table.
The 7th and 8th grade reading courses are definitely challenging. As we have said in previous grades, it is more important to read fewer stories and to do the end-of-selection exercises, than to read more stories and neglect the exercises.
In the 7th and 8th grades, we have no Reading-Thinking Skills workbook. Instead we provide the Catholic Reading for Comprehension workbook, which should be done as assigned or at least by the end of the year. This includes vocabulary, understanding, comprehension, and inference questions.
Parents and students often wonder why we are so firm about the titles for the book reports. The main reason is that we believe that a child’s education should encourage and support the Catholic vision of life. We want students to read two good saint stories or biographies, and two other titles. The other titles must be of very good literary quality. This is not to say that the students should not read other books. And it is not to say that students should read only Catholic authors or only “religious” books. Indeed, a wide and deep outside reading program is of inestimable value. However, for the book reportswe want to be sure that the student is reading books of proven value.
Please do have your child study the directions for book reports. These reports are not to be simply a summary, but rather selected events which give examples of the point made in the topic sentence. In addition, we expect the student to be thinking and analyzing, digesting and inferring from what he has read. At this level, students are starting to think for themselves about many things. They should be able to express their own opinions about the events and persons in the books they read.
(Seton Educational Media now sells Windows-based program called Book Report for $14.95. This program helps the student to think about and write about a book they have read.)
Spelling and Vocabulary
The spelling words are definitely more difficult than in earlier grades, and the vocabulary words are challenging since they are prepared for the private school students. Some parents or students would like the spelling words to be taken from the vocabulary lists, which is fine, though twice as many words can be learned if there are two separate lists. However, the spelling words should not be used for a vocabulary course. Vocabulary is a large part of the high school SAT tests, and students will do better by working on vocabulary at pre-high school levels.
If a student is having trouble keeping up, fewer exercises could be given. But we do encourage that all words in the lists be studied. These are two areas which will pay off in great dividends in later years.
For the student enrolling in Seton for the first time at these grades, you may need to use lower grade level workbooks to learn simpler grammar and diagramming. Many schools are neglecting this subject, though the private schools seem to be doing better lately.
This is one subject in which it is better to go slowly and make sure the concepts are learned. It would be better to take less time in science or history, and double up on this course if necessary. We encourage the student to do the textbook exercises orally, and the workbook exercises in writing. If a student knows the material, assignments could be for only half the exercises.
The eighth grade English course in the second semester concentrates on the writing of different kinds of compositions, with the second quarter being a step-by-step process for writing a research report. This is an important course to prepare for high school.
After Religion and the Language Arts, the next most important subject is mathematics, which needs to be done every day, even if briefly. Our main series is the Saxon series, but we have available a Christian series which has a more traditional approach. Excellent math students sometimes prefer the Christian series because they do not want or need the continual review of the Saxon lessons. For most students, however, the frequent and continual review of past concepts has proven to be very beneficial.
We have recently revised our seventh grade American History text, though many may still have the older text. The revised text is based heavily on the old text, which is still excellent. We have worked very hard to incorporate more Catholic people, events, and perspective into the new text.
The eighth grade text, Catholic World Culture has been a popular text for some time because it shows how the Catholic Faith and Church has influenced the history and culture of the world. This course is more demanding in the tests as we ask the students to recognize the larger historical significance of people and events. This course aims to prepare our students for reading, thinking, and analytical skills necessary for the high school courses. Because so many new students are coming to Seton at this level without previous study skills, and because more time is needed for the Language Arts, Math, and Religion, some parents have chosen to give the history and science tests by “open book,” which we accept but do not recommend unless there is a need. Certainly very good students should be doing the memory work.
Some feel that our science program is not as challenging as the other courses. The fact is that without a strong foundation in the language arts, subjects like science cannot be learned adequately nor with ease.
Though our Christian science series is very good, we are in the process of writing a Catholic science series. While a 7th grade Catholic science text is still in progress, our 8th grade text is written by a Catholic junior high science teacher. The lesson plans contain even more of the Catholic perspective. The text is definitely challenging, though it is being used in several public and private schools. If it is too difficult or too time-consuming for some students, the Christian text is still available. Parents may choose to eliminate this course if the time is needed for English or Math.
We have plans for an art appreciation course for the 7th and 8th grades. The 8th grade course is about ready to go to the printer, and should be available to our students enrolling for next year. It is a chronological presentation of great religious art, with brief comments about the artist. We hope this will be inspirational not only to appreciate the work of Catholics who wanted to help us learn the Gospel, but also to grow in our own spiritual life.
As in all grades, try to tailor the program to the child, not the child to the program.