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Inspiring Middle School Minds - review

Inspiring Middle School Minds : Gifted, Creative, & Challenging is an insightful new book by Judy Willis. Doctor Willis has the unique perspective of a person well educated and practiced in two tangentially related fields. She had years of experience as a neurologist before going on to receive a master's degree in education. This book makes use not only of her time spent as a classroom teacher, but also a detailed knowledge of brain development.

The brains of middle school children function differently than adult brains. Brain imaging technology has permitted researchers to see what areas of the brain are utilized during different tasks. It is clear that the prefrontal cortex in adolescent brains does not operate as it does in adults when performing the same type tasks. Dr. Willis describes these differences, as well as how gifted children learn differently than most same age peers. For example, “Gifted students appear to more effectively inhibit task-irrelevant sensory input.” They can judge what is and what is not relevant very rapidly. Thus they are able to more easily focus on a particular area of work.

To increase memory retrieval, the author suggest use of an acronym. MOVES stands for move/manipulate, organize, visualize, enter, and say. The student who employs all of these study techniques will be taking in information through different neural networks, and maximizing the chance for success. Many educators are aware of children with different learning styles, but perhaps they may not fully appreciate the benefits of using multiple methods for “input”. Knowledge kept in working memory will only benefit the student in the short term if not moved into storage in long -term memory. How many people will recall studying to get an “A” on an exam, only to forget most of the lessons learned after the course is over? If the overall goal is just to get good grades, this is an effective method of learning. But if the goal is to keep what data is taught and build upon that knowledge, then it is essential that information be moved to long term storage in the brain.

Willis discusses how parents can personalize studies for their children. She encourages them to make real-world connections, which can ignite the desire to learn. She covers the importance of sleep for middle school age kids. Brains need adequate rest to function properly, and young tweens and teens are often getting far less sleep than they require for optimal health. This book will prove helpful to many parents as well as professional educators.

The benefits of ability vs. age grouping are discussed at length. Age grouping often leads to a lifetime pattern of underachievement for gifted kids. Willis laments the national trend of a lower performance in middle schools, and suggests ways to combat it. She feels that the recent focus on rote memorization has been detrimental to the schools in general, and middle schools in particular. It's a sobering issue. How can we encourage our brightest and perhaps most divergent thinkers, if we are over focused on numbers?

This is a thought provoking book and a must-have for parents and educators.

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