Take a Classroom U-Turn

U-Turn Teaching: Strategies to Accelerate Learning and Transform Middle School Achievement
By Rich Allen and Jenn Currie
(Corwin,  2012 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Chelsea Leann Collins

U-Turn Teaching is an insightful book that digs deep into the middle school stage of life and learning. Throughout my college education, I have poured over professional books that mostly focus on elementary and high school students, with an obligatory chapter or so about the middle grades. Finally, in U-Turn Teaching, middle school children get to be the center of attention.

This book is written in an easy-to-read style. I did not have to force myself to finish it or ever feel the urge to skim and skip the boring parts. This book pulled me in with its quirky personality, wonderful strategies, and direct examples.

As a seventh grade teacher, I’ve always found it hard to apply the strategies suggested for elementary or high school classrooms. Even tweaking them seemed impractical or impossible! However, in U-Turn Teaching, I was shown ways to build up my classroom, myself, and my students. This book focuses on classroom community, trust, and the educational needs of middle school kids. Its guiding principle is the realization that the social environment rules middle school children more than any other grade level.

Teachers & students U-Turning together

The book starts by explaining what the term “U-turn” means and why it is vital that middle school children need to do this. It also focuses on why the teacher needs to make a U-turn in his or her teaching methods.

This book is called U-Turn Teaching because by the time they reach middle school, many students have started down a negative path on their educational journey. Most kids start off in a very positive direc­tion in terms of their early attitudes toward school, learning, their fellow classmates, and teachers….(but) by the time students reach the middle years, the process of learning is changing from curi­osity, engagement, and hands on exploration to one of sitting still, listening, and writing.


As this change happens, a student’s enthusi­asm for school and learning drops off rapidly… And when it does, many students start to head down a negative path from which we, as teachers, must help them make a U-turn.

The book is split into six sections: Introduction, Trust, Collaborative Communities, Teams, Positive Environments, and U-Turn in Action. Through these steps, any teacher can turn his or her classroom around and inspire students to do more than just show up in class.

One of my favorite strategies in the book was the S.O.S. strategy which allows the student to call on another classmate during class discussion. It’s up to the student to make the decision to hand the reigns over to someone else and still feel successful (instead of the teacher just saying “maybe next time” and going to the next person).

I’ve also begun using the greeting strategy, which includes a handshake or password that students have to know to get into the classroom. The next day’s password is revealed sometime during each class. The strategy keeps my students paying attention all the way through. And it has them looking forward to your class the next day. In fact, it makes participation felt like a privilege instead of a chore.

This book has turned my classroom into a fun place to learn

I have used other strategies in the book as well, and my classroom is already running on a much more positive note. People who pass by now tend to hear laughter, chants, and clapping coming through the door. While some teachers may disapprove of students being out of their seats, I have now come to realize that for middle school children, talking and interacting leads to understanding.

U-Turn Teaching is true to its name. It shows in so many ways how we need to rethink “old-school” ideas. A teacher has to be brave to teach middle school, and this book helps lay a foundation for survival (for the teachers and their students!). Before I began to follow the advice of Rich Allen and Jenn Currie, I was tired, my students were bored, and motivation was at an all-time low. Now, the energy is up, noise is commonplace, and everyone is involved. U-Turn Teaching helped me get re-motivated, make learning fun for my students, and turn my year around.

If someone told me at the beginning of the year that my students would be clapping and chanting, I’d have thought they were crazy.

If someone told me at the beginning of the year that my students would be clapping and chanting, I’d have thought they were crazy. Now coming to Ms. Collins’ classroom is boredom-free — a fun moment in the day where students can be themselves, learn a lot, and grow in confidence. Any middle school teacher, whether first year or 50th year, should read this book, try out the ideas, and stand in awe at the results.

Chelsea Leann Collins is in her second year of teaching 7th grade Language Arts and Reading at Ackerman High School. She graduated from Mississippi State University with a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and is currently obtaining a Master’s in Secondary Education, focusing on Social Studies. She loves to read books, play guitar, ride motorcycles, and make people laugh.


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1 Response

  1. Jenn Currie says:

    I just had to write and say, what a wonderful review! I am super excited you liked the book, and find the strategies useful and motivating.

    The thought of you and your students making a U-Turn makes me smile! :) I wish you continued success!

    Join us on Facebook and LIKE our “U-Turn Teaching” page where you’ll more ideas posted on a regular basis!

    All the Best,
    Jenn Currie
    U-Turn Teaching Co-Author

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