Teaching Middle School

Middle school is a level of schooling between primary and high school. The age of middle school pupils varies from country to country, but middle schools normally team children between 10 and 15 years old. Unlike primary schools, where a year group class is usually taught by a single teacher covering all subjects, middle schools involve many teachers, each of them teaching a different discipline.

Starting at middle school can be daunting. The prospect of having more classes, more teachers with different personalities and expectations and new rules to obey can be scary for some children. Middle school pupils are often beginning puberty and adolescence. They start searching for identity, try to understand themselves and the others around them. At this stage of life, children gain more independence from their parents and start building new relationships.

Middle school pupils need firm guidelines and at the same time require the feeling that they are being looked after by a concerned adult who knows and respects them individually. Pupils may face challenges with literacy as a result of both a change in the teacher's expectations and their own lower engagement in the school system. During these years, some pupils' literacy standard may regress, rather than progress. The reasons vary, ranging from lack of interest to lack of ability to cope with higher demands.

In order to help students rise to the new challenges, teachers should mix words, images and design in their activities. Teachers should stay informed about children's books and they should engage them with topics they are interested in or which spark their curiosity. Classroom activities may involve making them share their interests and previous experiences in reading and writing.

At this stage of education, knowing the spoken language is no longer sufficient to support writing and reading. Students have to use abstract notions, construct complex sentences and put them in context. Building complex sentences may challenge students' ability to pay attention to grammar rules. Another challenge of literacy is the use of paragraphs. It is the first time pupils will have had to pay attention to the whole meaning of the text they are producing and the relation between sentences. Teachers should engage them in activities aimed at identifying the main ideas of a text and organizing themes.

Mathematics is another challenge for middle school pupils. It is very important for pupils to see it as a meaningful and relevant subject, which they will use in everyday life. Teachers must assist mathematics-anxious students to overcome their fear of mathematics and put them in the position of applying their knowledge to solve real tasks.

Good assessment plays a significant role in this stage of a child's education. Teaching, learning and assessment are inseparable in academic development. Assessment can be summative, referring to tasks and tests which show what students can do at a certain time, and formative, which takes place during a course and provides feedback to students and instructors which will lead to teaching and learning development.

Formative assessment, either formal or informal, provides diagnostic information about gaps in knowledge or learning difficulties or disabilities of the students which must be addressed. Summative assessment results in the calculation of a grade. It is usually made at the end of a course, the term or semester, or even a topic. Summative assessment evaluates how well students have acquired the knowledge presented during the given period. Assessment cannot be purely summative of formative. The challenge is to offer a balance between both which will result in informing and guiding the pupils' educational development.

However, one of the most important factors in education is a student-teacher relationship based on mutual respect. Research confirms that teachers getting well with their students generate positive academic results.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Focus on the Wonder Years: Challenges Facing the American Middle School
Jaana Juvonen; Vi-Nhuan Le; Tessa Kaganoff; Catherine Augustine; Louay Constant.
Rand Education, 2004
Teaching Middle School Social Studies: Who Is at Risk?
Field, Sherry L.; Wilhelm, Ron; Nickell, Pat; Culligan, John; Sparks, Jan.
Social Education, Vol. 65, No. 4, May 2001
Teaching Language Arts in Middle Schools: Connecting and Communicating
Sharon Kingen.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Telling Pieces: Art as Literacy in Middle School Classes
Peggy Albers; Sharon Murphy.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Storymaking in Elementary and Middle School Classrooms: Constructing and Interpreting Narrative Texts
Joanne M. Golden.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools
Linda S. Levstik; Keith C. Barton.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001 (2nd edition)
Eyes on the Prize: Teaching Complex Historical Content to Middle School Students with Learning Disabilities
Gersten, Russell; Baker, Scott K.; Smith-Johnson, Joyce; Dimino, Joseph; Peterson, Anne.
Exceptional Children, Vol. 72, No. 3, Spring 2006
Preparing Mathematics and Science Teachers for Diverse Classrooms: Promising Strategies for Transformative Pedagogy
Alberto J. Rodriguez; Richard S. Kitchen.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Collaborations for Literacy: Creating An Integrated Language Arts Program for Middle Schools
Rochelle B. Senator.
Greenwood Press, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Resource-Based Units for Grades 6, 7, and 8"
Reading-Writing Connections: From Theory to Practice
Mary F. Heller.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "The Middle School Reader and Writer"
The Essential Career Guide to Becoming a Middle and High School Teacher
Robert W. Maloy; Irving Seidman.
Bergin & Garvey, 1999
Middle School Career Exploration: The Role of Teachers and Principals
Smith, Agnes E.
Education, Vol. 120, No. 4, Summer 2000
An Analysis of Middle School Preservice Faculty Positions
Barrow, Lloyd H.
Education, Vol. 122, No. 2, Winter 2001
Beyond Tracking: Finding Success in Inclusive Schools
Harbison Pool; Jane A. Page.
Phi Delta Kappa International, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "Promoting Gifted Behavior in an Untracked Middle School Setting" and Chap. 13 "Untracking Your Middle School: Nine Tentative Steps toward Long-Term Success"
Middle School Students' Understanding of Meaningful Learning and Engaging Classroom Activities
Ares, Nancy; Gorrell, Jeffrey.
Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Vol. 16, No. 2, Spring-Summer 2002
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