Middle School, Not Junior High

By Wormeli, Rick | AMLE Magazine, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Middle School, Not Junior High


Wormeli, Rick, AMLE Magazine


We are a middle school, not a junior version of high school. To be effective in our teaching, we are developmentally appropriate for young adolescents, not for 16- to 18-year-olds nor for 8- and 9-yearolds. There is an expertise to teaching middle level students that is different than that needed to teach elementary or high school students, and our classrooms reflect that specific expertise.

16 Characteristics of Successful Middle Level Classrooms

This is a special age group. Who they are as adults has its roots in what they experience right here in middle school. We're building their future, and our own, with every action. Our teaching needs to be informed, responsive, and purposeful, not haphazard or indifferent. Thankfully, we know what to do.

The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) is one of the best organizations to get up to date information on what works and what doesn't work in middle level classrooms. To start, let's remind ourselves of their 16 characteristics of successful middle level education, as listed on their website and in their publication, This We Believe. As we read them, let's consider what it would look like in our schools if we implemented each one with conviction:

Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

Educators value young adolescents and are prepared to teach them. Effective middle grades educators make a conscious choice to work with young adolescents and advocate for them. They understand the developmental uniqueness of this age group, the appropriate curriculum, effective learning and assessment strategies, and their importance as models.

Students and teachers are engaged in active, purposeful learning. Instructional practices place students at the center of the learning process. As they develop the ability to hypothesize, to organize information into useful and meaningful constructs, and to grasp long-term cause and effect relationships, students are ready and able to play a major role in their own learning and education.

Curriculum is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and relevant. Curriculum embraces every planned aspect of a school's educational program. An effective middle level curriculum is distinguished by learning activities that appeal to young adolescents, is exploratory and challenging, and incorporates student-generated questions and concerns.

Educators use multiple learning and teaching approaches. Teaching and learning approaches should accommodate the diverse skills, abilities, and prior knowledge of young adolescents; cultivate multiple intelligences; draw upon students' individual learning styles; and utilize digital tools. When learning experiences capitalize on students' cultural, experiential, and personal backgrounds, new concepts are built on knowledge students already possess.

Varied and ongoing assessments advance learning as well as measure it. Continuous, authentic, and appropriate assessment measures, including both formative and summative ones, provide evidence about every student's learning progress. Such information helps students, teachers, and family members select immediate learning goals and plan further education.

Leadership and Organization

A shared vision developed by all stakeholders guides every decision. When a shared vision and mission statement become operational, middle level educators pursue appropriate practices in developing a challenging academic program; they develop criteria to guide decisions and a process to make changes.

Leaders are committed to and knowledgeable about this age group, educational research, and best practices. Courageous, collaborative middle level leaders understand young adolescents, the society in which they live, and the theory of middle level education. Such leaders understand the nuances of teaming, student advocacy, exploration, and assessment as components of a larger program. …

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