It is well-known that middle school years can be a challenging time for young adolescents. Sometimes it seems it would be easier for all involved to just wait out the storm during those years and hope for the best until students mature into high school students. In reality, these critical years are not the time to take that type of approach; instead, this could be the best time to foster positive habits that will lead to lifelong success. Although some of the following hints could apply to students of all ages, middle school students especially can benefit from a combination of them.
The world we live in is fast-paced. Students have grown up with computers and video games, which allow for immediate feedback. As teachers assess their students, they should also try to provide them with results as soon as they possibly can. Formative assessment results should drive instruction for subsequent lessons, so it is imperative that teachers know how their students are performing before reaching the end of a unit. After a summative assessment takes place, teachers need to provide individual feedback of each student’s learning as soon as possible. Ideally, this would happen no later than the next class period.
Vary Student Activities
Some schools have opted for a block schedule to allow more time for lab settings, projects, and performance-based courses. While a traditional class period used to run between 45-55 minutes, a block class period can extend up to 90 minutes in one setting. Having students change “gears” or tasks every 20-30 minutes in these longer classes keeps students curious about and interested in the subject matter. An example of this might be a bell ringer activity to settle them into learning mode, then direct instruction from the teacher, followed by guided practice on the task and then application of the concept in a lab setting. It may not be possible to do this every day but some change in strategy and activity is necessary.
Multiple Methods of Instruction
All classrooms are made up of students with mixed abilities and learning styles. By using multiple methods of instruction, teachers are able to meet the varying needs of the students. Seeing a concept presented in different ways can also reinforce and deepen the learning for a proficient student. In a block schedule setting, a teacher can also utilize the additional time to address multiple learning styles throughout the period.
Students are taught to evaluate situations in order to make comparisons. The goal is for them to apply their learning to real-life situations. Inadvertently, students are constantly observing teachers and measuring fairness as they see it. This means teachers should be as consistent as possible. Teacher expectations should be clear and followed every time. Students should know the deadlines for assignments, and they should also know if there are consequences if assignments aren’t completed. Grading is often perceived as subjective, but can become objective when students know the targets in advance. Once the target is set, it is imperative that the teacher follows given guidelines when evaluating student progress.
Get to Know the Students
Take a genuine interest in each student. Find out their likes, dislikes, interests, and learning styles. This information may be gathered through a conversation or by having students record their preferences in a journal entry. Use any information possible to help the student learn. Attend student functions. Students know when faculty members support them in their extracurricular activities and they appreciate the attendance. Being a spectator allows the teacher see the student from another perspective; it also shows students they are more than another occupied desk in a classroom. Another way to establish a rapport with students is by sponsoring/coaching an activity or club. This works two-fold as the student can see the teacher in a different light, as well.
Be the Parent, not a Friend.
Because of the emotional and physical changes taking place during the early teen year, it is easy to forget these youngsters are not adults, even though they may appear or act like adults at times. Keep in in mind that they are still children and need guidelines. A parent is a child’s first teacher so it is natural for teenagers to continue to look there for direction. Take advantage of this learning time and continue to be the parent, not a friend. There should be consistency in rules and expectations at home, just as there are in a school setting.
Setting the Tone for Success
Students still benefit from a set bedtime—growing kids need sleep! They also need proper nutrition to keep up with their busy schedules. A quiet, yet comfortable space in the home for studying or homework is ideal to keep children from being distracted by other family members. All of these items contribute to readiness to learn when in school.
Involvement in Activities has Advantages
Studies show that students who are involved in activities tend to function better academically. Parents may encourage participation in many school activities to help their student find an area of interest or success. There are also many activities and opportunities available outside of the school setting. Balance is important; students should be involved, but not overloaded. The skills learned from teamwork and peer relationships are the foundation for collaboration in future career settings.
Middle school-aged students still rely on their parents for basic needs, transportation and support; but they are also capable of taking on increased responsibility at home. This will help them develop maturity and accountability.
Supporting the School Environment
If a child underperforms in a subject, keep trying to find a solution. Sometimes, a student’s poor organizational skills can affect academic achievement. Provide a daily planner to assist with organization of both personal and school activities. Some schools provide planners to students. If so, ask to see it and have the student explain the layout.
All students have subject preferences. When a student grows up and becomes a parent, it is easy to remember these preferences and inadvertently dismiss a child’s poor performance if the parent also struggled in a particular subject. Doing this will set the child up for underachievement and possible failure. If there are struggles, set up an appointment to meet with the teacher or have a phone call. Share what has worked well for the child in the past; it is beneficial information to the teacher and the student. When students can communicate what works for themselves, they are taking on the responsibility for learning and developing life skills.
Rigor has been increased in all content areas to get students career and college ready. Algebraic concepts are now taught in middle school, Lexile ranges for reading have expanded, and students are challenged to think critically while working across multiple disciplines. The bar for learning continues to be set higher, so parents and teachers must often provide or follow additional steps and strategies to help students succeed.