Fielding the Awkward, Focusing on Study: Making the Most of the Middle School Environment
Middle school, awkward a time as most people remember it, is, educationally, the time when kids really start to flourish. The hope is that students leave elementary school with their academic feet firmly underneath them, and that middle school can be a time for them to hit the ground running – or skipping, or hopping, or dancing, depending on where their individual skills and interests lie.
Middle schools are typically grades six through eight. Middle school may be an abrupt transition from elementary school, in that students typically switch to a block or a departmentalized schedule. A block schedule is a type of academic scheduling in which each student has a smaller amount of classes per day (common in middle and high schools). Each class is scheduled for a longer period of time than normal (e.g., 90 minutes). Departmentalized scheduling ensures teaching by subject area: the teacher rotates classes and teaches the same subject all day.
Another type of schedule that is age appropriate for middle school is scheduling using an interdisciplinary team. The interdisciplinary team usually allows a team of approximately four teachers to share and rotate approximately 80 to 100 students. The teachers meet once a week to discuss the students’ progress and any concerns they may have.
Students entering middle school have the option to take electives. Electives allow students to choose courses that are of interest to them. Students may choose between classes such as music, graphic art, computers, service learning, or film production, depending on what the school offers. Additionally, students requiring remediation in a particular area have the flexibility to take an extra course in that area as needed. Advanced classes, such as pre-algebra or foreign language classes, may also be available for students who meet the criteria for participation. Great emphasis is still placed on achievement test scores, and a great deal of time is spent in preparation for the tests.
Middle school also introduces the students to extracurricular activities and prepares them for high school. Extracurricular activities are clubs and sports that are outside the realm of the basic academic courses but are sponsored by the school outside normal class hours. In seventh and eighth grade, schools begin to place more emphasis on preparing students for high school and choosing a career path.
The junior high school environment should be one that prepares kids for deepening skills and differentiating personalities. It should foster exploration, diversity, and a willingness to reach outside their comfort zone. Middle school environments should be ready to field the ever-changing unsteadiness of pre-teen years and produce students who are ready to come into their own while facing the challenges of high school.