A position paper of the Association for Middle Level Education
The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) strongly supports efforts to prevent future acts of violence in our nation’s public schools. As an organization we especially know first-hand what is needed to ensure the social and emotional health of our students. We have a lifetime commitment to schools that are inclusive, developmentally responsive, and geared to meet the social-emotional and academic needs of students. We strongly support efforts that include an investment in more robust mental health programs and increased number of school counselors, and development of strong partnerships with the community based on open lines of communication.
This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents (p. 37) identifies comprehensive guidance and support services to meet the needs of adolescents:
- Provide specialized professionals to assist students in negotiating their lives both in and out of school
- Establish a team community (counselors, special needs teachers, school psychologists, social workers, school nurses, and community liaisons) to work together with classroom teachers addressing learning difficulties, social adjustments, family issues, and health problems
- Conduct consistent communication and interaction among specialists and classroom teachers to assure student behaviors and learning needs are accurately assessed and met
- Include all staff with an awareness of appropriate referral services and procedures when recommending students for specialized services
- Identify risks and promote protective conditions through a home-school-community partnership
- Support teachers in advisory programs
- Provide one-on-one and small-group guidance sessions
- Sponsor peer mediation and peer tutoring programs
- Share their expertise with classroom teachers assisting with parents
- Coordinate support services to ensure the most effective use of specialists, i.e., school psychologists, social workers, and speech therapists
- Articulate district services across all building levels
- Coordinate community-based services for the well-being of students
- Spend their day working with students and faculty, rather than administrative tasks
- Identify interpersonal conflicts between students and assist all parties in resolving conflicts, learning tolerance, and obtaining additional interventions
- Establish a sense of belonging and connectedness for students within the family-friend-school-home-community network
- Identify a support system for students when bullied, depressed, and anxious by creating a safe environment for disclosure and establishing district rules for retribution
- Sensitizing students to the harmful effects of violence, aggressive behaviors, and risk-taking
- Lead a developmentally responsive middle grades classroom
- Maintain a classroom environment in which peaceful and safe interactions are expected
- Demonstrate respectful interactions with fellow staff, administrators, and students
- Help students practice skills such as direct feedback, mediation, healthy and appropriate confrontation, problem solving, positive risk taking, and collaborative goal setting
- Regularly meet with students during the school day
- Know the students they teach
- Address the learning needs of all students
- Institute advisory programs that help students develop respect for self and others
- Be aware of appropriate referral services and procedures when recommending students for specialized services
- Participate in a team approach to emphasize health, wellness, and safety throughout the entire school
- Advocate for young adolescents
- Provide an attitude of caring that translates into action
- Understand the relationship between middle grades course options and high school programs
- Actively engage in multidimensional transition programs for students entering and exiting the middle level school
- Identify the needs of every student and communicate an assistance plan
- Identify interpersonal conflicts between students wherein one of the students is unable to tolerate or resolve the conflicts; report these to school officials and other responsible authorities
- Establish a sense of belonging and connectedness for students within the family-friend-school-home-community network
- Engage in healthy conversations with students regarding violence in the media, aggressive behaviors, and risk-taking
Adopted February 2013
Revised April 2018
A position paper of the Association for Middle Level Education
The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) strongly supports the specialized professional preparation and credentialing (i.e., licensure, certification, endorsement) of middle grades teachers at both the preservice and graduate levels. It is widely understood that one of the most effective ways of improving student learning is to ensure the strong professional preparation of classroom teachers (McCabe, 2004; Rice, 2003)—this is especially true at the middle level where young adolescents experience phenomenal periods of growth and change. States must promote the unique knowledge, dispositions, and skills needed to successfully teach these young adolescents. Demands for specialized professional preparation of middle level teachers first appeared in the literature in 1920 (Briggs, 1920; Koos, 1920), and the calls for specialized preparation have continued in the years since (Alexander & McEwin, 1988; Cook, Howell, & Faulkner, 2016; Curtis, 1972; Eichhorn, 1966; Floyd, 1932; Howell, Faulkner, Cook, Miller, & Thompson, 2016; McEwin, Dickinson, & Smith, 2003, 2004; National Middle School Association [NMSA], 2010; Van Til, Vars, & Lounsbury, 1961).
AMLE also supports the development and availability of middle level teacher credentials that are distinct from elementary and secondary credentials. Credentialing requirements exert tremendous influence on the availability and structure of teacher preparation programs in each state. Having a unique middle level teaching credential increases the likelihood that higher education institutions will develop and offer specialized middle level teacher preparation programs. An increasing number of states have taken steps to ensure that middle level teachers graduate from programs that focus directly and exclusively on the specialized knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to teach young adolescents effectively. These states have established regulations that require middle level teachers to hold a specialized middle level teaching credential, which has resulted in virtually all private and public higher education institutions in those states offering specialized middle level teacher preparation programs (Faulkner et al., 2017; Howell et al., 2018).
AMLE advocates for specialized middle level teacher preparation with attention to essential program elements that ensure success at the middle level. These elements, listed here and described below, are essential to the development and continuation of a strong teaching force at the middle level. Such programs must feature:
- A deep understanding of young adolescent development;
- Command of the characteristics essential to middle level philosophy and organization;
- Knowledge of the subject matter taught;
- The ability to effectively design and deliver middle level curriculum and assessment using practices most appropriate to young adolescent learners;
- Emphasis on collaboration;
- Field experiences and student teaching in schools that exemplify middle level characteristics; and
- Opportunities to demonstrate professional roles and ethical behaviors.
These program elements are essential to middle level teacher preparation and should be considered in addition to those elements that are common to all education programs (AMLE, 2012).
Essential Program Elements
A deep understanding of young adolescent development
Effective teachers must have a deep understanding of the development, background, language, and special needs of their students (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & LePage, 2005; Council of Chief State School Officers [CCSSO], 2013). Therefore, successful middle level teachers, at their most fundamental level, must be experts in the physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and moral development and needs of young adolescents (Jackson & Davis, 2000; McEwin, Dickinson, & Smith, 2004; NMSA, 2010). Prospective middle level teachers attain this expertise through formal study of young adolescent development and opportunities to work directly with diverse young adolescent students in a variety of middle level field experiences.
Command of the characteristics essential to middle level philosophy and organization
Grounded in an understanding of adolescent development, middle level schools and programs are different from their counterparts at the elementary and high school levels. These differences frame the philosophical foundations of middle level education and the organizational structure that grows from and supports this philosophy (NMSA, 2010). A comprehensive study of middle level philosophy and organization must be a primary element of middle level teacher preparation programs if they are to engage successfully in middle level programs and practices. Study of middle level philosophy and organization typically includes but is not limited to (a) the origins and development of the junior high and middle schools, (b) effective middle level school organizational features and practices, (c) middle level philosophy, (d) middle level trends and issues, and (e) other information that helps all teachers of young adolescents better understand the rationale for and context of middle level schooling (Jackson & Davis, 2000; McEwin, Dickinson & Smith, 2003, 2004).
Knowledge of the subject matter taught
Effective teachers must have a deep and flexible knowledge of the content areas they teach if they are to make content accessible to their students (CCSSO, 2013; Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation [CAEP], 2013; Darling-Hammond et al., 2005; Grossman, Schoenfeld, & Lee, 2005). AMLE recommends middle level teacher preparation programs require preparation in two academic areas (e.g., mathematics, science, social studies, English language arts), creating a solid academic foundation for effective middle level teaching and promoting curriculum integration across subject areas (Jackson & Davis, 2000; McEwin, Dickinson, & Smith, 2003, 2004). Subject matter knowledge preparation for middle level teachers should be broad and integrative. Prospective middle level teachers should have a thorough academic underpinning of content, content pedagogy, and the connections and interrelationships among the subject matter fields and other areas of knowledge.
The ability to effectively design and deliver middle level curriculum and assessment using practices most appropriate to young adolescent learners
Ensuring that prospective teachers possess a comprehensive understanding of curriculum, instruction, and assessment is a high priority in successful teacher preparation programs (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & LePage, 2005; CCSSO, 2013). For prospective middle level teachers, this study typically includes an emphasis on middle level curriculum that is discipline specific, relevant, challenging, integrative, interdisciplinary, and exploratory (NMSA, 2010). Middle level teacher candidates should learn about middle level curriculum through both formal study of curriculum and opportunities to work directly with the curriculum in middle level field settings. Emphasis areas in this study of middle level curriculum include but are not limited to (a) studying of past and present theorists of middle level curriculum; (b) learning about different curriculum designs, formats, and propositions; and (c) examining a wide variety of curriculum documents at various levels–national, state, district, school, team, and classroom. Preparation should focus on how different parts of the total school curriculum support and extend learning across diverse populations of young adolescents. To accomplish this, opportunities should be included that place an emphasis on core curriculum, which provides a general education for students. Other aspects of middle level curriculum should also be addressed, for example, the advisory and exploratory areas. Effective middle level teacher preparation programs place a strong emphasis on ensuring middle level teachers learn to plan, teach, and assess student work effectively based on content knowledge and a comprehensive understanding of young adolescent development. Major emphasis should be placed on learning short- and long-term planning techniques that middle level teachers employ in daily lessons, interdisciplinary units and other teaching contexts; a wide variety of teaching strategies and demonstration of the ability to apply these strategies effectively in middle level classroom settings; construction and use of assessment techniques ranging from traditional testing to authentic assessments, portfolios, exhibitions, and open-ended problems; and the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning (Jackson, & Davis, 2000; NMSA, 2010).
Emphasis on collaboration
All teachers must understand and appreciate that they exist within a complex web of relationships with responsibilities and obligations (CCSSO, 2013); therefore, middle level teachers must be able to successfully collaborate with multiple stakeholders—students, colleagues, families, and communities—to advance the education of young adolescents (Jackson & Davis, 2000; NMSA, 2010). A major focus of middle level teacher preparation programs should be to provide opportunities for teacher candidates to experience authentic collaboration so they will realize they do not work in isolation but in conjunction with various constituents. This focus on collaboration should flow from the philosophy and organization of the middle school where all the school's resources are mobilized to support young adolescents and their development. Additionally, middle level teacher preparation programs should demonstrate the value of collaboration by developing mutually beneficial partnerships (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education [AACTE], 2018; CAEP, 2013; National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education [NCATE] , 2010) with middle schools, allowing school-based educators and university-based teacher educators to work side-by-side to design, implement, supervise, and assess the specialized middle level teacher preparation program.
Field experiences and student teaching in schools that exemplify middle level characteristics
High-quality, early, and ongoing field experiences and a culminating student teaching experience are central to effective teacher preparation (AACTE, 2013; CAEP, 2013; NCATE, 2010). These experiences should be of sufficient depth, breadth, diversity, coherence, and duration with multiple performance-based assessments (CAEP, 2013). Therefore, effective middle level teacher preparation programs must place a high priority on providing and requiring early and continuing field experiences in a middle grades setting (Jackson & Davis, 2000). These experiences should provide a developmental sequence for prospective teachers that increases in complexity and involvement, culminating in an extended student teaching experience in which prospective middle level teachers are functioning as site-based teachers responsible for groups of young adolescents (Jackson & Davis, 2000). Middle level field and student teaching experiences provide a context for learning about young adolescents, their schools, and the most effective ways to teach young adolescents. These experiences provide prospective middle level teachers contact with diverse learners, expand and enrich their developmental knowledge, help them better understand the purposes and organization of middle level schools and programs, and provide them with many opportunities to learn to be more effective teachers through the experiences they encounter.
Opportunities to demonstrate professional roles and ethical behaviors
As members of a professional community, teachers have a responsibility to accept the roles and responsibilities of the profession and discharge their duties in an ethical manner (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & LePage, 2005; CCSSO, 2013). Middle level teacher preparation programs must provide opportunities for teacher candidates to engage in activities that develop their competence as middle level professionals including reflecting on professional practice; participating in ongoing professional development; engaging with colleagues, parents, and the community; and advocating for middle level students and schools (AMLE, 2012; Jackson & Davis, 2000; NMSA, 2010). Additionally, middle level teacher candidates must have opportunities to demonstrate a positive disposition toward teaching young adolescents and model high standards of ethical behavior (AMLE, 2012; NMSA, 2010).
The Association for Middle Level Education strongly supports the specialized professional preparation of middle level teachers at both the preservice and graduate levels. This support is based on the understanding that one of the most effective ways to improve the learning of young adolescents is to improve the professional preparation of their teachers.
Central to this is mandatory middle level teacher credentialing that does not overlap with elementary and secondary requirements. Quality middle level teacher preparation programs are unlikely to be established or maintained in states where no middle level license is required, or even available, for those who successfully complete professional preparation programs. Only when middle level credentials become universally required will young adolescents be assured of having teachers who have received the specialized preparation needed to be highly effective.
In addition, professional preparation programs for prospective and practicing middle level teachers should include opportunities for formal study of the essential program elements described above, as well as provide prospective teachers with opportunities to work in middle school settings that implement middle level philosophy and support it with distinct developmentally responsive organizational structures. A template for such schools might be AMLE’s position paper, This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents (NMSA, 2010) and the Association for Middle Level Education Teacher Preparation Standards (AMLE, 2012).
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Adopted August 2019
A position paper of the Association for Middle Level Education
The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) has set forth its vision of the educational program needed to provide a fully effective program for young adolescents in This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents (National Middle School Association [NMSA], 2010). This paper is a supplement to that foundational document and to AMLE's position paper focused on curriculum, instruction, and assessment. AMLE recognizes that to achieve this vision of curriculum, we must encourage middle level educators to push themselves beyond the conventional, separate subject format to expand their use of integrated curriculum formats.
Background and History of Integrated Curriculum
The integration of curriculum has long been a feature of progressive, democratic educational reform (Dewey, 1916, 1938; Dressel, 1958; Hopkins, 1937), and it was a defining characteristic of the program proposed by the early founders of the middle school movement (Eichhorn, 1966; Alexander & Williams, 1965). The recommendations in the influential Turning Points report supported curriculum integration (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1989), and integrated curriculum was a major focus of much of the professional literature that proliferated as the middle school movement gained momentum in the 1990s (e.g., Beane, 1997; Brazee & Capelluti, 1995; Pate, Homestead, & McGinnis, 1997; Springer, 1994; Vars, 1997).
An Integrative Approach
Curriculum models in the middle level literature can be located on a continuum with a separate-subject design located at one end and a fully integrated design located at the other (Brazee & Capelluti, 1995). In between the two poles are numerous design models including correlated curriculum, fused curriculum, interdisciplinary curriculum, and multidisciplinary curriculum, to name a few. Rather than advocate for a particular design model or set of models for an integrated curriculum, this position statement calls for teachers to embrace an integrative approach to curriculum.
The Association for Middle Level Education Position Statement on Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment describes integrative curriculum in the following way:
An integrative curriculum focuses on coherent ideas and concepts irrespective of arbitrary subject boundaries and enables students to see connections and real-world applications. Integrative learning opportunities:
- Engage students in rigorous, in-depth study.
- Address reading, writing, and other fundamental skills within all subject areas.
- Enhance critical thinking, decision-making, and creativity.
- Require students to reflect on their learning experiences.
- Enable students to apply content and skills to their daily lives.
Because an integrative approach is a curricular stance rather than a curricular model, middle grades educators who adopt an integrative approach may design integrative learning opportunities within a curriculum plan that is multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary, or even single-subject.
Benefits of an Integrative Approach
Studies conducted in the 1990s yielded evidence of positive outcomes of an integrative approach for both students and teachers (Drake, 1998; Vars, 1997). More recent scholarship points to the compatibility of an integrative approach with neurological function and brain-based learning, justice and civic-mindedness, service learning, place-based learning, and personalization of learning.
Brain-Based Curricula. Learning occurs when a person makes connections. Teachers foster this kind of learning when they engage in responsive teaching that starts with the students themselves and offers multiple, flexible pathways (Strahan, Kronenberg, Burgner, Doherty, & Hedt, 2012).
Bresciani-Ludvik (2016) highlighted the incompatibility of linear, segmented, separate-subject learning environments with the type of non-linear, creative, critical thinking 21st century skills demand. The brain seeks novelty, stimuli (Sousa, 2006), and different forms of sensory input (Laster, 2008), and scholars recommend that we adapt schools based on our evolving understanding of how the brain works. According to Jensen (2008), a brain-based curriculum includes five key elements: information literacy, scientific inquiry, artistic expression, social fluency, and personal development. He suggested that a curriculum for young adolescents have
- strong emphasis on learning-to-learn skills and lifelong learning;
- emphasis on social skills, cooperative learning, teamwork, and interpersonal relations;
- exposure to computers; multiple functions and research potential;
- deep exploration of a few subjects rather than surveying a great number;
- emphasis on life skills (e.g., financial planning, bookkeeping, career planning, mental health, physical health, recreation, conflict resolution, interpersonal relationships, decision making); and
- reduced emphasis on rote learning, semantic learning, and superfluous content. (p. 210)
These characteristics of a brain-based curriculum align well with the student-centered nature of an integrative approach. Moreover, middle grades teachers need to make the learning process explicit and equip students with metacognitive skills so they can manage and regulate their own learning (Darling-Hammond, 2008).
Justice-Oriented Curriculum. Beane (1995) argued that "the central focus of curriculum integration is the search for self and social meaning" (p. 616). This view of curriculum integration puts students and their relationships to self and the world at the heart of curriculum development, making the exploration of identity, power, and privilege an important part of curriculum integration. As such, beyond supporting the developmental needs of young adolescents, integrated approaches to curriculum can and should be used as a means to enact civic-minded, justice-oriented curriculum in the middle grades (Harrison, Hurd, & Brinegar, 2019). (For an example of justice-minded curriculum integration see Falco, 2019).
Service-Learning. Service-learning is a pedagogical approach that combines academic study with community service (Farber, 2017; Kaye, 2010). Its purpose is to move learners from simply going through the motions of service to actually engaging in the identification of a community need through in-depth study, followed by the development and implementation of a project meant to fill that need. Critical service-learning, according to Mitchell (2008) is a form of service learning that asks learners to explore issues of power, leading to the exploration of themes and the development of projects that promote social change. Given their focus on problem-posing and solving, service-learning and critical service-learning are interdisciplinary in nature and have the potential to not only make curriculum relevant and engaging to young adolescent learners, but to help young adolescents position themselves as changemakers. (See Coffey & Fulton, 2018, for an example of how to enact critical service-learning in the middle grades).
Place-Based Learning. Curriculum that is situated in the local context by physically placing learners into their local environment for academic study, is referred to as place-based learning (Buxton & Provenzo, 2012). Dani (2019) cites Hutchinson (2009) in stating, "place-based learning represents a cross-cultural and multidisciplinary approach to teaching that immerses learners in local heritage, culture, ecology, landscapes, opportunities, and experiences as a foundation of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, and other subjects" (p. 46). As such, young adolescent learners engaged in place-based learning can learn to become engaged citizens and creative problem-solvers through an integrated exploration of aspects of their local community.
Personalized Learning. Personalized learning is a broad concept that takes on many meanings in education. For the purpose of this paper, personalized learning represents a pedagogical approach that puts learners in the drivers' seat enabling them to actively design their own learning, including identifying goals, setting benchmarks, and developing ways to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding, and skills (Bray & McClaskey, 2015). This approach to personalization pairs well with Beane's model of negotiated curriculum, in which learners and educators co-create curriculum based on learners' questions about themselves and the world (Bishop, Downes, & Farber, 2019). These questions are focused on "problems, issues, and concerns posed by life itself" (Beane, 1997), generally making them interdisciplinary in nature. Learners then collaborate with educators, peers, and community members to create learning experiences and assessment strategies that are meaningful to them.
Obstacles to Curriculum Integration
Beane (1991) contended that the separate subject approach had been so deeply ingrained in our system that it would be difficult or impossible to change. The disciplines had become territories of knowledge that had been protected by academics, sometimes for their own self-serving purposes. The separate subject approach that dominates the middle grades curriculum remains an impediment to unified learning. In addition, teachers and teams of teachers may experience a variety of material, relational, structural-organizational, and cultural obstacles to curriculum integration (Virtue, Wilson, & Ingram, 2009).
- Material: Do teachers have access to adequate instructional supplies and resources, the Internet and other technology, and other material support?
- Relational: Are relationships among teachers, students, and staff positive, trusting, and collaborative?
- Structural-Organizational: Do teachers have common planning time, flexible scheduling, and other structural/organizational supports?
- Cultural: Does the culture in the school and external community support curricular innovation?
A teacher or team of teachers may experience one or more of these obstacles to curriculum integration. However, because an integrative approach is a curricular stance and not a curricular model, even a teacher working under less than ideal conditions can implement an integrative approach. As Virtue, Wilson, and Ingram (2009) observed:
Individual teachers and teams of teachers can move toward the integrative end of the continuum by using local, school-based resources; by employing emergent curricular designs that capitalize upon teachable moments; by starting with simple, less complex approaches to integration; and by implementing small-scale integrative learning experiences within a single classroom. (p. 6)
Moving Curriculum Integration Forward
Moving curriculum integration forward will require leadership from teachers and school administrators who adopt an integrative stance toward curriculum (Virtue, 2013).
Classroom teachers should:
- Reconsider the notion that skills and concepts on standardized tests can be mastered only through conventional curricula.
- Begin curriculum conversations across disciplines to identify common standards and goals that can lead to a more coherent curriculum for your students (see Summers, Rodens, Denos & Atkinson, 2019).
- Discuss ways to involve students in various phases of their education, from planning to classroom implementation to assessment (See Brinegar & Bishop, 2011 and Bishop, Allen-Malley, & Brinegar, 2007).
- From these first actions, begin to develop curriculum concepts or integrated themes that students and teachers could explore, not as an add-on, but as replacements for conventional separate-subject-area units (See Moser, Ivy, & Hopper, 2019).
- Discuss and design new assessment strategies that reflect students' accomplishments and performance beyond those measured by standardized tests.
- Discuss and design new assessment strategies that reflect the goals and accomplishments of the integrated curriculum methods used, and that explore ways to improve and extend these integrative strategies.
- Share the results of your work with your local community and with the world.
- Make sure that curriculum integration practices are developmentally responsive, culturally responsive, and equitable (Harrison, Hurd, & Brinegar, 2019).
School administrators should:
- First and foremost, encourage teachers to begin the process outlined above by providing them with the same safe learning environment we seek for students: an environment in which experimentation, exploration, and discovery are valued (Virtue, 2010).
- Provide professional learning opportunities in integrated curriculum for teachers.
- Provide discussion and planning time for teachers to design new integrated curriculum plans.
- Look for ways to modify conventional schedules and facilities to allow greater flexibility to facilitate integrative plans developed with your staff (See Summers, Rodens, Denos & Atkinson, 2019).
- Discuss and design staff and curriculum assessment strategies that reflect a new emphasis on integrated teaching and learning and that encourage ongoing development of increasingly sophisticated integrative strategies.
- Reach out to your community and provide opportunities for parents and interested community members to learn about curriculum integration. Invite them to sit in on planning meetings, staff development sessions, and classrooms where curriculum integration is implemented.
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Adopted October 2019
A position paper of the Association for Middle Level Education
School Transitions Planning Document
Though there are more than 30 different school configurations that include middle grades students, entry into middle school for sixth grade and entry into high school for ninth grade signals a transition for the majority of students in the US. These school transitions have the potential to evoke a wide variety of emotions, behaviors, and concerns for both young adolescents and their families. For many students, the transition in and out of the middle school are considered major milestones on the road to becoming an adult. For administrators, teachers, and counselors, these transitions are an opportunity to welcome students into a new environment, support them as they try new things, and build relationships while guiding them through their schooling experience.
The Elementary-to-Middle-School Transition
The elementary-to-middle-school transition is marked by numerous changes, from more departmentalized staffing and different types of assessment to larger class sizes and higher academic expectations. Social, emotional, developmental, and academic experiences are affected, requiring students to adjust to what they see as new settings, structures, and expectations (Akos, Rose, & Orthner, 2015). All of this comes at a time when they are also experiencing a host of changes associated with the transition from childhood to early adolescence. They are beginning to mature physically, and to think of themselves as individuals outside of their families. Their attentions turn to exercising independence and developing strong relationships with peers, while avoiding unwanted attention and embarrassment (Balfanz, Herzog, & Mac Iver, 2007; Fenzel, 2016). The atmosphere at home may become strained asparents and children struggle with redefining roles and relationships. This complicated period of time has often been associated with a decline in academic achievement, performance motivation, and self-perceptions (Akos, 2016). It is a time when young adolescents are most likely to experiment with at-risk behaviors (Smith, Strahan, Patterson, Bouton, & McGaughey, 2018). It is also the point in time when children begin to make pivotal decisions regarding their academic and career choices precisely at a time when they may be distracted or turned off by academic endeavors (Fenzel, 2016).
A well-designed transition program (outlined below) can ease students' anxieties and get them excited about middle school (Akos, 2016). Young adolescents must feel successful in school, have opportunities for self-expression and decision-making, and feel cared for and respected as a person (Jackson & Davis, 2000). The concerns most often expressed by students about to enter middle school focus on the routine of the new school: finding their way around and getting to class on time, dealing with lockers and locks, and mixing with older students. They also worry about choosing sports or extracurricular activities and keeping up with homework and long-term assignments. Schools can mitigate many of these concerns by providing orientation activities that demystify new routines well before the first day of middle school (Akos, 2016). Involving students at both levels in the planning and implementation of these activities ensures they are appropriate to student needs and provides positive initial contact between younger students and their older peers. Throughout the middle school experience, teachers can provide opportunities for every child to experience social and academic success by utilizing classroom strategies that promote social development as well as those that address individual learning needs. Middle schools must reach out to families, helping them to become more knowledgeable about young adolescents' developmental needs and concerns, and encouraging ongoing family involvement in their children's education (Akos, 2016). A strong home-to-school connection can create a seamless web of support for young adolescents in transition.
The Middle-to-High-School Transition
The Southern Regional Education Board (2002) states the middle-to-high-school transition is the most difficult transition in K-12 education. This transition evokes numerous emotions for young adolescents that range from excitement to fear (Ellerbrock, 2012). While these emotions are completely natural, they do tend to bring forth concerns that families and students share related to the procedural, social, and academic changes associated with the transition (Akos & Galassi, 2004). Many of these concerns are resolved during the first few weeks ofhigh school while others can last well into the first year and beyond. Procedural changes include adjusting to the high school schedule along with new rules and procedures (e.g., finding classes, new bell schedule, new classroom rules and procedures, adhering to high school policies). Social changes focus on relationships (e.g., keeping elementary/middle school friendships, being able to make new friends, fostering positive teacher relationships) and extracurricular involvement (e.g., learning about extracurricular opportunities at their new school and how to get involved). Academic changes are associated with the amount of schoolwork and new academic expectations. Students who experience issues with making a positive transition into high school tend to experience issues with behavior, school attendance, and poor grades. These issues result in difficulties remaining in school and can lead to students dropping out. Neild (2009) found that most students who end up dropping out of high school make and act on this decision by tenth grade.
Supporting the Transition in and out of the Middle School: What Administrators, Teachers, Counselors, and Families Can Do
Although undergoing a school transition can be difficult for many young adolescents, administrators, teachers, counselors, and families can make a positive impact on how students experience this change by working together to plan and implement strategies that will ease the transition in and out of the middle school.
Administrators, Teachers, and Counselors Can:
- Encourage collaboration among administrators, teachers, and counselors at the sending and receiving schools;
- Provide a comprehensive transition program that includes multiple transition activities before, during, and after the transition;
- Make the planning, implementation, and evaluation of transition activities an annual focus;
- Engage in collaborative planning with equivalent counterparts at the sending and receiving schools to ensure a smooth academic transition that recognizes and accommodates variations in curricula across feeder schools;
- Become knowledgeable about and engage in instructional practices, including opportunities for peer interaction (e.g., cooperative learning) that support the developmental characteristics of young adolescents where students can experience academic success;
- Create a climate that values and supports effective home/school communications;
- Review the bell schedule(s) and map of the middle/high school prior to making the transition;
- Practice procedural tasks with students prior to making the transition (e.g., bell schedule, combination lock);
- Review the middle/high school student handbook and create activities that focus on pertinent information prior to the transition;
- Talk about middle/high school academic and behavioral expectations;
- Review examples of middle/high school assignments;
- Review necessary academic skills (e.g., note-taking, study skills);
- Focus on teaching life skills (e.g., responsibility, communication, time management);
- Provide counseling at both the elementary and middle levels to address transition concerns and assure students of the availability of ongoing support;
- Make use of developmentally responsive organizational structures at the middle school (e.g., teaming).
- Participate in school transition program activities;
- Include older siblings in orientation activities;
- Provide young adolescents with manageable tasks that will help them develop organizational skills and responsibility;
- Encourage young adolescents to try new things and to regard failure as a necessary part of learning and growing;
- Become knowledgeable about the needs and concerns of young adolescents;
- Help their student turn anxieties into positive action by learning about those things that are anxiety provoking (e.g., school rules, schedules, locker procedures);
- Attend school events and stay involved in children's schooling;
- Support their child in efforts to become independent;
- Maintain strong family connections with their young adolescent;
- Be alert to signs of depression or anxiety in their child and seek help.
Supporting the Transition in and out of the Middle School: Creating an Effective Transition Program
An effective school transition program is noted in the literature to be the primary way to support students as they make the transition from one school to another (Cohen & Smerdon, 2009; Morgan & Hertzog, 2001). Transition programs offer multiple activities before, during, and after the school transition that introduce students to their new school's rules, procedures, and expectations while supporting students' academic and social needs and concerns (Hertzog & Morgan 1998, 1999; Morgan & Hertzog, 2001; Ellerbrock, Denmon, Mahoney, DiCicco, & Sabella, 2014). Attributes of successful school transition programs include a sensitivity to the anxieties accompanying the move to a new school setting, the importance of families and teachers as partners in this effort, and the recognition that becoming comfortable in a new school setting is an ongoing process, not a single event (Anderson, Jacobs, Schramm, & Splitt-Gerber, 2000; Cauley & Jovanovich, 2006; Hertzog & Morgan 1998, 1999). Chances increase that students will experience a successful transition and, at the high school level, remain in school if they engage in multiple transition-related activities that focus on the procedural, social, and academic aspects of the transition. Examples of activities include:
- Offering opportunities for middle/high school students to act as academic tutors for elementary/middle school students prior to the transition;
- Arranging a tour of the new school prior to the transition;
- Having a day for only incoming students to attend their new school without upperclassmen on campus (typically the day before school officially begins);
- Offering an informational session conducted by administration, teachers, counselors, and students from the new school;
- Engaging students in a "Rite of Passage" celebration activity at the end of elementary/middle school;
- Shadowing of a middle/high school student for a day;
- Implementing a "big brother/big sister" mentoring program where middle/high school students mentor elementary/middle grades students;
- Inviting a panel of middle/high school students to talk with elementary/middle school students about the academic, social, and procedural aspects of the transition and answer questions in the spring before the transition;
- Hosting a family orientation held at the receiving school;
- Arranging for a middle/high school student mentor for each student who is making the transition;
- Arranging a teacher swap day where teachers at the sending and receiving schools trade classes for a day;
- Hosting an extracurricular day where school coaches, club sponsors, and other extracurricular representatives provide information about their organization and how to get involved;
- Organize a high school curriculum/academic fair for teachers to share academic information;
- Create a vertical team of middle and high school teachers to focus on streamlining the middle and high school curriculums.
It is important to remember that the transition to a new school is a process that takes place over time, not just something that is done immediately before or after students experience a school transition. Transition literature as well as transition studies call for a comprehensive approach built upon a commitment to teamwork and collaboration where educators, families, and students work together in designing and implementing transition supports for students as they transition from one school to the next. It is clear that collaboration among all adults who share responsibility and concern for the welfare of young adolescents is ultimately the most effective transition strategy we can employ.
Akos, P. (2016). Transition programs. In S. B. Mertens, M. M. Caskey, & N. Flowers (Eds.), The encyclopedia of middle grades education (2nd ed., pp. 407-411). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
Akos, P., & Galassi, J. P. (2004). Middle and high school transitions as viewed by students, parents, and teachers. Professional School Counseling, 7(4), 212-221.
Akos, P., Rose, R. A., & Orthner, D. (2015). Sociodemographic moderators of middle school transition effects on academic achievement. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 35, 170-198.
Anderson, L. W., Jacobs, J., Schramm, S., & Splitt-Gerber, F. (2000). School transitions: Beginning of the end or a new beginning. International Journal of Educational Research, 33, 325–339.
Balfanz, R., Herzog, L., & Mac Iver, D. J. (2007). Preventing student disengagement and keeping students on the graduation path in urban middle-grades schools: Early identification and effective interventions. Educational Psychologist, 42(4), 223-235.
Cauley, K. M., & Jovanovich, D. (2006). Developing an effective transition program for students entering middle school or high school. Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues And Ideas, 80(1), 15-25.
Cohen, J. S., & Smerdon, B. A. (2009). Tightening the dropout tourniquet: Easing the transition from middle to high school. Preventing School Failure, 53(3), 177-184.
Ellerbrock, C. R. (2012). Help students transition to high school smoothly. Retrieved from: https://www.amle.org/BrowsebyTopic/WhatsNew/WNDet/
Ellerbrock, C. R., Denmon, J. R., Mahoney, B., DiCicco, M., & Sabella, L. (2014). Moving from the middle: Transition programs should address the procedural, social, and academic aspects of the move to high school. AMLE Magazine, 1(8), 13-15.
Fenzel, L. M. (2016). Transitions. In S. B. Mertens, M. M. Caskey, & N. Flowers (Eds.), The encyclopedia of middle grades education (2nd ed., pp. 411-414). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
Hertzog, J. C., & Morgan, P. (1998). Breaking the barriers between middle school and high school: Developing a transition team for student success. NASSP Bulletin, 82(597), 94-8. doi:10.1177/019263659808259716.
Hertzog, J. C., & Morgan, P. (1999). Making the transition from middle level to high school. High School Magazine, 6(4), 26-30.
Jackson, A. W., & Davis, G. A. (2000). Turning points 2000: Educating adolescents in the 21st century. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Morgan, L. P., & Hertzog, C. J. (2001). Designing comprehensive transitions. Principal Leadership, 1(7), 10-18.
Neild, R. (2009). Falling off track during the transition to high school: What we know and what can be done. Future of Children, 19(1), 53-76.
Smith, M. L., Strahan, D. Patterson, B., Bouton, B., & McGaughey, N. (2018). Developmental aspects of young adolescents. In S. B. Mertens & M. M. Caskey (Eds.), Literature reviews in support of the middle level education research agenda (pp. 3-23). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
Southern Regional Education Board (2002). Opening doors to the future: Preparing low-achieving middle grades student to succeed in high school. Atlanta: Author.
Adopted August 2019
A position paper of the Association for Middle Level Education
The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) has set forth its vision of the educational program needed to provide a fully effective program for young adolescents in This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents (National Middle School Association [NMSA], 2010)). This paper is a supplement to that foundational document focusing on the critical areas of curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
The Association for Middle Level Education fully recognizes the challenges inherent in attempts to develop curriculum, instruction, and assessment that respect and meet the distinct learning and developmental needs of young adolescents. Like elementary and high schools, middle schools must respond to local, state, and federal standards; manage growing diversity among students in a complex society; and balance effective learning practices with high-stakes accountability. In addition to these demands, designing learning activities for middle school students requires tailoring curriculum, instruction, and assessment to the variable characteristics of 10- to 15-year-old learners who are actively involved in maturing as well as in learning (Smith, Strahan, Patterson, Bouton, & McGaughey, 2018).
Meeting the challenges of designing engaging learning opportunities for young adolescent students does not mean, and has never meant, that middle schools shy away from challenging content in favor of making students feel good about themselves (NMSA, 1995). Nor does it mean that classroom activities are all "fun" and devoid of any real learning. Instead, it means that middle school curriculum must be relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory in a climate of high expectations. Instruction has to embrace multiple teaching approaches and assessment measures.
Middle Level Curriculum
A relevant curriculum enables "students to pursue answers to questions they have about themselves, content, and the world" (NMSA, 2010, p. 22). Relevant learning opportunities
- Immerse students in rich and significant content knowledge.
- Lead students to demonstrate higher levels of learning and understanding.
- Include students' questions, ideas, and concerns.
- Expand the learning community beyond the school.
- Allow young adolescents to study concepts and skills in areas of interest.
- Provide a variety of educational materials, resources, technology, and instructional strategies.
- Ensure curriculum is developed by careful and continuing study of students, social trends and issues, and research-supported school practices.
(Arnold, 1985; Brown & Knowles, 2014; Pate, 2013; Springer, 2013)
A challenging curriculum targets state and national standards, actively engages young adolescents in substantive issues, and provides them "with opportunities to contribute and take ownership of their own education" (NMSA, 2010, p. 19). Challenging learning opportunities
- Move beyond covering content and rote learning activities.
- Help students become skilled writers, thinkers, and researchers.
- Engage students in demanding problem solving activities.
- Explore how and why things happen.
- Examine assumptions, principles, and alternative points of view.
(Jackson & Davis, 2000; Nesin & Brazee, 2013)
An integrative curriculum focuses on coherent ideas and concepts irrespective of arbitrary subject boundaries and enables students to see connections and real-world applications. Integrative learning opportunities
- Engage students in rigorous, in-depth study.
- Address reading, writing, and other fundamental skills within all subject areas.
- Enhance critical thinking, decision-making, and creativity.
- Require students to reflect on their learning experiences.
- Enable students to apply content and skills to their daily lives.
(Beane, 1997; Brodhagen, 1995; Pate, 2013; Springer, 1994, 2006, 2013)
An exploratory curriculum directly reflects the curious, adventuresome nature of young adolescents. Exploration is not a classification of content; rather, it is an attitude and approach to all curriculum and instruction. Exploratory learning opportunities
- Broaden students' views of themselves and the world.
- Help students discover their interests and aptitudes.
- Assist students with career exploration and decisions about their futures.
- Contribute to the development of well-rounded, self-sufficient citizens.
- Open doors to new ideas and areas to investigate.
(Beane, 1993, 1997; Brodhagen, 1995; Nesin & Brazee, 2013; Springer, 1994, 2006, 2013)
Middle Level Instruction
Learning approaches meet the needs and characteristics of young adolescents and provide the foundation for selecting learning and teaching strategies, just as they do for designing curriculum. Learning approaches should
- Augment the skills, abilities, and prior knowledge of young adolescents.
- Cultivate multiple intelligences and students' individual learning styles.
- Offer students choices in how best to learn.
- Involve students in establishing and assessing personal goals.
- Help students acquire various ways of posing and answering questions.
- Include both student-centered and teacher-facilitated strategies.
- Provide opportunities for self-directed learning.
- Emphasize collaboration among teachers and students.
- Utilize varying forms of group work and cooperative activities.
- Involve families and utilize community resources.
- Incorporate technology in the learning process.
(Bishop, Downes, & Farber, 2019; Brodhagen & Gorud, 2012; Jackson & Davis, 2000; Pate, 2013; Tomlinson, 2013).
Learning experiences bring curriculum to life. Learning experiences should
- Value the dignity and diversity of all individuals.
- Allow students to learn and express themselves in a variety of ways.
- Use the full range of communication skills and technologies in purposeful contexts.
- Engage students in problem solving through a variety of relevant experiential learning opportunities.
- Involve students in meaningful service that encourages them to make a difference in the world around them.
- Involve students in setting goals, planning, and assessing their own learning.
- Include continuous, authentic, and appropriate assessment of students' progress in academic achievement and the acquisition of desired behavioral attributes.
(Bishop, Downes, & Farber, 2019; Brinegar, Harrison, & Hurd, 2019, Jagla, 2016; Pendergast, 2016, Tomlinson, 2013).
Learning environments create a safe and engaging space for all students. Learning environments should
- Challenge content in partnership with appropriate learning strategies.
- Ensure students and staff are safe, cared for, understood, trusted, and respected.
- Ensure each young adolescent can experience success.
- Empower and support staff in creating developmentally responsive curriculum and instructional approaches.
- Provide positive staff role models.
- Encourage families to be actively involved in students' educational endeavors.
- Expand the learning community beyond the school.
(Beucher & Smith, 2019; Brinegar, Harrison, & Hurd, 2019; Ellerbrock, 2016; Moulton, 2019; Musser, 2016).
Middle Level Assessment
A continuous, authentic, and appropriate assessment program provides many evidences of students' progress in meeting their curricular goals or objectives. Assessment strategies should honor the learning characteristics of young adolescents and increasingly de-emphasize competitive comparisons with other students. Such programs
- Monitor students' progress and document students' mastery of both essential knowledge and skills.
- Assess critical thinking, independence, responsibility, and related behavioral traits.
- Offer students' choices in how best to demonstrate their learning, specify assessment criteria in advance, and incorporate examples of quality work as models.
- Include a variety of formats such as journals, portfolios, demonstrations, publications, and multimedia presentations so student learning can be shared with others.
- Inform and involve families in the assessment program.
- Provide teachers with data for informing and planning instruction.
(Black & Wiliam, 2009, 2018; Cowie, 2005; Hammond, 2015; Hattie & Timperly, 2007; Pate, 2013)
Moving Middle Level Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Forward
Some elements of effective middle grades education, such as organizing teams, have taken hold in schools across the country. Making changes in curriculum, instruction, and assessment, however, has been more difficult. Despite expanding research and improved understanding of how best to educate 10- to 15-year-olds, curricular and instructional aspects of middle schools have tended to follow traditional secondary practices (McEwin & Greene, 2013). Teachers and school leaders, with the support of parents and families, must implement non-traditional practices to adequately address the learning needs of middle level students.
Classroom teachers should
- Establish learner-centered classrooms that encourage and honor student voice.
- Develop standards-based curricula that integrate subject area disciplines along with students' concerns and questions.
- Design instruction to meet the diverse needs of every student.
- Measure student progress and development with a variety of authentic assessments.
- Guide students in discovering their aptitudes and interests.
- Participate in professional learning that promotes and supports developmentally responsive practices.
(Andrews, Moulton, & Hughes, 2018; Ellerbrock & Kiefer, 2014; Flowers, Begum, Carpenter, & Mulhall, 2017; Hagerman & Porath, 2018; Kiefer & Ellerbrock, 2012; Worsham, B. W., 2015)
School leaders should
- Lead in creating a shared vision focused on the needs of young adolescent students.
- Establish ongoing, school-based professional development that deals with teachers' identified needs.
- Provide organizational structures that enable teachers and students to develop collaboratively relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory curricula.
- Expect teachers to use a variety of student-centered instructional approaches that meet the individual needs of students.
- Hold teachers accountable for using multiple and varied assessments that measure continuous student progress.
(Ellerbrock & Kiefer, 2014; Flowers, Begum, Carpenter, & Mulhall, 2017;
Parents and families should
- Understand their child's individual strengths, weaknesses, interests, aptitudes, and talents.
- Insist that schools and teachers address the learning needs of their 10- to 15-year-old.
- Work with schools and teachers to establish appropriate learning outcomes for their child.
- Expect teachers to use a variety of instructional strategies and assessment methods in their classrooms.
- Engage in the learning process by attending classroom events, conferences, and other school activities.
- Be organized in ways that encourage ongoing collaboration and teaming to focus on student needs and curriculum.
- Provide opportunities for students to participate in advisory activities, discussions, and service-learning projects.
- Open doors to new ideas that evoke curiosity, the desire to explore, and awe and wonder.
- Develop caring, responsible, and ethical citizens who practice democratic principles.
(Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2014; Leonard & Andrews, in press; Sanchez, Usinger, & Thornton, 2019)
The middle level curriculum needed for today's young adolescents is complex. Criteria of high quality call for both depth and breadth as well as the inculcation of habits of mind that will equip youth to be productive citizens and lifelong learners. Instructional and assessment practices used in implementing such a curriculum must be imaginative, varied, and involve the students in all phases. Strong leadership that understands fully the challenges middle schools face in fulfilling their heavy and distinctive responsibilities is essential all the way from the central office to the classroom.
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Adopted October 2019