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Career Exploration in the Middle Grades: A Playbook for Educators
Middle grades educators have the exciting opportunity to interact with students at a pivotal time in their development. The middle grades are “the finding place” that invites young adolescents to be adventurous explorers. Career exploration is a cornerstone of this process and is associated with both positive educational and employment outcomes, keeps students engaged in school, and helps them develop a better sense of self.
That’s why ASA and AMLE have teamed up to create a playbook that equips educators with a roadmap for creating effective career exploration programming. Here you will find helpful resources like implementation guides, case studies, and program sustainability resources to help you map your journey from beginning initiatives to school-wide practice. And it is a journey worth undertaking, as studies have shown that career education positively impacts K–12 students decades later. When engaging in the career exploration programming described in this playbook, educators are providing opportunities for students to dream about their futures and imagine the possibilities.
See the Playbook in Action
Sutton Middle School
Uxbridge High School
Templates and Resources
Teacher Action Guide
Are you a teacher ready to kickstart career exploration at your school? This guide provides a helpful checklist and guiding questions/tips to aid in your planning process.
Counselor Action Guide
Are you a counselor ready to kickstart career exploration at your school? This guide provides a helpful checklist and guiding questions/tips to aid in your planning process.
School and District Leader Action Guide
Are you a school or district leader ready to kickstart career exploration at your school? This guide provides a helpful checklist and guiding questions/tips to aid in your planning process.
Sustainability Action Guide
All members of the team should plan with an eye toward sustainability. This guide provides a helpful checklist and guiding questions/tips to keep you on the right track.
Programming Year at a Glance
Mapping programming across the school year can help you visualize your program and support accountability. Completing this calendar template will help you keep tabs on your program goals and keep program objectives top of mind.
3 Year Program Goals
Programs are only as effective as they are sustainable. Using this worksheet to create three-year goals will help you prioritize outcomes and determine appropriate strategies and activities for programming.
Programming Outcomes Worksheet
Measuring and evaluating your program is key to sustained success. This worksheet offers a helpful step-by-step guide to establishing an actionable measurement approach.
You will want to draw from a variety of data sources to measure what is working well and what might need more attention. This observation form can help you collect data from a variety of perspectives to help inform program effectiveness.
Budget Expenses Form
Depending on the type of program you create, funding needs can vary significantly. This helpful budgeting form will help you visualize the total funds you will need to successfully execute your program.
Funding for Programs
Funding can be an important factor in helping to sustain or expand current programming to create new ones. This guide provides tips for standing out in a grant application and a list of possible sources of funding.
Components of a Grant Proposal
Many schools combine public funding with additional grant funds to support programming. This document was created to aid educators across roles in writing successful proposals.
Professional Development Planning
Professional development is crucial to program sustainability. This template will help you design professional development activities to support program implementation.
The bell sounded, signaling the start of another class period. I hear the girls behind me talking, purchasing an Air Heads candy from a classmate who secretly sold them. My favorite was the white Air Heads, and I was a loyal customer; savoring its sweet flavor was my only saving grace during math class. The
When you think of “work-based learning” — that is, hands-on career education experiences like internships, apprenticeships, and job shadowing — what age group comes to mind? Odds are, you’re thinking about college or perhaps even high school. But as research conducted by American Student Assistance shows, middle school is the prime time to begin engaging
Read More… from Navigating a Critical New Frontier in K-12 Career Readiness: Middle School Work-based Learning
Save the bees. That was the aim of Team Passion Project, the winners of the second annual Solve Together Challenge, a national competition designed to encourage career exploration and skill-building for middle school students. The team, comprised of seventh grader from Franklin Avenue Middle School, could either select from a list of real-world problems or
Read More… from Team Passion Project – The Importance of Offering Student Choice in the Middle Grades
ASA’s Middle School Exploration Program
Free digital ten-lesson curriculum in which students can discover their skills and interests, learn about career clusters, and explore different educational options. Students will leave this program with a better understanding of how to approach decisions regarding their future plans, their skill development, and their career preferences.
Unit 1 (Lessons 1-4): Through a range of individual and group-based activities, students will explore their own skills, interests, values, and learning styles in relation to others’. By the end of the unit, each student will be able to confidently summarize their own strengths, passions, and attributes.
Understanding Options: Career Exploration
Unit 2 (Lessons 5-7): Now that students understand themselves, they will begin to envision their futures and learn about careers that align with their goals. Games, sorting activities, and presentations fuel the exploration process, helping students gain a clearer picture of the man professional possibilities available to them.
Informing Future Decisions: Education Pathways
Unit 3 (Lessons 8-10): Does every career require a college degree? Students will look at all the post-secondary options available –including college—and discover how to prepare for next steps after high school. Every student will leave understanding their strengths, programs that fit their goals, and growth areas to pursue.
What’s next on your horizon? The possibilities are endless.
Your Horizon, an exciting new career exploration website, was created to help middle school and early high school students start thinking about their future career and planning out the steps they can take to get there!
On Your Horizon, students can:
- Watch day-in-the-life videos from real professionals to see all the things they can be and get an understanding of what different careers actually look like.
- Explore candid interviews and written advice from all sorts of people, talking about the work they do, the path they took to get there, the challenges they faced along the way, and the advice they have for young people looking to pursue the same path.
- Hear young adults talk about the kinds of education and training the attained after high school—such as attending college or community college, enrolling in workforce development programs or certificate programs, or even pursuing an apprenticeship.
- Use resources from ASA and other trusted partners that will help them continue exploring and planning for their futures.
Research in Support of Career Exploration in the Middle Grades
ACTE & Career Cruising, 2018. Career Exploration in Middle School: Setting Students on the Path to Success.
An evidence-based overview of why career exploration is important in the middle grades as well as some of the strategies that can be used with this age group. Includes enumerated recommendations for practitioners.
ACTE & Xello, 2020. Starting Early: Career Development in the Early Grades.
A brief report outlining the value and benefits associated with career exploration & career development in the elementary and middle grades. Includes case studies and recommendations for getting started.
Grant, Springer, Tuttle, & Reno, 2021. Small-Group Counseling Intervention to Support Career Exploration of Rural Middle School Students.
A paper proposing a small-group counseling-based intervention to assist students from rural areas in their career exploration and identity development.
Ginevra & Nota, 2017. ‘Journey in the World of Professions and Work’: A Career Intervention for Children.
An article describing a 10-unit course intended to boost students’ career adaptability. Compared to non-participants, participating students (10-11 years old) demonstrated significantly more hope, optimism, curiosity, exploration, occupational knowledge, information, planning, and time perspective.
Godbey & Gordon, 2019. Career Exploration at the Middle School Level: Barriers and Opportunities.
An essay describing the importance of career exploration at the middle level, the opportunities for policy and practice, and the barriers to advisement and engagement. Includes recommendations for school leaders and practitioners.
Mupinga & Caniglia, 2019. What Middle School Students Know About Careers and the Influences Surrounding Their Choices.
An article outlining ways to support middle school students’ career knowledge and their ability to make informed decisions about their future. Includes resources for teachers in the middle grades.
Glessner, Rockinson-Szapkiw, & Lopez, 2017. “Yes, I Can”: Testing an Intervention to Increase Middle School Students’ College and Career Self-Efficacy.
An article examining the impact of a hybrid (virtual & in-person) intervention in Florida on students’ career and college self-efficacy. Results suggest that participating students exhibited higher self-efficacy beliefs.
Grigal, Cooney, & Hart, 2019. Promoting College and Career Readiness With Middle School Youth With Disabilities: Lessons Learned From a Curriculum Development Project.
A study of a College & Career Readiness [CCR] program for middle schoolers, with and without disabilities. Includes online resources arranged by topic as well as considerations for universal design, technology access, and the need for developmentally appropriate content.
Perna, 2019. Why Career Exploration Must Be a K-12 Priority and One Way to Make It Happen.
An opinion piece suggesting that career exploration must be holistically integrated into schooling throughout the curriculum and throughout the K-12 spectrum. Includes a link to the author’s Career Tree framework.
Center for American Progress, 2020. Creating Strong Building Blocks for Every Student: How Middle Schools Can Lay the Foundation for Rigorous High School Pathways.
A long-form article outlining the challenges and inequities associated with access to CTE and high school pathways. The authors discuss the added barriers introduced by COVID-19, the promise of Perkins V, and the opportunities for middle school programming. Includes a nationwide policy landscape analysis and “5 Key Components” of successful middle school pathways.
Hanover Research, 2020. Best Practices in Middle School Career and Technical Education Expansion.
A report outlining best practices in implementing CTE in middle school. Includes 3 case studies, a framework with target outcomes, equity considerations, and major challenges & barriers (esp. related to rural settings and technology access).
Advance CTE, 2019. Putting Afterschool to Work: Career Exploration in Out-of-School Settings.
An article outlining the promises of after-school career exploration programming. Includes a case study and policy considerations.
A webpage from the Bureau of Labor Statistics with resources for career exploration, games, Q&A, and resources for students and teachers in the K-12 arena.