Glossary of Middle Level Education Terminology

The following glossary aims to provide a common understanding of the terminology included in AMLE’s foundational position paper, The Successful Middle School: This We Believe, which outlines the five essential attributes and eighteen characteristics of high performing middle grades schools. We recommend reviewing these definitions before beginning your study and implementation of the text

Ableism  – The practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities. A set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities

Adultification– A social or cultural stereotype that is based on how adults perceive children in the absence of knowledge of children’s behavior and verbalizations. This often results in the perceptions of Black girls as being less innocent and in need of less nurturance, guidance, and protection.

Advisory – Regularly scheduled times when young adolescents have the opportunity to interact with a small group of peers and a teacher-advisor to discuss school and personal concerns. The group may be grade level or multi-grade level. In many schools advisors and their students remain together for three years.

Advocacy – The role that middle level educators play as active supporters for and of young adolescents.

Anti-racist –  Being critically aware of the existence of racism and understanding how it is systemic. An anti-racist person actively seeks to acknowledge the impacts of racism.

Authentic assessment – Methods that measure a student’s achievement or progress in ways that approximate real life, such as simulations or demonstrations.

Block schedule – A large block of time for teams of teachers and students so that flexible groupings and varied periods of time can be arranged. This should not be confused with the high school form of block scheduling which provides double periods for single subjects.

Cis-gender– A term used to describe people whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.

Classism – Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on perceived differences in socioeconomic status, income, or class. It’s the systematic assignment of characteristics of worth and ability based on social class.

Color Blind– The belief in treating everyone “equally” by treating everyone the same; based on the presumption that differences are by definition bad or problematic, and therefore best ignored (i.e., “I don’t see race, gender, etc.”).

Common planning time – Regularly scheduled time during the school day for teaching teams to meet for planning the integration of curriculum, reviewing student assessments, conducting parent conferences, and engaging in professional development.

Cooperative learning – Instructional strategies that have students working in small groups sharing responsibilities and rewards. Both individual and group accountability are essential features of these strategies.

Continuum of curriculum integration –

  •       Conventional – no integration, separate subjects are taught independently
  •       Correlated – two or more teachers emphasize the same vocabulary, skills, or concepts at the same time
  •       Interdisciplinary – Teachers coordinate their instruction around a theme that is central to all subjects
  •       Integrated – Instruction is focused on a theme chosen by teachers but activities are pursued without regard to traditional subjects.
  •       Integrative – Students are actively involved with teachers in choosing themes for study, planning activities, and making decisions about time, materials and assessment without regard to traditional subjects. This approach makes extensive use of flexible scheduling and grouping

Cross- grade grouping/multi-age grouping – Grouping students from more than one grade level, often for advisory programs or exploratory courses.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy–  using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them.

Curriculum matrix – A chart that visually represents the relationships or connections between a set of curricular topics within a given subject area and the corresponding skills, attitudes, or concepts.

Diversity – The wide variety of shared and different personal and group characteristics among human beings.

Ethnicity –  A social construct which divides individuals into smaller social groups based on characteristics such as a shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history and ancestral geographical base.

Examples of different ethnic groups are but not limited to:

  • Haitian
  • African American (Black)
  • Chinese
  • Korean
  • Vietnamese (Asian)
  • Cherokee, Mohawk
  • Navajo (Native American)
  • Cuban
  • Mexican
  • Puerto Rican (Latino)
  • Polish
  • Irish
  • Swedish (White)


Equality –  A state of affairs in which all people within a specific society or isolated group have the same status in certain respects, including civil rights, freedom of speech, property rights and equal access to certain social goods and services.

Equity – Takes into consideration the fact that the social identifiers (race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.) do, in fact, affect equality. In an equitable environment, an individual or a group would be given what was needed to give them equal advantage. This would not necessarily be equal to what others were receiving. It could be more or different. Equity is an ideal and a goal, not a process. It insures that everyone has the resources they need to succeed.

Eurocentric– Reflecting a tendency to interpret the world in terms of European or Anglo-American values and experiences.  Eurocentric curriculum  excludes and voices, experiences, perspectives, and histories of culturally diverse people.

Exploratory courses – Regularly scheduled, short-term enrichment experiences in which students may choose courses to investigate areas of knowledge and interest.

Gender Binary-A socially constructed system of viewing gender as consisting solely of two categories, “male” and “female”, in which no other possibilities for gender are believed to exist. The gender binary is inaccurate because it does not take into account the diversity of gender identities and gender expressions among all people. The gender binary is oppressive to anyone that does not conform to dominant societal gender norms.

Gender Non-Conforming– A broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit into a category.

Gender Pronouns–  The pronoun or set of pronouns that a person would like others to call them by, when their proper name is not being used. Traditional examples include “she/her/hers” or “he/him/his”. Some people prefer gender neutral pronouns, such as “ze/hir/hirs,” “zie/zir/zirs,” “ey/em/eirs,” “per/per/pers,” “hu/hum/hus,” or “they/them/theirs”. Some people prefer no pronouns at all.

Unconscious Bias (Implicit Bias) – Social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.

Inclusion– accepting all people as equals—regardless of ability, ethnicity, age, religion, or gender identity—and ensuring that they have access to the same services and opportunities as everyone else.

Interdisciplinary instruction – Instructional programs that combine or relate subject matter that is ordinarily taught separately, into learning under a single organizational structure.

Interdisciplinary team organization – Teams of two to five teachers representing the core subjects. The team shares the same schedule, students, area of the building, responsibility for the core courses, and has common planning time.

Intersex An umbrella term describing people born with reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or chromosome pattern that can’t be classified as typically male or female.

Looping – An arrangement in which a team of teachers and students stay together for two or more years.

Middle School A school that has been planned and organized to address the developmental and cultural needs of students of ages 10 to 14, and that generally includes grades 5 through 8, although many varied patterns exist.  For example, a school might include only grades 7 and 8 and still be called a middle school.

Marginalized – Excluded, ignored, or relegated to the outer edge of a group/society/community.

Multi-age grouping – A team of teachers and students from more than one grade or age level remain in the same team for their entire time in the middle school in order to facilitate continuous progress.

Multi-disciplinary programs – Similar to interdisciplinary programs but broader, to include content from other areas such as art, music, health, physical education, technology, and other unified/related arts courses are included in a unit.

Performance assessment – A form of authentic assessment based on the professional judgment of the assessor through observation of the student performing a predetermined task.

Personalized learning– a progressively student-driven model that aims to customize learning based on each student’s strengths, needs, skills and interests.

Place-based education–  an immersive learning experience that places students in local heritage, experiences, cultures, and landscapes, and uses these as a foundation for the study of the curriculum.

Portfolio assessment – A form of authentic assessment that is a meaningful collection of student work exhibiting overall efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas.

Product assessment – A form of authentic assessment that requires a concrete, end result such as a display, video, script, experiment, or exhibit.

Problem-based learning – A student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem. This problem is what drives the motivation and the learning. The product may be something tangible or a proposed solution.

Project-based learning – A teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge. This approach spans more than one subject area.

Race– A social construct that artificially divides individuals into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly skin color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation or history, ethnic classification, and/or the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time. Scientists agree that there is no biological or genetic basis for racial categories.

Safer Space – A supportive, non-threatening environment that encourages open-mindedness, respect, a willingness to learn from others, as well as physical and mental safety.

Service Learning– A form of experiential education characterized by a cycle of action and reflection as students work toward real objectives for the community and gain deeper understanding and skills for themselves.

Sexism – Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on a difference in sex/gender; usually by men against women.

Stereotype–  Blanket beliefs and expectations about members of certain groups that present an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment. They go beyond necessary and useful categorizations and generalizations in that they are typically negative, are based on little information and are highly generalized.

Student-led conferences – Students take responsibility for sharing their learning with their parents/guardians through review of their portfolios and assessments.

Systemic Oppression – Conscious and unconscious, non‐random, and organized harassment, discrimination, exploitation, discrimination, prejudice and other forms of unequal treatment that impact different groups.


Thematic unit – A unit, usually lasting several weeks, that is centered on a specific theme or topic rather than a phrase or aspect of a particular subject. The theme might be something such as “Growing Up.”


Transphobia – Fear or hatred of transgender people; transphobia is manifested in a number of ways, including violence, harassment, and discrimination. This phobia can exist in LGB and straight communities.


Xenophobia – Hatred or fear of foreigners/strangers or of their politics or culture.

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