Another big change is that students are now taught by several teachers, each having their own learning expectations as opposed to one core teacher. Students are rushing and moving from classes, changing for PE, or drama, music or art, learning about design for the first time, coping with schedules, stressing about making new friends, learning MYP terminology and expectations and trying to understand the IB approaches to learning (ATL). It is a tough time for students.
Teachers and parents of middle schoolers can lose sight of how difficult it can be, and if they are not aware or sensitive to this huge shift in their child’s and students’ lives, many middle schoolers will get left behind or lost. Sometimes middle school teachers focus attention on content and academics, which, while it is important, do not spend enough time using engaging strategies that will attract their learners to the content, thereby allowing for a balance during this crucial transition stage.
It can be asked why these shifts from kindergarten to primary then to secondary school are necessary. Each stage is appropriate for that age group's mental development. The primary years are about training for basic academic behaviors with teachers working daily with students to help them prepare. In middle school, inferential and critical thinking is now emphasized and decision-making abilities begin to develop. The expectation is that students are now exposed to deeper content and are taught how to communicate that content using mastery of the ATL skills.
For many, the transition to becoming a successful middle school student is a gradual one. Becoming more independent doesn’t happen automatically on the first day or first month of middle school, and students, parents, teachers and the school need to be aware of this developmental process and provide the necessary support to enable it to take place.
For students this support can include using their planner (digital or physical) to track assignments and record reminders, important dates and events. Students must become their own advocates by emailing and asking their teachers questions about assignments, clarification and expectations, as this develops self reliance and independence. It is a time to try out everything from different activities and clubs to different styles of writing, to work on who they want to be and expressing themselves in a positive way.
For parents this support can be daily check-ins with their child to ensure they remain accountable to themselves. Keeping technology visible and monitoring device time by setting time limits, having them work in a shared space and installing safe browsing on their devices. Get involved in their learning by attending school conferences and sport events as these instill a sense of belonging to the school community but remember to step away once your child has proven they can be more independent.
Teachers can help students by actively teaching study skills and time management as these are crucial to future success and well being. Being transparent with assignments and deadlines will make it easier on families which are struggling to support students as they learn independence.
Schools can support all the stakeholders involved in students' learning by providing lessons and workshops on cybersafety, social media use and abuse, cyber bullying, mental, emotional and physical health, promoting positive self image for students and strategies on how to deal with adolescent changes for parents. Start a support program that promotes equality, diversity and inclusion as a peer-mentoring program that helps students transition into middle school.
Middle school students are not smaller high schoolers and middle school is a huge shock for most students. While some may appear prepared to jump into high school, others may be looking back longingly at their familiar past primary life.