The biggest shift in any school education program is the transition from primary school to middle school. Everything is different, from the size of the school, to more students in each class, different teachers, accessibility of teachers, implementation of lessons and communication with families. Northbridge International School Cambodia is no different.
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.
Moving on Up - The High School Years
The transition from Grade 8 to Grade 9 is another important milestone in a student’s academic journey. As they enter Grade 9 they officially start their high school years. Grade 9 and 10 are a separate phase within the MYP. At Northbridge we start to offer students more variety in their learning pathways; they learn entrepreneurship skills through the Start Up Studio and choose which Arts subjects they follow. Results from Grades 9 and 10 are included on students’ official school transcript when they graduate in Grade 12.
The Diploma Programme in Grades 11 and 12 is the culmination of students’ school careers. The DP is highly challenging and unspeakably rewarding. It’s the final stage in equipping students with the skills, knowledge and attributes they need for the next stages in life. Students are able to choose their own pathways with six subjects - three at standard level and three at higher level. Theory of Knowledge, the Extended Essay, and Creativity Activity and Service are the other three essential components students need to complete.
As students enter the DP the expectations placed upon them increase. They will need to manage their time carefully to meet the many and varied demands that they are facing. They will need to hone their study skills to meet the academic challenges of their subject courses.
It is of course also important that they remain balanced individuals and maintain interests outside of their school work. We continue with our strong pastoral support systems in school - students will have daily contact with their Advisor who is always on hand to offer guidance and support and we have a mentoring programme for students who require additional support and guidance. Our school counselor is available to support students also.
Another big decision students will face during this period is what to study at university and where to do this. Will that be in Cambodia, or somewhere abroad? Our university guidance counselor Ms Gill Presland is available to guide students through this process. For many students this process will have already begun, as their plans for university may well have influenced their DP subject choices.
As parents, we encourage you to continue to be engaged in your children’s schooling. As they gain independence, students still benefit from parental guidance and support, for example with time management, someone to talk to about what may be worrying them and someone to celebrate the successes with - they couldn’t do it without you!