Sunday, October 9, 2016

Here's How Schools Can Soften The Blow Of Sixth Grade : NPR Ed : NPR

Here's How Schools Can Soften The Blow Of Sixth Grade : NPR Ed : NPR:

Here's How Schools Can Soften The Blow Of Sixth Grade

Middle school is a particularly stressful time for young adolescents.

Middle school is tough. Bodies change. Hormones rage. Algebra becomes a reality. But there are things schools can do to make life easier for students — like this big study we wrote about showing that K-8 schools my be better for kids than traditional middle schools.
But aside from re-configuring an entire school system, are there other ways to make the sixth-grade experience better?
To answer that question, I called up Dru Tomlin, a director at the Association for Middle Level Education — an organization that's been researching best practices for middle grade students for decades. Tomlin knows middle school: He's been a middle school teacher, an administrator, and he's the parent of a seventh-grade student.
Dru Tomlin, Ph.D. Director of Middle Level Services Association for Middle Level Education.
Illustration by Lara Tomlin/Courtesy of Dru Tomlin
What do you think about the idea of K-8 schools as opposed to the traditional 6-8 middle school set up?
Our research shows that when the school is made to feel smaller, that's when young adolescents flourish more. With a K-8 school you have potentially more students in the school because you have all the way from 5-year-olds to 13- and 14-year-olds.
An effective middle school, or middle grades, program needs to go beyond the grade configuration change. You can change the grade configuration of a school all day long. But you can also do some other things, and should do some things, that are developmentally responsive to young adolescents.
Of course safety and security is paramount, so we want students to not feel like they're going to be bullied or picked on or harassed in a school setting. But if you just change it to a K-8 school from a 6-8 school it doesn't guarantee that there is going to be less bullying and less transition issues for kids. There need to be other characteristics in place.
So how can we design middle schools to make the sixth-grade experience better?
It starts with identifying what their unique characteristics are. Identifying that they are trying to achieve not just academically or cognitively, but they're achieving and really working on social, emotional, behavioral, psychological, ethical — all that stuff at one time in a rapid way. So, we start with that understanding, plus a shared vision of what type of programs and what type of people we need to have in our buildings to serve those kids, that's where it really begins.
Without a common language, a common understanding and a common passion, then it's really not going to work as well as it should. It might function, but it won't help them flourish.
You talk about keeping schools small — what does that look like?
There are a couple of different structures that a middle grades program can put into place to make the learning community smaller. One of those key structures is called interdisciplinary teaming. It has both an academic focus as well as a social and Here's How Schools Can Soften The Blow Of Sixth Grade : NPR Ed : NPR: