There are a lot of discussions of what should happen in school for 10 to 14 year olds. It’s driven by a lot of factors: implementing the Common Core, increasing graduation rates, getting ready for high school, work readiness, making kids more compliant, a global economy, 21st Century Skills, Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, the demands to know and be able to use technology… And on. And on.
I’ve even seen middle level organizations get distracted by these issues, starting to be led away from their focus…
It’s not that I don’t think these goals for education are important. They are. I’m just reminded of the saying, “keep the main thing the main thing.” I don’t see these issues as the main thing, even though I think of them as goals or issues that could support the main thing.
Middle level shouldn’t be about test taking, or getting kids to put aside their cell phones or Facebook pages, or high school readiness, or work readiness. It’s not even about “hormones with feet” (although, ironically, it does seem to apply to a couple teachers I know!).
First and foremost, middle level needs to be about young adolescents: what are their characteristics and what practices are harmonious with those characteristics.
That is the “Middle” in middle level.
And the more we get away from that being our center (no pun intended), the harder it is to teach middle level students. That includes (and is perhaps especially true for) that list of important (but supporting) goals for middle level education I mentioned in the first paragraph.
You see, the irony is exactly that our believing in the importance of those goals, which has taken us away from the middle, has made it harder to achieve those goals. We can only achieve those goals with young adolescents when we put the Middle first.
So, how can we put the Middle back in middle level education?
I was part of a team that created two wonderful tools for AMLE for just that purpose. They are shared on AMLE’s website for you to use with your school and community.
Fundamental for Student Success In The Middle Grades is a self running presentation overview of the characteristics of young adolescents, an overview of national recommendations for this age group, and an introduction to some of the research on what works.
Middle Grades Education: Fundamentals and Research is a collection of 9 presentations with presenter notes on topics vital to understanding what works with 10-14 year olds.
Use these tools with your colleagues, your teaching staff, your parents, your communities, and your young people wanting to become teachers to remind us all what the main thing is in middle level education.
Let’s put the Middle back into middle level, so we can achieve all our goals.