Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

MiddleWeb Smartbriefs – Tips for the New School Year and More

August 10, 2013

Do you know about If not you should!
MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades with a sharp focus on teaching and learning in grades 4-8. Here’s a description from their website.

• Resource Roundups: short, link-laden essays built around a theme. Browse here or search for keywords.

• Guest Posts: Just what you might expect…first-person articles.  The voices of middle grades education stars and many lesser known teachers and school leaders up on the front lines who have stories to tell and good practice to share.

• Book Reviews: Reviews of professional books of interest to educators working in the middle. If you’re interested in becoming a MiddleWeb reviewer, let us know. We’ll share a list of what’s available and some basic guidelines for review writing. You pick what you’d like to read, write the review, keep the book. We publish your reviews, make you famous.

• Interviews: We’re talking with interesting people who have expertise around middle grades education — or just do great things for middle grades kids and schools. Peruse our Five Q Interviews for ideas, insights, and plain good chat.

Middleweb SmartBrief

As part of the new MiddleWeb experience, we’ve formed a partnership with the SmartBrief Education news team to produce the twice-weekly MiddleWeb SmartBrief e-newsletter. You may be familiar with the nation’s premier professional newsletter organization, which also publishes ASCD SmartBrief, Accomplished Teacher SmartBrief, SmartBrief on Ed Tech and other education reports.

MiddleWeb SmartBrief specializes in Grades 4-8 news and resources. We work with SmartBrief editors to shape the content and also contribute our own news and resources to every issue. Subscriptions are free, your address is kept confidential, and you can unsubscribe anytime with a single click.

Here’s some of the latest items from the MiddleWeb Smartbriefs.

Tips on preparing for a good school year
Educator and author Julia Thompson in this blog post offers a laundry list of ideas to prepare for the first day of school and set the tone for the rest of the school year such as planning lessons to engage students’ readiness and planning an icebreaker to help students get to know each other. “Teach your first lesson as if it is the most important one you will teach all year. In many ways, it is,” she writes. Education Week Teacher/Classroom Q&A blog

How teachers can avoid decision-making fatigue and remain productive
Teachers can make as many as 5,000 decisions in a school day, leading to what award-winning educator Brian Page calls “decision fatigue.” In this blog post, Page offers five tips to help connected teachers and administrators remain productive, including doing creative work first, setting an automated e-mail response that lists a later time when a response can be expected, along with scheduling time for social media. He also suggests making the most of downtime and completing one task at a time. SmartBrief/SmartBlog on Education

“A gift to preservice and practicing teachers that will be hard to keep on the shelf” (Teachers College Record). 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know is a comprehensive guide to teaching any genre or form in grades 3-9. You’ll get a rich collection of mentor texts, tips, and launching points. Preview Chapter 1: Getting and Keeping Writers Motivated.

So check out


Middle Schools CAN Impact High School Dropout Rates!

November 29, 2012

Robert Balfanz from the Everyone Graduates Center and Talent Development Middle Grades Program at Johns Hopkins University and the National Middle School Association (now the Association for Middle Level Education) published a policy and practice brief entitled Putting Middle Grades Students on the Graduation Path. You can download the entire document at Policy_Brief_Balfanz.pdf

Frontline recently did a segment on a school in the Bronx that has implemented the practices outlined in the Balfanz document.  The video can be watched at

The video focuses on the importance of adult advocates and an intervention plan  for every child that exhibits the early warning signs of dropping out of high school:

  • Poor attendance
  • Failure in either 6th grade math or language arts
  • Low grades in classroom behavior

There is also a discussion guide available on the website.

Although the video is about an inner city middle school, its ideas are certainly applicable to rural states like Maine that have their fair share of students living in difficult situations.  I can see this video being used in faculty, parent & community, and school board meetings–anywhere we want to help folks understand the importance of funding advocacy, guidance, and wellness programs. And more importantly…to build a will to act in ways that help these kids see that they have choices and that there are adults who believe in them,

Okay or Not Okay? Your Thoughts Please!

November 15, 2012

In September we asked Bright Futures readers whether they had read three documents with major implications for middle level education in Maine and beyond. We’re interested in hearing your thoughts about the results. To paraphrase our colleague Jill Spencer, What in the data confirmed your thoughts?  What was interesting? What was surprising? What was disturbing?

Question #1 – “How recently have you read This We Believe?  This is the most widely read description and prescription of what constitutes effective middle programs and practices based on over 3000 research studies over 30 years published by AMLE. Thoughts?

Question #2 –  “How recently have you read “Bright Futures”, the report of Maine’s Commission on Middle Level Education? The Commission. This report lays out the state of middle level education in Maine along with recommendations to the Maine Department of Education and the field for educating all of Maine’s 10 to 15 year olds. Thoughts?

Question #3 – Have you read Education Evolving: Maine’s Plan for Putting Learners First” released in 2012.  It sets out objectives and action steps for building an education system in Maine that meets the needs of all learners. At its core is the middle level belief in developmentally appropriate, student centered teaching and learning. For more information and a PDF of the Key Document visit the MDOE website. Thoughts?

So what are your thoughts???

2012 Nobel Prize

October 21, 2012

Tapping into what each person has to offer – finding the spark

Sir John P. Gurdon

Recently 79 year old Sir John B. Gurdon from England was awarded one of the two 2012 Nobel Prize’s for Physiology of Medicine. The discoveries that he and his 50 year old colleague Shinya Yamanakas from Japan have been researching in cellular development and regeneration has led to “major advances in medical research and the study of diseases.”

The Nobel Assembly which is made up of 50 professors at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden made the determination based on the work that Gurdon and Yamanakas jointly discovered of  “mature, specialised cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body”.

To me that sounds like these men were at the top of their game, making ground breaking discoveries, doing the best work possible, making a difference in the world, and working towards a common goal. The interesting part of this story is that when Gurdon was in secondary school the science master at his school concluded:

I believe [Gurdon] has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous; if he can’t learn simple biological facts, he would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who would have to teach him.

He ranked last in his biology class. Hmmmmm! How could this be? As a veteran middle school educator I know there are a variety of reasons how this could happen and I like to believe that this could never happen in our schools today!

Being aware of information and digging into the research available, collaborating with colleagues to create a learning environment where all kids have the opportunity to find their passion and learn in a creative integrative environment, recognizing the differences in students, continuously shifting towards meeting the needs of young adolescents in this 21st century environment are some of the keys that will help students achieve at the highest level possible! It is not an easy task today to be an educator but a necessary one that we can do together! Who knows what middle level classroom the next Nobel Prize winner is sitting in!

Inquiring Minds Want to Know…Have you Read These Three Key Documents?

September 14, 2012

How about a monthly poll of Bright Futures readers? While we’re at it let’s share some online resources, three key documents and a free online quiz/polling tool,

To what degree are  brightfutures4me readers familiar with these three key documents relating to our work with young adolescents?

Here’s how to access the poll. It’s short, only four quick questions.

Start by going to You can access this online tool on any laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

The room number is “chris”

Respond to the questions as they appear.

The poll will be open for the next 2 weeks and then we’ll share the results on the Bright Futures blog.

Here’s the links to these three key documents.

The most recent edition of AMLE’s “This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents” was published in 2010. Research and cumulative, empirical evidence have confirmed that implementing the practices described in This We Believe leads to higher levels of student achievement. For more information about this key document visit AMLE’s website.

Another important document released in 2012 is “Education Evolving: Maine’s Plan for Putting Learners First”. It sets out objectives and action steps for building an education system in Maine that meets the needs of all learners. At its core is something middle level educators have always advocated, developmentally appropriate, student centered teaching and learning! There’s a lot in Education Evolving that reflects what is best for our students. For more information and a PDF of the Key Document visit the MDOE website.

And of course, we can’t forget Maine’s own Bright Futures! The Commission on Middle Level Education, under the leadership of Mary Callan and Ed Brazee, created the report on the current state of middle level education. IT contains recommendations to the Maine Department of Education about what’s best for educating all of Maine’s 10 to 15 year olds. To download a PDF of the 2009 report and a descriptive poster visit the MDOE website.

Mass Customized Learning in a Grad Course

February 3, 2012

This is a post from Mary Callan, member of the Bright Futures Partnership

Cover of Inevitable: mass customized learning by Bea McGarvey and Chuck Schwahn

I am currently teaching a graduate course for Thomas College called Trends in Instruction.  Over the past three years, I have really enjoyed exploring researched-based instructional strategies with the dedicated teachers who are working hard to make a difference in their classrooms.  Each time I teach the course, I use a current educational trend as a focal point to get the class thinking about what it really means to be “researched-based”.  This trimester, I decided to focus on Mass Customized Learning as this seemed to be the latest trend our teachers are being asked to explore and/or implement.

As it turns out, most of the students in my course are currently teaching in districts that have embraced this trend and are well on the way towards implementation.  And their stories are so telling!

To a teacher, each of these educators are supportive of the concept of individualized learning.  To a teacher, they experienced some level of excitement and/or optimism in the early stages of exploration.  And to a teacher, they are becoming disillusioned, confused, and even angry about how this latest trend is being implemented in their systems.

So… we spent a good part of a class recently exploring why the change?  What is not working with an innovation that teachers, for the most part, wholly embrace and support?  And the conclusion is that the implementation does not reflect the same principles of  individualized learning that is at the heart of mass customized learning.  Teachers are being told how and when they must implement this way of teaching (and, by the way, they are not entirely clear on the what… so that makes the how and when a bit difficult to accept)… There do not appear to be multiple paths and timeframes for getting there (wherever “there” is).  Some of my students have been early adopters and are really feeling that their insights are not being solicited and heard.

So, perhaps there is some learning here for those who are hoping that this latest trend, and by all accounts a very worthy one, can be successfully implemented… by following the same principles set forth for students… each teacher (and administrator) establishes  a 60 day plan that provides goals and activities that would move them towards implementing mass customized learning.  Each would have a mentor that would serve as a cheerleader and provide feedback and resources.  The plan would be shaped by the teacher (or administrator) and evidence would be collected to show progress and growth.  There would be systems, structures and practices identified to support the plan. Accountability would be individualized and meaningful to the teachers and administrators who, are, after all, learners, too!

For more information on mass customized learning….

Will it come to this…watching Maine on YouTube?

November 21, 2011

PLAY AGAIN…what are the consequences of a childhood removed from nature?

An award-winning documentary film by Ground Productions.

“One generation from now most people in the U.S. will have spent more time in the virtual world than in nature.”

Several years ago, we hosted a group of New York City teenagers at our camp in the Maine woods. Not more than 15 minutes after the kids arrived, I realized that none of them were on, in, or anywhere near the lake on a gorgeous July day. Following a muffled bass beat to the back corner of one small bedroom, I found all 14 of them surrounding our only media in those days…a small boom box. That weekend, I learned a lot about city kids who had not spent much time in nature—kids tumbling out of kayaks into the water, others afraid to even get near the water, several girls staggering around in high heels (at camp!), and my all-time favorite…the young man who wanted to sleep outside but had never heard of dew. Dew!

But it isn’t just city kids who spend 90% of their time indoors—as this generation does. Yes, even Maine kids. There is serious concern about the lack of connection with nature and the outdoors from authors like Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder and many others. That is why the message in this film is so powerful, especially through the voices of these teens.

‘This documentary follows six teenagers who typically spend five to fifteen hours a day behind screens. PLAY AGAIN unplugs these teens and takes them on their first wilderness adventure—no electricity, no cell phone coverage, no virtual reality. Through the voices of children and leading experts including journalist Richard Louv, sociologist Juliet Schor, environmental writer Bill McKibben…and many other educators and scientists, PLAY AGAIN investigates the consequences of a childhood removed from nature and encourages action for a sustainable future.”

The good news is that due to a generous grant, free Study Guides, PLAY AGAIN DVDs and Educational Screening Licenses are available to public schools in Maine. (Did I mention they are FREE?) To obtain your free DVD and Study Guide follow this link.

Much more information about PLAY AGAIN is available on its Website.

One final comment is necessary. My endorsement of this resource in no way is a slam against technology. (I love my iPhone, my computer, and my iPad!) We need balance in all aspects of our lives and I believe that we need to teach our children explicitly about nature and the out-of-doors, just as we use and promote technology and media in every aspect of our lives.

Take advantage of this excellent resource…and let us know how you use it in your school community.

80 Million Children

November 16, 2011

Peter Benson on TEDx – Sparks: How Youth Thrive

There are 80 million children in the United States. Peter Benson, in this TEDx, talks about what we know about human development and what we hope for our kids. He asks many questions that will most likely provoke thinking and questions about what we do in education.

He asks students these questions: what is your spark? What gives you joy and energy? What gives you hope? Benson and his research center, Search Institute, have done studies during the last 10 with middle and high school kids around the country. He and his researchers have identified 220 “sparks”. The largest category that Benson found most kids say where their sparks fall is creative life. This is where most kids say “I’m my best self”.

This TEDx is an absolute must to watch, think about, share and discuss with your colleagues….

Is it Time for a Team Tune-up?

September 23, 2011

OK…  I LOVE teams!

I love to work with teams, observe teams, learn from and with teams, and I love to BE on teams.  I LEARN from both functional and dysfunctional teams, but, of course, I like to LIVE on high performance teams.

High performance teams take work.  The fall is a good time to do a team check-up.  It can put you on the right track for the rest of the year.  If you take the time to gather some baseline data early on in the year, you can compare your team’s level of functioning (and hopefully growth) at least yearly.

Here is a site with quick tools to help you determine your team’s effectiveness. There are many resources here for leadership and team development.

If you would like a copy of my favorite “Team Yardstick” tool, contact me at judye29@aol and I will email you a copy.

One thing is certain, there are almost always surprises with the results gathered from any team evaluation tool.  All data is good data!

The New Normal?

September 10, 2011

An online discussion caught my eye the other day…parents asking questions about the differences between junior high schools and middle schools, why some other schools were identified as intermediate schools, and what the philosophical differences might be for these various schools for young adolescents.

All good questions but it made me wonder if we have lost our bearings in the last few years. Why is it that we still have people who do not understand the goals, functions, and responsive programs of middle level schools…whatever the grade configuration and the name over the door? (We’ll save the grade configuration discussion for another day!)

For 25 years, Maine has had a national reputation as a “strong” middle level state. That is, a state with a focus on young adolescents in middle level schools and appropriate schools for them. While we are still without a separate middle level teaching certification (still another discussion for this blog), Maine has pioneered some of the best work in partner teams, integrative curriculum, literacy programs, and, of course, technology and learning through MLTI.

MAMLE, the Middle Level Education Institute, graduate programs in middle level education, the Bright Futures report, and best of all, the commitment of thousands of teachers in Maine’s middle level schools over the last 25 years have focused on the needs of young adolescents. But somewhere, some time that focus shifted to the standards movement, common assessments, NCLB, teacher accountability and many, many more initiatives. Where in all of this is the focus on young adolescents and what we know makes a difference in how they are engaged and how they learn?

I’m suggesting something very simple…that every middle level school in Maine return to several key documents to read or re-read and consider the key concepts and recommendations from the following resources.

Do you need to re-calibrate your middle level compass?

This post was written by Ed Brazee, a new member of the Bright Futures Partnership.

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