Middle School is Different

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This was something I wrote for one of the classes in my Education masters program, for a class dealing with middle school education. It was a response to an article on I-Searches, a form of paper in which students consistently analyze their search process, and there were references to a book on the middle school movement.

I was unaware of the history of the Middle School as something independent from elementary school and high school. It provides more understanding on policies that affect students and teachers. For example, I’m going for a 7-12 certification which fits the Junior High model but not the 6-8 Middle School model that’s been the norm since before I was born. It might be difficult to find a better example of bureaucratic sclerosis.

From my own experiences, I can certainly agree with Lounsbury’s conclusion that middle schools aren’t the best way to teach students in an important age group. I was already aware of the implications of this particular cognitive stage of the students, although I hadn’t considered the moral aspects of reaching students at this particular point in their development.

Lounsbury’s piece suggests the flaws in the standard practice, but doesn’t provide an alternative, aside from the implication that it’s better when schools are free to experiment. This raises a lot of questions, as there are incentives for a degree of homogeneity. Students and teachers move, and high schools often consist of students from multiple middle schools, so some standards may be necessary so that high school freshmen would have similar levels of background knowledge.

The course text provides more concrete solutions. The emphasis on exploration is welcome, since this is a time when students learn how to do independent research. I think it would be excellent to have this as an important part of the process. Part of the book might be a response to other attitudes so prevalent that they don’t require any kind of explanation or justification in a document meant for educators, but flexibility isn’t the only priority. There are some things all students should learn, suggesting a time and place for assessments.

I remember doing I-searches in Middle School, although some of the specifics differed. I don’t know if my I-searches were split into the four sections mentioned in the piece. The thing I notice immediately is that it serves many purposes. It allows students a chance to explore topics that are of interest to them, but also helps prepare them for the essays they’ll need to write in High School, and maybe college.

Grading is a little bit different for these, but in a sensible way. I thought of describing it as less rigorous, since students get credit for research, even if there are no significant results. But it’s not entirely accurate to say that it’s easier, since the students still have to do a fair amount of writing and explaining. Whereas high school papers typically require students finding something about their subject, the purpose here is to teach students how to research, so allowing them an opportunity to explain why they weren’t able to learn specific information is still useful. It prepares them for high school with slightly less pressure to get results. Frustrations and setbacks can be educational, and it’s a good way to teach students that.

There are many variations of the I-chart, which makes it a versatile tool for Middle School Literacy teachers. I’m sure I’d do quite a few of these as teacher. If I had to search information about Middle School level teaching for an I-Search, it would be the pros and cons of teaching as a moral enterprise, and how to handle the so-called grey areas.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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