Sunday, March 11, 2007

Middle School at it's end?

Middle school has long been under attack. However, I feel the attack may be getting ever stronger. Recently Michigan has made some major changes in terms of High School graduation requirements. This has impacted high schools in numerous ways. One of the ways that this is being interpreted by District level personnel as having some dramatic effects on middle school. Here's how the logic goes:
- kids will have fewer opportunities for gaining elective credit.
- Michigan now allows students to earn High School credit while in Middle School.
- let's teach high school courses in middle school, give the students credit for high school while in middle school and every one is happy.

Well, maybe not everyone. There is a reason for middle school. Middle school has some very important concepts that deal with physical, emotional and psychological development of adolescents. However, few people really understand middle school and middle school kids.

Is middle school going to revert to junior high? It's far too early to tell, however, it is obvious that middle school has been and continues to be under attack. We'll keep fighting for what is right for the students. We believe in the middle school beliefs.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

What's in a name?

What's in a name? Well, we've talked about just that. After a great deal of discussion, we're changing the name to........Middle School Matters. We really like the double meaning contained within the name.

Any comments?

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Middle School Reform vs High School Reform

I've had many questions lately revolving around the very question of what is middle school? For some people, middle school is a schedule. In fact, for some people, middle school means teachers having an "extra" prep. That's it. Anyone who really knows middle school knows that middle school is much, much more. In future posts, we'll talk much more about the seminal research documents and the underlying concepts of middle school. What is really interesting to me about the question right now is the high school reform that is happening.
Let's face it, middle school is under attack in many places. I've seen many places espousing the abolition of middle school because it "doesn't work". Never mind that most places are truly doing middle school. Never mind that the underlying concepts haven't been implemented. Just say that it doesn't work.

So in short, what are the basics of middle school:
  1. Based upon the developmental needs (social and academic) of young adolescents.
  2. Organized into interdisciplinary teams.
  3. Flexible organizational structures.
  4. Advisory programs to address the needs of students.
  5. Exploratory opportunities
  6. Positive adult and peer relationships are developed.
  7. Engage the family and the community with the education of the middle school students.
  8. Connect schools with the community.
Anyway, the latest high school reform measures advocate many of the ideas, concepts and beliefs of middle school. However, since it being called high school reform, it is, of course, totally different. Here are the Breaking Ranks High School recommendations:
The overall goal of the Breaking Ranks Model of High School Reform is to help high schools improve learning opportunities and achievement results for all students. The model has been designed to assist high schools in achieving the following objectives:
  1. Ensure that all students have access to rigorous, standards-based, real-world instruction
  2. Restructure the high school into small, personalized learning communities
  3. Develop staff capacity to systematically use data for purposes of equity, accountability, and instructional improvement
  4. Implement collaborative leadership strategies that engage staff, students,parents, and the broader community in supporting school and student success
OK, lets take a look at these. #1 speaks to rigor and relevance. Certainly these are important pieces of middle school. Rigor has probably not been implemented as well as it should be. However, it is certainly part of the middle school model. Real world instruction and connection is a huge part of middle school.
#2 - Um, this is one of the major tenets of middle school. The whole idea of teaming, and connecting with kids is one of the major cornerstones of middle school.
#3 - Certainly this is good instruction and important in education. Not specifically a tenet of the middle school concept, but
important in middle school and school of all levels.
#4 - Engaging parents, students and the community. Again, another major tenet of middle school.

How about some suggestions from the Executive Summary:

1. Core Knowledge: Establish the essential learnings a student is required to learn in order to graduate, and adjust the curriculum and teaching strategies to realize that goal
2. Connections with Students: Increase the quantity and improve the quality of interactions between students, teachers, and other school personnel by reducing the number of students for which any adult or group of adults is responsible
3. Personalized Planning: Implement a comprehensive advisory program that ensures each student has frequent and meaningful opportunities to plan and assess his or her academic and social progress with a faculty member
4. Adapting to Differences: Ensure teachers use a variety of instructional strategies and assessments to accommodate individual learning styles
5. Flexible Use of Time: Implement schedules flexible enough to accommodate teaching strategies consistent with the ways students learn most effectively and that allow for effective teacher teaming and lesson planning
6. Distributed Leadership: Institute structural leadership changes that allow for meaningful involvement in decision making by students, teachers, family members, and the community and that support effective communication with these groups
7. Continuous Professional Development: Align comprehensive, ongoing professional development program and individual Personal Learning Plans of staff members with the content knowledge and instructional strategies required to prepare students for graduation.

Again, let's take a look at this.
  1. Core knowledge. Important in middle school.
  2. Connections with students. A major tenet of middle school.
  3. Comprehensive advisory program. A major tenet of middle school.
  4. Differentiation. A major tenet of middle school.
  5. Flexible use of time. A major tenet of middle school.
  6. Distributed leadership. In middle school, teachers, parents and students should have a voice in decision making.
  7. Continuous Professional Development. See #6.
No matter how I look at it, High School reform sure sounds a whole lot like middle school reform. This is not to say that middle school has been perfectly implemented. This is not to say that middle school research is all inclusive. It does, however, point out how important and vital that the middle school concept is.


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Convention Reflection

One of my favorite conversations from the Ohio Middle School Association conference was with a teacher who was at this conference for the first time. He and I discussed many issues related to middle school, but part that struck me the most was his comment on how much stopping and reflecting on middle school education and our own practice was something that should be done more often. Many teachers on the survey reported that they don't talk to teachers in other buildings except at conferences such as this.

One of the sessions that tickled my interest was a presentation on incorporating Turning Points and This We Believe into a limited budget. Two creative approaches centered around planned assemblies where the school aides and paraprofessional personnel were in the assembly with the kids and the teams were in their team rooms planning. The second approach was to petition the state for "waivers". This retired principal had exercised a clause in the school code that allowed districts to waive instructional time for cause. He organized four of these days, two per semester and that gave the teams two whole days a semester to plan ahead and organize their curriculum. Rather than just giving the students a "day off," he brought in community groups like the YMCA to organize activities and events during the day in the building.

Another school used teaming to improve discipline. Their teams created a team discipline plan under the supervision of the Assistant Principal which incorporated a check system. Each student gets a discipline card. Each team rule infraction earned a graduation in discipline starting with warnings and increasing to referrals to the Assistant Principal and Team discipline interventions. They found their Assistant Principal had more time for doing other AP things and less of his time was spent on student discipline. Their teams have daily team meetings.

Lastly, a few quotes from the two days. Betty Hollas spoke on collegiality of staff being second only to curriculum as the most important factor in student achievement.
"Negative attitudes are like passive smoke, it'll slowly kill ya."
"Sign seen in Alaska: Pick your ruts carefully. You will be in them for the next 8 months.
"You can catch an emotion like you can catch a cold."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Middle School vs Junior High

Earlier, we posted a link from a site that used Middle School and Junior High interchangeably. (I'm sure that this is a topic that we'll explore from time to time). It brings up the debate about what Middle School really is. Unfortunately, many people really don't understand what middle school is. Even people who claim to know, people who have been around a "middle school" for years may not really understand what it is. I personally have talked to several teachers who have been teaching at a "middle school" for many years, yet even they don't understand what it really is. For parents, the difference between middle school and junior high is even tougher. After listening to some parents the other day, here is what they perceive the difference to be: (ready?) Middle school starts in 6th grade, Junior High starts in 7th. Seriously. How badly have we communicated what middle school is when that's what parents take away from the conversation?

In another discussion, several teachers (all of whom who reported teaching at a middle school) essentially stated that the difference was that they get two prep periods.

What's your take?

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Monday, February 26, 2007


Assessment is currently a hot topic. Several issues came up in our discussion. I'll go into more depth in future posts, but a couple of things really stand out for me.
  • I wasn't trained very much in "teacher school" about giving good assessments. Even more so, I wasn't really schooled in what to do with the information. I've done a lot of reading and researching to learn more.
  • The question of preparing students for High school seems to come up quite a bit. One of the ways that this is expressed is in assessment. One example, "should we have timed tests" because in high school, they have to be prepared for timed tests. A great question that gets at what underlies much of middle school.
  • Assessment lead to the big bugaboo of grades. What do grades mean? For whom? Do students really "earn" them? Do they truly reflect learning? What are grades composed of?
We'll take more about assessments as we go on.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Links to Sites of Interest

Whilst we are busily working on putting together the podcast, we thought that it might be a good idea to gather together some resources for everyone to use. (We may be looking to some of these sites for ideas, news, comments, etc. You may want to check out some of these sites on your own.)

For our first site, we'll take a look at an interesting site from a Reflective Teacher. This blogger is in his second year of blogging. He blogs regularly (a challenge for all of us). He blogs anonymously so that he can protect the identity of the students and such. This allows him much more freedom. We've chosen to put our real, actual names onto the blog. Both methods have advantages. Please know that our blog and podcasts are to express our personal opinions and not those of our employers.

Anyway, the reflective teacher site contains lesson plans and lots of interesting ideas. This blogger is a fascinating read.
From the Friday Haiku , to the Day in a Sentence, it is a good read. The last Friday Haiku posted is
"Finally a day
Where collaboration and
hope met side-by-side."

Definitely worth a read.