Middle school learners are qualitatively different than younger learners. Teachers and parents can significantly enhance the learning of students this age by understanding the cognitive and social characteristics of middle school learners. Using the right instructional strategies to maximize the learning advantages and address the learning challenges of middle school learners can make all the difference in their success.
Middle School Cognitive Development
By ages 12, 13, and 14, most students have begun developing the ability to understand symbolic ideas and abstract concepts. According to Piaget’s classifications, students will range in development from the concrete operational stage of development to the ability to the formal operational stage. In fact, studies show that brain growth slows down during these years, so cognitive skills of learners may expand at a slower rate; however, refinement of these skills can certainly be reinforced. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:
- Curious and willing to learn things they consider useful
- Enjoy solving “real-life” problems
- Focused on themselves and how they are perceived by their peers
- Resists adult authority and asserts independence
- Beginning to think critically
Middle School Social Development
Most middle schoolers experience conflicting values due to their changing roles within their family structure and the increasing influence of peers. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:
- Need to feel part of a peer group, consisting of boys and girls, and are influenced by peer pressure and conformity to their group
- Prefer active over passive learning activities that involve working with their peers
- Need frequent physical activity and movement
- Need adult support, guidance, and calm direction
Middle School Instructional Strategies
Middle school students are very concerned about the labeling that takes place, when one is identified as a remedial reader. Labels and stereotypes are both externally imposed (by other students and, sometimes their parents) and internally imposed (by the students themselves). Lack of reading ability causes more self-defeating damage to students’ self-esteem as students grow older and the academic gap between themselves and good readers widens. Middle school teachers need to be extremely mindful of student self-perceptions and those of their peers. A few talking points to address with middle schoolers may prove helpful:
- “All students need help in some areas.”
- “This class is not for dumb students; it’s for students who just missed out on some reading skills.”
- “Unfortunately, some of your past reading instruction was poor; it’s not your fault that you have some skills to work on.” a.k.a. “blame someone else”
- “You will learn in this class. If you come to class willing to try everyday, you will significantly improve your reading, I promise.”
- “You will be able to chart your own progress and see what you are learning in this class.”
- “You aren’t in this class forever. As soon as you master your missing skills, you are out.”
Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.
Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.
Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.