TEACHING MATTERS Newsletter -- March 27, 2012 -- Special Middle Grades Edition


Spotlight on Middle Grades Education

March 27, 2012  |  Sign up to receive Teaching Matters

girl at her locker

Made for Middle School: You Gotta Have Heart

"Middle school is not for the faint of heart," according to Delia Davis-Dyke, the principal at Kramer Middle School. In this blog, Teaching Ambassador Fellow Geneviève DeBose shares Ms. Davis-Dyke's journey to the middle grades and her perspective on leading a middle level school.

Building a Grad Nation

One in four public school children drop out before they finish high school. That’s 1.3 million students a year — one every 26 seconds, 7,000 every school day. In 2010, America’s Promise Alliance launched its most ambitious campaign ever — Grad Nation — to end the high school dropout crisis and prepare young people for college and the 21st century workforce. Read the Executive Summary of the Building a Grad Nation report to find out what middle schools can do to end the dropout crisis.

Technology Personalized Learning?

Middle grades teachers know that building relationships with students is key. In an age where technology is often seen as a panacea, Susan Sandler argues in this Education Week blog that while technology can be used to individualize learning, it can’t replace human relationships and the importance of students working with an adult who cares about them.
kids on laptops

students sitting on steps

Middle School Kids Say the Darndest Things

5. Strategy for cozying up to crushes: “I will start sitting nearer to them at lunch. First day, same table. Next day, same row. Next day, next to them.”
4. On unrequited love: “It’s not a good situation for anybody, because I hate feeling mean, but I have to. I can’t do it in a nice way, because no matter what I do I’m still rejecting them, and that’s gonna be taken against me.”
3. Reflecting on the empathetic reaction of peers to a common embarrassing moment: “When I had my braces, I sort of drooled because they were really big. There were a lot of other people who had braces, so they could understand my problem. They saw what I was going through, so they didn’t really bug me about it.”
2. After visiting the U.S. Department of Education: “I never realized how hard it is to reform education.”
1. On a favorite teacher: “She’s not just a teacher; she’s like a real person.”

Ode to the Middle School Teacher

A long day of teaching more than a hundred 12- and 13-year-olds inspired Marilyn Rhames to compose this homage to the middle school teacher.

I'm told that there's a special place in Heaven
for middle school teachers.
I'm in no hurry to find out,
but I hope it's true.

Middle Grades Matter

The general public, other educators, and even parents of young adolescents are often shocked to hear that anyone would want to teach this age group. And who can blame them for being skeptical? Middle level educators and Teaching Ambassador Fellows Kareen Borders and Geneviève DeBose share themes that emerged from their conversations with educators about what middle grades students need most. Read more
Middle school students in Orlando

Project RESPECT in the News - ED Launches New RESPECT Website!

  • All across the country, teachers are talking with the U.S. Department of Education about how they envision a renewed and transformed teaching profession in the 21st Century. ED announced the launch of a National Conversation about Transforming the Teaching Profession website. The site is designed for educators who are interested in participating in the National Conversation About the Teaching Profession and giving ED their feedback to inform future policy and programs, including a possible competition to transform teaching, called The RESPECT Project. This page also includes the latest news updates about the National Conversation and the RESPECT Project.
  • Teachers from Salinas High School in California joined Teaching Ambassador Fellow Juan Govea to provide their perspective on the RESPECT vision and share their ideas on compensation, community support, and teacher training. Read the Monterey County Herald article.
  • In a roundtable discussion at the Department of Education, 22 of Maryland's 2012 Teachers of the Year discussed ways to evaluate teachers and develop under-performing teachers and suggested ideas such as a media campaign to elevate teaching. Read the full article.
  • Read about what rural teachers discussed with ED at a Conversation about Teaching and RESPECT in Kearney, Nebraska, hosted by Teaching Ambassador Bruce Wellman.

Fellow Genevieve DeBose
Ask Ms. DeBose

About Teaching the Middle Grades

Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow Geneviève DeBose answers teachers' burning questions about middle grades education.

TEACHER QUESTION (TQ):  Why are educators using the term middle grades or middle level instead of middle school?  What’s the difference?
MS. DEBOSE:  When I was a kid, I went to John Burroughs Junior High School in Los Angeles. Today that school is called John Burroughs Middle School. When I attended, it included grades 7, 8, and 9. Today John Burroughs serves students in grades 6 through 8. Why all the changes? Because students in the middle grades today attend many different types of schools, the term “middle school” doesn’t always fit. Some are in schools that serve grades 6-8, others are in K-8 schools, while additional students may be in a school setting that serves only grades 7 and 8 or K through 12.  While their school structures may be different our young adolescents experience similar changes and challenges.

Teachers' Notes

  • Listen to the middle school edition of NPR's “This American Life,” recounting “stories from the awkward, confusing, hormonally charged world of middle school including... reports from the frontlines of the middle school dance."
  • Through games, stories, polls and other interactivity, the PBS Kids - It's My Life website helps middle school aged children explore the social, emotional, and physical issues (includes a Spanish version of selected content and a special area for parents and educators).
  • Listen to the radio report Scaling Up Solutions to the Dropout Problem about the difficult and focused work needed to help all middle level students enter high school ready to enter college and career. The report highlights Robert Balfanz’s Diplomas Now program, which won a $30 million Investing in Innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
  • What does it mean to be a prepared middle level educator? The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) requests commentary and recommendations regarding the third draft of the AMLE/National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education Middle Level Teacher Preparation Standards. These are initial level standards that will be used for review of undergraduate middle level teacher preparation programs and graduate programs that lead to initial certification/licensure. They will go into effect in 2013. Share your thoughts on them here.
  • School officials can now track FAFSA submission and completion statistics at individual schools on the Department’s FAFSA Completion web site

Middle Grades by the Numbers

number 3
Number of states that require middle level teachers to earn at least two content-area minors and pass a subject-matter content assessment (Arkansas, Georgia, and Pennsylvania). National Council on Teacher Quality 2011 State Teacher Policy Yearbook
number 16
Number of keys for educating young adolescents as outlined in the Association for Middle Level Education’s This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents.
number 287
Number of middle level schools across the nation that have been designated as Schools to Watch by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform.

Competitions, Awards, and Seminars

  • On Feb 1, 2012, the Department of Education launched the National Education Startup Challenge asking students to develop innovative, real world solutions to improve education. Students from across the country are invited to submit a business plan and a video pitch for a for-profit or non-profit startup that includes an innovative strategy, product or service designed to address one of four topics, including middle school matters.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recently announced its annual institutes for educators this summer. For more information, go to the NARA website.
  • Why Open Education Matters Video Competition will award cash prizes of up to $25,000 for the best short videos that explain the use and promise of free, high-quality open educational resources and describe the opportunities these materials create for students, teachers, and schools. 
  • The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, given by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, are the highest recognition a K-12 teacher of math or science can receive. Each state's 2 winners will receive $10,000 from the NSF and a trip for two to Washington, D.C. a for celebratory and professional development events. The deadline to nominate is April 1st. All applications must be submitted by May 1st.

Middle School Humor

Check out the excerpt from the section “What is a Tween?” in Heather Wolpert-Gawron's new book, Tween Crayons and Curfew: Tips for Middle School Teachers, released this month.

Let’s do a little analogy. Please think about the stages of metamorphosis when answering.
Elementary students are to caterpillars as high school students are to butterflies. Therefore, high school students are to butterflies as middle school students are to ______________.
Answer: Howler monkeys. That’s right. Somewhere between caterpillars and butterflies, the human child becomes an entirely different species.
cartoon howler monkey

teacher and student

Teaching Literature: Reading Fiction Whole

As teachers, we know there are countless ways to read a novel with our students. Seventh grade English teacher Ariel Sacks believes that “literary fiction is an art that seeks to create an immersive experience for the reader” and that novels should be read in their entirety. In this ED Week blog, she offers practical advice for teachers to help students read fiction whole and authentically interact with literary works. Ariel shares applicable advice from one middle level educator to another.

Top 5 Middle School Teacher Quotes

Wisdom from teachers heard by ED

5. “Middle school teachers must have a sense of humor and know that when the students are least lovable----that is when they need love the most." (Middle level teacher, Wash.)

4. On the importance of including arts, physical education, and academics: “If we want rigor, then we must support the whole child.” (Middle grades teacher, Portland, Ore.)

teacher with arm around student
3. "Interventions need to be in place for students to be successful, and teachers do need to have a personality and make school a 'fun' place to be. Middle school is a breaking point for kids, and that is where we need to catch them and turn them back around." (Mandy on the ED blog)

2. “It is at this point [the middle grades] that they need to be able to explore pathways and careers. There must be a wide range of choices, and students must be supported in their exploration. I hate the notion that failure is not an option. This is the time when students should be allowed to try and fail. Failure is only a failure if learning and growth does not occur as a result.” (Middle grades teacher, Wash.)

1. Recommending that educators be included in creating systems for how middle level students and teachers are evaluated: “An effective middle school teacher must be accountable for results and must also be involved in the process.” (Middle grades teacher) 

Middle Grades Fellows Recommend Reading for Middle Grades Educators

  • From Leah Raphael: Inquiry into Identity: Teaching Critical Thinking through a Study of Race, Class, and Gender by Martha Caldwell. In this article, students learn important lessons about themselves through the critical exploration of race, class, and gender.
  • From Geneviève DeBose: Trying Something New in Your Classroom For 30 Days by Heather Wolpert-Gawron. Middle level students are at a place where exposure to new ideas and experiences could change the course of their life. They are curious and excited to learn. In this blog post, Wolpert-Gawron shows the internal dialogues of young adolescents and gives teachers great ideas we can use in our classrooms as she challenges her students and herself to try something new for 30 days.
  • From Robert Baroz: What Makes Middle Schools Work by Kristen Campbell Wilcox and Janet I. Angelis. This report from the University at Albany, State University of New York highlights the 5 common elements of higher-performing middle schools.
  • From Kareen Borders: Understanding and Appreciating the Wonder Years by John H. Lounsbury. This article isn’t about the Fred Savage’s stellar acting but gives an excellent overview of who are young adolescents are and why adults should be advocates for middle level students.