Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Piggy in the Middle

When I was a child we often played a game called Piggy in the Middle.  It could be played with any number of people who passed the ball to one another while the person in the middle tried to catch it.  I've also heard it used to describe someone who "sits on the fence" in an argument - who doesn't want to agree with either side.  As I was thinking about this today, it occurred to me that this is a good description of what a lot of students go through in Middle School:  they constantly feel like they are the Piggy.

In my 30 years of teaching I've seen Middle Schools come and go.  When I first started teaching in the UK in the 1980s, Middle Schools were for students aged 10 - 12 and High School started at age 13.  Later most local educational authorities in the UK did away with Middle Schools and went back to a primary (up to age 11) and secondary (11 - 16/18) system.  When I first started teaching in international schools, Grade 6 was the last class of the Lower School, later it became the first class of the Middle School, and then the Middle School was abolished and it became the first class of the High School.  Middle Schools, like early adolescents, often seem confused in their philosophies and unsure of where they are going.

However many educators would argue that the ages of 11 - 14 are a very special time in a young person's life, as they leave childhood behind, and this leads to the need for a very special type of school.   Puberty has a great impact on the social, emotional and intellectual development of teenagers.  Thomas Armstrong, in his book The Best Schools, argues for "the establishment of a mentor relationship between teacher and student, the creation of small communities of learners, and the implementation of a flexible, interdisciplinary curriculum that encourages active and personalized learning."  That sounds to me very similar to the aims of the IB MYP, which is the curriculum that has been adopted by 3 out of the 4 international schools where I have taught.

One of the most important tasks of young teens is to form their own identity.  During these years they struggle to find out who they are and what their value are.  Armstrong has identified some best practices  in Middle Schools to encourage this personal growth and development:
  • a safe school climate: characterized by positive interventions, anti-bullying programmes, conflict resolution and character education.
  • small learning communities
  • personal adult relationships: usually a teacher who acts as an advisor or mentor, often over a period of 2 or more years
  • engaged learning: an emphasis on the quality of the learning environment to counterbalance the dip in motivation that many experience after leaving elementary school.  Motivation can be fostered by giving Middle Schoolers an increasing role in determining their own learning experiences
  • positive role models
  • metacognitive strategies: encouraging reflection and thinking about thinking, learning study skills, setting realistic goals
  • expressive arts activities: which provide students with opportunities to express themselves in a non-judgmental atmosphere
  • a focus on health and wellness: information about sex education, substance abuse, depression with the emphasis being on how to stay healthy
  • emotionally meaningful curriculum
  • empowering students to take on roles in decision making
  • honouring and respecting student voices
  • fostering social and emotional growth: including interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences and facilitating positive social relationships
Photo Credit: digikuva via Compfight cc

1 comment:

  1. Great reminder of the essence of middle schools. Easy to get into routines, important to bring core values to mind.