Teaching in the Middle

middle school

Whenever I meet someone new and mention what I do for a living, I always get one of two responses:  “Oh…Why?”  or  “You must be a saint.”

This always makes me chuckle.  I assure you that I am not a saint, but I do love teaching.  I think that my students keep me young.  I always know the new fashion trends, popular music, and the ever evolving slang of young adults.  But, just because I love it doesn’t make it easy.

The demands of standardized testing, curriculum mapping, and vertical articulation aside, teaching young adults ages 12-15 is not easy.  Middle school teachers must possess immense creativity and patience.

The above graphic says that”Adolescents misinterpret emotions and instructions 40% of the time.”  Parents and secondary teachers everywhere can attest to this.  There is so much going on in a teenager’s body physiologically that they have a hard time balancing school, friends, family, church, and more.

Also, the statistic that “middle school students typically have an attention span of 10-12 minutes” is particularly true.  When I had young children at home, I wanted to know what research said was developmentally appropriate for time-out.  I read that young children should be placed in time-out 1 minute for each year of age.  So, a 3-year-old should be in time-out for 3 minutes.  Clearly, if the above graphic is true, this correlates to learning as well.  Students can maintain focus for approximately 1 minute for each year.  12 years old = a 12 minute attention span.

This knowledge should change how middle school teachers teach.  We must teach in shorter mini lessons and then let students move and practice instruction.  Luckily for me, I teach in a block schedule with 80 minute classes.  This allows me to conduct several activities each day.

Take a look at David Walsh’s book Why Do They Act That Way —  A Guide for Dealing with Teenagers.  It is not a book on education but will change how you teach adolescents nonetheless.  (I will book talk this book in my next blog post).

In what ways do you see middle school students are different from elementary or high school students?  How does this affect your teaching?  Share your ideas.  I would love to hear them.  



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