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Middle School Philosophy

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Middle School Philosophy

Chrise Fuselier

Middle schools (or sometimes called intermediate schools or junior high schools) were formed in the early twentieth century and serve to function as the educational bridge between primary and secondary schools. Middle schools have any combination of grades sixth through ninth, with the exact grades varying based on education district. Sometimes the term middle school distinctly refers to including grades sixth through eight (probably most commonly seventh and eighth grades) whereas junior high distinctly refers to also including ninth grade. In this paper I will use the term middle school to refer to schools including any specific combination of grades sixth through ninth.

Middle schools have a very specific set of educational philosophies and pedagogical goals separate from primary and secondary schools. Dickinson, in the article “Reinventing the Middle School: A Proposal to Counter Arrested Development” (2001), states that the founders of the middle school concept proposed six classical functions of the middle level school: articulation, integration, exploration, differentiation, guidance, and socialization (p. 3). Dickinson compares these first functions to Alexander’s classic definition of a middle school as “…a school of some three to five years between the elementary and high school focused on the educational needs of students in these in-between years and designed to promote continuous educational progress for all concerned” (p. 3). The most important function of middle schools is to address the developmental needs of the students, who are transitioning and have a set of needs different from elementary or high school students. The developmental needs of middle school students include intellectual, social, emotional, and physical aspects, and all must be addressed for optimal student learning and well-being. Thus, middle school philosophy can loosely be defined as intellectual, social, emotional, and physical development for students. This middle school philosophy has been shown to improve student performance and other areas when enacted successfully; however, many schools do not fully implement middle school philosophy. In order for middle schools to be successful, middle schools must implement a philosophy that address the developmental needs of students including intellectual, social, emotional, and physical aspects across the school community.

According to Dickinson, when middle schools do not enact policies which address the development needs of students the students, faculty, and school community experiences “arrested development” (p. 4). He uses this term to describe middle schools across the board that aren’t fully finished implementing the middle school philosophy, no matter how much progress the school has made toward it. Arrested development is also “…a structural problem and a disposition problem of belief in and attention to the concept” (p. 4). Dickinson describes a middle school under arrested development as a school having the following characteristics,

Teachers organized into teams but who do not meet on a regular basis, even though they have allocated time in their schedules, or when they do meet they continually mire themselves in the rut of student difficulties and failures; a deep cleavage between core and exploratory teachers—in numbers of students, organizational structure, and curricular approaches; advisory programs that look like administrative homerooms, or ‘seats-and-sheets’ holding patterns; competitive athletics for the few; lack of parent and community involvement; and a curriculum dominated by classical recitation, boring textbooks, and instructional blandness (p. 4).

This middle school may be making attempts to truly implement middle school philosophy; however, a school such as Dickinson described has fallen short of true implementation and is unsuccessful to its students, faculty, and school community. To counter arrested development, Dickinson suggests enacting entirely the middle school philosophy, improve organizational structure, and use the integrated curriculum model with students as an active part of their education (p. 16).

According to Pitton in the article “The School and the Child and the Child in the School” (2001), there are numerous studies to support improved student success in middle schools which enact middle school philosophy (pp. 21-22). A longitudinal study by Felner, Jackson, Kasak, Mulhall, Brand, and Flowers (1997) that looked at levels of middle school philosophy implementation “…suggests that increased achievement, fewer behavior problems, and easier student adjustment to school are associated with the higher levels of implementation of middle level concepts” (p. 22). Several other tests are also cited by Pitton, which results showing greater student success when middle school philosophy is enacted.

Gallagher-Polite’s article “Hope for Sandy: Transformation Points: A Reinvention Paradigm” (2001) summarizes the Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century (1989) findings from the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. Middle schools were urged to develop small communities for learning; provide a core academic program for all learners; ensure success for all students; empower teachers and administrators in decision-making; hire teachers who are expert at teaching young adolescents; improve academic performance through health and fitness; reengage families in the education of young adolescents; and reconnect with their communities (pp. 40-41). These recommendations are essentially those found in middle school philosophy, and the publication of Turning Points has made middle school reform using middle school philosophy as a reform goal a national agenda.

How can middle schools, especially those experiencing arrested development, reform to implement middle school philosophy to become more successful to its students? Pitton suggests the implementation of self-contained classrooms (similar to the structure of block scheduling), student-centered integrated and interdisclipinary curriculum, and team teaching (p. 22). Additionally, a supportive environment must be made for the student, and this includes flexible schedules, exploratory options, and advisory groups. Middle school students’ emerging needs for self-management can be addressed by giving students a voice in their education. Students should be allowed to make choices in their education, such as the ability to pick which topic is studied.

Pitton describes assigning a formal research paper to her students. There was much resistance to the assignment and out of frustrated Pitton asked her students what they wanted to learn. After much discussion, she concluded that her students were interested in traveling and dream vacations. Pitton assigned her students a project they were truly interested in, a paper to research their dream vacations. The papers included research about the country, travel itineraries, description of activities/tourist destinations, and a projected budget of the trip. Pitton acknowledges that this assignment was much different from a formal, sophisticated research paper but, “…all of the students completed the project, something that hadn’t happened before…I found that the students were able to make good decisions about their learning, and that they worked harder when they had a voice in the curriculum” (p. 32). Student-centered education and the freedom of student voice in curriculum becomes a central argument for middle school reform for both Pitton and Dickinson.

In conclusion, in order for middle schools to be successful for its students, faculty, and community, middle schools must address the separate developmental needs of its transitioning students. If every United States middle school successfully enacted middle school philosophy then middle schools would become very successful at bridging the gap between primary and secondary schools while also nurturing the unique developmental needs of its transitioning students. Middle schools, in order to reform, must enact suggestions made by Turning Points and suggestions proposed by Dickinson and Pitton such as advisory, team teaching, flexible scheduling, and student-centered education. School communities must reform to implement middle school philosophy which addresses the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical developmental needs of middle school students.

List of References

Dickinson, T.S. (2001). Reinventing the middle school: A proposal to counter arrested

development. In T.S. Dickinson (Ed.), Reinventing the middle school (pp. 3-20).

New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Gallagher-Polite, M.M. (2001). Hope for Sandy: Transformation points: A reinvention

paradigm. In T.S. Dickinson (Ed.), Reinventing the middle school (pp. 39-55).

New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Pitton, D.E.. (2001). The school and the child and the child in the school. In T.S.

Dickinson (Ed.), Reinventing the middle school (pp. 21-38).

New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

This Post has 1 Comment Add your own!
ea - 26 Temmuz 2011 10:34

The followiwing on educational philosophy and on teaching may be useful and inspirational to educators interested in philosopy of education and to teachers aspiring to be great teachers:

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