Monday, September 30, 2013

Bringing Elementary Ways into the Middle School Classroom

I am an elementary teacher at heart.  Before teaching middle school, I spent nearly ten years at the elementary level, which gave me my foundation in best practice. There are so many powerful things that elementary teachers naturally do in their classrooms each and every day.  This post is in celebration of elementary teachers, with the hopes that a few middle school teachers out there will bring some of the elementary ways into their classrooms.

Here are three of my favorite elementary teaching practices and why I think they would work brilliantly in middle school too!

Flexible Grouping - One of the many wonderful things about elementary teachers is how they naturally differentiate instruction in the classroom so that they can reach a range of learners in all subject areas. Teachers at the elementary level achieve differentiation by working with small groups of students all the time. Small groups can and do work at the middle school level too! Personally, I use the information that I gather through pre- and formative assessments to learn exactly which students need help with which skill. Once I have this information, I group students into homogeneous groups so that I can help meet students' individual needs.  Using the 30 minutes per week that I have set aside for independent reading time, I can pull together small groups to work on various skills. Grouping students not only gives teachers the ability to help those who are struggling, it also gives students amazing self-confidence when they are given the extra time and attention that they need to be successful.  

Re-teaching - Elementary teachers know that it takes students different amounts of time to master new concepts and skills, so they often back up and re-teach their students. In my opinion, re-teaching should happen far more at the middle school level. Oftentimes middle school teachers are plowing through their content, keeping all of their classes together, but we leave kids behind that way.  I have found that exit slips or quick check-ins (informal assessment/quizzes) let me know when I need to stop and back up so that the majority of the students have the foundation that they need to move forward.  What about those outliers who aren't "getting it?" Think about pulling them into a small group as mentioned above.  

Parent Communication - My elementary teacher friends communicate with parents in a variety of ways such as sending newsletters through email, keeping a class blog, or updating their class website religiously. Parents seem to always know what is happening in the elementary classroom.  When kids go off to middle school, the attitude is often that students need to be responsible for communicating with parents about what is happening in school. Why is that? Don't parents of middle schoolers still deserve to know what is happening in their child's classrooms? There are lots of ways to communicate with parents is this day and age, thanks to social networking and other web-based tools.  (Read my post about my favorite way to communicate with parents through the app Remind101.)  If we want parents to be our partners, I think the communication needs to be maintained even when students reach middle school. 

There you have it. Three ways to bring a little elementary into the middle school classroom.  Kids are kids, no matter what their grade level in school. If you are a middle school teacher and you have never taught at the elementary level, ask if your administrators would allow you to visit a neighboring elementary school for a few hours some day. You'll be amazed at what they do and how good it is for kids! 

If you have experience as an elementary school teacher, please share some elementary practices that you feel would be beneficial in a middle school classroom.


Jessica Hutchison said...

So proud that you are bringing these to the middle school! I find that one of the many uphill battles of working in a middle school is the love of the content - sometimes at the cost of what's best for kids. You students are so lucky to have you, fellow staff are lucky to learn from you, and parents are lucky to know you care for their most prized possessions throughout the day. Keep infusing this positive, kid-centered approach everywhere you go!

Jessica Hutchison said...

Kudos to you for bridging those child-centered practices into the middle school. One of the greatest challenges to working in a middle school is that many staff pay homage to the content, and lose sight of what's best for kids and their development of themselves. Your students are lucky to have you, staff are fortunate to learn from you, and parents should feel truly blessed to have you caring for their most precious gifts each day. Keep that positivity pouring out wherever you go!