The Effectiveness of the Middle School Model: a Literature Review

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Labby, Stephanie
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The middle school model has been implemented into many school districts in British Columbia over the past 10 to 15 years and is continuing to be introduced in others. The model addresses the needs of middle school aged students not only from an academic point of view for a young adolescence, but also how to equip the students with the tools to cope with the social and emotional developmental stage that a young adolescent is undergoing at this pivotal time in human development. Students that are in Grade Six, Seven and Eight possess a unique set of characteristics that are unlike those of elementary or high school based students– at no other time do they change so much. "It is a time of transition between dependence and independence, a time to explore new alternatives and try out new identities, a time to experiment with new points of view, a time to learn how to interact with others. Although often seemingly chaotic and confusing, it is their time." (Knowles and Brown, 2000). Emergent adolescents especially face many challenges as they develop, as it is a time of self-analysis and discovery. An educational goal for all schools is to provide their students, no matter their age, an engaging learning environment along with an environment where students feel valued and a sense of belonging all the while meeting individual needs. "Creating a school environment that is responsive to the changing needs of young adolescents requires an understanding of their developmental changes. More importantly, however, it requires an understanding of how young adolescents perceive those changes. Their perceptions become reality." (Knowles and Brown, 2000). Supporters of the middle school model suggest that the pillars of the program meet these needs and allow the young adolescents to thrive at their particular developmental levels. The best practices of any educator are to help motivate a student to discover their passions and foster a safe engaging personalized environment of learning. When schools and classrooms balance, the students' intellectual goals with other their developmental needs, students will likely be more understood, which leads to success. Many researchers believe that the middle school model more effectively meets the needs of this rapidly changing population. Some research suggests that placing students who fall into this unique age bracket with high school aged students is detrimental to their social, intellectual, physical and emotional development. Children in the elementary years (Kindergarten to Grade Five) are more concrete learners, whereas high school aged students can handle choice and in depth curriculum. "For the early adolescent, the growth of metacognitive abilities generates greater understanding of abstract principles and results in meaningful learning." (Brown and Knowles, 2007). Pillars of the middle school model parallel the 21st Century learning vision. Students focus on inquiry based learning where they use their passions and skills to engage in a meaningful way. The academic focus on differentiation, collaboration, innovation and discovery exploration goes hand in hand with the cognitive abstract developmental stage of curiosity of young adolescents.