The Transition to Middle School (page 2)
Students make many transitions during their years of schooling: from home to school, elementary to middle school, middle to high school, and high school to college or work. These transitions are usually major events in the lives of students and parents. The stresses created by these transitions can be minimized when the new environment is responsive to each particular age group. This Digest presents a brief overview of some of the issues involved in the transition from elementary to middle school and provides suggestions for transition programs and activities. The term "middle level schools" includes all middle grade and junior high school configurations.
Middle Level Transition Concerns
Student comments and behaviors give insight into their concerns as they move to a new school. Students in Gwinnett County, Georgia, when asked about their concerns in facing a school transition, mentioned the following worries: (1) getting to class on time, (2) finding lockers, (3) keeping up with "materials," (4) finding lunchrooms and bathrooms, (5) getting on the right bus to go home, (6) getting through the crowded halls, and (7) remembering which class to go to next (Weldy, 1991). In addition to these concerns, other studies include personal safety (aggressive and violent behaviors of other students) as a prominent concern of students (Anderman & Kimweli, 1997; Arowosafe & Irvin, 1992; Odegaard & Heath, 1992).
Teachers have also listed specific challenges to students making the transition from a sixth-grade elementary to a middle level school (Weldy, 1991, pp. 84-85): (1) changing classes; (2) reduced parent involvement; (3) more teachers; (4) no recess, no free time; (5) new grading standards and procedures; (6) more peer pressure; (7) developmental differences between boys and girls; (8) cliquishness; (9) fear of new, larger, more impersonal school; (10) accepting more responsibility for their own actions; (11) dealing with older children; (12) merging with students from five elementary schools; (13) unrealistic parental expectations; (14) lack of experience in dealing with extracurricular activities; (15) unfamiliarity with student lockers; (16) following the school schedule; (17) longer-range assignments; (18) coping with adolescent physical development; and, for some, (19) social immaturity; and (20) a lack of basic skills.
Students' perceptions of the quality of school life decline as they progress from elementary to secondary school, with the largest decline occurring during the transition to a middle level school (Diemert, 1992). Meeting social needs during the transition from an elementary to a middle level school is a major consideration because most programs focus more on academics and regulations. In Diemert's survey of 23 fifth-graders in a middle level school, of the top 11 (out of 23 possible) needs identified by boys, 6 were social, 2 were academic, 2 were procedural, and 1 was academic and procedural. Of the top 10 needs identified by girls, 5 were social, 2 were academic, and 3 were procedural.
Students who move into middle level schools from elementary grades that rotate students between classes at least part of the day reported feeling better prepared to enter a middle level school. Waggoner (1994) investigated transition concerns and the self-esteem of 171 sixth-graders. Students from teamed settings in elementary schools demonstrated a stronger affiliation in school activities and fewer concerns about the transition to junior high school than students in self-contained sixth-grade classrooms. Teachers in teamed settings felt their students exhibited fewer indicators of stress related to progressing to junior high school than teachers of students in self-contained sixth-grade classrooms. Sixty-six percent of all students surveyed believed they would be better prepared for seventh grade if they had more than one sixth-grade teacher (Waggoner, 1994).
In middle level schools, it is important to emphasize mastery and improvement, rather than relative ability and social comparison. Empirical evidence suggests that middle schools tend to stress relative ability and competition among students more, and effort and improvement less, leading to a decline in task goals, ability goals, and academic efficacy. Working in groups, focusing on effort and improvement, and being given choices all support a more positive task-focused goal structure (Anderman & Midgley, 1996).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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