Intellectual Development Issues in Middle School
We should be aware of the varied manifestations of intellectual development in the classroom and of the issues they present to the teacher. This awareness leads us to seek ways we can assist in this important growth process.
Issue #1- The attention span of middle level students may not be as great as it was in late elementary school or will be in high school
This issue has profound implications for instruction. Expecting a middle level student to sit through a 20-minute lecture, much less a 45-minute one, and gain a great deal of knowledge is ludicrous. We may be able to entertain students for that length of time, but their attention will wander and learning will be hit or miss at best. In Chapters 7 and 8, we will explore instructional strategies intended to hold attention for appropriate lengths of time. Breaking up blocks of time into manageable segments is a technique that should be mastered by middle level teachers.
Issue #2- Middle level students often have very vivid imaginations which can be linked to concepts as abstract thinking develops
The imaginations of children provide one of the greatest sources of pleasure afforded to humans. When this imagination can be purposefully channeled into learning experiences, the combination conjures up creativity that has not been possible before. Students are now capable of problem solving in creative ways that lead to their own discoveries. Encouraging students to use their imaginations and creativity to discover nuances and possibilities rather than simply to be fed information, helps them to take advantage of this imagination-meets-abstract-thinking stage of life.
Issue #3- Because intellectual development is so variable among middle level students, a group of 25 seventh graders may represent a whole spectrum of levels of development
This is one of the biggest challenges of middle level education. The question is, “How do we facilitate the learning of a prescribed curriculum, that is, state and national standards, in a classroom filled with students who are at very different places in development?” As teachers, we must be observers, constantly monitoring what’s working and what isn’t, and for which students at which times. One size does not fit all!
Issue #4- As the shift from concrete to abstract thinking is ongoing, it is possible to lose opportunities to challenge middle level students
Observation is the key to this issue as we adjust and readjust our presentations, activities, and assignments to keep up with changes in development. We must watch closely and listen carefully to our students. Kellough and Kellough (1999) present a list of capacities gained through the shift into abstract thinking. Among them are:
- Ability to project into the future, to expect, and to formulate goals
- Analysis of the power of political ideology
- Consideration of ideas contrary to fact
- Insight into the sources of previously unquestioned attitudes, behaviors, and values
- Reasoning with hypotheses involving two or more variables (p. 38)
We need to vary our instructional approaches to make the most of these possibilities.
Issue #5- Physical development and intellectual development happen concurrently
Active learning should take precedence over passive learning. Let’s get middle level students up and moving. They have a need to experience learning—to move, to touch, to manipulate, to search for meaning and understanding. The concept of inquiry, or discovery, learning should pervade what we do in the classroom.
Issue #6- A major shift in the intellectual development of middle level students is their newly acquired ability to think about their own thinking, or to experience metacognition
We “miss the boat” when it comes to helping students take charge of their own learning by failing to ask them to reflect on their learning processes. Knowles and Brown (2000) tell us that the emerging possibilities to think about thinking may be a source of frustration for students. They may become confused about their ability to be reflective. We can help them explore how their thinking takes place and what happens inside and outside the classroom that increases comprehension and makes learning specific skills easier and faster.
Issue #7- Middle level students begin to understand what is meaningful and useful, with application to their lives
This intellectual development has major implications for what we teach, or the curriculum. Framing our lessons in the context of real life makes learning a more natural process of satisfying intellectual curiosity that arises from this sense of purpose and usefulness.
© ______ 2005, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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