I watch the parents struggle to hold it together at fifth grade graduation—wife included—as they wrap their minds around the fact that their babies are not babies anymore; and that they are about to embark on perhaps the most challenging and confusing journey in life, middle school. Their anxiety is not without reason as I have been a sixth grade teacher approaching eight years and have had ample experience of the concerns of parents. The concerns range from the roller coaster of emotions and social expectations, a growing gap between parents and child (and school for that matter), unexplainable changes in achievement, among others. It has been a struggle for me to explain one by one to each set of parents the changes to which students and parents have to adapt in order to create a smooth transition into the middle school years.
What we all have to realize is that at some point, students have an induction program or orientation of the sort in all other transitional periods; pre-K for elementary school, and freshman orientation (cornerstone, or academy) for high school and college. However, for the enigmatic transition, there is no formal assis, cce. In my experience, some parents put that to the schools responsibility, but fail to realize that we are responsible for a year's worth of academic content on top of many other things. Still, we do try to respect the fact that this is a major change in the lives of the students and the parents, and give honest attempts to address those changes. However, I believe that there are 3 simple lessons that parents can work on with their rising sixth-grader to prepare them for their new journey into the unknown that we call middle school.
1. Get Organized. In the elementary life of inconsistent attention spans, students get used to going from one thing to another; centers to recess to lunch, with little to no down time and much transition. Students have to begin to back away from such c active routine to one that is a little more structured. They do transition to more classes, but it is really stop and go. The traffic picks up as well, so they need to be prepared to make those transitions. Organization needs to develop on many levels. First, s, rt with the transporting of materials. Students may or may not have lockers, but it is almost certain they won't have an assigned desk to keep their materials like their elementary desk or cubby. Students forget that, and when its transition time, it turns into a cyclone of chaos as they stuff assignments or supplies in haste. By the time they get home at the end of the day, notebooks and book bags look like the landscape of a landfill. Everything needs to have a place. Get notebooks organized by subject and practice getting the materials into their appropriate place. Organization also includes keeping up with assignments. The schools at which I have worked issued organizers (planners, agendas) for students to keep up with assignments, homework, and important dates. I cannot count the amount of wasted organizers that had little to nothing written in them. Students are given that responsibility and it needs to be reinforced at home. This also creates a valuable communication tool between school and home. If your school does not issue one, invest in one for your child and make sure they use it and you check it daily.
2. Manage Your Time. This is an extension to number one, and perhaps the greatest obs, cle. The organization problem happens when a student has not managed their time and it runs out on them. At home, students need to practice sustaining focus on a task until it is complete and staying aware of time. Simple practice may actually be an alternative to some of the drastic solutions that are on the rise (medication). Students will also encounter levels of academic content that will require sustained levels and time of focus to achieve. Elementary school is the foundation of the lifetime of learning, and has a lot of basic factual memorization, mixed with application. Middle school is mostly application and extension of learning. Do not expect your student to use the same routine of learning that they used in elementary school. Expect achievement patterns to change, but prepare them by adapting to time and level of focus needed.
3. Note taking/Study skills. Teach your child how to listen and summarize information in the form of notes. Personally, as a teacher, I do this extensively with my sixth graders; however, I cannot guarantee that all teachers do, so it is important to reinforce it at home. Also, show them how to use notes to study. It is a sad fact that most students think studying is s, ring at a piece of paper. What is even sadder, I have an uneasy feeling that some parents see their child s, ring at that piece of paper and are also convinced that they are studying. The best way to show that one has learned is to be able to recall or explain information without the use of notes, aides or resources. If they have the notes with them, they probably do not know it. Use trivia, jeopardy, who wants to be a millionaire, or some quizzing related method to study. Make a practice test. Do not be convinced that a child sitting at the table with notes and books are actually studying, unless they have been quizzed and are looking back to review what they could not recall or explain.
Bonus for Parents: Do not overcompensate. Transitions lead to discomfort. Do not let the slightest discomfort cause over reactions from you to everything. Do not try to overly pacify your child's frustrations through a necessity to put them at the top of their social ladder. The major distractions in a child's transition come from the parent thinking their child must compete with the technology, the media, the fashion, the relationships—only, the social aspects. I have seen students with smart phones but no school supplies. They write letters to friends or companions, but do not write down homework assignments. I have dealt with issues with parents because I take up cell phones, but they do not ask about grades or behavior. I have seen students with behavior issues or poor grades show up at movies and activities. I have witnessed students fail an assessment and later talk to their friends about the adult shows they stayed up and watched late the night before. The previous things are certainly distractions and drastically increase a student's chances of failing. The problem is that from my experience about 90 percent or more of the students are allowed to do many or all of the previous coming into middle school. The social setting is created by the students, so if their routine is changed, the setting will change with it. Let them compete for good grades and success; not who can talk, dress, or act most like an adult; or who can spend the most of YOUR money.
The three lessons will make a major impact on your child successfully transitioning into middle school. The bonus is an extra gift to sooth the anxieties of the parent. Do know that I am with you and feel your pain. I reiterate that not only have I dealt with sixth graders for years, I also have a rising sixth grader. I speak as a teacher and a parent. Remember, this is one of the most—if not THE most—important time in child’s life and it takes home and school to work together to position them to best succeed and prepare for future successes. Together, we will make it through.
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