For Part 1 of this series, I talked all about my personal story of switching over to middle school from high school and the perks of teaching middle grades. In Part 2, I listed 3 major tips to help you teach middle school. For the final part, I’m going to give you 3 last tips to help guide you in this new endeavor you’ll be undertaking, or if you’re already a middle school teacher, these tips can be awesome reminders. Let’s dive right in!
Tip #4: Make extra copies!
If you read Part 2 about middle school students having trouble with executive functioning skills, you will undoubtedly understand that sometimes they lose items and papers. Learning to be mini-adults can be tricky, and their brain is filtering through so much. With their struggles with organization, they are bound to lose some papers. I have developed a full-proof system for lost papers.
It’s so simple. I make extra copies! If a student lost their paper, I simply go back in my basket and give them an extra one. If I have a class of 15 students, I’ll make about 5-7 extra copies just in case.
Now, if their lost paper causes them to be late on an assignment, this means they may be penalized late points on their grade. I think about the situation. If that student never ever loses anything, and it’s not typical of their behavior, I normally do not penalize late points. However, if they are a repeat offender, sometimes a way to teach them to keep up with their work is to penalize them by taking points off for lateness.
Furthermore, if they are a continuous repeat offender of losing papers, I do talk to them about staying organized. I ask them: where are you putting your papers? Are you placing them in the right folder or notebook? Are the papers just strewn about in your backpack or locker?
Go to the root of the problem with their repeated behavior of losing things. I have some students that are super reliable and never lose a thing. I have some students that lose some papers at times, and I have others that lose everything you give them.
For major projects or writing assignments, I place the details on Google Classroom. That way, if they do lose the paper, they can just visit Google Classroom to find it. Our overall goal is to have them do the work and to educate them. If giving an extra copy can help us accomplish that, I don’t see why not.
Tip #5: Keep them Busy with Authentic and Fun Assignments
Keeping middle schoolers busy with authentic work and fun assignments helps avoid downtime. During downtime, middle schoolers can get into trouble. This is obviously not true of every middle schooler. Some students are great with downtime and love to read or can handle working on unfinished work, or can quietly play an online game, but others have a more difficult time with self-control, which goes back to executive functioning.
For this reason, I like to pack my lessons full from bell to bell. Another way to make sure your whole class time is utilized is through games. Middle schoolers absolutely love competition. Kahoot, Blooket, Jeopardy, and any review games are always exciting for students. When students are having fun learning and doing authentic work, they are busy and less likely to fall into scenarios that can get them into trouble.
I like to give middle schoolers lots of options during Study Hall if that’s something they have. I teach English so every marking period, students have a different independent book project. Therefore, they are always reading a book and working on their project. The independent book projects vary, such as passion projects, pizza box reports, and even just a standard essay. A variety of lessons, projects, and fun assignments help kids stay busy.
When I say keep them busy, I don’t mean with busy work. Give them authentic assignments that are enriching and that relate to what they’re learning in class. My students know that they rarely get free time.
Some ways to keep them busy is for early finishers, have various websites on your online learning platform they can visit to practice skills. My students can play Wordle or even Globle, which is a geography game similar to Wordle. Freerice.com is another neat website to practice vocabulary skills.
If students are taking a quiz and some finish early, tell them they can read, visit the websites for extra practice, or work on their independent project. Don’t give free time as an option. When free time is given often, it’s an invitation to behavioral issues. Like a student of mine asked the other day: “Can we have free time today?” Another student chimed in, “Naw, man. You know Mrs. R doesn’t do free time!”
Tip #6: “If You Give an Inch, They’ll Take a Mile”
My unofficial teaching philosophy for middle school is “If You Give an Inch, They’ll Take a Mile,” or like a southern teacher of mine used to say, “Give them a drop and they’ll take the whole bucket.”
When teaching middle schoolers, I hate to admit it…but I can be strict. I would love to say that my class is free-flowing, but that’s just not me. Students have a set of rules they must follow when they enter my classroom, and I hold to them hard and fast. For instance, they need to ask permission before they get up. That includes getting a tissue or using hand sanitizer. I know all too well that if you allow them to get up whenever they want, then half of your class is up. Thus, a domino effect of distraction is quickly created.
I do explain to them the reasoning behind each of the rules. Examples from my own personal experience of allowing the opposite of those rules are given. Also, I give them the logic behind it. From that point, I expect them to follow the guidelines I’ve set forth.
When it comes to allowing chatter, I simply don’t permit it during independent work. I tell the class that this is quiet time and they may not talk at all. Their attention should be on their work and not on talking to their classmates. If I allow whispering during work, then within five minutes it’s a full-blown loud party.
I also understand though that middle schoolers NEED to socialize and talk. If you do not give them any opportunities to do so, their need to talk will bubble over into quiet independent time or into interruptions during your teaching. Because of this, I build in time for them to socialize. Socializing with each other can be accomplished during partner work, group projects, and homeroom.
Nevertheless, when it comes to rules, stick to them. Follow through on consequences. If you allow middle schoolers to take an inch or get too comfortable, they will take a mile.
For example, we had a rule in which students could use their cell phones during downtimes at the beginning of September 2020, as a way to ease the burden of wearing masks and all the changes they were going through. Soon, all the students wanted to was to be on their phones. Students were turning in sloppy work, unfinished assignments, and doing the bare minimum to get to their phones. We evaluated that policy and quickly did away with cell phones. I have numerous examples from the past five years in which giving an inch has become a mile and not in a good way.
This stems back to executive functioning. Self-control is a skill they are still developing. Not all middle schoolers struggle with this, but enough do so that it can derail your whole class. Evaluate and analyze what areas in your classroom may prove true of this old saying.
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By making extra copies, keeping them busy with authentic and fun work, and sticking to your rules, your middle school classroom can be successful and produce well-educated and well-behaved middle schoolers. Nevertheless, remember that the beauty of teaching middle school is in the mess. They are still learning and developing, transitioning and growing into mini-adults. The position you’ve been given has awarded you the opportunity to steward them well. Do not take it lightly, but have fun in the process.