Middle School:
Characteristics, Theory, Development, Teaching, and Instruction

Information outline:

Middle Schools have a clear mission with the following characteristics:


  • Care, supportive of students, mentor, are a role model for learning, enthusiastic
  • Desire to collaborate with others
  • Use multiple developmentally appropriate strategies that are open-minded to change, accept diverse ideas, flexible, knowledgeable (physical, intellectual, emotional, aesthetic, core subjects), commited to life long learning, and consistent with the middle school role and mission
  • Empower students with choice
  • High expectations with focus on learning - physical, social, intellectual, emotional, aesthetic
  • Continually assess student's abilities with a variety of methods
  • Know instructional methodology and can implement a variety of teaching strategies
  • Personalize (differentiate) instruction
  • Professional

Learning Environments

  • Student centered environment and curriculum for optimum physical, social, intellectual, and emotional growth
  • Student groupings are heterogenous
  • Recognize differences, celebrate diversity and use it to expand learning
  • Strong emotional, caring, ethical atmosphere where students are safe, feel invited, supportive, comfortable,
  • Organized for learning, good time management, with the goal of student development of motivation to achieve self-efficacy
  • Offer many diverse opportunities exploratory learning
  • Lots of student involvement in extra curricular activities
  • Learning environments are connected to resources as needed: media, library, counseling, social, food pantries, medical, housing, clothing
  • Family and cultures are involved


  • Are attentive, cooperative, motivated, respectful, creative, engaged, aware of a larger world, think rationally and critically, express thoughts clearly, make good choices for physical, social, intellectual, emotional well being and development toward self-efficacy.

External Community

  • Care about learning, desire to assist as members of an educational community to achieve middle level environments as described by research and best practices.


Middle level educators goals

  1. Plan, implement, assess, monitor, and adjust instruction and classroom procedures to facilitate middle level student’s learning in a developmentally appropriate, positive caring manner that protects the dignity and meets the needs of diverse middle level students to learn and develop positive attitudes towards learning and self-efficacy for achieving and solving problems.
  2. Create and proactively manage middle level environments where students learn how to become productive members of democratic communities of learners who can self-monitor and set mastery oriented goals when making decisions. Decisions pertaining to academic study of core subjects to exploratory areas and topics, social skills, physical development, critical thinking and problem solving to build the knowledge, skills, and positive dispositions to become life long learners who understand, know how, and have the self-efficacy to continually develop their : physical, social, emotional, and neuropsychosocial abilities, individually and in groups, when given choices and not.
  3. Develop cooperative relationships with teachers, media and library specialists, special educators, parents, community members, and other agencies to promote student’s physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development in a manner that demonstrates respect for cultural, social, racial diversity and equity for all.
  4. Assess instructional effectiveness.
  5. Communicate professionally through oral and written reports student information, interpret meanings, possible explanations, and make recommendations for future actions to children, parents, and/or guardians, and other professionals and stake holders.

Suggested outcomes:

Activities for middle level educators to develop teaching abilities

Use the five middle level goals for educators and use them as your personal goals or modify them for your needs. Then match activities to assess your abilities, investigate information to use to develop them as necessary, and document them for a professional portfolio.

Focus questions:

  1. What makes an outstanding educational philosophy?
  2. What are the characteristics of middle level students?
  3. How are the educational needs of middle level students met?
  4. How to plan developmentally appropriate learning experiences for middle level students?
  5. How to implement instruction and learning to meet the needs of middle level students?
  6. How to assess and evaluate at the middle level?

Print and Video Resources to investigate focus questions.

Print Resources for middle school ways of thinking

  1. Article: Learning Theory and Developmental Characteristics from Infant - Adult. Quick links to: 3rd- 5th grade and 6th grade (11) and up characteristics.
  2. Select a middle level methods book to read for background information: Suggested:
    Teaching in the Middle School
    . 4th edition. M. Lee Manning & Katherine T. Bucher. Book cover
    It provides a comprehensive overview on the history, philosophy, and implementation of a genuine middle level education philosophy. It integrates information with scenarios and case studies written to personalize each reader's experience. The authors also include an impression quadrant that provides a great way to explore information in each chapter and prepare for a multidimensional meaningful discussions of the topics. Topics by chapter include:
    • Chapter 1 - Middle schools today. Concepts and teaching overview
    • Chapter 2 - Young adolescents development and issues
    • Chapter 3 - Teachers and counselors guiding adolescents
    • Chapter 4 and 5 - Curriculum for the middle level
    • Chapter 6, 7, 8, 9 - Planning, implementing, assessing, and managing appropriate middle level instruction
    • Chapter 10 - External communities. Parents, families, and community members as partners and resources
    • Epilogue - Middle schools of the future
    • Includes internet support references
  3. Association for Middle Level Educators resources:

Video Resources for middle school ways of thinking

  1. How Schools Kill Creativity. Animated video (11:40) titled:that uses edits from Sir Ken Robinson speech - School Kills Creativity: or Changing Educational Paradigms. Animated video (11:40) that uses edits from Sir Ken Robinson speech: Similiar to How Schools Kill Creativity with minor change.
  2. Changing Paradigms Sir Ken Robinson's full lecture (55:22)
  3. Towards an Educational Revolution. Debra Kidd argues that education has become fixated on conformity and compliance at the expense of creativity and suggests moving toward an educational revolution - creativity and designs to reform….(23:16)
  4. Bring on the learning revolution. Sir Ken Robinson personalized organic teaching and learning… (20:57) 2010
  5. This We Believe in Action: Implementing Successful Middle Level Schools:
    Video overview of what the middle school concept as presented by the AMLE with more links of videos into middle school classrooms. Overview Video ...
  6. Privatization and charter school possibilities... (1:50) Important message about charter schools. Video that uses Satirical video describing ...
    Report: Public Accountability for Charter Schools
  7. Who Should Have the Power to Create the School Curriculum? (24:55) Lecture by Tristram Hunt (18:00) and panel discussion (7:00)

Activities to investigate focus questions.

  1. Focus questions to reflect on essentials of a strong educational philosophy and initial development of an educational philosophy.
    1. Donkey Fable: why theories are importantto have and use
    2. Purposes of education: a comprehensive list of reasons for educatation and schooling
    3. Seven focus questions to consider for a powerful educational theory
    4. My response to the seven focus questions
    5. My educational theory in narrative form
    6. Quality characteristics for evaluation
  2. Map, web, or outline of the characteristics of young adolescents development and how the characteristics relate to appropriate teaching and guidance experiences. While it is important to understand each student is a unique individual and avoid stereotypes and biases. It is important to have a comprehensive understanding of the expected characteristics middle level students share. Realizing there is a wide range of abilities among students while at the same time knowing the common processes of learning and how different intellectual abilities develop over time.
    Information sources
    : | Class print resources note #1 | Class video resources |
  3. Map, web, or outline the characteristics of a high quality middle school education. Use your map to explain how and where ideas for the following are included: ideas from your educational philosophy, characteristics of middle level students, developmentally appropriate learning experiences are planned and implemented, students are continuously assessed, and managed in ways that meet their needs.
    Information Sources:| Class print resources | Class video resources | Instructional theories | Instruction strategies | Planning | Classroom management | Assessment & evaluation |
    Plus: | Class print resources note #1 | Class video resources |
  4. Middle level position paper or action plan that includes philosophy statements and other information consistent with the National Middle School Association keys to educating young adolescents. Clearly indicate your beliefs about middle level education and appropriate policies and procedures to implement as a professional middle level educator. Information on how to organize an action plan or position paper with sample philosophy, policy, and procedure statements.
    This will be a professional document to share with other educators, include in a portfolio, use for job interviews, and share with students and parents. Consider how to combine information into a small number of meaningful categories to make it more manageable and powerful.
    Plus: | Class print resources note #1 | Class video resources |
  5. Curriculum planning. Begin 3-4 content maps to use in units of study.
    There are many levels of planning to faciliate student learning. Understanding Big ideas and general curriculum planning are prerequisite of specific planning with and for middle level students. Content maps focus on planning what students will learn (content) and how the information is best organized for teaching and learning.
    • Planning what students will learn and how educators think and facilitate learning information and its relationships is critical.
      A content map or outline can be an essential first step, that is often skipped with an intent to save time, often at the educator's peril.
      The purpose of a content outline or map is to analyze, organize, and describe ideas for a selected topic. It identifies the necessary and sufficient information for students to learn and conditions to assist teachers to effectively facilitate student learning. Research suggests teachers who have a stronger depth and breadth of information are better able to assess on the fly, make better decisions to meet their students needs and increase their learning.
      Quality maps or outlines include information in these categories:
      1. Perceptual information - what students know (visual gut reaction way of knowing. Naive ideas which may or may not be misconceptions;
      2. Observations made by students for which initial information or ideas are derived to use as facts, ideas, concepts, generalizations … to reason with.
        Facts are information used to construct concepts and generalizations.
      3. Transformations - or bridges are charts, graphs, maps, webs, illustrations, outlines, classifications that combine facts, concepts, generalization with reasons and explanations for concluding or constructing the concepts and generalizations. These connect the observations and reasoning used to construct concepts and generalizations (definitions, ideas, and explanations with arrows and lines connecting information, color coding, before and after examples...)
      4. Activities - opportunities for students to construct information about the topic or ideas. Opportunities to learn.
      5. Values - identify how students are going to use the information or the value it will provide by learning or conceptualizing it.
      6. Assessment - what outcome levels might students demonstrate with respect to the topic.
    • Planning units to facilitate learning. Complete three unit plans alone or in groups: 1. Subject integrated, 2. Theme or topic integrated, & 3. World or life integrated. Units must be in electronic printable format. Include necessary information for teaching the Unit. Topic maps or outlines for the big ideas in each unit. Instructional models used for teaching each activity in the unit and activities sequence for at least five class periods of 90 minutes (block schedule). Describe formative and summative assessment in the activities procedures or assessment instruments and scoring guides with outcome levels.
      Background information for Creating all planning documents.
      Integration type resources.
      1. Subject dimensions integration: Examples
      2. Thematic unit: Theme based unit integrates, subjects, human and social development, and career framework article
      3. Interdisciplinary Unit: Description of a School with an integrated curriculum that uses thematic studies. Information includes: School Prospectus, Curriculum, and Planning documents, how to plan thematic units with real life integration, and sample unit plan with the theme - water.
  6. Select and read a trade book for adolescent readers. After reading critique and describe how the book can be used for middle level students and include in one of your units. Source for what teens are reading: NPR 100 best ever teen novels.
  7. Professional educators consistently read current educational publications for professional development and to envigorate their zest for teaching. Select a current or classic educational book among these or one as significant. Read it and identify information that motivates you to want to take its ideas and use in a middle level education. Write or present a quality critique and recommendation of the book and how to use the ideas described. Critique includes, positive and negative rationale for each on how you would and wouldn't use. Be sure to include bibliographic information so anyone reading the critique can find it easily in a library and online.

Suggestions that relate to middle level students

Unit ideas


Support Resources Online

Links checked winter 2017:

Getting to know middle level adolescent student (Chapter 2)

Guidance for the middle level adolescent student (Chapter 3)

Core curriculum for the middle level (Chapter 4)

Curricum as integrated, exploratory, and relevant (Chapter 5)

Planning instruction (Chapter 6:1)

Evaluating instructional materials (Chapter 6:2)

Overview of interdisciplinary learning

Implementing instruction Chapter 7:1

Chapter 7:2

Assessment of learning (Chapter 8)

Management (Chapter 9)

Parents, Families, & Communities (Chapter 10)



Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes