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Middle School English Language Arts

The middle school years, during which students transition from early adolescence to the complex world of young adulthood, are a time of particular joys and challenges. Our team of middle school staff developers has extensive experience with this population, and has helped schools revive the intellectual lives of these students. In countless schools a push for rich classroom libraries and purposeful, research based teaching practices has helped adolescents go from rarely reading to rarely being without a book.

Central to our work in middle schools is explicit instruction in the teaching of reading and writing. In writing, in grades 6-8, students learn to do the work of writers in the field (journalists, essayists, authors, and the like). Students shift from seeing writing as something you do simply as a one day assignment for school, and instead find that their complicated lives are worth writing about, a site to mine for thesis statements and essays, narrative plots, and poems. Teachers often marvel at how much more their students write every day and every unit, how much more invested students are with writing, and how their growth across the year is evident.

In middle school reading instruction, students read increasingly complex texts with power and independence, learning skills and strategies that make reading a lifelong practice. There is real sophistication to this work. Students learn to read for more than just the plot—to look for themes, for complex characterizations, for arguments and compelling evidence—and to think through these ideas in talk and in writing. They learn to recognize narrative structure, analyze point of view and shifting perspectives in texts, to uncover archetypes within and across books. Most importantly, they learn to do this work with independence and fluency. The independent reading workshop offers students the opportunity to practice this engaging work in books of their choosing, at appropriate reading levels. The result: whole schools full of book-loving adolescents and classrooms where differentiation is possible.

Staff development in middle school includes training and coaching teachers in strategies that work to create order and predictability in reading and writing workshop: strategies that foster a sense of independence and responsibility in the young adolescents who are working in these rooms. Too often, this is the age at which students shut down and decide school is just not for them; our staff developers are always researching and working on ways to bring reading and writing to life for kids, to make both relevant enough that they will stay interested, and stay in school. Many staff developer-led study groups in secondary schools focus not just on what to teach students, but also on how to teach so that a subject will feel worth learning to young adults, and therefore stick with them.

Staff developers help teachers make informed decisions about curriculum planning based on ongoing classroom assessments as well as standardized test results. Given that any secondary classroom houses students who are reading and writing within a range of proficiencies, we help teachers analyze multiple sources of data to figure out appropriate instructional content and methods for students based on specific strengths and needs. For example, a 7th grade class is likely to include students who are reading at 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, or even 11th-grade levels based on state or federal standards.

We also work to build connections and skill development across disciplines by bringing content-area teachers and administrators into the conversation about literacy instruction, creating a space for cross-content projects, shared understandings of standards, and community building around curriculum. We help schools analyze the whole of the curriculum and make comprehensive curriculum maps for reading, writing, and content learning that build in rigor and depth year over year.

Interested schools can attend workshops at Teachers College. For more information click: Workshops