SMART in the Middle Grades: Classrooms that Work for Bright Middle-Schoolers
Publication Type:Web Article
Year of Publication:2006
White, an NBCT and gifted-education teacher in Florida, appreciated the
authors’ point that instead of assuming that gifted kids will “do just fine,”
teachers’ job is to help students, including gifted ones, learn new material.
The authors offer strategies for addressing gifted children in five chapters.
White says the information is useful for teaching regular curriculum as well.
Doubet, K. & Tomlinson, C.A. (2006). Smart
in the middle grades: Classrooms that work for bright middle schoolers. Westerville,
OH: National Middle School Association
By Carol Ann Tomlinson & Kristina Doubet
2006 (136 pp./paperback)
National Middle School Association
$24.00 (online price $19.20)
Reviewed by: Ginny White, NBCT
Gifted Education Teacher
Fernandina Beach Middle School
Fernandina Beach, FL
"Won't smart kids make it on their own?" For me this is the essential
question of this book. The answer is NO, and the question
is very specifically addressed in the last section, Chapter
7, "Some Frequently Asked Questions About Teaching Bright
Kids in the Middle Grades." That's the chapter I'd suggest
As a teacher of bright kids for the last 23 years, I'm passionate
about their needs, which are often misunderstood. As the authors
state, a teacher's job is to start with where students are
and help them stretch. While it is often said that bright
students will do "just fine," our job is not to see them make
more A's, but to see them successfully navigate the next steps
of learning. For alienated, disconnected bright kids, our
job is even more intense.
With the current emphasis on struggling students, consider this
book a comprehensive approach to ensuring stimulation for
every student in our schools. As Tomlinson and Doubet say,
teachers are "talent developers... Not acknowledging a child's
ability and not participating in extending it would be malpractice."
Strong words for us to consider!
The authors believe that what is good for bright students is frequently
also good for all students. "There are at least three habits
of mind necessary for highly able young people to 'grow into
themselves.' Those three are (1) persistence in the face of
difficulty, (2) intellectual risk-taking, and (3) creative
or flexible thinking." Aren't these habits what we want for
all students in the 21st century?
Tomlinson and Doubet suggest that through ongoing assessment, we learn
where our students are and then we set goals, we create meaningful
and relevant activities, we differentiate (of course), and
we provide the different scaffolds and coaching each student
needs to be successful. Stated another way, we ask students
"to do work that's a little too hard for them" with appropriate
support so that they learn new things rather than sink into
repetition. Our task with all students is to provide them
challenge, to help them learn to tolerate it, and to help
them persist so they gain a sense of self-efficacy
(in my opinion, just the right word choice).
In their Introduction, Tomlinson and Doubet give the rationale
for this book: (1) Knowing more about the full range of our
students prepares us to address their unique and common needs.
(2) We often, mistakenly, look at bright kids as the ones
who don't really need us. (3) It's important to recognize
bright kids underneath their "masks" so that we don't miss
potential. (4) Much of what it takes to develop the capacities
of highly able learners benefits virtually all students.
Furthermore, they stress: "The middle school concept is rooted in the belief
that early adolescence may be the last opportunity to help
many students develop a sense of self-worth, competence, and
self-efficacy." This short book, divided into seven chapters,
offers rich food for thought for all middle school teachers.
Within each chapter, Tomlinson and Doubet first address the
teaching of all middle school students; then they extend their
comments specifically for those who are bright.
Chapter One focuses on the nature of early adolescence. My favorite
line is "Narcissus must have been a middle schooler." The
summary of characteristics is familiar to any middle school
teacher; it's a helpful compilation for this developmental
stage, necessary reminders of realistic expectations. Of particular
interest to me: "...we now understand that early adolescence
is a 'use-it-or-lose it' time for the brain. The newly developed
synapses are fragile and require considerable practice and
support for maximum development. ...(T)herefore, teachers
of young adolescents should persistently call on students
to reason, think abstractly, and exercise critical analysis—and
provide constant support systems for students learning how
to do so." Furthermore, since the prefrontal cortex is still
maturing, "disorganization and impulsivity come with the package."
Chapter Two addresses positive classroom learning environments for
all students with a list of nine necessary elements, like
purpose and affirmation, and a useful chart that lists how
the element is significant for adolescent development with
suggestions for implementation. Chapter Two's concluding section
is definitely worth reading for understanding special issues
for bright kids; valuable insights are offered on numerous
topics, including uneven development, lack of study skills,
Chapter Three explores effective middle grades curriculum for developing
and extending ability. Six of seven characteristics fit for
all middle schoolers; the seventh focuses on such key traits
of bright kids as rapid learning, high curiosity, impatience,
abstract/complex thinking, personal passions, stubbornness,
and intellectual playfulness. Another chart suggests ways
the curriculum can address these specific traits.
Chapter Four spells out principles for challenging highly able learners.
Tomlinson is a leading expert on differentiated teaching and
her expertise speaks loudly in this chapter, making the point
that "more" work is not the answer but rather scaling up the
complexity. In addition to some general guidelines, three
models for thinking about challenge are presented (Sandra
Kaplan, Tomlinson's "Equalizer," and The Parallel Curriculum
Model). Here is some real meat to chew on!
Chapter Five presents some specific instructional strategies, the
chapter most helpful for "now that I know this, what I can
do tomorrow?" Fortunately, most teachers will recognize many
of these strategies but will perhaps now look at them with
a fresh eye for differentiating the curriculum to better meet
the needs of all the classroom's learners. This chapter has
specific examples that help to weave the theory into practice.
Chapter Six further extends these strategies into classroom
scenarios. As someone who needs examples, these two chapters
While the title word SMART leaps out from the cover of this
book, it is not only for teachers of bright kids. Good teaching
practices for all middle school students fill the pages. On
the other hand, what about the smart kids? This timely book
challenges us not to ignore them but rather to provide the
challenge, support, and stretch they need. I wholeheartedly