Essential Questions—with Answers—for Middle Level Teachers
Publication Type:Web Article
Year of Publication:2006
Jackson, a Florida NBCT, describes several of the brief monographs that make up
this collection as useful when she returned to middle-school teaching after a
time away. Sections cover the history of the middle-school concept,
professional development, the mind and body development of middle-schoolers,
gender differences, developmentally responsive teaching techniques, etc.
“Nine Middle-Level Educators.” (2006). Essential
questions—with answers—for middle level teachers. Westerville, OH: National
Middle School Association.
By Nine Middle Level Educators
2006 (74 pp/paperback)
Just for Teachers series
National Middle School Association
$7.20 (online purchase)
Reviewed by Mary Jackson, NBCT
Middle School Mathematics
Pinellas County, Florida
In seventy pages, a group of nine Maine educators respond to
eighteen "essential questions" regarding middle level teaching.
The brief monographs—five pages at most—are well
written and thoughtful and cover everything from professional
development and leadership to the history of the middle school
concept. As a veteran teacher returning to middle school after
a long absence, I especially appreciated the segments on physical
development by Beth Weatherbee and brain development by Nancy
Snowdeal, which presented the latest research on both and
how they affect adolescent learning. The authors discuss body
odor, hunger, growing pains, acne, hardwiring the brain through
what the students are practicing/experiencing, etc.
Although the book is generally well-arranged, I would have placed these
two segments on brain and physical development together instead
of separating them by a piece on intellectual, social, and
emotional development emphasizing student involvement and
reflection, but it is a minor issue. A more important matter
would be to somehow decrease the amount of repetition caused
by the overlap in thought of the nine writers in their segments.
When the brevity of the book is considered one must assume
that space was an issue. If so, eliminating the redundancy
would be logical. On the other hand, we do learn through repetition,
so there are pluses as well.
My favorite sections were on middle school best practices, written
by Christy Charter in the "What Are Developmentally Responsive
Middle Level Practices?" pages (and echoed in several other
sections); Weatherbee's chapter on stress; and guidance counselor
Snowdeal's excellent advice in "How Can You Handle Such a
Multi-Dimensional Job?". Nancy Simpson's chapter on technology
was both exciting and inspiring. Even though the majority
of my students still have no computer at home and I have only
one computer in my classroom, I'm determined to find ways
to incorporate the computer lab in their math instruction.
She started me thinking about what my sixth graders could
also do with Pythagoras....
In light of the growing interest in separate classes for boys
and girls, the chapter on gender difference by Shelly Chasse-Johndro
was relevant and balanced. It was among the shortest segments,
but included interesting facts such as boys' needs for higher
lighting levels and their reduced audio abilities. I found
it disturbing that a Kentucky school with gender-specific
classrooms was described as giving the boys short exercise
periods during the day while the girls were given carpeted
areas to "sit and discuss," assuming that girls don't need
to move around as much. The practice encourages sedentary
habits which would exacerbate the national obesity epidemic.
The school also felt the boys' higher levels of testosterone
made them more competitive, so they gave them more timed tests.
Recent research I've read indicated that girls do better on
timed tests, and so I was curious how that was reflected in
the school, or if the girls all did oral or essay exams.
The fact that the book encourages a desire to delve further
into the topics introduced (and even gives a brief list
of suggested books in "Checked Out Any Good Books Lately?
Can't Miss Resources" by Chris Williams) would have to be
one of its most positive aspects and a justification of
its short treatment of the questions broached. It's useful
both as an introductory overview for newer middle level
educators as well as a refresher and reminder for veterans.