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How Can I Help Ease the Transition to Middle School?

Kathy Glass
Kathy Glass

By Kathy Glass, Consulting Educator


My child will be going into sixth grade. Could you please tell me what I can do so as to make the transition easier? He is an honor student and is already thinking about college. Is there any way that I can help him to remain focused?


An engaging and stimulating environment seems to be the key to keeping him attentive if he is an honor student thinking of college. Many dynamic teachers focus on a differentiated curriculum in which they assess the needs of all students and plan accordingly to meet their needs. Unfortunately, some teachers are more comfortable providing the same curriculum to all students rather than challenging each to their ability levels and considering students' interests when teaching.

You should definitely talk with the teacher and find out his or her philosophy. I suggest you have a parent/student conference with the teacher and discuss how your son and his teacher can work collaboratively to provide an enriching curriculum. See if the teacher would be willing to create a system in which your son can test out of a certain curriculum if it is a course of study he knows well. If he does test out, then he can work independently on a project of his choice within the overarching unit focus. That way, he will not be bored relearning material he has already covered. Sometimes, teachers invite these students to present their projects to the class to augment what the teacher provides.

If the teacher is amenable to an independent project, suggest that your son abide by certain conditions for the project and sign a contract. I had students work in a corner of my classroom or at the library for independent projects and had them sign a contract including conditions such as the following: maintain focus at all times; contact the teacher only when she is not involved in teaching a lesson; do not be boastful about the opportunity to work independently; when working somewhere other than the classroom, follow the directions that the teacher sets at that location. Students could continue working alone or with a partner of similar abilities if they abided by these conditions. If not, they lost the privilege. Your son and the teacher will regularly check in with each other during an independent study to assure your son stays on track and is challenged.

Collaboration during the school year between student and teacher is essential. Ask if the teacher can provide pre-assessments at the beginning of each unit to determine what your son (and others) already knows. Your son, on the other hand, can alert his teacher to material that is too hard or easy. With opportunities for your son to work within a Kathy Glass whole class setting, small group work with similarly able students, and independently on learning contracts, the classroom can work well for your son and keep him challenged. This is what is known as "diffentiated instruction" in education circles. For more ideas and information about differentiated instruction, do a Google search on the term. There are a multitude of articles and resources that you can read to educate yourself and share with a teacher who may not be well-versed on this topic.

Kathy Glass, a former middle school teacher, is an educational consultant and author focusing on curriculum and instruction. She wrote Curriculum Design for Writing Instruction: Creating Standards-Based Lesson Plans and Rubrics (© 2005, Corwin Press) and Curriculum Mapping: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Curriculum Year Overviews. Currently she is writing a book with Carol Tomlinson and other authors of the Parallel Curriculum Model. She can be contacted through her Web site.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.