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Seven steps to succeeding in middle school

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By Marian Wilde

Reading tips for middle-schoolers

The keys to becoming a successful reader in middle school include learning organization skills and sophisticated reading strategies. Laura Hendrick, a literacy coach in Santa Rosa, California, has these suggestions for students:

  • Create an organization system at home. Keep binders neat and have a file for completed papers.
  • Practice reading. Read every day and particularly during the summer - the more practice the better. It doesn't matter what genre you read, just make sure you are reading.
  • Read questions at the end of each textbook chapter before reading the chapter; use headings and subheadings as cues.

In their book, Reading for Understanding: A Guide to Improving Reading in Middle and High School Classrooms, authors Ruth Schoenbach, Cynthia Greenleaf, Christine Cziko and Lori Hurwitz advise the following for students who get confused when reading a text:

  • Ignore the unclear part and read on to see if it gets clearer.
  • Reread the unclear part.
  • Reread the sentence(s) before the unclear part.
  • Try to connect the unclear part to something you already know.

Advice for parents of middle-schoolers

High school teacher Lance Balla suggests the following:

  • Understand what kind of learner your child is. Does he need silence to concentrate? Then make sure the TV is not on when he is studying. Provide an appropriate learning environment at home.
  • Stay engaged with your child and her teachers. Be proactive. Don't wait until the first report card. Make sure you know what is expected of your child and that he is meeting the teacher's expectations. If you wait for the report card, it may be too late. If your school has an online grading system that you can access, make sure you log on frequently to see how your child is doing.
  • Create a college-going culture at home. Emphasize that you expect your child will go to college.
  • Model good reading habits. If your child sees you reading, then he will be more likely to become a reader, too.

Suzanne Owen, English teacher, literacy coach and mother of four in Antioch, California, suggests these tips:

  • Subscribe to a newspaper and encourage your children to read it. Newspapers provide more detail and background than the Web or sound bites on TV. Newspapers also help make connections between what appear to be disparate bits of information.
  • Talk to your kids about what they are learning; not about grades, but actual content.

Comments from readers

"It is a good article, but to save money get a notebook and a folder for each class and on one side of the folder write working and on the other write complete."
"This information helps alot, but do you think you could make one about how to keep you'r friends? My child is having a hard time keeping his old friends when they are with other kids and at different schools Thanks-cj"
"Thanks so much for this article. It is timely and dead-on. I plan to share it with my husband. My daughter is in her second year (7th grade) of a middle school which emphasizes project-based learning. As the expectations of the students increase, the researching, planning and organizational skills you describe become more and more important. Balancing all of that with the hormonal and relationship stuff is overwhelming, for both the children and the parents! My daughter resents the parental interference; when we try to help, she feels that her abilities are being criticized, and her self-confidence plummets. I can't wait to try some of your suggestions."
"Thank you Great Schools staff, your article on 'Seven Steps to succeeding in Middle School' was an excellent help to me, I have a daughter who is going thru that transition. I feel confident in knowing that as a parent I'm not alone when it comes to having a child who was once an A student in lower school but is having some problems in middle school. The seven steps you have outlined in your article is a very welcome tool for me to use along with my daughter, thanks so much for your insight. A Very Pleased Parent!"