For those of you who were not able to attend Back-to-School Night (BTSN) last Thursday, we have included Head of Middle School Pat Preib’s remarks below:
Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the middle school portion of BTSN 2019!
Before you head off to your students’ classes, I’d like to put what you are about to see in context.
As you know, middle schoolers are undergoing enormous changes intellectually, emotionally, and physically. Since there is so much going on for them over which they have no control whatsoever, it’s not surprising that they are sometimes forgetful and can be REALLY intense. Plus their emotions are all over the place, which means that educating them takes particular care and attention.
Educators way back in the 1970s began to recognize this and decided to address the specific developmental characteristics unique to middle schoolers. They rejected the notion that school for 11–13 year olds should merely be preparation for high school; they began to design schools that met the needs of middle schoolers who are no longer children, but who are also not yet young adults. Educators reflected this change by renaming junior high schools as middle schools.
Since then, scientific research has only confirmed what those earlier educators knew from direct experience. Science supports the notion that adolescents need lots of opportunities to achieve academic success because their self-confidence is often shaken by the rapid changes they are experiencing. They need learning activities that are exploratory and challenging and incorporate student-generated questions and concerns. Middle schoolers need opportunities to try out new interests, to fail in a safe environment, and to try again in order to discover their artistic or intellectual passions and strengths.
Recognizing this, Bosque’s MS took the bold step several years ago to better align our teaching and assessment practices with both the specific developmental needs of middle schoolers and with the best practices for teaching and learning.
This resulted in two innovations for our middle school students. The first is common to the entire Bosque School experience from 6th–12th grade, and that is our inquiry-based learning method. There is a mountain of research indicating that this is the best educational method for 21st century students and their learning. You can see proof of this during our Senior Colloquium Nights in May where students demonstrate genuine mastery of complex subject matter. For MSers, inquiry recognizes students’ growing need for independence and gives them greater control over their own learning. Middle schoolers are eager to explore the world, and so offering them the chance to make interdisciplinary connections and to engage actively in their learning is necessary. You can see the early steps in the middle school that ultimately lead to Senior Colloquium during our inquiry project presentations later in the year. We hope you will make every effort to attend.
The second innovation takes place only in middle school. Here we are aligning our efforts with what is best for middle schoolers through our commitment to learning goal-based assessments. Learning goals give students continuous and authentic assessment measures by offering a concrete picture of what they need to learn and the specific steps that get them there. Simply put, learning goals tell students what they need to learn and how to learn it.
A letter grade is a good shorthand report of what a student knows and can do at the end of a grading period. Learning goals, by contrast, are the signposts along the way. Learning goals make the teacher’s requirements transparent and readily accessible to each student. Since middle schoolers need lots of chances to try new skills and to learn new content, they need to be able to mess up without dire consequences. So, we offer them a series of signposts to guide them along the learning continuum.
The result for students has been mostly positive. Learning goals build confidence in students’ ability to tackle new skills during the tender transition to young adulthood. This confidence will carry our students into high school, into college, and even into adult life because it is essential in any area of life.
Nevertheless, I want to recognize that the rollout of how we assess our students’ learning goals has been rocky. We haven’t been clear about what our assessments mean. We are aware of your concerns and your desire for better feedback regarding assessment, and we are vigorously working on this in middle school. Throughout the year, we will be looking to see whether we’re giving you the information you need and to make any necessary adjustments. So, stay tuned.
In the meantime, you can do your part by reading the weekly, grade-level Bobcat Bulletins which will arrive in your inbox every Saturday morning. The Bulletins outline recent activities and upcoming assignments and events. They will also include occasional resources for parents. So, you’ll want to take a look. For a deeper dive into your child’s classes, familiarize yourself with Google Classroom. If you are unclear about how to access your child’s Google Classroom account, be sure to ask your child’s advisor. If you ever have questions on any topic, we encourage you to contact your child’s teachers or advisors sooner than later. We want to partner with you to provide the best possible educational experience for your middle schooler.
Given the high emotional volume inherent in middle school, teaching students this age requires patience and a good sense of humor. But genuine joy comes from working with young people during this tender and most exhilarating period of their lives. Bosque’s middle schoolers benefit from educators who are not only knowledgeable about the specific developmental needs of their students and are dedicated to meeting them, but who are also committed to doing the hard work of bringing the very best practices to your children every day.
Thank you for entrusting us with the education of your children at this most critical period of their lives. We take seriously the important work we do in helping your children succeed.