Transition from Elementary School to Middle School
March 6, 2023
As a parent, you want your child to succeed in every aspect of their life. One of the most important transitions your child will make in their learning journey is from elementary school to middle school. This transition can be both exciting and challenging for students, as they move from a familiar environment of homerooms to a new building, or even school, with new teachers, multiple classrooms, schedules to maintain and new peers. However, with proper preparation, students can thrive in middle school and develop important skills that will serve them well in high school and beyond.
The Big Leap from 5th to 6th
As a mom to three teens (14, 16 and 18), I’ve done this transition three times. Each time, there was a part of me that worried. Will they make friends? Will they like their teachers? Will they be able to handle the class transitions and workload? Will they be SEEN? As a teacher, I also have a lot of experience preparing my own grade 5 students for the leap from grade 5 to grade 6, specifically in the IB’s PYP and MYP programs. For those who don't know, at the heart of the IB’s Primary Years Program (PYP) and Middle Years Program (MYP) are the learner profiles and approaches to learning, which help students become independent, lifelong learners. Basically,learning how to learn in and out of a school context. As PYP educators, we integrate them into the curriculum, making sure they are everyday words that carry significant understanding and impact on learning and character development. It doesn’t matter what type of school your child attends. These profiles and attitudes can be valuable resources for parents too, to guide their children through the transition from elementary school to middle school, and can be used by any student from any academic background. Think of them as foundations of life skills, to be practiced and built upon with each experience and question a child has. Even we as adults should be taking these to heart in our own lives!
Skills for Success!
Here are some important skills that students should gain in 5th grade before entering 6th:
Communication Skills: Students should be able to express their thoughts and ideas effectively, listen actively, and ask questions. In inquiry teaching, we focus a lot on having students be able to ask questions about their learning, which can lead to even more questions as they dig deeper. The goal isn’t to provide an immediate answer, but to allow the development of questioning, listening and answering in meaningful ways. Encourage your child to participate in group discussions, debate topics with peers, and express themselves clearly and concisely.
Organization Skills: This is a big one for me, both as a parent and an educator. I focus a lot on organization in my grade 5 classroom. Middle school students will have multiple classes, assignments, and deadlines to keep track of. It is essential for students to develop strong organizational skills, such as keeping a planner, prioritizing tasks, and managing their time effectively. Keeping distractions at a minimum was something I noticed really helped students thrive in organization.
Independence: Middle school is a time when students are expected to take more responsibility for their learning and personal development. Encourage your child to take ownership of their work, seek help when needed, and develop the confidence to try new things. A lot of this connects beautifully with those communication skills. Students should be learning how to advocate for their learning, having a voice (agency), and making sure they are heard. This isn’t something that comes naturally for most students. Educators have a responsibility to teach what student agency means, especially when a student finds themselves in the Learning Pit. Trainer, Consultant and Author, Ali Ezzeddine, adds the following:
“Parents who support agency, offer their kids opportunities to choose what they like to do in their free time, listen to them, engage with them in deep discussion about real life problems, and make sure to explain to them that taking risks and learning from mistakes is key for success.”
If you’re interested in learning more about student agency, sign up for Ali Ezzeddine’s session on Let’s Discuss Agency on March 18th.
Critical Thinking Skills: In middle school, students will encounter more complex problems and challenges, even different curriculum styles. Critical thinking skills, such as analyzing information, evaluating evidence, and making informed decisions, are essential for success. In the PYP, we integrate these skills into units of inquiry, allowing younger students to practice these and understand what they mean, in preparation for the MYP and beyond. Encourage your child to read widely (different perspectives, genres), ask questions, and develop their own opinions. Allow them to question information and give them practice in doing so.
Resilience: Middle school can be a time of great change and uncertainty. There’s friend groups to navigate, challenging content, new concepts to grapple with and just feeling seen in the sea of middle school. Encourage your child to develop resilience by bouncing back from setbacks, taking on new challenges, and learning from their mistakes. All of this begins to form an ‘expert learner’ with skills which can help them build on their toolkit for resilience.
Learner Profiles…We Should ALL Be Using Them
In addition to these skills, the learner profiles can also be valuable tools for navigating the transition to middle school. Encourage your child to be:
Inquirers: Encourage your child to ask questions, explore new ideas, and be curious about the world around them. Learner profiles aren’t just for the classroom, we want them to be a natural part of a child’s life. The more we can encourage the use of the vocabulary and practice it day to day, the more we’re helping to create a well-rounded, open-minded individual.
Thinkers: Encourage your child to think critically, reflect on their learning, and make connections between different subjects. Not only between subjects, but about their own learning journey and understanding. Can they synthesize information and create new understandings? Can they think about what they, as learners, need from others?
Communicators: Encourage your child to express their thoughts and ideas effectively, listen actively, and share their learning with others. Communication comes up again because it is so important in today’s world. While ChatGPT may create some papers, ideas and help people learn, we absolutely must make sure our children are developing their own skills in communication and not just building up a chatbot’s ability.
Risk-Takers: Encourage your child to take on challenges, try new things, and learn from their mistakes. Taking risks helps us learn from experience, and life is about experience. We might fall down, but using our skills of resilience as an ‘expert learner’ and getting out of the Learning Pit, we should feel more comfortable with taking risks.
Balanced: Encourage your child to maintain a healthy balance between their academic and personal lives, and to develop healthy habits for physical and mental well-being. I will also include balancing their digital lives! Middle school is often the time when cell phones are handed out and kids are finding themselves in another world…social media, comparisons and notifications. The sooner we can help our students develop healthy habits around balance, the more we are helping them towards success.
Reflective: Encourage your child to reflect on their learning, set goals, and monitor their progress. Much like teachers use goals and objectives setting in the classroom, so should students. Tools like SMART goals are a great way to get students into goal setting. And reflection is key to an expert learner. Students should understand how to reflect on their learning, asking questions like what went well?What didn’t go as planned?What would I change next time?How can I learn from this experience?
By developing these skills and profiles, your child will be well-prepared for the challenges and opportunities that await them in middle school. As a parent, you can support your child's transition by providing a safe and supportive environment, encouraging them to take ownership of their learning, and helping them develop the skills they need to succeed. With your support and guidance, your child can thrive in middle school and beyond.
As an experienced tutor, I can help your child develop the critical thinking, communication, and organization skills they need to thrive in middle school and beyond. If you're interested in helping your child make a smooth transition to middle school, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. With my services, I can provide your child with the support and guidance they need to develop the skills and attitudes they need to succeed. Together, we can help your child reach their full potential and achieve their academic goals.