Klea Scharberg

Developmentally Appropriate Educational Practices for the Middle Grades

Young adolescents have specific developmental needs as they negotiate puberty and its effect on their intellectual, social, and emotional lives. Appropriate environments, strategies, and programs provide structure for academic success.

In his book, The Best Schools: How Human Development Research Should Inform Educational Practice, learning and human development expert Thomas Armstrong identifies 12 educational practices that support the social, emotional, and metacognitive growth of middle-grades students and provides school examples from each. These practices are

The Best Schools

  • Safe school climate
  • Small learning communities
  • Personal adult relationships
  • Engaged learning
  • Positive role models
  • Metacognitive strategies
  • Expressive arts strategies
  • Health and wellness focus
  • Emotionally meaningful curriculum
  • Student roles in decision making
  • Honoring and respecting student voices
  • Facilitating social and emotional growth

Armstrong writes:

Too many educators believe that early adolescence is either a time for whipping kids into shape for the academic rigors of high school or a time for patient (if painful) endurance while they go about their tortuous process of growing up. It is neither. There is a great middle area between these two extremes that must be the focus of those who wish to deal with the reality of young teens. Young adolescents live rich and intense lives. To demand that they leave these lives outside of the school boundaries is to commit a serious injustice to them, and it also threatens to deprive society of the gifts these kids have to give. By embracing the passion of early adolescence and using that energy to revitalize the classroom, educators will ensure that these vibrant young voices will sing out their hopes, fears, joys, and sorrows in a way that can benefit not only themselves but the rest of society as well.

Which of the developmentally appropriate practices for young adolescents described in this chapter are most important in your opinion? What other practices would you add to this list?

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