SEDL Monthly: October 2008
SEDL Monthly: Advancing Research, Improving Education October 2008
teacher talking with student at their desk

Middle School Matters
Middle school is never an easy phase for students—nor for those who teach them and parent them! But if we all work together, middle school can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved.

new at SEDL

SEDL Staff Member Studies Engaging Instruction in Middle Schools

Lisa Raphael
Lisa Raphael

"In the highly engaging classrooms we studied, teachers communicated that they cared immensely about their students, made academic and personal connections, and had well thought-out lessons and activities," says SEDL program specialist Lisa Raphael, reporting on a study of nine middle-school classrooms.  Raphael, who works in SEDL's research and evaluation unit, is first author on an article titled "Engaging Instruction in Middle School Classrooms: An Observational Study of Nine Teachers," which appears in the September 2008 edition of Elementary School Journal.

At Michigan State University, Raphael worked with the late Michael Pressley, who was a leading scholar in the field of reading, and fellow graduate student Lindsey Mohan on the study. The study involved extensive classroom observations, teacher interviews, and examining classroom artifacts of the sixth-grade classrooms at two middle-class schools in the same district. The district was located in the urban fringe of a middle-sized city. Nearly 93% of the population of the surrounding community was Caucasian, as were all of the teachers studied.

Out of the nine teachers they studied, three were considered highly engaging based on the criteria of at least 90% of the time, 90% of the students in the class were observed on task. The researchers identified 44 practices based on the research literature that would be expected to promote student engagement and collapsed these into 14 categories of practices that included the following:

  • Challenge student thinking
  • Encourage self-regulation
  • Model strategy use
  • Provide explanation
  • Use positive management

The researchers noted that students enjoyed spending time with the engaging teachers as evidenced by the time they spent interacting with the teachers outside of times when interaction with their teacher was required (e.g., before school, at lunch, after school). They also found that the engaging teachers wanted all students to be successful and spent significant time monitoring and providing scaffolding for students and connecting ideas to students' prior knowledge.

The full article, which includes a more complete discussion of the research methods used, is available from Elementary School Journal for a fee or may be downloaded free of charge by subscribers.


tips and tools

Putting Parents in the Middle

Mom with her son

J. Michael Hall is the director of Strong Fathers, Strong Families and a former middle school teacher and principal. Here are a few tips from Hall for involving middle school parents:

  • Give plenty of notice - Parents of middle school students usually don't have just that one student. A month's notice and a 2-week reminder of events will help them plan ahead.
  • Don't trust students to get the message home - Though some students are willing or remember to give their parents notes from school, it is best to use tools such as e-mails, computerized phone calls, or the school Web site to get information to parents. Even regular mail is effective.
  • Provide parents help in understanding their middle school student - Provide materials about adolescent development, explain how your middle school is built to deal with developmental issues, and encourage parents to stay involved in these trying times. By letting parents know that you understand both them and their child, you will more easily gain a partner in helping their child succeed.

View other family and community involvement products in the SEDL Store. SEDL products support high-quality teaching, improved learning, and increased student performance.

Free Resources

Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement Web site

SEDL has been working with Learning Point Associates to update The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement Web site. If you have never visited the site, now is the time to do so. The Center has a wealth of information on school reform and improvement and includes newsletters, briefs, reports, Web casts, news scans, and a searchable database with nearly 5000 abstracts of school improvement studies, research reports, and articles. It has a real focus on high school and middle school, which are often neglected in the literature for school reform. The Web site covers topics from mathematics to data-driven reform to reallocating resources. The updated site also features a new order area for bulk orders of publications free of charge.

SEDL Letter


The April 2008 issue of SEDL Letter was devoted to middle school issues. Read about efforts to develop a national policy focused on middle school, improving math instruction in middle school, and the advantages of both the middle school and junior high configurations for the middle grades.


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Questions or comments should be directed to:
Leslie Blair
4700 Mueller Blvd.
Austin, TX 78723
Phone: 512-391-6507
Fax: 512-476-2286