Middle school can be a challenging time for students with learning differences. Developmentally, middle school-ers are constantly comparing themselves against their peers, and unfortunately for the LD student, they often perceive their differences as shortcomings. Unable to continue to “mask” their learning difficulties, some students begin to suffer feelings of inadequacy. Other students adopt an attitude of indifference toward school; an apathy that disguises their feelings of powerlessness to master the learning targets or surrounding structures that seem to come easily to their peers. The middle school years can be full of turmoil and often self-esteem suffers along with grades.
In middle school, an important task is educating our students about their learning profile and encouraging them to explore their strengths and affinities while working on their areas of academic struggle. Facilitating personal growth and reveling in small successes along the way is an important hallmark of the middle school program so that students can cultivate confidence through increased competency. Hill’s middle school program guides students toward becoming educated self-advocates for their own personal learning. The small class sizes and familiarity with teachers provide opportunities to practice advocating for difficulties with an assignment or strategies that have worked in the past.
Hill School’s middle school program strives to provide a positive learning experience during this time of uncertainty yet emerging independence for students. We are focused on celebrating the strengths and talents that students themselves often overlook in a desire to be “the same as everyone else”.
While there are still students of middle school age that struggle with foundational learning skills, the emphasis in grades 6 – 8 begins to shift from skill remediation to strategies that bypass weak functions and allow students to meet the increased content and comprehension demands of the curriculum.
Strategic implementation of study skills can make an enormous difference for students with learning differences. Hill School faculty help facilitate a structure around the learning process by demonstrating and utilizing a variety of study techniques. Over time, students begin to self-select the learning strategies that work best for them in order to manage their academic requirements. Many Hill students have difficulty organizing their time and materials and there is an emphasis on practicing organizational skills in the middle school program. A structured system for recording assignments is implemented in the middle school and families can use our Renweb school management system as a back-up to verify class assignments and homework. Daily feedback between school and home helps parents, students, and teachers work in partnership to develop these critical self-management skills.
There is no denying the dramatic social changes that students experience during their middle school years. In the classroom, teachers provide opportunities for small group collaboration where students can explore appropriate social interactions with guidance if needed. Topical discussions surrounding character, decision-making, good choices, and leadership provide structured focus on social interaction. In such a small classroom setting, students can support one another and work beautifully as a team, but each individual also has a big impact on the whole – infringing on another student’s learning is not acceptable and will be addressed quickly. Explicit instruction using the Hawk Habits and a character education program helps the middle school student integrate appropriate social skills into his or her repertoire. Our counselor is available to address immediate peer issues or provide mediation. With referrals from parents and teachers, our counselor provides opportunities for weekly small group social skills practice.
Our instructors provide the personalized support that middle school students need while challenging them to grow their academic skills. The middle school offers the following key elements in its curriculum:
Extended Reading and English Blocks – All students receive an hour and a half of language arts instruction daily. This extended time allows for a focus on areas including reading comprehension, written expression, vocabulary development, critical thinking, and grammar instruction. Students still needing remedial instruction in the basics of decoding skills are ability-grouped with other students with similar needs and foundational skills are addressed at school and through structured daily fluency homework.
Focused Math Instruction – Our math classes are ability-grouped to maximize student success in mathematics. Hill School math teachers are dedicated to instruction of grade-level skills, at a pace appropriate for the students in their class. Volume of homework assignments may be adjusted as student needs (for challenge and for accommodation) are determined.
Advisory – a dedicated time period used to get a jump-start on homework, work on organizational skills, and provide time for student clubs and activities.
Enrichment – all middle school students attend art, technology, and specialty classes that vary quarterly to balance their academic schedule.
Curriculum Selection – Hill School utilizes texts approved by the state of Texas as well as Common Core curriculum. Our classes are designed with TEKS guidelines in mind and we provide and recommend a variety of assistive technology that levels the playing field for students with LD. Academic work may be modified to each student and their individual level of academic ability. Students may be at, above, or below grade level in a subject area—the goal is to provide programming that encourages progress over time, regardless of a student’s ability.
While not an exhaustive list, the targets listed below provide some insight into the school-related expectations for middle school-aged children in grades 6 – 8. Continued interventions that enable skill progression in middle school is important, however, there is a shift toward using accommodations to help bypass areas of difficulty so that students can reach beyond to content and comprehension goals.
An explosion of decontextualized detail, less predictable information flow, growing social distractions, need for attention in low interest contexts, stress on extended mental effort, demand for planning and self-regulation
Demand for narrative organization in writing, using extended cause-effect chains, greater need for understanding temporal relationships in content areas (ie: history), demand for prioritizing, using step-wise skills and problem solving
Need for rapid visualization (spelling), growing need for geometric imaging demand for material management, demand for visual-graphic interpretation and diagramming, call for designing and using computer graphics
Demand for rapid simultaneous recall, active working memory goes into high gear, stress on automatic retrieval of facts and procedures, us of mnemonic strategies, demand for self-testing, rapid rule recall, activation of prior knowledge
Stress on comprehension in reading, need of oral and written narrative skill, verbal fluency to communicate, stress on technical vocabulary, decontextualized language use, expository comprehension and writing
Intensified motor competitiveness, convergence of body image and motor skills, requirement for graphomotor fluency, need for rapid copying skills, requirement for keyboarding skills, demand for gross motor synchronization in sports
Quest for intimacy in friendships, need for conscious reputation building, emergence of varying degrees of friendship, emphasis on conforming and normality, focus on lingo use, stress on matching the affect of others
Emergence of preferred modes of thinking, abstract concept use increases, call for flexible rule application and generalization, need for conscious problem-solving methods, critical thinking demands, reasoning needs
Hill School provides touch-screen, keyboard-enabled tablet computers for the use of 6th grade students during the school day. Teachers can check out class sets of the Lenovo Yoga at any time during the school day for use with the whole class, for individuals working at their own pace, or small groups collaborating on a project. Technology use in 6th grade continues keyboarding skills and expanded use of Word and Powerpoint as well as apps that support math and language skill acquisition.
Take-home technology, in the form of Surface Pro2 tablet computers with touch-screen, stylus, and keyboard capability is implemented in 7th and 8th grade. Students utilize the tablets in class for taking notes, research, writing, textbook implementation, and organization. These devices are also taken home each evening for students to complete homework, participate in online discussions, view videos from flipped-classroom instruction, and communicate with instructors if needed. Use of technology in middle school prepares students for the upper school experience. Whether they plan to continue at Hill, or transition to another setting, LD students should be well-versed in using technology as a learning tool to help bridge processing, language, or organizational gaps that may still exist.