Numerous public, private, parochial and charter schools house grades K-8. Reasons for this grade level structure include:
- Limited student enrollment in a defined geographical section within a school district.
- A desire on the part of parents and the community to extend the comfort/security of the elementary school experience for two additional years.
- Concern about the transition from one building or level to another, especially in terms of the nature of change as well as academic achievement.
- Elementary/middle schools associated with specific religious denominations tend to be smaller schools.
- The financial aspect of offering an extensive menu of exploratory/elective courses.
- Utilization of available space when overcrowding exists in other buildings in the district.
- A start-up charter, private or parochial school may wish to add one grade at a time.
The real challenge for the middle grades in a K-8 setting is to create and sustain the underlying principles of the middle level concept as expressed in This We Believe. Essential components of that concept include:
- Responding to the physical, intellectual, social-emotional and moral developmental tasks of young adolescents. Staff members should know the research and best practices for this age group. Individual differences preclude generalizations. Learning experiences should move from the concrete to the abstract. The teaching/learning process should include a variety of group experiences.
- An interdisciplinary approach to instruction. Grades K-4 or 5 generally feature a single teacher in the classroom for most of the day. To achieve a focus on subject matter specialization, two teacher teams can be established as early as grades 4 or 5. One teacher may be responsible for reading/language arts plus social studies while the other teaches mathematics and science for the same two classes. In grade 6, 7, and 8, four or five-member interdisciplinary teams can be established.
- Common planning time. Fundamental to the success of the teaming effort is collaboration. Students are typically assigned to physical education and exploratory courses enabling core teachers to have time to meet. Agendas for team meetings include conversation about student needs and data on a group or individual basis, curriculum integration, sharing teaching/learning strategies, and creative uses of time. School counselors, special education and English Language Learning staff members contribute to the success of these meetings.
- When the same teachers are assigned the same students for the same periods or modules of the day and have a common planning period, flexibility can occur. Middle level students benefit when classes do not meet in the same sequence each day. Students can be grouped and regrouped as needed; period length can be modified. Teachers are empowered to manage time.
- Designating a Flex/Advisory/Intervention (FAI) period. Managed by interdisciplinary teams, a variety of activities occur including large group instruction, advisory programs, and additional support or enrichment. Group guidance programs focus on personal development topics such as honesty, loyalty, communication skills, group dynamics, conflict resolution, peer approval, bullying, or drug and alcohol resistance.
Classroom teachers have been charged with the responsibility to implement the three tiers of RtI or MTSS. Tiers II and III, focusing on remediation as well as follow up to skill and concept development, occur in the FAI period. Students benefit from the formal and informal aspects of FAI.
- Curriculum that is relevant, integrative, challenging, and exploratory. Continuity of curriculum is a key issue throughout the K-8 experience. At the middle level, however, curriculum must reflect students’ physical, intellectual, social-emotional and moral developmental needs. When grades 4-8 are organized on an interdisciplinary team approach, a skill-of-the-week program helps students see reading for main ideas, for example, through more than one lens. Learning is enhanced when subject matter is connected. Exploratory/elective courses are a key portion of the total curriculum experience.
Opportunities exist to establish and sustain elements of the middle level concept in grades 4 or 5-8 within a K-8 setting. Accepting the reality of the K-8 organizational plan, educators must be familiar with the message of This We Believe. Professional development is essential for all staff members.
For additional information, contact Ericka Uskali at the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform for a copy of Building a Middle-School Program Within the K-8 School: Promises and Challenges by Barbara A. Kalina and Gary Weilbacher. firstname.lastname@example.org.