Grades 5 to 8 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation

Implementation Overview: Grades 5 to 8
The Middle Years Learner

Grades 5 to 8 students are typically between 10 and 14 years of age. Literacy learning in the Middle Years requires a unique classroom culture and climate that is different from that required for Early Years or Senior Years students. Middle Years students are distinguished by special intellectual, moral, physical, emotional/psychological, and social characteristics that shape the way they learn. The methods, contexts, resources, and supports that Middle Years teachers choose are determined by the needs of students, and so Middle Years teachers’ styles, attitudes, and pacing will be different from those of Early Years or Senior Years educators.

Teachers and students bring a range of abilities to the classroom. The National Middle School Association has documented some of the personal and professional traits that characterize Middle Years students and teachers. These traits are summarized in the charts below.

Intellectual Development
Middle Years Learners . . . Middle Years Teachers . . .
  • demonstrate a wide range of development in the transition between concrete and abstract thinking
  • display a wide range of curiosity and intellectual pursuits, some of which are sustained for long periods
  • prefer active learning and interaction with peers during learning experiences
  • may show a strong need for approval, and an increasing understanding of personal capabilities
  • may be preoccupied with self and display a tendency to be easily discouraged
  • respond positively to real life contexts and situations
  • observe adults critically, sometimes challenge authority, and show disinterest in conventional academics

  • use a wide variety of methodologies to differentiate instruction
  • communicate clear expectations
  • use student curiosity and interests to focus classroom inquiry
  • teach well-organized lessons and create consistent, established routines but allow for spontaneity
  • accept and understand the need for independent, collaborative, and co-operative learning
  • get to know each student early in the year
  • give specific constructive feedback and celebrate achievements
  • develop language activities that foster self-understanding and a sense of self-efficacy
  • embed instruction in meaningful activities
  • model effective interpersonal communication skills to engage students in positive learning relationships

Moral Development
Middle Years Learners. . . Middle Years Teachers. . .
  • move from asking "What’s in it for me?" to considering the rights and feelings of others
  • demonstrate a level of idealism, a desire to be socially useful, a compassionfor the underprivileged and interest in social and environmental issues
  • show more comfort in dealing with ambiguity
  • rely on significant adults for advice but indicate developing individual values (often reflecting those of parents)
  • identify "flaws" in others but continue to have difficulty identifying personal weaknesses
  • value democratic practices within the classroom
  • may be impatient with the pace of change and underestimate the difficulties associated with social change
  • are influenced by adult role models who listen to personal concerns
  • use awareness of non-verbal cues and the changing dynamics of youth culture to manage the classroom effectively
  • value students’ concerns regarding social justice and channel idealism into positive community action
  • help students develop a tolerance for ambiguity in a rapidly changing world
  • maintain open communication
  • use a wide variety of self-assessment tools and strategies in a low-risk environment to identify strengths and areas for improvement
  • promote a democratic classroom to encourage students to take increasing responsibility
  • explore the nature of change, provide opportunities for students to follow through on commitments, and learn about effective social change
  • communicate concern for students as individuals

Emotional/Psychological Development
Middle Years Learners . . . Middle Years Teachers . . .
  • may manifest "mood swings" that are often intense
  • need to release energy with outbursts of activity
  • demonstrate a more sophisticated sense of humour
  • indicate increasing concern about peer and adult acceptance and personal independence
  • may indicate self-consciousness, fragile self-esteem, sensitivity to personal criticism, and intense concern about physical growth and maturity
  • may believe that personal problems, feelings, and experiences are unique
  • may demonstrate vulnerability because of real or perceived differences between self and others
  • are positive about the intensity of young adolescents
  • find ways to channel students’ energy and need for activity by changing the pace of instruction and learning frequently and by using kinesthetic activities
  • display a sense of humour, fun, and "with-it-ness" within the classroom
  • require and demonstrate an understanding of youth culture and give students opportunities to study, write, and perform using humour
  • require classroom management skills that communicate acceptance but clearly define expectations both for behaviours and academics
  • build and maintain an atmosphere of respect, encourage risk-taking, demonstrate sensitivity to the feelings of others and their emotional and physical safety
  • show sensitivity to individual personal needs but foster an "esprit de corps" by focussing on commonalties
  • understand the vulnerability of middle years students, and plan activities to develop both self-esteem and understanding of diversity

Social Development
Middle Years Learners . . . Middle Years Teachers . . .
  • demonstrate a need to belong, of valuing peer approval more than adult approval
  • may use slang, jargon, and/or behaviours associated with various peer groups
  • model behaviours of "popular" students or non-parent adults
  • may show some social immaturity because mental and physical development often occur faster than social development
  • attempt to adjust to differing rates of maturation between self and peers
  • demonstrate an increasing need to make personal decisions
  • desire recognition for personal efforts and achievements but show strong reaction to ridicule, embarrassment, and rejection
  • may be vulnerable to influences of media, peers, gangs, and other groups that may challenge or compromise personal ideals and values
  • foster a sense of classroom identity and belonging to a community of learners in which every student is valued and included
  • structure learning and teach strategies for effective peer interaction
  • learn about their students' language and personal choices
  • identify and support positive student behaviours and attitudes
  • foster social development in a range of activities
  • provide role models for adolescents by modelling inclusive, collaborative, and team-oriented approaches to learning
  • foster problem-solving and critical- thinking skills needed for decision-making
  • develop a classroom climate where personal efforts, diversity, and achievements are celebrated in a community of learners
  • recognize students' vulnerability and attempt to meet their needs or access other supports

National Middle School Association. This We Believe: Developmentally Responsive Middle Level Schools. A Position Paper of the National Middle School Association. NMSA. Columbus, Ohio: NMSA, 1995 (43231).


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