The transition to middle school can be a tough one for both parents and students. As I have often noted, US students can go toe to toe with their counterparts in the other developed nations until they get to 6th grade. Once students are in middle school, their scores start to slip and by the time students are in high school, U.S. students perform near the bottom in math, science, reading and other academic measurements.
Given these harsh facts, how can parents ensure that the transition to middle school is smooth? According to the article below, it’s not what you would think. By the time students hit middle school, many parents are used to the “involvement” model of participating in their children’s education: volunteering in class, helping with homework, getting to know teachers, etc. However, once middle school hits, this model is often turned on its head: parents are encouraged to let students experience school on their own. Now that parents have stepped away from the classroom, how can they best help their students?
The answer is simple, and one LifeBound has been promoting for years through our work, Stop Parenting and Start Coaching. Parents must become an advocate and a sounding board for their child’s education, encouraging their teenagers to set goals, value learning and hold themselves accountable for their decisions. Equally important is that both parents and students understand the unique academic and social challenges that come with the transition to middle school. The sooner that students build a solid understanding of how to face the new challenges that middle school presents, the better they will do during this difficult time.
To find out more about how to help your student make a successful transition to middle school, visit www.successinmiddleschool.com
How Parents Can Best Help Middle-Schoolers
By Sue Shellenbarger
I volunteered often in my children’s elementary school, serving as a classroom tutor and becoming close to many of their teachers. Sara has posted on how volunteering is a good way to say thanks to teachers and to be more than a “phantom presence” in school.
But I was at a loss to figure out a new role for myself when my kids entered one of the big public junior high schools in our town, which was six times the size of their elementary school. Overnight, it seemed, I was unwelcome in my kids’ much larger classrooms, and expected to communicate with teachers only through my student. That, actually, is exactly what should happen when a kid hits 12 or 13 years of age. But it took me a while to figure out what parents should be doing at that level to remain involved and support their students.
A new research survey on parental involvement in middle school nails down an answer: The best way to promote achievement in middle school isn’t to help student with their homework, or even to volunteer for school fundraisers. Instead, middle-school students posted the best results in school when their parents stepped back a bit and moved into more of a “coaching role,” teaching them to value education, relate it to daily life and set high goals for themselves, says the study, published recently in the journal Developmental Psychology.
Duke University researchers Nancy E. Hill and Diana F. Tyson came to that conclusion by surveying 50 studies of parental involvement. They divided parents’ roles into three categories: One was home involvement, included helping children with homework, taking them to museums or libraries, or making books and educational materials available. School-based involvement included attending parent meetings, volunteering for school activities or communicating with school officials.
A third kind of involvement, labeled “academic socialization” by the researchers, included communicating your values and expectations about education; pointing out connections between schoolwork and current events; encouraging children to set goals and follow their dreams; discussing learning strategies, and preparing and making plans for the future. Basically, it means helping your kid make good decisions about school, with an understanding of what those decisions will mean to him or her, and linking class work with students’ interests and goals.
Students whose parents played this coaching role posted the strongest academic gains, after controlling for other factors. School-based involvement was only moderately helpful. So were most kinds of home-based involvement, with one startling exception: Parental help with middle schoolers’ homework was actually linked to poorer school performance. This could be because parents tend to get involved with middle-school homework only after a kid is already in academic trouble. Also, middle schoolers may feel pressured or smothered by parents’ help at this stage.
Readers, what has been your experience trying to stay involved in your middle schoolers’ academic lives? What has worked for you? What about your younger or older kids?