Middle School

Theme - Instructional Programs, Practices, & Arrangements

Best Practices

  • Teachers and administrators involved in program and material selection.
  • Differentiated instruction in inclusive classrooms to ensure that all students have equal opportunity to gain required knowledge and skills.

In higher-performing schools few instructional programs and materials are mandated, and teachers are looked to for insight concerning the effectiveness of programs and materials. Changes are made after piloting new materials and gaining feedback from teachers; and programs and practices that are consistent with the school’s and districts’s goals and philosophies are selected. These programs and materials often provide opportunities for teachers to learn how to implement them, but teachers are expected to use the text as only one of many resources. Rather, they are encouraged to select materials and instructional strategies to ensure that students learn the knowledge and skills articulated in the curriculum. They are expected to have content expertise as well as be able to effectively instruct students of all capabilities, learning styles, and ability levels. A philosophy of doing "whatever works" to help children learn prevails.

School administrators encourage teachers to think creatively in their instructional practices so that students are actively engaged. The middle school day is structured to support inclusion, special services, and flexibility within teams and/or blocks. Cross-disciplinary teams and looping help effective middle schools provide consistent routines for behavior and academic performance to help adolescents benefit from instruction tailored to their individual needs. With the goal of ensuring that every student has the opportunity to access the curriculum, the schools focus on social and emotional well being and development as well as academic achievement and provide social services designed to remove barriers to learning.

Differentiation in instructional practices allows for students of differing academic performance to be grouped together and aligns with district visions of encouraging high performance in all students. Expectations for all students regardless of prior experience are high and all students receive the benefits of enrichment within their classrooms. The team structure in effective middle schools fosters widespread sharing among teachers, both within their teams and individual disciplines. Team meetings focus on curriculum, instruction, and assessment, with constant progress monitoring and modifications of instruction or other services to serve a student or group of students better. Collaboration, including coteaching, with inclusion and ESL teachers is common as teachers strive to provide differentiated instruction. We found pervasive sharing of materials and instructional strategies, codevelopment of tests, often voluntary, and voluntary pacing in some subjects.

Teachers and administrators are encouraged to share their work in professional development workshops and attend conferences. They share what they have learned with colleagues in grade-level, team, and district department meetings, as well as professional development workshops. Teachers in the higher-performing schools report being on the “same page” when it comes to instructional strategies. They see the relationship of what they teach with other teachers within their grade and across grades. They use interdisciplinary and differentiated approaches toward the teaching of their content to meet all students’ learning needs.

Some differences between higher- and average-performing schools

In general, higher-performing schools are further along in establishing the conditions that seem to be responsible, at least in part, for their successes. Average performers are still working on ensuring safety and security as an essential foundation on which to build greater academic success; they are moving toward differentiated instruction but not all teachers are “on board” yet; teachers complain that the professional development provided isn’t always what they need (e.g., they want specific suggestions and model lessons rather than consultation).

All schools studied focus on individual students. In the higher performers, this focus is more intense and pervasive – someone connecting with every kid every day, not just a few times a week; a team acting immediately at the sign of a problem (e.g., lack of understanding in class, a behavior problem); teams empowered to initiate and take action without needing to clear it with an administrator.

The teachers in the higher-performing schools seem to be in agreement as to what constitutes effective instructional practices to ensure success for all students, or what they think effective preparation for state assessments looks like.

Selected Evidence

Niagara Middle School uses school-wide rituals and routines to maximize instructional time, and special education teachers meet daily during a dedicated period to collaborate with fellow team teachers.