You are on page 1of 5
30 Years of Advocating for Young Adolescents P, Elizabeth Pate, Editor Middle School Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s While traditional models of curriculum, instruction, and assessment are still widely practiced in middle schools, the past three decades have seen the variety of models in these three areas increase to provide more challenging and relevant learning opportunities for more types of learners. By Katherine F, Thompson & Elaine R. Homestead ‘of Advocating for Young Adolescents, we dis- cussed middle school organization (thompson & Homestead, 2004a) and middle schoo! students and parents (Thompson & Homestead, 2004b). In this article we highlight curriculum, instruction, and assessment, In the ual quest to establish an appropriate and ctive education for young adolescents, three important questions guide us: What should the curriculum for young adolescents be? How do ‘we instruct young adolescents? How do we know what young adolescents have learned? I the first two articles in the series, 30 Years Curriculum: Since Jong before the middle school movement began, the question What should the curriculum for young adolescents be? has been greatly de- bated. From the Committee of Ten’s report in 1893 (Tanner & Tanner, 1995) to more contem- porary publications, such as Turning Points 2000: Educating Adolescents in the 21st Century (Jackson & Davis, 2000) and Tihs We Believer Successful 70 Middle Schoo! Journal » May 2004 Schools for Young Adolescents (National Middle School Association, 2003), middle school eduuca- tors have sought to identify a curriculum that is 1970s There was no set state curriculum and no curriculum guides. The curriculum was the text- ook. Therefore, each teacher's curriculum plan ‘was to “cover” the book before the end of the school year. We began on page one and pro- ceeded page by page until the end of the year. ‘We would teach, test, grade, and move on. For struggling students, there was no time set aside for additional help. —Paula, pseudonym challenging for and meaningful to young ado- lescents, In the 1960s and 1970s as the middie school movement began to grow, scholars pro- posed curricula that acknowledged the clevelop- ‘mental needs of young adolescents (Beane, 1989}. The curriculum, they argued, should pro- mote not only intellectual development, but also personal development, including the social, emotional, and physical needs of young adoles- cents, In addition to traditional academic disci- plines, proponents of middle schools during this time advocated for the inclusion of the arts and foreign languages. In the 1980s, Beane (1989) reminded us in the seminal work, From Rhetoric to Reality, of the importance of an appropriate curricu- lum for young adolescents. He recommended that adolescents’ social and personal concerns be at the heart of curriculum in middle schools, 1980s My teacher preparation did not address devel- ‘opmentally appropriate curriculum for young ado- lescents. Each year I taught, I changed the curricu- lum. I did this for three reasons: (a) | went through. teacher training during the time when individu- alized Instruction was the norm so [at least knew ‘each student had different needs and learned in a variety of ways; (b) I got bored easily and if I was. bored then I knew the students were probably bored also; and (c) | was dissatisfied ... surely there could be a better way. —Laura, pseudonym Part of the dilemma in answering the question, What should the curriculum for young adolescents be?, is in the definition of curriculum. Some people think Of curriculum as a listing of subjects taught in schools; some think of it as those experiences that, individuals require for full and authentic preparation in society; and others consider it to be all school experiences that students encounter (Ornstein & ‘Hunkins, 1998). Curriculum can also be planned and formal (e.,, courses of study, curriculum guides, and school district standards) or unplanned or hhidden (e.g, implied values, attitudes, and rules of behavior). 19905 The middle school curriculum at my school ‘was rather traditional in 1990, The separate-subject model was the norm. With the middle school con- cept still very new to my school, most teachers had had little training or experience with alternative cur- riculum models. By the mid-1990s, teachers also. used parallel and interdisciplinary approaches in their classrooms. By 1999, several teachers in the schoo! were relating the curticulum to community needs Via service learning. —Christy, pseudonym. During the past 30 years, there have been a variety of curriculum models used in middle schools. ‘Curriculum models refer to the type, presentation, format, and intent of curriculum that, ideally, pro- vides for independent thinkers (Pate, 2002). According to Pate, models most often used in middle schools include individualized (eg., con- tracts, leaning centers, virtual-based), separate-sub- ject, parallel, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, service learning, and curriculum integration. ‘We believe that curriculum in middle schools should be developmentally appropriate, rigorous, challenging, exploratory, and focused on the needs, Interests, and concerns of students. We advocate that middle level educators dismantle artificial con- tent area barriers that often promote isolated lea Ing and instead establish blocks of learning time devoted to integrating the curriculum. We should share the “givens” (e.g., standards, objectives) with middle school students and collaborate with them in developing learning opportunities that promote ctitical thinking and provide for connections to communities beyond the classroom, Instruction How do we instruct young adolescents? Over the past three decaces, there have been a variety of instruc tional approaches used in middle schools. Instruction is defined as the methods of “presenting content, conveying information, and facilitating student learning” (Kellough & Kellough, 1999). During the 1970s and 1980s, behaviorism greatly influenced teachers’ instructional planning, while constructivist approaches to teaching gained popu- larity in the 1990s, 1970s In addition to my lack of understanding of the nature and needs of the young adolescent, I had limited pedagogical knowledge. Since I was edu- «ated, personally and professionally, with a behav- iorist philosophy, | considered leaning to be the accumulation of factual knowledge. Lessons were planned around the delivery of and student reten- tion of facts. Therefore, my lessons were teacher cen- tered. Teacher-talk dominated four classes a day, SS minutes a class, Work was an isolated, individual activity. No hands-on, no manipulatives, no applica- tion, no real-world problem solving, I did not begin, with concrete examples and then move to the abstract. I began and ended with the abstract. This was the way [learned math as a student; this was the way I taught my own students. Iwas not teaching for understanding and application; I was teaching algorithms to be memorized and used on the test. —Paula Middle School Journal « May 200471 n Some examples of instructional approaches used in middle school classrooms include direct instruc- tion, guided instruction, mastery learning, discovery learning, and authentic instruction. According to America’s Midte Schools: Practices and Progress—A 25 Year Perspective (McEwvin, Dickinson, & Jenkins, 1996), the primary instructional method used in middie schools from the 1960s to the early 1990s ‘was direct instruction (e.g., lecture, dril, practice). A variety of teaching and learning strategies (e-g., brainstorming, reciprocal teaching, concept map- ping) were alo used during the last three decades. 1980s Teaching the same classes all day was repeti- tious for me.I would try a variety of instructional ‘methods with the students in the morning, but by the end of the day, I couldn’t remember what I had said or to whom, My instruction became more effec- tive by day's end because of practice, but my enthu- siasm was out the window. In my school, direct instruction was the norm, I don’t know how the students could stand it. —Laura According to Schools in the Middle: Status and Progress (Alexander & McEwin, 1989), there was an. increase in independent study opportunities (Le, working individually on selected or assigned tasks) in middie schools from 1968 to 1988. By 1993, inde- pendent study was used regularly or occasionally by roughly 70%6 of middle schools (McEwin, Dickinson, & Jenkins, 1996). To a lesser degree, teachers also implemented cooperative learning (ie, structured. group work and rewards for achievement) and inquiry teaching (Le,, gathering information, deriv. ing conclusions). Half of the middle schools in 1993 reported regular use of cooperative learning, while 35% reported that they regularly employed inquiry teaching Instruction is one of the most important aspects of teaching but often given the least consideration. With greater emphasis placed on testing, teachers’ planning time usually focuses on what we teach, not hhow we teach, Does curriculum have significance if it is not conveyed in meaningful ways? Furthermore, how can we justify assessment if we have given min- imal thought to how tested content is presented? Teachers should have sound reasons for the instruc tional practices they use. The following questions may guide middle school educators as they deter- mine appropriate instructional methods: (a) What is (ate) the goal(s) of the lesson or unit, and what is, Middle Schoo! journal + May 2004 the best way to get there? (b) Am I responding to students’ developmental needs, learning styles, and multiple intelligences? (¢) Do I knovr content and pedagogy well enough to differentiate instruction? {) Am I challenging my students? (e) Am I encour- aging a passion for learning in my students by way ‘of thorough preparation, varied teaching strategies, and my own enthusiasm? (f) Am I current on the Jatest research-hased instructional methods and teaching and leaming strategies? 1990s Throughout the 1990s, I saw instruction ‘become more collaborative, not only among teachers but also between teachers and students. The ‘traditional lecture and “read the chapter-answer the questions" approaches were considered less effective. My students frequently participated in hands-on activities that made learning the required objectives ‘more meaningful. [used a variety of supplementary instructional materials, although teaching and learn- ing stil revolved around a primary textbook. By the end of the decade, technology (e.g, computers, digital photography, television/videos) was an essen- tial instructional tool in my classroom. —Chisty Instruction is at the core of an effective and appropriate middle level education. Like curriculum, instruction should be responsive to the needs of adolescent learners. Middle level students deserve instruction that Is engaging, interactive, collabora- tive, differentiated, innovative, and inclusive of varying perspectives. Assessment nw do we karow what young adolescents have learned? After selecting appropriate curriculum models and implementing various instructional methods and teaching and learning strategies, teachers assess stu- dents’ knowledge. Assessment is the relatively neu= tral process of finding out what students are learning, or have learned as a result of instruction (Kellough & Kellough, 1999). The main purposes of assessment are to improve student learning (Muth & Alverman, 11999) and to help teachers make instructional decisions, determine individual student needs, pro- vide parents with feedback, and assign grades. [Assessment helps to ensure accountability in schools (ie, standardized testing) and keeps the public (e.g community members, officials, legislators) informed ‘of school and student progress.