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Running head: Age Appropriate Student Engagement

Age Appropriate Student Engagement Strategies

For Middle School Classrooms

Chelsea Woodruff

Grand Canyon University: EDU 536

April 14, 2011

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Each strategy for engaging students is based on the developmental levels of the

students with which the theorist had the most experience. There are many clues as to

the age level most appropriate for an engagement strategy. Two strategies, William

Glasser’s Reality Therapy and Rosene & Douglas’ Tools for Middle School Classrooms,

clearly establish certain characteristics that are common to adolescent classroom

situations and support them with research. Using the characteristics established in

these two strategies, it became obvious that Haim Ginott’s Congruent Communication,

Alfie Kohn’s Classroom Learning Communities, and Barbara Coloroso’s Responsibility

and Inner-Discipline are strategies best applied to middle school students.

Glasser’s Reality Therapy

William Glasser’s Reality Therapy was developed as a result of his

psychotherapy work with delinquent adolescents (Charles, 2008). His work specifically

targeted the characteristics of this age group. Based on Glasser’s research,

adolescents are absorbed with what is going on now, evading consequences, blaming

others, avoiding failure, and exercising independence (Charles, 2008). In order to truly

reach adolescent students, teachers must understand these tendencies and

communicate in a manner that minimizes the negative tendencies and maximizes the

positive tendencies. He suggests ten communication strategies that teachers can use

to avoid the pitfalls common to adolescents.

Teachers must:

1. Eliminate failure from the classroom. Glasser believes that, “changes and teacher

support should be put into effect that enable all students to experience a degree

of success in school” (Charles, 2008 p.66).

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2. “Focus on the present.” He says, “Avoid discussing the past. Don’t discuss


or complain. Talk about possible thoughts and actions within present-time

reality—that is, what one might do here and now to resolve the problem”

(Charles, 2008 p. 65).

3. Eliminate external control behaviors.” He believes that “criticizing and blaming” are

ineffective and “destroy relationships” (Charles, 2008 p.65).

4. “Don’t get bogged down in excuses. Whether legitimate or not, excuses stand

directly in the way of making the needed connections with others” (Charles, 2008


5. Communicate that you are not judging nor condemning the behavior. Adolescents

are results-oriented. Simply help the students see the benefits of good behavior

and the consequences of negative behavior without coercing them (Charles,

2008 p.65).

6. Teach students to take responsibility for their own behavior. “When students

misbehaved, they were asked in a friendly tone to state what they had done and

to evaluate the effect their actions had on the student, classmates, and teacher.

Students were further asked to identify and commit themselves to subsequent

behavior that would be more appropriate” (Charles, 2008 p.66).

7. “View behavior as choice and influence students to make better choices in how they

Behave” (Charles, 2008 p.66). This empowers the student to demonstrate

independence by controlling their behavior.

8. Encourage students to reflect on difficulties and resolve them through regular

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“classroom meetings” (Charles, 2008 p.66). This allows the students to feel they

have control over their learning environment and an investment in maintaining it.

9. “Work toward specific workable plans for reconnecting with people as needed”

(Charles, 2008 p.65). Relationships are paramount to adolescents and if

students understand their responsibilities toward other students in a relational

perspective, they will be more motivated to gain the skills necessary to maintain


10. Evaluate results, revise plans and reject ineffective practices (Charles, 2008).

Because Glasser specifically focuses on adolescents developmental needs, he

provides evidence by which teachers can also choose other appropriate systems that

address this group’s specific learning needs.

Rosene and Douglas’ Tools for Middle School Success

Rosene and Douglas also focus exclusively on adolescents and the tools

teachers can use that “create secure classroom environments that have led to more

rewarding teaching experiences and more successful student accomplishments”

(Rosene & Douglas, 2009). Like Glasser, Rosene and Douglas believe that the majority

of the tools are for the teacher’s use.

1. “A positive environment” is created by focusing on the positive, catching students

being good instead of bad, listening to body language in addition to words,

respecting students, smiling, being consistent, acknowledging your own

mistakes, showing a sense of humor, admitting when you don’t know something,

demonstrating trust, being aware of special circumstances, and being fair

(Rosene and Douglas, 2009).

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2. Demonstrate “great expectations” with respect of a middle-school student’s real life.

“be realistic about the amount of time it will take students to complete a task.

Give them the time in class they will need to do a good job. That shows them

that you think the task is important enough to devote class time to work on it. It's

important to realize that most middle-level kids are busy after school”

(Rosene and Douglas, 2009).

3. Create “meaningful experiences” that will encourage the students to apply what


learn outside the classroom. Plan creative lessons that do not allow time for

students to get bored. Neither free time, nor busy work encourage student

engagement in learning. Use technology to your advantage. The immediacy of

evaluation encourages higher performance (Rosene and Douglas, 2009).

4. Use student emotions to promote high quality work and to create reasonable lesson

plans. “Don't try to teach a difficult concept on Halloween. The most successful

middle-level teachers can read what is happening with students on a given day,

and adjust the lesson plans accordingly” (Rosene and Douglas, 2009).

5. Use the students’ need for social interaction to your advantage. “Assign them to work

with students out of their social and ability groups to gain a greater


and understanding of others.” Use both large and small groups to allow students

to try out new ideas and encourage the development of social skills that will

benefit them in the future (Rosene and Douglas, 2009).

6. Have fun, be interesting, and remember why you chose to teach this age group. It is

very fulfilling to have your students demonstrate a love for learning that you
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instilled in them.

While Glasser dealt almost exclusively with the discipline side of student

interactions and Rosene and Douglas dealt almost exclusively with the management

side, Haim Ginnot’s focus was to teach teachers how to communicate with middle

school students.

Haim Ginott’s Congruent Communication

Haim Ginnot worked to convey similar messages as Glasser, Rosene, and

Douglas. He decided that they could be better communicated if he created new terms

that express the complex ideas that took paragraphs to explain before. The effect of his

communication theories on students so closely matches those explained earlier, that it

would be easiest to reference those as the definitions.

1. “Congruent Communication” combines Glasser’s focus on present realities and

Rosene and Douglas’ use of student emotions (Charles, 2008; Rosene and


2. “Sane Messages” (Charles, 2008 p.68) refers to Glasser’s admonitions to eliminate

excuses, blame, and past behavior and to create results-oriented communication

(Charles, 2008). Ginott taught that “teachers at their best, using congruent

communication, do not preach, moralize, impose guilt, or demand promises.

Instead, they confer dignity on their students by treating them as social equals

capable of making good decisions” (Charles, 2008 p.68).

3. “Appreciative Praise” (Charles, 2008 p.69) comments on the type of positive

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reinforcement that creates what Rosene and Douglas called a “positive

environment” (Rosene and Douglas, 2009). Evaluative praise, which comments

on a person’s character, implies that if a student does not do exactly as

instructed, he or she is worth less as a person. Appreciative praise “responds to

effort or improvement” (Charles, 2008 p.69) and is therefore appropriate for all

students and encourages engagement at all levels.

Teaching educators how to communicate can open doors of understanding and

create reciprocal respect with students that could not previously have been achieved.

The next system helps middle school students by developing a balance of power with

responsibility that honors their move toward adulthood with practical lifelong

interpersonal skills.

Barbara Coloroso’s Inner Discipline

The main goals of Barbara Coloroso’s Inner Discipline is to “help students

acquire integrity, wisdom, compassion, and mercy” (Charles, 2008 p.74). Coloroso

adds another dimension to the previous groups. She encourages teachers to help

students create positive relationships through inner discipline. She taught that

processes which promote lifelong problem-solving skills would help students

understand the responsibilities which attend the rights they have been given.

Misbehaving students should be guided through a three step process.

1. The offending student must make “Restitution” by repairing the damage that has

been done in a way that maintains dignity and respect amongst their peers and

their teacher (Charles, 2008 p.74). This resembles Glasser’s student

responsibility (Charles, 2008).

2. The student must create “Resolution” by “identifying and correcting whatever caused
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the misbehavior so it won’t happen again” (Charles, 2008 p.75). This reflects

what Glasser tries to achieve through his “classroom meetings” (Charles, 2008


3. “Reconciliation” requires the student to create “healing relationships with people who

were hurt or offended by the misbehavior” by making “decisions concerning

future behavior, follow up accordingly, and then learn from the results of those

decisions, even if they bring discomfort” (Charles, 2008 p.75). Rosene and

Douglas would refer to this process as “great expectations” and “meaningful

experiences” (Rosene and Douglas, 2009), while Glasser would refer to it as

“plans for reconnection” (Charles, 2008 p.65).

Coloroso’s strategy works best for middle school students because it helps them

learn to recognize their own power to choose how they affect others’ lives and the

responsibility they have to respect the rights of others as much as they expect others to

respect their own rights. Additionally, her strategy empowers the cognitive processes of

students to self-analyze, self-manage, and learn productively from their mistakes.

Alfie Kohn’s Learning Communities

Alfie Kohn largely rejected the idea of traditional education. He taught a system

that would greatly appeal to middle school students because it focuses on collective,

social, safe, and responsive learning communities where “teachers facilitate the

process by seeking out students’ interests and finding what lies behind their questions

and mistakes” (Charles, 2008 p.76). Kohn’s system closely mirrors Glasser’s in several


1. “Show respect for students” (Charles, 2008 p.76). Middle school students need to

feel respected in order to reciprocate that respect.

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2. Help students create connections “through activities that involve interdependence”

which “include cooperative learning, getting-to-know-you activities” and “using

activities that promote perspective taking, in which students try to see situations

from another person’s point of view” (Charles, 2008 p.77).

3. Use classroom meetings (Charles, 2008 p.77) Kohn is a proponent of the same

definition that Glasser used for this concept (Charles, 2008).

4. Provide opportunities for class or school-wide collaboration such as “producing a

class mural, producing a class newsletter or magazine, staging a performance,

taking care of the school grounds, or doing some community service” (Charles,

2008 p.77).

5. “Reflect on academic instruction” (Charles, 2008 p.77) This closely mirrors Glasser’s

admonition to review and revise plans (Charles, 2008).

Like Rosene and Douglas, Kohn’s focus was mainly on the creation of an

atmosphere that tapped into the strengths of adolescents and turned them into

resources for engaging them in productive habits that would translate into their outside

lives. The next system seeks to achieve it all.

Schoenfeld, Rutherford, Gable, & Rock’s ENGAGE Strategy

The authors of the ENGAGE Strategy tried to create a system that would

incorporate all of the benefits of Glasser’s discipline, Rosene and Douglas’ classroom

management, Ginott’s Congruent Communication, Coloroso’s Inner Discipline and

Kohn’s Learning Community and roll it into one package that any teacher could
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implement. They named the system based on the steps necessary to create such an

all-encompassing plan.

1. “Examine the Demands of Curriculum and Instruction” (Schoenfeld, Rutherford,

Gable, & Rock, 2008). This is differentiated instruction at its best. This is the

implementation of a curriculum that eliminates failure (Glasser) and creates

great expectations (Rosene and Douglas) of each student.

2. “Note Essential Social Skills” (Schoenfeld, Rutherford, Gable, & Rock, 2008). This

incorporates Ginott and Coloroso’s works on communication skills, personal

responsibility and control (Charles, 2008).

3. “Go Forward and Teach” No engagement plan is effective until it is implemented.

Make it realistic for both the teacher and the students and implement it in small

steps so that it does not overtake the real purpose of the class (Schoenfeld,

Rutherford, Gable, & Rock, 2008).

4. “Actively Monitor” (Schoenfeld, Rutherford, Gable, & Rock, 2008). A teacher cannot

effectively implement any plan if she is unaware of what is occurring in the


5. “Gauge Progress” Almost every strategy discussed has an admonition to reflect on

what works and what does not. The authors teach to “use informal and formal

assessment methods to measure target students and class progress in

acquiring, maintaining, and generalizing social skills” (Schoenfeld, Rutherford,

Gable, & Rock, 2008).

6. “Exchange Reflections.” “Mutual respect, shared decision making, and fostering a

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positive and cooperative classroom climate” will help students connect what they

have learned with the rest of their lives. (Schoenfeld, Rutherford, Gable, & Rock,


The ENGAGE process allows a teacher to take the best from each system and

work it into a totally practical classroom management and engagement system that will

not overtake the purpose for teaching, but fully support it.


Each of the engagement strategies discussed build on different aspects of the

psyche of middle school students in different ways to help create engagement systems

that build on the strengths of this powerful developmental period in their lives and

mitigates the weaknesses that can cause lasting impacts. There are many benefits to

Glasser’s Reality Therapy, Rosene and Douglas’ Tools for Middle School Teachers,

Ginott’s Congruent Communication, Coloroso’s Inner Discipline, Kohn’s Learning

Community, and Schoenfeld, Rutherford, Gable, & Rock’s ENGAGE Strategy. They

each support the students and teachers in developing the best climate for a real

education that could be available in a public school setting.


Charles, C. M. (2008). Building classroom discipline (10th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Rosene, D., & Douglas, R. (2009). Would you like to be a student in your classroom?.
Science Scope, 32(9), 6-7. Retrieved from OmniFile Full Text Select database

Schoenfeld, N., Rutherford, R., Gable, R., & Rock, M. (2008). ENGAGE: A Blueprint
for Incorporating Social Skills Training Into Daily Academic Instruction.
Preventing School Failure, 52(3), 17-27. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
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