I recently posted “Let’s Put the “Middle” Back in Middle Level” over on the Bright Futures Blog.
In it, I argued that we middle level educators are being pulled away from our core values by a lot of competing priorities and goals. I wrote:
Middle level shouldn’t be about test taking, or getting kids to put aside their cell phones or Facebook pages, or high school readiness, or work readiness. It’s not even about “hormones with feet…” First and foremost, middle level needs to be about young adolescents: what are their characteristics and what practices are harmonious with those characteristics.
And the more we get away from that being our center (no pun intended), the harder it is to teach middle level students. That includes (and is perhaps especially true for) that list of important (but supporting) goals for middle level education…
I also shared some really great resources! available for free on the AMLE website, that we can use with our teachers, school boards, and parents and communities to remind everyone about the main thing in middle level education.
It’s Your Turn:
How are you keeping the main thing the main thing in middle level education?
The Association for Middle Level Education (formerly the National Middle School Association – NMSA) is a wonderful organization striving to be the go-to people for all things related to educating young adolescents.
They are currently having their annual elections for the Board of Trustees (elections opened April 5 and continue through early May).
I’m running for President Elect and hope you’ll consider voting for me.
Middle Level has been the driving force in making me the educator I am today. When I was first a teacher in the mid and late 80s, mostly I just knew that school didn’t seem to work for too many kids. Middle Level Education was my first introduction to an approach to education that really started with the learner and a hard look at the developmental characteristics of the age group.
Since then, I’ve considered my work to be being in the service of students. How could I make learning more interesting and engaging to them? How could I make school meaningful? How could I make it work for more students.
Along that journey, I’ve been a middle grades technology integrator, and part of the design team of the country’s largest middle level initiative, MLTI (the Maine Learning Technology Initaitive) which is still the only statewide learning with laptop initiative and started with every 7th and 8th Grade student and teacher in the state. I’ve been a teacher educator at the University of Maine at Farmington, and helped create their middle level education program and established the Maine Center for Meaningful Engaged Learning. My doctoral program emphasized middle level education, and my doctoral research focused on what motivates underachieving middle school students, producing a model that is now a state-approved School Improvement Model in Louisiana. I’ve been an educational developer, creating programs designed to motivate students. And I’ve served my state and national middle level associations, being a Board member and President of the Maine Association for Middle Level Education (MAMLE), and a Research Advisory Board member and an East Region Trustee for NMSA/AMLE. (Learn more about my contributions to middle level)
I’m ready now to leverage my experience to help put the Middle firmly back into NMSA/AMLE.
Please vote Mike for AMLE ’12!
Tell why you’d vote for Mike at Facebook.com/MikeMuirForAMLE12
Or Post it to Twitter with the hash tag #WhyMikeAMLE12
I’ve been lucky enough to work with a couple of the people I consider to be the modern founders of middle level education. One of those is Gordon Vars, professor emeritus at Kent State University.
How I knew him was through his decades long work on “Core Curriculum.” This isn’t the way we mean “core curriculum” now. In fact, the irony is that the “new” meaning of core curriculum is the four “core” subjects. But the historic meaning of Core Curriculum is something more akin to curriculum integration, teaching students through activities that blend content from the various subjects. (One of my favorite analogies is when you order a pizza, they don’t put just sauce on 2 slices, just cheese on 2 slices, just pepperoni on 2 slices and just mushrooms on 2 slices. They put it all on every slice.)
Core Curriculum was used quite a bit in the first half of the 20th Century. In fact, Core Curriculum was studied pretty closely in the 30s and early 40s and was found to be significantly more effective than the separate subject approach, including for things that we have always assumed separate subject approach was better at, such as college preparation. These results were published as The Eight Year Study.
I think of Gordon Vars as the shepherd of Core Curriculum. As others reinvented it as Integrative Curriculum (including James Beane and Maine’s own Gert Nesin), Gordon reminded us of the historical foundations on which that work was based. He was a gentle man who was always willing to share his expertise and empower others to succeed.
Gordon Vars died Tuesday night (1/31/12) after being hit by a car while walking home from choir practice. He was 88. I feel honored to have known him and to have had the opportunity to have collaborated with him in a couple small ways. Core Curriculum and Integrative Curriculum have contributed greatly to my interest in motivation and contributed to the kind of educator I try to be today. Gordon will be greatly missed for his contributions to Core Curriculum, and to the Association for Middle Level Education.
(Cross posted at the Bright Futures blog and the Multiple Pathways blog.)
It’s Your Turn:
How will you remember Gordon Vars?
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is the opening keynote for the Association of Middle Level Education’s NMSA Annual Conference. He split his time between prepared comments and a Q&A session where two 8th Graders and the AMLE President, Nancy Poliseno (who is also an 8th Grade teacher) asked him tough questions about supporting middle level education.
The big surprise for me was the Secretary’s explicit comments that the USDE has historically ignored the importance of middle level education, and that they are working to change that.
I believe another of his comments was historic. Secretary Duncan said he was “disappointed” in recent survey results that showed that less than half of middle schools had advisory programs. (Yes! The inference is that he sees advisory as a critical component for reaching academic success with students!)