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How to Increase Independence in Middle School Students

Janelle Cox

Studies have shown that once students enter middle school, they become less engaged in academics. Research suggests that this may occur because "tweens" developmental needs do not coincide with what educators are teaching them in school. Middle school students are in need of increased academic independence and crave freedom, but unfortunately, middle schools tend to fall short on this front. Here are a few ways educators can increase academic independence in middle school students.

Offer Social Support

According to research, middle school students need two things: Independence and a need for meaningful interactions with adults other than their parents or guardian.

Unfortunately, studies show that they are not getting it. Once students enter into middle school, teachers are actually less supportive than they were in elementary school. With the demands of puberty and the transition from child to tween, middle school students tend to need that teacher support more than ever. What teachers can do is offer their students social support. At this age, students are becoming distracted by their friends and romantic interests. Teachers can offer students more interesting topics to help keep them engaged. They can also offer some hands-on guidance. Ask them questions, such as "What information do you need?" or "What did you try that did not work?" By offering your support, students are getting the meaningful adult interaction they crave.

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Teach Time-Management Skills

One of the keys to academic independence for middle school students is being on time. Unlike elementary school, students in middle school change classes and are expected to be on time for each class. Plus, they are expected to complete assignments on their own, on time. This is where time management becomes vital for students.

As teachers, we can help students become successful at their time management skills by offering them a few tips. Middle-school students only have about two to three minutes in between classes and are expected to make it to class on time. Teach students to keep an eye on the clock or purchase a watch. This will help them become independent and be on time for class.

Encourage students to keep a day planner and write down assignments for each class daily. Also have students keep a calendar where they mark down future project assignments. Teach them to break long assignments up into smaller manageable tasks. This will help them feel less overwhelmed, and more in control. Time management is a learned skill; this will take time, but it is vital for academic independence and success.

Organization is the Key to Success

Sixth-grade students are far from being organized individuals. To expect these children to start middle school and be capable of organizing themselves without any help from an adult is impossible. What teachers can do is encourage students to purchase a planner with a calendar in it. Some school districts have the money to supply these to each student, which is very helpful. The schools that cannot supply them should encourage students to purchase them to write down important dates, assignments, tests, and project due dates.

Train students to develop an organizational system to keep track of their papers (planner, calendar, binder with tabs) and to make sure that they load their own backpack each evening. Encourage students to check their calendar daily to ensure they did not miss any important due dates or assignments.

Middle school requires students to be independent, something they crave at this age. As they shuffle from one class to another, they will eventually learn the ropes of academic independence. With a little support from their teachers, students can succeed.

Do you have any tips to increase academic independence in middle school students? Please share in the comment section below.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who draws on her 15 years of professional experience in the education system. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Guide to Elementary Education for About.com, where she provides educational information and lesson plans for teachers across the United States.

Source: Changes in Achievement Goal Orientations, Perceived Academic Competence, and Grades Across the Transition to Middle-Level Schools