Friday, September 23, 2005

Welcome to Gifted Exchange! We are still tweaking the site, so please check back often.

Today’s post: Remember middle school? For many gifted kids, it’s a time for talent searches, MathCounts and other great things, but a new study from Cheri Pierson Yecke, “Mayhem in the Middle” says American schools are not taking these critical years as seriously as we could. In the past few decades, she writes, a new philosophy has seized education thought leaders, one called “middle schoolism.” This philosophy holds that the early teen years are best devoted to socialization, learning to get along with other people, and learning one’s place in the world – not academics.

Anyone who’s lived through middle school knows that the young teen brain is developing on all those social fronts. But Yecke points out that it’s still developing on the academic front, too, and this country pays a terrible price for not demanding rigorous work from middle school students. While American 4th graders do as well as the rest of the world on TIMSS scores, American 8th graders lag behind. Are middle schools to blame? Maybe we need a bit less mayhem, and a bit more mindfulness.



carruthll said...

This is really timely for me - the topic of middle school. My ten year old, was accelerated from 5th to 7th grade this year in a public school ( also accelerated 3rd to 4th) . He lasted about two weeks, not because of the academic pace or feeling out of place socially but due to the lack of academic challenge. In meeting with the teachers/principal, indeed the focus was entirely on the social adjustments due to his age and generally, the "big" change from elementary school. I tried to explain that his frustrations were a result of the lack of interesting work- it seemed to be a rerun of 4th and 5th grade curriculum. To no avail, they were totally unwilling to adjust the academics, saying that the emphasis in middle school must be on ensuring proper socialization. So we are now homeschooling. Is the Yecke study publicly available?


Laura Vanderkam said...

Hi Lynne, yes it is available, here is the link:

There is a certain element of middle school that comes across as containing children at the most "awkward" moment of their lives, I guess so they're not allowed out in public with everyone else (!). But I think there is a small counter-trend the other way, toward making schools K-8 so parents and children are more invested than they are in a 2-3 year school. This would be helpful for younger gifted children (a 4th grader could work with 8th graders without changing schools).

I went to a middle school that was not only in the throes of "middle schoolism," it was also an "open concept" school- no walls. You would hear the film strip the social studies teacher was showing seven times a day as you moved around the open concept space. No wonder nothing got done.

Nicole said...

I just read the book, "Queen Bees and Wannabes" by Rosalind Wiseman because my daughter was starting 7th grade this year and I wanted to be prepared.
What a waste of time! Though the book was interesting, Ms. Wiseman offered a very narrow focus of the social life of preteens and teens. My final conclusion was that she must have been a "wannabe" herself.
I completely agree with you that way too much emphasis is put on the social aspect of middle school. I can't remember how many times a middle school teacher has told me that they aren't trying to teach the students anything- they just want to help them "get through" these years. How sad! And the extent of the gifted program is AP classes. My daughter was labeled "gifted" in 4th grade but due to frequent moves (we're military) she never had the chance to benefit from a true gifted program. I don't want her to be classified as a Queen Bee or Wannabe! I want her to learn!

Joel McIntosh said...

It's great to see another blog about educating and parenting of gifted children. I've been running the "Gifted Education Blog" for about six months, and Carol Fertig has been running the "Gifted Child Information Blog" for about as long. I'll make sure and link to your blog from mine. You've really done a nice job.

Also, I agree with you that gifted education in the middle years is important. For a long time, this topic has been neglected, and I think there is a growing concern about this issue. The National Association for Gifted Children and the National Middle School Association just released a joint position statement about educating gifted kids in middle school. Also, Dr. Susan Rakow's new book, Educating Gifted Students in Middle School, offers a really solid, practical look at what we should be doing to build better educational opportunities for gifted children in the middle grades. I think the fact that both of these publications were released this year is a good indication that folks are starting to really think about what we are doing with gifted kids in middle school and how we can do better.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Joel- Thanks for linking to us! I will check out those studies, and your blog- Laura

Connie B. said...

My 14 year old is a freshman in high school. After attending THINK Institute last summer, she realized what she's capable of intellectually; and now is on fire to learn. I've concluded that her three middle school years were academically a waste for her, although yes they definitely allowed her to grow and develop in terms of maturity. It's tough-because until she went to THINK, neither she nor I realized what she was capable of. Here's hoping high school will be more receptive to keeping her challenged and more open to accelerated differentiation!