By Aleta Meyer and Katie Powell
This blog post is the first in a series of three from the Remaking Middle School initiative. See the second post from the Teacher Learning & Professional Development Design Team and the third post from the School Climate & Culture Design Team.
- To transform middle grades programs, practices, and policies, it is important that young adolescents have access to experiences that align to and support their developmental needs.
- The Remaking Middle School Research to Practice Design Team created a self-assessment tool that allows practitioners to reflect on aligning their practices to key principles of young adolescent learning and development.
- The tool should appeal to school leaders, classroom teachers, school support staff, district leaders, and policymakers. Users of the tool will receive a better understanding of their knowledge of adolescent development, with the hope being that this understanding will encourage users to seek more information based on their results.
Research shows that early adolescence is a key window of cognitive, social, and emotional transformation, making the middle school years an extraordinary and yet critical opportunity for long-lasting, positive learning and development. But middle schools largely appear out of sync with the diverse unique developmental needs of their students. The middle school period is particularly important since data across the board shows that the steepest declines in student outcomes occur from sixth through ninth grades. Many young people are not getting what they need, and significant gaps in educational achievement persist among students of color and from low-income households. In essence, we are failing to provide all of our young people the environments they need to be successful in school and life.
Research shows us how to meet the needs of adolescents but the research is sporadically applied to practices in schools. Transformation of middle grades programs, practices, and policies is needed to ensure all young people have access to middle grades experiences that are aligned to and support their developmental needs.
With this in mind, as a Design Team, our leading question became “How might we inspire and support educators to translate the science of young adolescent learning and development into how we design and practice within learning environments?”
This question led us to create a self-assessment tool that allows practitioners to reflect on what their school and school system is already doing and what they need to improve upon to align their practices to key principles of young adolescent learning and development. When we said assessment, we didn’t have in mind high-stress testing, but rather wanted this to be an accessible, engaging, and even fun, tool for school teams to have available.
We envisioned creating separate self-assessments in four key developmental domains: supporting autonomy, fostering belonging, advancing competence, and promoting identity. Our team created the first assessment in the series focused on autonomy, with the goal being that the Remaking Middle School Design Lab will continue to develop complementary self-assessments for the remaining three domains.
The tool should appeal to school leaders, classroom teachers, school support staff (e.g., counselors), district leaders, and policymakers. Users of the tool will receive a better understanding of their knowledge of adolescent development, and we hope this understanding will encourage users to seek more information based on their results. The tool serves as a great entry-point into the products of the other Remaking Middle School Design Teams.
You can find the assessment tool here.
The design process led our team to many engaging discussions about the relationship between research and practice in the middle grades years. We’ll offer up a few of our open questions that we encourage the Remaking Middle School initiative, and field more broadly, to continue to dive into:
- How might we further strengthen and encourage the reciprocal relationship between researchers and practitioners?
- How might we make existing research more accessible to practitioners?
- How can we remain inclusive of and responsive to all potential target audiences in this work (i.e., beyond classroom teachers and school-level administrators)?
- How can we include and empower youth voice in this project, and the work more broadly?
- How might we continue to support teachers from having awareness about adolescent development to taking actions that support adolescent development?
We hope you will find the Autonomy Self-Assessment to be a helpful tool for your own learning – and we encourage you to share broadly!
We encourage you to share your feedback on the tool via the Remaking Middle School Design Teams Feedback Survey.
The Remaking Middle School initiative is an emerging partnership working to build and steward a new collective effort for young adolescent learning and development. Founding partners include the University of Virginia Youth-Nex Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE), the Altria Group, and the New York Life Foundation. We are seeking to ignite conversation, action, and a movement to re-envision and remake the middle school experience in a way that recognizes the strengths of young adolescents and ensures all students thrive and grow from their experiences in the middle grades.
Author Bio: Aleta Meyer is President of Prevention Opportunities, LLC, and lead author of Responding in Peaceful and Positive Ways, a middle school violence prevention program. She and her husband recently moved to New Mexico from Virginia.
Author Bio: Katie Powell is a 6th grade teacher and author of Boredom Busters: Transform Worksheets, Lectures, and Grading into Engaging, Meaningful Learning Experiences. She lives with her family in Indiana.