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Practical Tips for Success in Middle School

They've worked for others and can work for you, too!

The middle school years are a notoriously tumultuous time for parents and kids alike. Children begin to mature rapidly, test their limits with authority and put an extremely high priority on their social circle and the opinions of friends. In the midst of all this change, parents can have a hard time convincing their kids that school is still "job one."

Now more than ever, students who "slack off" in middle school will find it causes big problems when they hit high school and the new Regents requirements. Doing well in middle school forms the foundation for success in high school - and beyond.

So what can parents do to help their child avoid the common pitfalls of middle school? We asked social workers, guidance counselors, teachers and other middle school parents just what makes a successful middle school student. Here is what they said:


Meeting new classmates, moving between classes without teachers and keeping on top of assignments for five or more subjects can send a previously organized student into an academic tailspin. To help kids take on the added responsibilities of the middle school years, encourage them to:

•Use a student agenda notebook. Suggest they open the planner at the beginning of each class and leave it on their desk until they have recorded that day's homework assignment. Encourage them to review their assignments before leaving school to make sure they bring home the appropriate books and materials. At home, remind them to look at the planner instead of trying to work from memory. It is also great for helping kids remember lessons and extracurricular activities, as well as the supplies they'll need.

•Use color-coded folders or binders to keep track of the supplies and paperwork for each subject (i.e., a blue folder, notebook and book cover for history, red for Spanish materials.)

•Store school supplies in one place at home, and make it your children's responsibility to let you know when they run low and need replacements.

•Consider a weekly family planning meeting - Sunday afternoon is often a good time to help everyone get organized for the coming week.

Study Skills

Unlike elementary school, where teachers break assignments down into smaller parts, middle school assignments are often more complex and require students to be more self-directed.

To do well, students should:

•Spread project and test preparation over several days instead of the night before a due date. This gives kids time to do their very best work and ensures they're learning, not just memorizing. Have kids schedule these prep sessions in their planners so they're sure to be done along with other daily homework.

•Establish a regular time and place to do daily homework. As much as possible, be available during this time in case your child needs help. Offer to quiz them as they get ready for a test and ask to see their daily assignments -even those they say they completed at school or before you got home from work. That way you'll know if homework is being done.

•Think beyond the textbook. Though kids may look over their class notes in anticipation of a test, to do well they need to learn to anticipate the types of questions they'll be answering. You can help teach this skill as you quiz them (i.e., "If you're asked to describe the main characters or the setting in the book Hatchet, what will your answers be?")

•When in doubt, ask their teachers to explain assignments. Teachers will often give estimates on how much time a project is likely to take or suggest what students should be focusing on as they prepare for tests.

Finding the balance between fun and work

Choosing to make schoolwork a priority over socializing with friends is one of the biggest challenges facing middle schoolers.

To help kids put schoolwork first:

•Institute a work first/play later policy. On average, middle schoolers have one to two hours of homework each day. This can be difficult to accomplish if they wait until 9 p.m. to start it. With "work first/play later," kids are expected to get all of their work done before visiting friends, chatting online or playing with the Gamecube. Explain that there will be consequences if this policy isn't met, and be prepared to follow through.

•Encourage friendships with kids who take school seriously. Social workers say you should be concerned if your kids don't ever talk with their friends about schoolwork.

Avoid the "Why work hard?" trap

During the middle years, many kids try to take the easy way out - they'd rather take a lesser grade than put in the extra time and energy needed to do really well. To avoid this trap:

•Show them the connection between their interests and what they're learning now. Maybe they love art and computers and think they'd like to design Web sites some day. Let them know that they're going to need a strong foundation in math in order to accomplish this.

•Offer praise for a job well done. Though they may not act like your approval matters, it is still very important and it does motivate them.

•Celebrate their successes. A family dinner out to celebrate a solid mid-year report can boost their spirits and encourage them to keep putting in the effort.

•Challenge them to take on the more difficult course work. Sometimes a little nudge can make the difference between coasting and really excelling. By tackling an advanced placement class during eighth grade they'll also be freeing up time to take desired electives in high school.


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