All middle school students are at different developmental stages--some students have matured significantly, while others still have a long way to go. Hunt, Wiseman, and Bowden, authors of The Middle Level Teacher’s Handbook: Becoming a Reflective Practitioner conclude that, in looking at attitudes and behaviors, some middle schoolers are “childlike,” while others are “deeply involved in the complex lifestyle characteristics of teenagers (1998, p. 57). They also establish that middle school students are in a time of “significant transition,” a time that some struggle with, while others thrive on this change. (Hunt, Wiseman, & Bowden, 1998, p. 60-61). The middle school age group is typically distinguished as children and teens ages 10 to 14. This age range was not distinguished until the 1980's (Hunt, Wiseman, & Bowden, 1998, p. 58), which coincides with further development of the middle school itself (in comparison to junior high school). These early adolescents are in a stage coined by Donald Eichhorn called “transescence” (Manning & Bucher, 2012, p. 5).
In general, students in “transescence” share seven developmental tasks identified by Hershel Thornburg (as cited in Hunt, Wiseman, & Bowden, 1998, p. 58-59):
They are becoming aware of physical changes rapidly taking place.
They are able to organize thoughts with improved problem solving.
They are learning about new social and sexual roles.
They are beginning to identify themselves with existing stereotypes.
They are beginning to develop important friendships among peers.
They are gaining a sense of individual independence.
Their development of morals and values is maturing.
Because of this complex range of developmental levels and tasks, middle school teachers must have an understanding of what middle level students are like, as well as how they can approach the challenge of teaching a whole class full of individual differences. In this paper, we will provide an overview of the physical, social and emotional, cognitive, and moral development of typical middle school students and how teachers can address individual needs related to this development. Additionally, we will present our assessment of two middle school students.
One of the most obvious markers of a middle school student is their change in physical development. Physical development, as defined by Anita Woolfolk, is “changes in body structure and function over time” (2010, p. 26). Middle school students possess great diversity in their bodies, both in outward physical size and shape, and in inner body functions. A major part of early adolescent physical development is puberty, “the physiological changes during adolescence that lead to the ability...