Being Successful in the Middle School Classroom

September 2003

This month’s issue of The Smart Connection is an interview with Jane Spies a Smart Tutor Referrals tutor and teacher with 6 years experience in middle school classrooms.

STR: Can you define “success” in the middle school classroom?

Jane: Well, what I immediately think of when I think of success in the middle school classroom is when students are prepared for class; they’re organized; they’re on time; they attend school regularly; they do their best, and they have a positive attitude. Also surrounding themselves with supportive and positive friends will help lead to success.

STR: How can students prepare themselves for class in fall?

Jane: Be rested. Have supplies ready. Read over the summer to work on vocabulary. Review basic math facts.
Ask questions at the school if you have any concerns. If you’re new, go and check the school out before it starts.
Set goals for the year – think back about last year and look at what you want to improve. If you struggled in Language Arts last year, then set the goal of working to improve that.

STR: After classes have started, how can students get organized?

Jane: The first thing is to make sure all of your supplies and materials are together before you start working. Put everything in a binder. If you have a Social Studies binder, put all of your Social Studies work in it.

Put the name and the date and the title on all your work so that you know in what order things go in your binder.

Keep all of your notes and assignments for one subject in one area so you can find your homework and review for tests more easily.

Also fill out your agenda, planner or homework book regularly so that you know what to do for the next day or the next week. This will help you to use time wisely.

STR: Is it a good idea for students to have a separate binder for each subject?

Jane: That really depends on your teacher. Some teachers will want things in duo-tangs, some teachers will want things in binders. But if you use a binder, if you have more than one subject in there, use a divider – label things.

STR: What tips can you offer for doing homework?

Jane: Set a specific time of day each day to do homework – maybe after a snack or a break. Some kids come home and they do homework right away after school. That works for some people, but I know for myself, I like to have a break first.

Ask questions and seek help if you don’t understand. Teachers are often available if your parents can’t help you – ask your teacher.

If you’re away, make sure you get missed homework, notes or whatever you’re missing.

Prioritize homework – do the most difficult first. Make sure homework gets done on time. If something’s not due until Friday, and you’ve got something else due tomorrow, work on tomorrow’s homework first.

STR: How can middle school students study for tests most effectively?

Jane: : Study without distractions - somewhere where you won’t be interrupted or in a quiet place where you can’t hear the TV. Some kids work better with a little bit of noise, but most kids need silence and no distractions.

Find out what is on the test. Teachers will usually tell you, but if you’re not sure, go ask. Find out what kind of test it is too – because if it’s a written answer test, you’ll probably have to do a lot more memorizing than for a true-false or multiple choice test.

Write down your key terms. Read over your notes. Practice. Memorize.

STR: What can parents do to support their kids to success?

Jane: Be informed about what’s going on in school. Ask your kids about their homework. Ask them to show you their homework or their projects each night. Students at this level will usually have homework every night.

If necessary, help monitor homework that is to be done. Check the planner.

Talk to teachers about any concerns. Go into the classroom and check it out. Get the kids to show you their desk. This is the best way to stay informed.

If a child is sick or away, pick up homework for them after talking to the teacher. (Make sure that you give the teacher enough time to pull some work together for your child.) Talk to the teacher if you know the student is going to be away – be proactive so that your child will know what is going on so they won’t get bombarded with work when they get back to school.

Encourage them to keep a positive attitude when things get rough.

Find out where your kid is at. Don’t wait until the report card comes. Ask your child, sit down and talk with them. Ask them how it’s going in school. Other things may come up too when you listen, like bullying. So it’s important to take the time to sit down with your kid to find out what’s going on in school.

STR: What is the single most important thing that a student can do to be successful in the middle school classroom?

Jane: Have a positive attitude. You can problem-solve the rest of it.