The typical middle schooler is highly distractible, peer-centered, confused by abstract concepts, unable to sit still or stay quiet and full of insecurities from living inside a body that is not fully formed. Good middle schools address these and many other characteristics of this age, and the best of them share a few common traits:
A Curriculum that Connects
To flip the "on" switch in a middle schooler's brain, the material must have a concrete connection to his or her daily life. A lesson about the causes of the American Revolution would leave most of them cold. But they'll snap to attention if asked how they feel when Mom makes a decision without consulting them. Not coincidentally, the colonists felt the same way when the Mother Country imposed taxation without representation.
Variety in the School Day
Imagine how boring your day would be if it consisted of talking heads for hour upon hour. A good middle-school teacher rarely asks kids to sit in one place for more than 20 minutes. Talking, reading, writing, movement and group activities add variety to the day. The best middle-grade educations involve active creation rather than passive absorption of information.
Close Monitoring of Social Interaction
Relationships with peers have overwhelming importance for middle-school students. Even the most conscientious among them can be sidetracked by interpersonal conflicts, and many are unable to resist pressure to experiment with drugs or alcohol. Girls should get special attention from counselors and exposure to strong female role models, especially in the principal's office and the math and science departments.