If you were moving from elementary to middle school, what would you most want to know? Probably things like: Will I get to see my friends? How will I know where my classes are? Do kids get shoved in lockers? If you were a sixth grader, what information would you think was most important to share with the fifth graders? If you guessed Here’s how the automatic urinals work, you’re right in tune with some (very serious) boys from our town’s middle school who met with our fifth graders last week. Yes, there were others who presented about homework, teachers, dances, and field trips, but the technologically impressive presentation opened with the variety of automatic functions that can be experienced in the middle school bathrooms, and included a close-up video of a urinal doing it’s thing.
With one more week of school to go, we’ve just about finished up our transition activities for the fifth graders who will be moving on to middle school. We’ve had a couple of class councils, a tour of the middle school, and the above-mentioned presentation, which really was very good, urinals notwithstanding. The sixth graders were clearly interested in alleviating our kids’ anxieties and making them feel excited and welcomed.
Our first class council about middle school was held prior to the tour. I projected a map of the middle school on the SMARTBoard and gave each of the students a copy of their own. On my copy I had colored in the sixth grade classrooms in yellow and the related arts, counseling, and nursing spaces in blue. I gave a brief “tour” of the school and the kids immediately noticed that the sixth grade classrooms were in their own wing, that everything else was pretty easy to find, and, in fact, that the middle school building has a simpler layout than our school does. The kids then colored in their copies of the map with one color for the sixth grade classrooms and another color for the other places they would have to go. A number of the kids took their maps with them on the tour and a few were amazed to find that the school was just like it looked on the map! In other years I have also done this map activity with individual students who were especially anxious, had memory challenges, or difficulties with change, but this year everyone’s needs were met by doing this as a group.
After finishing up with our maps we did a Chalk Talk activity in which the kids had silent “conversations” with each other about their feelings about going to the middle school. On sheets of flip chart paper I had written these prompts (one per sheet):
I wonder . . .
I am worried about . . .
I would like my 6th grade teacher to know . . .
Questions I would like to ask a 6th grader . . .
I am excited about . . .
I would like my 6th grade counselor to know or to help me with . . .
Without talking, the kids, each armed with a colorful marker, wrote their thoughts on the flip chart pages, which were placed around the room. When something someone else had written sparked an idea, they drew arrows and wrote related comments and questions, added check marks, underlining, exclamation points, and other indicators of “conversation.” The kids really loved this activity and I hardly had to give any reminders about staying silent. Even kids who tend to be more hesitant to contribute much to class discussions had a lot to “say.” I actually had to stop them before they really felt finished and there was a lot of mad scribbling in the last few minutes after I gave the time warning. After we were finished with the writing, kids had an opportunity to revisit the papers and read the “conversations.” Then we talked about what they noticed — lots of people were concerned or excited about similar things! Kids with older siblings at the middle school provided answers to some of the questions and concerns (and I added some info too). I asked them to keep these questions and concerns in mind as they visited the middle school later in the week and said that we would talk about them again after they had been on the tour and the sixth graders had visited. Even though many of their questions remained unanswered, anxieties were lowered, and most kids had a more positive outlook. Somehow this silent activity helped develop a communal sense of togetherness and mutual support. After the class council I transcribed what was written on the flip chart pages and sent the information to the middle school counselors. For more information about how to run a Chalk Talk, check out Using Chalk Talk in the Classroom.
The middle school tour happened a few days later, and the following week we had the sixth grade presentation. Following that I went back into the classrooms for a second class council on middle school. We revisited the Chalk Talk prompts, questions, and concerns, and kids shared what they had learned. Just about all the worries were dispelled and everyone was pretty matter-of-fact about what life at the middle school was going to be like.
During the second half of this class council the kids filled out a form titled Information for My Sixth Grade Counselor. (Here it is if you would like to use it.) The form has several sections: Important People in My Life, School Work, Going to the Middle School, and About Me. When I was passing it out, one of the fifth graders commented, “This is like filling out a job application!” which it kind of was! They certainly took it just as seriously (after all, there’s no more important topic than ME when you’re a budding middleschooler!) I was really impressed with how self-aware and honest they were with their answers, and felt like they painted very clear pictures of themselves. A couple of their responses were also helpful to me, and after reading them I set up a few individual counseling sessions. I will be taking these forms with me to the middle school tomorrow when I have our big transition meeting with the counselors there. I’ll be interested in getting their feedback.
We’ve done similar kinds of transition activities in the past, but I think that the Chalk Talk and Information for My Sixth Grade Counselor activities (both new this year) went the furthest in terms of empowering the kids and curtailing their worries. The next time around I will survey the kids about their worries at the start of the first class council and again at the end of the second one. I did this informally at the end by a show of hands (number of fingers showing level of worry), so I got a good sense of how successful it was, but I would love for THEM to see tangible proof of how much they can reduce their anxiety by gathering information.
We did not have time to go to the computer lab to explore these websites for kids about the middle school transition (maybe next year), but I am providing them to the fifth graders to explore on their own:
It’s My Life: Middle School: Movin’ On Up from PBSKids.org
and Moving to Middle School from KidsHealth.org.
I still have a group of girls who are insisting that they are just going to move into my office and stay at our school forever, but they are starting to get excited about going after all. Still, I’m sure a few of us (me for sure) will shed a few tears come Friday when they head out of elementary school for the last time. :: sniff ::
Okay, time to shift gears and process the intense meeting we had today about some of the incoming kindergartners . . .
. . . Ah, the Circle of (elementary school) Life!
What activities have you found helpful for kids as you help them transition to middle school?