Early adolescence marks the transition between childhood and adolescence (ages 9-13). This time period is often characterized as a time of exploration, identity formation, and limit-testing. Youth at this age sometimes appear to be disorganized, distracted, or bored. Relationships with parents of caregivers may become more challenging as youth test limits, engage in greater experimentation, develop new relationships with peers, and appear less interested in family relationships. Many of these changes are considered normal but require parents and caregivers to renegotiate new ways to interact positively with their children during this developmental phase. It is important to remember that early adolescents need, perhaps more than anything else, caring and supportive adults in their lives.
Middle school itself is also very different. For the first time students are expected to manage multiple classes with different teachers. Most middle schools require students to manage transitions between different classes, and most are larger more complex environments than elementary schools. These settings require students to manage new relationships with a greater number of peers but also with a greater number of teachers and other adults. Because middle schools vary widely in terms of size and number of students, there are virtually endless different structures and schedules in these settings.
Some middle schools offer homeroom or advisement periods that are designed to help students develop positive relationships with peers and at least one adult. Sometimes these advisement classes are cross-age (6th, 7th, 8th) but in other cases, advisements periods focus on a single grade level. Some middle schools also have block schedules where students can spend up to 2 hours in each academic class (e.g., Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Science) whereas other middle schools follow the more traditional 50 minute schedule. Variation is the norm.
- Issue 1: Scheduling instructional supports is generally more complex in middle school environments
- Models: Student may attend some classes taught by a special education teacher whereas others may be taught by a general education teacher. In some cases, a special educator may work within the general education setting to provide supports in an setting but the student may also attend general education classes without any support if none is needed.
- Facts: The types of supports provided to students with disabilities should be driven by student needs and should appear as ‘minutes’ or accommodations on the IEP. Should specify the area of support (e.g. reading), the person who will provide support (e.g., special education teacher), and the location where those services will be provided (i.e., general education setting, special education setting.
- What services are needed to help the student meet his/her goal?
- Who will deliver that service?
- How much specific time is required to help the student meet his/her goal?
- What is the Least Restrictive Environment where that support can be provided?
For many students with disabilities, scheduling and support are paramount concerns. As with elementary schools, all students with disabilities are required to have an IEP and the IEP must include each student’s present level of performance across core academic content areas (i.e., reading, writing, mathematics) as well as other areas that may be important for the student’s success in school (e.g., functional skills, behavior, social skills, etc.).
Although the ways services and supports can vary widely depending on the specific resources available to schools, services should be driven by individual student needs rather than cultural norms or embedded practices. In the table shown we provide an overview of some of the major issues students with disabilities may face during middle school. Although there are no simple, straightforward solutions to all of these issues, learning more about the issue can lead to the identification of potential solutions.