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Revisions in Teacher Training for Middle Grades Urged

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Experts on early adolescence and the middle grades should work together to improve training for those planning to teach grades 5-9, according to a report scheduled for release this week.

The collaborations should focus on providing student-teachers with richer field experiences and increasing their awareness of "developmentally responsive teaching and assessment techniques,'' concludes the report, which was written by Peter C. Scales, the director of national initiatives for the Center for Early Adolescence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The center plans to use a three-year, $1.1 million grant from the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund to link three postsecondary institutions and their neighboring schools in efforts to improve middle-grades teacher training. (See Education Week, March 25, 1992.)

By singling out only a few test sites for the report's recommendations, the center hopes "to broaden and deepen the extent to which programs cover adolescent development,'' Mr. Scales said in an interview last week.

"We want to help the college and school enhance the collaborative relationship,'' he added.

The local schools would provide the schools of education with a "critical lens'' to observe the effectiveness of training techniques in middle-grades classrooms, he said.

Training Programs Cited

The center's study was based on a survey of a random sample of 5th- through 9th-grade teachers in eight states. The researchers also surveyed the deans of several schools of education and key state school officials.

The study, which was supported by a 1990 grant from the DeWitt Wallace foundation, found that while many ways have been identified to help prepare student-teachers to teach early adolescents, only a few schools of education have incorporated those ideas in their training programs.

For example, the study found that only 17 percent of middle-grades teachers had received instruction on how early-adolescent development affects learning.

There was widespread agreement among the 424 respondents about how middle-grades teacher preparation could be improved, Mr. Scales said.

In addition to improving the quality of fieldwork, Mr. Scales said, there was a consensus that prospective teachers need instruction in new techniques for measuring the progress of students ages 10 through 15.

The report recommends that student-teachers be trained in the use of portfolios and exhibitions in assessment.

Cooperative learning, team teaching, and interdisciplinary studies could be used to create a school environment in which more adolescents would thrive, the study recommends.

Mr. Scales said teachers should provide early adolescents with a "holistic'' learning experience, not only by changing the curriculum to fit students' needs, but by expanding their role in the classroom.

Education schools "need a lot more on teacher-based guidance,'' he said. "We need to expand the role of the teacher as counselor, guide, mentor.''

Teachers in the middle grades "are the social support for young adolescents' cognitive development,'' Mr. Scales added.

The center plans to announce the sites chosen for the school-college collaborations in January.

The participants will be trained in several of the techniques mentioned in the report, Mr. Scales said.

In addition, the center will evaluate participating local schools on the basis of a "whole-school assessment'' that it developed in 1985.

Other Recommendations

The report also includes the following recommendations:

  • Schools should take advantage of existing research on successful teaching techniques for early adolescents.
  • Middle-grades educators should create networks for sharing information about early adolescence and model programs.
  • Teacher-education programs should expose first- and second-year students to successful middle schools with a diverse student body.
  • A working group of middle-grades leaders should explore ways to strengthen the relationship between middle-grades teachers and professional and academic associations. The leaders should help groups that are working to tighten middle-grades standards.

Copies of the report, "Windows of Opportunity: Improving Middle Grades Teacher Preparation,'' are available for $15, plus 10 percent for shipping and handling, from the Center for Early Adolescence, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, D-2 Carr Mill Town Center, Carrboro, N.C. 27510; telephone (919) 966-1148; fax (919) 966-7657.

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