Middle School

In addition to the Foundations program, we offer a middle school program. Students qualify for middle school program placement by demonstrating reading, writing, and language skills at or above the sixth grade level. In the middle school program, students learn advanced foundation skills in reading, writing and math. They also learn how to study and perform successfully in content classes in the social and natural sciences and the humanities. Subjects include world history, civics, general science, geography & culture, and human relations and communication. The program explicitly teaches everything from textbook reading and studying and lecture note taking and studying, to participation in class discussions, test taking, and essay and report writing.

Evidence-Based Study Methods
As students study, they use Robbins’ and Layng’s Generative Fluent Thinking Skills method. This method teaches students a specific question-generating and answer-predicting method that points out discrepancies between what they already know and any new learning that they need to do, greatly reducing their study time.

Students practice content facts and concepts using Lindsley’s flash card fluency method known as SAFMEDS (Say All Fast, Minute Each Day, Shuffled). Cooperative learning techniques such as Slavin’s Student Teams Achievement Division (STAD) also motivate student practice to fluency. In STAD, students practice in small groups, earning points, grades or privileges for the group by improving their individual performances.

Thinking Aloud Problem-Solving (TAPS)

To promote generative behavior, we teach students to think, reason, and problem solve by talking their way through new problems in reading comprehension, mathematics, social studies and science, using Whimbey’s Think-Aloud Problem-Solving (TAPS) method. This generative method is the core learning-to-learn technology used in our program. In TAPS, teachers model and coach students to think out loud, through talking, writing, diagraming and other supplemental activities which support thinking, using specially designed protocols that represent effective ways to work through problems. Students are taught five key repertoires that are required for effective reasoning and problem solving. Then they coach each other to “get fluent” in using the TAPS protocols and these key repertoires to solve a range of problems. Once TAPS fluent, they coach each other’s use of TAPS to master content and skills across a typical school curriculum, such as social studies, science and math. They also use a version of TAPS to edit and improve their writing skills.

Middle school students also apply TAPS to achieve generativity in cases of practical deliberation taken from daily life. American natural philosopher and educator John Dewey described the importance of this work in his book, “How We Think.” Teachers apply TAPS to situations such as the best way among several alternatives to reach a destination within a given time frame. Students select situations from their own lives to TAPS. Students also apply TAPS as they reflect upon things they observe, such as how a back porch they see on the way to school was probably built. A classic story often told at Morningside involved two students huddled in intense discussion. When asked them what they were talking about so intensely,  they said they were “TAPSing out” how to persuade their parents to let them attend a concert that was happening that night at one of the downtown piers! In the gradual shift from teacher-directed to student-directed learning, students master generative learning skills that wean them from teacher dependency and promote independent learning.

 Project-Based Learning

When middle school students demonstrate all the competencies necessary to perform successfully in content classes, they then learn the generative inquiry, research, and cooperative learning skills necessary for Project-Based learning. Our Project-Based Learning procedures reflect the influence of John Dewey, American Pragmatism, and the Progressive Education movement that caught fire back in the early part of the twentieth century. Back then, progressive education was an alternative to the rote learning approaches that prevailed in American education. Progressive educators believed that the best learning occurs by engaging in activities that apply the facts, skills, concepts, and principles that were currently being memorized. In Dewey’s American pragmatic account, learning was understood as an activity maintained by its outcome – the student’s knowledge. Knowledge was viewed as ongoing activity, not something in a book. As a useful activity, knowledge needs to be continuing and persistent component of the learner’s behavioral repertoire. To meet that goal, a learning environment needs to provide opportunities for learners to select areas of interest, and needs to react to a learner when he is inclined to engage in intellectual behavior related to those interests. Charles Ferster called that “natural reinforcement.” As students master facts and concepts in content courses, they learn to identify their own curiosities and areas of interest. Students with common interests learn to define a collective research project, and inquire and research together in small groups. They learn to work collaboratively and cooperative toward common goals. In the process they learn essential human relations skills.

Middle school students use several cooperative learning technologies during Project-Based Learning. Group goals are set and rewarded when achieved, helping to create team spirit and encourage students to help each other. Students will also be individually accountable for completing their share of the effort.

Using Jigsaw II, students become experts on subsections of a topic and teach that subsection to others. In the process, they gather information, meet to compare notes and refine presentations, teach their topic to other team members, and take quizzes on all topics taught. Jigsaw II is used when team members’ goals include mastery of organized bodies of information.

In our general group investigation procedure, as students collaborate, they apply a scientific method of inquiry to real-world areas of interest. They define research goals and possible courses of action to achieve them. They learn observation and other data gathering methods. They learn a recursive cycle in which they actively question their process, develop ideas or conjectures, revise ideas, and embark upon new avenues of research and exploration as they proceed. They also learn methods of analyzing data and making generalizations.

As students research their problems and interests, they make contact with books, periodicals, video, lectures, the Internet, libraries, and community workplaces and events. Students also learn communication and outreach skills–they will invite community members to their forums, make multi-media presentations, develop oratory style, and write pamphlets, handouts and reports. The generative inquiry, research, collaborative learning, and presentation skills that the students learn from completing projects provide a framework for life-long learning, stemming from their own needs and interests into the systematized knowledge of the adult world.

As Dewey described so well, our Project-Based Learning methods emphasize natural influences over learning, taken from the student’s current activity, goals, and values systems, rather than arbitrary, compartmentalized subject matter teaching, teacher initiated research and teacher initiated project assignments. These skills are usually neglected until later high school and college. By then it is hard for students to break away from the simple read-and-report methods of research and exploration that most students devise to please their teachers or earn a grade.