Moving From Elementary to Junior High is a
Big Adjustment

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

A study conducted in the 1980s observed that on average, children's grades dropped dramatically during the first year of junior high compared to their grades in elementary school.  Parents and junior high teachers complain about newcomers' flagging motivation and performance.  Reasons given are as follows:.

1.  As a teenager attains puberty, his or her goals and priorities suddenly change.  Books and pencils just don't have the same biological appeal that a co-ed has.    

2.  Children become more self-conscious and critical.  Some become so unsure of their abilities that they are unable to adequately perform in spite of their intention.  

3.  Compared to elementary schools, middle schools focus more on competition which may make some children highly anxious.    

4.  Elementary schools are more "task-focused" while middle schools are more "performance-focused."  Elementary teachers are more likely to praise mastery of an academic task while their middle school counterparts emphasize test scores and competition among children.  The more middle schools encourage children to compete, the more shy some children become of competition.            

5.  Middle school children are at the age when they are eager to be independent and use their own initiative.  Education system in middle school does not provide adequate opportunities for children to make independent decisions, stay involved and use initiative.  

6.  When children enter middle school they switch from a single-teacher system to a  multiple-teachers system.  They often face larger classes with a new group of children when they can make only a superficial contact with their teachers.  These changes make substantial demands on children which often, at least temporarily, may impair their ability to perform according to their true capacity.  

 Here are a few suggestions regarding how parents can help their child at this critical elementary-middle school juncture:  

1.  Recognize that some children do flag in their performance and motivation in the first year of middle school, but, by the following year, a lot of them bounce back.  A majority of them become performance-focused and start competing with enthusiasm.  Assure your child that this happens and ask him/her how you can help as a parent.  

2.  Recognize that children who are "high achievers," either don't slacken in their performance or, if they do, they bounce back fast   It's the "low achievers" who don't rebound and also keep sliding down.  Motivate your child; find a way to light the fire under him or her.                        

3.  Start early.  Create a "thirst" in your children for knowledge and for learning for sake of learning.  Take them to museums, libraries, exhibitions, and other educational events.  Get into the habit of reading books yourself and demonstrate your own thirst for knowledge in different ways.  Talk frequently about the exciting things everyone learned that day over family dinners.  

4.  Some children view "smartness" as a fixed quality.  One child said it all, "You're smart or you aren't.  If you're smart, you don't have to do anything and you can get "As" and "Bs."  But if you aren't smart, you can work as hard as you want and you'll still flunk."   This is an example of a "fixed" orientation to intelligence and success, as opposed to a "fluid" orientation.  The latter drives a child to try harder and work harder.    Children who have a fixed orientation to intelligence and success are more likely to go down the slippery slope because they don't believe they can do anything extra to get better grades. If you discern a fixed orientation in your child, emphasize that academic success, like any other kind of success, is 1 % a gift of nature or inspiration and 99% perspiration.   

5.  If you suspect a reason for your child's lower performance,  such as an attention deficit or leaning disability, discuss with school authorities if a school-based evaluation is indeed in order.  Seek a professional evaluation, if needed.  

6.  Get your child interested in a career, asking the question, "What would you like to be when you grow up?" and help the child to see the connection between the work the child puts out today and what he or she wants to become tomorrow.                       

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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