High school students are qualitatively different from younger students. Teachers and parents can significantly improve the learning of students of this age by understanding the cognitive and social characteristics of high school students. Using the right instructional strategies to maximize learning gains and address learning challenges for middle school students can make a difference in their success.
High school cognitive development
By ages 12, 13, and 14, most students have begun to develop the ability to understand symbolic ideas and abstract concepts. According to Piaget’s classifications, students will range in development from the concrete operational stage of development through capability to the formal operational stage. In fact, studies show that brain growth slows during these years, so students’ cognitive abilities can expand at a slower rate; however, the refinement of these skills can certainly be reinforced. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:
1. Curious and willing to learn things that they consider useful.
2. Enjoy solving “real life” problems.
3. Focused on yourself and how your peers perceive you
4. Resists adult authority and asserts independence
5. Start to think critically
Middle School Social Development
Most high school students experience conflicting values due to their changing roles within their family structure and the increasing influence of their peers. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:
1. Need to feel part of a peer group, made up of boys and girls, and are influenced by peer pressure and conformity with their group.
2. They prefer active over passive learning activities that involve working with their peers.
3. Needs frequent physical activity and movement
4. Needs support, guidance, and quiet direction from an adult.
Middle School Instructional Strategies
High school students are very concerned about the labeling that takes place when one is identified as a recovery reader. Labels and stereotypes are imposed both externally (by other students and sometimes their parents) and internally imposed (by the students themselves). Lack of reading ability causes more self-destructive damage to students’ self-esteem as students get older and the academic gap between them and good readers widens. High school teachers must be extremely aware of the perceptions of students and their peers. Some talking points may be helpful:
“All students need help in some areas.”
“This class is not for stupid students; it is for students who just lost some reading skills.”
“Unfortunately, some of your previous reading instruction was poor; it’s not your fault you have some skills to work on.” aka “blame someone else”
“You will learn in this class. If you come to class willing to try it every day, you will significantly improve your reading, I promise you.”
“You will be able to record your own progress and see what you are learning in this class.”
“You won’t be in this class forever. As soon as you master your missing skills, you’ll be out.”