Transitioning Academically

  •  Area of Concern: Transitioning Academically

  • One issue with transitioning from each major section of schooling is adjusting to new classroom environment that may include new or different types of learning and types of classwork and homework. For instance, the amount of learning and work students are required to do on their own at home and individually increases from elementary-middle school, middle school-high school, and high school-college or career. It is our job as teachers to notice students who are struggling to adjust academically and to adjust our own curriculum to better accommodate their needs, as well as to develop positive relationships with the students and their families in order to produce meaningful learning experiences for our students.


  • Create classroom atmospheres that feel safe where students are invited to take risks and challenge themselves in academic coursework. To create such atmospheres, teachers need to develop strong relationships with their students and to present “their coursework as relevant and important to their future” and their personal interests (Christie & Zinth). When students respect and value their teachers, they often accept ownership of their coursework and are more likely to put in greater rigor and effort, especially in an environment they feel comfortable in.


  • Schools should include families and instruct them of the importance of a positive transitioning experience, especially transitioning from 8th grade to 9th grade, according to experts Robert Cooper and Suzanne Markoe-Hayes who are involved with an on-going study of 9th graders that is dedicated to developing and evaluating a transition model.


  • Cooper and Markoe-Hayes recommend that “(Urban) schools must work in partnerships with families to build supportive and nurturing, yet challenging learning environments that help students transition into high school, college and beyond with ease” (Christie and Zinth). When parents are aware that transitioning can be an uneasy, difficult time for their student-children, they will be more likely to offer encouragement and help them to continue to either perform as well as they did in the previous phase of schooling or to perform better than they had previously in order to be successful and take advantage of the transition as a new opportunity to excel.


  • Schools should also provide resources for students who aren’t quite at grade level so that they can ‘catch up’ before transitioning to middle school, high school, and beyond. One way to accomplish this is to provide after school or summer programs that offer mentoring and tutoring to students in subject areas they specifically struggle with.


  • Christie and Zinth found that Washington State utilizes a Project Graduation program that works to approach and resolve this issue:


  • A "Gear Up" program to identify 7th- and 8th-grade students needing help
  • Four- to six-week summer program for identified incoming high school students
  • Extra help to students by providing double doses of math and reading/literacy
  • Monitoring through meaningful advisory programs such as an "Advocate" for every family
  • A goal of an annual increase in the number of students taking Algebra I in 8th grade
  • Lower teacher student ratio in 9th grade - and the best teachers in 9th Grade
  • 9th grade teachers with common planning time
  • Transition classes for English and mathematics using a block schedule structure
  • Career and technical education courses in 9th grade using a block schedule structure
(Christie and Zinth).


  • Student-Teacher Relationships
  • Students share what they think student-teacher relationships should look like and why it is important for both teachers and students to build these relationships, as well as how such relationships ease the process of transitioning.


  • "I Wish My Teacher Knew..."
  • Here is a quick but powerful activity third grade teacher, Kyle Schwartz, created that you can conduct in your own classroom that will give you information about your students' lives that they might otherwise try to play down or cover up in class. Another similar phrase that has produced useful insight from students is, "I hope that" or "One day...", and responses to these phrases can be combined to create encouraging and inspirational class poems. This activity can help with the academic transition by opening up the platform for students to share with teachers what they need to know about their individual learning processes, their personal interests, and their unique family and social environments, as well as any other needs so that teachers may accommodate them accordingly at the beginning of the year, decreasing the students' chances of falling behind in school performance while they are still learning to navigate their way through a new phase of schooling.


  • Teacher Miscommunication
    • One issue with transitioning to a new academic atmosphere is that a middle school teacher will give an excuse to students that “this is the way it will be in high school, so I’m helping you prepare for the heavy workload”, yet when students get to high school, it isn’t as the middle school teacher claimed. A middle school teacher might claim that high school teachers will be assigning 30-50 math problems a night, but in reality the high school teachers only assign 10 problems or so because they believe once students get it down, there’s no sense in repeating the same process 50 times. There are also high school math teachers who say that students won’t be allowed to use calculators in college classes, so they refuse to let students use them in their class.
    • Teachers should not rely on their own experiences as high school or college students, and should communicate and collaborate with upper and lower grade teachers to see how they can best prepare their students for not only the high school and college level courses, but ultimately for what actually goes on in the real world.


Resources for Teachers & Parents
  • Christie, Kathy, and Kyle Zinth. "Ensuring Successful Student Transitions from the Middle
Grades to High School." All About Adolescent Literacy., 2008. Web. 9
  • Foley, Dave. "5 Tips for Better Relationships With Your Students." NEA. National
Education Association, 2015. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.
  • Mizelle, Nancy B. "Helping Middle School Students Make the Transition into High School.
ERIC Digest." Helping Middle School Students Make the Transition into High
School. ERIC Digest. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.







This contribution to the Performance Pyramid- Best Practices is created by Jordan Carruthers in November, 2015.