Monday, April 23, 2012


Understanding the developmental standards for secondary education is a key component in managing and effectively educating middle school students. By incorporating the developmental standards in their lessons, teachers are able to engage and include all students in their class while effectively catering to their different needs. The purpose of this project is to demonstrate that I not only understand all of the developmental standards and sub-standards, but also to show that I know how to incorporate these into my future classroom and lesson plans. As an aspiring English and Language Arts teacher for middle school students, it is especially important that I am educated on the developmental and psychological growth of adolescents in their preteens to early teens. In understanding this, I will be able to better understand the level of expectations I should have for my students. I will also be able to recognize how and why students perform in different ways and how to help them succeed in the classroom.

Piaget's Theory

Piaget’s theory states that adolescents are internally motivated to understand the world around them because doing so is biologically adaptive. Adolescents take in new information and organize it, separating important ideas from less important ones and connecting one idea to another. In his theory, Piaget states that individuals go through four stages that help them understand the world. Each stage demonstrates a different way in which individuals make sense of their environment. The first stage is Piaget’s sensorimotor stage. This stage lasts from birth to about two years of age. In this stage, infants are using physical motoric actions along with their sensory experiences, such as seeing and hearing, in order to familiarize themselves with the world around them. The second Piagetian stage is the preoperational stage. This stage occurs between two and seven years of age. Children in this stage are just beginning to understand the world in terms of words, images, and drawings. Children are beginning to associate and connect sensory information with physical actions and words. The third stage described in Piaget’s theory is the concrete operational stage. This stage takes place in children between 7 to 11 years of age. Children in this stage are able to perform operations that involve objects. They are also able to think logically and apply their reasoning to different concrete examples. The fourth and final stage in Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Theory is the formal operational stage. This stage takes place at 11 years old and continues through adulthood. In this stage individuals are able to think in abstract terms. Individuals in this stage think in terms of ideal circumstances as well as various possibilities for their futures. Individuals in this stage become systematic and develop methods of problem solving such as creating a hypothesis.

Piaget's Theory in the Classroom

Although each individual experiences each of these stages at a different time in their life, I believe middle school educators are most likely to encounter students in Piaget’s final stage, the formal operational stage. In order to implement this theory into a middle school classroom teachers must require students to participate in group discussions. One novel that would prove be very effective in this particular activity is The Giver. This novel describes a futuristic society unlike anything currently in existence. After reading several chapters into the book the teacher would lead a group discussion based on the reading. This discussion would discuss the book’s plot as well as students’ personal opinions. Teachers should ask students what they thought of the rules and way of life described in the novel. They would answer questions such as, “What do you think is the reasoning behind their system? Why do you think they have eliminated things such as color, emotion, and choice? What would you change? What is your idea of a fair utopian society? What do you think are the downfalls of this society structure?” This activity would allow students to think in abstract terms. It will require the students to develop hypotheses about the cause and effects of such a society. It would also require them to imagine their own ideal society. Thinking abstractly, hypothesizing, and considering the future are all components of the formal operational stage.

Vygotsky's Constructivist Approach

The constructivist approach focuses on the idea that the learner should be actively seeking out new information rather than listening to teachers simply give it to them. This theory emphasizes the idea that students learn best with guidance from the teacher as well as collaboration with classmates. One of Vygotsky’s main principles is the zone of proximal development, or ZPD. The ZPD consists of various tasks and skills that are too difficult for an individual to master on their own at a specific time. However, with the assistance of an adult or a skilled peer, the individual may master a specific task. This assistance is often referred to as “scaffolding”. There are two limits within the ZPD. The lower limit refers to the level of problem solving an individual may achieve while working on a task without aid. Whereas the upper limit refers to the level of achievement an individual can accept with guidance or assistance from a more-skilled adult or peer. It is important that those providing the “scaffolding” limit the amount of assistance they contribute to the learner. Vygotsky stresses that those providing assistance merely serve as a guide or facilitator, but not a director. This theory warns that if too much assistance is given to a youth they may become too dependent on their help.

Vygotsky's Constructivist Approach in the Classroom

In order to incorporate Vygotsky’s theory of the Constructivist Approach, middle school educators should plan to incorporate many different activities that allow for collaboration amongst peers. Teachers should assign partners for many assignments, which will allow students to assist one another. In an English and Language Arts classroom there is a great focus on writing and composition. One activity a teachers could use frequently in his or her class is peer editing. Allowing students to read one another’s work provides them with the opportunity to share their information and learn from others. Rather than letting the students choose who will peer edit their papers, instructors must assign partners according to students’ academic achievement. Students with high marks in grammar and spelling will provide great support to those who may fall short in these areas. These students will be the “scaffolding” for those struggling with the subject material. The more-skilled students will be able to guide their counterparts through the editing stage. In addition, the students with a firm grasp on the material will require less attention during the editing stage. This practice will prove beneficial to both individuals because they will learn how to collaborate with one another and will stimulate learning through social interaction.

Gardener's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Gardener proposed that students learn in many different ways. He stated that there are eight different “frames of mind” in which students may be exceptionally intelligent or gifted. Gardner states that individuals learn best when they apply their strongest form of intelligence. The first form of intelligence is verbal intelligence. Those who posses this type of intelligence are gifted in regards to communication. These individuals can use language effectively to express meaning as well as think in words. Those with a mathematical intelligence have the capability of understanding and performing various mathematical operations. Spatial intelligence refers to individuals who are able to think three-dimensionally. They are able to plan different structures and arrangements in their minds. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is the ability to manipulate objects and be physically in-tune with oneself. Individuals who posses this type of intelligence are very self-aware and coordinated. An individual who posses a musical intelligence is generally sensitive to pitch, melody, rhythm, and tone. Those with an interpersonal intelligence are able to interact effectively with others. They posses the ability to understand and relate with different types of people. Intrapersonal intelligence refers to an individual who posses a great understanding of oneself. Finally, an individual with a naturalist intelligence is someone who is ale to recognize and understand various patterns and processes that occur in nature. This theory is important to understand because it manifests the idea that not all students learn in the same way. Gardener states that everyone has all of these intelligences, but to varying degrees. Gardener argues that his is why individuals process information in different ways.