The goal of Benchmark's Middle School (Grades 6-8) is to help students grow as self-advocates who regulate their learning by knowing what they do well, what they need help to do, and where to get that help. All instruction includes opportunities for students to reflect on their learning and to increase their awareness and understanding of their approach to learning.
The instruction in middle school is designed to build upon what has been learned in class and mentor group and culminates in a student's personal plan for learning that is documented in a final portfolio that demonstrates the student's growth in four areas: social, emotional, academic, and physical. Each student writes a series of essays and creates a strategy chart that outlines the student's personal plan for learning in all academic areas that they can take with them into high school and beyond.
Students in 6th grade language arts classes are guided through the initial steps toward developing individual plans for learning. Particular emphasis is placed on helping students develop executive function skills for time management, organization, and study skills. Students are helped to orchestrate some of the strategies they have been taught, with particular emphasis on helping them understand ways to implement the strategies with more complex reading and writing assignments and with their personal approach to learning. Students are given choices about their approach to tasks and are helped to assess the consequences of their choices. Students are taught to use digital tools to organize their information, such as Google docs, Quizlet, and Webspiration. Students read series of texts at a variety of levels about concepts or topics and analyze those texts to answer guiding questions that help the students think deeply about the texts. For example, students may read a series of books about World War II, a series of memoirs, or a series of books about a particular ecosystem, while exploring guiding questions about the concept under study. The importance of building and accessing background knowledge is emphasized. Students are taught to produce a variety of written products, such as memoirs, essays, newspaper articles, poems, research reports, Power Point presentations, etc.
Language arts instruction in 7th grade focuses on reading texts for a variety of purposes, such as considering the author’s purpose, and analyzing plot and theme. Students are taught to effectively analyze the plot of various pieces of fiction and to write the basics of a literary analysis of plot. The type of texts read includes short stories, plays, poetry, and novels. Reading is given at both the student’s independent and instructional levels with a variety of written outcomes expected, depending on the text and the goal of instruction. Writing skills include planning, writing a rough draft, getting peer feedback, making revisions, and polishing a final draft. Instruction is also provided in note taking, using digital and print formats, and the elements of an effective discussion. Students continue to develop their awareness of their approach to learning through regular reflections and discussions with teachers. Executive function skills are addressed through helping students continue to develop strategies for focused attention and time management.
The goal in 8th grade English is to help students solidify their understanding of their personal learning style and how to effectively implement this knowledge to meet with success in language arts, other academic areas, and when they leave Benchmark. While the focus of instruction is on language arts, with students’ mentors, students are encouraged to reflect on their personal learning styles across subjects. Students solidify their understanding of the executive function skills strengths and challenges, and develop a personal plan for overcoming those challenges. Students begin the year by working on a project that encourages them to reflect on their development as a student, their current approach to learning, and on setting goals they wish to accomplish during the year. The process of preparing this portfolio leads to the students conducting a goal setting conference for parents and staff in October. Eighth grade English focuses on a variety of skills needed in high school. A variety of books are read with a specific theme, such as the nature and power of evil. Such books include, A Long Way Gone, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, and Much Ado About Nothing. These books are read on a number of levels and analyzed for character development and theme. A number of literary analyses are planned and written on plot, character, and theme. Additional writing instruction focuses on research and various ways of presenting the results of research. In addition to traditional research reports, students create digital products to demonstrate their understanding, such as PowerPoint and Prezi presentations, videos, etc. In addition to reading and writing instruction, an introduction to grammar and a foreign language (Spanish) is provided.
Students in 6th grade math work to develop conceptual understanding of the impact of multiplication and division on fraction and decimal numbers.. They are taught and practice the computational procedures associated with this concept and are expected to use their conceptual understanding to check for accuracy. Rate and ratio, are introduced as one way to represent quantitative relationships. Area, surface area, and volume are investigated. Estimation remains an integral part of the program. Students learn how to use online text, are introduced to Google Docs, and continue to use computer/iPad apps for conceptual understanding and drill of basic facts.
The 7th grade math curriculum develops an understanding of the application of generalized arithmetic concepts to algebra. Students analyze proportional relationships and use them to solve real world problems. Percent greater than 100 and percent of gain and loss are included. Factors, multiples and prime factorization are explored and applied to a variety of problems. The concepts of integers and variables are taught and developed through application to algebraic expressions. Sequential problem solving using variables is also taught. Formulating questions, designing a research method to collect data and reporting results encourages critical thinking and accurate graphical representation. The concept of inequality is also explored. Students are introduced to the graphing calculator, continue to use online texts and other tools that support conceptual understanding and computational fluency.
Algebra is the designated course for 8th grade.The goal of this course is to help students develop an understanding of generalized relationships that change over time. The connection of proportional relationships, linear equations, and slope as the expression of constant change are taught. The graphing calculator is used extensively as a tool which facilitates quick and accurate problem solving and proof. Analyzing, expressing, and graphing linear equations and linear inequalities and operations with polynomials precede the study of quadratics. Students use the Quadratic Formula for solving and graphing quadratic equations. The course concludes with simplifying rational and radical expressions and solving radical equations. Students blog with other members of the class to share solutions to problems posed by the teacher. Students are responsible for updating the class website every second week with summaries of concepts taught in class.
The 6th grade social studies classes study Ancient Civilizations, and are taught to implement the Action Cycle, a framework for understanding, explaining, and remembering human actions and consequences in the past and present, and for predicting human actions and consequences in the future. Students are taught strategies for taking notes, for learning new vocabulary, and for understanding informational text. Students are guided to use Quizlet for studying vocabulary, and digital organizers for information. Students reflect on their choices of strategies for learning history and explore their strengths and challenges as students of history. Students are taught executive function skills for organizing their materials and their ideas, and for managing their time. Students explore the cultures of Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome, investigating the chronology of the development of these cultures and civilizations, why societies take the actions they do, and the consequences of the actions taken by societies.
Social studies instruction in 7th grade focuses on the United States Government, including the basic principles of government and the organization of the government. Students also work on executive function skills to become actively involved in class activities so that they can understand the key points of an activity. Students begin to develop effective study habits, including using digital flash cards, taking notes, and organizing information in various digital formats, and preparing for tests. They also work on developing effective organization, planning, and advocacy strategies for consistently completing quality homework.
In 8th grade students study American History, beginning with Reconstruction and Industrialization. The study emphasizes a process of historical inquiry: question, investigate sources, analyze evidence, and make interpretations. The goal of social studies instruction is for students to increase their understanding of their strengths and areas of need as learners and to increase their ability to advocate for themselves to get their learning needs met. Students are coached to create a personal plan for learning that accounts for strengths and challenges in executive function skills such as time management, organization, task initiation, etc. Students work on becoming more active, effective learners of social science information by using strategies to read and take notes from textbooks and other sources, critically evaluating ideas and information, processing and retaining ideas presented in instruction and discussion, and preparing for quizzes and tests. Students continue to refine their ability to use digital tools to help them organize information, study for tests, and create products that demonstrate their understanding of the content.
Science in the 6th grade covers two main topics: earth science and an introduction to the changes experienced during adolescence, with a particular emphasis on drug awareness and refusal skills. Students are taught strategies for gathering and organizing information and for experimenting using the scientific method. Particular emphasis is placed on helping students use digital tools for keeping track of their information, such as Google docs. Students work collaboratively and reflect on their performance and their choice of strategies. Emphasis on executive function skills such as time management and study skills is an important part of science instruction. Students engage in discussions and activities designed to help them begin to understand their strengths and challenges as science students and to take steps to ensure their success in their study of science.
In 7th grade, science content focuses on four areas of study. First, students engage in science-related skill building including observing, inferring, predicting, classifying, and making models. The skill building culminates with planning and conducting experiments using the scientific method. Next, students study matter, including what matter is, how it can be described and identified, how its behavior can be explained, and how its properties determine how we use it. Next, students study an introduction to chemistry, including the atomic model, elements, and research on metals. Finally, a study of adolescent health includes making healthy decisions, maintaining self-esteem and controlling emotions, managing stress, dealing with conflicts, and being an aware and informed consumer. All content is approached through a strategic process that includes creating and conducting labs, the scientific method, working in partnerships, note taking, the research process, and critical thinking and deductive reasoning. Executive function skills are emphasized to help students manage time, focus attention, and manage their emotions as they reflect on successes and challenges in studying science.
The content covered in 8th grade science is the introduction to physical science concepts such as force and motion using a high school science text. Students also use a lab manual and complete a number of formal lab reports, following investigations using the scientific method. The process goals for the class include preparing for and taking tests in science, are learning scientific vocabulary, and taking notes from a science text. Students are introduced to scientific tools for completing investigations of force and motion, speed and acceleration, and other physics concepts. Students continue to personalize their use of digital and print tools to help them produce quality work. Students reflect on their learning on a regular basis and solidify their understanding of the executive function skills that represent strengths in their learning, and their use of tools that will help them control the areas of challenge to their learning.
In the Middle School, the focus increases toward recognizing personal responsibility within a larger community. Students may have discussions within their classes or small lunch groups and in “town hall” meetings with the entire grade to help them continue to develop skill in communicating with peers and adults and to become aware of the needs of others. Continuing to explore their own learning styles, both individually and in groups, encourages greater self-direction and advocacy as children mature and prepare for high school. The theme of empowering students to accept ownership for the physical and emotional safety of their learning community expands as we support them to recognize their roles in conflicts and potential resolutions.
Middle school students are challenged with more sophisticated projects that are to be completed over the course of three or four class periods. Students are expected to plan, assess and make revisions to projects as needed. Self-contained units address skill levels in a particular aspect of art. Support is given when needed and projects are displayed in the A. Palmer West Performing Arts Center during the periods of the middle school musical and end-of-year activities.
Content studies begin with an exploration of musical genres, such as classical, jazz, and blues, including specific composers representative of each genre. Students are exposed to a variety of world music songs and folk songs in the context of their cultural and historical significance. A project is assigned based on an artist or a musical genre. Instruction is given to aid students in negotiating the audition process for the Middle School musical. Audition skills are taught to students to promote their confidence during the tryout period. Chorus songs are practiced in music classes prior to the musical.
The goals of the physical education program at the intermediate level are continuation of those set for the primary level. In addition, students are taught how to sharpen individual skills and how to use those skills in the context of a team situation. The goal of the physical education program at the middle school level is to deepen the social and physical skills taught in the lower school program and to develop and interest in a variety of physical activities.
My experience at Benchmark made a huge difference in my life. I was taught how to work through difficult problems on my own. I would not be the person I am today if were not for the wonderful and dedicated teachers at Benchmark.
Nick Hannon, Benchmark '13, The Shipley School '17, attending Mercyhurst College
Head of Middle School