Transitioning from elementary to middle school

Sleeping Giant Jr. HS, where I attended junior high - yup, its real name

I’m going re-purpose another piece from my past work place, The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, this one a summary of research about elementary to middle school transition, since that process is starting in many schools districts this month. You can read the original piece here and a slightly edited version below. Here goes:

Within the body of research on middle school education, the literature on transitions to middle school includes a number of studies that have surveyed student perspectives. Largely, the results of these studies show that the physical/logistical aspects of the transition are most terrifying for young adolescents – issues like finding and opening a locker, changing classroom, dealing with locker rooms, and navigating crowded hallways.

Some of the research reflects the social concerns of students at this age: making new friends, being able to find and connect with friends from elementary school, and dealing with violence and/or bullying from older students. Some of the concerns are academic – meeting the increased academic demands and organizing for multiple subjects and long term assignments.

These concerns all reflect the psycho-social development of young adolescents. As young adolescents become aware of the world outside of their families, they struggle for both personal and group identity. Social issues become very important, and their self-efficacy is framed within their ability to feel competent and socially included.

The literature on transition to middle school offers a number of ideas for school administrators and teachers to help students make a smooth transition to middle school:

  • Provide several opportunities for incoming students to become familiar with the middle school.
    • Have older students visit 5th graders in the spring to talk about middle school.
    • Provide an informal evening at the middle school for incoming students and their parents.
    • Start the year off with an orientation for new students that covers all of the logistical concerns and points them to the people who can help. Include an opportunity to open a locker and tour the building. Show them a sample class schedule.
    • Establish a buddy system where each incoming student is assigned an older buddy for the first few weeks. Remember to train the buddies.
  • Provide an academic environment that encourages teacher support and peer interaction.
    • Cooperative learning classrooms
    • Team teaching
    • Use of learning academies/teams/houses as a structure for increasing a sense of belonging
    • Develop an inclusive program for special needs students, students who are behind in basic skills, and gifted and talented students so that these students have an opportunity to use their individual talents without being stigmatized for their differences or academic deficits.
    • Work with elementary teachers to articulate the curriculum.
  • Provide a supportive social environment.
    • Orient new students to extra-curricular activities.
    • Provide a variety of activities for a variety of interests (art, drama, sports, community service).
    • Encourage every student to participate.
    • Encourage positive social interaction both inside and outside of the classroom.
    • Work to provide a safe and orderly environment with a clear and well-enforced code of conduct supported by a positive discipline structure.
    • Institute regular activities and procedures that encourage parental participation. These can include evening activities to showcase student talents and achievements and creating an environment in the school so that parents feel welcome.


Alspaugh, J.W. (Sept/Oct 1998). Achievement loss associated with the transition to middle school and high school. The Journal of Educational Research, 92(1), 20-5.

Alspaugh, J.W. & Harting, R.D. (1995). Transition effects of school grade-level organization on student achievement. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 28(3), 145-9.

Anderman, E.M., Maehr, M.L., and Midgley, C. (1999). Declining motivation after the transition to middle school: Schools can make a difference. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 32(3), 131-147.

Anderman, L.H. (1999). Classroom goal orientation, school belonging and social goals as predictors of students’ positive and negative affect following the transition to middle school. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 32(2), 89-103.

Arowosafe, D.S. & Irvin, J.E. (1992) Transition to a middle level school: What kids say. Middle School Journal, 24(2), 15-19.

Battistich, V., Solomon, D., Kim D., ,Watson, M., and Schaps, E. (1995). Schools as communities, poverty levels of student populations, and students’ attitudes, motives, and performance: A multi-level analysis. American Educational Research Journal, 32, 627-658.

Eccles, J.S. & Midgley, C. (1989). Stage-environment fit: Developmentally appropriate classrooms for young adolescents. In C. Ames and R. Ames (eds.), Research on Motivation in Education, vol. 3, pp. 139-186, NY: Academic Press.

Eccles, J.S., Lord, S., & Midgley, C. (1991). What are we doing to early adolescents? The impact of educational contexts on early adolescents. American Journal of Education, 99(4), 521-543.

Fenzel, L.M. (1989). Role strains and the transition to middle school: Longitudinal trends and sex differences. Journal of Early Adolescence, 9(3), 211-226.

Huntinger, P.L. (1981). Transition practices for handicapped young children. What the experts say. Journal of the Division for Early Education, 2, 8-14.

Mizelle, N.B. & Mullins, E. (1997). Transition into and out of middle school, in Irvin, J.L. (ed). What Current Research Says to the Middle Level Practitioner. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association, 303-313.

Mullins, E.R. (1997). Changes in young adolescents’ self-perceptions across the transition from elementary to middle school. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Georgia, Athens.

Perkins, P.G. & Gelfer, J.I. (Jan/Feb. 1995). Elementary to middle school: Planning for transition. The Clearing House 68(3), 171-3.

Roeser, R.W., Eccles, J.S. & Sameroff, A.J. (May 2000). School as a context of early adolescents’ academic and social-emotional development: A summary of research findings. The Elementary School Journal, 100(5), 443-471.

Roeser, R.W., Midgley, C.M. & Urdan, T.C. (1996). Percepts of the school psychological environments and early adolescents’ psychological and behavioral functioning in school: The mediating role of goals and belonging. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 408-422.

Schiller, K.S. (Oct. 1999). Effects of feeder patterns on students’ transition to high school. Sociology of Education, 72(4), 216-233.

Stoffner, M.F. and Williamson, R.D. (March 2000) Facilitating student transitions into middle school. Middle School Journal, 31(4), 47-51.

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