Monday, January 30, 2017

From Grade 8 to Grade 9

This year, I'm learning a lot about how we can help students (particularly math students) transition from grade 8 to grade 9 successfully. 

There are a lot of reasons why this transition is not successful for all grade 9 students in many boards. Off the top of my head, this is because differences include:

New school:
  • Students go from knowing their way around their school very well to not knowing where to find anything or anyone.
  • Students go from having two nutrition breaks in the day to one lunch break (that's gotta make the period before lunch soooo hard for hungry students!). 
  • Students go from having opportunities to play and get outside (recess is a given) to having nothing like this scheduled (students can go out at lunch time, but don't have to).
  • Students spend more time on the bus. Bus rides, in a rural area like ours, get longer as there is only one high school servicing a large geographical area.

New teachers:
  • Students go from having one teacher who knows them (and the 30 other students in her/his class) really well to having four teachers who know them (and the 70 other students they teach that semester) very little.
  • Students go from knowing all the teachers in their school (having been taught by most of them) to knowing NONE of the teachers in the high school.
  • Students go from knowing what one teacher expects from them to having four potentially very different teachers, and having to juggle a myriad of expectations.

New peers:
  • Students go from having the same peer group to support them all day to different peer groups that change throughout the day.
  • Students may not even be with their usual peer group if their timetable is significantly different than their friends'.

New courses:
  • Students go from unstreamed classes to streamed classes (that carry their own stigmas).
  • Students go from a modified curriculum (such as working at a grade 6 level in math) right into the grade 9 curriculum.
  • Students move into an environment where grades matter, exams are written, and credits need to be achieved. There are consequences for not passing a course.

New Freedoms:
  • Students can leave the school at lunch to walk up to a local restaurant, or just hang around outside the whole time. Some students aren't very good at disciplining themselves to come back to school in time for third period after this new-found freedom.

In short, there's a LOT that students need to adjust to when moving from grade 8 to grade 9. Part of my job this year is to examine how that transition is happening and what we can do to help students better bridge the gap.

So I'm looking for suggestions. What can we, as grade 8 and grade 9 teachers, do to help our students be as successful as possible as they manage these changes? Which of the above factors can we control and exert influence over? If we could make a TOP TEN list of ways to help students make the transition, what would that list include?


  1. Hi Heather;

    Thank you for working on this very important idea. This is a complex issue.

    I wonder why we are so stuck in our thinking around what high school must look like? It seems at odds, at times, with what we know about what is best for young people.

    Recently, I visited a high school that decided it needed to be the best possible space for young people to be in during the day. That's a very different way of thinking from most schools, in my experience.

    If we create high school environment with the thinking that kids should want to be there, how might it look? If we consider the physical and mental needs of our young people, what needs to be in this space?

    One way to scaffold the transition is to change the difficult environment of a high school so that it is more aligned with the needs of 14-year-olds in the first place. There are examples we can learn from so that we are able to create inviting and supportive environments in our own contexts.

  2. Heather: I'm nodding reading your post, and Donna's reply. I've been teaching intermediates my whole career as a Core French and music teacher, and now I have a 7/8 classroom. I also have kids of my own, currently in Grade 10 and 8,so this is my world right now.
    I have been an advocate throughout my career on creating opportunities for intermediate and high school teachers to get to observe each other's classes, do PLC's together, talk about "bridging the gap". Last year, I was incredibly excited to get to do some board-to-board and panel-to-panel professional learning with Simcoe and KPR French teachers - it was amazing, but a really rare example of something we need to do more.

    I had a revealing conversation with a colleague I hugely respect a few weeks ago. I was talking about some of the assessments I had done in math this year - coding animations to show understanding of transformations in geometry, making videos explaining subtracting integers. She gave me positive feedback, but also reminded me that I needed to prepare my students for standardized math assessments, because they wouldn't be offered those options in high school. I agreed that my students need the opportunity to work on more standard test-taking skills, but I also wondered why those options would disappear. I continue to believe that creating opportunities to share promising practice between panels in our ASGs would be huge.

  3. Wow! When you line them all up like that, those are a lot of hurdles for students. I'll be honest, I didn't realize there were so many. We do so much of what we do because that's the way it's always been done. I'm seeing seeds of change but I wonder if we're asking the right questions. You have given me a lot to think about. Thank you.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.