Our Research Agenda

Staying grounded in best practices

Research in the middle grades shares a common goal of understanding and improving teaching and learning. Best practices in middle grades education underpins everything we do here at the Tarrant Institute: the professional development we provide partner educators, the action research projects we help those educators undertake in their classrooms, the support we provide school leadership teams — even the articles we post here on this blog.

All are informed by our organization’s rigorous involvement with current and emerging trends in middle grades research.

But with Vermont’s current educational landscape at such an important point in the development of truly student-centered middle schools, what are we using to determine which research can help us effect the most powerful school change?

Guiding topics for the next five years

Luckily a collective of middle grades researchers from around the world have worked together to analyze what research is out there, and to prioritize what needs to be done. The result of this effort is a new research agenda, which can help both teachers doing action research and outside researchers with forming questions.

The Middle Level Education Research Special Interest Group has spent the past 18 months going through existing middle grades research and identifying topics and questions that could use further investigation.

The result of this process is an agenda to guide research for the next five years.

An agenda allows for collaboration and coordination among teachers, administrators, and researchers in middle schools and universities. The dozens of research questions in the agenda provide a useful starting point for research, be it in the classroom or across multiple schools. The agenda itself also provides numerous resources that serve as starting points for educators interested in reading up on and exploring any topic further in depth.

The New Research Agenda

The new research agenda is broken into three parts. Each part has a short introduction, a number of research questions, and a list of useful or influential readings on the topic. Here it is at a glance:

Part I: Young Adolescents

The first focuses broadly on young adolescents: their cognitive, behavioral, socio-emotional, and physical development, their identity development, how educators can be culturally responsive, and special populations of young adolescents.

Example Questions:

  1. In what ways do successful middle grades educators encourage students to develop stronger growth-oriented mindsets?
  2. How do we create critical consciousness in all middle grades students?
  3. What are the roles of general education and special education teachers who participate in inclusion models in the middle grades?

Part II: Teaching and Learning

This section includes questions related to educator development, curriculum integration, social and emotional learning, and technology.

Example Questions:

  1. In what ways is personalized learning being used to integrate curriculum in the middle grades?
  2. What is the impact of a personalized learning approach on middle school student engagement?
  3. What are the most effective uses of technology for improving middle grades students’ school engagement?
  4. In what ways does students’ in-school and outside-school use of technology for learning differ?

Part III: Middle Grades Schools and Structures

The final section is about middle schools and structures, including questions related to teaming, scheduling, vision for schools, and magnet and charter schools. Each section includes a reading list of influential books, articles, and websites related to the topics.

Example Questions:

  1. In what ways does interdisciplinary teaming foster purposeful learning?
  2. In what ways do scheduling formats influence classroom practices?
  3. What alternative structures, if any, are being used in place of interdisciplinary teaming?

How can educators use this document?

We think that teachers, administrators, and other education professionals might be able to use the agenda in a number of ways. For instance, to:

  • Identify questions and topics for action research
  • Identify useful articles, chapters, and books on these topics
  • Understand and describe the current status of middle grades research
  • Frame faculty or classroom discussions about challenges and progress to meet those challenges
  • Identify school or district-wide change initiatives that could be systematically researched

This new agenda will direct research on middle schools and young adolescents for the coming years. It offers us all direction in our research work, along with a preview of where we will likely see new ideas and conclusions. As an organization we are definitely planning to make use of this agenda, and we hope that it can help researchers of all stripes to frame and direct their work.