The transition between elementary or primary school and junior high school / middle school can be particularly stressful for adolescents. In addition to the biological changes associated with this age, academic motivation is also at a low point. In fact, students grades, on average, drop quite dramatically during the first year of middle school. In a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario, students become less interested in school and have less confidence in their abilities.
Many factors contribute to this issue – middle schools tend to be more controlling than elementary school, class work is less challenging in middle school and there is a shift from academic learning to grades and competition.
Sadly, at a time when young adolescents realize an increase in cognitive ability, the schools are offering them fewer opportunities to challenge themselves. This too often results in a downward spiral for confidence and motivation.
One key factor separating those students who thrive in the transition with those who struggle is the student’s view of their own intelligence as being fixed or changeable. Those who believe their intelligence can be shaped by hard work and effort, tend to look for challenging activities and have less fear of failure. Those students who think of their intelligence as fixed, on the other hand, will avoid challenging tasks and often suffer the most with the transition. They tend to lose confidence in their ability once things are no longer easy for them.
It is critically important for teachers to help students understand that learning takes time and effort and that intelligence is not fixed, but actually, under the student’s own control.