For in-depth treatment of this topic see Caught in the Middle
COVID-19 has caused most schools to close down in order to stop the spread of the virus. Students, teachers and parents have all been forced to shift how they socialize, and how they conduct the business of teaching and learning.
School is a developmental process. Although every grade is different, middle schoolers are unique in terms of the social challenges they face as they go through puberty into adolescence. The rapid wholesale adoption of online learning has created numerous new hurdles for them as they try to adapt. Yet adapt they must.
Distance Learning is a FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE in how we educate students and how we support their academic and social development
What do we know about middle schoolers?
Middle school students like to hang out together. Friendships are essential to their identity.
Middle school students help each other learn while developing socially.
"Humans are an exquisitely social species. We are constantly reading each other's actions, gestures and faces in terms of underlying mental states and emotions, in an attempt to figure out what other people are thinking and feeling, and what they are about to do next."
"Adolescence is characterized by psychological changes in terms of identity, self-consciousness and relationships with others. Compared with children, adolescents are more sociable, form more complex and hierarchical peer relationships, and are more sensitive to acceptance and rejection by peers."
Source: "Development of the social brain in adolescence", Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 105(3), pp 111-116.
Middle school students learn from each other, and share in each other's discovery. They become engaged and retain what they learn when they share.
"There’s an evolutionary reason for this social learning: Figuring out how to get along with others is key to flourishing in life."
"Schools can help by providing real-time instruction online, opportunities for teacher-student interaction, and efforts to help students feel part of a group, even when they are working at home. But studies show that many students aren’t being engaged in this way."
"Teachers say they can see the toll social isolation is taking on their students."
Source: The Hechinger Report, June 19, 2020. "Middle School Is Often Difficult" by Steven Yoder
Middle school students learn best when they can collaborate. It strengthens their social bonds. They give each other both reason and reinforcement to show up, learn and perform.
When you engage middle school students, they are much more likely to be healthy and to learn. That means connect with them, check in often, create a space where they can be social and collaborate with classmates, even if it is online.