Supporting Adolescents through the Middle-to-High-School Transition

During the middle-to-high-school transition, many students experience difficulty in academic, personal, and interpersonal functioning which is why this period has been classified as the most challenging point of transition (Ellerbrock, et al., 2014). This paper aims to offer an overview of the available research to evaluate students’ perceptions of their transition from middle-to-high-school and for professionals to develop an understanding of major challenges, sources of support required, and coping strategies to better support adolescents through this transitionary stage. I have selected two qualitative and two quantitative, peer reviewed, research studies to review, analyze, and compare. Selection of the research studies was based on the adolescent population entering their first year of high school and transitioning from a middle school setting; typically aged 13–14.

Barber and Olsen (2004) identified and assessed change patterns in perceived functioning of adolescents and school. In so doing, the authors assessed the degree to which perceived change existing within the learning environment estimated changed functioning of the youth, in all the grade transitions. Forming part of these was the change to a new learning institution. The study found that at each grade transition, youth indicated decreased school environment quality and interpersonal/personal/academic functioning, prticulaly in the sixth and seventh grade. One key aspect that I learned from this source is that unfortunate increased inadequacies in environments of schools and decreased student functioning are somewhat related. This study provides insights in isolation of the school environment apparent prime element for functioning of student, which is the teacher-student relationship. Despite its usefulness, the study has weaknesses. Apart from the limitations measures used, the study only depended on data reported by the youth. While adolescents might be best suited to do so on certain aspects of their functioning that were measured in the study, it would enhance the findings’ validity so as to have several assessments that are more objective. Thus, future studies need to ensure that they are not limited in the population to test for ethnic minorities. This would further assess the findings’ validity.

On the other hand, the aim of Ellerbrock et al. (2014) qualitative study was to identify, across the transition from middle to high school, how practices of eight and nineth grade might be supportive to students’ developmental and basic needs. Using the data gathered throughout the year 2009 by the authors, I leraned that academic and relational teacher practices can assist in meeting learner needs across the transitions; nevertheless, the practices were inconsistent between school sites, as their resposniveness varied. The study notes the significance of seeing the transition under research as a process that span two time points rather than a single point, i.e. eighth and ninth grade. Although the research underline the necessity to examine the manner in which teacher practices on either sides of the transition support learners’ needs, more focus has to given to eighth and ninth grade academic and relational practices so as to effectively meet the needs throughout the transition. To explore how teachers employ these practices in supporting students’ needs and assist a resposive transformation over time, additional research is essential. The specific role of care including the way it might support learners during this school periods deserves more research. In order to be responsive to students’ needs, future studies should continue listening to their voices.

In their qualitative, constructivist, multi-site study, Ellerbrock and Kiefer (2013) paid attention on how the needs of students are met within school environments, particularly when they move from middle to high schools. From this research, it became evident to me that listening to the voices of individuals, such as school adminstrators, students, and teachers, who are familiar with middle-to-high school transition can aid to understand thw way these environments are resposnsive to what adolescents require. The authors’ findings note the need to acknowledge youths’ developmental and basic needs and how secondary school environments structured and unstructured aspects determine these needs when transitioning. Despite offering insightful conclusions, some limitations are present in the study. Because of its case study methodology and epistemological focus, the research based on 23 participants voices with limited student number, four. Additionally, it is not clear to what degree the results would have been different in case the selection had considered a bigger eighth-grade-only team. The study emphasizes the need for educators and researchers to more effectively infer both structured and unstructured aspects of high school environments. Future studies evaluating learners as they transfer between schools is needed to help in understanding how school environments respond the changing needs of students.

Liu and Lu (2011) highlighted various academic achievement trajectories patterns among Chinese students over transition time in their high schools. In so doing Liu and Lu (2011) examined the connections between different academic achievement trajectories patterns and learners’ sense of school belonging trajectories. The trajectories of academic accomplishment patterns were categorized as normative, increasing, and decreasing classes. The findings were inconsistent with the relationships between the two dimensions since the structural model demonstrated that neither the change rate nor initial status of learners’ sense of belonging estimated the changes in their achievement significantly. Although the authors add to the present literature in a number of ways, it had limitations as well. To begin with, self-reports were vital as they revealed students’ sense of belonging; however, additional research employing numerous information might further help in description of their sense of school belonging. Moreover, the research was carried out over the short-term and this was insightful to ensure that delicate issues among learners are understood over the early times of high school years. In future, a longer longitudinal studies would be important in examining the authors’ main objective of the study.

Hanewald (2013) identifies and critiques previous research regarding the transition experience between primary and high school; reason for its significance and the different ways it may be supported. One of the most important things from Hanewald’s (2013) review is that transition methodologies which are designed and implemented well may play a critical role in providing support to students, their school staff and families. Pre-service teacher eduaction should incorporate understanding and awareness of major concerns with regards to transition, as educators are key to making certain that transitions are positively experienced by the children and adolescents. Thus, it should be the responsibility of teacher eduactors to take into account how they may include transition strategies and programs in various courses so as to ensure possession of knowledge and skills by graduate teachers to address challenges associated with transitions. Although the study significantly increases understanding and awarenes of matters involved in assisting young individuals with demands coming at that stage in their education, it has a number of limitations related to secondary sources, from which its analyses was based. Future research need to discuss of each of the key themes, namely student well-being and belonging, parents and teachers role in supporting them, peers’ role, significance of family-school connections, and academic outcomes, that were addressed in this study so as to gain deeper understanding of each.



Barber, B. K., & Olsen, J. A. (2004). Assessing the Transitions to Middle and High School. Journal of Adolescent Research, 19(1), 3-30.

Ellerbrock, C. R., Abbas, B., & DiCicco, M. (2014). Developmentally Responsive Teacher Practices across the Middle-to-High-School Transition. Journal Of Research in Education, 24(1), 17-37.

Ellerbrock, C. R., & Kiefer, S. M. (2013). Supporting Young Adolescents’ Middle-to-High-School Transition by Creating a Ninth Grade Community of Care: Implications for Middle Grades Educators. Middle School Journal (J3), 45(3), 3-10.

Hanewald, R. (2013). Transition between Primary and Secondary School: Why It Is Important and How It Can Be Supported. Austrailian Journal of Teacher Education, 38(1).

Liu, Y., & Lu, Z. (n.d.). Trajectories of Chinese students’ sense of school belonging and academic achievement over the high school transition period. Learning And Individual Differences, 21(2), 187-190.



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