The Well-Prepared Student: How to Get Ready for the High School Years

Looking ahead…

  • Students must fulfill a minimum credits in order to graduate to high school. One credit of high school equals 120 hours.
  • Get your student used to tracking how much time they spend studying. Keep a journal.
    ** Language Arts: 4 (units are years)
    ** Math: 3-4
    ** Foreign Language 2-4
    ** World History
    ** American History
    ** American Government
    ** Science: 3-4
    ** Physical Education: 2

Track these values over time and make sure you’re on track. More than likely, students are spending more than 120 hours per credit, but if you don’t record it – they just disappear. It really matters, so get them accustomed to doing this.

Language Arts

  1. Assign regular “real book” reading. Moving up to early high school level of difficulty by 8th grade.

* High School difficulty: Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
* Check Norton Anthology of Literature. Look @ table of contents. If you see it listed there, it’s high school.
It can be a real jolt. The references are potentially different. Syntax is more difficult. Start with listening to unabridged audiobook versions. Do this early so it’s less stressful.

The Norton Anthology will guide you to the editions which are considered “standard.”

  1. Do grammar every year so that it can take a back seat in high school.

Get all the way through grammar by the 8th grade if possible. Writing will make them a more successful college applicant. 9th grade refresher, OK. Don’t let it flow into 10th grade.

  1. Teach outlining and diagramming so that they can become tools during the high school year.

Being able to outline means you can make a plan for an essay. A lot of middle school books don’t teach this. Expose them to this early so they can effectively use it later. Practice outlining other people’s work. Some grammar courses teach this. Some really good web sites which will walk you through this as well.

Diagramming is so an older student can figure out what’s wrong with a sentence that a student has written. So they can self-correct their work.

Example of sentence diagramming and how that indicates how “balanced” a sentence. Also helps identify where clarity is lost.

[Speaker has a grammar course. Should check it out.]

  1. Begin to talk about books with the student

* Who is this book about?
* What do the central characters want?
* What leads up to this event?
* etc…

Kids don’t think this way. They don’t naturally write critical essays about literature. Get them accustomed to talking to you about books, so they can write about them later in High School.

Describe the classic narrative arc. Answers should be in complete sentences. Don’t have to write them down. If they know that, you’re going to get really short sentence. Instead you want their deepest theory about the book without constraint.

You don’t need a literature analysis program in middle school.


  1. Schedule pre-algebra NO LATER than ninth grade.

* 9th Pre-algebra
* 10th Algebra
* 11th Geometry
* 12th Algebra II
Algebra is acceptable as high school credit, even if they take it in middle school. Only course for which this do. Be careful of doing this for other courses. In general don’t do it without AP sore backup proof.

  1. Make sure the student beings to do some “real life” math problems.

* Family’s grocery budget
* Include kids in home projects
* Figure out actual cost of driving to/from event
* Figure out how much a restaurant meal would cost at home.
* Help them stay connected with my math is an important thing to d.
[This is the Life of Fred stuff. Man need to buy that book series.]

Help students understand why they’re learning this stuff and how it’s used to solve actual problems. The pushback you’re going to get is the beginning of more mature thinking, so it’s a good thing. Be prepared for it and sort it out.

Book: Family Math. Family Math: The Middle School Years. (Second book particularly good.)


  1. Understand the scientific method.
  2. Know how to conduct an experiment.
  3. Be familiar with the format of a lab report.
    They have to have all of these things or they’re not ready for high school science. Look for these in any science curriculum that you might use. You can find some of this stuff online, so you can supplement easily.


  1. Study history with a timeline
  2. Be sure to cover the basics of 18th century American History
  3. Teach the difference between primary and secondary sources

Timeline is particularly important so that kids connect studied events within the context of a single universe. Things get really complicated in high school history. Don’t assume that they’re picking it up, specifically help them understand those connections explicitly.

Two history courses that are mandated in high school are American History and American Government. Without a grounding in American History, this is really hard.

Explicitly teach difference between sources. In high school, they’re mixed together, so sometimes they miss the distinction. Look @ your history material to see if they’ve called out which material is sourced how.

Foreign Language

  1. If possible, study 1-2 years of Latin
  2. Study English grammar in a systematic, programmed way
  3. Investigate Rosetta Stone and other ear-training programs
    Doing this early in middle school doesn’t dodge this requirement. Instead it turns the requirement into doing years 3-4 (for example) if you did 1-2 in 7th & 8th grade.

Latin is especially useful to help learn other languages. Need a solid English grammar grounding first.

In most cases, kids are going to be doing serious foreign language unless they’ve got a bend in that direction.

Practical Preparation

  1. Experiment with new ways of learning.

* Instruction by parent.
* Correspondence course graded by parent
* Independent study
* Tutor
* Class taken online
* Community college class (not always possible, but ask.)

In high school you’re probably going to have outsource. You’re not going to be able to do all of the teaching. Vary your kids educational experience. Don’t make their first experience a high stakes one, so avoid something which going to end up on their transcript.

Online classes are particularly hard transitions. Specifically dealing with hard deadlines. Get over this hump early. Do an online course a year. Your goal is to teach them to turn something in on-time. Pick something which isn’t going to be too hard for them. One change at a time, so don’t pick a hard topic.

  1. Give the student experience in taking tests and working to a deadline
    Online courses help with this, but you need to be less flexible with this. Some things, like sick, are OK to push, but you need to start buckling down there. Occasionally send them to a friends house to take a test, ideally where they’re feeling slightly uncomfortable. (SATs, anyone?)

  2. Teach the student how to find books at the library
    They need to able to negotiate the catalog and find a book that they need. Most reference librarians will walk your kid through this.

  3. Explain the difference between “mediated” and “unmediated” content.
    Mediated content has been reviewed, commissioned, paid for, fact checked by someone different than the author. Unmediated continent sources should not be used in High School. Train the student to look for the mediator or organization which stands behind a given web site. Who’s checking the content?

This includes books, especially with the advent of self-publishing books.

High School has a convention of using mediated content only.

  1. Work on moving the student towards more independent learning.
    Start this in 6th grade. Middle grade students ought to have a watch or an alarm clock. They need to learn how to keep track of their own time. They should be able to get themselves up in the morning. They should think about how much time it’s taking to do each subject.

Now is the time they need to learn to track their time.

Checklists are good in 7th & 8th grade to track how much work needs to be done. Give them some responsibility to order work.

  • Help student being to keep a notebook planner or calendar.
  • Give student the responsibility for getting up in the morning.

Make those things habits. Personal responsibility. Don’t save it all for high school.

Ask them to do what’s possible, but don’t make it so complicated that it becomes a chore in and of itself.

Personal preparation

  1. Allow the student to question you (in an appropriate manner)
    You want them to behave more like adults in High School. They prepare to do that in Middle School. You need to allow the student question your educational choices without being threatened by the question. It’s no long appropriate to say “you have to.” You have to come up with an explication as to why they’re taking a class that they don’t like. Walk them through their high school and college years so they can look forward.

Long view can freak out 6th graders a bit because they’re not used to this worldview.

If you can’t come up with a good reason why they’re taking a course, then you need to drop it – even if it’s a course you love.

You can’t keep a kid in all of the courses that you like and then expect them to be responsible in high school. You’ll end up with a kid you have to micromanage throughout high school. Bad.

  1. Discuss “trigger points” and how to avoid/recover from them.
    Depending on their personality, you kids will meltdown. In middle grade, this is typically their body telling them something which they can interpret. They’re growing. When you have middle school meltdowns: stop everything and everyone just calms down. Eat something. Have a nap. Have a shower. These make you calm. Once you’re there, you talk with the student to about why the meltdown happen. Don’t just say “there. there” and try to immediately fix it.

Help students get more in touch with their bodies. Sleepy. Hungry.

By 7th grade, they’re working much closer to their natural level of maturity level. They’re fine until something happens to them physically.

Meltdowns are good for figuring out what to do in high school

  1. Deal with any lingering learning problems
    Sometimes we just wait for them to grow out of things. Slow reader. Doesn’t like to write. Etc. If they’re still struggling with something like that in 7th grade, go get them evaluated. This evaluation isn’t therapy, it’s typically physical focused. (Eye tracking. Hearing. Etc.)

Don’t struggle with these problems and hard academics at the same time.

  1. Encourage the student to think about course, curricula, and areas of study that the student would like to investigate
    Don’t be the only one with a vision. Let them have some voice in planning out their high school sequence. Get them to look forward to the High School years. They should be interested with the agenda.

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