UW-Madison School of Education - In the Media

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Time interviews UW–Madison’s Borman about study showing ways to make middle school less stressful

August 14, 2019

Time magazine recently interviewed UW-Madison’s Geoffrey Borman about his new study that indicates a brief and low-cost intervention done early in the school year can lead to higher grades, better attendance, and fewer behavioral problems for sixth graders embarking on their stressful first year of middle school.

Borman is a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.

The Time report is headlined, “These Academics Spent $1.35 to Make Middle School Less Awful. Here’s How.”

The Time article, by Belinda Luscombe, begins: “Middle school, as documented in such educational opuses as ‘Eighth Grade’ and ‘School of Rock,’ is legendarily awful. Students who have done well in elementary school often stumble, become isolated and fall behind. But Geoffrey Borman, a professor at University of Wisconsin Madison who specializes in education policy and analysis, and his team, think they may have found an answer.”

Time then conducts a Q&A with Borman about his work.

Among the questions Time asks Borman is: Your study suggests that what middle schoolers really need is a sense of belonging. How did your intervention foster that? 

Borman ​tells Time: "Our intervention teaches students two important lessons. First, the exercises convey that all students experience some difficulty, both socially and academically, at the beginning of middle school. After a little while, though, things get better. When students read our exercises, they learn that there is not something wrong with them. Instead, they learn that the transition is a shared experience that is initially difficult for just about everyone. Like jumping into a cool swimming pool on a hot day, the experience is initially shocking and uncomfortable, but after a little while we get used to it and the cool water actually feels pretty good."

Borman adds: "Second, the exercises tell students that help is available from teachers and other adults at the school. Usually, relationships between teachers and students become more distant during middle school. However, the students who received the intervention reported trust in their teachers, that they liked school, were not as nervous about big tests, and that, ultimately, felt like they fit in. These more positive attitudes about school help students worry less, which helps them devote more cognitive and psychological resources to doing well in school. Their increased sense of fitting in also led to fewer absences from school and fewer instances of acting out. Over time, these shifts in student beliefs and behaviors improve academic performance, which then reinforce students’ positive beliefs. Rather than the all-too-often downward spiral students experience at the onset of middle school, the intervention sets in motion some positive momentum that helps kids feel like they do belong."

To learn much more, check out the entire report​ and Q&A via this Time.com web page.

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