Review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2018
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Middle School Confidential 2: Real Friends vs. the Other Kind

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Quizzes spark engagement with authentic teen scenes about friendship

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts
  • Health & Wellness

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Character & SEL
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
5–8
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Pros: Real teen issues are presented with respect and emotional authenticity; characters are alternately tough yet vulnerable, admirable yet fallible.

Cons: Audio of teen voices and some comic relief would pull kids in even more; content can be repetitive and the dialogue slightly preachy.

Bottom Line: Via relatable situations, this graphic novel can facilitate discussions with tweens about how to treat friends and how to advocate for yourself.

Use Middle School Confidential 2: Real Friends vs. the Other Kind as an example of the difficult social interactions involving friendships and dating. Administrators and teachers could recommend the app as an at-home resource for parents. Classroom teachers -- for example, of English or social studies -- could lead small-group discussions following a whole-class read of the digital book. Students can practice speaking and listening skills such as defining roles, acknowledging contributions, and demonstrating multiple perspectives through reflection.

Kids could be assigned to create graphic novels on social topics of their own choosing or to write alternate endings for the scenarios in the story. Small-group work could include comparing individual answers to the quiz questions and making up new answers that are "wrong" or "right." Any student-created responses that don't clearly fall into one category or the other could spark a discussion of the gray areas in friendships and communication. Also, ask your students for additional friendship-based social issues that aren't included in the app, and discuss ways to handle situations that arise from these real-life examples.

Additionally, to get the most out of the Middle School Confidential apps, use the free Leader's Guide to the Middle School Confidential Series that covers all three books in the series. It gives extensive activity and discussion suggestions based on the content of each chapter, page by page. There's also a project-based learning guide that provides individual and group project suggestions.

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Middle School Confidential 2: Real Friends vs. the Other Kind is the second in an app-based graphic novel series written by anti-bullying activist Annie Fox and illustrated by Matt Kindt. This book continues the story of a group of middle schoolers who dealt with self-esteem issues in Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are. Through eight chapters, the gang encounters friendship challenges like eating problems, interrupting conversations with texts, bossiness, hurt feelings, using people, crush rejections, popularity, dating, problems at home, and breaking up. End-of-chapter morals and quizzes, as well as the kids themselves, offer up ways to stand your ground, ideas about when and how to communicate, and strategies to avoid hurting other people's feelings.

The story runs sequentially from beginning to end, with an optional quiz after each chapter covering the concept it addressed. Some of the quizzes engage students in self-evaluation, while others have more typical right/wrong answers that come with thoughtful explanations for each answer. Pages can be swiped and zoomed, with additional sound effects when you zoom. An information button leads to the main menu page with navigation hints and chapter navigation. 

No matter how you communicate with teens and tweens, it can be challenging to get an authentic response. But throw out some all-too-familiar scenarios, such as going along with the popular girl and neglecting friends, and you get an authentic catalyst for discussion (despite the occasionally didactic language). The addition of quizzes -- a sort of mix between social studies class and a teen zine sidebar -- adds tons of engagement value to the experience, since students are considering their own experiences and feelings. As with so many social skills tools, teens may feel it's a bit contrived, but tweens looking into the abyss of middle school will eat it up. None of the advanced storylines like dating and eating disorders provide these younger kids with any inappropriate information -- just solid tools to handle it if it comes along.

One of the quizzes has 10 items and all 10 "correct" answers are B, which would be predictable in math class but follows certain personality test norms here. Middle School Confidential 2: Real Friends vs. the Other Kind does right by the first in the series, also including the follow-up quizzes, but tackling some more advanced interpersonal scenarios in addition. Students will get the most out of this app if they absorb the lessons and then examine their own experiences and reactions while taking the quizzes and participating in follow-up class discussion.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

This graphic novel plugs right in to a popular medium for teens and tweens and captures real-life social situations. Music could be a bit more bouncy and tied to the social action, but students will recognize themselves in the story arcs.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Great tool to approach tricky personal subjects without embarrassing anyone; kids might poke fun at it, but they'll absorb the messages anyway. Quizzes test students on their own impressions of how friendships should work.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The app's website includes a project-based learning guide to help teachers create full lessons, and print editions of the book include quizzes, tips, and empowerment tools. Audio of character dialogue would expand accessibility.


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