Broadening the world of early adolescents
April 2006; Pages 8–13
Adolescents face a variety of new challenges, from increasing family responsibilities, to physical changes, to growing complexity in interpersonal relationships. Overcoming these challenges helps them to develop skills, resilience and self-efficacy, and they should be supported to embrace the changes confronting them. One major change in adolescents’ educational environment is the transition from small primary schools to larger middle schools. Students from diverse socioeconomic, racial, geographical or ethnic backgrounds are often brought together, increasing each other’s awareness of their positions in the social hierarchies. Not fitting in is perhaps the most significant stress in a young adolescent’s life. Teachers need to understand where their students are from, and help them to see similarities and differences in their backgrounds in a positive light. Teachers also need to be aware of the ‘disconnections’ that can happen in a young adolescent’s social relationships, which are often invisible to adults. Talking to students about how they experience less structured environments such as cafeterias or bus stops can provide insights into their social world. School structures can inhibit students’ social integration, with two problematic areas standing out in previous research: extracurricular sports and ability grouping. Extracurricular sports are most often played by the most affluent students, who benefit from having better equipment, more prior training, and fewer responsibilities at home. Equitable after-school programs can be created on modest budgets by inviting assistance from religious or community groups to support disadvantaged students, or using local high-school students to tutor middle school students in areas of interest. More affluent students also tend to constitute a majority in accelerated classes, creating a sense of exclusion among lower-income students, and a worrying lack of social awareness on the part of the higher-income students. Middle schools are caught between the inclusive approaches exercised in primary schools, and the more competitive, achievement-oriented secondary school environment. How to manage this transition remains debatable, but it is important that middle school students are provided with diverse environments at this crucial stage of their social development, as well as the support they need to succeed in them.
Transitions in schooling
What are the imperatives for the middle years?
Number 44, Autumn 2006; Pages 24–26
Middle schooling is a particular approach to education based on responsiveness to the specific developmental needs of young adults. The growing body of research into how individuals learn provides some insight into how these needs might best be met. Recent developments in neuroscience have confirmed educators’ long-held intuition that learning is most effective when students are engaged in a multi-sensory manner. Middle school learning environments should be sensory rich, intellectually challenging and based on a constructivist philosophy of learning. The need for a holistic, student-centred approach to adolescent learning means reforms to middle schooling will be more effective if integrated in clusters than if implemented in isolation. This assumption underpins the Turning Points program for middle schools in the
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
Adolescence: a useful concept for this millennium
Volume 26 Number 1, 2006; Pages 67–73
‘Adolescence’ has become increasingly recognised as a nebulous concept. Previous conceptualisations of adolescence have adopted a ‘deficit’ view, regarding teenagers as ‘unfinished’ adults. The deficit view of adolescence is highly problematic in an era where adulthood itself is difficult to define. The terms ‘kidult’ or ‘adultescent’ have emerged to describe adult-age people whose interests and priorities match those of their teenage counterparts. Rather than relying on ‘lock-step’ models of physical, cognitive and social growth put forward by developmental psychology, adolescence can be more usefully defined by looking at the common experiences of people in their teenage years. Common experiences arise at an institutional level; for example, all adolescents are treated as the same by legal and education systems. The transition from primary to secondary schooling is a milestone for all children, exposing them to a new type of educational environment. Shared experiences also arise from generational factors. Today’s adolescents belong to the millennial generation, characterised by technological competence, global perspectives, high susceptibility to media influence, individualisation and rapid interactions. This generation focuses on teamwork, achievement, modesty and good conduct, and has great potential for significant collective accomplishments. These generational factors challenge educators to provide relevant learning experiences for today’s students. Many classrooms still utilise textbook-based pedagogy more suited to previous generations, resulting in disengagement among millennial students. Curriculum content must also be tailored to generational needs. The rapid pace of change, as well as the fluidity of identity created by dissolving geographical and vocational boundaries, mean that the millennial generation will need more than a fixed set of skills and knowledge to enter adulthood. Teachers must enable their students to think like ‘expert novices’, adept at assimilating new concepts in depth and prepared to engage in lifelong learning.
Adjusting the gaze: towards generative 'middle phase' professional learning
Volume 26 Number 1, 2006; Pages 74–78
Scaffolding Action in the Middle Years (saMY) is a professional development program offered at the University of the
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
Geographically literate person
Autumn 2006; Pages 24–28
The subject Geography needs to throw off its outdated public image as a list of facts, ‘a burden on the memory rather than a challenge to the mind’. Modern Geography involves explaining causes and processes and evaluating the social and environmental consequences of events. At a basic level, geographical literacy involves knowing the locations of peoples and places; at an intermediate level, the physical and human characteristics of diverse places; and at the higher level, a grasp of the complex developing interactions between people and physical locations. In the National Geography Standards published by the
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
New South Wales (NSW)
United States of America (USA)
20 July 2006
A study of values being taught in schools was commissioned by MCEETYA amid concerns in some quarters that schools were a ‘values vacuum’. The study identified two main forms of values education in schools: character education, involving the teaching of society’s values, and moral reasoning skills. The study suggested a synthesis of both approaches and also proposed nine core values. However, the proposed values are ‘vague to the point of being empty’. For example, the value of giving people a ‘fair go’ can be interpreted in conflicting ways, to suggest treating people in a literally equal way, regardless of their situation; treating people unequally to try to compensate for the impact of their circumstances; or treating people as they ‘deserve’, using criteria other than equality, such as merit, to measure fair treatment. The study’s ‘common values’ approach contains ‘little or no attempt at justification’ of the proposed values. In the absence of any justification the study’s recommendations rely on an appeal to moral authority. Values presented in very general terms, such as honesty and compassion, often clash, in which case they offer no guidance. Another problem is that people disagree about values within and between cultures. To resolve this problem by simply respecting diverse opinion leads towards moral relativism. Issues such slavery or bullying illustrate the need to go beyond relativism to establish particular moral judgements. Morality can be grounded in support for human good over suffering; a recognition of people’s ‘common capacities for suffering and happiness’, and a recognition of the existence of suffering among other species. These three principles provide firm ground for making moral judgements, when combined with ‘well-established elements of ethical reasoning’ such as fully considering the consequences of behaviour, and ensuring consistency between beliefs and actions. Children need opportunities to practise and develop making moral judgements on these foundations. This ‘ethical inquiry’ method should be taken up alongside the common values approach to values education.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Values education (character education)
Volume 21 Number 3, September 2006; Pages 4–8
A primary teacher in Victoria describes an activity that helped her Prep students develop mathematical thinking and communication skills. Students were given one sheet of paper from which to make trays which could hold two hermit crabs. The activity enabled the students to hypothesise by sketching different designs. They tested ideas by trialling the use of different tray designs, demonstrating and developing spatial thinking and mathematical reasoning skills. Students communicated mathematically with each other by discussing the heights of tray sides and where to place holes. In a subsequent session, the students posed questions about how effective their trays were, and gathered and represented data to answer these questions. The students decided they needed to show how many trays kept the crabs inside and how many did not, and they made a physical frequency graph by placing trays on the floor. This was one mathematical opportunity that 'grew naturally out of the task’, as students considered the new strands of data collection and graphing. The teacher challenged students’ thinking by asking for a picture to show results. Some students used existing knowledge and drew pie graphs in response, while others drew block graphs. Many of the pie graphs were promising but showed mistakes. The teacher introduced students to the conventions of pie graphs by asking the class to make a physical pie graph with their trays. The activity engaged students effectively and provided a meaningful context for maths learning.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsProject based learning
Space to think: working mathematically
Volume 21 Number 3, September 2006; Pages 11–18
A ‘space to think’ approach to maths involves creating environments and tasks that allow students to gain pleasure from mathematically rigorous activity. Two teachers analysed a Grade 5/6 class to show how a ‘space to think’ approach can foster complex mathematical reasoning, intellectual exploration and engaged learning. Students were organised into groups and given mathematical tasks centred around a drawing of a fish, partitioned into head, body and tail. The teachers found that like-ability groups where students were able to think at a similar pace were better at making group decisions and building new knowledge than mixed-ability groups. For example, students who had previously struggled with maths were able to keep up with discussion and progressed from using simple terms to mathematical terms such as kilogram. Learning was structured by comments and questions. In one high-ability group students utilised their individual strengths, such as asking good questions, considering future application or applying prior knowledge. Through their varied contributions, the students encouraged each other to think in different ways and extended the group’s mathematical understanding in the process. The students had previously worked in a Philosophy for Children community of inquiry-based learning, and as such were familiar with exploring unfamiliar ideas, asking questions and justifying responses. The students successfully transferred these skills to a maths context. Autonomous learning was fostered by the teacher’s approach. When students asked questions the teacher did not offer immediate answers but encouraged the students to reconsider the task or raise the issue within their group. The teacher also stimulated thinking by asking questions, leaving students to discuss ideas without intervention or judgement. The approach enabled students to consider various mathematical complexities. For example, some groups applied specific numbers to different parts of the fish, while others considered the ‘big ideas’ or underlying mathematical reasoning of multiples. One group used symbols to depict the fractional parts of the fish. Learning was spontaneous and autonomous. After hearing classmates report, one group progressed from using specific numbers to stating that the fish was always ‘one of those “ten numbers”’. The teachers are part of the Brunswick Cluster Innovation and Excellence Project.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsProject based learning
Quality technology in the language classroom: the views of graduating teachers
Volume 41 Number 1, July 2006; Pages 20–27, 38
In 2005 a cohort of beginning teachers were surveyed about their use of ICT in LOTE classes during their pre-service practicums. The practicums had been held at government, Catholic and independent schools in and around
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsLanguages other than English (LOTE)
Language and languages
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Perceived helpfulness and amount of use of technology in science and mathematics classes at different grade levels
Volume 106 Number 3, March 2006; Pages 133–139
Teachers and students in 372 Minnesota mathematics classes were surveyed about how frequently ICT was used in their lessons. Students were also asked how useful they perceived ICT use to be. The surveys divided ICT use into four categories: deepening understanding of concepts already taught in class; gathering and organising information; assessment; and communication. The schools involved exhibited a moderate level of support for ICT use overall, with many reporting deficiencies in equipment, funding, or time for integrating ICT into their lessons. Mathematics classes generally reported higher levels of both ICT use and perceived helpfulness than science classes. Middle school classes yielded lower ratings of both use and helpfulness than classes at other levels. Teachers’ perceptions of how often ICT was used were higher than their students, perhaps signifying a tendency to over-report and under-report instructional methods respectively. Girls’ perceptions of the frequency of ICT use were higher than boys’ on all categories, and their estimations of its helpfulness were higher for all purposes except communication. This suggests that ICT may provide some opportunities for increasing girls’ levels of engagement with science and mathematics. Communication was perceived as the least helpful and least used category of ICT use overall. Helpfulness scores across all categories fell between somewhat to very helpful. Despite positive perceptions of ICT’s helpfulness, frequency of use scores across all categories fell between seldom and occasional. This suggests that teachers remain more comfortable with traditional instructional methods, and may require professional development to gain confidence in using ICT to enhance student learning.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
United States of America (USA)
May 2006; Pages 61–65
Since 2002, New York City public schools have undergone a wave of reforms designed to introduce market-like efficiency into the education system. The reforms established a centralised, business-like bureaucracy and a uniform curriculum. Standardised mandates were issued for almost every aspect of school activity, from prohibiting the use of textbooks and blackboards to designating classroom seating arrangements. Approximately 3,000 education administration jobs were eliminated, leaving principals without the support they had come to rely on, and dependent on a remote, unresponsive central administration. The reforms are clearly achieving greater compliance with government standards, and reformers make the disputable claim that the new practices have resulted in improvements to student achievement. Reformers have shown little interest in widespread criticism of the policies from those who are implementing them at the school level. A ‘morale implosion’ has occurred, as teachers and school leaders feel their professional autonomy being stifled by the imposition of centralised standards. Approximately one quarter of New York’s public school principals have left their roles since the reforms, representing a massive loss of valuable institutional knowledge. Reformers have responded by deeming departing leaders ‘dead wood’, and funding a corporate-style Leadership Academy to train new principals in as little as 15 months, many with very limited prior school experience. While nurturing new leaders may be an effective antidote to previous hiring practices based on patronage, it has created a new set of difficulties where principals with little school experience are required to direct long-serving school staff. The problems that have emerged during the reforms’ implementation raise the question of whether private-sector-style standardisation is an appropriate model for an education system rooted in the ideals of social service, community building and responsiveness to the individual.
Subject HeadingsState schools
Education and state
United States of America (USA)
Managing students with challenging behaviours
Volume 5 Number 2, May 2006; Pages 10–13
A four-level framework based on principles of restorative justice can help teachers manage troublesome student behaviour. The first level requires teachers to assess whether their own attitudes are helpful or hindering. Hindering attitudes may include ‘It’s not fair to have that kid in my class’ or ‘It’s the parents’ fault’. Helpful responses might be ‘All students have the right to learn, I have to find out how to help this kid’ or ‘Parents need support too’. The second level looks at how the student’s needs are expressed in their behaviour. Some behavioural problems are attention-seeking, so opportunities to give positive attention for good behaviour instead of negative responses should be sought. Other students are motivated by a competitive desire to ‘have the last word’. Offering these students a choice between good behaviour and punishment removes the perceived threat to their control. Some students will do anything to avoid tasks which expose their inadequacies. Teachers need to be creative in finding entry points for these students into challenging classroom activities. Where student misbehaviour is prompted by a sense of injustice, teachers should talk privately to students about why they feel they have been wronged, and how the relationship can be restored. The third level of the framework focuses on the classroom. Clear expectations, negotiated with students, can help control behaviour. The Therapeutic Crisis Intervention program outlines specific interventions for classroom behaviour management. The fourth level of the framework is the development of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for students who are unable to learn using conventional strategies. All stakeholders in the student’s education, including parents, counsellors and teachers, should have the opportunity to contribute to the strategies that make up the IEP, and to evaluate the effectiveness of each strategy attempted. Bringing key parties together to find a creative solution helps heal damaged relationships and provides a way forward.
Subject HeadingsClassroom management
Influence of a hybrid Sport Education – Teaching Games for Understanding unit on one teacher and his students
Volume 11 Number 1, February 2006; Pages 1–27
Sport Education (SE) and Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) are two physical education curriculum models created to foster fair and equitable attitudes, and build thinking skills alongside technical skills. The similarity between the objectives of the two models suggests there may be scope for combining them. Researchers piloted a hybrid of the two programs on a sixth-grade Australian physical education class. The hybrid program followed SE in terms of structure. Lessons were grouped into a ‘season’ which culminated in a final event. The class was divided into teams for the duration of the season. Students were given opportunities to experience numerous roles within the game they were playing, such as referee or publicist as well as player. TGfU was reflected in the hybrid program’s pedagogical style, aiming to deepen thinking by developing technical skills only after tactical and strategic understanding was established. Students explored the strategic elements of the games they played, either through direct questions or through modifications to the games that required them to apply particular tactics. Towards the end of the ‘season’, each team designed their own game, and the class voted on which would be played in the final competition. Analysis of the pilot revealed that students had enjoyed the program activities immensely, regardless of whether their team had won. Their final game designs displayed an impressive combination of inclusiveness and tactical understanding. In accordance with the experiment’s objectives, students became more competent in technique and tactics, more literate in their understanding of the games, and more enthusiastic participants in physical activity. Challenges for the hybrid program included: giving students sufficient technical skills to put their strategies into practice; allowing sufficient time to fully implement constructivist pedagogical methods; and the need for a deep understanding of both content and pedagogy on the part of any teacher carrying out the program.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsPhysical education
Teaching and learning
Volume 17 Number 1, March 2006; Pages 33–62
PISA studies are large-scale international surveys of pupil attainment at age 15, focusing on reading, mathematics and science in 2000, 2003 and 2006, respectively.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsGreat Britain
Research suggests that large numbers of middle years students are unhappy and underachieving at school. A review of available literature identified eight key elements associated with successful middle schooling. Students who can see the personal relevance of their learning will be more attentive. Suggested strategies for building relevance in middle schooling include using students’ ideas as a basis for classroom activities, and foregrounding students’ questions about the relevance of curriculum materials. Responsibility refers to the exercise of self-control over learning. Democratic pedagogies inherently foster responsibility, enabling students to express their values and opinions. Responsibility can also be built by raising both student and teacher awareness of their roles in the classroom, or shared-responsibility activities such as peer tutoring. Students’ sense of belonging can be generated by incorporating inclusive language into school vocabulary, or promoting group affiliation rather than over-emphasising self-reliance. Relational isolation is a critical problem associated with adolescents, and can lead to negative behaviours such as bullying or violence. Awareness refers to students’ understanding of individual differences within society. Language arts provide opportunities for students to express their individuality, and literature studies can enable them to critically examine stereotypes and power relationships. Engagement refers to student motivation, created when learning activities are seen to have a ‘purpose’. Student competence is receiving increasing recognition in middle school curricula, although the appropriate balance of emphasis between learning skills or demonstrating academic achievement is still debated. Ethics refers to values, which are an intrinsic part of any education. Some researchers argue that ethical awareness and positive values must be emphasised in middle schooling, to address the perceived ‘condition of moral illiteracy’ in today’s adolescent population. Pedagogy which focuses on active learning rather than passive reception of knowledge is another key element of successful middle schooling. These eight elements are mutually reinforcing, meaning that a program which integrates them all will have the greatest impact on student achievement and wellbeing. The considerable benefits to be had at both school and student level amply justify the time and effort required to address them.
Subject HeadingsEducation research