Friday, 25 February 2011

Middle Schools

Simplifying Middle Schooling in Australia
Over the years many issues have been debated in regards to their impact on student learning and engagement in the middle years. (Beane, 1996, p.48)
Instead of speaking in terms of curriculum development or organizational structure, Beane addresses directly the rights and needs of young adolescents. It comes as no surprise therefore that we experience significant disengagement from schooling by young adolescents. Imagine the average class of year nine boys and you will generally not be imagining students who are excited about learning, motivated about their assessment and involved in school decision making.
The need for -
1. Competence and achievement thereby improving self-confidence.
2. Self-exploration and definition opportunities.
3. Positive social interaction with adults and peers.
4. Physical activity.
5. Meaningful participation in families, school and communities.
6. Routine, structure and clear limits, together with growth towards independence.
7. Diversity.
8. Opportunities to explore concepts and generate ideas from concrete experiences. 9. Opportunities to explore values and decision making, and growing awareness of the social and political world.
10. Creative expression.
A good summary of this is the finding by the Schools Council in 1994 that in order to be effective, "middle schooling should be challenging, filled with variety, responsive to the learning needs, interests and concerns of young adolescents and empower its students with self-confidence and a respect for learning" (Berkley, 1994, p.10).
Many school organizational aspects have been considered to determine their impact on these developmental needs. These include: authority and power structure, personnel practices, professional development of teachers, curriculum design, pedagogical practices, assessment and evaluation, parental and community involvement, scheduling practices and teacher/student ratios in learning communities. See the Figure 1 below for a comparison of these organisational aspects between "traditional schooling" and what is being termed "middle schooling".

Organizational Aspect Traditional schooling Middle schooling 
Authority/power structure Top down Democratic. Teachers empowered as decision makers. Student input in all decisions. Negotiation as the key (Apple and Beane, 1995). 
Personnel practices Individual teachers / subject teams Inter-disciplinary teams (Maciver, 1990). 
Curriculum design Discipline based Integrated curriculum based on students personal and social concerns without regard for subject-area boundaries (Beane, 1996). 
Pedagogical practices Lectures and textbooks Based on constructivist principles (hands on, minds on) and Project/ problem based learning (Pate, Homestead and McGinnis, 1997). 
Assessment and evaluation Tests Authentic Assessment: disciplined inquiry, integration of knowledge and value beyond evaluation (Burke, 1997). 
Parent and community involvement Little/none High (Fry, 1994). 
Learning communities Large student: teacher ratio Small learning communities (Felner et al, 1997a).

Many of the organisational aspects of middle schooling included above were recommendations of the Carnegie Council's "Turning Points" report:
Create small, personalized communities for learning.
Teach a core academic program.
Ensure success for all students.
Empower teachers and administrators to make key pedagogical, management, and budgetary decisions.
Staff middle-grades schools with teachers who are specially trained to teach young adolescents.
Reengage families in the education of young adolescents.
Connect schools with communities.
I believe that running an integrated curriculum with authentic assessment in a democratic classroom fulfils all of the student developmental needs, and is much simpler to manage for the average classroom teacher.
Curriculum integration involves basing the learning experience on significant issues and problems that have been collaboratively identified by teachers and students, without regard for separate subject boundaries (Beane, 1997). Integrated curriculum cannot be achieved in a classroom which has a traditional authority structure. If a curriculum is based on questions, then class time must be based on seeking answers to those questions. If students are not given responsibility for answering the questions themselves, then integrated curriculum ceases to have significance. If we are dealing with significant problems then there will not be only one answer, so multiple interpretations must be allowed. Simple answers only occur for simple problems, not complex and significant ones. So, if students are given responsibility for seeking answers to questions, then the class structure must be arranged to encourage this. Students must be given time to seek answers and the responsibility for finding answers. Traditional assessment structures are often based on producing the 'correct' answer to a question. How could these structures fit with questions that do not produce 'correct' answers? Students must be allowed to demonstrate what they have learned in real-life contexts, over time periods, and on multiple occasions.
So how do these address student developmental needs?

Competence and achievement 
Students undergoing a program of curriculum integration achieve at a higher level than their peers (Aitkin, 1942 - in Beane, 1997). Achieving at higher levels increases the sense of competence. "Curriculum integration is known for giving more young people more access to knowledge; for encouraging them to be intelligent, to use their minds critically and creatively; for using knowledge in more sophisticated ways; and for giving young people a chance to use knowledge for problem solving" (Beane, 1996, p.10). Self-exploration and definition

"The central focus of curriculum integration is the search for self- and social meaning" (Beane, 1995, p.616). Positive social interactions with peers and adults
According to Beane, the emphasis in IC is on teacher-student and student-student collaboration, which is necessary for curriculum planning and negotiation. Physical Activity
Meaningful participation in families, school and communities.
While there is not clear data showing an increase in family, school and community participation, the work by Pate, Homestead and McGinnis (1997) indicates that students in an IC classroom look increasingly towards families and communities for information and resources. In an IC classroom students would also negotiate the curriculum with the classroom teacher and thus have a clear understanding of the structure from the start (Beane, 1997).
Diversity in IC comes from a curriculum that deals directly with student concerns. Student concerns are varied (Beane, 1997), and often show evidence of deep thinking about the world that we are living in. Opportunities to explore concepts and generate ideas from concrete experiences.

Beane also argues that as IC opens a way for critical inquiry into real issues, knowledge is pushed to the level of problem solving and application (Beane, 1997). Opportunities to explore values and decision making, and growing awareness of the social and political world. 
IC provides for exploration of values and decision making in both the personal and social worlds, because of its basis in the personal and social concerns of students. Creative expression.

Within an Integrated Curriculum meanings are created by the students and not imposed by adults (Beane, 1991). Effective Middle Schooling:
Effective middle schooling is organized in such a way that it meets the developmental needs of adolescents. Students and teachers work together in small communities with parents and community members, and are responsible for making decisions about their teaching and learning. Professional development takes place continually.
Effective middle schooling cannot be achieved just by changing the organizational aspects of traditional schooling. The main goal for a professional, collegiate, or even high school varsity coach is to win games. If you are coaching a middle school team, however, winning should not be your primary goal. An Enjoyable Experience  
The major goal for a middle school coach is to ensure the kids are having fun. Sports need not be an additional avenue of stress for a middle school student.  
Sports are intended to be enjoyable. If, as a middle school coach, you elect to run a "boot camp"-style program, you will risk losing athletes. A defining characteristic for a successful middle school program is a high rate of athlete retention. Teaching Rules and Skills  
Beyond keeping the sport enjoyable for the athletes, it is also crucial to make sure your middle school team learns. After your middle school athletes have a general understanding of the game, it is time to focus on individual skills. Skills like these might seem basic, but middle school athletes need to spend time working on them.  
As a bonus, scrimmaging goes a long way towards helping the children have fun, which is the primary objective for a middle school coach.
Developing Healthy Communication  
If a middle school wide receiver drops the ball or goalie lets in a shot which costs the team the game, he or she is already going to be feeling down about the mistake as is. Talent Evaluation  
To be a successful middle school coach it is important to recognize strengths and weaknesses in your players. Being a successful middle school coach is more than having lots of victories or a great record. Success at this stage comes from allowing your athletes the opportunity to have fun, while learning the sport. If you can succeed at these coaching functions, you will foster an environment which enables your team to grow. This is how you find success while coaching your middle school team.  
For some, if not most, in middle school just the thought of school can send them into a state of despair. There is such a disparity in the physical and emotional development of students in this school environment. Dealing with these differences as well as the academic challenges that middle school presents can be overwhelming.
Parents often assume that because the student is no longer in elementary school, their strict oversight is no longer needed. As the new school year approaches, now is the time to help your child prepare for it.
1. If your child is a sixth grader, he will probably be attending a new school. Most middle schools have a campus that is much bigger than that of an elementary school. Most middle schools conduct orientation a few days before school actually begins, but a trip without other students around might be worthwhile.  
2. In middle school, as in elementary school, it is important to have all the school supplies beforehand.  An organizer is most helpful for students at this level. Some schools require the students to purchase an organizer directly from the school. Many schools post homework and grades on their website; check to see if your school offers this service.  3. Students lose academic skills during the summer. Being in an accelerated class in middle school is a good way to prepare a student for Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school.


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