Middle Schooling Reflections

We had a learning team meeting last night after school to focus on aspects of the new common reporting format and to start initial planning for our Middle Schooling Conference Workshop in August. As we tossed ideas around, we concluded that in this case, we'd better start with our audience in mind and think about what someone attending our presentation would expect to see. I showed the group the questions I had posted to the wiki with the final suggestion that they be the starting point for a team brainstorm at our next negotiated meeting. If we keep nudging this one along, then we should have something that really reflects the possible positive implementation of IWB's in the middle school classroom. Bear in mind that my intrepid team have no big conference presentation experience to speak of (my limited experience has been on a much smaller scale) but what they bring to the table is a unique perspective grounded in the (digital) chalkface of day to day classroom practice and an appeal to the primary school sector based conference attendees.

Last night after tea, I started to reflect on my own involvement with middle school students and how this concept of "middle school " started to take shape. When I first taught 11-13 year olds in Port Augusta in the early 90's, they were just primary school kids who just happened to be the oldest in the school. Sure there were plenty of comments like, "Those kids are ready for high school already." But nothing was really done about it - these kids who were restless, unfocussed, in each other's face.

Initially, when I moved to the big city lights of Adelaide, I went back to the younger grades before I ended up with upper primary classes in the late 9O's.My own middle school "philosophy", for want of a better word, has been heavily influenced by my great teaching friend, Lindsay. I team taught alongside of him from 1997 - 2002 with what we started to term "middle school classes". Now the original concept of middle schools comes from a North American perspective but the Australian curriculum and our schools set up of primary and secondary campuses has meant a complete rethink of how it was to be implemented here. A significant document, the Junior Secondary Review was released in the mid 1990's and South Australian schools moved to implement its findings. However, this often meant that primary schools tried to mimic high school timetabling structures with pastoral home groups, lesson rotations and special uniforms. It wasn't really a new approach but involvement with a cluster group in 2000/2001 started to confirm my beliefs that to be relevant to these kids approaching and entering adolescence was something much more learner centred, rather then just moving kids around or creating ability and gender groupings in subjects like Maths and Phys Ed. So Lindsay and I continued to make Resource Based Learning as a methodological platform and my own interest in the potential of ICT to enable middle school students more scope in managing their own learning continued to increase. Getting our kids involved in student leadership, participation in school based community service and working on "enterprise" based projects meant they were being catered for in challenging and engaging ways. The whole class environment was still important with relationships with their own teachers crucial at a time where self confidence and consciousness is in a fragile state. Not all teachers "got" the message about what we were trying with our kids and thought that if they appealed to the kids, sought credibility by being their "mate" and catering for what was perceived to be popular, cool or hip. Some even mocked us behind our backs. But at places like the Middle Schools Cluster or when I attended Discovery School - Learning Technologies at Grange Primary School, I saw, met and conversed with educators on the same wavelength. They too were committed to improving outcomes for their middle school charges and gradually the middle school kids in high schools started to reap the benefits of the new philosophy. Home groups were given core teachers who provided more face to face contact in the mold of the upper primary teacher.

So, my own middle school approach has evolved and solidified over the past nine years. Moving to a new school meant having to challenge and rethink my approach especially in the context of being a tandem teacher and sharing a class with teachers with a different world and education view to my own. So, in my own view, what is a middle school approach?

  • building a relationship with individual students who are forging their own personal identity
  • giving students open ended tasks that cater for the wide range of abilities and skill sets
  • making learning purposeful through problem solving and involvement in innovative curricular opportunities
  • basing content around students' own interests in their own rapidly evolving future
  • involving students in decision making that is real, involvement in school based community service and actively promoting leadership opportunities in both arenas.

I could go on and on (but won't) and it will be a challenge to continually revisit middle school students' needs, particularly as more and more of the tech-savvy, always connected Net generation makes its way through the Australian education system.

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