In preparation for a debriefing session after the recent International Middle Schooling Conference, our team has posed these questions to sharpen our thoughts and assist in visioning our school's Middle Year program. In the spirit of being open and "deprivatising" my practice, here are some initial reactions and dot points of what I took away from this event.
1. What are the messages coming out about the social, emotional and academic needs of middle years students? Do these needs change across Year 6 and Year 7 and beginning and end of the year?
One of the clear impressions I gained was that young adolescents want to make a difference to their world - meaning that real community service and involvement in charities are a great opportunity for positive contributions. Friends and social groups are extremely important to middle schoolers - working out what their own self image is.
2. What is being advocated about student driven curriculum / approaches to personal projects?
Engagement was touted as being key to improved learning at this level and while technology was one hook, having the opportunity to make choices within the curriculum also enabled engagement. The idea of student portfolios (e- or othewise) being controlled by students in their own learning journey was also on show. Student initiated curriculum and personal projects (like roundtable conferences) are also a way of being cross-curricular and allowing students to go deeper and spend longer, more quality time immersed in a particular project.
3. What place does authentic assessment have in the academic development of middle school students?
Rubric based assessment was a big buzz at the conference - as someone who has been developing and using rubrics since 1999, I'm pleased to see such widespread promotion of these tools. Of course, we can now align our rubric standards to our curriculum outcomes and inform our common reporting. Of course, rubrics become more powerful when developed with the students and given out at the start of a task or assignment. Not only do the students know what is expected but will be able to predict their own achievement.
4. How can ICT be used to engage students as members of a global community?
In my view, the concept of a global community means that we, as educators, need to be providing safe opportunities for our students to create content for authentic purposes and audiences. This could mean using tools like wikis, blogs, discussion boards and Moodle for communicating with others. It could be about defining their own place in the world and finding out about the lives of other middle school students around the world (e.g.Wikiville). Maybe it means being involved in specific programs like the Jason Project where students can access scientific experts, journalists or authors.
5. What areas of specialisation could be offered for this age group that provides a stimulating approach to learning to learn?
Offering choices that are not necessarily class bound - maybe electives or specialist sports or options like debating and public speaking. A problem based learning program that runs throughout the year with topics negotiated with the students using a James Beane type model. An enterprise based project opportunity where small groups of kids work on specific projects within the school or local community (Art gallery, digital stories, an info CD-ROM for new students, a podcast tour of the school) is something unique for middle school students to hang their hat on.
6. What can our parent partnerships be like for this age group of students?
If we can get our students to start thinking about their potential future, then the wide variety of work backgrounds of our parents could be accessed in a beginning Voc.Ed program. Parents with ICT expertise could be utilised and those with a business background could add real life value to the Maths program. Other talents could be accessed and used in elective programs.
The conference gave me a lot of "big picture" perspective and some of the research Donna Pendergast referenced would be worth picking through to look for elements to enhance our middle school program. Remember these are raw thoughts and ideas, and like any other post on this blog is open to criticism and feedback.