Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Middle School Magazine - is the Minister confused?

This is the second edition of MRS ( Middle School Review); a new educational magazine focused on celebrating the special character of early adolescent students.
Edited by Pat Nolan, a long time supporter of Middle School education, this new magazine is a welcome addition to the educational debate in New Zealand. It is also great to see an educational magazine with a sharp sense of visual design.
I look forward to seeing their next edition as it is to address topics directly related to the 2006 Draft Curriculum but edition two is well worth a read.
There is no doubt that there is a real need to focus on students in the 'middle years', however they are defined, as a growing lack of engagement of students , particularly in years 8 to 10, is a world wide concern. Some have called middle schools the 'muddle in the middle' not certain if they are an extension of a primary approach to teaching or the subject specialism of secondary schools - a sort of educational 'no mans land'!
The aim of the magazine is to provide a forum to, 'challenge conventional wisdom' and share best practice to develop young people to become 'active and responsible persons' able to construct new knowledge, solve complex problems, and integrate concepts and ideas across disciplines and subjects. The ideas of, 'active, inquiry, experiential and process orientated pedagogy and co-constructed curricula', although well suited to the middle school level, would seem to me to be an extension of primary 'best practice' and a challenge to the fragmented specialist secondary approach, as does the tenant of the 2006 Curriculum draft.
The fragmented, subjected centred uncoordinated demands of secondary schools are seen, by contributor James Beane, as a reason why so many students 'lose their way both educationally and socially'. Beane writes that middle school teachers, 'should work collaboratively in teams to create a coherent curriculum' to engage students and that such a curriculum should be, 'integrated around themes that are meaningful for early adolescents'.
Developing such a 'progressive and student centred' approach for this age group, Beane writes, even though the case for this approach is well established, has not been easy. He writes it is all to open to uninformed criticism, meeting resistance by 'upper middle class parents and professionals, whose children have been favoured by such structures' ( ability streaming and specialist teaching).
With this in mind it was interesting to read an article by Minister of Education Steve Maharey. Most of his article talked about, 'transforming' our system, 'to tailor learning to individual students and to meeting their needs, not the other way round' , about a 'personalisation of learning' agenda to 'replace the current 'production line model of schooling' where, he says, 'either students fit the the system or else they fail to achieve'.
After encouraging middle schools to consider how, 'the curriculum must proceed from the primary years', he outlines the importance of : ' the ability to learn' and keep learning'; the need to 'assisting young adolescents to explore real issues issues and concerns in-depth'; 'effective teaching practices such as interdisciplinary teaming of teachers'; and 'integrative teaching programmes that link knowledge , skills and understandings across subject boundaries' he makes comment about the development of stand alone middle schools for Year 7 to 10 students as a positive option.
Of all things he writes that such schools 'may well take the on a predominantly secondary orientation, as they prepare students for the transition to senior schooling and NCEA.' Such schools, he continues , 'may need to work very much like a secondary school in their third and fourth years, with specialised teaching ...rather than being an extension of an intermediate school.'
Is this confused thinking or placating the political pressure of traditional secondary schools and conservative parents (voters)?
These thoughts seem a contradiction to earlier statements in his article. Then, to further confuse the issue, he concludes by recommending approaches remarkably like those of the magazine. The Minister's thoughts seem to refute, 'the need for a common mindset for about how best to teach and support young adolescents' ( Haque 2006 NZQUA Chief Executive)
The magazine includes an editorial response to a comment by the president of the PPTA who was critical of the need for middle schools which. When I read her comments it seemed like a simple case of 'turf protection' and totally ignored the growing problems secondary schools are having to 'engage' students they were never designed for
Lets hope the editor challenges the Minister to clear up the confusion he seems to have created.
I look forward to the next edition.
Other Middle school magazines:


Anonymous said...

On reading the article you mention it does seem that the Minister is confused, or perhaps, he hasn't the courage of his convictions about 'personalised learning' to challenge the traditional secondary school power groups.

Anonymous said...

I read the article - the Minister does present a 'confused' view. It doesn't seem to fit with what he is saying in his speeches about personalised learning. You should sent it to him!!