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Teaching and Learning in Middle Schooling: A Review of the Literature

Publication Details

This paper is a summary of a review of literature carried out in 2007 for the Ministry of Education by Dinham and Rowe of the Australian Council for Educational Research.

Their review, and the summary presented here, are components of a Ministry research programme focused on teaching and learning in the middle schooling years. Other projects within the programme include: a "Study of Students’ Transition from Primary to Secondary Schooling"; an investigation of the skills, knowledge and values that may be required by teachers to most effectively meet the needs of Years 7 to 10 students; and an in-depth analysis of ‘student engagement’ during the middle schooling years.

Author(s): Ministry of Education

Date Published: March 2009

Concluding Remarks"

The reviewers reiterate that while many intended functions and features of middle schooling can be identified, ‘many of which have prima facie appeal and have been confirmed as efficacious through general research into effective schooling and quality teaching’, there is ‘a persistent question arising from the literature’ to do with ‘the uniqueness and “special case” of the middle years’.

They state: ‘While it is undoubtedly the case that adolescence is a critical, turbulent time in the lives of young people, many of the concerns raised about schooling in the middle years have equally valid application to other stages of educational provision, as do proposed solutions and approaches to these challenges and problems’.

What Matters Most ?

From their review of the literature, Dinham and Rowe consider that ‘what matters most’ is: ‘Certainly not student compositional characteristics such as 'learning difficulties', 'educational disadvantage', 'disruptive student behaviours', nor school 'structural arrangements' … but 'quality teaching' and 'learning provision', supported by 'teaching standards' and ongoing teacher professional learning. … Since teachers are the most valuable resource available to schools, an investment in teacher professionalism is vital by ensuring that they are equipped with a repertoire of pedagogical skills that are demonstrably effective in meeting the developmental and learning needs of ALL students for whom they have responsibility. … The key to such educational effectiveness at all levels of schooling (and especially during the early and middle years) involves an operational understanding of the fundamental importance of evidence-based teaching practices for the provision of quality teaching and learning standards’, and ultimately enhanced student learning.

Overall, the findings from larger, more rigorous reviews and research projects involving middle schooling are inconclusive: ‘This has not been helped by the fact that many schools, systems and countries have not implemented consistent approaches to middle schooling or to the collection, analysis and interpretation of data.’ 

‘Major barriers to reform of schooling in the middle years centre on the preoccupation with structural arrangements and conditions of teachers’ work such as class sizes, teachers’ salaries, and school organizational arrangements as ways of driving educational improvement.’

‘A second barrier lies with the widespread tendency to stigmatise and categorise students of certain backgrounds. Various forms of biological and social determinism condemn many students to an education characterised by low expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies for lack of success.’

The reviewers conclude that ‘the one area where the research evidence is unequivocal’ is that of ‘the critical importance of the quality of classroom teaching’.

Teacher quality, and teachers’ professional learning supported by educational leadership are key to enhancing achievement for all students: ‘Teachers can and do make a substantial difference — underscoring the fundamental importance of evidence-based teaching practices for the provision of quality teaching and learning standards.’


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