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

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Section 8: Middle Schooling Initiatives Targeted at Specific Problems and/or Groups

Addressing Behavioural and Social Problems

'It is generally acknowledged that behavioural and social problems in schooling are most prevalent during the middle years. Teachers in the middle years typically experience challenges around managing the behaviour of their students, maintaining effective and productive classroom environments, and ensuring students' engagement in learning and their achievement progress – especially in literacy. This also raises issues related to the vital link between education and health.'

Literacy, and general, under-achievement can seriously compromise the quality of a student's future, and has high social and economic costs in terms of both health and crime.

While behavioural issues in the classroom are likely to be a result of complex, interrelated factors, some research shows that increasing literacy achievement "…significantly decreased … inattentive behaviors in the classroom".

'The implications of such findings underscore the importance of ensuring that students are provided with the opportunity to develop literacy skills as early as possible, and highlight the crucial role that teachers have in maximizing effective teaching strategies to meet the cognitive, affective and behavioural needs of all students, as well as providing normative classroom environment conditions that are conducive to learning.'

Despite findings such as these, however, the reviewers consider that 'in recent times there has been greater concern and emphasis in the middle schooling literature on behaviour management, and [that] beginning teachers in some jurisdictions are required to have completed approved classroom management subjects. To some extent, the strategies of behaviour management have been seen as separate skills to be mastered, rather than an integral part of, and outcome of good teaching'.

'There are, however, some teachers who, because of their mastery of teaching, rarely experience discipline problems.' Dinham and Rowe state that 'Highly effective teachers are able to structure teaching and learning in a way that challenges, interests and engages students, and effective schools as a whole, tend to have clear, fair, responsive and effective student welfare and discipline policies and practices. In such classrooms and schools, behavioural problems are minimised and dealt with in a timely and effective fashion.'

They identified key principles from the literature for managing student behaviour in the middle years, including:

  • that approaches to managing middle years student behaviour should be developmentally responsive;
  • that practices associated with managing student behaviour  must be within a context of promoting and ensuring a safe, supportive and caring environment;
  • that there is a need for an inclusive approach, which caters for the different potentials, needs and resources of all middle years students;
  • that managing behaviour must be based on a student-centred philosophy that places the student at the centre of the learning process and focuses on the whole student (personal, social and academic); and
  • that it is vital to recognise that positive relationships with middle years students is fundamental to maximising appropriate behaviour and achieving learning outcomes.

The ÆSOP study referred to earlier (on p.14) demonstrated that student welfare is both every teacher's responsibility and a whole-school project. Drawing from the study's findings, Dinham and Rowe state: 'What teachers do within their classrooms needs to be congruent and consistent with school-wide systems. Student behaviour/ management policies, programs and strategies, while employed by every teacher, can't be left to individual teachers to design and implement. A consistent approach is required, which all teachers and students understand, adhere to and support.'

Education for sexuality in the middle years

Another aspect of adolescence and middle schooling is 'sexuality and sexual health education'. Once again (refer earlier comments on p.11), say Dinham and Rowe, 'this is an example of the high store placed in teachers of the middle years to address and deal with society's issues and problems'. For example, they refer to a recent New Zealand Education Review Office report, 'The Teaching of Sexuality Education in Years 7 to 13', (2007) which, according to its foreword,  arose over concerns:

"… to reduce the number of young people with sexually transmitted infections, reduce the rate of unplanned teenage pregnancies and improve teenagers' abilities to avoid and deal effectively with coercive and other abusive behaviour."

As with other aspects of middle years education, key concerns lie with providing teachers with the skills, knowledge and resources to teach effectively in this area, including the vital provision of instructional leadership.

Diverse Students; Indigenous Students

In considering middle schooling initiatives targeted at specific groups of students such as indigenous and those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, it is stressed in the literature review that success is chiefly determined by the quality of teaching. High expectations, cultural sensitivity and awareness, and targeted professional learning, as opposed, in Dinham and Rowe's view, to 'middle schooling approaches' per se, have all been found to enhance the educational achievement of hitherto underperforming students.


  1. For recent evidence of these problems, see: Bernard, M.E., Stephanou, A., & Urbach, D. (2007). ASG Report on Student Social, Emotional Health and Wellbeing. A report of a research project commissioned by the Australian Scholarships Group (ASG). Camberwell, VIC: Australian Council for Educational Research.
  2. For example, see: DeWatt, D., Berkman, N.D, Sheridan, S., Lohr, K.N., & Pignone, M.P. (2004). Literacy and health outcomes: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 19(12), 1228-1239. And, Lyon, G.R. (2003). Reading disabilities: Why do some children have difficulty learning to read? What can be done about it? Perspectives, 29(2). Available from the International Dyslexia Association's website at: www.interdys.org. Also, Oberklaid, F. (2004). The new morbidity in education: The paediatrician's role. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 40, 250-251.
  3. Rowe, K.J., & Rowe, K.S. (1999). Investigating the relationship between students' attentive-inattentive behaviors in the classroom and their literacy progress. International Journal of Educational Research, 31(1-2), 1-138 (Whole Issue).
  4. See, for example: Ayres, P., Dinham, S.K., & Sawyer, W. (2004). Effective teaching in the context of a Grade 12 high stakes external examination in New South Wales, Australia. British Educational Research Journal, 30(1), 141-165.
  5. Refer: de Jong, T. (2005). Managing behaviour. In D. Pendergast and N. Bahr (Eds.), Teaching Middle Years Rethinking Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment. Cross Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.