The Association for Middle Level Education is considered by many to be a peak body for Middle Level education in the world. For me, their This We Believe statement, encompassing the 16 characteristics of successful schools, is something of a seminal work and I plan to explore each of these characteristics over the next few months
Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
Students and teachers are engaged in active, purposeful learning.
There is so much to be considered and explored in this characteristic. Let’s explore just a few elements in brief…
- Active learning must be strongly linked to learning styles. As a whole, I don’t think educators do that great a job of catering for the kinaesthetic learners in the room, for example (and there probably more than we realise). Nor do we always cater for the visual learners, though this is improving due to the use of technology. How much do you move your students during a lesson, for example?
- Active learning is also, obviously, about having the student involved in their learning. How often do your students have the opportunity to select their learning pathway individually? For me, this has not been a strong element of my teaching but it is something that I need to integrate more into my learning. How do you do it in your classroom? Feel free to teach me!
- Active learning must be linked to maturation – concrete thinkers still exist in the Middle Years classroom yet our curriculum, infused with higher order thinking skills (which I highly value), can tend to leave these students behind.
- Young adolescents, especially boys, need to have opportunities to manipulate with their hands. My Head of English did a great activity with the staff, giving us some plasticine and asking us to create something which we subsequently used, in small groups, to create a story. It was a great tactile activity that linked to a creative thinking task.
- I believe there is a subtle difference between learning that is designed as purposeful and that which is purposeful. The distinction is in who determines the purposefulness of an activity. While I do believe that teachers have the wisdom to make natural and purposeful links to real-life experiences of young adolescents, I also believe that it must not stop there. We need to allow students to manipulate tasks and learning to find personal and individual purpose and meaning. Again, I’m not sure I do this particularly well but maybe you do. Please leave a comment that can help us all.
- The most important thing about purposeful learning is, however, the simple desire of the teacher to connect learning to life. In the autobiographical writing my Year Eight English students do, I make a very strong point of them considering their unique ‘voice’. They have lived experiences that others have not. These experiences have helped to shape them as individuals. The experiences have also given them an understanding or perspective that others will not necessarily have. And all of this gives them the right to exercise their voice to instruct or encourage or challenge others. I want my students to see that they are a person of purpose and that there is purpose in them writing about themselves.
- Ultimately, purposeful learning is about adolescents taking a role and understanding their responsibility for their learning. While teachers still scaffold their learning we must ensure that we never place the responsibility for learning on us more than on them. Students at this age can own their learning – indeed, must own their learning. It is a process, I know, and we must manage their ability to be responsible carefully. Sometimes that will look like planned failure for the sake of driving home a point. At other times it will be planned success to provide an esteem boost. I believe both are valuable (but not mutually exclusive). How do you shift the responsibility for learning onto the shoulders of the students?
Are there other things that you do to bring this characteristic to your classroom?