New Zealand is not unique in its problem of having students disengage during the middle years. In fact, in the States as well, it’s a big issue, where almost half of all potential high school dropouts disengage and can be identified as early as our 6th grade, which is 10 or 11/12 years old.
So we are really aware that those middle years matter more now than ever because of that. It provides us with opportunities to create interventions that can help keep those kids in school because we know that it is during the middle years that they are making the choice about whether or not school’s for them.
Kids who are disaffiliated or disengaged from school often find that they are just/they feel that they have no control of their lives at school, often outside of school as well and they don’t find any relevance in school.
It can be a powerful thing to have a teacher recognise who you are and care about you and pull you back into the fold, and even the most caring teachers can’t do that with all kids. Some are just really checked out of school.
So because we have at least a few factors that can be used to identify kids early on, we are really able to be thoughtful about what techniques can we use to keep kids in school. As early as 6th grade there are four factors that we can use as predictors to determine a student’s potential dropout status:
- the first is failing English
- the second is failing maths
- the third is attending school less than 80% of the time
- the fourth is receiving a poor final behaviour mark or one suspension.
That work is recent research that has come out of John Hopkins' University under Robert Balfanz’s direction, and it has been very important in understanding the dropout literature and how to stem that tide of losing kids before they complete school with qualifications or a diploma.
So as we think about working with kids in the middle years, one of the things we found to be particularly helpful was the use of technology in the classroom. There is a widening gap between students’ in-school and out of school technology lives, and one of the ways to bring disengaged kids back into the fold is to think about how is it that they use technology outside of school? What can we learn from those experiences that we could bring in to inform our own teaching? So things like social media, web 2.0 tools, ways of putting cameras into kids’ hands and asking them to capture the world as they see it. Linking all of those things to meaningful and relevant curriculum can, and in fact does, in many cases re-engage the disaffiliated student.