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Meeting the needs of learners in the middle school years

The Ministry’s research programme in 2010 included a review of the literature on learners’ engagement in the middle years of schooling (Student Engagement in the Middle Years of Schooling (Years 7–10): A Literature Review, 2010). The reviewers identified three components of engagement: behavioural, emotional, and cognitive. The first two are preconditions of the third. That is, if students are to do the cognitive work of making meaning and building knowledge, they need to be present and participating in class and to feel comfortable and connected with their school, teacher, and peers.

Schools can improve middle school learners’ engagement in schooling through:

  • quality teaching
  • building educative partnerships with families and whānau
  • understanding learners’ needs.

Quality teaching

Gibbs and Poskitt (Student Engagement in the Middle Years of Schooling (Years 7–10): A Literature Review, 2010) explain eight interconnected factors that influence student engagement:

  • relationships with teachers and other students
  • relational learning
  • dispositions to be a learner
  • motivation and interest in learning
  • personal agency/cognitive autonomy
  • self-efficacy
  • goal orientation
  • academic, self-regulated learning.

Unsurprisingly, positive relationships with teachers and other students are critical. The researchers (page 15) cite evidence from Te Kotahitanga (Bishop et al., 2007) suggesting the importance to Māori learners of: manaakitanga (building and nurturing a supportive, loving environment), ngā whakapiringatanga (the creation of a secure and well-managed learning environment), wānanga (engaging in effective teaching interactions with Māori students as Māori), and ako (both teachers and students learning in an interactive, dialogic relationship).

Another important factor is relational learning: providing guided opportunities for learning about relationships in the context of the peer group, which is so important to young people in early adolescence.

Gibbs and Poskitt then describe four interrelated pedagogical approaches that promote learning and achievement in the middle school years:

  • nurturing trusting relationships
  • engaging students in fun activities
  • making learning meaningful
  • enabling students to learn better and helping them take responsibility for their learning.

The reviewers discuss specific instructional strategies for each of these approaches. However, they remind teachers to consider these strategies in relation to their likely impact on the diverse groups of individuals in their classrooms.

Guiding question He pātai

  • What connections can you see between the eight factors influencing student engagement and the five key competencies?
Students talking.

Building educative partnerships with families and whānau

Families and whānau are their children’s first educators. There is clear evidence that effective partnerships between schools and their families and whānau help students to improve learning outcomes.

Curriculum Updates 1 and 10 present this evidence and provide practical strategies and examples to support schools to work with families and whānau to improve student engagement and, in turn, their motivation and achievement.

Understanding learners’ needs

As part of their study, Durling, Ng, and Bishop (The Education of Years 7 to 10 Students: A Focus on Their Teaching and Learning Needs, 2010, page 5) asked students what they value in their teachers. The students said they liked it when teachers:

  • make lessons fun
  • let us do practical, “hands-on” work
  • know their stuff
  • give us feedback to help our learning
  • teach us new things that are relevant to our lives
  • give us work that is challenging
  • treat us fairly and consistently
  • understand students of our age
  • have a good sense of humour.

Career education and guidance

Linking curriculum learning to career and learning pathways improves learner engagement. Learners in years 7–10 need to understand the link between education and work and the importance of lifelong learning. As they get older, they become more aware of their personal strengths, interests, and values and begin to explore future pathways.

Careers Education and Guidance in New Zealand Schools (Ministry of Education, 2009) offers advice on effective career education and guidance to learners in years 7–13. It outlines a set of competencies for young people and suggests a model that can be used to develop these.

You can find the guidelines, along with other information and resources, at New Zealand Curriculum Online under “Curriculum resources”, and “Career education”.

Monitoring student engagement

Me and My School is a student survey designed by NZCER to measure and monitor the engagement of students in years 7–10.

Download the full print version: Issue 24: August 2012 (PDF, 1 MB)