Andrew Seaton argued in 2002 that research into educational innovation in Queensland reveals that” little of significance [had] changed” (2002: 33). While new schools, especially those with purpose designed middle schools may be on the road to a successful transformation of education for young people, the reality is that older, conservative schools (particularly many private schools) have changed little over the past decades despite the significant cultural changes which have radically transformed our society and, consequently, the needs of learners in the twenty-first century. In such schools, as Seaton pointed out, educational innovation is “incongruent with the values that fundamentally characterise schooling: hierarchical structures, competition, evaluation and ranking, and dissection of the world into discrete units of the world.” This is particularly true of the disparity between the values which underpin middle years philosophies and current practice in many schools.
Despite this disparity, it is still possible for teachers committed to improving middle years practice in Queensland schools is to re-conceptualise ‘best practice’ in teaching, learning and assessment in these middle years by using the growing body of research into how adolescents learn best, recognising the unique needs of students as citizens of the twenty-first century and identifying goals of education for such a future.
Education Queensland, in its goals for education 2010 stated “Schools will need to help students develop the skills and knowledge for the knowledge economy, lay the foundations for lifelong learning and ensure that students reach their optimal potential.” (2000: 6). It remains unclear how effectively schools are achieving this goal narly a decade later. Despite a lack of commitment to middle years philosophies or initiatives in many of our schools, it is possible for Queensland teachers to draw upon recent National Curriculum documents to achieve the goals of middle years teaching, learning and assessment.
A key principal of middle years educational philosophy is that “The Middle Years of schooling should provide opportunities for all young adolescents to learn and grow in ways that acknowledge and respect this special phase in their development” and that this learning acknowledge students’ needs such as: identity, relationships, purpose, empowerment, success, rigor and safety.” (ACSA, 2001). While most schools have been quick to address issues related to student identity and success, upper primary and lower secondary years have lacked the academic rigor that is required for students to reach their potential or prepare them for the futures which will confront them.
The reason for this, in both Australia and overseas, is a “persistent misconception among many educators … that young adolescents generally are incapable of critical or higher-order reasoning. Many school systems do a disservice to middle grade students by not offering challenging instruction. Education to capture the young person's emergent sense of self and the world, and to foster inquiring, analytical habits of mind, is not only feasible but constitutes essential preparation for life.” (Carnegie Corporation, n.d.). Especially for this reason, an inquiry approach to learning in the QCAA interpretations of the National Curriculum documents is a most appropriate means of addressing the needs of learners in the middle years.
Central to the philosophy of the Inquiry Learning, is a promotion of a “learner-centred approach by using problem-solving and decision-making techniques of various traditions of inquiry” (QSCC, 2000: pg8). This approach to learning was further articulated in the 2017 Humanities curriculum (see Figure 1). Such reflective inquiry ensures an approach to “learning and teaching [that] include socio-cultural, socially critical and metacognitive approaches”. (Nayler, 1999). An inquiry approach to learning allows teachers to ensure their pedagogy is aligned both with expectations regarding best practice in the middle years, and the needs of students progressing to a senior study of a related humanities discipline. A reflective inquiry approach, as defined by the QCAA documents, involves the student in active investigation of a problem or issue which should have real or realistic world value.
Figure 1 QCAA Model for Historical Inquiry Senior History Syllabus (2017)
Figure 2 QCAA Model for Historical Inquiry Junior History Curriculum (2015)
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