Introduction Early adolescence encompasses a diverse range of development, emotions, growth and learning. This can be categorised into the following: Sociocultural, physiological, neurological and psychological. It is the responsibility of middle years educators to be familiar with the stages of development and in particular demonstrate understanding of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (Pendergast and Bahr, 2010).
It should be the pedagogy of all middle years teachers to establish relationships with students and their families offer students an engaging education and model sensitivity and acceptance of the students especially during adolescent development. This essay will touch on theoretical knowledge and understanding, practical research and identifiable characteristics of middle years students. Middle years educators should consider the implications and how pedagogical practice should be influenced to ensure a holistic educational experience for early adolescent students.
“As children move into early adolescence, they begin to appreciate that people can have mixed feelings about events and other individuals. They realise that people may simultaneously have multiple, and possibly conflicting, intentions” (Pendergast 2010, p. 468). As students approach the middles years of school, ages 9 to 14, it becomes noticeable that students are developing their personalities and opinions. Whilst this is strengthens some friendships it also may dissolve others. The students in the middle years classroom quickly identify peers and develop biases and prejudices.
Sadly these prejudices can lead to serious consequences and the development of unhealthy social-cognitive prejudice, which can lead to the exclusion, and discrimination of some students (Pendergast and Bahr, 2010). Carrington argues that adolescents are exposed to adult practices and popular culture as well as having a decreased amount of parental or adult supervision. One can deduce from this that adolescents are making judgments that are not properly formed and this can have an impact on relationships both in and out of school (Carrington, 2010).
Kroger (2007), Moll and Arnot-Hopffer (2005) state that adolescents are establishing more mature identities and view points. it is the teacher’s role to unbiased political view of the world to assist students in accepting and engaging in many opinions and beliefs. Erickson argues that free will can lead to a paradox, namely, that an adolescent would rather act shamelessly in the eyes of his elders, out of free choice, than be forced into activities which would be shameful in his own eyes or in those of his peers (1968, p 147). This theory can be applied to today’s middle school due to very influential factors in sociocultural perspectives such as pop-culture and the immediate environment (Carrington, 2011).
Popular culture sets a trend in which it is made popular by a select few in the middle years cohort. This leads to adolescents are striving for individuality within the confines of their environment and social acceptance. Peer interaction and collaborative learning can assist in forming relationships, connect experiences and develop higher order thinking (Willis, 2007). When engaging in these kinds of learning environments opinions can be expressed, supported and argued. Educators must ensure that diversity and tolerance is paramount in the classroom supports this. (Moll and Arnot-Hopffer, 2005).
PHYSIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES “I think what is happening to me is so wonderful, and not only what can be seen on my body, but all that is taking place inside. I never discuss myself or any of these things with anybody; that is why I have to talk to myself about them. ” – Anne Frank (1939, p. 146) Anne Frank viewed adolescence, particularly her menarche, as a private and enriching time in her young life that must be kept to herself.
This is a viewpoint of some middle years students however sadly, unlike Anne, many adolescents discover the maturational sequences of puberty a difficult and stressful time. (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2010). Students are experiencing obvious physical changes however these will occur almost certainly at different rates.
However brain development, hormones and puberty attribute to physical growth. McDevitt and Ormrod state that these changes are occurring in the body from 9-14 years therefore it is important for adolescent educators to be prepared and sensitive to the changes in their students. Pendergast (2010) argues middle years students feel a sense of isolation and disengagement, which can be attributed to hormonal changes.
Puberty does not only influence physical changes but links to social groups, neurological and psychological perspectives. Middle years physiological perspectives also include nutrition, exercise and healthy wellbeing. Encouragement needs to be fostered in healthy eating, but introducing fruit and vegetable breaks and physical movement but encouraging Health and Physical Education or simply movement through drama and dance. Watson and Bandura argue that environmental influences impact on grooming and shaping beliefs (Pendergast and Bahr, 2010).
Looking that these theorists further it can be determined that the middle years student is developing habits which are reliant on environment or habitus. Therefore middle years educators are able to influence and model healthy interactions with students, nutrition, health and peer groups. Enthusiasm and care for students and their wellbeing will ensure students are less likely to become withdrawn from classes and their peers, and to embrace the changes and view them as a natural progression of their growth.
As technological advances put more and more time between early school life and the young person’s final access to specialize work the stage of adolescence becomes even more marked and conscious period and, as it has always been in some cultures in some periods, almost a way of life between childhood and adulthood (Erickson 1968, p 147). During adolescence the brain is subject to huge neurological changes. The prefrontal cortex is the final stage of neural development and this period of maturation gives way to neurobiological hypothesis such as adolescents engaging in risky and impulsive behaviour (Casey, Jones and Somerville, 2011).
The transition from childhood to adulthood requires the prefrontal cortex of the brain to mature, which improves cognitive ability, settles hormones and moderates the brain chemistry levels. One of the most influential chemicals in the brain is serotonin. High serotonin levels can give way to risky behaviour, sexual promiscuity and defiance. Educators in the middle years need to consider the imbalance of brain chemicals and hormones such as serotonin can lead to disengagement in learning.
Whilst this neurological stage is happening it is important to ensure students safety is paramount and discourage students from making suboptimal decisions which lead to poor long-term outcomes (Casey, Jones and Somerville, 2011). Giedd (2002) states “it’s sort of unfair to expect teens to have adult levels of organizational skills or decision-making before their brains are finished being built. ” According to Giedd’s research the brain whilst being 95% of its total size by adolescence the synapse and cortical connections still need to be established and connected.
It is also theorized that adolescent brains are only developed properly given higher order associations, real world connections and sensorimotor practice (Casey, Jones and Somerville, 2011). Many factors influence the development of the adolescent brain including peer relations, real world connections, experience and psychological perspectives and so too is the importance of the middle years educator in the life of an adolescent. .
PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES Psychological maturation is measured by an adolescent’s ability to maintain or achieve a state of homeostasis. – Jodi A Quas (2011, p.263) It has been recognized that adolescents have many stress markers.
These markers are prevalent and can be identified in many ways. Cognitive growth and processes change with such speed that adolescents are vulnerable to normally inconsequential events, which induce diverse psychological reactions. These events can be both positive and negative such as arousal, laughter, sadness, fright or flight. These can produce endorphin’s that allow psychological affects to appear. Middle school students are continually faces with challenges that lead to these psychological shifts in the brain.
These can be academic achievement and pressure, peer pressure and collaborative learning, physical exercise and general cultural factors. It is the role of educators to realise the differences in middle years students’ psychological position and ensure nurturing, stimulating and engaging practices are offered to the students at all times (Quas, 2011). Levine & Levine’s (2007) theory of cognitive backpacks also a way of dealing and recognising psychological stressors as well as preparing them for adult life. Using the interpretation model teachers can identify the way in which students react and relate to issues and beliefs.
In assessing a student’s deeper understanding and critical thinking of learning an educator can deduce the reason for a middle years student’s beliefs and how their thoughts were established. The instrumentation stage allows students to take ownership of their education and metacognition. This encourages students to have their own voice and not be too easily influenced. Interaction is a stage that is vital to student’s success in future life. The correct environment can advance interaction of peers, encourage interpersonal skills and allows students to exercise their beliefs within a peer setting.
This stage then supports the final stage which is inner direction. Confidence of student’s own beliefs, understanding and opinions as well as acceptance of other’s beliefs and opinions enriches the student’s ability to be passionate and motivated to improve themselves (Snowman, 2009). IMPLICATIONS FOR TEACHERS “We have already described the importance of the teacher in providing an environment in which children can feel challenged and stimulated intellectually, as well as feeling safe to explore and express themselves. ” – McInerney & McInerney (2006, p. 491).
Middle school education is a multi-faceted exciting teaching opportunity. However, it is important to realise many implications for teachers are needed to be implemented to achieve a balanced inclusive classroom. Carrington (2002) states Queensland must adopt a strong vision for teaching of middle school students. This often requires the consideration of physiological, sociocultural, psychological and neurological perspectives to be accommodated. One implication that resonates through all the perspectives is peer learning. Peer learning has been a proven effective tool when used correctly.
Allowing students to have a voice fulfills sociocultural and psychological needs. The student’s voice can be valuable teaching tool as well as a learning tool. Collaborative learning with peers engages students to share and appreciate different perspectives and observations. It is also important to consider that these collaborative learning groups are highly successful in common or same paced learning such as studies of society and environment and science. It is important to ensure each group has a similar cross-section of students to allow for a holistic and diverse interaction.
However, to ensure that students are also able to assume the same level in mathematics and literacy, where lessons are catered for particular ability levels rather than groups, it is important to group according to ability level (Snowman, 2009) Another implication in teaching middles years students is ensuring students are able to privately connect with a teacher or even another member of staff should any physiological and psychological changes occur in the classroom. Being prepared and aware that students may begin menarche or sings of spermarche during a class and offering students products and support needed for such an event.
Erikson (1968) argues that adolescence is an egocentric stage in which the world around the adolescent is centered on them (Erikson, 1968). This can exacerbate issues such as friendships, bullying or changes within a family unit. A teacher or other staff member such as a guidance councilor or chaplain should be prepared to offer advice and support. It is integral that departmental procedure is adhered to and teachers should always ensure their relationship with their students is professional at all times.
A further implication for teachers is to ensure their pedagogical process allows students to be engaged, challenged and given the opportunity to gain real world experience to make connections to their learning and the use of ICT. Education Queensland as well as professional development in this area provide productive pedagogy models. One such model ensures intellectual quality, supportive classroom environment, recognition of difference and connectedness (Education Queensland, 2007). Carrington’s constructivist view of signature practices also supports the framework for establishing meaningful pedagogy for middle years students.
Particular elements to assess are incorporation of technology, interdisciplinary teacher teaming, creative use of classroom space and timetabling, strong, valuable teacher-student relationships, integrated curriculum with authentic links to real world, engagement in school, local and wider community and collaborative teaching and learning (Carrington, 2011). The implications of middle years students on teachers are endless, it is vital to recognise and appreciate that students within the years 4 to 9 can offer life long learning opportunities and students also give educators the change to change lives.
CONCLUSION “The middle years of schooling are the site of vibrant educational reform. This is exciting on a number of fronts: the development and implementation of innovative curriculum; the creation of robust teacher professional communities; and, a renewed focus on the relevance of educational research for classroom practice. ” – Carrington (2011, p. 1) Educators of middle years students are have a vital role to play in not only in the role of a middle years teacher, but also as an advocate, protector, ambassador and keen participant in the betterment of middle schools education.
Ensuring that the middle school has a plan that encompasses the many perspectives of student’s needs and development but also in the environment that surrounds these students. Students are adolescents for such a short time and whilst it is brief it should not be regarded as insignificant. The psychological, neurological and physiological perspectives of an adolescent need constant nurturing and as a teacher this is a in a constant state of change. Whilst the sociocultural perspective it discreet it is the nurturing of all perspectives that results in preparing students for adult life and academic success (Carrington, 2011).
Preparing youth for the future extends beyond classroom practice, it requires dedication of further study and being aware of change and adaptable that will see students through the middle years of schooling. REFERENCES Barry, K. and King, L. (2006). Beginning teaching and beyond. Victoria, Australia: Cengage Learning Australia. Casey, B. J. , Jones, R. M. and Somerville, L. H. (2011). Braking and accelerating of the adoloscent brain. Journal of research on adolescence, 21 (1), Pages 21-33. Retrieved from Weill Cornell Medical College http://www. med. cornell. edu/ Carrington, V. (2011).
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