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Recently I attended a conference
where the guest speaker talked
about research into the best models
for teaching 10 to 14-year-olds and I
came away feeling very pleased with
the confirmation that Scotch Oakburn
College is at the cutting edge with our
Middle School offering.
What was addressed were the benefits of an interdisciplinary
approach to education and a teaching environment that
allowed for its full and proper implementation.
While an increasing number of Tasmanian schools are
recognising the benefits that come from the approach of
having a core group of teachers to nurture students across
the scope of the curriculum, aided by specialists as required,
they have not had the time, resources or vision to build an
appropriate facility that enhances, indeed maximises, the
benefit of this model.
On this front Scotch Oakburn is clearly blessed. We are
fortunate that the culmination of the research of then Principal
Andrew Barr, and the then Middle School leadership team
of Adam Heath and Kate Croft, along with others, produced
a total teaching and learning solution where teachers and
students can flourish across these vital years of learning.
Their vision involved a combination of enthusiastic and highly
capable teachers, the core teaching approach, a vertical
pastoral system that provides each student with a first-hand
experience of our supportive and caring community as well
as innovative, creative and inspiring learning spaces. These
elements combined to provide an environment that allows
learners to fulfil their potential, and grow and develop into
wonderful teenagers and young adults.
The benefits of a well-researched and purpose-built facility for our
Middle Years students are many. The learning spaces are light-
filled, spacious, creative in their design and use of colours, well
ventilated, resource-rich and inspiring – all of which are key aspects
that have a positive impact on student learning.
Added to this is the improved understanding of how the brain
develops and the potential of young people. In recent studies,
it has been found that the average IQ of a 15 year-old today is
equivalent to that of the top 5% of 15 year-olds in the 1950s.
Our pre-teens also have an increased social maturity and so it
makes sense that a basic primary school model of teaching and
learning for an 11 year-old today needs to be different from that of
a five year-old.
Interestingly, back in 1994 when I was teaching at Scotch
College in Melbourne, I took part in an ‘experiment’ that saw
Year 7 students taught by a core team of teachers. Two of the
eight classes at that time changed to this model, which saw three
teachers work with the group of students for English, Geography,
History, Information Technology, Mathematics and Science.
The rationale of this approach was, at the outset, purely
curriculum and learning focused, the idea being that three staff
working closely together could assist each other with a team-
teaching approach and rationalise the content matter to help create
time in a packed, content-heavy curriculum. This allowed us to
develop integrated units of study that gave students time to delve
more deeply and broadly into topics, as well as reinforcing with
students that knowledge in one area of learning can be applied to
other areas, sometimes for novel solutions to problems.
One unforeseen benefit that quickly became apparent was a
pastoral element, that of the improved transition for all students
entering Year 7, either from the Scotch College Junior School or
from local schools. The stepping-stone from one core teacher at
primary school to a core team for the majority of class time was a
natural progression to the senior years where there is a different
teacher for each subject.
Within a few years, all Year 7 and 8 classes at Scotch College
moved to this model.
So at Scotch Oakburn we have further refined this model to shape
our current offering. The teaching methodology is totally supported
by the research and we have a safe, secure yet engaging dynamic
learning environment for our Year 6 to Year 8 students.
We can’t expect to prepare our students for what will be a
dynamic future by teaching them the way we were taught 30 or
more years ago. In years to come I have no doubt we will see more
Middle Schools developed across our state. But for the moment,
it is promising to see that some of our fellow Tasmanian schools
are doing their research and bravely implementing changes to their
teaching and learning practices and, ultimately, facility design for
the benefit of Tasmania’s young people.
It’s a cliché, but our young people are the future and their
education is vitally important to our state’s growth and
development, not to mention their preparation for the world beyond
the school gates.
Middle School research,
experience and vision
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