Academic journal article High School Journal

Supporting Adolescent Learning and Development Using Applied Learning Pedagogies in a Regional Secondary School: An Evaluation of a Pilot Program

Academic journal article High School Journal

Supporting Adolescent Learning and Development Using Applied Learning Pedagogies in a Regional Secondary School: An Evaluation of a Pilot Program

Article excerpt

Pedagogies to develop autonomy and social responsibility in early adolescent learners persist as an ongoing agenda for schools. This paper reports on one Australian regional secondary college's pilot program to improve learner engagement in one year 8 class using applied learning principles across the curriculum. In late 2006, participating students in this applied learning initiative were interviewed in small groups, their parents surveyed, and their home group teacher interviewed. Overwhelmingly, student perspectives strongly endorsed the pilot program and were consistent with parent and teacher observations of these same students' feelings toward engagement within the program. This article details adolescents' self-reported significant learning, locating them within a wider discourse of secondary school curriculum and current knowledge about early adolescent learners. This article also provides particular reference to the applied learning principles around which the pilot program was conceived and framed.


This study investigated the implementation of a unique program that involved a Year 8 class in a regional Australian school. In the Australian state of Victoria, one Catholic school created an applied learning class focused on sports in an attempt to inspire and motivate previously unmotivated students. The program was underpinned by the principles of applied learning as outlined by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (2005). The pilot program was premised on research evidence that supports understandings of adolescent learning as well as successful indicators in engaging and motivating young people to meet their educational needs. The objective of this program was to encourage student engagement and student retention. It also sought to build students' self-regulation skills in their studies at school.

Review of Literature

This literature review centers on literature of middle years' schooling and its students as well as their engagement at school. The literature review then moves on to the applied learning literature, including a definition of applied learning as well as the theoretical underpinnings of applied learning.

The challenge of providing meaningful schooling in the middle years is well documented as a long-standing problem over the last two decades (Luke et al., 2003; Martin & Marsh, 2006; Munns & Martin, 2005). Research reported by Hill, Holmes-Smith and Rowe (1993) found a decline in middle grades students' willingness to engage with school subjects compared with younger students. The study reported in this paper investigates attempts to overcome this problem.

Over the past two decades, Australia has incorporated a range of demographic, educational, technological and social influences in the study of middle school student learning. This increased research knowledge has led to a greater understanding of adolescent learning and increased discourse about what constitutes appropriate and optimum learning modes for those in this developmental life stage (Heaven, 2001; Carr-Gregg & Shale, 2002; Steinberg, 2007; Geake, 2009). Research has also been conducted on pedagogies relating to student engagement (Groundwater-Smith, Mitchell & Mockler, 2007), the expansion of mass secondary schooling in the second half of the 20th century (Hannah, 2009), the diversity and changes intrinsic to contemporary family life (Hayes, 2009), and the increasingly publicized international comparisons of schooling outcomes (OECD, 2009). Taken together, these factors place increased demands on schools as learning institutions.

As Luke et al. (2003) comment, this middle years schooling movement should be seen as a systematic and concerted effort to rethink curriculum, pedagogy and institutional structures. In rethinking middle year's pedagogy, these authors argue that more emphasis now be placed on adolescents as young people negotiate the various developmental stages and how to be a part of society (George & Alexander, 2003). …

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