Moving in the direction of your dreams: Middle years students and educational decision making

Year: 2009

Author: Loch, Sarah

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.
Henry David Thoreau
(from a poster on a classroom wall, 2009)

This paper presents insights into the ways middle years students speak about eucational decision making and how they see the future before them. Research conducted at 'Wilton College', a girls' school in a large urban centre in New South Wales (Australia), has investigated issues surrounding the event of elective subject selection with small groups of middle years students. Of particular interest was the process of giving voice to the discourses students use, create, struggle with or reject in order to create meaning when making and reflecting on their decisions. This study foregrounds the voices of students as they speak about how they made educational decisions and draws forth the ways the students interpret their connections with school, curriculum and the future.

In the first few years of secondary school, during the middle phase of learning, students move from a solidly compulsory curriculum, which has dominated the schooling experience, into curriculum which can be personalised through elective subject choices and co-curricular decisions. Whilst research has focused on the decision making process for upper secondary and tertiary students (Alloway, Dalley, Patterson, Walker, & Lenoy, 2004), there has been relatively little inquiry into the process of educational decision making and subject selection within the framework of schooling structures, especially in the transformational middle years.

The research question is; how is educational choice and decision making understood and experienced by students in the middle years? Results indicate this group of young, female adolescents have a strong interest in engaging with school as they recognise the connections between learning at school and success in the world beyond. However, it is also evident during the middle phase of learning that students are negotiating new territory regarding their strengths and interests and they are often excluded from the formal opportunities for information gathering which are offered to older students. Whilst this does not appear to have restricted students' future imagining, it is evident that students are drawing from a base which is closely linked to family and school and as such is relatively limited. In the interests of furthering research in this field, findings from this study form the basis for further exploration into alternate discourses of middle schooling.