Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version

September 2002


Published in Middle School Journal 34:1 (Sep 2002), pp. 43-47. Used with permission from National Middle School Association.


The curriculum need not fight young adolescents’ need to engage in identity formation. It can assist that process when students are given the opportunity to address issues that matter to them through their school work.

Adolescence is a time when key questions of identity assume central importance in the lives of children (Brumberg, 1997). It is often a particularly traumatic time for girls as they negotiate through the quagmire of adolescent experience (Harper, 1997). During the time we spent researching and teaching in middle schools, we found that the voices of adolescent girls echoed this fragile and vulnerable sense of self. We were engaged in separate interpretive research studies in middle schools that allowed the depth and complexity of participants’ learning experiences to be explored. We approached the inquiry through participant observation and inter­viewing, where dialogue was the fundamental process through which meaning and understand­ing unfolded. Additionally, we each collected stu­dent work documenting responses to learning and wrote journals in which we noted emerging con­nections, analyses, and interpretations. Taken together, these research activities at three school sites involving 36 young adolescents provided us with evidence about multiple meanings of school­ing for adolescent girls.

Honoring differences in individual’s opinions, thinking, and experiences allows teachers and students to reconsider and reformulate their beliefs. Educators ought not ignore the potential, power, and responsibility implicit in expecting, accepting, and respecting differences in our students.