University of Technology Sydney

013985 Understanding and Engaging Adolescent Learners

Warning: The information on this page is indicative. The subject outline for a particular session, location and mode of offering is the authoritative source of all information about the subject for that offering. Required texts, recommended texts and references in particular are likely to change. Students will be provided with a subject outline once they enrol in the subject.

Subject handbook information prior to 2020 is available in the Archives.

UTS: Education: Initial Teacher Education
Credit points: 6 cp

Subject level:


Result type: Grade, no marks


This subject is directed towards assisting pre-service teachers to understand and engage effectively with adolescent learners in contemporary Australian schools. The subject focuses on psychological perspectives of learning and motivation while incorporating sociological perspectives of young people. Students develop skills to analyse complex and diverse learning environments through the integration of authentic scenarios that reflect the lives of secondary students, so that they are able to evaluate and apply diverse theories to inform engaging and responsive classroom-based teaching practices. The implications of these theories are considered in cases drawn from school, family and community contexts. Students are given opportunities to draw on their professional experience placements and their personal philosophy of education to contribute to the content focus of the subject. In so doing, students develop the holistic and constructive approach needed for respectfully supporting their future school students to engage with and be successful in high school education.

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

a. Analyse how students learn and change, and how student motivation develops (GTS 1.1, 1.2) (PA 2.2, 5.1)
b. Analyse complex learning scenarios (GTS 1.2) (PA 2.2)
c. Develop theoretically sound strategies for creating supportive teaching and learning environments in diverse and complex contexts (GTS 3.3, 3.4, 4.1, 4.3) (PA 2.1, 2.4, 2.5, 2.8)
d. Describe and scrutinise challenging issues facing young Australians and their teachers in schools, drawing on relevant theoretical concepts, research and policy (GTS 1.3, 4.5) (PA 2.3, 2.5, 2.10, 3.1, 3.2, 3.9, 3.14)
e. Develop strategies for dealing with authentic challenging scenarios (GTS 2.2, 3.3, 3.5, 4.3) (PA 2.7, 6.3)
f. Critically appraise the involvement of ‘significant others’ in such strategies, such as parents/carers and various external and community agencies (GTS 3.7, 5.5, 7.3) (PA 2.9, 6.4, 6.10)
g. Describe how they will draw on their understanding to support the students they will teach in schools (GTS 3.1, 3.2) (PA 5.1, 5.4, 6.5)

Contribution to the development of graduate attributes

This subject addresses the following Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences' Graduate Attributes and Master of Teaching in Secondary Education Course Intended Learning Outcomes (CILOs):

1. Professional readiness

1.1) Know students and how they learn, with an advanced ability to critically evaluate the physical, social and emotional dimensions of learners

1.3) Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning with an advanced knowledge of educational practice, pedagogy, policy, curriculum and systems

1.4) Create and maintain supportive, well-managed and safe learning environments

2. Critical and creative inquiry

2.1) Enquire into and research practice to improve educational experiences and outcomes

2.2) Critically analyse and reflect on and synthesise complex theories of learning and teaching

3. International and intercultural engagement

3.1) Demonstrate extensive knowledge and respect for diverse societies, cultures and an ability to inform inclusive practices

5. Active citizenship

5.1) Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community with a high level of personal autonomy

5.2) Are professionals with a profound ethical foundation and sense of social responsibility and a commitment to social justice

6. Effective communication

6.2) Possess literacy and numeracy skills across a broad range of communication modes and technologies

6.3) Are effective communicators, highly skilled in new literacies, able to justify and interpret professional decisions to specialist and non-specialist audiences

6.4) Are able to make well-informed contributions to contemporary debates pertinent to education

Teaching and learning strategies

The subject will be presented in a weekly online lecture plus two-hour interactive workshops. You will learn through a range of evidence-informed teaching and learning strategies.

The workshops have clearly defined learning intentions and goals. The sequenced lesson structure will scaffold your learning through a series of activities, to build knowledge of key theories and research in psychology and sociology of education. In workshops you will critically examine and apply these theories using a case-based or authentic scenario approach to place emphasis on the practical evaluation and application of relevant theories. You will be provided with opportunities to see explicit links between class work and the assessment criteria.

A range of activities will be used to support learning, including explicit teaching of theoretical concepts, case studies, videos, discussion of readings, short presentations, interest-based investigations and collaborative writing. The subject will be characterised by student group work in relation to authentic case-based scenarios. Learning will take place individually and collaboratively in small groups. Collaborative learning will develop your skills in negotiating roles and outcomes and provide a model for team teaching. Emphasis will be placed throughout the subject on fostering cross-disciplinary thinking, analysis and synthesis.

Feedback will be provided during the semester from your lecturer and peers so that you understand your transition through the learning process to achieve your learning goals. This feedback will be as formative assessment in class and as detailed feedback provided on summative assessment tasks. This feedback will allow you to identify areas of your own professional learning that require further study and you will be provided with support to help you meet subject learning outcomes.

Through active participation in class, you will develop knowledge and skills to help you teach adolescents effectively. You will be encouraged to reflect on your own learning experiences to understand your own metacognitive processes and how these may vary from those of your future students and what this means for your teaching and learning.

Content (topics)

  • Theoretical frameworks – behaviourism, information processing approaches, constructivism/social constructivism, sociocultural theories (key ideas, key theorists/researchers)
  • Theories of learning and cognition (including conceptual change, theories of intelligence, self- and co-regulation)
  • Theories of motivation and emotion (including goal theory, interest, self-concept)
  • Theories in practice (notions of engagement, creativity, classroom- and community-based scenarios)
  • Key concepts from research on adolescent development (the adolescent brain, mental health, lifespan development & puberty, moral developmental stages) (PA 2.2, 5.1)
  • Key concepts from sociological theory and research (youth studies - transition to adulthood , normal and choice biographies, globalisation, agency & structure, youth culture & identity, disadvantage) (PA 6.3)
  • Case studies of challenging issues facing adolescents and their teachers in Australian schools, which may include:
    • Cyber bullying and cyber safety
    • School uniform
    • High/low engagement with learning
    • Expectations of respect
    • Withdrawal / absenteeism
    • Sexuality
    • Alcohol and drugs
    • Cultural differences
    • Disengagement of students after age 15 (PA 2.2-2.5)
  • Strategies for the engagement and success of adolescents in schools
    • Based on the theory, research and policy above, plus:
    • Involvement of parents/carers-effective dialogue
    • Collaboration with community and external agencies (PA 2.7, 2.9-10, 5.4, 6.4, 6.5)


Assessment task 1: Writing a case story scenario


a, b and d

Weight: 20%

A 400 to 600 word written narrative with a 200 to 400-word interpretive statement (Note that the total length of your assignment should not exceed 800 words)

Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Effectiveness of communication of structured narrative to raise relevant issue(s) 60 a, b, d 6.2
Appropriateness and clarity of description of theories and/or concepts raised in the narrative 40 a, b, d 2.2
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Assessment task 2: Case scenario: Group presentation (Group of 4)


a, b, d, e, f and g

Weight: 30%

10-minute presentation and infographic of 1000 words summarising and analysing the case and recommended strategies

Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Relevance of theories, concepts and policies selected 30 d 2.2
Depth the analysis of implications of concepts and policy for the scenario 30 a, b 2.1
Relevance of strategies for action by the teacher that flow logically from the analysis 20 d, e, g 1.4
Appropriateness of assessment of the role of parents/carers and relevant external/community organisations in relation to resolving the scenario 10 e, f, g 5.1
Clarity of communication and use of appropriate sources to support arguments 10 d, g 6.3
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Assessment task 3: Reflective statement


a, b, c, d, e, f and g

Weight: 50%

2,000 words

Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Clarity of explanation and justification of the importance of each insight 20 a, b 1.3
Depth of analysis of the effect on your own assumptions20 20 a, b, d 2.1
Clarity and appropriateness of rationale for how each insight supports an understanding of the complex lives of adolescents 20 a, b, c, d 3.1
Appropriateness of educational strategies you recommend will be useful in your classroom practice 20 c, e, f, g 5.2
Appropriateness of sources from psychology and sociology used to support arguments 20 a, b, d 2.2
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Minimum requirements

Participation in classes is important in this subject because it is based on a collaborative approach which involves essential workshops and interchange of ideas with other students and the lecturer. An attendance roll will be taken at each class. Where possible, students should advise the lecturer in a timely manner if they are unable to participate in the class.

Students who fail to participate in 80% of classes may be refused in having their final assessment marked and graded.

Required texts


Recommended texts

Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., & Norman, M.K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Duchesne, S., & McMaugh, A. (2016). Educational psychology for learning and teaching (5th Ed.). Melbourne: Cengage.

Groundwater-Smith, S., Brennan, M., McFadden, M., Mitchell, J., & Munns, G. (2009). Secondary schooling in a changing world (2nd Ed.). Melbourne: Cengage.


ACARA. (2015). The shape of the Australian curriculum (2.0).

Bagnall N. (2007). Globalisation. In R. Connell, C. Campbell, M. Vickers, A. Welch, D. Foley & N. Bagnall (Eds). Education, change and society (51-69). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Baird, J.R., & Mitchell, I.J. (Eds.)(1987). Improving the quality of teaching and learning: An Australian case study - The Peel project. Clayton, Victoria: Monash University.

Beare, H. (2001). Creating the future school. London: Routledge Falmer.

Brady, L. (2003). Teacher voices: The school experience. Sydney: Pearson Education.

Committee on Increasing High School Students' Engagement and Motivation to Learn, National Research Council (2003). Engaging schools: Fostering high school students’ motivation to learn. Washington: The National Academies Press.

Dai, D. Y., & Sternberg, R.J. (Eds.)(2004). Motivation, emotion and cognition: Integrative perspectives on intellectual functioning and development. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Eisenberg, N., Cumberland, A., Guthrie, I., Murphy, B. & Shepard, S. (2005). Age changes in prosocial responding and moral reasoning in adolescence and early adulthood. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 15(3), 235-260.

Gross, M., MacLeod, B., & Pretorius, M. (1999). Gifted students in secondary schools: Differentiating the curriculum. Sydney: University of NSW.

Marlowe, B.A., & Page, M.L. (1998). Creating and sustaining the constructivist classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press (Sage).

Mclnerney, D.M. & Mclnerney, V. (2002). Educational psychology: Constructing learning (3rd ed.). Frenchs Forest: Pearson. Education

McInerney, D.M., Walker, R.A., & Liem, G.A.D. (Eds.)(2011). Sociocultural theories of learning and motivation: Looking back, looking forward. Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age Publishing.

Nagel, M. (2007). Cognition, emotion, cognitive commotion: understanding the interplay of emotion, stress and learning in adolescents. Australian Journal of Middle Schooling 7(2) 11-16.

NSW DET. (2011). Bullying: Preventing and responding to student bullying in schools: Guidelines.

NSW DET. (2006). Student discipline in government schools: Support materials.

NSW DET. (n.d.). Vocational education and training inschools: Providing skills and opportunity.

Nuthall, G. (2004). Relating classroom teaching to student learning: A critical analysis of why research has failed to bridge the theory-practice gap. Harvard Educational Review, 74 (3), 273-306.

Sarason, S.B. (2004). And what do YOU mean by learning? Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Schuck, S., Aubusson, P., Buchanan, J., & Russell, T. (2012). Beginning teaching: Stories from the classroom. Dordrecht: Springer.

Snowman, J., & Biehler, J. (2003). Psychology applied to teaching (10th Ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Tattam, A. (Ed.)(1998). Tales from the blackboard: True stories by Australian teachers. Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

Urdan, T.C., & Karabenick, S.A. (Eds.)(2010). The decade ahead: Theoretical perspectives on motivation and achievement. Advances in Motivation and Achievement, Vols. 16A & 16B. Bingley, UK: Emerald Books.

Varlow, M. (2010). Stress less: Dealing with adolescent anxiety. ProfessionalEducator, 9(2), 40-43.

Vialle, W, Lysaght, P., & Verenikina, I. (2005). Psychology for educators. Melbourne: Thomson.

Vickers, M. (2007). Youth transition. In R. Connell, C. Campbell, M. Vickers, A. Welch, D. Foley & N. Bagnall (Eds), Education, change and society 51-69. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press

Walker R. (2010). Motivating science undergraduates: Ideas and interventions. International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education, 18, 1–13.

Walker, R., & Debus, R. (2002). Educational Psychology: Advances in learning, cognition and motivation. Change: Transformations in Education, 5(1), 1–25.

Wasserman, S. (1993). Getting down to cases: Learning to teach with case studies. NY: Teachers College Press.

Wentzel, K.R., & Wigfield, A. (Eds.)(2009). Handbook of motivation at school. NY: Routledge.

White, R., & Wyn, J. (2004). Youth and society: Exploring the social dynamics of youth experience. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press. [Chapter 4: Rural geographies, 58-78]

White, R., & Wyn, J. (2004). Youth and society: Exploring the social dynamics of youth experience. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press. [Chapter 10: Youth identity and culture, 184-202].