Teaching with the times
Journalists and politicans have polarised the recent debate about the role of popular culture in literacy teaching. Innovative 'educational revisionists' incorporated various forms of popular culture into the English curriculum in order to make it relevant and engaging. However, it has been accompanied by a new postmodern lexicon, derived largely from continental cultural studies, and its convoluted language has caused difficulties for many students and teachers, leading to attacks on the teaching of popular culture as such. Popular culture is also seen as 'lowbrow, mass-market entertainment' and teaching about it has been linked to the 'dumbing down' of society. However the teaching of popular culture is valuable and long overdue in the curriculum, encouraging students to think critically and creatively about their own culture and how they relate to it.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsSocial life and customs
English language teaching
7 March 2006
Australia’s education system often fails to identify academically gifted students. Only a handful of the estimated 250,000 students, or two to three per classroom, who are capable of working above their grade level are ever identified. There is also a reluctance to support gifted students, whereas students who demonstrate advanced sport abilities are financially supported and encouraged to feel proud. Gifted students typically display a high degree of knowledge and capacity to learn; creativity in applying knowledge; and are inquisitive and motivated. They seek to understand the process behind the answer alongside the answer itself. However, the school performance of at least one third of all gifted students is impeded by a learning difficulty. As teacher education courses rarely address the needs of gifted students, teachers may be unsure of how to assist them, or may find their insistent questioning a nuisance. If valued, the talents of gifted students can benefit the entire class. Gifted students encourage other students to ask higher order questions and become motivated learners through their example. Teaching lessons on broad concepts will allow all students to explore ideas according to their own differing abilities. Various proposals have been made to address the needs of gifted students on a broader level, such as retesting those with exceptional results using exams designed for older Years. Those who do well should undertake standardised tests and specific IQ tests, and advance or attend a tailored program accordingly. Currently, gifted students in New South Wales may attend advanced ‘opportunity classes’ from Years 5 and 6. Victoria’s select entry accelerated learning (SEAL) program allows selected students to complete the first three high school years in two years. Gifted students in South Australia can attend special schools such as The Wilderness School.
Subject HeadingsGifted children
Gifted and talented (GAT) children
Socioeconomic status and academic achievement: a meta-analytic review of research
Volume 75 Number 3, Autumn 2005; Pages 417–453
The links between socioeconomic status (SES) and student academic results has been reviewed in a meta-analysis of research literature published 1990–2000. The review covered 74 reports. It found a medium to strong link between SES and students’ academic outcomes. The link is weaker for students from minority backgrounds. SES was defined according to the income, educational levels and occupations of students’ parents. Longitudinal studies, the best approach to demonstrating SES-outcomes links at the individual student level, have found that the academic gap between low and high SES students persists through schooling, contradicting the findings of an earlier meta-analytic study by SB White and others. High SES families provide not only a higher level of material resources in the home but also greater social capital. Schools serving high-SES families and low-SES communities tend to vary in terms of instructional arrangements, resources, teacher experience and teacher-student ratios, and also the quality of the relationship between parents and school staff. In 1995 a nationwide study found that higher neighbourhood SES is significantly related to greater school expenditures per student, a finding supported by a range of studies in individual states in the USA. Family SES is 'the most important determinant of school financing, as nearly half of all public school funding is based on property taxes with a school district’, and state financial support for poorer schools does not make up for this imbalance. To achieve equitable outcomes, schools in disadvantaged settings need greater than average funding, to attract and retain high quality teachers and to address the impact of social problems such as violence, homelessness and drug abuse. A number of interventions have successfully improved academic outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, using methods such as reducing class size, improving early childhood education, providing after-school and summer school services and providing financially qualified school personnel.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
United States of America (USA)
Talking back to the text: a pre-service education student's perspective on critical literacy
Volume 41 Number 2, 2005; Pages 70–76
Literature on critical literacy swings between two extremes. On the one hand it is promoted as an integral thinking skill, on the other as a means to raise students' awareness of, and resistance to, social injustice. The latter is unacceptable in an English classroom, where 'students cannot be used as captive audiences for those who consider themselves social crusaders'. In reality, schools can only play a limited role in levelling social inequality. Extreme notions of critical literacy are also problematic in that they remove all boundaries to what is 'text' and what is 'ideological', offering English teachers limitless choices and interpretations which should not be valued equally. Although it is worthwhile for students to learn to read popular texts (magazines, for example) critically, it is not necessary to focus on such texts to teach the essential skills. A questioning, rather than dogmatic approach, should be adopted in an adolescent classroom, assuming that students can and will think for themselves. Critical literacy teachers should support students to make reflection a 'habit of mind', whether reading or writing, so that they understand their own voices, as well as others'.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
English language teaching
Reading for pleasure, reading critically
Volume 41 Number 2, 2005; Pages 66–69
In mid-2005, critical literacy came under a high-profile attack in the Australian media. Priominent figures in education, including Cardinal George Pell, decried the privileging of critical literacy over 'ploughing through' classic canonical texts. However, no texts, even canonical ones, should be read uncritically. Reading critically is developed naturally, in concert with the skills involved in reading for pleasure. Literacy teachers have always sought to encourage readers to balance analysis with enjoyment. The attacks conflated critical literacy with literary theory, resulting in misunderstandings about the nature and extent of critical literacy education. They focused only on unsuccessful examples of critical literacy in the classroom, which were simply inevitable glitches in the introduction of new teaching practices. Victoria's curriculum, rich in critical thinking, has escaped the criticism levelled at States where critical literacy has been more actively promoted. Critical literacy in Victoria has evolved out of 'clear thinking' tasks taught in the 1960s, and literary theory has emerged as one of many available theories, allowing teachers to adopt it more incrementally, and successfully.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
English language teaching
Volume 85 Number 3, 6 March 2006
Technology-based Student Management Systems (SMS) are proving highly successful in New Zealand, as an aid in teaching and learning, reporting, and student behaviour management. Over the past two years Southbridge School in Canterbury has trialled an SMS, and found it has significantly reduced the instance of behavioural problems. The SMS allows any staff member to record an incident, which is seen by other teachers as they log subsequent issues relating to the same child. Weekly reports generated from the SMS allow staff to identify disruptive behaviour patterns in their early stages. The teachers then gather together to plan intervention strategies. Through the SMS behaviour record, Southbridge’s principal can access incident reports instantly when parents make contact. Assessment information on the SMS is used for a variety of different purposes. The SMS has also removed the need for teachers to produce separate reports for the school's Board of Trustees. The individual learning reports stored on the SMS enables staff to make sound evidence-based decisions. Southbridge’s SMS also saves staff planning time, as teachers can locate lesson plans on file. A new Ministry of Education team will promote SMS to schools, and assist school leaders as they identify their school’s needs, select the appropriate system and guide staff through the change. The team will also gather examples of how SMS are used by different schools.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Volume 25 Number 2, 2005
Well resourced school libraries, with teacher-librarians who are involved in curriculum planning and teaching, have been linked to increased student achievement and are critical to the development of information literacy skills. Integration of library-based resources requires collaboration between principal, teachers and teacher-librarians, which is rare in today’s schools. Principals should establish a collaborative culture within the school and set expectations for teachers to be involved in the school library program. Teacher-librarians should win the trust and support of the principal, by aligning library programs with the school’s goals, advocating the benefits of each school library program, and providing up-to-date information prior to board, faculty and parent meetings. The pair should jointly plan objectives for the library, and allocate library funding and staff. Teacher-librarians can seek various leadership opportunities, with principal support, such as representation on key committees, leading professional development workshops and initiating special projects. School staff collaborate more readily when teacher-librarians demonstrate technological and pedagogical knowledge and information literacy skills. They should be proactive rather than library-centred, for example bookmarking useful websites for teachers, keeping teachers up-to-date with relevant articles and assisting with technology aspects. Teachers and teacher-librarians should collaborate on creating and assessing authentic activities to develop students’ information literacy skills across a range of resources. Librarians should teach students on occasion, and classroom teachers should support them through any research frustrations. Collaboration requires classroom teachers to work against the isolation and without the autonomy they may be accustomed to. Education faculties should have a teacher-librarian on staff, to teach education students about collaborative practice and the role of the teacher librarian. Teacher-librarians in schools should also meet early and often with student teachers during practicum, as student teachers may lack experience in collaborative teaching, and/or personal information literacy skills.
Subject HeadingsInformation services
School violence and its antecedents: interviews with high school students – a summary
Volume 14 Number 2, 9 March 2006; Pages 23–25
A recent report in New South Wales has investigated causes of violence in high schools and factors that have been linked to its reduction. The research considers the nature of attacks, along with student awareness of school rules and their perceptions of teaching and class culture. The research is provided by the New South Wales Department of Education and the Bureau of Crime Statistics, and based on Year 8 and 9 students from six government high schools with medium to high suspension rates. Participants completed a questionnaire, and extensive interviews were completed with 41 students who had been a perpetrator or victim in a violent incident. Violent incidents were found to be less likely to occur in schools where rules were explicit and formally communicated to students, where positive behaviour was recognised and rewarded, and where peer mediation systems were in place. School staff who provide well-structured, relevant learning programs and act publicly against bullying and racism were also linked to a reduced incidence of violence. Overall, attacks were more likely in boys’ schools; smaller schools; schools where there was a lack of highly experienced teachers and where reading and language levels were low. A minority of the students surveyed did not view suspension as a deterrent. These students were less likely to have parents who structured the time at home while on suspension. Whether parents and peers condoned or condemned the incident helped determine a student’s attitude to violence. Most attacks happened during lunch or recess, and were often triggered by misunderstandings, teasing, difficulties in established friendships or power struggles. Although most attacks were preceded by other conflict, occasionally extending over years, only one third of students sought school assistance prior to the incident itself. Perpetrators generally saw their acts as justified.
New South Wales (NSW)
Volume 34 Number 7, October 2005; Pages 3–17
In the USA, teacher education policy makers often suggest that changes in policy can produce direct, linear changes in student results. This notion highlights the importance of teachers and teacher educators, but understates the need to address other influences on student results, such as the characteristics of the community around a school, resource levels, public regulations and school culture. Teacher education policy rests on a market-based model. This model assumes that people in teaching and teacher education are motivated only by self-interest, and implicitly accepts, for example, the inequitable concentration of high quality teachers in affluent areas. The notion of evidence-based practice shapes teacher education. In its narrower conception, evidence-based practice ignores the importance of the ‘politics of evidence’, the ‘struggle over ideas, ideals, competing goals, values’ that underlies even those studies and policies presented as scientifically based and value-neutral. Evidence-based practice is too narrowly defined around randomised clinical trials. This paradigm was taken from medical science, and even there it has proved to be ‘premature and over-inflated’. The focus on outcomes has encouraged accountability. It has drawn other disciplines into the study of education, and has encouraged teacher educators and teachers to evaluate their own practice over time. However the narrow focus on outcomes is attached to the narrow focus on test scores. Results should be measured by overall student learning, which includes the equity of the results, and how well students acquire both basic knowledge and higher order thinking skills. Education scholars should also be ‘public intellectuals, using our expertise, our evidence, and our freedom to challenge a system that does not serve the interests of many students’.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Teaching and learning
Over the next decades the Knowledge Society will demand a swift increase in overall student learning outcomes. To address this demand there is a need to create a research network to develop the best evidence-based approach to the needs of schooling. Such a network would play a major role in integrating the evidence base that is currently dispersed between research bodies, policy makers and practitioners in schools. The network should involve researchers in a range of disciplines around the central aims of improving student learning and developing the cognitive tools required by knowledge workers. The network would involve key national and international researchers, as well as staff from school systems and professional organisations. The network would help to develop the skills of education researchers; facilitate partnerships and collaboration; involve teachers and school leaders in research projects; and disseminate and promote research in plain language among educational practitioners and policy makers. The research network would be decentralised, including a number of ‘problem-focused virtual nodes’. It would be accompanied by key performance indicators to measure its processes and productivity. It would encourage the creation of infrastructure for research and would draw practitioners in disciplines beyond education faculties. End-users should be integrated in the planning of and participation in research.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation