Making mathematics exciting for reluctant learners
Volume 21 Number 1, March 2006; Pages 20–25
By carefully selecting and tailoring mathematics activities, teachers can provide an element of fun without sacrificing the development of meaningful mathematics for reluctant learners. Students often view classroom mathematics learning as unchallenging, frustrating, irrelevant and laden with difficult terminology. As a result, many students lack understanding of key aspects of mathematics, such as counting, place value, part-whole relationships, and computation strategies. Teachers should develop a class environment and activities whereby students can feel successful, and overcome negative attitudes in the process. As children learn through social interaction, mathematics lessons should include time for students to discuss concepts in pairs, small groups or as a whole class. Teachers should ask probing questions and encourage students to articulate mathematical understanding after ‘fun’ activities, to ensure that real mathematical learning has occurred. Mathematical games are one tool which can be used to engage students, and facilitate discussion to support knowledge development. As they can be tailored to individual abilities and are less threatening than standard forms of learning, games provide opportunities for all students to succeed. Materials such as dice, dominoes or playing cards also provide visual cues and develop subitising skills, or the ability to determine the number of objects in a group without counting. Teachers should regularly evaluate the effectiveness of mathematics activities, by considering whether students are: engaged; extended beyond their current skill level; adequately scaffolded; and whether individual needs are met. Teachers should also ensure that they provide clear instructions for tasks, discuss mathematical terms with students, and provide adequate thinking time before asking students to discuss concepts. The article outlines several games which develop mathematical thinking and encourage discussion.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Volume 63 Number 6, March 2006; Pages 31–37
Research results from California's Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program shows that it has provided critical support for new teachers and struggling veterans. Under the program, practising teachers are selected to train as coaches to help struggling teachers. The coaches are then released from teaching duties for two to three years and are matched to teachers across a district on the basis of grade level of subject area. The program has provided an effective process for the removal of struggling teachers who are viewed as unable to improve. By using teacher-coaches, PAR overcomes the reluctance of schools to identify and report incompetent teachers. This reluctance occurs where principals fear the costs and time involved, lack time, fear possible conflict, doubt their judgement, or lack training or relevant subject knowledge. PAR also overcomes teachers’ lack of time to reflect on and evaluate teaching, which is necessary for instructional improvement. Each teacher is supported and evaluated on the basis of specific performance standards over a year, after which they exit successfully to ongoing principal evaluation, or are released from teaching duties. Unlike principals, coaches tend to be seen as accessible, available and willing to help, resulting in an increased retention of new teachers. PAR has also proven successful in supporting struggling veterans, who are often viewed as unable to improve, or may require more time and support than a school principal has available. Through weekly to fortnightly observations over a year, coaches had a good knowledge of teachers' strengths and weaknesses and were able to provide relevant advice, support and resources. The coaching methods and standards-based evaluation used provided professional, fair evaluations. Weekly meetings between coaches, joint observations with the school principal and a district panel ensured transparency in decisions. Coaches regularly reported and were required to justify recommendations to a district panel, which included the teachers’ union representative, human resources professionals, school administrators and teachers. The presence of a teachers’ union representative on the panel fostered partnership between school leaders and the union, who are traditionally at conflict over staff dismissals.
Volume 63 Number 6, March 2006; Pages 66–69
Teachers commonly face several key difficulties in their first year. For example, beginning teachers tend to fall behind in their curriculum planning, or worry that students aren’t as engaged as they’d hoped. In such situations, new teachers may forfeit creative lesson ideas to get through curriculum material, and thereby lessen students’ engagement. Pre-service education generally fails to prepare new teachers for dealing with such difficulties, and the priority placed on high-stakes testing in the USA often reduces the amount of practical guidance available to them in schools. Established teachers, whether trained mentors or veteran teachers prepared to assist, can help new teachers with practical advice. Mentors should share curriculum planning strategies, such as how to save time by designing activities that integrate different subject outcomes. Homework can also be used to cover topics not introduced in the classroom. Dealing with parents is another major concern for beginning teachers. Mentors can help them by sharing strategies for dealing with parents, for example by beginning a parent-teacher meeting with a positive comment about the student; refusing to accept abuse from the parent; and involving students in the meeting for clear communication and mutual acknowledgement of issues. Mentors can encourage new teachers to remain objective, and to see the parent as an ally not an enemy. Mentors may role-play parents in a meeting scenario. New teachers often work through break times and face possible burnout. Mentors can share techniques for managing time and avoiding undue stress, for example by keeping paperwork up to date, networking with colleagues to learn strategies for dealing with specific issues, and keeping a weekly list of achieved goals. Beginning teachers need guidance on classroom setup issues, such as resources, planning the first week, setting homework, assessment, key contacts for discipline issues and how their teaching will be evaluated. Beginning teachers should also be taught ways to grade students efficiently and fairly.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
A review of the literature: professional knowledge and standards for language teaching
Volume 40 Number 3, 15 February 2006; Pages 7–21
The AFMLTA has developed a set of professional standards for language teachers, raising a range of issues about the nature and role of standards in teaching. Approaches to teaching standards take two main forms. The regulatory approach is based around accountability and measurement of teacher performance against standardised criteria, abstracted from the context in which they teach. This approach limits teachers’ scope for professional judgement and signals a lack of trust in teachers. The alternative developmental approach is more helpful for use by teachers to guide their ongoing professional learning. It sees good teaching as a repertoire of qualities that teachers can apply flexibly to context. Examination of language teachers’ knowledge needs to include content knowledge, which extends beyond linguistic proficiency to cover awareness of issues such as phonology, syntax and conventions of the languages such as genres. Content knowledge also extends beyond the ordinary knowledge of a native speaker to include awareness of the learning processes needed to acquire a second language. Content knowledge also extends beyond knowing how to transmit the ‘linguistic code’ to include awareness of culture, not as a list of cultural facts but of skills in societal interaction, interpreting and relating information, interacting socially to gain knowledge, ‘relativising the self and valuing the other’, and ‘critical and political awareness’. Standards must also describe teachers’ procedural knowledge. Procedural knowledge is required for a specific teaching situation, such as understanding of government policy; of the school and its community, including its socio-cultural context; and of students individually and as a group. Procedural knowledge also covers skills in classroom management, in terms of engaging as well as controlling students. It also covers teachers’ ability to draw on a rich repertoire of pedagogic and classroom techniques in the context of specific student characteristics, administrative and collegial factors, curriculum, assessment and other policies. Teachers also need support knowledge, ie knowledge of other disciplines that affect teaching. These disciplines extend beyond code-focused topics such as phonetics and phonology, to include literary studies, history, psychology and technology. The article traces the development of generic and discipline-based teaching standards in different jurisdictions and disciplines, and also covers teaching standards in the USA.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Teaching and learning
Language and languages
Languages other than English (LOTE)
Online communities: welcome to the edublogosphere
March 2006; Pages 10–14
Scott Bulfin, a secondary teacher at Highvale Secondary College in Melbourne’s east, and Jo McLeay, Head of English at Mater Christi College in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, are two pioneers in the use of teacher blogs in Australia. Scott Bulfin’s blog, This Teaching Life, commenced in 2004. He found it valuable as a networking tool with colleagues at the school and worldwide. It also created a space for professional reflection, separated from the rush of the working day. He questions the concept of students as ‘digital natives’, suggesting that many of them are aware of only a few ICT applications, mainly in terms of the role they play in popular cultural interests. Many students had been unfamiliar with blogging before he introduced it to them. Jo McLeay has found her blog, The Open Classroom, helps her to meet teachers with similar values to her own. While online activity is sometimes seen as isolating, she has found it a way to bring people close together, and that the online community shares useful ideas and resources for the classroom. These bonds can be particularly valuable when the teacher feels isolated from colleagues at the school. It is important to be aware of privacy issues and to teach students safety precautions on their own blogs, for example not disclosing their surname or the name of their school, and not posting photos of themselves.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Teaching the digital natives
March 2006; Pages 6–9
Australian children are highly computer literate. Schools are not meeting their expectations in relation to ICT. Despite major investment programs by systems, school computers are often outdated and Internet connections slow and unreliable. Computers are often based in labs where they cannot be accessed for 'teachable moments' in the classroom. Teachers often use computers to replicate tasks that could be done offline, or used as novelty items outside core teaching. The Learners as Customers 2005 research paper reports students’ complaints that ICT teachers were unable to extend their existing knowledge to cover higher level tasks such as multi-media presentations or computer programming, and that teachers were suspicious of allowing students to work more independently with ICT. Marc Prensky has coined the term 'digital natives' for these students, who are habituated to a fast paced interactive environment and are used to accessing information from many sources at once, as opposed to their ‘digital immigrant’ teachers who struggle to adapt to ICT. Similarly the 2005 Emerging Technologies report describes today’s students as learning intuitively, via their own experimentation, rather than passively absorbing instruction. A 2004 audit of the ICT experiences of teacher education undergraduates found that despite awareness and enthusiasm for ICT they did not know how to integrate it into their pedagogy or classroom management strategies. A study by Redmond and Brown found no correlation between the number of computers in a school and teachers’ confidence in using them, but found a strong correlation between individual teachers’ confidence in using ICT and their commitment to using them in class. It also found that teachers confident in their ICT skills were more able to see themselves as facilitators of students with more skills than themselves. Unfortunately the availability of face to face professional development in ICT has declined in recent years. ICT teaching expert Cathy Webber has called for compulsory ICT training for teachers, funded by the Australian Government.
Subject HeadingsSchool equipment
Teaching and learning
Computers in society
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
How principals use research
March 2006; Pages 72–77
In Australia and overseas there have been widespread allegations from politicians, media commentators, senior public servants and others that education research is poorly thought of and rarely used by school-based practitioners. The validity of these allegations is rarely challenged, and there have been few evaluations of the influence of research in schools. However, a recent study of school principals in Australia and the USA has found that they view education research favourably, are regularly exposed to it, and retain and apply significant levels of research information. The study involved structured interviews and questionnaires from 39 principals in South Australia or the ACT and 81 principals in Missouri USA. About 90 percent of respondents viewed education research positively and described themselves as using that knowledge. Less than one third described flaws in the research, but some respondents complained that research was not always relevant, or was communicated poorly, or that they lacked time to study it. Most principals were ‘actively interested’ in research that they considered relevant. Most were able to name one or two journals that they regularly read which carried research reports, and respondents named 60 research-related journals overall. In both countries professional journals were by far the most common source of research information, and were rated as much more important than the mainstream public information sources, prepared by ‘advocates, propagandists, columnists or journalists’. Principals tended to be generalists, with limited knowledge of a wide range of research issues. Respondents reported that research came to be used in their schools through a wide range of mechanisms, but usually with either direct involvement by or indirect support from themselves. The findings ‘were so overwhelming that one wonders what on earth the critics have been thinking’. The unfounded claims may discourage scholars from pursuing careers in education research and may have impacted negatively on use of research by policy makers. Professional training for principals and postgraduate teacher courses should further encourage the use of research knowledge, including the ability to evaluate different approaches to research.
Subject HeadingsEducation research
United States of America (USA)
Changing perceptions of knowledge: evaluation of an innovative program for pre-service secondary teachers
Volume 30 Number 2, 16 November 2005; Pages 32–43
There has been an innovative addition to pre-service courses in secondary education at Victoria University of Technology. In the Graduate Diploma of Secondary Education, method subjects, which traditionally reflect distinct subject areas, have been integrated into an overall study of the theory, skills and practices of classroom work, and connect to knowledge across subject disciplines. All the pre-service teachers are placed at one school. This approach builds on a decade of school–university partnerships fostered by VUT. The partnerships allow pre-service teachers to be deeply involved in the life of the school, including curriculum development. As well as classroom work, the student teachers are expected to undertake an applied curriculum project of value to the school. At the secondary college where the course is based, teacher teams take responsibility for the curriculum and welfare needs of students, dealing with the same cohort over several years. The college has a flat management structure and offers flexible timetabling that accommodates teachers’ family life and other personal needs. Teachers are allowed to explore alternative methods of teaching and curriculum delivery, including cross-curricular programs for the middle years. Pre-service teachers prepared an integrated professional portfolio that became the ‘vehicle for assessment in all practicum-related subjects’. An evaluation of the course proposes some changes to the curriculum and resourcing requirements, and also offers advice for the establishment of similar site-based work. The evaluation included roundtable, structured discussion with the pre-service teachers, examination of their portfolios, presentations by the students of their applied curriculum projects, feedback from the school and VUT educators, and a survey of school staff. It was found that the mentor teachers were highly satisfied with the program. No criticisms were raised of the integrated approach toward method subjects. It was also noted that all the pre-service teachers who wished to teach quickly found positions in schools. The evaluation supports the use of broad subjects in the curriculum, such as humanities and sciences, with scope for continuation of specific subjects such as LOTE and physical education.
Teaching and learning
From pipelines to partnerships: a synthesis of research on how diverse families, schools, and communities support children's pathways through school
Volume 70 Number 4, November 2005; Pages 407–430
Schooling can be seen as a ‘pipeline’ in which some groups of students are retained more often than others. A number of studies have highlighted the key role of families, schools and communities in sustaining educational and career ambitions of students across different socioeconomic groups. The most successful students have been found to build links among family, peer group and the wider community. The performance of disadvantaged students from minority ethnic groups is enhanced when schools draw on the cultural resources of the students’ families to create continuity between home and school life. The importance of family involvement is emphasised in a study of disadvantaged African-American families in Michigan. Within this group, researchers compared the characteristics of families with high and low achieving students. Both types of families tended to encourage the academic performance of their children, involved children in sports, and helped students with homework. However the parents of high achievers tended to take the initiative in dealings with the school. They also involved their children more often in art and music classes, additional activities such as choirs or bible classes, and academic enrichment programs. The article examines the work of the Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence (CREDE) on factors influencing student learning within a range of minority ethnic groups in the USA, and examines two theoretical approaches to addressing the ‘pipeline’ problem: the ‘Theory of Overlapping Spheres of Influence’ that focuses in the interactions between home, school and community; and the complementary approach of ‘Sociocultural Theory’ that examines a range of practices within individual communities.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
United States of America (USA)
Parent and child
School and community
Professional development for teachers of diverse students: a summary of the research
Volume 70 Number 4, November 2005; Pages 387–405
A literature review has been undertaken on the issue of professional development (PD) for teachers who deal with students from diverse communities who are disadvantaged due to cultural, linguistic or socio-economic background. The authors investigated studies undertaken in the USA between 1986 and 2003 that were published in peer-reviewed journals. Of the 56 studies examined, 18 were selected as meeting the criteria for rigorous research. However, the review found that studies of PD for these teachers provide little guidance for improving the effectiveness of these programs. Research in this area provides little information on the relative effectiveness of different models and strategies. Current trends in PD for teachers of diverse students favour inquiry-based, collaborative models involving learning communities, however there is little evidence concerning the value of these models for student learning. Even where instructional approaches have been shown to assist students from diverse backgrounds, little has been written about how to explain these approaches to those who teach these students.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
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