Volume 5 Number 1, March 2006; Pages 12–13
The collection and publication of school level data is not by itself likely to improve teachers’ practice. Teachers will use data when they have the opportunity to shape collection and use it to find answers to their concerns about student performance. The Western Australian Literacy and Numeracy Assessments (WALNA) is a system-level initiative which has closely involved teachers, principals, district directors and central executives in decision making about data collection in schools. It is a curriculum-based assessment that collects literacy and numeracy data for Years 3, 5 and 7 and which is closely linked to the Monitoring Standards in Education (MSE) assessment for Year 9. Teachers are involved in the setting and trialling of items, with direct links to corresponding elements in the curriculum. Teachers are then given access to detailed information allowing them to profile students as individuals and in groups. Principals receive additional data permitting comparisons over time and with other schools. The methodology used for WALNA demonstrates best psychometric practice.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Western Australia (WA)
Confections of apartheid: a stick-and-carrot pedagogy for the children of our inner-city poor
Volume 87 Number 4, December 2005; Pages 265–275
The author is a winner of the USA’s National Book Award and has had 40 years of experience working with children in disadvantaged inner-city schools. He argues that contrary to widespread belief, racial segregation of schools in the USA is growing, and has in many cases returned to levels seen in the 1960s. Based on visits to 60 inner urban schools, he describes the nature of schooling that now takes place in these disadvantaged settings, illustrated by anecdotes from the ‘PS 65’ primary school in the South Bronx, and similar schools. There is an ‘openly conceded emulation’ of military and industrial approaches to discipline. At PS 65 this included ‘zero noise’ in the classroom, including silent signals for obedience from the teacher; silent lunchtimes in the cafeteria and silent recesses after any misbehaviour. The author describes observing a class of eight-year-olds ‘in which almost nothing even hinting at spontaneous emotion in the children or the teacher surfaced’. Proficiency standards in maths, broken down into ‘approximately 50 categories’, were displayed on the classroom wall for the students. The standards exemplified ‘naming exercises and the imposition of an all-inclusive system of control on every form of intellectual activity’ that ‘consumed a vast amount of teaching time’. That teacher’s education training consisted of a short summer course. Such schools suffer from inequalities in educational finance that ‘remain unabated and take on new and more innovative forms’. Unable to foresee an end to such arrangements, the leaders of these schools have accepted ‘an architecture of adaptive strategies’ in pursuit of modest gains, including a relentless emphasis on raising test scores that includes frequent use of non-promotion and non-graduation, and ‘an oftentimes fanatical insistence upon uniformity in teachers’ management of time’. The article is based on the author’s book The Shame of the Nation.
Teaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
Teaching gifted children with learning difficulties in writing
Volume 10 Number 2, 2005; Pages 79–88
A group of teachers at a Perth Montessori primary school undertook a 12-month action research professional development program, focusing on gifted students with learning difficulties in writing. The study revealed that teachers often find it hard to identify students who are gifted yet also experience learning difficulties, meaning that this sub-group is often overlooked. With support from the researchers, most teachers were able to identify at least one such student in their classes, and the study monitored the progress of six of those identified. Two were subject to close observation and exhibited some behavioural similarities in the writing classroom. Both displayed perfectionism in spelling and sentence composition, frequently erasing and rewriting, thereby limiting their output. Although attentive during teacher instruction and class discussions, both also showed a tendency to be easily distracted from writing tasks, either by external events or social interaction with other students. Their teachers employed a variety of interventions, which may account for the progress made by both these students over the course of the study. Strategies that may assist gifted students with learning difficulties in writing include: developing an individual education plan to address both exceptionalities; accelerating the gifted area so that the difficulty does not become a primary focus; collaborating with parents and specialists; investigating possible causes of the difficulty, such as neurobiological problems; providing priority access to assistive technology; addressing perfectionism and time-management issues; and utilising alternative modes of presentation.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Gifted and talented (GAT) children
Supporting teaching for learning: implementing an assessment for learning approach in the transition from primary to high school
Volume 14 Number 1, February 2006; Pages 8–12
Assessment is usually seen in terms of the accountability of teachers and schools to ‘rank and sort students’. However assessment can also be used to provide detailed and timely information to individual students, in order to improve their learning. The Lanyon Cluster of Schools in the
Subject HeadingsAustralian Capital Territory (ACT)
Transitions in schooling
Mainstreamed students with learning difficulties: failing and underachieving in secondary school
Volume 10 Number 2, 2005; Pages 43–49
A precise definition of students with learning difficulties does not exist, although the general characteristics of this group are readily identifiable. They represent the largest population of students with special educational needs in Australia. Lack of a national definition, and thereby a cohesive political presence, may in part account for the lack of effective intervention undertaken for this group. Although it is impossible to establish a direct causal relationship, students with learning difficulties are over-represented in negative social statistics, such as unemployment, mental health problems, poverty and delinquency. The good overall statistics of mainstream Australian students ascribes students with learning difficulties the status of a ‘deficit’, and orients policies away from inclusion. Secondary students with learning difficulties are usually educated in mainstream classrooms. Teacher attitudes towards inclusion are often poor, and research has shown few utilise specific strategies for different student populations in their classes. Classroom teachers may have a significant impact on how these students fare at school, but there is a low incidence of teacher training in special needs education. Some believe that not having been trained in special needs education absolves mainstream teachers of the professional responsibility to teach special needs students effectively. School structure also affects how students with learning difficulties fare. School leaders should strive to create school environments conducive to equitable and inclusive learning. A sense of community, strong interpersonal relationships, and collaboration between teachers of special and mainstream students will strengthen such an environment.
Subject HeadingsLearning problems
Volume 87 Number 4, December 2005; Pages 298–305
Many new teachers find it hard to obtain the extra support they need at the beginning of their teaching careers. This is particularly true in disadvantaged schools which face the most challenges, but also have the least time, funding and networks available to help their new teachers overcome them. As a result, many new teachers quickly leave the schools which need them most, or abandon the profession altogether. These issues inspired the US NCTAF to create Teachers Learning in Networked Communities (TLINC). The 2004 TLINC pilot revealed that new teachers exhibited similar needs: feeling valued professionally and personally; having access to a variety of supports for different purposes; receiving ongoing assistance which keeps pace with their changing requirements; and engaging regularly in direct, as well as online, interaction. Systems and teacher training bodies should work together to create appropriate support networks which utilise the collaborative potential of new technologies. TLINC’s vision includes extending induction periods beyond the first year of teaching; creating online and face-to-face learning networks for new teachers; reducing both new and experienced teachers’ workloads to facilitate mentoring; and providing access to national databases that include curriculum resources and listings of subject experts.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Disciplined thinking: pathways to intellectual character in mainstream science
Volume 5 Number 1, March 2006; Pages 21–25
The Ithaka Project provides professional development by enabling teachers to conduct their own action research around Ritchhart’s ‘Intellectual Character’ and six related thinking dispositions – curiosity, metacognition, strategic thinking, truth-seeking, scepticism and open-mindedness. As a participant in the project, the author investigated the incidence of these dispositions in his science classroom by observing and recording attributes he found desirable in a science student. The challenge of devising his own methods for identifying and recording evidence of these attributes heightened his engagement with the research. The set of desirable behaviours he identified included curiosity; resourcefulness; working efficiently and managing time well; using discussions both to gain and contribute knowledge as an active member of the classroom’s learning community; taking genuine interest in subject matter rather than grades; and understanding context as well as facts. Identifying these favourable dispositions challenged the author to plan lessons that would bring them to the fore. Student feedback on his findings suggested that existing assessment structures did not necessarily foster the same thinking dispositions that the author found desirable. Reframing assessment became the first step in a wider evaluation of content, resources and practices, viewed ‘through a dispositional lens’. The success of the author’s involvement in the project encouraged him to reinterpret professional learning opportunities not as short-term, discrete units, but as part of an ongoing process of inquiry and reflection.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Thought and thinking
Opportunity to learn for all
Autumn 2006; Pages 19–20
In 2002 Australian ministers of education agreed to work together to achieve greater consistency between their curriculums. The education ministers asked that Statements of Learning be prepared for English, Mathematics, Science, Civics and Citizenship and ICT. The Statements describe 'the essential knowledge, skills, understandings and capacities that each child should have the opportunity to learn' in each of these areas. They are to be set for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The Statements of Learning for English are already complete and approved. Greater national consistency in curriculum will be of benefit to the thousands of students and their families who move interstate each year. The drive for more national consistency also recognises Australia's needs in the context of ‘a national and global society and economy’. The Statements do not set expected outcomes, student activities, or approaches to pedagogy, nor are they not intended to cover the whole curriculum. Rather they focus on the opportunities to learn which are agreed to be essential for all young Australians. This project, known as the National Consistency in Curriculum Outcomes (NCCO) project, is being managed by Curriculum Corporation on behalf of the Australian Education Systems Officials Committee (AESOC) and the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA).
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
The case for an ACE
Autumn 2006; Pages 14–16
In 2005 the Australian Government commissioned the ACER to explore options for the development of an Australian Certificate of Education (ACE). Australia currently has nine different senior certificates, and the International Baccalaureate is also offered at some schools. This variety of arrangements does not reflect different student needs but rather the separately evolving traditions, compromises and accidental influences at work in each system. These historical arrangements have also produced diverse minimum requirements for the awarding of senior certificates, and varying levels of detail in syllabuses and curriculum frameworks. Subtle variations in terminology add further complications. There is little information about how standards in any given subject vary between States, which differ in their marking systems. Even the ENTER scores, used to provide nationally comparable tertiary entrance ranks, require the ‘necessary but dubious assumption’ that each State and Territory has the same distribution of achievement. There is also significant duplication of work involved when each system separately develops curriculum and assessment procedures for essentially similar subjects such as physics. Work on such subjects would benefit from the interstate collaboration that already exists for community language subjects. An ACE would need to acknowledge the strengths of existing arrangements and would also need to allow scope for ongoing development around local circumstances. However, an ACE could also reduce duplication and offer more national consistency in expectations and standards and great comparability in student results.
A Ministerial Council perspective on the big picture
Autumn 2006; Pages 6–7
The day-to-day activity of teachers and schools is shaped by a hierarchy of wider decision making processes. MCEETYA, or the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, coordinates strategic policy at the national level, and negotiates national agreements on shared objectives in the Council's areas of responsibility. It is composed of State, Territory, and Commonwealth ministers in relevant portfolios. New Zealand also provides a full member. MCEETYA is one of over 30 ministerial councils reporting to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). MCEETYA is supported by AESOC, a forum for chief executives of education and training authorities, and has created two ministerial companies, Curriculum Corporation and education.au ltd, to implement aspects of its work. In May 2005 MCEETYA set out a list of nationally agreed strategic priorities for 2005–2008. While all priorities are relevant to all jurisdictions in Australia, it is recognised their relative importance may vary between States and Territories, and particular jurisdictions may take primary responsibility for a given priority area. At times the national framework of consultation may mean one or more governments ‘trying to convince/leverage/bully other governments into accepting policy agenda and initiatives’, however the agreements reached carry the combined authority of all Australian jurisdictions.
Subject HeadingsEducation and state
Teachers' professional knowledge in scaffolding academic literacies for English language learners
Volume 20 Number 3, December 2005; Pages 63–75
The mainstreaming, or ‘broadbanding’ of literacy education overlooks the specific needs of English as a Second Language (ESL) students, and the specific skills of ESL teachers. The article illustrates this issue by describing a collaboration in Canada between a classroom teacher and an ESL resource teacher in an ethnically diverse Grade 6 classroom, in which many students spoke a language other than English at home. The collaboration was part of a longer action research project. During the collaboration the ESL expert and class teacher utilised Mohan's 'Knowledge Framework' to place language in a context of social practice which would be accessible to students, and adopted a social constructivist pedagogy to use natural patterns of development as 'scaffolding' on which to build language learning. In the example provided, students studied a character in a novel by first brainstorming vocabulary lists in groups, to ensure all students had the language available to express their ideas. They then broke into pairs to complete character webs, T-charts and similar activities that involved comparing and contrasting. These visual scaffolds helped students organise their ideas into an individual essay. The deliberate structure of the activities could then be applied to deeper critical literacy tasks. Students moved from generating language and organising ideas orally, to working through these processes independently in their writing. From the Knowledge Framework perspective, the task of essay-writing was thus built up gradually through coherent, structured component tasks. From a scaffolding perspective, the tasks explicitly linked students’ background knowledge to defined objectives, with the teacher assisting them to reformulate their ideas into new knowledge.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
English as an additional language
Towards national consistency: window of opportunity
Autumn 2006; Page 3
In Australia, responsibility for school education rests mainly with the States and Territories. Curriculum is the responsibility of the eight jurisdictions, with a mixture of discipline-based and non-discipline-based frameworks or syllabuses and a strong trend towards the identification of essential learnings. The diversity in curriculum, assessment and certification is growing. At the same time, concerns over equity, public accountability and the growing rate of student mobility have led Australian education ministers to agree on the need for more national consistency in student learning. To this end, the different systems have been collaborating to develop Statements of Learning, outlining key skills, knowledge, understandings and capacities in five domains – English (completed in 2005), Mathematics, Science, Information and Communication Technologies and Civics and Citizenship – at Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The success of this work in achieving greater curriculum consistency will be determined not just by the quality of the Statements, but also by the way in which they are implemented by education systems. State and Territory education authorities have had to rise above ‘competitive and parochial interests’ to address issues of national significance effectively. The process of national collaboration is an important chance to enhance the quality, transparency and integration of Australian school education.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Boys’ education has gained increasing political recognition to become one of the highest-funded educational issues of the decade, as exemplified by DEST’s national Boys' Education Lighthouse Schools Project (BELS). Now in its second phase, BELS typifies the current emphasis on evidence-based education initiatives. Measurable learning outcomes and rigorous quality assurance reflect the need for projects to be accountable to education investors, to contribute to the knowledge economy, and to counter a prevailing culture where research is seldom applied directly to classroom practice. However, critics of the evidence-based approach argue that it may obscure valuable non-scientific knowledge and overlook the complexity of the classroom context. Three examples of BELS projects demonstrate the evidence-based approach in action. The Eden Cluster in New South Wales implemented a role-modelling project, where at-risk boys repaired bicycles under the guidance of retired men from the local community. Strong relationships were formed and sometimes extended beyond school hours, and data collected confirmed their positive effect on boys’ behaviour and academic performance. Discussion and reflection also gave project staff insight into future possibilities, including student-to-student mentoring and the use of digital technologies to improve boys’ reporting habits. In Victoria, the Mildura Cluster project was centred on Literature Circles and other collaborative literacy techniques that have been shown to increase boys’ engagement. Peer observation, cluster meetings and student opinion surveys were among the data-gathering methods teachers used to deepen their learning from the project. Also in Victoria, the Knox Northwest Cluster sought to capitalise on the known appeal of ICT for adolescent male students. Boys and girls created Online Classroom Corporations and transacted in a miniature online economy. Results showed genuine change in boys’ attitudes to numeracy through the innovative, relevant activities and enhanced engagement through the use of ICT. Planning, monitoring and reporting on outcomes were features of all BELS projects. Although sometimes onerous and challenging for participants, these elements provided a strong evidence base for the projects’ continuation or expansion.
Subject HeadingsBoys' education
Who are the beneficiaries of our educational research?
It is important for education researchers to focus their work around issues of concern to policy makers and practitioners. Such a focus will help guard against perceptions that education research has little influence on policy and that it leans toward esoteric topics. Researchers should also consider both the likely beneficiaries and the potential casualties of their investigations. These points may be illustrated by looking at a maths education project undertaken for MERGA by Judy Mousley, Robyn Zevenbergen and the author. The study aimed to identify and help overcome obstacles to mathematical learning amongst students from low SES backgrounds. The study employed a range of methods including classroom observation, teacher interviews, teacher surveys, and work with teacher focus groups. It identified issues in pedagogy concerning these students, and produced a manual for use by maths teachers. The researchers are now evaluating their project by working with some of these teachers. The intended beneficiaries of the research are future learners. The audience covers policy makers, teacher educators and others who communicate with teachers on their approaches to learning. The researchers intend to prepare project reports in forms that are of direct use to maths teachers. Research can cause harm if it is conducted poorly, or if it ignores ethical issues such as confidentiality and protection of the anonymity of participants. Researchers should disclose their funding source. They must also allow for their own cultural bias. For example, in the MERGA study, the researchers recommended the use of contextualised maths tasks for students, but care must be taken to avoid cultural bias when setting contexts for such tasks, which have sometimes been found to help high SES students disproportionately and to impede learning for disadvantaged students. The examination of issues of immediate concern to policy makers and practitioners might also help to challenge sweeping dismissals of the value of quantitative research methods, which are sometimes made by supporters of qualitative approaches.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged