A case study of multimethod evaluation of complex school mental health promotion and prevention: the MindMatters evaluation suite
Volume 15 Number 2, 2005; Pages 125–136
MindMatters is a program for the promotion of mental health in schools. It provides products and services covering curriculum, teacher professional development and a whole-school approach to change, and is disseminated to all schools with secondary enrolments. It has been evaluated through five studies. The National Implementation Study of MindMatters is examining 16 case study schools selected at random across Australia. The study monitors the effectiveness of their whole-school approaches to mental health promotion using MindMatters resources. Data is collected three times over a four-year period. A second study examines services being trialled at 17 schools for students with high support needs. These services take place through MindMatters Plus, an initiative in mental health promotion and early intervention that links schools to doctors in general practice. In a further evaluation, ACER has conducted a survey of a nationwide sample of secondary schools regarding their policies and practices on health and wellbeing, and more specifically, about their use of MindMatters material. An evaluation carried out through Flinders University investigated the use of MindMatters curriculum materials, while a fifth evaluation focuses on MindMatters’s Families Matter initiative. Evaluative research has identified a number of elements in the effective promotion of mental health in schools. There should be a whole-school approach, focusing on social competence rather than specific problem behaviours. Long-term planning, implementation and evaluation are needed. Programs should build core competencies in participants. Programs should have an official coordinator, formal policy plan and budget. Involvement is needed from staff, students and external sources of support. When evaluating interventions it is important to distinguish the quality of the programs themselves from the quality of their implementation. Implementation should minimise disruption to school operations and procedures. The interests of schools need to be accommodated in order to sustain their long-term involvement and goodwill. For example, schools may need to be given access to base line data and summative feedback. Other implementation issues include ethical considerations, and allowance for federal and State government relationships. Mental health and education disciplines introduce different perspectives on the nature of appropriate interventions and evaluation procedures.
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
Gateways to international leadership learning: beyond best practice
Volume 32 Number 2, 2005; Pages 97–121
Many current conceptualisations of leadership learning are over-reliant on decontextualised lists of ‘best practice’. Such conceptualisations are founded on principles of standardisation and control. They arise from a business-oriented competitive mindset, in which companies strive to ‘win’ by being the ‘best’. Although ‘best practice’ lists may have some value in creating a generic role description for a school principal, or as foundations for a broad understanding of school leadership, they are of little use in improving leadership learning. Prescriptive approaches may even have adverse effects in stifling innovation, and ‘elevating leadership rather than leaders’, thereby undermining practitioners’ effectiveness and self-esteem. International differences in leadership approaches demonstrate that one model of leadership ‘best practice’ does not necessarily fit all contexts. A better approach to leadership learning replaces prescribed methods with researched, reflective practices developed by the practitioner to suit their particular context. In this model, the processes of learning about leadership practices become indistinguishable from the practices themselves. Certain learning conditions are necessary for such a model to take root. The principal must display a cultivated, deliberate individual ‘voice’, resilience, curiosity, willingness to experiment, belief in their own abilities and a sound intuition that has come into being through reflection on the success or failure of previous decisions. Schools and systems must show open-mindedness to support principals to develop these competencies, as ‘learning is not possible where failure is unacceptable’. Principals can build these competencies using four ‘gateways’ as a starting point to guide their thinking: what I believe is important; what others think about me; what I am dealing with now; and what ideas are out there.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Multiple intelligences: fashionable or foundational?
Volume 3, 2005; Pages 26–30
Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (MI) challenges traditional notions of intelligence by proposing that each individual has a unique profile consisting of eight different intelligences: verbal-linguistic, mathematical-logical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, musical, naturalist, interpersonal and intrapersonal. A recent body of literature by MI advocates collates findings from diverse research, mostly from the USA and Canada, relating to the applicability of MI in educational settings. MI has predominantly been applied to primary schools, special education and early childhood education, perhaps because the secondary school structure separates disciplines. Three studies have linked MI with academic improvements, including assessment gains for minority students and students with learning disabilities. Significant improvements in student discipline have been associated with MI, with students displaying improved confidence and satisfaction with their learning. For teachers, MI has influenced lesson planning by providing multiple ‘entry points’ for students to engage with lesson content. It also offers multiple ‘exit points’, whereby students can demonstrate their understanding of a topic using their particular strengths. However, critics warn that MI must remain a means to an end in the classroom, and teachers should not lose sight of educational goals. Other applications of MI to teaching include curriculum integration, targeted individual student projects and teaching MI content to improve students’ self-awareness and career exploration. Teachers have used MI to gain greater appreciation of student learning styles and reoriented their practices towards a more student-centred approach. MI can also bring about organisational changes and affect the whole culture of a school. Reasons for schools to introduce MI include its usefulness as a framework to support and extend teachers’ existing knowledge, and its proven potential to decrease disparity between white and minority student outcomes. Reasons for schools to reject MI include entrenched organisational structures, the privileging of written expression, cynicism towards ‘too many passing fads’, increased workload and incompatibility with conservative university entrance criteria.
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
Success and wellbeing: a preview of the Australia 21 report on young people's wellbeing
Volume 25 Number 1, 2006; Pages 10–18
The article summarises the findings of the report Flashpoints & Signposts: Pathways to success and wellbeing for Australia’s young people. The report was a collaboration between Australia21 and the Australian Youth Research Centre. It found that extreme problems such as suicide and drug-related deaths declined as young people seek and receive treatment through targeted programs. However the underlying conditions that produce stress do not seem to have diminished, and overseas research suggests that psychosocial problems have increased among youth. Young people generally adapt well to demanding conditions and take their situation as a ‘given’, rather than criticising society for their difficulties in obtaining full-time work or tertiary places. Youth should not be categorised into a majority who are ‘OK’ and a minority needing treatment, as most are likely to face problems such as depression or unemployment at some stage. Culturally, there has been a trend toward materialism – the pursuit of money and possessions – which is associated with higher levels of anxiety, anger, depression, isolation and alienation. At the same time, growing individualism has not been experienced as liberating but is linked to increased risk, insecurity, disorientation and a lack of connectedness to the community. There is a shift away from mainstream religions to eclectic and individualised beliefs. Health research points to a need to move away from treatment of individual symptoms of social distress toward addressing underlying causal factors through cross-sectoral and whole of government initiatives. This approach requires attention to the common and divergent interpretations of young people’s health and wellbeing that are currently provided by researchers in different disciplines. Within the different participants in the Flashpoints project a number of issues emerged for discussion. For example, it is difficult to integrate research that measures the subject evaluations of youth about their situations with qualitatively different research on objective measures of health and wellbeing. Another issue was the value of categorising people by generations (eg ‘Gen X’ or ‘Gen Y’), which has been challenged as obscuring the importance of divergence within generations and commonalities between different age groups.
Subject HeadingsYoung adults
Social life and customs
Is physical education relevant? Interpersonal skills, values and hybridity
Volume 52 Number 3-4, 2005; Pages 24–28
Over recent years, the New Zealand curriculum has been tailored to help students develop skills relevant for their own lives and communities, and provide inclusive learning opportunities. The Health and Physical Education curriculum has also been developed in this way, through the inclusion of social skills and social values as outcomes. However, some argue that teaching set social skills and values can work to reinforce middle class agendas and marginalise minority students, and point to the lower outcomes achieved by ethnic and indigenous students as evidence. A 2004 research study in a low socioeconomic school found that while the curriculum helps ethnic and indigenous students develop meaningful social skills and values, it neglects to address whether or how students are to use these skills within their own cultures. The study is based on interviews and self-reflections from seven Year 12 Maori and Pasifika students, who undertook leadership activities with younger students in sport and outdoor activities. Research participants described how the leadership experience developed their communication skills and confidence, which they used or planned to use in social gatherings and future careers. Students discussed how physical education helped them practise care for and affiliation with others, by empathising with younger students; remembering personal experiences; avoiding criticism of others; and looking out for others. In this way, students considered and adapted the HPE curriculum to form a personally meaningful notion of care, which contests the view that the curriculum may represent ideologies of control. Students often faced conflict within their families, as the open style of communication and questioning taught contrasted with the traditional cultural practice of not questioning elders. Students overcame this interpersonal challenge by remaining quiet at home and speaking more at school; by gradually talking more openly with family in a positive way; or by confronting traditional perceptions in their families. The research recommends that future programs consider the application of skills in relation to students’ cultural contexts. It also recommends further investigation of student experience in relation to the curriculum, across a variety of cultural settings.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsNew Zealand
ICT and learning
Volume 1, 2006; Pages 7–12
Within the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS), ICT is one of the domains within the Interdisciplinary Strand of learning. The ICT domain is designed to enable active learning and problem solving and to help students relate to their world. ICT fosters risk taking, creativity and skills in conceptualisation. It develops students’ ability to collect and share knowledge productively. ICT lessons should focus on a discipline topic or physical, personal and social skill, where the technology itself becomes secondary. In contrast, the subject of Information Technology (eg VCE IT) focuses on learning the functions of hardware and software packages. Students should be encouraged to take risks within ICT and use various problem-solving approaches. In line with VELS, programs should integrate only those domains with strong connections, to meet clear objectives. The ICT domain is organised into three dimensions. ICT for visual thinking prepares students to use a range of visual thinking tools and to be able to select suitable tools for specific tasks. Visual thinking tools include dynamic models with changeable variables such as spreadsheets, and controlled models that respond to input, such as robots. Graphic organisers are one visual thinking tool. Handwritten examples are already used in many schools, while ICT examples include concept maps, Venn diagrams and tree diagrams, some of which have teacher annotation tools. Students can use graphic organisers to assess current knowledge, develop further inquiry and demonstrate their learning process. In ICT for creating, students manage files and produce information products such as investigation results. Students should be able to use formatting styles and imaginative design as relevant for specific data. Design advice for teachers is available on the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority’s (VCAA) Student Learning DVD February 2006, which has been provided to Victorian schools. In ICT for communicating, students undertake real-world collaboration through known and unknown tools, such as text messaging, blogs and netmeeting. Students should learn to assess message purpose, content and audience impact; and to search and filter web sources effectively. The article includes links to resources and further discussion.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Student physical activity and lesson context during physical education
Volume 52 Number 3-4, 2005; Pages 17–23
Physical education is designed to develop motor skills and physical fitness, as well as social development, academic performance, cultural awareness and cognitive learning about healthy lifestyles. In schools, these goals are best achieved through moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA), which should occupy 50 per cent of lesson time, and through cognitive learning. Declining activity levels among children prompted the Australian Government to demand that primary and lower secondary students undertake at least two hours per week of physical activity, as a condition of education funding to States and Territories. However, research in 2001 found that students in physical education classes spent 28 per cent of lesson time ‘waiting for something to happen’ and only 25 per cent of time engaged in physical exercise. The article describes a subsequent study of eight classes run by specialist PE teachers in Victorian primary and secondary government schools. The study found that the students were given limited opportunity to take part in health enhancing activities. The highest levels of MVPA occurred in racquet sports sessions (42 per cent). In other court games and other activities such as football, MVPA failed to reach 30 per cent of lesson time. The only category of PE that reached the ‘very active’ category were fitness activities such as weight training, jogging, running, walking, aerobics and skipping. Potential time for physical activity was eaten into by procedures such as roll calls, arrangement of equipment and selection of teams. The promotion of physical fitness knowledge, such as instruction about fitness-related concepts or about the benefits of physical activity, was found to occupy less than one per cent of lesson time. This low prioritisation may be due to teachers’ limited content knowledge in this area. PE lessons limited solely to physical activity may be experienced as boring or mundane by students. Lessons should also cover social, cultural and moral development. School PE would be most effectively enhanced not by increasing its share of the timetable but by professional development of teachers that focuses on active teaching pedagogies. Further improvements in school PE could be made by promotion of physical activity during recess and lunch breaks and through inclusive extra-curricular activities.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
10 April 2006
Australian principals are in short supply, according to a recent national report, An Investigation of the Declining Supply of Principals in Australia. The number of applicants for advertised vacancies has decreased dramatically, and many schools are forced to employ principals who are insufficiently prepared. Two other studies on the supply of principals in Australia are Principal Aspirations and Recruitment Amidst Leadership Disengagement conducted by Monash University’s Professor Peter Gronn in 2005, and Developing School Leaders with the Commitment and Capacity to Pursue the Common Good by Australian Catholic University’s Dr Helga Neidhart. Many teachers are put off principalship by the overwhelming demands of the job and its negative impact on health and family life. Over the past ten years, principals’ workloads have become unmanageable. Growing administrative duties are eclipsing the core task of educational leadership. In 2004, almost half of state school leaders suffered work-related health problems. A co-author of the Monash report claims that many principals retire or leave the profession early because of workload pressure. Interventions from federal and state education departments have focused on building leadership capacity in up-and-coming teachers, but not on making principalship itself more appealing. Job sharing and part-time retirement to facilitate mentoring may be effective strategies to ameliorate the role. The experience of one Victorian school shows that, although the appointment of a co-principal will not necessarily reduce a principal’s working hours, it can alleviate psychological stress. Understanding the generation of teachers poised to replace current principals is also important. Many entered the profession in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s and endured significant educational reforms with little professional support. The element of cynicism this has generated towards educational leadership further deters these teachers from seeking leadership positions themselves. This will only be aggravated if principalship itself continues to seem such an unpalatable option.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
PD through teacher enquiry
For teachers, involvement in research is an important opportunity for self-evaluation and professional learning. Developing teachers as enquirers mirror the kind of development desirable in their students. Enquiry-based professional development focuses on tapping into, rather than importing, school expertise, and on building learning communities within and beyond the school. Schools and systems should maintain a culture of ‘school-owned evaluation’, rather than an ‘inspection’ model, as school self-evaluation fosters teacher enquiry. However, many teachers either do not recognise the value of this approach, or engage in it only unconsciously. Some are even intimidated by the notion of teachers as researchers. Evidence gathered from teachers’ professional reflections is sometimes seen as less valuable than systematic, large-scale research. However, the definition of research should encompass teachers’ personal enquiry. Teachers constantly make intuitive decisions about how students learn, and about which practices are effective. Schools that have successfully implemented teacher research have done so by turning everyday questions into systematic investigation. Teachers need time out from the classroom to convert their intuitions into robust evidence. Partnerships with universities, education offices and other key organisations are also valuable. An example is the FLARE project in Essex, England. Teachers should foster an ‘aggressive curiosity’ that questions all received wisdom. The British national project, Investigating the research-engaged school, has explored possibilities for building research into the heart of a school’s activities, but such 'research-engaged' schools remain relatively rare. Education research institutions must be prepared to soften the boundaries between researchers as experts and teachers as practitioners. Stronger action by systems and school leaders is also necessary to make sure that all schools have the opportunity to participate in research partnerships.
Subject HeadingsEducation research
Restorative Practices in Schools is a program for dealing with conflict and bullying that was piloted in 13 South Australian primary and secondary schools last year. Students, teachers and parents work together to understand conflict and repair the harm caused. Offenders are made aware of the consequences of their actions, and then accepted back into the school community. In one example, a student vandal was made aware of the extra work his graffiti created for the school’s grounds staff, and stopped vandalising as a result. Negotiated consequences for violence or damage have proved far more effective than arbitrary punishments handed out by teachers. Schools involved in the pilot have reported appreciable improvements in school relationships, increased enrolments, decreased suspensions and expulsions, and a safer school environment, as at least partially attributable to the program. Training for implementing the program is being provided by the Centre for Restorative Justice in South Australia.
Subject HeadingsConflict management
The textual revolution: SMS vs literacy
The rise of text messaging on mobile phones as a preferred mode of communication for young people has generated concerns about the impact of abbreviated messages on students’ literacy. However, no adverse effects have been proven by research so far. In fact, a recent British study has indicated that students now may be more literate than in the past. Some experts see text messaging as a new genre of writing that teachers should embrace, especially with respect to its ability to combine the textual and visual elements of literacy. Others see SMS not as a new genre, but simply as a new medium for undertaking the same communication exercises previously conducted through activities such as passing notes in class. For some researchers, text messaging is one facet of a communications evolution that privileges short, catchy text items such as slogans and headlines. Whether this results from, or exacerbates, shortening attention spans is subject to debate. It raises concerns that overemphasis on simplified, send-and-receive communication patterns may lessen people’s ability to engage patiently in complex, sustained dialogue. On the other hand, the opportunities for creativity that text messaging affords can attract students to written communication, who might not otherwise enjoy it. Many studies have found that students are aware of when it is appropriate to use SMS abbreviations and standard language, although anecdotes do exist of inappropriate SMS language use in the classroom. Last year’s VCE Year 12 English exam suggested that text messaging is entering the English curriculum, as students were asked to compare a text message with a poem by Keats. The article includes a glossary of commonly used SMS abbreviations.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Inverse attraction: why no one wants to teach science
Teacher undersupply in Australia is approaching crisis point, and science is one of the areas of greatest deficit. Research shows that many science teachers’ qualifications do not meet the standards desired by schools, with many not having completed a university degree majoring in their discipline. Relying on underqualified teachers leads to difficulties retaining top students. Many students find science ‘irrelevant or too hard’. Deakin University’s Russell Tytler argues that science classes are too teacher-centred. He calls for science to engage students by emphasising its real-world applications and its value for career paths, and by addressing topics that already interest students. In contrast, Kevin Donnelly argues that ‘politically correct’ moves to make science pedagogy more interesting and ‘girl friendly’ have led to a ‘dumbed down curriculum’. As an example he attacked the idea of a geology lesson that focuses on the environmental dangers of mining as ‘a concern unrelated to basic scientific knowledge’. Most science teachers show a genuine enthusiasm for their discipline. However, higher status, better paid careers in industry and research attract science graduates away from teaching, or they move to countries where education is more highly valued. Starting salaries for Australian teachers compare favourably with those in other professions, but earnings in later years do not. Teachers may also leave the profession to ‘spend more time on science’ and enjoy collegial interaction as members of a scientific community. Career advance for science teachers tends to involve less science and more administration. A coordinated approach from government, universities and school systems is needed to address teacher supply. More funding must be allocated to improve both teaching conditions and salaries. There are three supplementary articles. ‘Not a problem’ covers responses on teacher training and responses from systems in Victoria, the ACT and New South Wales. ‘Supply and demand’ notes that universities turn away thousands of teacher training applicants each year, but also that experts say adding university places would only exacerbate oversupply in areas such as primary teaching. ‘Studying science: doing the maths’ describes the uneven financial burdens borne by mainstream science students, student teachers studying science, and student teachers studying other subjects.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsTeachers' employment
School reform in the new century: a comparison of American and Australian values and visions
Volume 14 Number 2, Spring 2005; Pages 32–249
In response to growing recognition of the importance of the principal as a driving force in school leadership, collaborative research was undertaken by American, Australian and Chinese universities to ascertain principals’ fundamental views about what a school is for. A total of 111 surveys were gathered from Californian principals, and 103 from principals and deputy principals in Newcastle. Participants were asked to rank four views of the purpose of education in order of importance: the Conservative View, equipping students to take their place in a stable and ordered society; the Progressive or Child-Centred View, helping students reach their full potential; the Liberal View, raising awareness of societal concerns and willingness to change society for the better; and the Critical View, fostering resistance to injustice and desire to transform the existing social order. American principals prioritised the conservative and liberal views most highly, with Australian principals opting for the progressive view, followed by the liberal and conservative view. This probably results from the democratised, consultative approach to leadership currently implemented in Australian schools. The survey then asked participants to prioritise 11 school goals. The top priorities were similar for both groups, but Australians ranked the achievement of basic skills most highly, while US principals prioritised critical and independent thinking. The most significant difference appeared in ‘multicultural and global understanding’, which was rated much higher by the Americans. When asked to identify critical national issues for school reform, Americans emphasised standards, and Australians most frequently mentioned declining education funding, or funding distribution between public and private schools. With regard to their own schools, Australian principals proved ‘more open and progressive in thinking’. Analysis of results against respective national policy priorities and practices showed some discrepancies. For example, both groups identified information gathering as the least important part of their role, even though data collection is becoming an increasingly important aspect of school reform.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
Education aims and objectives
Reading comprehension difficulties experienced by children with learning disabilities
Volume 10 Number 2, 2005; Pages 71–78
Students with learning disabilities often experience reading comprehension problems for a range of reasons. Firstly, they may have trouble utilising background knowledge to understand new texts, in which case they should be assisted with pre-reading activities, such as brainstorming or graphic organisers. Secondly, they may have limited ability to decode and recognise words. Rapid decoding is essential (but not sufficient) for comprehension, as laboriously decoding words leaves students with insufficient cognitive resources for constructing meaning from what they have read. Systematic exercises may be needed to help them build a foundation of words recognisable on sight, or to overcome memory deficiencies. The third area to target is vocabulary and sentence structure. Fourthly, students need to reach an appropriate level of speed and comprehension. While reading too slowly inhibits comprehension, reading too quickly can obscure detail. The fifth problematic area concerns metacognitive strategies. Students with learning difficulties may possess appropriate reading strategies, but apply them inefficiently. They often do not monitor their comprehension as they read, and are therefore unaware of when it has broken down. Systematic, sustained instruction in strategies such as self-questioning to monitor understanding can be highly effective. A table of metacognitive strategies to use with students with learning difficulties is provided. Lastly, students with reading difficulties are often unable to predict common narrative structures, leaving them without a framework on which to structure their understanding. The most important components of successful reading instruction for students with learning difficulties are: directed questioning through student-teacher dialogue; controlled levels of difficulty; full elaboration of reading strategies, including step-by-step modelling by the teacher; small group instruction; and ‘strategy cues’ to prompt students to apply what they have learnt. Researchers and teachers must work together to improve these practices and provide better differentiated instruction for students with learning difficulties.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
What is financial literacy?
Young people face many financial decisions, including seeking part-time or full-time employment, managing credit and debit cards, buying a car or maintaining a mobile phone. These decisions are becoming more complex as the market offers an ever-increasing range of financial services. To benefit from competition in the financial marketplace, consumers must have sufficient financial literacy to make informed choices. Financially literate consumers will deter scams and stimulate greater competition to provide quality financial services. They are also more likely to save, invest, and thereby strengthen Australia’s economy. The Australian Government has established the Financial Literacy Foundation to help all Australians gain skills in financial management. The Foundation’s national strategy comprises a national information campaign, a website, education programs, and researching and benchmarking financial literacy standards. Education sectors are a priority target for the Foundation, and a network of educators has already been established to collect and disseminate financial literacy initiatives. The Foundation’s website will provide a range of support for financial literacy programs, case studies, and educational resources. The National Consumer and Financial Literacy Framework, which sets out educational goals, will be included in the National Statements of Learning. Vocational education and training (VET) will also be used as a pathway for financial literacy education, with assistance from Innovation and Business Skills Australia (IBSA), and financial literacy standards have already been endorsed nationally as part of the Financial Services Training Package. A pilot of the workplace as a delivery point for financial literacy education is also underway, in partnership with ACT Master Builders Australia (MBA). Financial literacy links provided in the article include Youth Debt by the NSW Department of Fair Trading, and the 2005 OECD report on Improving Financial Literacy.
Subject HeadingsFinancial literacy
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