Inquiry-based curriculum integration in the secondary school
Number 3, April 2005; Pages 39–43
The Base 6 program was designed by a small New Zealand high school, Kuranui College, in 2000. The program has since been offered to the college’s Year 9 and 10 students on a voluntary basis, with around 50 per cent of students opting to participate each year. The program combines English, social studies and science curricula, incorporating all the major learning themes covered in these subject areas by mainstream classes. Base 6 students undertake two four-week self-directed projects each term. Projects are driven by students’ own interests, and involve innovative information-gathering such as community interviews and web-based research. Teachers work alongside students, offering individualised support rather than direct instruction. The program is intended to improve students’ learning outcomes, attitudes, attendance and ability to utilise self-directed learning strategies and become independent learners. Base 6 students’ assessment is structured around six skill groups (listed in the article), rather than content areas. These are assessed using formative assessment strategies such as teacher observation, student-teacher conferences and students’ self-assessment. Results from the program show increased enjoyment of classes and improved attendance rates for Base 6 students. When surveyed, Base 6 students demonstrated a similar attitude to school to non-Base 6 students. However, in-depth interviews revealed that Base 6 students tended to value skills more highly than facts, in contrast to students in mainstream classes. Students who subsequently reintegrated into mainstream classes demonstrated heightened ability to think of themselves as researchers in the classroom and work independently on self-directed investigations. There was little difference in achievement between Base 6 and mainstream students. The Base 6 program is an early example of the current shift in thinking in New Zealand curriculum development towards authentic, student-centred learning. Programs such as Base 6 are likely to grow in prominence as the new curriculum framework emerges.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Studies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsProject based learning
Urban success: a multidimensional approach with equitable outcomes
Volume 87 Number 5, January 2006; Pages 364–369
Maths teachers at a disadvantaged secondary school in California have developed a teaching program that has dramatically increased students’ academic performance in district-wide tests. The program combines group work around conceptually demanding tasks with a wide range of teaching approaches and assessments. Over four years, researchers monitored the progress of student cohorts at ‘Railside’ school, comparing them to students at two other more affluent schools using traditional teaching methods. Within two years Railside students had overtaken performances of the other students. Railside teachers set up classroom groups that were heterogeneous academically and socially. Complex instruction techniques aimed to give equal benefit to students from different social backgrounds and with different levels of academic achievement. Grades were assigned on criteria such as the ability to rephrase a question, bring different perspectives to it, justify methods and help others, beyond the standard ability to execute procedures correctly. Teachers drew on reform curricula such as the CPM and IMP. They organised units around themes such as ‘what is a linear function’ and real-world examples, such as determining the length of shoelaces needed for different shoes. A great deal of teacher time was devoted to devising problems that required the perspectives of different students, that could be solved in various ways, and which highlighted important concepts and principles. Solving the problems developed communication skills between students. Students showed high levels of engagement. Higher-ability students came to see that by assisting others they clarified their own understanding. Students’ mutual respect grew as they saw the value of having a range of perspectives. Students said this process contributed to the absence of the ethnic cliques found in other local schools. Railside did not use curriculum material specifically designed to address equity issues. Maths units were only half a year long, which was of ‘profound’ importance in offering students more ways to progress to advanced maths in later years. Intense teacher collaboration was important to the success of the program, although individual teachers at other schools may be able to apply some Railside methods. Railside students’ scores on state-wide tests were disappointing compared to the good results on district-wide tests and tests run by the researchers, which damaged teacher morale. The state test scores probably reflect the complex language used in those tests, which worked against English language learners.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
English as an additional language
The development and publication of elementary mathematics textbooks: let the buyer beware!
Volume 87 Number 5, January 2006; Pages 377–383
The quality of maths textbooks is threatened by intense market competition. Production is now concentrated into four main publishing companies, reducing the range of texts available to schools. Companies employ a range of tactics that do not always work to the advantage of schools. They tend to avoid the risk posed by innovation and instead emulate existing market leaders. They try to meet the varying demands of different states in the USA by covering many topics shallowly, aggravating an existing tendency in the curriculum identified by the TIMSS survey. Companies sometimes trial the effectiveness of new products, but generally they do not systematically gather evidence of the effectiveness of the books they have published. Publishers often promote their products as ‘research-based’ on flimsy grounds. Companies may attempt to win sales by offering a mixed package of materials that use different instructional philosophies. However, schools should select texts that are compatible with their own instructional approach, and take a number of steps to do so. They should collect and examine available books and supplements such as teacher guides. They should focus on the quality of the core materials (ie the student and teacher editions of the book), avoiding the distractions of supplementary materials. They should carefully examine who wrote the books, distinguishing core writers from others who may be prominent in the field but who serve in an advisory capacity or contribute only small sections of material. Companies tend to use ‘writers for hire’ who are able to produce large amounts of material within tight time frames but who have no lasting commitment to the product. Schools should check new editions for updated material, and check the impact of previous editions with schools that have used them. School staff should examine the quality of the publisher's evidence about a book’s effectiveness, including the number and type of schools, teachers and students noted. Inquiries should be made into professional development offered, particularly when the product covers unfamiliar content or teaching strategies.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsSchool equipment
Internationalisation of education: not an optional extra
Number 152, March 2006
The article summarises contemporary debates around the nature and implications of globalisation. Some argue that globalisation spells the end of the nation state; others claim that increased interaction between nation states makes borders more important than ever before. Some celebrate the universal availability of products and services; others lament the manifest disparities between peoples and the exploitation of human and natural resources. Rather than beginning from an abstract definition, it is more helpful to approach internationalised education from students’ direct, concrete experiences of globalised society. International students demonstrate the implications of increased mobility of people and ideas, as they use communications technology to maintain strong connections to their home country, lessening the need to integrate into their host society. Even students who have experienced internationalisation only passively will have been affected by it. Globalisation does not only change how we live, it changes how we think, as we become more aware of our interconnectedness with the world. If it is inevitable that students will have some sense of the changes that internationalisation has effected, it is teachers’ responsibility to ‘bring these issues out’. The dynamism of globalised society means that students must learn to become creators and producers of society, not just recipients or reproducers of stable societal norms. Education has always been concerned with learning about ‘others’, but growing diversity presents questions about which ‘others’ to study, and why. Choices must begin from teachers’ and students’ concrete experiences, so that the notion of ‘other’ becomes interconnected with the self, although imagination must also be applied to engage with aspects of the ‘other’ that cannot be experienced directly. The article includes three accounts of internationalisation experiences from other speakers at the symposium, and closing remarks.
Making school-driven innovations happen
Number 3, 2005
A recent evaluation by the New Zealand Council of Educational Research of Curriculum Innovation Projects (CIPs) explored the factors that supported effective change in schools. The CIPs were locally developed school or school cluster initiatives, funded through Ministry of Education grants. Seven CIPs were implemented in total, including cross-curricular and single-subject projects. All projects used innovative strategies to foster lifelong learning, ranging from teacher professional development to student projects, to videoconferencing and ICT. The first success factor identified was strategic leadership, including willingness on the part of school leaders to allocate extra resources to the initiative. A clear vision for the work, and willingness to accept contributions from all teachers involved, were essential in ensuring a sense of collective ownership. Utilisation of existing knowledge, from within the school and from similar projects elsewhere, provided a firm foundation for change. Schools needed to have a multifaceted plan to manage change and enable the initiative to become self-sustaining, based on sound understanding of change management and realistic timeframes and budgets. The change management process was supported by regular meetings between CIP school leaders, researchers and Ministry of Education staff. Strong teacher collaboration enhanced projects significantly, and teachers working in isolation were less successful than those in initiatives that adopted a whole-school approach. Collaboration with university or community partners was time-consuming, but effective when well managed by a dedicated staff member. Initiatives needed to attend to relationships between curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, and provide flexibility in each area to accommodate change in others. All initiatives recognised the importance of monitoring student outcomes, but were frustrated that standard assessments did not address the lifelong learning skills they sought to develop. Most schools also underestimated the time needed to embed professional development. Schools also found that non-contact times were absorbed by project activities.
Subject HeadingsEducational innovations
Beginning teaching: stress, satisfaction and resilience
Number 3, 2005
Many writers have agreed that the transition from teacher training to full-time teaching is challenging and stressful, but little has been written about patterns of job-related stress and satisfaction for beginning teachers. Researchers at University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education conducted a longitudinal study on 18 New Zealand beginning teachers in Auckland schools. The participating teachers came from a broad mix of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Participants were interviewed at the end of each of their first two years of teaching. At each interview they were asked to plot a graph to show stress and satisfaction levels over the year as two continuous lines, and to explain any peaks or troughs on the graphs. Stress levels fluctuated for all respondents, with significant but short-lived peaks in the first weeks of their first teaching year. In comparison, the first weeks of the second teaching year did not show abnormally high stress levels. Other stress peaks were mostly related to accountability demands, such as student portfolios and reporting. One-third of respondents showed high variability in their levels of job satisfaction. For this group, peaks in satisfaction corresponded with troughs in stress levels, and vice versa. The other two-thirds of respondents showed uniformly high to moderate levels of job satisfaction, even during stressful periods. This result indicates that this group managed stress in a positive way, and suggests that resilience to stressful situations should be fostered in teacher education programs. Three-quarters of respondents associated increased job satisfaction with observed improvement in student outcomes. Conversely, respondents’ negative, stressed responses to accountability measures may have been caused by the perception that these do not relate directly to the ‘core business’ of student learning. Beginning teacher adjustment may be facilitated by effective ‘tutor teachers’ in the most stressful early stages, and greater complementarity between ‘learning about teaching’ in pre-service programs and the ‘learning while teaching’ which occurs in the classroom.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Exploring sustainability in school leadership
Number 151, March 2006
The relentlessly increasing complexity of school leadership drives many principals to leave the profession prematurely to escape the ‘pressure cooker environment’. The author’s experience in various research projects, including the Sustaining Leadership in Australia’s Schools program, led her to devise a strategy for principals to increase their capacity to sustain peak performance in their work. The strategy draws on elite sports psychology methods for maximising mental, physical, emotional and spiritual capacities. These four sources of energy form a pyramid of performance factors, illustrated in the article. Athletes develop these capacities using strategies of ‘ritual and recovery’, whereby they deliberately oscillate between exercising and resting a mental or physical ‘muscle’, thereby becoming fully engaged with maximising their performance both when they are working, and when they are not. The first of these capacities – physical – often receives too little attention from school leaders. School leaders need to systematise sleep, diet, hydration and exercise to overcome the compromises often placed on them by the demands of the job. Emotional capacity is also important, as ‘the ability to summon positive emotions during periods of intense stress lies at the heart of effective leadership’. Self-control, self-confidence, empathy and interpersonal effectiveness are the four areas addressed by the proposed ‘ritual and recovery’ strategies for building emotional energy. Mental capacity can be enhanced with strategies of mental preparation, visualisation, positive self-talk and creativity. The top layer of the pyramid, spiritual capacity, relates to the crucial motivating force provided by core values. The potential of this force is evident among school leaders, with many harbouring a ‘deep love for their job’ and enthusiasm for education. Passion, commitment, integrity and honesty are the mainstays of spiritual energy. Strategies of ‘ritual and recovery’ to develop these areas can include such exercises as arriving at meetings on time and being appropriately prepared. Conscientious adherence to exercise and recovery rituals is necessary to perform the ‘incredible mental gymnastic task’ of sustainable, effective leadership.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
What do Year 8 students know and understand about New Zealand society? Findings from a NEMP probe study
Number 3, 2005; Pages 21–25
The New Zealand social studies curriculum sets out 19 ‘essential learning areas about New Zealand society’ (ELANZS). University of Auckland researchers investigated the extent of Year 8 students’ knowledge of these areas by analysing 2001 data from the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP), which conducts annual surveys of student achievement. They began by establishing linkages between the ELANZS and the social studies tasks assessed during NEMP testing. In total, 14 of the 19 ELANZS could be linked to a specific NEMP task, and 37 of the 41 NEMP tasks could be linked back to one or more ELANZS. A table of these linkages is provided. Researchers then examined achievement data for each task. The only clear ELANZS area of strength was ‘the physical environment of New Zealand and how people interact with the landscape’, which related to three NEMP tasks on which students performed well. Students’ knowledge was shown to be weak in two ELANZS, relating to systems of law and government, and the characteristics, roles and cultural expressions of diverse groups in New Zealand society. Weakness was also suggested in three further ELANZS, relating to Mâori culture and heritage, natural and cultural landmarks, and patterns of resource use. A majority of ELANZS showed weak to moderate student understanding. A related small-scale study reported that teachers share the researchers’ misgivings with respect to student understanding about New Zealand society. However, they struggle to address ELANZS in their social studies classes due to time pressures created by other requirements. A 1999 Ministry of Education investigation also revealed uncertainty among teachers about how to incorporate ELANZS into their programs. This is exacerbated by the number of ELANZS areas, their broad nature, challenging language, potentially controversial content, and the lack of available training and support. Deficiencies in teachers’ own content knowledge may be another contributing factor. These same factors may also inhibit improved integration of ELANZS into NEMP testing, which would be necessary to truly gauge students’ understanding of these essential learning areas.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsNew Zealand
Exploring a four-step science teaching and learning sequence for sustainable living
Volume 52 Number 1, Autumn 2006; Pages 39–41
Science Education for Sustainable Living (SESL) is a step beyond Environmental Education, as students focus more specifically on cause and effect, consider scientific evidence to produce justifiable solutions, and undertake action. As a new area of education, teaching processes must be developed for SESL. Pre-service teachers from the Queensland University of Technology’s Faculty of Education have used a four-step learning model to teach sustainable living concepts to Years 6 and 7 students. To teach SESL effectively, teachers should first learn about the key scientific concepts involved through professional development or pre-service courses. The pre-service teachers covered various sustainable living issues in tutorials before developing four-step learning sequences on frog habitats and the effects of chemicals on water. Step one required students to identify the issue, its causes and effects. In step two students explored concepts through discussion and experimentation. One group of students built a frog habitat and analysed the impact of construction, plastic bags and chemical samples, while the other group tested pH levels of red cabbage water after adding various household chemicals. In step three, students recorded and articulated understandings by drawing frog habitats before and after human impact, and graphing the effects of various chemicals on water. Students were then required to brainstorm realistic solutions and/or future projects in step four. Ideas for further investigation included cleaning up local rivers, identifying the animals endangered by water pollution, and exploring the impact of new housing developments on frog habitats. Students were engaged in both lessons, but some of those studying frog habitats lacked realistic suggestions to action future projects. Pedagogical practices to help students learn how to make connections with local issues, communicate with local government bodies and use the Internet to develop investigations should be developed.
Key Learning AreasScience
Non-discriminatory assessment: considerations for gifted education
Volume 50 Number 1, Winter 2006; Pages 42–51
Students from diverse cultural backgrounds are under-represented in the USA’s gifted education programs. Gifted students are often identified using standardised intelligence tests, and the appropriateness of these tests for culturally or linguistically diverse students has been called into question. Tests may be culturally biased, if they require significant understanding of national culture, or linguistically biased, if students with better English skills are likely to score more highly. Ensuring test instruments have the least possible cultural or linguistic bias may involve new ways of applying traditional instruments, such as testing bilingually, extending time constraints, or accepting alternative response formats such as gestures. It may also require additional probing of incorrect responses, utilising alternative testing instruments such as portfolio assessments, or examining the reasoning behind students’ responses, to assess metacognitive competencies. Non-discriminatory testing involves minimising bias in more than just the test instruments. Educators’ personal and professional biases may lead them to interpret test results in a way that confirms their own presuppositions about certain groups. To overcome this tendency, assessment practices should be guided by an ‘assumption of normality’; that is, assuming that a low assessment score results firstly from external factors such as upbringing or environment. Before assessing, educators should evaluate factors in each student’s background that may inhibit learning (their ‘learning ecology’), as well as their language proficiency and the learning opportunities that have been available to them. This ‘learning ecology’ should be considered when evaluating assessment data. Schools should involve at least one person trained in cross-cultural issues in each assessment. Assessment outcomes should inform teaching practices and the learning opportunities provided to students, which should in turn be evaluated using subsequent assessment data, in a continuous cycle of improvement. Schools should examine the demographics of their gifted programs and should not base entry into these programs on a single test score. Although it has been argued that no assessment can be fully non-discriminatory, every effort should be made to ensure testing systems do not limit opportunities for diverse student groups.
Gifted and talented (GAT) children
United States of America (USA)
What do schools really want in a language teacher?
The author undertook content analysis of job advertisements for language teachers placed by non-government schools in NSW to ascertain whether they described what schools are really looking for. Schools that had advertised vacancies were asked to rank the importance of attributes compiled from the advertisements, and answer an open-ended question about what would most influence their decision as to who to employ. Surveys were received from 34 schools, two of which were primary. A review of background literature revealed that definitions of what constitutes a good teacher or ‘best practice’ vary considerably. In the advertisements, schools appeared to take a ‘holistic’ approach to teacher recruitment, looking for a well-rounded individual who would contribute to their school community. Most advertisements sought only ‘suitable’ qualifications, with a very small number looking for expertise beyond standard requirements. Personality and conformity with the school’s religion or ethos were more often mentioned than language qualifications, although qualifications may have been assumed to be a ‘given’ that did not need stating. Enthusiasm was the most frequently mentioned personality trait. In the surveys, language proficiency was most commonly ranked as the strongest influence on the selection of a language teacher, with qualifications ranked second. The importance of proficiency depended to some extent on the level to be taught, as, at some levels, students’ enjoyment of the learning experience was considered more important than the teacher’s content knowledge. The third most important attribute was ‘a vibrant and enthusiastic personality’. Evidence of professional development was the fourth most important attribute for school survey respondents, although it was hardly ever mentioned in the advertisements. Schools differed in their responses to open-ended questions, but there seemed to be broad agreement that, once adequate professional competence had been established, a teacher’s personal traits and conformance with the school’s ethos became most important.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsTeachers' employment
Languages other than English (LOTE)
Language and languages
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