Forging partnerships with institutions of higher education
Volume 31 Number 1, Spring 2006; Pages 23–25
In Britain, Geography educators at a school and at a university have collaborated to encourage secondary students to continue in the subject at tertiary level. At that time the authors held the positions of Head of the Geography Department at Lampton School, a comprehensive in Hounslow West London, and Professor of Human Geography at Department of Geography at Royal Holloway University of London (RH). In 2003, a partnership was created between the two bodies. Collaboration began when the authors visited each other’s institutions to understand the learning experiences of Geography students from ages 16–21. They developed a program of events designed to provide secondary students with a taste of university and a tertiary Geography degree, to give them confidence in applying for university, and to improve their existing skills in research, writing, data interpretation and bibliographic skills for use at secondary level. Students were introduced to lecture and tutorial teaching formats, given a tour of laboratories and other facilities, and informed of the university application process. RH library staff introduced the students to the collections and information search strategies using catalogues and online and printed sources. School Geography teachers also attended events and were given access to research reports not usually available in schools. Teachers and university staff gave each other a more detailed knowledge of respective teaching approaches. Of the 15 students currently finishing final year Geography subjects at the school, eight applied for Geography courses at a tertiary institution, an unprecedented number, and seven have been accepted.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsTransitions in schooling
Scaffolding middle school students' coordination of theory and evidence
Volume 11 Number 6, December 2005; Pages 545–560
The authors of the article describe an evaluative study of Progress Portfolio (PP), a software tool that they and colleagues have created, which is designed to scaffold middle years’ science students as they learn to support hypotheses with evidence. PP allows students to capture data using a ‘data camera’ and organise it into boxes on a computer screen. Prompts can be set up to remind students of their current task. Users can also annotate the data. The study examined a class project in which students explored possible causes for the decline in the finch population on one of the Galapagos Islands, a complex investigation in which the data supported a range of hypotheses. Students used data on environment, food, predators and the physical characteristics of the birds. Two classes were studied, one using PP for recording and organising their work, and one using student journals. The project was run at the same time of year, with the same teacher and over similar time spans. In both cases the teacher emphasised the need to take detailed notes and support claims with evidence. The authors followed the work of three pairs of students in each class. All pairs of students produced various interpretations of the data, however the student pairs using journals discussed evidence in more general terms and did not feel the need to ground their cases in evidence as strongly as the PP pairs. When faced with the need to retrieve previously obtained data for evidence, the PP pairs tended to return to their online records, whereas the pairs using journals tended to regenerate the evidence. The journals pairs rarely explained the reason for their selection of data. The research supports other studies that have found that software scaffolding can help students coordinate theory and evidence. See also 'The role of computer-based cognitive artifacts in scaffolding reflective inquiry', another article reporting on the Galapagos finch evaluation, written by the authors and colleague Brian J Reiser.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
The implementation and impact of evidence-based mathematics reforms in high poverty middle schools: a multi-site, multi-year study
Volume 37 Number 1, January 2006; Pages 33–64
Middle school maths in the USA is characterised by a range of problems that have their sharpest expression in disadvantaged schools. Teachers at the same school may apply different curricula due to shortages of materials or personal preference. Rather than building on student knowledge, maths teaching tends to be repetitive across grade levels. There is a high turnover of maths teachers, who often lack training or interest in the discipline. To address these problems the four-year Talent Development Middle Years School Project was introduced at three schools in impoverished areas of Philadelphia. The project used a whole-school approach to cover Maths, English and Science and attached individual teachers to specific class groups to build up relationships. The Maths component of the project used the UCSMP’s Everyday Mathematics instructional materials to set challenging maths tasks. A plan to cover topics progressively over grade levels, instead of repeating material, was phased in during the first three years of the project. Teachers were offered monthly PD classes, undertaken out of school hours and paid for in accordance with a union agreement. PD sessions were led by experienced peers and a curriculum coach, and focused on student course work for each upcoming month. Participants were able to receive university credits on completion. In the project’s third year a summer school program provided teachers with support materials that could not always be obtained through the ‘broken supply lines’ of the under-resourced schools. While the project produced moderate gains, the disadvantaged settings severely held it back in several ways. At one school, principal turnover meant that a supportive school leader was replaced by a less supportive one. The second school was threatened with restructure during the first year of the program. The third school had fewer financial resources and faced more serious social problems than the others. A ‘near majority’ of students made significant gains in maths during the project, but the rest did not, suggesting the need for broader educational reforms. Overall, the achievement gains would not have been large enough to meet current accountability expectations set through the key No Child Left Behind Act.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
United States of America (USA)
The use and influence of outside school hours care in the first year of school
Volume 12 Number 2, 2005; Pages 73–85
Research in Victoria and New South Wales suggests that between half and two-thirds of six year olds are in some form of non-parental care outside school hours. A study has investigated the use of before and after school care on children’s development of social skills and academic capacity in the first year of school. The study covered 155 children from 12 prep classes across four government primary schools in Melbourne, and covered both school-based and private care. It was part of a wider research project investigating influences on children’s development during the first year of school. The study used a questionnaire of parents to obtain background information about the children’s personal characteristics and the time they spent in any form of non-parental care out of school hours. Classroom teachers were then asked to rate the children’s adjustment to school using the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS). Children who attended before school care were most often there for five days per week, although the next most common category was two days per week. They usually spent one hour there. Three-quarters of the children were in school-based services. After allowing for other social influences, before school care was strongly associated with the problems of ‘externalising and hyperactive behaviours’ and ‘summed problem behaviours’. Other categories associated with externalising behaviour were boys, first-born children, or students who had had early or extensive experience in child care centres. In contrast, attendance at after school care had some benign associations: it correlated with lower levels of social withdrawal, or ‘internalising behaviour’, among girls. Children were more likely to be in after school care when they were in higher-income families in which the mother worked. The strongest predictor of low levels of internalising behaviour was a father in full-time employment.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Transitions in schooling
Child care centres
Effective practices in teaching Indigenous students with conductive hearing loss
Volume 82 Number 2, Winter 2005; Pages 101–106
Incidence of conductive hearing loss (CHL) in Australian Indigenous children ranks among the highest in the world, with up to 70 per cent of children likely to be affected. This has serious implications for language acquisition, and consequently school engagement, attendance, social interaction and employment outcomes. These difficulties are often compounded by linguistic and cultural differences between Aboriginal students and the mainstream education system. CHL is a fluctuating condition, which leads to erratic language experiences for children in the crucial years of language development. However, children affected by CHL can succeed in the classroom if effective teaching strategies are employed. To date, CHL is usually addressed with classroom amplification systems. Researchers observed teachers with CHL-affected Indigenous students in 16 Western Australian schools in order to identify more effective teaching practices. All 80 teachers involved were given professional development prior to the study, and utilised data maps throughout the study to analyse their own work. Effective teachers were identified as those whose students showed the best results at the end of the two-year study period. All effective teachers focused on developing the oral language skills that underpin written literacy, providing explicit instruction in phonological awareness skills such as rhyming and syllable segmentation. They continued to teach these phonological skills concurrently with text skills beyond the students’ first year of school. Less effective teachers assumed that these skills had been established early on, and did not revisit them. Effective teachers showed awareness of the importance of ‘world skills’ for Indigenous students, building knowledge of how language works, how it is used in different contexts, and relating new knowledge to students’ life experiences. Explicitly teaching ‘the differences between home ways and school ways’ also helped students feel that their background was valued. A variety of strategies with proven results for Indigenous students were employed, including information-seeking questions (ie questions to which the teacher does not know the answer), group work, longer wait times, and positive rather than negative reinforcement.
Subject HeadingsAboriginal students
Teaching and learning
Volume 193 Number 1, January 2006; Pages 22–25
The USA’s No Child Left Behind Act requires that diverse students be included in standardised testing. Although this policy has increased the recognition and resourcing given to special needs groups, it also generates questionable results for students who ‘by their very designation can’t be compared to others’. Assessments are widely used by schools to determine grade or level promotion or retention, which has raised concerns about discrimination against students who are disadvantaged in testing. The instruments used in large-scale testing are not well-adapted to more inclusive practices. Most are heavily oriented towards text and language, which creates particular problems for ESL students. Accommodations provided for special needs students, such as extra time or reader or writer services, are often inappropriate, as educators fail to understand the complexity of special student groups. For ESL students, even test translation risks inaccuracies, as research suggests that not all concepts survive translation precisely. Special accommodations also raise the question of fairness, and where the line should be drawn between a permanent learning disability, and a difficulty which the student might reasonably be expected to overcome. Improving the design of test instruments is a preferable solution to providing accommodations ‘after the fact’. Using a principle of universal design, test developers should take into account the needs of the most restricted user, to create an instrument which is as accessible as possible to all users. This involves close adherence to the material to be tested, with minimal embellishment, for example using shorter, clearer sentences. In 2003, the state of Kentucky offered electronic versions of its standard assessments to students with special needs. Students could utilise dictation software, and change the format of the test to cater to their particular difficulties. The ability to control their own ‘accommodations’ greatly improved these students’ confidence and sense of empowerment.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
English as an additional language
Numeracy and Australian workplaces: findings and implications
Volume 19 Number 2, 2005; Pages 27–39
Two Monash University research projects investigated the application of numeracy in the workplace. If workplace activities are correlated directly to school mathematics curriculums, it appears that a relatively low level of numeracy is required for most workplace tasks. However, workers actually apply mathematical knowledge in a wide variety of situations, adapting skills to meet arising demands. Background literature for the studies showed that workplaces draw on an array of mathematical skills, including creating formulae, proportional reasoning, step-by-step problem solving and estimation, as well as the basic ability to perform accurate calculations. Ten vocations were observed in the studies, ranging from a post-office worker to chemical sprayers. The mathematical skills exercised in each workplace are described in the article. Significant difference was shown between ‘school mathematics’ and ‘workplace mathematics’, and the notion of direct transferability of core mathematics skills proved problematic. Most vocational mathematical learning was shown to take place ‘on the job’ and built on general mathematical competencies developed during compulsory schooling years, such as logical thinking and problem solving. Numeracy in the workplace was driven by context and outcomes rather than adherence to correct mathematical methods. It was best summarised by the ability to make judgements ‘whether to use mathematics … what mathematics to use, how to do it, what degree of accuracy is appropriate, and what the answer means in relation to the context’. For mathematics teaching, the findings imply that the level of mathematics skills taught should not be reduced but, rather, vocationally-oriented mathematics teaching should emphasise the potential complexity of the workplace context and the interconnectedness of tasks. For post-compulsory vocational numeracy courses, there is a need to understand numeracy as the application of a broad spectrum of mathematical skills, not just ‘basic maths’, and to encourage adult learners to build their skills continually through independent reflection on their existing knowledge and practices.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
VET (Vocational Education and Training)
Vocational education and training
Sprucing up LOTE with multimedia
Volume 16 Number 2, 2006; Pages 14–16
The author describes a variety of technologies that she has employed successfully for her Year 11 and 12 Dutch class at the Victorian School of Languages. Creating a video advertisement proved highly engaging for students, and significantly improved their Dutch through their sourcing images, writing content and recording voiceovers. Results can be viewed on the class’s website. Webquests also proved effective as a constructivist lesson format to get students researching independently. Many online resources exist to help teachers create webquests of their own, including a useful introduction and examples of webquests prepared by teachers in the USA. Digital recording technology assisted the class by streamlining oral assessment processes. A range of recording hardware is available, from a Sony MiniDisc Recorder to an iPod. Recordings can be edited using the free, open source software Audacity. The class also used recording technology to create radio programs, which have subsequently been aired on SBS Radio’s Dutch language channel. Anyzing conference software, which enables each student to type answers to questions on a communal screen, was highly valued by students for exam preparation. Other technology-based lessons used successfully in the Dutch classroom included the editing of online Dutch articles, and creating material for publication on Australian and Dutch websites.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Languages other than English (LOTE)
The leadership of multi-ethnic schools: what we know and don't know about values-driven leadership
Volume 32 Number 2, 2005; Pages 80–96
Leadership in multi-ethnic schools is more important than ever before, due to increases in immigration, student mobility, and ethnic tensions created by the infiltration of global issues into students’ everyday lives via the media. Schools are faced with the imperatives of catering to diversity while at the same time fostering social cohesion. The Effective Leadership in Multi-Ethnic Schools project investigated good leadership practice by conducting case studies of five successful head teachers in English multi-ethnic schools. These leaders demonstrated genuine passion for inclusive values, regarding their schools as places of opportunity to address social inequalities. Their school vision statements foregrounded ethnic diversity as central to their schools’ activities. They utilised inclusive organisation structures that involved all teachers in decision-making. Students were also offered greater than usual opportunities for participation, and efforts were made to reflect the schools’ ethnic profiles in bodies such as student councils. Special school practices, such as timetables that accommodated religious festivals of significant minority groups, further demonstrated that diversity was valued. The schools’ strong commitment to quality teaching was supplemented by the use of multicultural curriculum material, although this usually related to curriculum content rather than the different learning styles of minority cultures, and was constrained by national curriculum and assessment requirements. Student interviews showed that students valued, but did not expect, curriculum content that reflected their ethnicity, with some expecting to have to ‘leave their culture outside the door’ in terms of the classroom. Recruiting and retaining quality staff was a challenge for all schools in the case study, and ongoing teacher support and development was prioritised. Some schools attempted to match their staff ethnic mix to the local community and student population. Strategies for recruiting teachers who would function effectively in the challenging multicultural environment included incorporating ethnic issues explicitly into job interviews, or cultivating teaching staff from local ethnic minority backgrounds by starting them out in non-teaching staff positions. Community linkages were absolutely essential to all the schools studied. Further research into such values-driven leadership would be valuable for multi-ethnic and mainstream schools alike.
Subject HeadingsGreat Britain
Maths wars 2: it's the teaching, stupid!
Volume 87 Number 5, January 2006; Pages 356–363
Before young children can understand what it meant by counting, they must learn to classify things into different categories, and then learn to order them by magnitude, and to grasp, for example, that three of something always represents more than two of that thing. They must also learn that the property of number is independent of other properties that a particular group of things display, such as shape and size and configuration. Children can then acquire a more abstract, symbolic understanding by generalising from a range of concrete examples, discovering for example that three sticks, balloons etc always represent more than two of that entity. Poor quality maths teaching, common in the USA, tends to introduce young students to abstract, symbolic representations of the world, such as counting, before they have grasped more fundamental concepts, or have grasped the concrete realities from which the representations are generalised. Another example of a premature movement to abstract, symbolic understanding is to teach area measurement by asking students to multiply an area’s length by its width. In fact multiplication is simply a convenient ‘shorthand’ for the underlying process, which is the addition of the number of square units that compose the area. Without this initial understanding of the underlying concepts, students can only learn symbolic systems of knowledge by rote, which is superficial and easily forgotten. Conceptual structures are richly interconnected bodies of knowledge and understanding these interconnections helps students to remember each concept. Teachers need an understanding of the conceptual structure of maths, and of how children acquire understanding, in order to teach well, and impart a ‘mathematical attitude’ that equips students to apply maths to the everyday world. Teachers should be able to recognise and apply mathematical concepts in a range of settings, including unfamiliar ones. A new generation of ‘reality-based’ curriculum materials should also be created.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Transition to school: early years teachers' roles
Volume 12 Number 2, 2005; Pages 39–49
In recent decades the transition from preschool to school has moved from the concept of the child’s ‘school readiness’ to the need for schools to adapt their teaching practice, structure and curriculum to facilitate the transition for the child. An action research study by two primary teachers in Queensland has examined transition practices at a primary school with attached preschool in a large rural town. Itinerant workers, unemployed and Indigenous people form about 25-30 per cent of the school community. Data was collected from teachers’ narratives of values and preferred practices around transition issues, classroom observation and teacher interviews. The researchers found that assessment information is passed on from the preschool to the school, and that teachers visit one another’s classrooms with the children prior to school entry. However, teachers expressed dissatisfaction with the links between the preschool and the school and described a lack of continuity in approach between preschool, early years schooling and middle school. Some teachers were concerned that the focus on transition from preschool to school neglected children entering primary education with no preschool experience of pencil and paper tasks or classroom settings and demands. Staff also noted social problems introduced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and indicated that they had limited expertise and responsibility in addressing them. However, the recasting of these problems from a family deficit model to social learning issues has enabled the staff to incorporate behaviour planning within their teaching practice.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Transitions in schooling
Approaches to children, young people and mental health: confusion in the ranks, confusion among the commanders
Volume 15 Number 2, December 2005; Pages 182–194
There are two broad schools of thought on how to provide for the mental health needs of children and young people. The predominant medical model treats mental health as analogous to physical health, to be diagnosed and treated according to set criteria. Such classifications have helped to improve diagnosis, reporting, research and communication around these issues, but the use of classification also risks labelling and stigmatising sufferers, neglecting strengths in other areas and leading to ostracism and internalisation of labels. While physical health problems are open to objective measures such as blood tests, mental health problems rely on personal interpretations, so the analogy can be misleading. In contrast to the medical model, the contextual model positions the individual in social context of family, community and society. It allows for widely varying treatments of the same diagnosable condition depending on context. The disagreement between models ‘is often played out in battles between different disciplines and government departments’. Supporters of the medical model tend to be hierarchically organised in hospitals or other specialist services with ongoing funding, whereas support for the contextual model is found in dispersed project-based units and staff drawn from the social sciences. The models suggest alternative ways to spend funds, either on relatively high-cost treatments targeted on small groups or wider preventative services. To help overcome the confusion generated by this lack of consensus, the article offers a range of guidelines for school staff. Most students experiencing distress are likely to respond well to simple forms of support. In assessing troubled children or youth school staff should pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal signals. Staff should trust their intuitions, as there is a strong research base defending this approach. Look out for continuing changes in previously usual behaviour, or behaviour that is consistently extreme. Don’t rely solely on impressions from the sufferer or from any one individual around them. Invite health support services into the school prior to mental health problems arising, so that students can come to trust them prior to any need for their use. Don’t be ashamed to admit the limits of your expertise.
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
Supporting young people at school with high mental health needs
Volume 15 Number 2, December 2005; Pages 137–155
The MindMatters Plus GP program provides networks of care for secondary students with high mental health needs by promoting links between schools, doctors in general practice and Divisions of General Practice. These partnerships are usually built through a committee involving school staff, a project officer from the relevant division, parents and other sections of the school community. Early involvement of parents is crucial to success. Supportive school leadership is essential in establishing an accommodating environment and providing resources such as time release for the teachers and welfare staff. The nature of student support provided will be reflective of the each community’s needs, as shaped by particular cultural or ethnic issues or to reflect specific issues such as teenage pregnancy or the needs of refugees or rural populations. The Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies provides information on the diverse needs of young people. A wide range of services cater to the health needs of young people. Schools should carefully compile thorough knowledge of these diverse services, and need to understand the roles and responsibilities of the parties involved. The identification of at-risk students raises a range of issues. Teachers tend to effectively identify students at risk of school failure, but are less likely to notice other risk factors. Teachers tend to be able to identify cases of ‘externalising’ problem behaviour but are less effective with ‘internalising’ behaviour such as anxiety and depression. The article lists behavioural signs of possible mental health problems and difficulties often faced by young people. Confidentiality is a key issue for young people when deciding whether to request help. Doctors and school counsellors must maintain confidentiality except in cases of abuse or threats to safety of the sufferer or other people, which they are legally required to report. Consent is another key issue. Schools in Australia should be aware of the legislation that governs issues of consent to medical treatment for people under 18 years of age. Friends and family are likely to be first people to notice a young person’s mental health problems, and research has linked the involvement of parents and peers to improved treatment outcomes.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
School and community
Education - parent participation
Evidence based practice: observations from the medical sciences, implications for education
Evidence-based practice (EBP) has ‘enormous value’ as a means to implement successful change in schools using high-quality research, and as a way to derive quality research from classroom practice. EBP experiences in the field of medicine may be useful in informing education research. EBP arose as a response to ‘information overload’ caused by the volume and speed with which new knowledge was emerging, as well as expectations about transparent practices arising from an emerging consumer-driven, or student-driven, approach to service provision. Implementing EBP involves six steps. In the first step, the practitioner clinically interrogates their current practices, for example, ‘which students respond best to which method, and why?’ In the second step, practitioners structure these inquiries into searchable questions. The third step involves developing a searching strategy to navigate the wide variety of print and electronic resources available. Once information has been found, it must be appraised for quality. After appraisal, practitioners determine how to incorporate relevant ideas into their practices. In the sixth step, the effectiveness of the new strategies is assessed. In medicine, responses to EBP have not all been positive, with many fearing that practices based on experience rather than research would be invalidated. Although EBP’s potential has now become more widely recognised, time, skills and support continue to be barriers to its implementation. EBP practitioners are required to have sufficient research skills to investigate their clinical questions. The availability of quality summaries of existing research, which offer practitioners a ‘digestible’ amount of information in a short time, is essential to the EBP process. Support from colleagues and management is also necessary. A case study from the Boys Education Lighthouse Schools Project provides an example of EPB at work in education. Adopting a teacher-friendly process, which emphasised to teachers ‘how close to their normal activities good research is’, enabled the project to monitor explicit and accurate outcomes for the project without imposing a robust research agenda on the teachers involved.
Subject HeadingsEducation research
Teaching and learning