How outcomes-based education has infected the curriculum
16 June 2006
Outcomes Based Education (OBE) ‘enforces a dumbed down and politically correct approach to curriculum’. All
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
Re-thinking students 'at risk'
June 2006; Pages 42–45
Students who develop a pattern of academic failure tend to be labelled ‘at risk’, however some of them may simply need to be taught in a different way. Over two years the author researched the school experiences of a group of students who had been failing academically in Year 10, and who had now moved to take VCAL courses in Years 11 and 12. He found that they were generally well aware that early departure from school was linked to poor employment prospects. They associated school life with ‘sitting still’ and ‘remaining quiet’ for long periods, and with demeaning treatment such as close control over when they ate and when they took toilet breaks. Tests reinforced their self-image as academic failures. In sharp contrast, they responded well to the experience of applied learning. The fact that applied learning draws on the traditions of adult learning and workplace experience is a key reason for its success with these students. Through VCAL the practical value of their learning was immediately apparent to them. Close collaborations around practical work stimulated their acquisition of the language skills needed in those settings, which served as a bridge to the learning of abstract concepts that had eluded them in their previous classrooms. Their relationships with teachers now had much more in common with the relationships they experienced in their part-time jobs. The workplace learning context also provided opportunities for holistic, interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
VET (Vocational Education and Training)
Reward, award or recognition?
Volume 31 Number 1, 2006; Pages 6–7
Rewards as motivators have become widely used in schools in forms such as prizes, certificates, trophies and even special T-shirts. Among school students, however, extrinsic rewards can displace and undermine intrinsic motivation to perform well. For example, motivated and talented students can suffer discouragement when they are not selected to become prefects or monitors. At times the demoralisation from failure to achieve external recognition can take severe forms that require counselling of students. It is often suggested that such experiences of failure in pursuit of awards helps to prepare students for the realities of life beyond school. The more fundamental issue, however, is society’s need for people to regain a sense of satisfaction from unremarked accomplishments. Development of such intrinsic motivators can help to build a desperately needed sense of altruism in the community.
Social life and customs
The violence you don't see
Volume 63, Summer 2006
In the USA the author moved from a well-resourced suburban primary school to teach Grade 4 students in a disadvantaged area of Boston. Most of the children were from African American backgrounds. High levels of violence in the local community made classroom management a key issue. It was dealt with through a ‘worksheet culture’, high levels of teacher supervision in class and seating in straight rows. The only student work displayed in the school was written in Standard English, and student speech style was sometimes ridiculed in the staff room. Observing social interactions in class and the playground, the author found that students were intolerant of even constructive criticism from peers, and felt a relentless need to be ‘tough’ to gain respect. However, the students displayed strong social accomplishments outside school, such as cooking or supervising siblings at home. The author’s attempt to apply constructivist learning practices failed to improve students’ behaviour or academic performance. Over six weeks she asked students to explore a range of issues about the nature of violence and social interaction through whole class discussions, small groups, one-to-one dialogue and personal student journals. She then ‘freed’ her students from ‘constant grammatical corrections’ and released herself from ‘the constant pressure to teach’. Students became more responsive to her. She herself began to enjoy the richness of their language and to learn about their culture. Teaching materials that failed to connect to her students’ lives, such as posters of dolphins, were replaced with culturally relevant materials (eg about their African American heroes). She taught Standard English as ‘cash English’ needed for future employment without denigrating their ‘home speak’, which was now included in wall displays. Classes included frequent ‘think-alouds’ to share reading comprehension strategies. Culturally responsive texts were adopted. Her assessment strategies now included visual and performing arts and tape recordings. To bridge cultural barriers at the school she initiated a survey about school conditions that her class members administered to other students. The school met student demands for a range of simple material improvements such as soap and towels in the washrooms and ID badges for all school visitors. The schools’ failure to respect the culture of the school community had amounted to another form of violence, which her teaching style was now helping to overcome.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
Social life and customs
United States of America (USA)
English language teaching
ADHD in schools
June 2006; Pages 25–31
A number of developments are adding to the difficulties of students with ADHD, and their parents. The ‘neo-liberal push’ to improve productivity and efficiency has reduced funding for support officers in schools, increasing the administrative burden on teachers and reducing the time that can be spent on individual students with ADHD or other problems. The school system is being reoriented to meet the needs of the information economy, which works to ‘squeeze out’ some students. The standards-based approach to education does not acknowledge or address inequalities in educational opportunity. Its focus on measurable outcomes takes attention away from qualities such as individuality, creativity and community spirit that are hard to assess but which may be the strong points of some children. Other consequences of these economic changes are high youth unemployment and large class sizes. Students who would rather leave school are under pressure to remain there. Growing pressure on teachers may have an impact on their classroom interactions. The decline in the status of teachers makes it harder for children to ‘know where the line is’. At the same time there is a ‘decline in parenting’ in terms of time parents spend at home, supervising homework, ‘switching off television’, and having family meals together. Parents without tertiary education have less help to offer their children in adjusting to the reoriented curriculum. The focus on ADHD helps to depoliticise discussion about the social impact of these changes and to concentrate blame on individual young people. A focus on discipline problems disguises the social conditions that aggravate them. As discipline itself shifts from punishment to treatment there is more scope to tell individual students that ‘they are the problem’. A diagnosis of ADHD also justifies the prescription of pacifying drugs that soften the impact of socio-economic reforms on individuals. The article includes a list of 100 small scale techniques to deal with ADHD students, which cover the issues of seating, teacher behaviour, lesson planning, choice of classroom resources, communication with parents and building students’ organisational and social skills and self-esteem. The article is an excerpt from the author’s book ADHD: Who’s Failing Who? (see Curriculum Corporation catalogue entry). See also What's new entry in this edition of Curriculum Leadership.
The principalship: how significant is mentoring?
Volume 44 Number 1, 2006; Pages 36–52
Many countries are experiencing a leadership shortage, as teachers are deterred from pursuing school leadership by new governance models and widely reported intensification of principals’ workloads. The way in which principals are prepared for leadership varies between countries. In Singapore and the USA, aspiring principals must undertake mandated university training programs to be eligible for principalship. In Australia and New Zealand, a less formal apprenticeship model is used. Leaders begin their careers as teachers and move through the ranks to the principal role. Formal training in administration is often not undertaken until the principalship has been attained. Formal mentoring is frequently espoused as an effective strategy for preparing principals for leadership. In a review of 40 research-based papers on the subject, all reported at least some benefits from mentoring participation. The most frequently reported benefits for the mentee included support and empathy, sharing ideas and problem solving, and professional development. In the studies that also investigated the outcomes of the relationship for the mentor, the most frequently reported benefits were collegiality and networking, and professional development. These benefits seem most likely to accrue to mentors who are still active in the profession. The next most frequently reported benefits, opportunity to reflect and personal satisfaction and reward, are applicable to mentors who are retired principals and those who are still working. The 40 studies included little discussion of the potential benefits of mentoring for those not directly involved in the mentoring relationship, such as school students or the schools themselves. It is likely that mentoring may offer organisational benefits such as management continuity, employee retention or better alignment of new employees with existing organisational culture. Both mentors and mentees listed lack of mentor time and expertise or personality mismatches as the areas of most concern in their mentoring experience. These concerns highlight the care required in planning effective mentoring programs. Further research should move beyond descriptions of participants’ mentoring experiences and investigate the wider empirical outcomes of principal mentoring.
The cultural plunge: cultural immersion as a means of promoting self-awareness and cultural sensitivity among student teachers
Winter 2006; Pages 75–84
As the USA student population becomes increasingly diverse, European-American females continue to constitute the majority of educators. Many teacher education programs do not adequately prepare beginning teachers for working with diverse, high-needs students. Beginning teachers in the USA are often ethnocentric, and have had little contact with other cultures prior to entering the classroom. To address this, San Diego State University has incorporated The Cultural Plunge into its teacher education program. A cultural plunge is ‘exposure to persons or groups markedly different in culture (ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or physical exceptionality) from that of the plunger’. Students must undertake four one-hour plunges that satisfy a number of conditions: the focus group must be the majority at the plunge site; the site must be on the focus group’s ‘home turf’; and no notes may be taken. Recent plunges include attendance at an African American church service and interaction with homeless people. The aim is to provide students with experience and understanding of another culture, as well as insight into their own values and responses. Students complete a short report on each plunge, beginning by outlining their previous experiences and any stereotypes they know of with respect to the target group. They then describe their emotional responses to the group, giving reasons for their feelings. Lastly, they discuss how the plunge has reinforced or challenged stereotypes and preconceptions of the group, and the implications this will have for their career. Students frequently rate the cultural plunge among their most valuable learning experiences, confirming the impact of experiential learning. They become intensely aware of the limitations on their cultural knowledge and often feel ashamed of their ignorance. For many European-American students, the plunge is their first experience of being in a minority. They realise the value of welcoming gestures from members of the majority, and many resolve to be especially welcoming to students from minority backgrounds in their future classes. The plunges do not produce cultural experts, but they do utilise a ‘direct highway to the human heart’ to make a deep and lasting impression on many new teachers. (Full text article available free of charge via Looksmart Findarticles service.)
Subject HeadingsMulticultural education
United States of America (USA)
Gay and lesbian issues
Teaching self-efficacy, stress and coping in a major curriculum reform
Volume 44 Number 1, 2006; Pages 53–70
Major curriculum reforms in New South Wales (NSW) presented a rare opportunity to assess the effects of large-scale change on teachers’ occupational stress. In 2001, a standards-based approach was introduced in Higher School Certificate (HSC) examinations, requiring teachers to make substantial changes to their pedagogy and to their overall thinking about their work. The University of New South Wales study investigated the reforms’ effects on teachers’ stress levels, and any coping strategies they employed. In individualistic cultures like Australia’s, significant stress tends to be attributed to external entities rather than to the self, as being responsible for one’s own stress may be perceived as a form of failure. This assumption was particularly relevant to the NSW curriculum reforms, which were developed by two external agencies, the NSW Department of Education and Training and Board of Studies, which the teachers saw as distant from them. Results from teacher questionnaires supported the assumption, as stress increases relating to the changes appeared to have been compounded by teachers’ existing perceptions of school agencies and the State Government. Variations in stress levels were most frequent at the level of the individual, rather than at the school level, suggesting that support mechanisms in schools should be tailored to teachers’ individual needs. Of particular concern was the finding that teachers’ coping strategies tended to be more palliative than problem-focused. Many teachers coped by doing less or decreasing their engagement with their work, which did not correlate with any reduction in stress. Another frequently used palliative strategy was seeking distraction through non-work activities. This had a greater impact on reducing stress. Active, problem-solving coping strategies, generally expected to be most effective in alleviating stress, were not frequently used. This may be explained by the lack of control teachers felt over the change process, and emphasises the importance of empowering teachers to make individual choices in coping with change. Also surprising was a positive correlation between stress and understanding of the curriculum reforms, suggesting that those who knew more were better able to foresee stress-inducing complications.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
New South Wales (NSW)
Nonfiction in the classroom library
Volume 82 Number 4, Winter 2006; Pages 207–212
Classroom libraries are a literacy necessity, especially as many children today do not have many books available at home. Ready access to interesting books is ‘perhaps the most powerful incentive possible’ for children to read. Students in classes with libraries are likely to read more and experience flow-on benefits for reading achievement. Classroom libraries are often dominated by fiction, but it is important that they contain a wide selection of non-fiction books as well. Research shows that many students, especially male and primary-level students, find non-fiction books more attractive than fiction. Non-fiction books enable students to explore topics in depth and prepare them for the expository texts that will constitute most of their reading through all year levels and into adulthood. Experts recommend at least eight books per student for the classroom library. This goal should be attained gradually to preserve an emphasis on quality over quantity. Obtaining quality second-hand books from garage sales or parent donations can help reduce costs. Grants, book club bonus points, or teacher ‘wish lists’ submitted to parents willing to donate can also assist library-building. In choosing non-fiction texts, teachers should look for the ‘five A’s’: authority of the writer; accuracy of the content; appropriateness to the intended audience; literary artistry or quality of writing; and attractiveness of the book’s presentation. Many schools purchase non-fiction books in series, and the American Library Association provides reviews of these series to inform schools’ choices. Classroom libraries should include reference books, such as dictionaries, atlases, thesauruses and encyclopedia. Text sets may be constructed around topics of interest. Fiction/non-fiction book pairs may also be created to deepen students’ understanding, and sample pairs are provided in the article. The library environment should be cosy and inviting, with books attractively displayed. Involving students in organising and categorising non-fiction books can increase engagement. Colour-coding selected books can help students choose material at an appropriate level. Most of all, though, the classroom library should facilitate voluntary reading based on student interest, with the teacher acting as a facilitator and exemplar of the pleasure to be found in reading both non-fiction and fiction texts.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Online learning services in first gear
Winter 2006; Pages 21–23
While the possible benefits of e-learning are exciting, their cost will be measured in the effort expended by educators to use e-learning facilities. Education today needs to examine new ways of utilising e-learning’s potential to build communities of learners beyond institutional boundaries. Teachers and education visionaries have experimented with software that has come be known as learning management systems (LMS). LMS have been used successfully in distance education, where course delivery and student management are important. Typically, commercial LMS are closed software packages focused on content delivery, but also allowing for discussion, records management and student engagement. Examples include WebCT, Blackboard, TopClass or Janison. Open source LMS packages have also emerged, including the well-known Australian Moodle and LAMS. Designed by educators for educators, these packages incorporate sound theories of connectedness and constructivist learning. More needs to be done, however, for teachers to be well supported in the use of online technologies. Existing technologies are based on assumptions that technology-enabled services will be used in classrooms, and that access to web-based services will be adequate. Excellent web-based services existing in
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Crime or confusion: why do students plagiarise?
Winter 2006; Pages 19–20
The ease with which students can cut and paste information from online sources and present it as their own is of growing concern to teachers. Plagiarism, or the use of other people’s words or ideas without acknowledgement, is usually described in the emotional language of honesty and academic ethics. This reflects the seriousness with which it is regarded in academic institutions. Deliberate plagiarism arises from differences in ethical values between the student and the institution. Schools need to establish clear policies and procedures for dealing with deliberate plagiarism when it occurs. However, plagiarism is frequently unintentional, especially in the junior or middle years of schooling. Teachers should not assume that students know what they mean when they instruct them not to plagiarise. Cultural or linguistic reasons may underlie some unintentional plagiarism. In some cultures, it is considered most appropriate to use the exact words of experts or elders. Students from non-English speaking backgrounds may lack confidence in their understanding of texts, so copy them verbatim. Poor text selection skills may also give rise to plagiarism, with students copying whole texts ‘just in case’ they miss important information. Time management may be another contributing factor, as students who leave tasks until the last minute do not have sufficient time to process information and synthesise texts. As note-taking and summarising are often not addressed until senior schooling, many students have skill deficiencies in these areas. It is important to understand these possible causes of plagiarism, and move beyond simple punitive responses. Involving students in higher-order thinking tasks encourages them to undertake more complex information processing than simple regurgitation of facts. Providing ‘pathfinders’ to a small number of print or Internet resources allows students to use their time in summarising, rather than sifting through, material. Skill deficiencies that lead to plagiarism can be addressed by teaching citation, note-taking and summarising skills. Building resource evaluation into research tasks, discussing concepts of academic honesty, and setting out clear, written expectations are other useful strategies for minimising plagiarism in the classroom.
Unlocking creativity with ICT
Winter 2006; Pages 11–12
Once thought to be solely the province of the arts, creativity is now viewed as central to children’s learning across the curriculum. Creativity is imaginative and purposeful, involving authentic projects that achieve specific objectives, and do not simply replicate others’ ideas. Creative students are those who make connections that are not always obvious, explore a range of ideas and evaluate the impact of their ideas on their intended audience. Creativity can be learned and takes practice. ICT can support creativity through its immediacy, interactivity and multimodal formats. By enabling students to visualise their thinking quickly, software can help them organise their ideas and make connections between concepts. Sound and moving images in multimedia presentations often engage students, and can stimulate ideas. Ideas can be further developed using tools such as graphic organisers created in Word, for example ‘the five whys’ or fishbone diagrams. Students can be encouraged to adopt alternative perspectives using multimedia modelling software such as Microworlds, or any software that enables information to be reformatted for different genres or audience characteristics. Imagination can be enhanced with creative software such as Animate Clay or Gamemaker, which allow students to realise their ideas in animated, concrete forms. ICT is not the only agent for sparking creativity. School leaders and teachers need to build a school environment that acknowledges interesting ideas, questions how conclusions were reached, stimulates alternative thoughts, provides constructive feedback and allows adequate time for ideas to be incubated. Teachers should join in with their students and model creative thinking and behaviours.
Subject HeadingsMultimedia systems
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Arithmetic and algebra in early mathematics education
Volume 37 Number 2, 2006; Pages 87–115
Teaching algebraic reasoning to primary age children can enrich their understanding of maths, and it can help overcome the difficulties that students commonly face when they study algebra in later years. The algebraic reasoning capacity of children has been investigated in a two and a half year study by the authors. They implemented and analysed weekly maths activities in four classrooms of 69 children, aged eight to ten, in Grades 2, 3 and 4 in a mainly Latino area of Boston. A variety of mathematical ideas were presented to the childre. For example, the concept of number, including negative number, was explored through physical number lines in the form of corded string hung across the classroom. The concrete presentation of number concepts helped to maintain the engagement of students not involved in the discussions. The concept of number was later reinforced through other examples, such as financial debt. Over time the children moved to more abstract understandings. The children were repeatedly able to use the notation N to represent an unknown, variable quantity within a set of invariant relationships. They were able to apply such notation in new contexts, such as an examination of the varying heights of different students without reference to their absolute heights. Students were given open-ended tasks and benefited from rich problem contexts. In mathematics the abstract and the concrete should be treated as interwoven rather than distinct. An exclusive focus on the concrete within arithmetic may leave students with superficial understandings. Within a developmental framework, the patterns underlying arithmetical operations can be brought out to young students through algebraic notation, as well as through tables, number lines and graphs.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Quality teachers, quality teaching: towards a new agenda
Quality Teachers, Quality Teaching: Creating a new agenda for action by practitioners, researchers and policy makers
A culture of professional inquiry lies at the heart of building quality teaching. There is currently no systematic way for the insights that emerge from professional practice to inform educational decisions at a system level. Teachers are regarded as implementers of policy and curriculum developed by others. This impoverishes the educational knowledge base by foregrounding bureaucratic expertise. It promotes a façade of change, where reforms do not penetrate to a practitioner level. It also promotes superficial accountability, where teachers are held responsible for meeting targets developed away from the classroom. An inquiry-based model would establish structures and processes so that insights arising from practitioner inquiry could be aggregated and responded to at a district level. To avoid the potential pitfalls of a superficial approach to practitioner research, inquiry would need to be understood by all parties as a process of rigorous critical reflection. This would not obviate the need for central identification of system priorities, but education offices would devote more resources to responding to inquiry and research findings, providing professional development, facilitating knowledge-sharing or altering policies to reflect new insights. Inquiry would also explore the latest innovative ideas and international research. Such an approach would generate excitement and enthusiasm, deeper understandings and genuine forms of collaborative accountability. It would also break down the ‘them and us’ culture that has developed in education systems in recent years. In
Subject HeadingsEducation research
Education and state
Quality teaching for diverse learners: How an evidence-based approach can help
Quality Teachers, Quality Teaching: Creating a new agenda for action by practitioners, researchers and policy makers
The New Zealand report Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling identifies instances where outcomes-linked evidence has informed approaches to the education of diverse students. One action research study on a class of Pasifika girls failing classical studies found that encouraging students to discuss differences between their culture and ancient cultures with members of their families dramatically improved their engagement and achievement. In another case, students diarised reflections on their learning in an adaptation of the Australian ‘Thinking Books’ pedagogy. This scaffolded students’ use of metacognitive strategies and provided a ‘diagnostic window’ into students’ thinking for their teachers. A systematic policy agenda, focused on building professional capacity, seeks to bring together such outcomes-based evidence through the Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) series of research papers. However teachers face ‘death by bullet point’ unless they have time to read and absorb research, and teacher unions have unanimously called for teachers to be allocated extra time even just to read the BES reports. It is important to avoid oversimplification of complex issues and recognise that teachers need ‘a more, rather than a less, complex language of practice’. New Zealand is currently developing BES reports focusing on best practice in teacher professional development and school leadership. Improving outcomes for Maori students also presents a particular challenge for New Zealand educators. Research has revealed that many ‘deeply kind, well meaning, experienced teachers teach in ways that bring about outcomes contrary to their goals’. Te Kotahitanga, an exemplary professional learning research initiative, involves interviewing Maori secondary students about their views on education. It then brings teachers together for intensive discussion about how and why their views may differ from their students’. Providing a non-threatening environment for teachers to explore change has enabled them to move away from blaming their students for educational failure, and transformed power relationships in the classroom. The Numeracy Development Project/Te Poutama Tau is a national teacher development initiative that has led to improved outcomes for all students. Like other successful initiatives, it enables teachers to gain greater insight into students’ thinking and experiences. See previous conference abstract describing the BES reports featured in Curriculum Leadership, 3 February 2006.
Subject HeadingsNew Zealand