Bypassed by the boom
28 June 2006; Pages 8–9
Western Australia's booming economy has raised the Indigenous employment level to only 42 per cent, just 4 per cent higher than the level of the 1960s. A recent report on the condition of Indigenous people in the Pilbara region found that less than 20 per cent are in mainstream employment, and that three-quarters of those employed earn less than $500 per week. The school system in the region has failed to produce adequate literacy and numeracy skills among Indigenous young adults, most of whose literacy skills are estimated to be at or below Grade 4 level. The absence of such skills is a major barrier to employment. The problem is illustrated by the fact that a driver's licence is crucial for many jobs in the region, but requires applicants to pass a computer-based test that demands skills in ICT and general literacy well beyond the reach of most Indigenous people. The mining company Rio Tinto Australia has funded a range of remedial programs for Indigenous people, spurred by requirements under native title agreements to employ them, and by fears that Indigenous social breakdown will discourage miners and other skilled workers from relocating to the area. If key barriers can be overcome there is significant potential for Indigenous employment in the Pilbara, in forms such as land management, the arts, tourism, environmental monitoring, the husbandry of camels for commercial use or export, and the dissemination of cultural knowledge that is ‘emerging as an industry’.
Subject HeadingsWestern Australia (WA)
Sustaining innovations through lead teacher learning: a learning sciences perspective on supporting professional development
Volume 17 Number 2, June 2006; Pages 181–194
LeTUS, a partnership between a school district and two universities in the USA, has enhanced the teaching skills of middle years science teachers through the use of a ‘learning sciences’ approach to professional development. Learning sciences is an interdisciplinary approach. It is socio-cognitive, focusing on how individual cognition develops within a social and physical context, and situated in practical contexts. For eight years LeTUS has developed curriculum units for science teachers in the middle years. The article describes the section of the LeTUS partnership involving Detroit schools, in a disadvantaged area with an overwhelmingly African-American population. Lead teachers, experienced in implementing LeTUS units into their classroom practice, were asked to plan and conduct work circles, and university LeTUS coordinators re-oriented their own research on teacher learning to support the leadership work of these teachers. The work circles included a specialist in science teaching from the school district, lead teachers from each of the grade levels 6, 7 and 8, and two members of the LeTUS research group at the university. The researchers videotaped and recorded field notes from 14 monthly five-hour planning meetings over 2003–04. Issues and problems spanned district-level procedural changes to strategies for improving student learning. Two examples illustrate the value of the work circles. The first involved developing strategies to help students create scientific explanations by supporting claims with evidence and reasoning, a task that students had struggled with in high stakes state-wide exams. One lead teacher, for example, described her use of a graphic organiser to link claims to evidence, and her subsequent difficulty in weaning students from this level of scaffolding. Over time the work circles allowed participants to align goals and share concepts and terms more closely. They established goals specific to each level for improving students’ ability to create scientific explanations, with grade 6 students to concentrate on making scientific claims and citing evidence, and grade 8 students asked to perform more complex work such as considering alternative explanations for phenomena. University participants provided advanced scientific knowledge, overviews of relevant professional development literature, and information about the use of ICT in the classroom. A second example in the article describes ways that teachers learnt how to improve their students’ use of concept mapping.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Schools and the Internet: can the law help?
Volume 31 Number 1, 2006; Pages 8–15
Undesirable content on the Internet, such as pornography and sites promoting racism or other forms of prejudice or violence, should be dealt with by schools and parents rather than legislation. However, there should be laws banning the manipulation of Internet-related technology for illegal, intimidatory or offensive acts. Such manipulation is a far greater threat than offensive content. It is used not only to redirect search results to undesired sites but also to collect user names and passwords without consent, for undesired purposes, in forms that are difficult to detect or delete from home computers. Most forms of such manipulation are currently legal. Schools have a duty of care regarding students’ involvement with the Internet. Schools’ degree of responsibility may be seen to vary according to students’ age, maturity and resilience. Claims of negligence may arise if schools fail to apply adequate safeguards against invasion of students’ privacy, cyber bullying, or psychological harm to students in forms such as exposure to sexual solicitation or addiction to Internet surfing. Blocking and filtering programs are increasingly discredited in the findings of expert studies such as the report by the USA’s Kaiser Family Foundation. Reliance on blocking software continually raises the need for legal judgements as to what constitutes objectionable content. Australia currently has no agreed definition of objectionable content. In the absence of effective artificial intelligence, human mediation of Internet activity may be needed by spending substantial resources to hire law enforcement, social advocacy, educational and academic experts to monitor content and offer advice to users. Governments should use schools as channels though which to inform parents about Internet education programs. Young people should be taught philosophical and ethical principles to distinguish what is noble from ‘simple wickedness’. Young people should also learn that society determines such ethical issues ‘by consensus’. Internet technology is no longer used simply to respond to our online requests. Increasingly it is used to capture and assemble details about us, predict our needs and wants and initiate proposals to us, as shown for example on Amazon.com. These developments reinforce the importance of maintaining ethical principals and a critical approach to new technology.
Subject HeadingsSocial life and customs
Parent and child
School and community
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Duty of care
Computers in society
17 July 2006; Page 6 (Business)
Victorians have recently been ‘subjected to a sophisticated public relations campaign’ highlighting the poor condition of government schools and presenting public-private partnerships (PPP) as the best way to fund new construction. In previous decades Victorian governments funded the entire cost of school construction themselves, despite a smaller tax base. A report by Britain’s Audit Commission last year found that schools funded through the private finance initiative (PFI) ‘can't show value for money’, repeating concerns previously raised by Audit Scotland. The New South Wales’ Government’s New Schools Privately Financed Project (PFP) is a form of PPP. The scheme received a favourable audit by the State Auditor-General, but the claims made by the audit are open to question because the PFP provides private rather than public tax benefits, and increases public rather than private risk. The PFP has not led to improved school building design nor has it simplified the Government’s management processes. Claims of lower procurement costs and improved asset maintenance are also open to question. The PFP’s financial costs are ‘significantly higher than debt financing’. Private schools are not moving towards PFP-style funding because ‘they know that ultimately the additional cost of this form of funding will be at the expense of more real education priorities’.
Subject HeadingsNew South Wales (NSW)
Teaching literacy: a teacher-educator's response
July 2006; Pages 37–40
The recommendations of the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy are likely to be adopted, at least in part, given that it was initiated by an Australian Government in control of both houses of parliament, with the ability to use its funding to influence the education policies of State and Territory governments. The Terms of Reference of the Inquiry focus excessively on the issue of reading, at the expense of listening, speaking and writing. The report acknowledges, in passing, that literacy teaching requires an integrated approach that avoids instructional extremes. In fact, however, the report’s overwhelming emphasis is on the need for phonics instruction in schools, especially with regard to early literacy learning. The emphasis on phonics is achieved through frequent repetition of statements about the need for phonics-based instruction, the overall amount of text devoted to phonics, the ordering of different issues and the paucity of material about other approaches to literacy learning. The existence of a ‘predetermined, conservative’ agenda behind the report is suggested in a media release by the then Australian Government Minister for Education, Brendan Nelson, which states that the Inquiry would be informed by a literature review, for which much of the work had already been done. Central to the report is a sharp counter-position between phonics and a whole of language approach to literacy teaching. Many of the 453 submissions to the Inquiry describe this dichotomy as false and reductionist, asserting instead that different students need a different balance between instructional approaches (eg submissions 225, 287, 288, 293 and 420). The report exaggerates the influence of the whole of language approach to literacy in teacher education institutions. It also conflates the whole of language approach with constructivism, arguing that teaching methods based on these theories are ineffective for the teaching of reading. This claim relies on the findings of a survey of 24 teachers and the training they had received in maths, not reading or literacy, during the 1990s. There is danger that the report’s call for evidence-based research will be interpreted so as to downplay the value of qualitative studies. The article originally appeared in Opinion.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEducation research
English language teaching
Bridging the gap between theory and practice: connecting courses with field experiences
Volume 33 Number 1, Winter 2006; Pages 19–35
In the USA, the professional development school (PDS) model has been used as a means to establish linkages between theory and practice for pre-service teachers, and to allow the school and tertiary education faculties to share knowledge and expertise. The Department of Special Education at the University of South Florida has developed an enhanced version of the PDS model. A group of 19 preservice teachers were all located at one school, providing them with a uniform teaching experience in terms of classroom practices and overall quality. As well, three subjects in the preservice teachers’ coursework were now taught on the school premises. This move allowed teaching practices to be shown through direct observation of class lessons rather than videotapes, concretising issues and permitting teachable moments to be seized. The participants’ experiences were recorded through group interviews spanning the semester, followed up by individual questionnaires. The new practicum model helped the preservice teachers to concretise teaching theory. It gave their instructors a clearer sense of the content that their students were able to apply in the classroom, and of the linkages that the students made between theory and practice. The revised model required a range of logistical changes for the school and the university, in terms of class scheduling and the organisation of observation times by university supervisors. The emphasis in these sessions has moved from evaluation of performance to professional development of the preservice teachers. Supervising teachers based at the school now receive university recognition for their role.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Building a bridge from music to other disciplines: a successful cross-curricular project
Volume 13 Number 5, April 2006; Pages 52–55
A music teacher in a New York girls’ school created an innovative partnership between her eighth-grade viola class and a fourth-grade writing class in an adjoining classroom. The relationship began when the writing class composed poems about music to help the music class decorate their room. This led to a sharing day of poetry recital and musical performance between the two classes. The two teachers then devised a project in which the fourth-grade class wrote stories incorporating musical sounds. The eighth-graders met with the story groups for a short time each period to find out which sounds they wanted, then worked out how to create them. Activities in the music classroom included studying old radio shows where all sound effects had to be generated live, without computers, and experimenting with expressing different emotions on the viola. In their stories students could use any sounds that could be made without damaging the instruments. Each fourth-grade story group was encouraged to become a musical ensemble itself, developing a repertoire of sounds that related to emotions or actual events in the story. At the end of the project, both classes shared their work in a joint program for the school. This sparked the interest of other classes in how music could be incorporated into their lessons, and raised awareness of the importance of music in the curriculum. The project improved the technical and notation skills of the viola class, and the writing and computer skills of the fourth-grade students. It also created a powerful inclusive learning community between the two classes. The younger children developed relationships with older role models, and the older children gained greater awareness of their ability to contribute to the school community. Brief outlines of the three stories and their musical accompaniments are provided in the article.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Integrating coursework and field placement: the impact on preservice elementary mathematics teachers' connections to teaching
Volume 33 Number 1, Winter 2006; Pages 37–56
Past research has suggested that increasing student teachers’ exposure to real school life will improve their understanding of the link between coursework and future teaching practices. A US study divided 47 preservice elementary teachers completing a mathematics methods course into two groups. The first group completed a traditional program of coursework on the university campus, and short-term placements in different schools. The second group completed the same coursework, but their classes took place in an elementary school. This group was required to be at the school throughout the school day, four to five days per week. This enabled them to experience a close relationship with the school, spending time with teachers, children and other school staff between their classes and watching demonstration lessons in actual classroom situations. The student teachers’ reflective journals revealed marked differences between the two groups. The university-based group perceived themselves as ‘visitors’ rather than participants in their placement schools. Their relationships with their classes focused on controlling behaviour and whether the children were ‘paying attention’. Success was most often conceived in terms of their ability to ‘perform’ the lessons to their student ‘audience’, or accomplish predetermined objectives. The second group saw themselves more as employees of the school. Reflections on their lessons seemed more concerned with them paying attention to the children, with frequent mention of how lessons had been adapted to meet individual learners’ needs, and expressions of genuine desire to understand children’s thinking. The group had benefited from the opportunity to seek guidance regularly from classroom teachers, and visit their classes on consecutive days to see the learning process unfold. They tended to measure their own success in terms of their students’ learning. Many of their observations referred to ‘their’ future classrooms, demonstrating awareness of their status as emerging professionals. Many factors may explain the differences between groups, but the study does suggest that greater integration of coursework and field placements may assist in the transition to the workforce for newly qualified teachers.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
United States of America (USA)
Effective professional development and change in practice: barriers science teachers encounter and implications for reform
Volume 106 Number 3, March 2006; Pages 150–161
There is increasing pressure on US science teachers to adhere to prescribed standards, including standards for inquiry-based learning. The 1996 National Science Education Standards (NSES) recommend ‘a student-centred instructional environment that engages students in socially interactive scientific inquiry’. Research shows that few teachers are implementing this recommendation effectively. Science education stakeholders have tried to provide professional development programs to improve science teachers’ content knowledge, pedagogy and confidence using standards-based education, but often these programs are too short to be effective. The Model School Initiative is a longer-term program that engages whole school departments, university partners and school administrators in collaborative, sustained professional development. A study of the program, comprising teacher interviews and classroom observations, revealed the barriers teachers face in implementing reform in the science classroom. The first set of barriers is technical, relating to gaps in content or pedagogical knowledge. Teachers who have been taught ‘only to cope instead of teach effectively’ will struggle with new practices. The second type of barrier is political, relating to the level of support from school administration for the reforms. Political obstacles encountered by teachers in the study typically included reluctance to allocate time or resources to new practices. Barriers may also be cultural, where teachers’ own values or beliefs prevent them from effectively implementing change. These barriers are hard to overcome, and science educators need opportunities to actively practise and experience new teaching practices to foster belief in the possibilities of inquiry-based education. A cultural barrier frequently reported by study participants was ‘the preparation ethic’, where teachers feel bound to prepare their students for upcoming tests. Participants resisted the NSES recommendations because they felt they were in conflict with state assessments. This revealed their limited understanding of the reforms, and frequent failure to correlate the development of science process skills with the ability to apply these skills to reach solutions, both in the real world and in assessments. Teachers need to realise that teaching through inquiry and teaching towards assessments are neither unrelated nor incompatible.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsInquiry based learning
United States of America (USA)
Science learning centres and governmental policy for continuing professional development (CPD) in England
Volume 32 Number 1, March 2006; Pages 85–102
One national and nine regional Science Learning Centres (SLCs) were established across the
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsGreat Britain
Volume 32 Number 1, March 2006; Pages 5–12
Britain’s high attrition rate for newly qualified teachers points to a need to improve teacher support. Induction programs for beginning teachers are suffering from a form of ‘educational vandalism’, where the long-term benefits of effective professional development are being overlooked in favour of short-term financial savings. Government policy has contributed to the erosion of professional development funds. Previously, a percentage of the funding provided to schools was ring-fenced for professional development, but schools are now given a ‘big pot of funding’ from which to choose their own priorities. In many schools, beginning teachers are presented with challenging situations and little support as a kind of initiation into ‘real’ teaching, while the best classes and resources are reserved to reward experienced teachers. Mentoring, an important support for new teachers, is often provided by other classroom teachers who do not have sufficient time, training or remuneration to be effective in the role. Some schools, especially those with high staff turnover, employ more beginning teachers than they can afford to support. Teachers sometimes ‘vandalise’ their own learning through an irresponsible attitude to professional development, regarding training as a chance for a day off. Others use professional development grants to pursue areas of personal interest. Although allowing teachers to choose what they study may positively affect their motivation and performance, specialised training does not reflect the intended purpose of beginning teachers’ grants, and may be more appropriate as a motivational boost for established teachers. All teachers should have an entitlement to and responsibility for ongoing professional development throughout their careers. Schools need to give teachers time both for sustained reflection and structured learning. Teachers must develop their ability to identify their professional development needs, and to plan their learning and long-term careers. School-based learning should be recognised in teacher accreditations alongside formal course participation, and teacher mentoring skills should be fostered to enhance learning opportunities within the school community.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Beneath the covers: thinking through literature
March 2006; Pages 15–20
Current curriculum development in Australia recognises the need to go beyond reading and writing, and equip students with the critical literacy skills they need to respond to texts and engage more meaningfully with the world around them. The article outlines graphic tools that can be used in the classroom to facilitate critical reading. The resource focused on in explaining these tools is the picture book, selected because the interplay between the author’s and illustrator’s choices about which elements of the text to portray creates rich ground for critical literacy discussion. The first tool, the fishbone diagram, is useful for problem-solving or organising facts. A focus topic is placed at the head of the ‘fish’, and its positive and negative elements are respectively placed above and below the ‘spine’. ‘Ribs’ on the diagram enable information to be organised into sub-topics. Venn diagrams can be used to help students identify areas of similarity and difference for a given topic, using interlocking circles to show the intersection between two concepts. Diamond displays are graphic organisers that move students away from factual recall and enable them to apply judgement about the relevance of what they read. Students list significant points about a topic or issue, then arrange them into a diamond shape. The largest number of points are likely to be of moderate importance, so will be positioned across the widest point of the diamond where there is most room to accommodate them. The diamond tapers towards the most and least important points at each end. Word webs and mind maps add a further dimension to graphical organisation of text, as they may include visual and pictorial elements as well as words. Story mapping builds on a similar concept to organise events into logical sequences. Y charts are graphic organisers that divide student responses to text into three categories: ‘looks like’, ‘smells like’ and ‘feels like’. Students are encouraged to delve deeply into how the text makes them feel, providing a first insight into the standpoint the author is trying to convey. All tools described provide a starting point for challenging students to engage in deeper levels of understanding in their reading.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
Primary schools, information literacy and Tasmania's Essential Learnings: how important is the teacher librarian?
Volume 20 Number 1, March 2006; Pages 33–36
In 2005, a new curriculum framework was implemented in K–10 government schools in Tasmania, comprising five Essential Learnings and 18 key element outcomes. The key element outcome Being information literate is derived from the Essential Learnings of Communicating and Thinking. The skills and values that characterise information literacy are comprehensively described in a framework issued by The Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy. Many of these have been traditionally taught or embodied by teacher librarians. A 2003 review of available research found evidence that a strong school library program can enhance student achievement, independent learning and staff professional development, but no research to illuminate the contribution of teacher librarians themselves. Nevertheless, the Tasmanian Department of Education has identified teacher librarians as ‘best placed’ to assist teachers with the task of integrating information literacy skills across the curriculum. In addition, teacher librarians are ideally positioned to advocate and undertake information literacy instruction themselves, tailor the library’s resources to teaching all Essential Learnings, and help school leaders keep abreast of the latest curriculum and management developments. Not all teacher librarians are able to fulfil the potential of their role. Much depends on the support they receive from the principal, both in resourcing the library and creating a school environment that promotes library use. The high teacher workload brought about by large-scale curriculum change is also leaving insufficient time for teachers to engage with the practicalities of implementing information literacy instruction, including exploring possibilities for collaborative planning. In an environment of rapid change and high competition for school resources, teacher librarians must remain visible, flexible and proactive in their schools, especially in their dealings with principals, so that schools can appreciate the benefits of an effective school library program. Unfortunately, with the number of teacher librarians rapidly declining, fewer opportunities exist to showcase the contributions of effective school librarians and attract recognition from schools of the importance of their role. (Note: Tasmania's curriculum is currently under review. See What's new item and abstract in last week's edition of Curriculum Leadership.)
Subject HeadingsCompulsory education
Volume 63 Number 8, May 2006; Pages 28–31
The influential 1983 US education report A Nation at Risk cautioned that Americans were being overtaken in commerce, industry, science and technological innovation by competitors throughout the world. Yet the USA continues to dominate scientific and technological advancement, leading the computer and Internet industries and accounting for two-thirds of new patents issued in 2002. USA’s ongoing success cannot be attributed to the report’s ability to stem the downward trend, as it is widely recognised that the reforms it recommended have not yet been fully implemented. Nor can talented immigrants be used to explain its survival, as the great majority of science and technology-related occupations in the USA are occupied by US-born citizens. A new wave of reform now in place uses a similar rhetoric to the 1983 report. The USA is falling behind competing countries in assessment scores and numbers of qualified graduates, so educators are being urged to direct their energies towards raising student achievement in standardised tests. This shows a lack of understanding on the part of reformers about what needs fixing in USA education, and what it really takes to compete internationally. It is the USA’s creative, risk-taking, can-do spirit that is the envy of other nations and the driving force behind its success. As centralised standards come to dominate USA classrooms, other countries such as China are pushing to introduce more flexibility into their education systems to foster innovation. Standards-based learning may in fact stifle the creativity that gives USA its competitive edge. USA education reformers would serve its international standing better by addressing the lack of focus on international issues in the USA curriculum, and the lack of opportunity impoverished children have to participate in the globalised world. Globalisation will favour entrepreneurs who can market innovations to other countries without being perceived as arrogant or imperialistic. This requires the education system to foster intercultural understanding, and recognise that other countries’ successes are not threats, but opportunities to further expand American economic interests.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Advertising advantage: the International Baccalaureate, social justice and the marketisation of schooling
Adelaide is poised to become the city with the most schools offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) in the world. The original philosophical basis of the IB was a blend of realism and idealism. On one hand, it represented a pragmatic response to the demands of an increasingly mobile business community for an internationally recognised curriculum. On the other, it sought to promote international understanding, emphasising languages and humanities to foster appreciation of diverse cultures. The schools offering IB in South Australia seem more concerned with its pragmatic than idealistic potential. The growth of marketisation in the education sector has created an environment where schools must seek to gain competitive advantage. This is especially relevant in Australia, which has the largest private school system in the Western world. Advertising has become a normal activity for education providers, and the IB is one of a plethora of devices used by schools to gain a competitive edge. Analysis was undertaken of all advertisements for Adelaide schools placed in South Australia’s daily newspaper, The Advertiser, in 2003. Of the 145 advertisements placed, 40 mentioned the IB. These advertisements came from ten schools, nine private and one public, all located in Adelaide’s most prestigious suburbs. The advertisements made no mention of the social ideals behind the IB, promoting it instead as a commodity which facilitates international mobility and competitive advantage academically. The advertisements reflected academic and cultural elitism, depicting a mostly homogeneous student population and emphasising ‘excellence’ rather than intercultural understanding. Text and images in the advertisements suggested conservative conceptualisations of family and unequal gender relationships. Qualities of individual entrepreneurialism were emphasised, and no representation was visible of activities associated with cooperation or social responsibility, such as community involvement, group work or team sports. All boys were good looking with short hair; all girls had long hair tied back and attractive, cheerful faces. All schools advertised in the study promoted not social justice but social advantage, reproducing gender and class inequalities and valorising the individual over the collective good.