Living by the clock: the tyranny of the secondary school timetable
February 2007; Pages 1–14
Interviews with six women secondary teachers in South Australian schools explored their reasons for choosing secondary teaching, and the impact of this choice on their lives outside of work. Prior studies of women teachers have postulated that women most often choose teaching because of a desire to work with children, or because they believe the relatively short day at the workplace and the school holidays will be compatible with home and family commitments. The interviews found little evidence to support either contention. Most of the six women had chosen teaching either ‘by default’ or because they saw secondary teaching as an opportunity to use a discipline they knew and enjoyed. Neither did their responses support previous research findings that women teachers find problems with school administrators to be the most challenging aspect of the secondary school as a workplace. The relationships they reported with administrative staff were generally supportive and collegial. The small number of problems they reported with colleagues related to pressure on female staff, especially the younger ones, to ‘look good’. The most challenging aspect of the secondary school workplace was the timetable. Secondary school timetables are usually organised according to ‘periods’ of around 50 to 55 minutes, rotated on a six- or seven-day cycle. While students move between classes, teachers often stay in the same classroom all day, often experiencing little contact with their colleagues. The periodised timetable means that even part-time subject teachers often need to come in to school for a short time every day, and that these times are likely to be different every week. For women teachers scheduling childcare and other non-work commitments, the consequences are complicated and exhausting. All of the women reported taking school work home, often done late at night after several hours of domestic duties. The two teachers with young children in the study were reluctantly considering career options outside teaching. More flexible timetabling arrangements are needed to enable women to pursue family and other commitments while maintaining a professional career in secondary teaching.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Rights and obligations
February 2007; Pages 16–19
A little knowledge about employment rights and obligations can provide teachers with a great deal of protection. Like all professions, Australian teachers’ terms of employment are covered by the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard, and various parliamentary acts including anti-discrimination legislation, occupational health and safety regulation and the new ‘WorkChoices’ provisions. Teachers' employment is also regulated by the awards or collective agreements of their particular workplace, or their individual Australian Workplace Agreement (AWA). Teachers in government schools are employed under statutes, with detailed regulations. For example, the Victorian Teaching Service Orders stipulate matters such as hours of work and the need to maintain order and discipline in the classroom. In addition, expectations for teachers are set out in statutes relating to teacher registration. Lastly, every teacher enters into an individual contractual relationship with their employer, separate from the legal relationship established by the award or AWA. Each contract contains both express and implied terms. Express terms are clearly stated duties and obligations, such as the starting date or subjects to be taught. Implied terms are regarded as inherent in any employer-employee relationship and fall into four categories: duty to exercise care and skill; duty of fidelity and honesty; duty to obey lawful and reasonable orders; and duty to comply with professional standards. Given the traditionally broad scope of a teacher’s role, it can be unclear whether specific duties fall within a teacher’s contracted obligations. Working after school hours to prepare or assess student work is expected as part of teachers’ compliance with professional standards, even though their contract may only oblige them to be at school at particular times. Employers’ duties include: duty to pay wages; to provide a safe workplace; to compensate for expenses incurred on the employer’s behalf; and a duty of fidelity, recently established to ensure employers treat employees with dignity and respect.
Subject HeadingsTeachers' employment
What's wrong with school improvement?
Number 2, 2006; Pages 21–22
School improvement has been the dominant paradigm informing educational policy and practice for a generation. It is reflected in an emphasis on school leadership, prioritising of school improvement strategies and use of accountability models that measure the performance of individual institutions. The combination of an emphasis on outcomes and the improvement of internal school processes has undoubtedly had some positive results in how schools function and perform. However, it has moved education policy from being enabling to being deterministic, as school standards and regulations become increasingly specific. Nor has it questioned the pre-eminence of the school as the optimum means of organising education. In fact, education has come to be defined as the outcome of schooling. This overlooks important differences between the two concepts. While schooling is linear, fragmented and amenable to systems of management, measurement and control, education is adaptive, holistic and oriented towards processes rather than outcomes. Although school improvement may benefit schooling, its impact on education is debatable. It also begs the question of how long something can go on being improved before it needs to be replaced with a new model entirely. Schools are based on a number of assumptions about curriculum, intelligence and teaching and learning that are increasingly questioned. The viability of the school model is being further undermined by shortages in senior and specialist staff. School improvement, in implicitly supporting an improved version of the status quo, has also failed to address the ongoing link between social factors and educational achievement. Schools are ‘middle-class institutions designed to enable and reinforce the social advantage of the middle class’. It is time to explore an alternative model of education that has its foundations in equity and social justice, to rediscover education and learning and design an institutional model that supports them.
Subject HeadingsEducation philosophy
So ... to the future of schooling
The author summarises trends in school education over recent decades and suggests a framework in which to consider the future. In terms of technology, the speed and strength of developments have outstripped expectations, particularly in the case of broadband capacity. Social developments include global consumerism, new forms of media, the rise of two-income families and the decline of the traditional nuclear family as a demographic norm. In political terms, major education milestones have been moves toward a more national approach, starting with the Australian Schools Commission 30 years ago and the creation of National Statements and Profiles 10 years ago; the introduction of school-level control over administration and curriculum, at first in Victoria and then nationally; and explorations of the essential learnings approach to curriculum at the state level. Philosophical changes have included the replacement of behaviourist models with the ideas of Piaget in the 1960s and 1970s; and the rise of constructivism, ‘whole brain’ teaching and of multiple intelligences theory. The establishment of the knowledge economy has brought increased attention to the economic role of education. The role of educators may need to be reconsidered in line with new knowledge economy imperatives, and a mix of teachers and paraprofessionals may be the most appropriate model for the future. Teachers will require pedagogical content knowledge, that is, an understanding of how students learn within a given discipline. The knowledge economy has also produced a need for education that is life-long, learner-directed, contextualised, transformative, and ‘just in time’. This requires students to know how to take control of their own learning. Regardless of the chosen strategy and timeframe, unforseeable events such as the stock market crash or the World Trade Centre incident can impact greatly on any predictions for the future of education.
Anything but lazy: new understandings about struggling readers, teaching and text
Volume 41 Number 4, December 2006; Pages 424–426
The results of a study in the USA challenge the conventional assumptions of theories of self-efficacy and motivation by suggesting that struggling, under-confidant readers do not have less drive to learn than other students. The study found that the reading strategies that struggling students employed were rarely explored by teachers, and were often misunderstood by them as negative or passive behaviour. The study investigated the strategies used by middle years’ students to comprehend reading material in a range of subject areas, and the corresponding instructional strategies of their teachers. Over one academic year the author made an average of 50 visits, each lasting 50 minutes, to a Grade 6 class in social studies, a Year 7 maths class and a Year 8 science class. Participants completed a questionnaire at the start of the year. The author conducted classroom observations, and interviewed students and teachers three times during the study period. At three stages over the year students were asked to complete informal tests to track progress in their comprehension of subject-specific reading material. The students who struggled with reading tasks expressed concern that some of the comprehension strategies that teachers asked them to apply exposed their weaknesses to other students. In response to this concern they used alternative comprehension strategies such as listening to discussion about text, asking friends for help and observing strategies used by other students. The study found that the teachers’ approach to learning tasks with individual students was influenced by their perception of the student’s ability and motivation. Teachers ‘never asked students to discuss their decisions with text’ and tended to attribute students’ non-compliance with instructions to ‘laziness’. The study won the International Reading Association’s Outstanding Dissertation Award in 2006.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsReading difficulties
English language teaching
Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based learning
Volume 41 Number 2, 2006; Pages 75–86
A minimally-guided approach to learning is reflected in many popular pedagogies, including problem-based, inquiry, experiential and constructivist learning. These approaches assume that students should be given opportunities to construct new knowledge by solving ‘authentic’ problems in information-rich settings, and that disciplinary knowledge is best acquired using the procedures of that discipline as the teaching method. While the shift towards practical work is positive, the practices experts use in their professions are not necessarily appropriate methods for learning, as they add an extra level of complexity for learners grappling with new content. Such approaches disregard what is now known about the interaction between long-term and working memory. Learning equates to a change in long-term memory: if nothing changes in long-term memory, nothing has been learnt. Working memory relates to the items that the brain is consciously processing at any given time. Only a few items can be processed in working memory simultaneously, whereas there are almost no limits on the information that can be retrieved from long-term memory to support conscious cognition. Expert problem-solvers draw on extensive knowledge and experience stored in their long-term memory to select and apply the best solutions quickly. Minimal-guidance approaches ignore the limits of working memory, expecting students to process many new concepts at the same time. Problem-solving approaches divert working memory capacity into searching for solutions, rather than incorporating new knowledge into long-term memory. Extensive research demonstrates that direct instruction results in far more learning than minimally-guided approaches. While minimally-guided approaches may be enjoyable for less able students, they may actually produce negative learning outcomes, as students acquire incomplete, inaccurate or disorganised knowledge. Minimal guidance may be appropriate for students who have already mastered core content, or who are capable enough to develop task-specific learning strategies which go beyond what is provided in a structured course. However, the evidence is overwhelming that novice-to-intermediate learners will benefit most from strong direct instruction. Consequently, most effective teachers ignore, or pay lip-service to, minimally-guided approaches. This article is also available online through the Center for Cognitive Technology.
Inquiry based learning
Thought and thinking
Addressing the looming crisis in suitably qualified science teachers in Australian secondary schools
February 2007; Pages 36–39
In 2004–2005, 266 heads of science and 1,207 science teachers participated in a nationwide survey of Australian science educators. The resulting report, Who’s Teaching Science?, highlights some serious concerns. Schools reported difficulties recruiting teachers in physical sciences (physics and chemistry), although no teacher shortage was reported for the life sciences. Many teachers of the physical sciences are now nearing retirement age, so this problem is likely to escalate. Furthermore, nearly half the teachers surveyed were unsure whether they would still be teaching in five years’ time. These respondents included many young teachers who were frustrated by high workloads and a lack of student interest in science. As there are currently no prescribed minimum science qualifications for science teachers, the survey asked heads of science to indicate their views on an appropriate minimum. For junior school science teaching, half the heads felt that some first year university science study was sufficient. Actual qualifications fell short of this expectation, with 22 per cent of junior science teachers having no university science background at all. Most heads expected middle school science teachers to have studied science at least to second year. Most of the middle school teachers surveyed had a major or minor in at least one science discipline. Senior secondary physical science teachers were of most concern. While most heads expected that these teachers should have a university major in an appropriate discipline, just over half the physics teachers surveyed had majored in physics. In contrast, 86 per cent of biology teachers had majored in their discipline. Possible strategies to address these challenges include: overcoming known disincentives to science teaching; providing more support to existing science teachers; giving aspiring science teachers appropriate tertiary preparation within their discipline; and encouraging more young people to pursue science teaching careers. Recruitment strategies should target university science students, many of whom have a passion for science. Offering papers on science communication, including presenting science concepts to school audiences, may attract science students who have not previously considered teaching into school science teaching careers. (Full text available online as part of complete Conference Proceedings.)
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Creating powerful teacher education opportunities: the need for risk, relevance, resource, recognition, readiness and reflection
February 2007; Pages 66–70
A 2001 report on education in Scotland prompted a series of ambitious reforms in Scottish science education, covering curriculum, assessment, teacher pay structures and professional development. The article describes two professional development initiatives, for primary and secondary teachers respectively, aimed at encouraging teachers to adapt their practice to the challenges they face. In both projects a community of teachers, educators and scientists worked together to develop resource materials for the classroom using various technologies. The communities periodically met face to face, and interacted between meetings through a virtual learning environment. Both projects yielded noticeable gains in curriculum development, teacher confidence, improved teaching strategies and student engagement. Analysis of the projects suggested six key factors in successful professional development. Teachers need to demonstrate readiness for learning, willingness to take risks and reflection on their practice. Professional development facilitators need to provide appropriate resources, recognise teacher expertise and achievement and ensure their program is relevant to teachers’ needs. The interdependencies between these six conditions determined the success of these two projects. For example, the facilitators of the primary project were well resourced in terms of time and equipment, but failed to recognise the teachers’ existing expertise and adopted an overly didactic approach. This reduced the teachers’ willingness to take risks and implement innovative teaching. In another example, the extent of teachers’ reflection on their existing practice affected their readiness to accept change. While the projects received positive feedback from the participating teachers, they demonstrated the complex conditions that are necessary for teacher professional development to effect real improvement.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Engaging early adolescent students in their learning via student-centred curriculum integration
February 2007; Pages 1–12
Student-centred ‘integrative curriculum’ has proven advantages for students in the middle years of schooling. However, most Australian and New Zealand middle schools are either unfamiliar with, or dismissive of, integrative approaches. Teachers’ attachment to their own specialised subject areas is one impediment to integrative approaches. Another barrier is political, as the unpredictable nature of integrative approaches tends to disrupt the transmission of ‘official’ knowledge and values. A wealth of literature is available to support the efficacy of integrative approaches for middle years students. At the same time, the literature reflects significant confusion and ambiguity which has further impeded implementation. Student-centred integrative curriculum (IC) is often mistaken for subject-centred multidisciplinary curriculum (MC). These two approaches have their origins in vastly different strains of educational thinking. In the IC model, teachers find out what questions or concerns students may have about themselves and their worlds. Teachers and students explore these issues together, using a range of knowledge and processes from across subject disciplines. In contrast, the MC model is based on what teachers and systems see as important for students to learn. It is motivated by efficiency, removing ‘overlaps’ between curriculum subjects. In IC it is expected that each individual student will integrate new knowledge themselves, as part of their unique individual learning process. MC understands ‘integration’ as a process to be undertaken by curriculum writers. IC class work is creative, messy and unpredictable, and will take a different form in every site, depending on the needs and capabilities of every student. MC is generally not site-specific, which can seriously compromise its relevance to students. While exceptionally capable teachers may be able to make MC a success, IC is much more likely to meet the special educational and developmental needs of middle years students. Specific actions schools could take to implement IC include: engagement with real student and community issues; a core curriculum of key competencies which can be applied to a range of contexts; a focus on exploration and inclusivity; demanding yet personable teacher–student relationships; and interdisciplinary staffing arrangements which facilitate collaborative planning.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Can educators close the achievement gap?
Volume 28 Number 1, November 2006; Pages 54–58, 62
An interview with Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute and Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, examines the legacy of the No Child Left Behind Act in the USA. These experienced educational researchers present two very different views of what schools can do to close the achievement gap between students from well-off and low-income families. The major difference in their views is the extent to which schools alone are capable of implementing the mandated improvements in proficiency standards. Rothstein argues that the real problems leading to the achievement gap are social and economic disadvantage and that these cannot be directly addressed by schools. He is critical of what he sees as a lowering of proficiency standards by schools in disadvantaged areas, which artificially lessens the gap. He suggests the best thing concerned parents, teachers and community members can do is become more vocal about inequality as citizens outside the school. Haycock suggests the problem is the lack of high-quality teachers in schools in disadvantaged areas. She argues that the gap can be addressed within schools, given the time, energy and resources. This includes providing teachers with a strong curriculum and appropriate training for their teachers, who are often keen but tend to be young and inexperienced. She notes that some schools have taken successful initiatives, such as hiring a nurse to deal with student health issues and instituting moves to involve parents more closely in dealing with truancy. She stresses the importance of positive language in encouraging poor or minority students to believe in themselves and their capacity to achieve highly, and in encouraging them to persist in their studies.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
School and community
Education and state
Overcoming disadvantage through the innovative classroom
February 2007; Pages 1–11
Research shows that socioeconomic background is the single most important determinant of student achievement in Australia. The Education Foundation Australia is currently studying the strategies used by nine Catholic and government Victorian schools to engage low-socioeconomic background students in the crucial middle years. Socioeconomic disadvantage severely limits their students’ access to educational resources and support at home, as well as confining their out-of-school experiences to leisure activities largely based around television or the local mall. The schools have taken steps to improve teaching and learning to overcome these limitations and ameliorate disadvantage for their students. Their efforts have focused on implementing student-centred learning in the middle years, including personalised learning; emphasising understanding rather than completing tasks; providing challenging curriculum linked to students’ lives; facilitating cooperation between students and with the wider community; and creating teacher-guided rather than teacher-dominated classrooms. These initiatives have brought about marked improvements in student engagement and teacher–student relationships in the schools. One of the biggest challenges the schools faced was selecting proven models for improvement from the plethora of reform models available. The Catholic schools followed the systemic Middle Years Literacy Project, while the government schools developed their own program from extensive research. All the schools prioritised investment in teacher development, and the establishment of professional learning communities within their schools. They took a whole-school approach, making high expectations and recognition of achievement part of their school cultures. The schools faced challenges in funding their initiatives, having limited resources or business connections to draw on in their parent base. Some teachers’ resistance to change was another obstacle. Four recommendations emerged from the Education Foundation of Australia study. Genuine school improvement requires long-term investment in good teaching practice, not short-term programs. Schools in disadvantaged communities need models of best practice which they can adapt and implement to suit their specific contexts, as well as support from business, industry and the community. Lastly, these schools need complementary measures of student growth to use alongside standard assessments so that they can celebrate their students’ progress from where they started from, rather than comparing them to State averages.
Subject HeadingsEducational innovations
Motivational goals and school achievement: Lebanese-background students in south-western Sydney
Volume 50 Number 3, 2006; Pages 242–264
Research shows that students from non-English-speaking backgrounds have higher post-compulsory education participation rates, and more positive views of their schooling experiences, than their Australian-born counterparts. However, this overlooks differences between specific immigrant populations. Students from Lebanese backgrounds are one group whose low academic results do not match their high aspirations for achievement. Lebanese migrants constitute Sydney’s sixth-largest migrant population, and are over-represented in unemployment or low-wage occupations. Recently, negative stereotyping of Arabic-speaking peoples has generated mutual disrespect between young Lebanese and other young Australians, although the climate of respect within Lebanese communities remains very strong. In this complex social context, a research project was conducted to investigate the goals and sources of motivation for Lebanese students in schooling. Questionnaires were completed by 117 Year 9 Lebanese students, and a comparison group of 154 students from other non-English-speaking backgrounds. Although Lebanese students tend to regard themselves as non-academic, they showed the same level of interest in their schoolwork as the comparison group and strove to do well. Both groups enjoyed being at school and working with others, contradicting expectations that Lebanese students would feel less affiliation with schooling. Lebanese students demonstrated stronger self-esteem and a stronger sense of competence despite achieving poorer academic test results. This may reflect a trend, discovered in previous research, for low-achieving students to over-estimate their abilities to protect their self-image. A strong motivator in Lebanese students’ achievement is teacher or parental support, but the study reported lower levels of parental support than the comparison group. This suggests that schools can help Lebanese students by considering ways for parents and teachers to display their support. Contrary to expectations based on the collectivist Lebanese culture, Lebanese students were strongly motivated by competition, and by opportunities to occupy positions of power. Providing these opportunities to Lebanese students, together with public recognition and rewards, may be successful techniques in enhancing Lebanese student achievement. A 2003 version of this paper is available from the AARE website.
New South Wales (NSW)
There are no Conferences available in this issue.