Volume 65 Number 2, 13 June 2007; Pages 177–202
Numerous theorists have demonstrated the value of using written and verbal communication to support thinking, or ‘thinking aloud’. US researchers used systematic functional linguistics (SFL) to analyse a whole class discussion in one sixth-grade mathematics classroom. SFL involves detailed analysis of every clause in a written or verbal exchange, according to its function, mood and context. The discussion focused on a triangular array of numbers drawn on the board, with 1 at the top, 2,3,4 in the next row, 5,6,7,8,9 in the next, and so on. The teacher opened the discussion by introducing the focus topic using declarative statements, and linking it to previous activities. She then asked students to copy the array, and write down four patterns they noticed in the numbers. A short time was given for this exercise, so that the class discussion could achieve its objective of developing and refining ‘ideas-in-progress’. Individual students were then called on to present one pattern they had found to the class. Transcribed excerpts from the discussion show students and the teacher reacting to each others’ ideas using a variety of linguistic functions. The teacher did not pose the key mathematical question – what formula could be used for finding the middle number in any given row? – until the end of the lesson. This permitted students to explore an open-ended range of possibilities, essential to the pattern-finding stage of algebraic thinking. The teacher’s comments gave no clues about which of the students’ responses would be most useful in answering the eventual question. Instead of providing evaluative feedback, she requested validation or reiteration of each response from another student or from the class. This challenged students to refine their propositions, building their proficiency with mathematical and algebraic language. The teacher frequently reminded students to note down patterns that they liked, ensuring that their own notes, not her comments, became their authoritative record of the lesson. The research demonstrates the potential of whole class discussion for building understanding of algebraic concepts. It also shows that the teachers’ apparently ‘hands-off’ approach reflected complex, deliberate linguistic choices to support her students’ thinking.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsGroup work in education
Thought and thinking
Pedagogic capital: an essential concept (and tool) for effective school leaders
Number 161, February 2007; Pages 1–21
The total sum of all the knowledge possessed by all the teachers in a school represents the school’s pedagogic capital. Pedagogic capital is a valuable conceptual tool for school leaders to build on their school’s existing capacity, and overcome some key barriers to effective school improvement. School leaders should begin the change process by assessing the existing pedagogic capital in their school. This must include what teachers believe to be good practice as well as what they actually do in classrooms. The school leadership team also needs a clear picture of what the teaching that would achieve the school’s goals would ‘look like'. Evaluation of the school’s existing and required pedagogical capital in this way provides the starting point for an effective professional development program. Effective professional learning begins with staff understanding the issues they face in terms of teaching and learning, and realising that they can be solved. Staff need to be provided with opportunities to try novel teaching methods in supported environments, and to share their reflections on new ideas. Teachers need to ‘learn how to learn’ new strategies, and to develop the intrinsic motivation for improvement that will enable change to be sustained without extrinsic guidance. Barriers such as negative prior professional development experiences, unwillingness to evaluate current practices, or suspicion that new practices are no more than short-term fads, all need to be overcome. School leaders have an important role to play in building pedagogic capital. They should explicitly communicate to staff the expectation that pedagogy will improve, and provide practical opportunities for professional learning. They may choose to model exemplary techniques in their own classrooms, and provide supportive, purposeful feedback to their colleagues. Pedagogic capital is also underpinned by effective learning networks and professional dialogue within the school. The Victorian Department of Education and Training, Northern Metropolitan Region, has recently implemented a professional development program using the principles outlined above, which has resulted in genuine improvements to teaching practice and student learning.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Globalisation: the challenges ahead
Summer 2007; Pages 2–4
Globalisation has seen a significant increase in the number of students who move from one country to another for their education. The current phase of student migration began after the Second World War, when the number of students from former colonies studying in western countries increased. The 1960s and 70s saw an emphasis on development assistance programs, such as the Colombo Plan, which funded students from developing countries to study in Australia. From the 1980s onward, the focus shifted from ‘aid’ to ‘trade’, and the number of fee-paying, privately-funded students coming to Australia increased. In the mid-1980s, the Jackson Report recommended that Australia accept fee-paying international students as a means to ‘generate export income’, ‘provide fiscal relief to the government’, and broaden engagement with the international community. As education has since flourished into an important ‘export commodity’, Australia’s education system is now at least partially reliant on income from fee-paying international students. International students pose several challenges for teachers. Teachers must recognise how their own culture shapes their perception of the world. They must also understand that international students will see the world through a different cultural lens, and will not necessarily understand the expectations of Australian teachers. This can present particular issues around assessment methods and plagiarism, which is accepted in some cultures. Curriculum developers also face the challenge of providing curriculum relevant to international students. The rise in international student enrolments is concomitant with growing enrolments in vocational subjects, such as business and law. This raises questions of whether it is appropriate to teach international students about these subjects in a specifically Australian context. Most of all, growing student migration challenges educators to be wary of casting international students as ‘the other’, and to exercise innovative, inclusive educational practices suitable for students of local and international origins.
Giving meaning to the numbers
February 2007; Pages 36–41
A science teacher and a maths teacher in the
Key Learning AreasScience
Challenging the challenged: developing an improvement program for schools facing exceptionally challenging circumstances
Volume 17 Number 4, December 2006; Pages 425–439
Although the British Government has attempted a wide range of school improvement initiatives to tackle the ongoing underachievement of schools in challenging circumstances, few such programs have been successful. The government-funded OCTET project sought to apply learnings from previous initiatives to the development of a school improvement program for eight schools in England facing ‘exceptionally challenging circumstances’. The program was designed to be interpreted and adapted to suit each school’s specific context and challenges. The design also took into account the sensitivity attached to the ‘exceptionally challenging circumstances’ label, and the need to reassure schools that the program was innovative and forward-looking, not remedial. Even so, it took program designers some time to earn the trust of principals wary of having a program ‘forced upon them’ by the system. Each school established a school improvement group who represented a range of backgrounds and perspectives. Initially, program directors led these teams in workshops that focused on instructional practice and addressing students’ affective or emotional domains. These workshops acted as a springboard for discussion in each school, and prompted school- and classroom-level development. Each group shared these developments with the other schools at subsequent training sessions. In this way, the school groups moved from dependency on the program directors’ leadership, to interdependency on each other's leadership. The program has been successful in boosting teacher confidence and improving student learning in the eight schools. It has demonstrated the importance of emphasising teaching and learning in classrooms as the locus for change, rather than school-level processes and administration. It has also highlighted tensions in school improvement programs for schools in challenging circumstances. These included: sustaining improvements beyond the funding period; staff turnover as newly-trained staff become attractive to other schools; and the overwhelming influence of external factors such as poverty in the school community. Most of all, it demonstrated the need for school improvement programs to be finely differentiated to each school’s unique context.
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
Education and state
Mix it up: suggestions for correlating science and mathematics
Volume 74 Number 2, February 2007; Pages 47–49
Science and maths teaching can both benefit when they are correlated. Correlation implies almost equal treatment of both subjects during teaching, and their being aligned to relevant curriculum objectives. By contrast, the more frequently used instructional model of integration refers to the subordinate inclusion of one subject within another, often in a quite minor way, eg in the use of scientific examples as ‘real world’ contexts within a maths class, or the use of a mathematical formula within a science class. The integration model is ‘sparse’ in what it offers and ‘can perpetuate the content knowledge barrier’. Obstacles to correlating maths and science include lack of planning and implementation time; the difficulty of coordinating teachers and classes; inadequate content knowledge held by the teachers; and limited access to suitable instructional models or materials. Science teachers can use seven steps to develop correlated maths and science lessons. First, find a suitable maths teacher to work with, preferably one confident with both traditional and emerging maths topics. Second, choose a science topic. Ideally it should be in an area in which the science teacher feels very confident, and which already incorporates some maths. It should also be aligned to system requirements, and be basic enough to be used as a foundation for the development of subsequent correlated lessons. Third, teach the science component of the lessons to the maths teacher, assuming nothing about their content knowledge even if they have a strong science background. Fourth, become as familiar as possible with the lesson’s maths component in all its aspects, including the demands it makes on students’ prior knowledge. Fifth, ask the maths teacher for detailed instruction in this component. Mutual terminology should be thoroughly understood, with the same terms used for the same concepts in maths and science lessons. The sixth step is to co-develop the lesson, identifying possible resources. (The article suggests resources.) Finally, decide on a mode of instruction. Depending on timetables and other constraints, it may involve team or individual teaching, perhaps using double-blocked periods. Teachers may wish to videotape the lessons, or invite other teachers to observe them.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Getting started: media literacy in the early years
Number 44, 4th Quarter 2006; Pages 90–96
The inclusion of media literacy in the curriculum recognises students’ increasing involvement with a wide range of text types of which television remains the most popular. The Parenting Research Centre has found that age-appropriate television offers a range of positive outcomes for children (see Information for Parents section of the website). Viewing high-quality educational programs is likely to increase pre-reading skills and time spent reading. The ACTF details programs, resources and strategies for educators and parents to help children develop media literacy skills and make active life choices. Critical viewing skills can be developed by asking students to keep a television diary, and to then analyse their preferences and behaviours in a subsequent class discussion. Discussion might cover how television could be improved. Activities could include students writing to television stations about preferred program schedules or times. Students can also learn about story structure and develop critical literacy, visual and reading skills by repeatedly viewing and discussing programs. Television adaptations of popular books have been shown to increase reading engagement for new and reluctant readers. After an initial viewing, students could be asked to recall the sequence of main events in the program and discuss confusions or questions after a second viewing. A third viewing could focus on identifying media techniques, such as how different camera angles are used to present characters in certain ways. Popular television advertisements may be covered in class to help students learn to recognise the difference between information and selling. Students could consider how certain words, images and media techniques are used to present products in certain ways and to influence consumers’ choices. The ACTF’s I Think… kit suggests ways to use television for teaching about values from age 5 and up, including peer pressure and whether buying things reliably provides happiness.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsTelevision in education
Mass media study and teaching
Frequently asked questions about assessment
Number 2, 2006; Pages 47–48
A member of the assessment team at the New Zealand Council of Educational Research answers six of the questions he is asked most frequently. First, do pre- and post-tests for every unit constitute over-testing? This depends on the nature and purpose of the test. If the test gathers authentic student responses which can inform teaching and learning, it is probably not over-testing. Second, how do you know students have progressed if you do not test every unit? Formal examinations are only one form of assessment. Tests constructed by teachers, anecdotal notes and portfolios are other examples of effective, purposeful assessment. Third, is it valid to test students soon after they have received instruction in a given topic? Well-constructed post-tests carried out immediately after instruction can provide valuable information about what students have learnt, and what the next steps might be, but as learning requires reinforcement, immediate post-instruction tests cannot predict what students will remember about a topic in six months’ time. The fourth question is whether parents should know where their child stands in terms of test scores. Many believe that parents have a right to know but teachers should ensure that parents are fully informed about the meaning of the test scores and the factors that might affect each child’s performance. The fifth question relates to how schools should interpret the designated ‘average achievement bands’ in setting achievement targets. The interpretation depends on whether the target is for an individual student or a group. For individual students, an ‘average achievement band’ will include the scores immediately above and below the actual average, because an individual may perform above or below their normal capacity on any given day. If the targets are being set for groups of students, such as across the whole school, such broad bands are not necessary, as students who perform above and below their true achievement level on the day will cancel each other out. As schools are being encouraged to make more use of achievement data in everyday teaching and learning, it is important that teachers keep asking these questions and improving their assessment literacy.
February 2007; Pages 1–18
The South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services (DECS) undertook an online survey of all South Australian government schools, to ascertain their views on the spiritual/values/beliefs dimension of student wellbeing. Discussion papers were written and distributed to encourage reflection. Fifty-nine teachers, leaders and DECS staff responded to the survey. A number of responses illustrated the importance of separating spiritual wellbeing from religion. For example, one principal described how his largely Christian school community viewed their religion as ‘just one take on spirituality’, and valued student discussions about non-religious elements of spirituality, such as purpose, beliefs, altruism and legacy. The DECS inquiry has opened up a forum for issues around spirituality in education. While spirituality is often regarded as private and individual, open discussion can support the development of conceptual frameworks which enable internal spirituality to be applied to public, everyday contexts, especially the classroom. Teachers’ responses pointed to a possible need for a shared language for discussing spiritual concepts. Many teachers feel awkward or uncomfortable discussing spirituality, with some observing that students often seem more willing to talk about spiritual ideas than adults. The surveys also accentuated the delicate balance between teachers understanding their own spirituality and allowing students to explore a full range of spiritual possibilities. While some felt that teachers’ own views should be absent from spirituality education, others believed that teachers should lead by example and demonstrate an awareness of spirituality in their own lives. This can be especially difficult for teachers whose hectic professional lives serve to disconnect them from their inner selves. The need to embrace different cultural spiritualities was also noted, especially Indigenous Australian beliefs. Since the survey, DECS has elected to downplay spiritual wellbeing in its policy framework, as it is developed not from ‘top down, even bottom up, [but] from within and between’. However, it is hoped that the dialogue among educators initiated by the survey will continue.
Subject HeadingsValues education (character education)
February 2007; Pages 1–21
It is to Australia’s discredit that it is the only nation ‘keeping pace with the US’ in the use of medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Much is still unknown about the real effect of psycho-stimulants on children, suggesting that the current prevalence of medication as a response to ADHD is motivated by political, not medical, imperatives. Those who blame parents for embracing quick-fix medicinal solutions overlook the reasons why parents come to believe their children may be ‘disordered’ in the first place. ADHD is given a high profile by three institutions with vested interests in its diagnosis and treatment: the disciplines of medicine and psychology, and schools. Such accusations also ignore the fact that medication primarily controls behaviour during school hours, and parents must cope with the ‘rebound effects’ as their child’s medication wears off towards the end of the day. While parents make easy targets and attractive headlines, little is written about schools who threaten parents with formal exclusion if they do not medicate their child for ‘suspected ADHD’, as happened recently in a Sydney primary school. British researchers have found that ADHD diagnoses are linked to school-based factors such as class size, and that many teachers support the use of medication for ADHD, even when they do not believe it is a biological condition. US research shows that a majority of ADHD cases are first reported by teachers. In Australia, the fact that government funds for public schools are tied to student disability criteria may also influence teachers’ propensity to report ADHD cases in their classes. The current model of schooling needs to be redesigned to reflect genuine inclusion of children with ADHD. This needs to go beyond ‘inclusion’ of students with ADHD in ‘mainstream’ classes, and to a genuine reinvention of schooling to cater for all children’s different learning needs. It is a fact that some children are fidgety, distractible and impulsive. Rather than disputing whether ADHD is ‘real’, it is more constructive to address what can be done about it, and whose interests this action really serves.
Volume 36 Number 3, September 2006; Pages 435–453
Creativity is an essential life skill for students, raising questions about how teachers can best support and enhance creativity in their teaching. Two Melbourne teacher educators became concerned that the teaching methods they were using in their courses were pedagogically constraining. Inspired by multiple intelligences theory, they began experimenting with more creative modes of expression for their students, and settled on opera as ‘the most extravagant medium and the most outlandish way to teach in tertiary education’. A pilot group of 19 students, with no prior performance experience, volunteered to create and perform a 10-minute operatic performance that presented what they had learnt about teacher–student relationships in song. While the performance was by no means ‘polished’, the narratives they sang showed a surprising level of depth and complexity, the group demonstrated exemplary collaboration, and the performance was received with great enthusiasm by their classmates. The two teacher educators explored this new teaching method further by offering an operatic performance option to their subsequent classes over a five-year period. Over 300 students have opted to participate. Initially, they sought input from an operatic ‘expert’, but found this compromised student ownership of the activity. Instead, they incorporated simple group activities such as a conga line to encourage all students to realise they were capable of singing and dancing. The experiment has aimed to foster creativity through risk-taking; support students in working in unfamiliar and ‘possibly terrifying’ ways; encourage a collegial approach to dealing with challenges; encourage innovative thinking; and lead students to explore ideas through performance, rather than learning about ideas through reading and discussion. Students have kept detailed journals to chart their learning through the experience. These have indicated that the activity helps students to understand and accept the risk-taking, the need to let things ‘happen organically’, and the need to think on one’s feet that characterise the ‘public performance’ of teaching. It also unlocked the students’ creative and emotional engagement with teaching in contrast to the ‘performative’, prescriptive, standards-based approach currently being touted by the Australian education bureaucracy.
February 2007; Pages 1–15
In the 1990s, Australia’s national education policy framework began to promote the use of technology in mathematics teaching. Most Australian State and Territory curriculums now reflect this national framework by permitting, encouraging or expecting the use of technologies in mathematics teaching and assessments. These policies often seem to assume that providing hardware and software to schools will increase teachers’ ability and willingness to integrate technology into their teaching, but this assumption is not supported by research. Queensland’s senior mathematics curriculum has recently made technology 'mandatory' in its more advanced mathematics courses, where it had previously been 'encouraged'. During this transition, a state-wide survey was undertaken of Queensland schools and mathematics teachers, to explore the extent of technology use within mathematics classrooms, and the factors that affect teachers’ technology uptake. The survey focused on three specific technologies: computers, graphics calculators and the Internet. Around 20 per cent of Queensland senior mathematics teachers from government and non-government schools participated in the survey. While the majority of teachers expressed confidence using all three technologies, they were more confident with computers and the Internet than with graphics calculators. This may be because they regularly use computers and the Internet for personal or administrative purposes but only use graphics calculators in the classroom. Teachers new to the profession were more confident with computers than their more experienced colleagues, perhaps reflecting the age differential. This finding highlights the importance of in-service professional development for the use of technologies as teachers with more than five years’ experience are unlikely to have encountered all of these technologies in their initial training programs. Access was the strongest determining factor in how often teachers incorporated these technologies in their classes. According to prior research, mathematics teachers may be best supported in integrating technology through professional development, increased access to technology and more time to plan, evaluate and ‘play’ with technologies to explore their potential.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
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