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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Abstracts

History in the making: constructions of 'nation' and 'citizen'

February 2007; Pages 1–13
Kelsey Halbert

The role of citizenship education in the Australian History curriculum has always been contested. Current debates centre around traditional conceptions of history as a source of national knowledge, and new interpretations of history as a source of more general life skills and social understanding. A deconstruction of the language used in the 2004 Queensland Senior Modern History Syllabus demonstrates these tensions. While there are some inevitable continuities from previous syllabi aimed at creating national citizens, the new syllabus takes a broader view of cultivating students as ‘social subjects’, without explicit adherence to a particular nationality. The critical analysis and reflectivity promulgated as essential skills for the social subject sometimes go against traditional citizenship aims of unquestioning loyalty to the rules of a nation. The rationale for the syllabus sets out a number of specific aims for the student as citizen. These aims circumvent current debates to some extent by using a range of problematic terms without definition, such as expectations that students will be ‘committed’, ‘sensitive’ and capable of ‘effective participation’. While the rationale frequently refers to the cultivation of ‘values’, the only specific values mentioned are global, such as social justice, peace and sustainability. Tolerance of students’ individual values is encouraged. Some themes within the syllabus contain reflection sections which evaluate whether these citizenship aims have been achieved, for example asking whether the unit has helped students to ‘live more purposefully, ethically or effectively’. Throughout the rationale, ‘social systems’, not nations, is the dominant term of reference, and nowhere are these systems identified as Australian. The Queensland syllabus repositions the student not only as a citizen of a nation but also as a self-regulatory, socially aware participant in a globalised world. As globalisation changes the concept of the nation, citizenship education must also evolve if it is to continue to fulfil its long-standing goal of equipping students with the values, skills and knowledge required for participation in society.

Key Learning Areas

Studies of Society and Environment

Subject Headings

Civics education
Citizenship
Queensland
History
Globalisation
Curriculum planning

Differentiation: lessons from master teachers

February 2007; Pages 44–47

Student diversity provides a ‘gold mine’ of ideas and perspectives in a classroom, and differentiated instruction, matching teaching to the needs of each learner, is an ideal way to help diversity thrive. Many teachers hesitate to try differentiated instruction, as they feel they do not have sufficient time, professional development or administrative support. Many also mistakenly believe that differentiation involves teaching everything in multiple ways, offering a ‘buffet’ of learning options to their students. In fact, the differences between a differentiated and one-size-fits-all classroom are less dramatic than many teachers realise. Experienced, expert teachers have often been ‘master differentiators’ for years, before the term became popular. Case studies of five high-performing US middle school teachers demonstrated the simplicity of differentiation in action. Four common elements were observed in their classrooms. The first, personalised scaffolding, involved helping each learner bridge the gap between existing and required knowledge. Each teacher had accumulated a ‘rich mental database’ of their students' needs and interests, which they used to tailor examples and instruction. Ample one-on-one time was built into their everyday classroom schedule. Their teaching was also characterised by the use of flexible means to reach clearly defined ends. They planned lessons using ‘backward design’, beginning with explicit learning goals and then offering multiple options for their students to demonstrate what they knew. This did not mean students had a free rein; rather, the teachers found the ‘sweet spot between structure and choice’ in which learning can occur. Thirdly, every teacher knew their subject matter and the ways in which different learners might approach it. One teacher was observed encouraging his students to choose between words, diagrams or arithmetic to tackle a mathematical puzzle, enabling each student to think in whatever way felt most natural. Lastly, all five teachers considered the social and emotional environment of the classroom to be essential to differentiation. By viewing difference as an asset, they encouraged their students to respect each others’ strengths. Schools should establish expert–mentoring relationships and regular classroom observations to ensure that the differentiation practised by expert teachers becomes a visible resource for all teaching staff.

KLA

Subject Headings

Learning ability
Classroom management
Students
Teaching and learning

Improving teacher recruitment and retention: the importance of workload and pupil behaviour

Volume 48 Number 3, November 2006; Pages 247–265
Patrick Barmby

A survey of 246 teachers in England and Wales investigated their reasons for entering the teaching profession, and the reasons that might induce them to leave. All teachers were recent graduates, teaching priority ‘shortage subjects’ of mathematics, English or science. A disproportionate number (25%) of teachers were based in London, where teacher shortages are of most concern. Prior research has identified three main factors in teacher job choices: altruistic reasons, relating to the perceived social worth of the profession; intrinsic reasons, relating to aspects of the job itself, such as working with children or using subject expertise; and extrinsic reasons, relating to conditions such as pay, holidays and status. The respondents’ reasons for entering teaching supported previous research findings that teachers most often choose the profession for intrinsic or altruistic reasons. When asked to identify factors that might have dissuaded them from entering teaching, the teachers most frequently cited pupil behaviour and workload, followed by salary and training costs. Over a quarter of the sample were considering leaving the profession, with workload, stress and pupil behaviour again rating among the top four motivating factors. The other top attrition factor was more positive, with a number of teachers planning to leave to have a family, with the possibility of returning at a future date. The interventions teachers suggested for persuading teachers to stay in the profession supported their prior responses, with workload reduction and support with pupil discipline rated most highly. Better remuneration and support with housing and child care were rated significantly higher by teachers in London, suggesting that addressing these areas might ameliorate the London teacher shortage. While not rated as highly by non-London teachers, better remuneration may help to offset the difficulties associated with large workloads and pupil behaviour experienced by teachers across the UK. The findings also suggest that British government initiatives such as the Workload Agreement, designed to reduce teachers’ administrative work, may be a step in the right direction, especially if coupled with similar initiatives addressing pupil behaviour.

KLA

Subject Headings

Job satisfaction
Teaching profession
Teachers' employment
Education policy
Great Britain

Troubling images of teaching in No Child Left Behind

Volume 76 Number 4, Winter 2006; Pages 668–697
Marilyn Cochran-Smith, Susan L Lytle

In 1983, the seminal US education report, A Nation at Risk, likened the ‘rising tide of mediocrity’ in USA education to an invasion by a foreign power. The 2002 policy document, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), has been surrounded by similarly emotive debates. NCLB itself couches its comprehensive reform agenda in the simple, unassailable language of equity and high standards, masking its negative consequences. The article focuses on the particular conceptualisations of teachers and teaching that are stated or implied in NCLB rhetoric. Paradoxically, NCLB identifies teacher quality as both the problem and the solution in the USA’s educational achievement, ignoring the broader school and societal issues that also affect student learning. NCLB identifies lack of content knowledge as US teachers’ most serious shortcoming. It advocates pathways to teaching which enable non-education graduates or professionals to enter directly into the teaching profession, such as the Teach for America program. NCLB reduces pedagogical knowledge to the ability to select and apply teaching strategies from a suite of proven methods based on scientific research. The ‘messy realities’ of teaching, which provide the richest opportunities for reflection and learning, are devalued. NCLB’s approach to both student and teacher learning rests on the outdated view that knowledge can be transmitted more or less directly from one person to another, flying in the face of decades of research which shows that learning is a far more complex process of knowledge development. NCLB rhetoric has already had significant impact on the way both its supporters and detractors think and talk about teachers and teaching. Comparable developments are also evident in Australia where a similar reconceptualisation of teaching is underway. A richer, alternative conceptualisation of teaching is now needed, based on the complex interplay between theory, reflection and practice. When teachers are encouraged to ask questions, their students are more likely to enjoy the same freedom. It is this, not higher scores on standardised tests, which is the educational outcome most needed by the USA’s ‘troubled democracy’.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teaching profession
Education policy
United States of America (USA)

No Child Left Behind: the ongoing movement for public education reform

Volume 76 Number 4, Winter 2006; Pages 461–473
Rod Paige

A former US Education Secretary responds to criticisms of the controversial education legislation, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB represents a substantial response to long-standing unease about the quality of US public education, which began in the 1950s with concerns that USA education was lagging behind the Soviet Union. In 1983, the seminal report A Nation at Risk described the US’s falling education standards as an act of ‘unilateral educational disarmament’. As subsequent decades continued to show US students being outperformed by their international competitors, NCLB emerged, co-authored by contributors from across the political spectrum. NCLB rests on four basic premises: that the public education system must have clear expectations for student achievement in mathematics and the language arts; that remediation must be available to students who do not reach these expectations; that education systems should be accountable to parents and taxpayers; and that federal education funding should be tied to accountability. Critics of NCLB often fail to recognise that good educators do not aim to educate all students because it is required by legislation, but because it is the right thing to do. In claiming that NCLB creates a one-size-fits-all approach to education, critics forget that state education systems can still determine their own academic standards, curriculum and assessments. Many critics have also attacked NCLB’s goal of 100 percent student proficiency by 2014 as unachievable. Some states have even responded by ‘dumbing down’ academic standards, shirking their responsibility to provide all students with the education they need. The 100 percent target is the only proficiency target worth aiming for, and no critic has presented an acceptable alternative. Even if only 95 or even 85 percent proficiency is actually achieved, this would still make NCLB a resounding policy success. The new generation of parents has grown up with a wide array of choices in every aspect of their lives, and are unlikely to accept a ‘take it or leave it’ education system for their children. Strong accountability systems must be put in place so that these parents can make informed educational choices.

KLA

Subject Headings

United States of America (USA)
Education policy
Education and state
Standards

Changing the way schools support social and emotional wellbeing: evaluating the impact of MindMatters

February 2007; Pages 1–9
Trevor Hazell

MindMatters is an Australian Government mental health education initiative, involving the provision of a resource kit and associated professional development to teachers of secondary-school-age students. The paper reports on fifteen school case studies used to evaluate the initiative, which comprised a broadly representative mix of states and sectors. Carried out over three years, the evaluation included teacher and student interviews, focus groups and questionnaires. Two schools dropped out of the evaluation due to the departure of staff who were key champions of the MindMatters material. The remaining schools can be grouped into three broad types. Type A schools already had many measures in place to support student wellbeing and saw MindMatters primarily as a curriculum resource. Type B schools had an ethos compatible with MindMatters before implementing the project, and saw MindMatters as an opportunity to consolidate an existing commitment to student wellbeing. Type C schools had identified many problems in their school communities prior to their involvement and saw MindMatters as one element of a whole school reorientation towards increased support for student wellbeing. In Type A schools, implementation of MindMatters necessitated little change other than modifications to the curriculum. For Type B and C schools, the implementation of the MindMatters curriculum was less comprehensive, but other changes occurred at a broader level. MindMatters became implicitly, if not explicitly, embedded in these schools through cultural changes which gave greater priority to student wellbeing. Type A schools were most likely to report outcomes relating to new knowledge and attitude changes, whereas Types B and C reported reductions in challenging behaviours and other student risk factors. In most of the schools, teachers reported that MindMatters had led them to modify their teaching practice towards a more student-oriented approach. In over half the schools, these changes resulted in greater teacher job satisfaction. The evaluation shows that MindMatters can be highly successful in schools where adequate time, administrative support and investment in professional development are available. Challenges for MindMatters emerged in schools with high staff turnover, pre-existing industrial issues or competing demands on staff time that precluded adequate planning and preparation.

Key Learning Areas

Health and Physical Education

Subject Headings

Mental Health
Health education

Key influences on the design and implementation of MindMatters

February 2007
Jo Mason

The national MindMatters initiative involves the development and implementation of a mental health promotion package for teachers of secondary-school-age students. The package originally consisted of: a SchoolMatters book, outlining a whole school approach to mental health; an Educating for Life book, focused on suicide prevention; and curriculum booklets on Resilience, Bullying and Harrassment, Loss and Grief and Understanding Mental Illnesses. Later additions include a CommunityMatters booklet, a video, DVD, handbook and information pamphlets. The MindMatters resource advocates a participatory, interactive and student-centred approach. Schools are entitled to one free kit and associated professional development. Professional development in MindMatters has been delivered to 79,000 participants around Australia to date, representing around 87 per cent of Australian schools with secondary enrolments. Currently, schools can arrange for a MindMatters State Project Officer to deliver internal school training and help with planning within the school. Each State and Territory has one designated MindMatters Project Officer, with two in Victoria and NSW. Experience to date has shown that schools take around three years to define and implement optimal arrangements for MindMatters implementation, with some schools using the kit as a major organiser, and others as a supplementary resource. Given the choice, most favour a whole school approach, despite the associated complications. MindMatters’ partnerships with education and health personnel in each State and Territory have helped to negotiate the various State and Territory mental health education systems and agendas. MindMatters also has a system of national committees to advise on related policy initiatives and assist with the communication and consultation that is essential to promoting widespread acceptance of the resource. MindMatters has been funded through a series of contracts, varying in duration, between the Australian Department of Health and Ageing and the Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council, which has created some uncertainty in project implementation and personnel. The initiative has been subject to rigorous evaluation, which is discussed further in two other MindMatters abstracts in this edition. Outcomes of evaluations are also among the resources available on the extensive MindMatters website and an in-depth article describing the issues surrounding the evaluation can be found on the AARE Conference website.

Key Learning Areas

Health and Physical Education

Subject Headings

Mental Health
Health education
Education policy

'If you are just sick you could make your own chicken soup. But if it's a mental illness – you can't fix yourself.' Teaching secondary school students about mental illness

February 2007; Pages 1–17
Helen Askell-Williams, Michael J Lawson, Rosalind Murray-Harvey, Phillip T Slee

Understanding Mental Illnesses (UMI) is one of a series of modules in the MindMatters curriculum resource. It covers various mental health topics such as terminology, symptoms, social stigma and help-seeking behaviours. A classroom-based investigation evaluated the issues involved in teaching UMI to three classes of Year 10 and Year 11 students in three South Australian secondary schools. Classroom observations revealed that students readily engaged with, and generated questions about, mental illness issues. In group discussions, they demonstrated a growing ability to relate topics to their own life experiences. In student surveys, girls scored more highly than boys on awareness of, and supportive attitudes towards, mental illness, both before and after the unit. The third dimension surveyed, behavioural intentions (seeking help), showed no significant gender difference. On all three dimensions, students’ scores increased significantly after the module. Feedback from teacher interviews and reference group discussions indicated strong agreement that mental health and mental illness are important topics to teach in schools. The teachers’ reflections can be summarised in terms of four key tensions. The first is between the need for mental health issues to be dispersed across the curriculum, to reach the widest possible range of students, and the need for mental health teachers to be well educated in the complex issues surrounding the subject matter. The second tension is between the need to adapt the UMI material from the ‘bottom up’, to fit the prior knowledge and developmental levels of each individual class, and the ‘top-down’ approach required to coordinate curriculum within a school. Thirdly, tension exists between teachers’ self-perceptions as ‘teachers of subject matter’ or ‘teachers of students’. These perceptions will affect the sense of responsibility teachers feel for covering mental health topics. Lastly, the module itself was debated as to whether it represents a prescriptive package or a resource to be mined at teachers’ discretion. However, alongside these tensions lie participants’ positive perceptions of the program, and the genuine improvements to knowledge, attitudes and help-seeking behaviours that resulted from its implementation.

Key Learning Areas

Health and Physical Education

Subject Headings

Mental Health
Secondary education

Vocabulary: questions from the classroom

Volume 41 Number 4, December 2006; Pages 524–539
Camille L Z  Blachowicz, Peter J L Fisher , Donna Ogle, Susan Watts-Tafe

Good vocabulary instruction creates an environment ‘filled with excitement and curiosity about new words’. It includes stimuli such as dictionaries, word games and books of many types that encourage incidental word learning. Research strongly endorses the role of wide reading in vocabulary growth despite controversial claims to the contrary by the US National Reading Panel. Learners need active involvement in the generation of word meanings integrated with their prior knowledge. Learners should be encouraged to articulate a word’s links to related words and concepts. Students need to be taught strategies to learn words independently, which is likely to be assisted by a good grasp of generative word elements. Selection of words to be taught may be based on their frequent occurrence in English, their decodability, likely occurrence in future lessons or their generativity. The article suggests various published lists of words, but notes that such commercial lists vary considerably and require evaluation by teachers. Research has shown that when students are asked to select their own words to learn they set high standards for themselves and retain vocabulary knowledge effectively. Students also improve vocabulary when they are encouraged to help each other clarify the meaning of texts. A wide ‘vocablary gap’ exists between children by age 3. Teachers can help to overcome it by reading aloud from storybooks, which tend to use more demanding words than everyday speech, and by encouraging class discussion during and after the reading. English language learners should have cognate-related instruction that links English words to related words in their native language. ICT can assist vocabulary learning by encouraging interaction with the text. This is most effective when adult mediation is available, but students also benefit from the chance for private interaction that does not expose their errors to peers. Students learn better when required to infer meanings rather than call up answers via technology. In regard to assessment, standardised tests are a poor measure of vocabulary growth as they ‘may not capture the gradual accretion of meaning that is word learning’. Vocabulary instruction should be integrated across the curriculum, ‘undergirded by a comprehensive knowledge base and theoretical perspective’ including an understanding of ‘the metacogntive aspects of vocabulary learning’.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

English language teaching
Literacy
Reading

The silencing of girls' talk: student perception or reality?

February 2007; Pages 1–17
Sally Godinho

A University of Melbourne research project investigated whether claims that female students are often marginalised in group discussions are borne out in reality. A total of 81 Victorian secondary students and 13 teachers participated in the study, involving 20–30 minute teacher-directed discussions in groups of six to eight students, focusing on English, Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE) or Arts texts. The discussions were videotaped for analysis and supplemented by 10-minute interviews with teachers and student groups. Students’ comments on the experience suggested that the discussions tended to be dominated by boys, but quantitative analysis of students’ contributions revealed little gender difference in word count and ‘talk-turns’. However, the quantitative data concealed the dominance of boys within certain groups, and some marked differences in boys’ and girls’ linguistic behaviour. Boys had a greater tendency to display ‘showmanship’, using bravado and humour more frequently, and flouting social conventions to assume control of the discussion. While many girls were confident and assertive, they did not demonstrate such techniques. Girls appeared to be ‘silenced’ by their adherence to rules of social conduct, being ‘good listeners’ and waiting their turn. It may be that the girls’ silence represents a tactical choice not to engage in the boys’ 'power games'. While girls tended to wait longer for opportunities to enter discussions, their contributions were often longer and well-developed when they did so, which accounts for the gender similarities in the quantitative analysis. Both girls and their teachers generally adopted a compliant ‘boys will be boys’ approach to boys’ demonstrations of showmanship. Teachers appeared unwilling to challenge seemingly undeveloped responses from boys in the interests of keeping of them engaged in the discussion. Teachers reported that many boys used ‘intimidating body language’ to assert their power when disengaged from discussion. Such behaviour can be damaging to all students, boys and girls, if left unchecked. The substantial government funds currently allocated to redressing perceived deficiencies in boys’ education may be better spent in helping boys understand their identity and behaviour, enabling them to become better learners and more responsible democratic citizens.

KLA

Subject Headings

Girls' education
Boys' education
Group work in education

Emotion matters: professional meaning making

February 2007
Pam Feldman

The article describes the role that emotions play in teacher professional learning, by drawing on theories of voice, discourse, modes of knowing and identity. Various theorists have described ‘emotional epistemology’ as a combination of ‘passionate response with critical analysis’, which enables meaning to be constructed out of emotional responses to particular situations. This learning process can be enhanced by collaboration, undertaking the making of meaning as a social activity where the inner self informs and shapes the social self and vice versa. This can only occur in collegial relationships in which emotions can be expressed freely. Such relationships are characterised by high levels of trust and recognition of the value of examining the inner, emotional self. The author illustrates this process by describing ‘critical moments’ in her own professional learning, where emotional epistemology offered her new and unexpected ways of making meaning out of the situations she encountered. Relocating from a coeducational public school in South Africa to a private Jewish girls’ school in Australia, she was initially overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of her surroundings. Her uncertainty led her to withdraw from professional interactions with her colleagues. While maintaining the outward emotional norms required by the emotional ‘rules’ of her professional environment, she underwent a significant interior emotional struggle. Excerpts from her diary show how this struggle brought her in touch with the ways in which her emotions influenced her professional knowledge. In coming to understand how her emotions shaped her own subjective position, she developed a sense of inner strength and confidence, coming to trust her ‘own authority’. From this position of strength, she became better able to accommodate alternative ways of thinking and feeling, acknowledge her ‘vulnerabilities’ and establish open, trusting professional relationships with her colleagues. Our emotions have a profound influence over our thoughts, as all thoughts stem from our desires, interests and motivations. Educators now must embrace the challenge of giving their emotions not only an inner voice but one that is acknowledged and respected in professional educational contexts.

KLA

Subject Headings

Emotions
Professional development
Teaching profession

A new discourse for teacher professionalism: Ramsey, standards and accountability

February 2007
Di Bloomfield

The latest review into New South Wales' teacher education, the Ramsey Report, reflects a widespread shift in thinking about teacher professionalism. Once characterised by ‘collective values and lateral solidarities’, teaching is now entering an ‘audit culture’ aimed at developing competitive individuals who can respond to the demands of the educational marketplace. The Ramsey Report’s central concern is a perceived deficiency in the quality of teachers and teaching. Overcoming this deficiency, Ramsey claims, requires ‘teaching to be constructed as a profession’, supported by ‘professional systems’, such as the NSW Institute of Teachers and its associated professional standards. Ramsey conceptualises teaching in ‘hard-nosed economic terms’ such as market forces, quality assurance, efficiency and effectiveness, claiming that such terms ‘are not going to disappear just because we do not like them’. Current rhetoric in education policy tends to place such individualistic language alongside concepts such as collaboration and devolution, implying that autonomous, self-monitoring individuals can be connected by a shared commitment to broad organisational goals. Far from establishing a ‘new work order’ based on enhanced professionalism, this amounts to no more than a relocation of centralised control, from a visible bureaucratic hierarchy to an assumed (and therefore non-negotiable) set of shared professional standards. Ramsey contrasts the ‘professionalism’ associated with autonomy and standards with a negative, industrialised professional identity, in which the teacher operates as a member of a collective under bureaucratically imposed priorities. This is a false dichotomy, which ignores the fact that teacher collective action has done much to improve teacher quality in Australia. Conceptualising teachers as self-monitoring individuals in a climate of accountability may even compromise teaching quality in the longer term. It will reduce opportunities for teachers to take risks, and to respond to the inevitable uncertainties and emotional aspects of their work. Current political representations of both teachers and students are ‘too known and too defined’. Education must exercise greater tolerance of the spaces in which teachers and students do not know themselves, rather than constraining them further with standards, institutes and particular versions of quality and professionalism.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teaching profession
Education policy
New South Wales (NSW)
Standards
Industrial relations

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