More curriculum debate needed
Volume 17 Number 3, 16 May 2007; Page 19
A range of issues around the school curriculum deserve further debate. Firstly, the adequacy of the present curriculum should be reviewed in terms of the preparation it gives students for higher education, work and life beyond school. For example, the science curriculum needs to address issues such as student disengagement from the subject and the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of scientific work. Secondly, the curriculum should identify what learning, skills and knowledge students may be expected to acquire as outcomes of schooling. This approach contrasts with the traditional curriculum, in which the teacher's responsibility was seen in terms of 'inputs', ie covering a syllabus. Opponents of the 'outcomes' approach, 'who would prefer a return to the past', link it to 'a range of other perceived ills, such as constructivism, whole language and fuzzy maths'. However, 'the question for debate is what outcomes we now want from our schools'. Thirdly, students need skills in higher order thinking, including a capacity for critical analysis. A curriculum that requires a large amount of factual learning can hinder the development of such thinking skills. Fourthly, the curriculum should allow teaching that is customised to the needs of different students, at different stages of academic development. Teaching should also be related to the interests and motivations of individual students. The value of doing so is grounded in research, and this orientation should not be misrepresented as 'new age', a 'feel good' approach, or as denying the need for explicit teaching.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
Education aims and objectives
Current issues in educational leadership: What is the literature saying?
Volume 2, 2007; Pages 10–13
In the 1990s, the literature on leadership frequently described it in terms of a set of ‘competencies’. Current literature overwhelmingly rejects this approach. Instead, it recognises leadership as inherently bound to particular contexts; sees professional performance as an interrelated whole rather than as a list of skills; and sees the skills themselves in terms of a continuum rather than a yes or no checklist. Instead of competencies, it may be better to use Patrick Duigan’s concept of ‘capabilities’, in which skills must be associated with confidence, commitment, character and judgement in order to be effective. Leaders must be able to contextualise leadership thinking in terms of local, national and international educational developments. Educational leaders should lead their community in discussions of future orientation and also act as an interface between the broad community and the school. Leaders must act as human, financial, and resource managers in their school leadership, and must therefore possess wide knowledge of ‘system level expectations, policies, pedagogy, legislations, legal considerations’ and other influences in order to effectively interface. As managers, leaders must also be accountable to meeting system requirements, such as policy implementation and assessment requirements. Principals are leaders of learning. Translating theory into practice and developing notions of the school as a ‘hub’ for community learning are thus significant tasks for the principal. Leaders should also pursue a values-driven mandate, aware of their own value system and that of the school. Acting ethically in challenging contexts, and when faced with difficult decisions, reinforces conceptualisation of the principal as an ethical leader. These requirements extend to all subsidiary school leaders, as leadership is increasingly understood as distributed and collaborative. The principal must therefore exhibit knowledge of staff and community abilities so as to effectively direct distributed leadership. Leaders sometimes must act in the face of conflicting local and system level demands and priorities. They must be perceived as authoritative while empowering subsidiaries, must drive school vision to meet future contexts while managing realities of current contexts, and must continually update their own knowledge while managing numerous other tasks.
Autumn 2007; Pages 17–18
The qualities that produce high levels of literacy learning in the first two years of school have been investigated in a major study, In Teacher's Hands. Many earlier studies have approached this topic by observing teachers deemed to be excellent, and drawing generalised conclusions from their methods. Such an approach is distorted by 'the fashions of the day'. The current study, in contrast, involved one-to-one assessment of 2000 children at the start and end of a school year. Researchers then visited ten schools representing high, medium and low level increases in students' literacy growth. Teachers' lessons were videotaped and later studied. Teachers at all levels were found to use the same type of activities. Highly effective teachers were distinguished in a more subtle way, by a range of 'deep literacy teaching skills'. They achieved high levels of student participation in class; set students challenging tasks but also customised teaching for different students; showed in-depth knowledge about literacy learning; and created a climate of mutual respect in the classroom. They were also more likely than other teachers to link instruction and assessment closely. As a group, the highly effective teachers did not characteristically focus on either phonics-based or alternative literacy teaching strategies. When employing phonics, they provided careful scaffolding and 'linked word-level phonics with the meaning of whole texts'. For more detailed online information, see the summary of the report published in the Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, the full report, and videos that illustrate effective literacy teaching practices.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Extending guided reading with critical literacy
Number 3, 2006; Pages 23–28
Guided reading involves teachers working with small groups of primary students to assist them in ‘decoding, making meaning and thinking critically’. In New Zealand, a study has investigated the potential of critical literacy strategies to enhance guided reading. The study involved a group of primary teachers in Dunedin with assistance from researchers at the University of Otago. Data was taken from videotapes of lessons, student focus groups, audiotaped interviews with teachers, and selected literature. The study proposed a number of strategies for integrating a critical approach into guided reading sessions. The first is that relevant metalanguage, such as the term ‘stereotype’, should be taught explicitly. This conclusion followed the teachers’ unsuccessful attempts to elicit comments from students in Years 2 and 6 about stereotyping in material such as advertisements, which the students found too entertaining to respond to hints about its social content. The direct teaching was supported by use of a wall poster that set out, in simple form, key concepts in critical literacy. The second strategy is the use of explicit questioning. For example, teachers asked students to compare the elderly people they knew to the portrayal of elderly people in a selected text or illustration. Only three or four questions should be used per text. Suitable questions are available from the Tasmanian Department of Education. Neutral responses should be given to students’ answers, to indicate the need for multiple interpretations and to encourage students who would otherwise be silent for fear of ‘getting it wrong’. This approach should be explained to students. Teachers remain free to emphasise a particular interpretation of the text, perhaps towards the end of the discussion. Thirdly, teachers should select texts at the appropriate reading level and which lend themselves to critical questioning. Finally, it is useful to have a traditional guided reading session on a text, to familiarise students to it, before re-reading it from a critical perspective. This approach too should be explained to students and parents, as it may be unfamiliar to them. Teachers are encouraged to find a colleague who also wishes to implement these strategies.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Growing beyond circumstance: have we overemphasised hopelessness in young adult literature?
Volume 96 Number 3, January 2007; Pages 17–18
While the novels prescribed for young adults’ English classes are appropriate in most cases, the overall selection tends to be skewed towards dark subject matter. In these ‘problem novels’, a young protagonist is typically ‘abused, abandoned, drunk or pregnant’, with little or no ability to influence events. Problem novels also ignore the ‘magical, imaginative counterpart to experience’, in which a sense of hope is given through the device of supernatural sources, reflecting a ‘truth of childhood, and even young adulthood’. Problem novels speak to students and are popular, but students are often developmentally unready for the harsh truths of social injustice they portray. Books such as Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees and serious but positive novels such as Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven offer ‘humour, ironic self-reflection and a sense of possibility’ that would help to balance the syllabus. Offering a broader range of novels may also serve to widen students’ literary tastes.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsSocial life and customs
On track to better literacy
Volume 17 Number 3, 16 May 2007; Page 20
In New South Wales, a professional learning program has dramatically improved the literacy performance of students at a primary school serving a low SES community. Six teachers, the literacy facilitator and assistant principal from Tarrawanna Primary School took the Literacy on Track K-4 course over three terms. A literacy facilitator from the New South Wales Department of Education and Training encouraged the school to participate in Literacy on Track, as part of the Priority Schools Program (PSP), which provides support and professional development funding to struggling schools. Literacy on Track is run as a series of workshops and in-between session tasks during which participants discuss classroom practice and ways to implement changes in their teaching. The learning program is comprised of three main components: 'outcomes based assessments, developing syllabus based criteria and designing teaching, learning and assessing experiences'. Preliminary preparation for the course included in-depth examination of the Tarrawanna students' performance in State's Basic Skills Test (BST) for previous years. Students were identified as having had difficulty identifying the purpose and the main ideas and meanings in texts. They also struggled to write fluently. A dialogue emerged amongst Tarrawanna staff, particularly in relation to the assessment and recording of student progress. Staff began making practical changes to their teaching practices and using regular assessment to inform their programming. The course directly targeted the school’s individual objectives, including those mandated by the PSP. The student outcomes in the 2006 BST showed significant improvements in teaching practice. Students’ literacy results were competitive within the State, and there was a significant increase in the number of students allocated to the top bands in all areas targeted by Literacy on Track. Overall, the improvements in literacy were more noticeable in girls’ results, so the school will focus on strategies to engage boys in literacy in 2007.
Subject HeadingsNew South Wales (NSW)
English language teaching
Pathways and barriers: Indigenous schooling and VET
Volume 6 Number 2, May 2007; Pages 32–33
In the Shepparton Indigenous community, less than 40% of young people are enrolled in compulsory schooling from Years 7-10, with the average point of drop-out around Year Eight. Vocational Education and Training (VET) in schools is offered too late to reach many Indigenous students. The trend for Indigenous students to leave school early for VET programs does not appear to improve students’ employment prospects or skills. When young Indigenous people leave school to pursue VET at TAFE they face multiple hurdles in completing their qualification, including low levels of literacy and numeracy, low motivation, culturally inappropriate course-content and teaching methods, lack of Indigenous staff, poorly developed Indigenous links with industry, an apparent fear of mainstream work experience placements and racism in and beyond TAFE. The Goulburn Valley Indigenous labour force participation rate is 50.5%, compared to the national rural Indigenous rate of 58.4% and the rural non-Indigenous rate of 76.1%. Research by the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE) suggests that school-based issues in Shepparton contribute to problems of low participation and retention. These issues include culturally biased curricula, the ‘white middle class’ language of teachers, a lack of Koori educators, and the absence of Indigenous cultural affirmation and identity. Literacy programs and texts use only Standard English, in contrast to the mix of Koori words and Aboriginal English spoken by students. One outcome is the growing gap in literacy levels between Koori and non-Koori students in the region. These school-based issues contribute to Indigenous disadvantage at TAFE. In order to improve the overall levels of achievement of Indigenous students in education and training, secondary and post-secondary curricula must place greater emphasis on supporting Koori culture and language through better program coordination and provision of more resources. One possible strategy is to offer the Indigenous students funding to support them at school up to Year 12, as a means of increasing retention rates. Schools should invest earnestly in providing early literacy and numeracy programs and highly coordinated individual case management. Greater community involvement in planning education programs may also facilitate the development of culturally supportive schooling.
Subject HeadingsRetention rates in schools
VET (Vocational Education and Training)
The possibilities of situated learning for teacher preparation: the professional development partnership
Volume 93 Number 3, January 2007; Pages 44–48
The professional development partnership is a valuable model for use in music teacher education. Within this model, student teachers attend a professional development school (PDS) in which they are allowed to observe and teach in a range of classes at a specific grade level or subject, before being assigned to one of the classes for an extended internship. In the case of music teaching, where there is likely to be only one music teacher at the PDS, the initial placements of student teachers is usually spread across a number of such schools. During the placement, the student teacher works with an experienced teacher, who helps them to acquire knowledge and abilities and provides a role model in how to interact with students. For example, the experienced teacher may concretise the notion of ‘setting high expectations for students’ by setting different levels of ‘high expectation’ for each student, based on their individual stage of musical development. The experienced teacher also involves the student teacher in suitable forms of direct teaching activity. Initial tasks should be short, simple and low risk. They should be undertaken with only a few school students, to allow the trainee to develop relationships and learn how the students think and make sense of music. The students should later have wider experiences, such as attendance at meetings and interactions with parents. Another important component of teacher education is collaborative reflection. The student teachers should discuss their observations and lesson plans with the experienced teacher, their academic supervisor and each other. In these reflections they often compare their own previous musical development to that of the school students they are observing.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Developing higher level thinking in sexuality education for young people
Volume 28 Number 2, 2006; Pages 83–95
Sexuality education needs to become more comprehensive and sophisticated in order to better deal with the increasingly overt presentation of sexual images in the media and society. Australian and international studies have shown that children are reaching puberty and experiencing their first sexual encounter earlier, and are under increasing pressure to exhibit their sexuality at a young age. These factors contribute to increasing disparity between children’s appearance and behaviour and their mental and emotional knowledge and development. Sexuality education is capable of addressing this problem if it engages with students’ attitudes, beliefs, values and identity. A comprehensive sexuality education curriculum would therefore contextualise the education in terms of interpersonal relationships, body image, gender roles, sexual orientation and socio-cultural and psychological paradigms of sexuality, rather than focusing simply on ‘safe topics’ such as anatomy and physiology, pregnancy and childbirth, and sexually transmitted disease. Bloom’s taxonomy, a hierarchical classification of cognitive and learning processes, provides a framework for developing such a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum. Most current sexuality education courses focus only on the accumulation of factual knowledge, the lowest level on Bloom’s scale, and does not require the higher-level cognition involved in comprehension, application, analysis and creative utilisation. The article provides a table containing a wide range of suggested activities aimed at encouraging such higher-level understanding in sexual education. They include reflection upon the concept of friendship, development of hypothetical responses to unwanted sexual advances, analysis by students of their existing relationships, and student design of positive relationship plans.
Subject HeadingsSocial adjustment
Assessing values education
Volume 11 Number 2, 2006; Pages 46–48
There is renewed focus both in Australia and internationally on the social, moral, and ethical aspects of schooling. There is some concern that schools’ emphasis on teaching content, knowledge, and skills fails to address important values education imperatives, such as instilling a love of learning in students. The Values Education Good Practice in Schools project aims to remedy this by funding values education initiatives in schools. As part of one such initiative supported by the Catholic Education Office Melbourne, student wellbeing coordinators have been introduced in Catholic primary schools. These coordinators will endeavour to build a whole-school approach to values education. The Good Practice project has also provided funding for values forums to all schools, facilitating examination of values education informed by current educational frameworks, particularly the Victorian Essential Learning Standards. Assessing the impact of such initiatives requires measurement of values dispositions in students, and there are a number of tools that allow schools to do so. ACER has developed questionnaires that address attitudes and values. These allow schools to assess the success of their approach to values and thereby refine their aims within a refined framework. The Monitoring Standards in Education (MSE) unit in the Western Australian Department of Education and Training tests social competencies through teacher observation, self-reporting and student scenario-response tests. MSE then uses this research to develop school values programs based on the values of individual schools. By collecting evidence of values improvement, these measurement tools have enabled schools to evaluate the effectiveness of their values education initiatives. This has facilitated clarification of project focus in Good Practice school clusters in the State, which can inform the development of values education programs around Australia. The measurement tools have shown that Good Practice projects have affected marked differences in behaviour and attitudes of students.
Subject HeadingsValues education
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