Beginning reading materials: a national survey of primary teachers' reported uses and benefits
Volume 38 Number 4, 2006; Pages 389–425
A US study has asked K-3 teachers about the types of reading material they select for use with beginning readers. It aimed to identify the frequency with which teachers used particular types of text such as ‘literature, basals, workbooks, predictable text, levelled text, decodable text and vocabulary controlled text’. It also aimed to determine how text selection was influenced by instructional purpose, government policy, program, grade level and the mandating of decodable text in some US states. Surveys were sent to 1000 teachers randomly selected from a list of 5000 International Reading Association members. The 382 respondents were mostly highly experienced teachers from schools that were diverse in terms of location, socio-economic status and size. The data showed that teachers selected texts mainly to suit a given instructional purpose. For example, to teach comprehension respondents tended to use literature, due to its rich vocabulary and interest for readers, whereas predictable text was preferred for struggling readers and for teaching sight words. The use of decodable text, controversial in the field of literacy teaching, was not supported for any teaching purpose by 30% of respondents. For most respondents, however, decodable text was subordinated to instructional purpose rather than rejected wholesale: it tended to be used for the specific purpose of ‘sounding out’. In Texas and California, where State governments mandate the use of decodable text, teachers supplemented it with other text types to suit particular teaching aims. Levelled text was the only text type that most respondents considered suitable for all instructional purposes. The respondents’ choice of text types for given purposes is not always supported by research findings. Research supports the use of vocabulary-controlled text for building fluency, but respondents did not make heavy use of such text, perhaps because it is not widely mandated by government or widely provided by publishers. Respondents’ broad support for levelled texts extended to its use with struggling readers and with the teaching of sight words, areas in which its value is not vindicated by research. Avenues for the dissemination of research findings on text usage may therefore need to be improved.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Honey, I shrunk the library: technology, cyberspace and knowledge culture
Volume 21 Number 1, March 2007; Pages 21–26
The increasing importance of electronic information has led to a reduction in holdings of books as a proportion of school library collections and spaces. The shift to electronic resources arguably makes the role of school librarians more important than ever, in view of the need for students to learn how to sift the mass of online information for currency, accuracy and authoritativeness. However, as Curt Asher notes, there is evidence that neither parents nor senior staff in schools recognise the central role that school librarians can play in meeting students’ information needs. In the face of this problem, school librarians should stop playing 'the victim' and should show their ability to develop deep learning in students. As part of this process, school librarians should engage with popular culture and ICT. By doing so, they can challenge stereotypes of the school library as an ‘a female space filled with staid, bookish women’. Encouraging the study of popular culture also offers a powerful way to demonstrate the importance of writing to students. For example they can discuss cases in which popular films derive from written fiction, and they can show the central role of writing at different developmental stages of popular screen-based media productions. Such study can therefore actually increase students' interest in reading books. The focus on popular culture and screen-based media can also be used to equip students with the critical literacy skills needed to identify social and cultural influences operating within texts. These changes require a greater understanding of popular culture by librarians, including a recognition of the extent to which the Internet and TV have let children into the adult world, and an awareness of the role that reality TV has played for children and teenagers in coming to terms with emotion, interpersonal relations and sexuality. The achievement of these changes is 'not aided by constant stories in the media’ about crises in literacy levels, attacks which have ‘little to do with actual literacy standards themselves’.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Teacher librarians and school leadership
Volume 21 Number 1, March 2007; Pages 5–7
A range of influences hinder school librarians from pursuing promotion within schools. The processes involved in competing for a senior position are frequently seen as 'less noble' than simply performing one's current job well, and this common attitude is a deterrent, especially for women. Another potential obstacle is the relatively distinct and separated nature of librarians’ work compared to that of other school staff. In confronting these barriers, school librarians should be conscious that they possess a range of qualities that equip them for positions in school leadership. They are usually involved in supervising staff. They are required to interact and build relationships with a number of people beyond the school. They interact with all teachers, with whom they are well-placed to discuss potential classroom resources, students’ reactions to work requirements, and areas of possible collaboration. Like all professional staff, they can contribute to school-wide policies and debates. Teacher librarians work closely with students in planning methods and resources for class work. Librarians’ school-wide role helps them to be aware of the latest curriculum developments in all subject areas. The Australian School Library Association can help school librarians to further their careers by compiling a collection of sample position advertisements, specific to the requirements of each school system and sector. The article was written after the author’s recent collaboration with the ASLA’s ACT branch.
Keeping your Headship, when others all around you are losing theirs
Volume 31 Number 2, 2007; Pages 10–25
The diminishing average tenure of school heads suggests that many principals are dissatisfied with their terms of employment. Employment contracts between school boards and new heads must therefore be taken more seriously. They must enshrine due process in case of the need for negotiated departure, but also clearly state how a head’s performance will be appraised, how shortcomings will be addressed, how improvement will be measured, and how disputes between the head and board will be managed. The Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA) has developed guidelines for a head’s contract. It is designed as advice, not as legal counsel, and school boards still have final discretion as to what contracts are to include. However, new heads should be aware that contracts that do not contain the key elements listed in the guidelines can lead to conflicts and difficulties in the future. The article outlines the AHISA guidelines and suggests ways that certain contractual points can help protect a new head’s interests. In general, the guidelines recommend that contracts be comprehensive and inclusive. It is vital that they feature a performance appraisal and review section, remuneration details (including detailed terms of benefits), and an outline of grievance procedures. These key elements ensure that a new head will be protected should a school board become dissatisfied, and knows which expenses will be reimbursed. The guidelines also suggest that contracts clearly delineate the roles of the head and school board, and specify the benefits associated with the heads’ residence (eg amenities, relocation expenses, or domestic assistance for school functions), the timeline and basis for remuneration review, and allowances for individual negotiation of salary packaging and leave. Adherence to some of these recommendations is a precondition for membership of AHISA. New heads are encouraged to seek professional advice on issues such as superannuation.
Subject HeadingsSchool councils
May 2007; Pages 8–13
A set of related articles in Teacher describes a number of postgraduate qualifications in school leadership available in Victoria. Teresa Bossio reports that the Victorian Department of Education and Training’s framework for leadership development programs, Learning to Lead Effective Schools, has encouraged the creation of the Master in School Leadership qualification, offered at Monash University and the University of Melbourne. These postgraduate programs respond to concerns such as future leadership supply, succession planning, and leader mobility across the government school system. The partnership between the Department and the universities in creating the program has ensured that the programs are tailored to fit the specific requirements of Victorian government schools. David Gurr, senior lecturer of the University of Melbourne’s Master in School Leadership, states that the primary aim of the course is to effect change in Victorian schools. The course aims to ‘trouble’ and ‘agitate’ its students about the current state of schools whilst acknowledging achievements. The course is integrated around a major project dealing with a problem scenario in a school. The project can involve reporting on internship experiences in organisations that have gone through transformations; overseas study tours; critical reflection on current programs and practice; exploration of new theories in leadership; or evaluation of current reforms. Brenda Beatty, director of the program at Monash University, places greater emphasis on the human dimensions of leadership, citing the strong influence that school leaders wield over students’ and teachers’ perception of authority figures. Major units on the human dimensions of leadership, such as community engagement and working with the media, are integrated with technical coursework. Students complete a unit of job shadowing in order to develop networks. Net-based tools such as the ‘virtual classroom’ forum and the WEBEX real-time net conferencing system facilitate the interactive involvement of distance students. These forums facilitated instantaneous feedback from lecturers and colleagues, and were highly valued by students. The isolating nature of leadership is also lessened by the network of colleagues students develop during the program. Many participants assumed leadership roles during the course, as the course increased students’ confidence and motivation to apply for promotion.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Governance as leadership: how school boards can work better and do better work
Volume 31 Number 2, May 2007; Pages 4–9
School boards become disengaged and ineffectual if they micro-manage individual tasks without dealing with the school’s values, traditions and beliefs. Boards typically function in 'fiduciary mode' (managing operations and resources) and 'strategic mode' (assessing internal viability and external market forces). However, by advancing beyond these modes into the 'generative mode' of governance, they can engage in valuable leadership decisions. The generative mode monitors the values the school wants to uphold through its actions, assessing the implications that a particular action will have upon the school’s projected values and beliefs. For example, a proposal to build a new school gymnasium would generate fiduciary responses such as ‘how are we going to finance it?’ and strategic questions like ‘do we want to compete with other schools on amenities?’, while generative mode questions might be ‘do we pass or play on the amenities arms race?’ and ‘to what degree do we plan to satisfy our community’s increasing consumer demands?’. In generative mode, the board contributes to the way issues are framed, and although this type of governance is not appropriate in all situations, many decisions benefit from generative thinking. In fiduciary and strategic modes, boards risk micro-management of details within a given scheme, and are disenfranchised from higher-level, ideological decision-making. Boards must make room for generative governance on their agendas. In order to determine where generative thinking could benefit governance, organisations must analyse and interpret the implications of past decisions, confer with stakeholders and peers, raise introspective as well as operational questions, and begin to tap the intellectual capital of the board as well as its technical expertise. The more boards work in the right mode in the right moment, the better their governance will be.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Sorting good apples from bad
Volume 2, 2007; Page 14
Despite the intensifying political debate about teacher performance, processes of teacher dismissal are rarely evaluated. However, statistics show that school leaders and many teachers are dissatisfied with the dismissal process, which is time-consuming and ineffectual. Victoria is considered by education researchers to have the most advanced system, as school principals can recommend a teacher's dismissal to the Department of Education and Training. In all other States, the Department of Education handles dismissals independently. However, even the Victorian system is considered inadequate, as the process of dismissal can take up to two years. The teachers under scrutiny often become stressed and take sick leave, delaying the process and forcing other teachers to take on the underperforming teacher’s classes. This situation adversely affects both teachers and students, and a Boston Consulting Group survey has shown that teachers in the Victorian system are irritated by such inefficient management of underperforming teachers. Teachers identified as underperforming complain that judgements of their performance are subjective and based on anecdotal evidence. A soon-to-be-released ACER report will suggest a variety of methods to measure teacher performance and implement performance-based pay. This follows a recent OECD report which found that almost all countries surveyed were concerned by ‘qualitative shortfalls’ amongst teachers, but that countries in which schools had responsibility for selecting and managing teachers gained higher student results. Australian teacher management processes should emulate the best management practices of other industries, in which employers and underperforming employees reach a mutual agreement in terminating employment. Companies often pay for the employee’s use of recruitment agencies for three months, and arrange for a period of part-time work so that the employee can search for alternative work and attend job interviews. Although teachers are likely to be apprehensive about any changes to school management, a fairer and more efficient system for dealing with incompetent teachers will improve teacher quality and the status of the profession.
Subject HeadingsTeacher evaluation
A new day for kids
Volume 64 Number 8, May 2007; Pages 62–65
The Martin Luther King School is one of 10 in Massachusetts that have adopted a program of extended school hours. Despite early fears about students' capacity to concentrate in longer classes, the program has been judged very successful. Teachers, parents, and community partners were involved in planning the program, and 12 of the school’s 15 core academic teachers agreed to work additional hours in exchange for a pay rise. Students at the King school now attend class from 7.40am to 3.55pm, and this has facilitated a number of changes to the school curriculum. Students now receive extended instruction in language arts, maths and science, areas in which the school's students have previously underperformed. The extra class time allows for wider as well as deeper curriculum in these subjects with more time for assisting students. Language teachers found that the extended periods facilitated implementation of literacy programs which had previously been fragmented. Teachers are also more able to integrate project-based learning into the curriculum. The Jacob Hiatt Magnet School has used its extended hours to integrate cultural and community experiences into the curriculum. For example, grade three students studying history were visited by educators from the Old Sturbridge Village living history museum. Martin Luther King School has also been able to provide new enrichment programs through elective courses such as photography, ceramics and community internship. These courses contextualise and deepen the knowledge gained in core classes. For example, middle-school students build on literacy skills by participating in drama or film classes, and younger students incorporate their gardening classes into their maths and science understanding. Beyond enriching core classes, these electives improve physical fitness, communication, social skills and cultural exposure. Teachers have noticed, for instance, behavioural improvement resulting from karate class’ emphasis on respect and self-discipline. Behaviour and relationship-building are also explicitly taught in the
Subject HeadingsSchool day
United States of America (USA)
Oetzi the Ice Man: an integrated curriculum
Volume 6 Number 2, May 2007; Pages 22–25
An integrated approach to teaching science, English, the humanities and ICT has provided a highly engaging, rich and authentic learning experience for Year 7 students in their first term at Victoria’s Woodleigh School. By exploring the real-world mystery of Oetzi: the Ice Man, students built scientific skills and ways of thinking which then offered a focus for a broader humanities assignment on the nature of selfhood. Students recorded results using spreadsheets and dataloggers. Using research to create magazines, students developed English knowledge and writing, layout and proof-reading skills. The project enabled the teacher-librarian to introduce students to the school’s library resources and network system, assess the standard of existing research skills and develop information literacy and critical thinking. Students were required to consider a range of resources and used Publisher to produce magazines. Final products were high in quality and could be shared with parents. The students worked collaboratively and independently, and developed ICT and multimedia skills in other packages such as Inspiration, PowerPoint and Word during the assignment. VELS personal learning and thinking objectives were also addressed. A supportive school structure was critical to success. The school used a core teacher model with one maths/science teacher and one English/humanities teacher for Year 7 students. The teaching timetable was structured to allow for meetings during the day and after school. Buddy meetings focused on pastoral and behavioural issues, while whole team meetings focused on integrating the curriculum. While some were initially concerned their subject would be ‘lost’ within the project, teachers reported positive outcomes for student learning, built stronger relationships, and discussed and refined the project for subsequent classes, which resulted in a higher standard over time.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Studies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
English language teaching
Grain size: the unresolved riddle
Volume 64 Number 8, May 2007; Pages 80–81
In assessment, ‘grain size’ refers to the specificity of the curricular aim being measured. A report with a large grain size would indicate a student’s assessed performance on a broad criterion such as ‘reading comprehension’, while a report of a student’s performance on every individual item of a test would represent the smallest possible grain size. Electronic devices for scoring student results often use a grain size inappropriate for reporting purposes. For instance, if a report presents information in an inappropriately large grain size, the inferred meaning of the report is too general: ‘parents learn that their child has displayed “acceptable maths concepts” but “weak maths skills”’. If the report’s grain size is too small, teachers are confronted with a mass of information that fails to indicate any clear trends or generalised results. Teachers must therefore address electronic score reports critically. If reports are not useful in making instructional decisions, teachers should demand that they be redesigned, so that manufacturers can meet users’ needs more effectively.
A world class curriculum for all
Volume 64 Number 7, April 2007; Pages 53–56
The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a very effective preparation for higher education, but it should be offered to all students rather than just those aiming for tertiary studies. Opening up the IB to all students is likely to require significant adjustments to current curricula. By practicing strategies of heterogenous grouping, accelerated curriculum, high expectations, and support for teachers and struggling students, Southside High School in New York was able to extend and diversify its IB enrolment, with positive results for all students. Southside’s first move was to ‘de-track’ its science and maths courses in middle and high school, allowing all students to enrol in honours classes by choice. In order to better prepare students for IB level courses, high school English and Social Studies curricula were reformed into pre-IB curricula for heterogenous classes. For example, ‘Commentary’, or detailed interpretation of texts, was included in the Year 10 English curriculum, and Social Studies teachers taught students to develop subject bibliographies in preparation for the IB's ‘Historical Investigation’ component. Support classes were developed to help students with the more challenging content. Eventually, the majority of students were enrolled in advanced maths courses previously only offered to accelerated students. Although these changes greatly increased enrolment in IB, cultural and institutional barriers still discouraged minority students from enrolling in high-level classes. In order to encourage diversity, school leaders provided a ‘safety net’ in IB by allowing students to transfer back to standard classes at any time during the year with a weighted grade transfer of 1.1. Extra effort in IB classes was therefore not wasted if students decided to transfer courses. Teachers also appealed to the interests and strengths of minority students, for example, by encouraging Latino students enrolled in IB Spanish to enrol in other IB classes. The principal at Southside also arranged for students from ethnic minorities to have others like themselves in their class. Teachers were supported by a professional learning program, which taught faculty members skills of differentiated instruction so that the high standards of IB subjects did not suffer from the increased diversity of classes.
Schooling for the 21st century
Volume 2, 2007; Pages 38–41
The biggest challenge facing schools in the near future is to remain relevant in a rapidly transforming world. In order to do this, schools must cater for their local communities’ specialised needs, and focus on the changing contexts in which students operate. However, this goal is hampered by governments' increasing emphasis upon school accountability, standardised testing and other mandated measurement. These requirements reinforce the mentality of a ‘one size fits all’ education. Standardised assessment also fails to recognise that many important educational outcomes, such as students’ capacity for independent learning and the personal relevance of learning, are essentially unmeasurable. Whilst still adhering to government mandates, schools can undertake several measures to transform their practices to suit the new contexts in which they serve. In the context of the technological revolution, teachers must change how they perceive their role. Technological innovations such as the internet have decreased the relevance of teachers as the possessors of knowledge, as information is more widely available than ever before. Teachers must therefore reinvent themselves as mentors of learning, and professional learning will play an important role in this process. To facilitate this transition, schools must lessen the administrative burden placed upon teachers. These changes also give students more responsibility for their own learning. Technology will become increasingly relevant in the modern classroom, by connecting students to other learners and experts in and beyond the local community. Schools can also form mutually beneficial partnerships with important individuals and organisations in their communities, illustrating the real-world context of learning. Leadership must be distributed through all levels of the school, including students, so that it becomes supportive of the learning community in a meaningful way. In the modern school context of smaller class sizes, crowded curricula, and greater accountability, schools must approach education practically, dispensing with activities that have little value, promoting more effective activities, and subverting the influence of any ineffectual mandated activities.
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
A culture of learning
Number 181, June 2007; Pages 24–31
A number of Catholic schools in ethnically diverse and underprivileged areas of Sydney are achieving above-average results in the senior years. Leaders at Freeman Catholic, Trinity Catholic, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and St. Patrick’s cite the development of a ‘culture of learning’ as influential in the success of their HSC students. When interviewed, they all emphasised the extent to which articulating their school’s successes and achievements helped to promote this culture. Setting high expectations of students was also perceived as integral to cultivating a culture of learning. Discipline was seen as a priority by teachers and middle-management, because ‘no student has the right to spoil good learning for other students’. Principals are respected and well-known figures in these schools, and regularly address students in order to motivate and encourage them. Principals also promote a ‘team’ mentality amongst staff, and encourage teachers to share their experiences. Encouraging teachers to work as assessors for the HSC and school certificate is viewed as important in developing their understanding of HSC assessment. Based upon this understanding, classes focus on teaching principles and analysis, with less emphasis on memorising content. Curriculum Coordinators are responsible for implementing reforms that address identified weaknesses. At St. Patrick’s College, the Curriculum Coordinator encourages evaluation of practice by providing staff members with printouts of their HSC results and the DeCourcy analysis of them. The Curriculum Coordinator at Trinity College helps each Year 12 student maximise their HSC results by guiding their subject selection based on personal strengths. Other initiatives focus on specific trends in HSC results. For example, boys’ underperformance in literacy is addressed by providing single-sex English classes. External learning skills experts are often employed to teach study techniques, organisation, and note-taking, and schools provide extensive examination practice from as early as Year 9.
Subject HeadingsNew South Wales (NSW)
Bullying: what schools can do
Number 181, June 2007; Pages 48–55
Although schools often address bullying as a risk-management and liability issue, it should be perceived more fundamentally as a violation of the human rights of the target, and a symptom of a relationship breakdown that requires respectful resolution. It is unrealistic to expect the complete eradication of bullying in schools, but there are several practical ways to minimise it. Schools require a committed, whole-school, long-term approach to bullying. This can be achieved by clearly defining a code of conduct for each school member that explicitly addresses types of bullying, such as cyber and mobile phone bullying, and their consequences. A strong stance against bullying should be reflected in the common, everyday language of the school. All members of the school community must reiterate this message, including not only staff, students and parents, but school boards, local shopkeepers and bus drivers. Schools must investigate bullying practices in order to plan anti-bullying programs, and targets must be able to report such practices without fear of being labelled a ‘dobber’. Initiatives such as secret surveys, a ‘bully box’ where students can post anonymous notes, a phone number to call or email connection can all facilitate communication between targets and authorities. Public relations exercises can dramatically raise the profile of anti-bullying practices. These may include media such as stickers, buttons or school posters, competitions for designing these, rewards for respectful behaviour, the involvement of popular identities such as pop stars or sportspeople, or lectures and seminars training students in restorative justice. It is best to use a combination of school staff and external experts in this training, and in dealing with repeat offenders or targets. Parents must be meaningfully involved in formulating the anti-bullying campaign, and can be informed about bullying through texts and parent-teacher meetings. When a student is no longer being bullied, they will be able to make new friends. Parents and relatives will observe that the child is happier at home, and their schoolwork will improve.
School and community
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