Teacher education for effective literacy teaching
February 2007; Pages 1–24
There are two broad approaches to teaching and teacher education. The transmission approach uses ‘intensive, direct teaching of what is commonly referred to as basic literacy skills’ and sets clear goals for students. Within this approach, teacher education is essentially ‘the transmission of subject content’. Contructivist approaches, in contrast, involve an ‘open, critical approach to literacy,’ and call for skills to be related to particular contexts rather than treated in isolation. They also call for student engagement, choice, collaboration, and interdisciplinary links. ‘Few educators today’ support a transmission approach. A study in Canada has explored the views of 47 student teachers, most of them mature-age, at two universities. All the students were required to take at least one 36-hour course in language and literacy teaching. One university program was entirely cohort-based while the other used a mix of cohort and course-based units. While student teachers were generally satisfied with their education programs, some frustrations were expressed and the author identified some barriers to the adoption of constructivist learning approaches by the student teachers. Some respondents identified practicum as the ‘most important’ part of their learning experience. In these cases their approach to teaching took more from their school teacher mentor than their academics, and was often accompanied by a transmission approach to teaching. In such cases, they tended to be vague about the relevant concepts, strategies and authors, and envisaged the transmission of skills as a ‘fun’ approach counterposed to theoretical depth. Winning student teachers to effective, constructivist teaching methods can be assisted by modelling some of its methods. For example, student teachers can be encouraged to relate their own prior experiences to their views about literacy learning, and shown that this approach illustrates the constructivist emphasis on building on prior learning. Winning student teachers to constructivist approaches is best achieved through an extended program that allows time for reflection on teaching and learning strategies, in dialogue with teacher educators, rather than through limited or fragmented units that hinder long term dialogue with teacher educators and peers.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
Science for the 21st century: teaching for scientific literacy in the primary classroom
Volume 53 Number 2, June 2007; Pages 16–19
Scientific literacy involves a sound grasp of ‘the more important and enduring science ideas’, such as the solar system, genetic inheritance and the particle model in physics, rather than a detailed knowledge of facts and concepts. It involves the methodology of ‘investigating, observing, measuring, reasoning from evidence, using scientific language’. It also involves the recognition that knowledge is always tentative and advancing, and that advances require not only rigorous methods but also creative, imaginative forms of investigation. Scientific literacy further requires an awareness that science and scientific thinking are profoundly influenced by ideas and forces operating in the wider society. The main role of science education has moved from educating future workers in this field to providing citizens in general with the knowledge, skills and dispositions needed to make decisions about social and personal issues that have a scientific dimension. A focus on science in ‘real world’ contexts can help to interest primary school students in the subject, after which they can be introduced to scientific habits of mind. Student-centred, inquiry-driven learning offers a powerful way to cover real-world issues in science classes. This approach has a number of implications for teaching. Teachers may be faced with issues about which, initially at least, they know little more than their students. In such cases, they should model an interest in learning and scientific methods of inquiry. Inquiry-based science projects are likely to make science relevant to the development of literacy, numeracy and critical thinking skills across the curriculum. Inquiry around real world contexts can draw on the mass media. The study of media reports in turn helps to reinforce the sense that science is socially influenced and always developing. To be effective, learning through inquiry in science needs extended time frames, and a curriculum uncluttered by detailed facts and concepts.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Primary teacher knowledge of science concepts and professional development: implications for a case study
Volume 53 Number 2, June 2007; Pages 20–23
Researchers have worked with 18 teachers at a
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Minds on, hands on
Number 181, June 2007; Pages 12–17
The Australian Academy of Science’s ‘Primary Connections’ project is a teaching and learning program aimed at addressing the ‘state of crisis’ identified in primary school Science. Developed in consultation with educators from all States and sectors, the program explicitly links science and literacy within an inquiry-based approach. The program teaches key science literacies in modes of representation such as graphs and tables, modes of reasoning such as evidence based argument, and conventional scientific vocabulary and practices. The program's five-phase model (known as the ‘5 Es’–Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate) represents a break from standard practice for many educators, as it requires engagement and exploration of students’ own ideas prior to explanation of professional scientific discourse. The elaboration phase then requires students to broaden their knowledge and relate to new contexts, before reflecting on and evaluating their own achievement. The program also emphasises cooperative group work, assigning roles to each member of the group so as to prevent social stereotypes or dominant personalities from dictating individuals’ contributions. Primary Connections also offers teachers a set of resources and professional learning tools. A practical resource book with an accompanying CD of additional science information supplements the Primary Connections curriculum units. The units were designed around concepts and processes identified in State and Territory syllabuses to ensure that students cover a wide base of conceptual knowledge. Because of this wide base, a professional learning program is available to enable teachers to understand the project’s content, philosophy and goals, so that teachers can eventually plan their own units using an online template. Various professional learning workshops are available for facilitators, curriculum leaders, the whole school, and principals. The trial reports of the program have shown positive results, with 96 of 97 teachers involved in professional learning reporting that their teaching had improved and that Science occupied a more dominant position in the curriculum than it had previously. Student response figures were also extremely positive. Teachers reported that literacy learning had improved, with 59% reporting that students used a wider range of representational forms as a result of the program.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience literacy
Bullying case may open floodgates
Volume 17 Number 4, June 2007; Pages 8–9
A recent landmark court case, in which the plaintiff was awarded $1 million in damages for the bullying he endured in primary school, has underlined the need for schools to develop clear policies toward bullying. Professor Donna Cross, bullying prevention expert and researcher at Edith Cowen University, argues that 'there aren’t really clear guidelines in terms of what schools can do that is helpful for people who are bullied'. Cross argues for strong State policies against bullying, as the National Safe Schools framework is too general to guide schools' practice. Australian Government Education Minister, Julie Bishop, has announced that more funding will be available for bullying research and initiatives, however anti-bullying policy alone will not solve the problem. Parents must be involved in anti-bullying policy, and reassured that appropriate action will be taken if policy is breached. Procedures for dealing with bullies should also be informed by research, which suggests that strategies like empathy-building are more effective than punishment at changing bullying behaviours. Dr Ken Rigby of the University of South Australia argues that bystanders can play a major role in stopping bullying, if teachers facilitate discussion of what ought to be done and how to go about helping victims rather than simply telling students to speak up. In this way, students can listen to each others’ experiences of helping victims, and thereby feel more comfortable and confident in seeking help from teachers in the future. Parents can contribute to these efforts by monitoring their child’s behaviour and activities, particularly as the advent of instant messaging web programs has led to covert ‘cyber’ bullying taking place on home computers.
Subject HeadingsSocial education
Five flaws of staff development and the future beyond
Volume 28 Number 3, June 2007; Pages 37–38
Modern teacher learning and development programs in the USA are hindered by a number of flaws resulting from the modern realities of increased accountability and the comodification of the education sector. Presentism describes the problem whereby schools are driven by their accountability to parents, politicians and bureaucrats, and consequently frame their professional learning programs in terms of short-term test results rather than long-term improvement. Professional learning therefore takes on a reactive character, responding to individual symptoms rather than attempting to find a long-term cure. Modern staff development is also occasionally authoritarian, managed from the top-down by school authority figures without input from staff. Teachers are hindered by relentless performance assessment, and are discouraged from questioning or criticising development programs or test-driven environments by the threat of a negative performance-review. Professional learning has become more commercialised in recent times, and this is seen as exerting a negative influence on the quality of learning programs and initiatives. Texts become less substantive as publishers prioritise marketability over function, and learning programs sacrifice individualism in favour of niche efficiency. Evangelism is increasingly prevalent in professional development programs as a result of the drive for marketability. ‘Gurus’ of a particular philosophy assert their theory as a fix-all solution to broadly defined problems. Programs can also become narcissistic and self-congratulatory in their focus, designed more as impressive professional performances than as substantive, reform-driven courses. In order to avoid these traps, schools must ensure that professional learning is inclusive of teachers’ observations, beliefs, and aims, and aimed directly at improving aspects of the learning community in response to real observations in the school. Teacher practices should have more autonomy from school mandates, and schools should be more autonomous of government policies. Ultimately, society must change the way in which teachers are perceived and valued, to more genuinely invest in future society.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
In the ever-changing world, does curriculum matter?
When designed effectively, a curriculum can serve as an effective guide to the values of a school and of society as a whole. Schools must document a series of flexible learning foci which cover what students want to learn and what society wants schools to teach them, and these must be resilient against external forces of adverse change. Because school curricula reflect a society’s values and priorities, curricula are politically charged policies. Knowledge and values engendered by family, church, peer group, the internet, television and popular music help to shape the curriculum both positively and adversely, and schools must be aware of these influences and their agendas. Educators must strive to retain control over their curriculum, taking notice of government and society’s ideas but critically assessing their purpose. The curricula that are mandated by policy-makers, taught in schools, and learned by students are likely to be significantly dissimilar. In determining what the curriculum should include, we must ensure that the intended curricular outcomes are in line with school resources, the gender, ethnicity, and culture of students, community contexts, and social morality. Students, teachers, and parents should therefore become genuinely involved in curriculum construction and implementation. Schools must also ensure that this intended curriculum is appropriately enacted by including issues drawn from intended curricula in unambiguous curriculum statements. However, because schools are aware of the needs of the student body and the community they serve, it is important that they retain a degree of autonomy over curricula. Schools are responsible for the way in which students experience the curriculum, through deciding which excursions to book, which speakers to invite, and which features to focus on in any particular subject. If teachers have more input in the curriculum, they are more likely to ensure that its implementation in the classroom is closely matched to its intended purpose. If schools are then able to take community and social interests as instructive, but not decisive, in designing their curriculum and retain control over its implementation, students will be more effectively guided towards the values and outcomes that society perceives as desirable.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
The curriculum superhighway
Volume 64 Number 8, May 2007; Pages 16–20
Educational discourse should shift its focus to further emphasise human development over academic achievement and curriculum planning. Cognitive learning processes are distinct at different stages of life, and curricula should reflect this fact rather than attempt to homogenise teaching practice over K-12. The article outlines cognitive processes and developmentally appropriate educational practices for early childhood, middle childhood, early adolescent and late adolescent developmental stages. For example, in early childhood, open-ended and imaginative play is integral to cognitive development, and schools’ focus should be on providing optimum stimulation and minimal interference. Habibi’s Hutch, a preschool in Austin, Texas, reflects this focus by encouraging children to spend most of the day playing and participating in artistic and creative activities. ‘Curriculum alignment’ requires children to learn specific literacy, math and science skills in early childhood, but developmental psychologists argue that the cognitive processes required for such learning are not developed until the age of six or seven. Early childhood education should encourage such learning only as aspects of a rich sensory environment, providing magazines and books as play materials to encourage literacy learning. Young children will experience math and science learning in their daily play activities, by building with blocks, examining insects, and engaging in robust activity. Optimal learning experience is also negated in favour of curriculum conformity in other developmental stages, and this impedes students’ moral, social and spiritual development. In the current standardised, assessment-driven curriculum, the arts, physical education, social skills training, and critical thinking are neglected. Education must focus on the whole child, and not simply serve as extended preparation for academic testing.
Teaching information literacy using children's literature
June 2007; Pages 21–26
Teacher librarians can both stimulate children’s reading and teach information-searching skills by running well-prepared workshops on how to use the internet as a research tool. In one model of internet instruction, the ‘internet workshop’, teachers choose web links and activities that relate to their content areas. An action research project recently conducted in an international primary school in Hong Kong has demonstrated that the investigation of fictional literature through an internet workshop serves both to enhance understanding of the text and to make learning about literacy skills considerably more enjoyable. A group of 60 Year 3 students read a children’s novel about a polar bear and were given some background information about the Arctic circle, Northern Lights, and other factual content on which they were to complete projects. Teacher-researchers created an online network of worksheets and non-fiction resources that guided students through research by asking direct questions such as 'What do polar bears look like?', 'Where do they live?' and 'What do they eat?'. Students would navigate pre-selected websites and media resources, taking notes for later use in online and oral presentations. By exploring online resources, students extended their comprehension of the story and related content and developed new information literacy skills such as reading non-narrative texts, searching for information, taking notes and creating a presentation. Students were more motivated in their research tasks when they learned their work was to be published online and presented to the rest of the class. Analysis of the worksheet content showed note-taking skills should be explicitly taught in future information literacy classes, as this was evidently the most challenging aspect of the project. However, the students developed strong visual design skills, manipulating font, colour and images in their presentations. Students also learned, through the online publication of their work, that the internet is an interactive medium. Student response to the internet workshop project was extremely positive, with students showing greater interest in the library and in reading more stories by the same author, and some students electing to spend recess breaks refining their work.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsInformation literacy
A curriculum for tomorrow's adults
The inclusive model of education is sometimes prioritised over individualised learning. This can have negative consequences because, although the ‘universal design’ principle often applies (as when all students benefit from the visual supports adopted for people with learning disabilities), the needs of different children are sometimes diametrically opposed. For example, if one child learns best through exposure to several dynamic stimuli and another learns best in a quiet, subdued environment, the teacher cannot accommodate both in the same classroom. Autistic students, for example, thrive in settings with limited stimulation, minimal choice, few other children and little variety from routine. Students with disabilities can often learn more in specialised settings. Resource rooms offer disabled students a more even balance of academic and non-academic activities, with a particular focus on social development. Mainstream schools do not necessarily need to incorporate such social-development material into the already crowded curriculum, because most students learn social skills organically. Some argue that social interactions taught in the classroom are also more contrived than when students learn them through genuine interaction. However, because most schools do not incorporate social skills into the curriculum, there is a danger that children with additional needs in this area will be neglected when included in mainstream schools. For example, children with autism require a learning profile that is significantly divergent from that of most students, and are therefore disadvantaged by mainstream schooling. Traditional models of inclusion fail to serve autistic students. The common practice of including disabled students in subjects conventionally believed to be ‘easy’ because of their high social content, and offering individualised instruction for subjects perceived as ‘difficult’ because of their high academic content, is entirely adverse to autistic students’ needs. The mainstream schooling assumption that all students grasp social understandings more readily than academic ones disadvantages autistic students. Although individualised instruction in social skills would benefit these students, there is also a strong argument for a greater emphasis on social skills in mainstream classrooms more generally, as strong social skills are increasingly sought after by employers.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
History is the best adventure: now, where can we put the mummies?
Number 181, June 2007; Pages 59–63
Historical fiction can be a valuable tool in teaching history, if it avoids clichés. History texts for children frequently resemble ‘scaled down’ adult history texts, in that they present a selection of disjointed facts, with themes obscured by the omission of more complicated content. History texts also often omit the detail that can give historical narratives colour. However, fiction that is historically accurate and avoids clichés is more effective than a set of dry facts in a textbook in helping children to build a thorough and intricate picture of a social historical period. Conversely, historical fiction can change and misrepresent history for the sake of making a fictional story more interesting. When historical fiction is ‘more fiction than history’ and a story is simply set in the past for extra colour and does not accurately portray the values and realities of the historical context, it becomes clichéd. ‘Kids end up not only believing Elizabeth I looked like Cate Blanchett, but that the past was pretty much like today, with a few added bonnets and lepers’. Historical fiction based on real events and people within an accurately portrayed context can enrich children’s understanding of the past and inform their impression of the present. Historical fiction presents a ‘digestible’ dose of facts within a rich description of time and place. When children identify with the protagonist in historical fiction, they gain an understanding of values different to their own, which promotes tolerance. Children also address issues that are not historically based. In Pharaoh, written by the article’s author, children not only absorb a vast amount of historical fact concerning early domestication of animals, irrigation, and writing, but are introduced to such issues as the conflict between rights and duties, parochialism, and the impact of appearance in shaping people’s opinions. Historical fiction depicts a vision of how society changes over time, and it does so through a story that children can enjoy.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
How we treat one another in school
Volume 64 Number 8, May 2007; Pages 32–38
Researchers in the USA who surveyed Year 7 and 8 students’ attitudes toward and experiences of bullying have concluded that schools need to accept greater responsibility for preventing bullying and protecting its victims. The survey covered students from three New England schools that differed significantly in terms of race, the socioeconomic status of communities served, and urbanicity. Findings were consistent with other research. The survey found that the girls at the school that had greatest socioeconomic diversity were significantly more likely to experience ‘relational’(ie. friendship-related) bullying. Some boys at all schools were found to bully girls through verbal abuse, sexual references and demeaning comments about appearance. Most bullying was found to occur in hallways, in between classes, and students expressed a desire for more teacher supervision of this locale. Students at urban schools were more likely to cite ‘hitting back’ as their preferred response to any form of bullying, perhaps signifying the importance of maintaining a ‘tough’ appearance in urban schools and an inability to conceive of non-violent conflict resolution. The study shows that types of bullying vary considerably between schools, and that a ‘one size fits all’ response is to bullying is therefore inadequate. Students perceived teachers as ignorant of the types and extent of bullying present in their school, and intervention as infrequent and unreliable. However, students also indicated a strong belief that teachers can be highly effective in combating bullying if they are aware of its occurrence and address instances of bullying seriously. Schools must treat bullying as an aspect of a more comprehensive social-emotional curriculum, as a set of moral development, school climate and policy goals. The first step in such a comprehensive policy must be to conduct an assessment of the specific needs of the school, and student opinion should be consulted as part of this exercise. Schools must then generate a relevant, comprehensive and coherent anti-bullying message, including a definition of types of bullying, processes for reporting bullying, and the response students can expect from teachers. Every member of staff must then be trained in identifying and responding to bullying in a manner consistent with the school’s anti-bullying policy.
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