Comprehension difficulties after Year 4: actioning appropriately
Volume 11 Number 3, 2006; Pages 125–130
Reading comprehension difficulties often emerge at Grade 4, as texts become more complex or varied in language structure, vocabulary, genre and content. Struggling students tend to cope with these problems by reading less than peers and by reading lower level material. They are often fluent readers and articulate speakers, and do not characteristically lack general knowledge. However, they tend to read superficially. They focus on decoding words accurately rather than constructing overall textual meaning. As a result they tend to recall irrelevant or unimportant details. They cannot adapt their comprehension strategies to circumstance. These problems are not well addressed by many intervention programs, which focus on word level skills and set unchallenging language structures and vocabulary. The teaching of comprehension skills also commonly relies too much on questioning after reading. Effective strategies need to stimulate students' intrinsic motivation to read, which is often in decline at this time. Intrinsic motivation can be strengthened by giving students a sense of their competence to choose what they read, by offering texts tailored to their personal interests and backgrounds, and through group reading work. Struggling students should be taught to seek overall meaning from key sections of a text, such as title and lead paragraph. They should be encouraged to predict text and to test their predictions. Visual imagery, which stimulates the understanding and integration of textual information, should be encouraged through strategic questioning during lessons, and through ‘demonstrating, modelling and prompting’ by the teacher. The students should also be asked to reorganise text, by preparing summaries, by graphically representing central ideas, and by ‘text extending’ exercises through which students are asked to interpret characters’ perspectives, to extend scenarios in the text, or to apply the texts’ ideas to new situations. Struggling children need systematic direct instruction in comprehension strategies, and in how to apply strategies flexibly. The scaffolding involved in this instruction should be gradually withdrawn over time to build students’ self-confidence.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
Inking your thinking
Volume 15 Number 1, February 2007; Pages i–viii
Research suggests that comprehension skills can be improved by teaching decoding skills, vocabulary and comprehension strategies such as prediction, image construction and story analysis, and encouraging students to monitor their own comprehension. ‘Inking your thinking’ is a reading workshop program that encourages students to implement these strategies before, during and after reading. In the before-reading phase, students view a visual representation associated with the text, which serves to motivate and engage students. This activity also helps students to link what they will read with related concepts from other sources. The during-reading phase consists of four subphases: vocabulary, summary, visualisation and 'Q & do'. In the vocabulary subphase, students record unusual words found while scanning the text, and add synonyms and definitions. This activity helps students engage in decoding prior to reading the text, which reduces the cognitive effort required for the comprehension process during in-depth reading. Students then summarise and visualise the text before reaching the ‘Q & do’ subphase, in which students are trained to question and form opinions of the text, and act in response to these opinions. This is the basis of the after-reading phase, in which students generate a ‘reading response’. The response is a student-prepared text that is informed by the reading text. This may be completed either in a different genre to the studied text, so that in response to an article about whales, students write a fictional story about whales. Alternatively students replicate the genre, perhaps with some variation of subject matter, in which case students write an article about dolphins. ‘Inking your thinking’ should not form the sole basis of comprehension strategy in literacy, but it is an effective and simple-to-use strategy that can meaningfully enhance students’ comprehension.
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
Network literacy: the new path to knowledge
Number 45, 2007; Pages 24–30
Network literacy refers to an understanding of the technology and procedures that enable effective interpersonal communication online. The interactive element of network literacy differentiates it from simple computer literacy. Network literacy involves a grasp of the general principles and properties of networks. For example, it means understanding common social software that facilitates people’s interaction online, and allows content to be grouped and regrouped flexibly. This software includes social bookmarking services such as del.icio.us, academic citation services such as CiteULike, repositories like Flickr for photographs, YouTube for video and RSS facilities for supplying continuous information feeds. Blogs are a commonly used, convenient way to integrate some or all of such services with personally created content. Network literacy does not demand an understanding of programming or network administration but does imply the need for some basic enabling skills such as how to code html links. It requires a grasp of conventions such as ‘tagging’, the uploading of descriptive terms by end users to the content that they create. Tagging is idiosyncratic at a personal level, but at a social level it acquires meaning, as participants discover which terms are widely used, and then act on this knowledge, a process known as folksonomy. Some services allow users to select RSS feeds by nominating either particular tags, or the personal accounts of other users who supply online content. Network literacy means an orientation to sharing information online and understanding that others will expect such sharing. It also involves an awareness that content posted online will be accessible to many different people and may be read for widely varying purposes. Network literacy may be contrasted to traditional ‘print literacy’, which involves an understanding of all the processes that enable use of print-based resources.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Literacy learning through computer-based technologies: rethinking small group work
Volume 15 Number 1, February 2007; Pages 17–23
Awareness of the social nature of learning has generated conventions about the most suitable size for group work. Groups of four students are widely seen as optimal for maximising student involvement in most situations, but in the case of computer work, groups of three students are widely seen as ideal – one student operates the computer and two others can discuss and resolve problems. However, some research has found that individual work is optimal for computer tasks, and the reason for assigning groups to such work may be more as a result of the limited number of computers available than to a sound pedagogic rationale. A study in New South Wales has explored the value of individual, paired and group work among Year 4 students. Participants attended a small school south of Sydney. The children used four desktop eMac and laptop iBook computers, all wireless. The article reports on seven children, representing the range of ability levels within their class. The children were asked by their teacher to select a topic for their Personal Interest Project, choose a research method, and determine whom, if anyone, they would work with. Those who chose to work alone determined their own decisions effectively and were able to collaborate with peers as needed. Those in groups often ‘experienced a stifling of their own understandings and priorities’ as they accommodated the wishes of peers. Group roles and the choice of topics tended to be determined by friendships or personality rather than study needs, and conflict over control of the computers impeded work. Given the practical reality that most primary students must share computers, procedures should be taken to ensure that children are truly able to set their own topics when asked to do so. One option is for students to select topics privately. These topics of genuine interest could then determine individual, paired or group work arrangements.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsGroup work in education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Phonological awareness: investigating the phonological awareness knowledge of New Zealand primary schools' educators
Number 3, 2006; Pages 44–49
The results of a Phonological Awareness Test administered to a group of New Zealand educators reveal wide variations in teachers’ understandings of how to teach students the relationships between word sound and meaning, and in how to segment words into sounds. Attendees of various professional development days were screened. The test was completed by 212 final-year education students, literacy and learning and behaviour resource teachers and teacher aides. Discussion sessions followed the test, and individual and group results tabulated. The test’s 95 per cent pass criteria was achieved by 12 per cent, while 13 per cent received a ‘proceed with caution’ result. ‘Phoneme segmentation’ and ‘second sound’ are the most in-depth level of segmentation, and caused the most difficulty for all groups. Teacher aides, who often work with the most at-risk students, showed the least understanding. Unsolicited responses written on test papers revealed difficulties with identifying consonant blends as a single sound and identifying differences between blends and digraphs as well as completing the sound activities ‘in their heads’ and not listening to instructions. Strategies used by participants included writing words and then grouping written letters into sounds, counting on fingers, mouthing words and using tally marks to record sounds. Most participants gave confused definitions for ‘sound’ or ‘phoneme’. This confusion led to difficulties, such as mistaking blends for single phonemes. The findings suggest that phonics and phonological awareness instruction will vary between teachers and across schools, and may compound student’s literacy difficulties. Competent reading involves automatic phoneme segmentation and blending. As competent readers themselves, teachers may be unaware of the need to teach these skills explicitly. However, teachers’ use of other phonological awareness segmentation techniques must also be considered, such as onset and rime (or first and second sounds within a word). Teachers existing use of the rime unit to teach spelling may be more consistent than the spelling of single phonemes. In the research ‘phonological awareness’ refers to understanding the ‘phonological structure of a word at the syllable, onset–rime and phoneme level’.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsNew Zealand
Prescriptions and Proscriptions: the three Ps of scientific writing - past, passive and personal
Volume 53 Number 2, June 2007; Pages 36–38
Although many science teachers advise students to write experimental reports using specific writing conventions, it appears that this advice may be outmoded. A recent study has found that norms of scientific writing have loosened over time, and that scientific reports no longer conform to the conventions of writing in the past tense, passive tense and third person. Internet searches of school and tertiary institutions return traditional suggestions in terms of writing style. Use of the third person and passive tense is seen to neutralise scientific writing, and presents claims and results as objective rather than interpretive. By conforming to these conventions, scientific writers assert their membership of the scientific community and therefore legitimise their claims. Some authors adhere to writing convention, but are selective in its implementation. For example, some disciplines, such as ecology, permit limited use of the first person, particularly in Introduction and Discussion sections. These sections also permit a degree of flexibility in tense, as intentions and predictions are often voiced in future tense. Many general guides to writing argue against use of the passive tense, as it is less clear and concise than the active tense. In science, however, there is much greater emphasis of actions over actors than in other fields. In order to test the degree to which contemporary scientific writing departs from traditional practice, two journals were selected from disciplines in the four scientific departments, and articles from these were randomly chosen and examined for breach of ‘absolute’ rules of scientific writing. It was found that the personal, active and present tense are all used extensively in all parts of scientific writing, and this may reflect a shift towards stylistic acknowledgement of postmodernist discourse, which focuses on the role of interpretation. From the sample, there appeared to be no general prohibition on first person, active or present tense. Science teachers can therefore relax the rules they teach as scientific writing style, and simply advise students to make their writing clear and readable.
Key Learning AreasScience
Young adult fiction: part of a differentiated curriculum?
June 2007; Pages 5–8
There is a generalised drive to differentiate the curriculum in recognition of students’ situations. It may involve setting varied levels of difficulty, allowing for different learning styles, and providing varied forms of assessment. In the context of young adult fiction it means varying the curriculum to allow for differences in ability, needs and interests, and different responses to particular types of content or format. Young adult fiction was designed as a bridge between the content and style of children’s and adult literature. Its pedagogical element may be didactic or may simply express particular values or knowledge. There is a tension in young adult fiction between extending the reader and ‘preserving the innocence of youth’. The reader is often encouraged to identify uncritically with the lead protagonist. Other tensions are felt in awards for young adult fiction. There is debate as to whether 12–18-year-olds can be meaningfully seen as one reading age group, and the extent to which older adolescents who are personally mature still engage with the genre. One of the changes taking place during these years is the reader’s growing ability to decide whether to surrender to or critically interpret the intentions of the author. Schools should offer variety in young adult fiction, to provide for relatively mature students as well as those who cannot yet move beyond surface interpretations of meaning.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Parents and their children working together: a Scaffolding Literacy case study
Volume 30 Number 1, 2007; Pages 21–39
This article draws on results of the Parents as Tutors program in the Australian Capital Territory and the Scaffolding Literacy teaching method. The program, a joint initiative of the University of Canberra and the ACTDET, has consistently been able to show demonstrated improvements in literacy on benchmarked tests, with younger students gaining between 1–2 Year levels and students in Year 4 and above improving by 2–3 Year levels. However, the long-term success of the program for each child depends on the ability of a supportive adult to give valuable and reliable feedback on development of literacy skills. The program, therefore, teaches parents and carers explicit and integrated strategies in reading, writing and spelling. It applies Vgotsky’s concept of ‘proximal development’, a level of learning difficulty that children can manage with adult guidance. The program participants share some characteristics: three-quarters of them are boys, most referrals are from government schools and a high number have special needs, but the program is not tailored to special needs students as such. Priority is given to students in later years, because they are typically in greater need. It is also because these students tend to make greater gains: as their deficiencies in coding skills are overcome they are able to apply their general knowledge to the understanding of context. The course runs for 18 weeks and involves 28 hours of class time for the adult. The adults are trained to understand the impact of stress and mental overload on children’s learning. This stress disorganises the learning situation for the child, leads them to seek ways to minimise ‘intellectual risk’, and makes them resistant to attempts to improve their academic self-perception but they are also very sensitive to negative feedback. Adults are also taught the scaffolding of reading and writing, and detailed language work.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Parent and child
22 June 2007
Secular values and ethics programs should be available in schools as an alternative to religious instruction (RI). However, the Humanist Society of Queensland (HSQ) has been unsuccessful in its attempts to have such secular programs introduced. When Queensland parents choose against having their children take part in RI, the Queensland Education Act requires that schools must provide ‘other instruction in a separate location’. In reality, these students may be ‘simply left outside the classroom’, sent to the library, or seated at the back of the RI class. RI is conducted by religious organisations external to schools. It is distinct from studies of comparative religions that may take place within the curriculum that is developed, monitored and assessed through the education system. In 2004 the Queensland Government began a process of community consultation in preparation to revise the Queensland Education Act. When the Bill was introduced in 2006 the State Minister for Education announced in Parliament that its provisions would ensure ‘that our schools are inclusive of their school communities in the provision of instruction in religious or other belief systems’. These inclusive provisions were withdrawn in the face of intense lobbying by some Christian groups, and threats from the Australian Government Education Minister to withhold school funding to Queensland if the provisions were introduced. In public forums, a major argument raised against the new provisions was that they would allow for the teaching of beliefs such as wicca or paganism, or teaching by religious cults, in RI classes. In reality, programs based on pagan beliefs were already possible, and remain so, under the Act’s definition of RI. The real effect of withdrawing the new provisions was to block secular ethics and values programs as alternatives to RI.
Homework: to give or not to give
Volume 17 Number 4, 13 June 2007; Pages 12–13
Ongoing debate about the value of homework has led some teachers and parents to call for a national homework review. Schools currently set up to one and a half hours of homework per night for Year 7 students and four hours for senior students. Students have varying levels of support at home, for example in terms of parental involvement or Internet access. This raises equity concerns, especially where homework is used for assessment. Homework can hinder students from taking part in sports or creative activities. Schools can allow for homework and personal time by setting activities that are relevant and provide positive experiences for children and their families. Reading at home is one such activity, offering enjoyment while preparing students for the increasing workload of secondary school. The K-12 Eastern Fleurieu School in South Australia successfully trialled and adopted a ‘no-homework’ policy for Years 5 to 9. Instead of homework, students select from a set of cultural, sporting, religious, family and social activities, and plan a cross section to complete every two weeks. Students enjoy this approach, which has developed their work ethic and time management skills. Where schools adopt a no-homework policy, parents should set alternative structured activities.
Subject HeadingsParent and child
No longer jobs for life
Winter 2007; Pages 6–7
Schools need to teach career management skills that reflect the modern realities of working life. In many organisations the number of middle-level management positions has been sharply reduced. As a consequence a range of managerial functions have been devolved to general staff, requiring them to possess skills in communication and conflict resolution, report writing, budget management and leadership. The nature of career pathways too has changed. Careers are now far more likely to involve moves between industries, carried by strong generic skills, rather than progress upwards within one organisation. Career guidance traditionally occurred at a vocational level and was focused on younger workers. Today, emerging workers must prepare for ongoing career change throughout their lives. At the same time, workers increasingly aim to make individual decisions about the balance between working and personal life. In this new environment the role of career practitioners in schools and elsewhere is to educate young people about the need for lifelong learning, acquisition of generic skills, self-reliance as well as collaboration, problem solving and facility with print-based and digital information.
Subject HeadingsVocational guidance
Vocational education and training
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