Enhancing the early literacy development of children at risk for reading difficulties
Volume 11 Number 3, 2006; Pages 117–124
Children’s skills in language, reading and phonological awareness develop interactively. Among students with learning difficulties, reading delays may result from language delays and then, in turn, hold back growth of language and vocabulary. Children with early reading delays can be helped by dialogic interactions, which involve adults reading with the child rather than to the child or correcting the child’s mistakes. These interactions can develop the child’s grasp of vocabulary, syntax and meaning. Children with language delays benefit from shorter, but more frequent, instruction. Teachers should also take care to use simple, clear language to children struggling with oral language processing, and may benefit from using the four levels of language complexity and proficiency developed by Marion Blank and colleagues. This model recognises the cumulative sequence through which children learn language and reading skills. To facilitate dialogic interaction, adults need to find ways to engage children with reading (eg through web texts or story writing), after which the adult can discuss words, meanings and independent reading. This process needs to start early. It is strategically important to find programs to teach high-quality interactive readings techniques to carers in low SES groupings. In story book reading, children should be encouraged to articulate the story which is then fleshed out by the adult. Two important adaptations of the dialogic reading model have been developed by Elias et al. 2006 and Fielding-Barnsley and Purdie 2002. Besides dialogic interaction, another key strategy is to teach decoding skills, which is the prime determinant of reading comprehension up to Grade 5. Most young children learn phonemes through learning the alphabet. However, it is also important that children advance from decoding to automatic word recognition. Children should be encouraged to seek out familiar letter patterns, using contextual clues as a back up strategy. To help in identifying and assessing struggling readers, the article includes a table of recommended tests on mainstream language and early phonological development.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsLearning ability
English language teaching
Can we trust levelled texts? An examination of their reliability and quality from a linguistic perspective
Volume 41 Number 1, April 2007; Pages 43–51
Levelled texts, grouped by degree of complexity and challenge, have returned to popularity as a means to improve students’ reading skills. Their common use in the mid-20th century declined in the 1980s amid calls for more authentic literature and natural language, but since then levelled texts have become seen as effective ways to address the needs of struggling readers, particularly in the context of the widely used Reading Recovery program. A study has examined the reliability and quality of levelled texts. The researchers analysed 20 sample texts used within Wright Group publications. Five books were selected for each of the levels 5, 10, 15 and 20. The Wright Group follows the levelling system used in Reading Recovery, which applies a wide range of criteria including text structure and complexity, vocabulary and content. However, such criteria remain essentially subjective. The researchers assessed the texts in terms of word length, the percentage of high frequency words, and the Flesch-Kincaid and Fry Readability scales. The study found that the texts ‘varied greatly within and between levels’ and therefore offered ‘a limited and somewhat erratic guide’. The methods used under the Reading Recovery system were ‘crude estimates’ that diverged widely from results using alternative criteria. Quality was assessed using the three requirements identified by Katherine Perera: texts should support new readers, be enjoyable to them, and offer a model for children’s own writing. Here too the study found wide variations between the levelled texts. This variation may reflect the difficulty of providing interesting, naturalistic texts with strictly controlled vocabularies and repetition of key words. Given this difficulty, children should be encouraged to read beyond levelled texts. Teachers should use the levels assigned in texts only as a starting point for their students’ needs. Teachers should apply other criteria such as the nature of the task assigned to students and the reading strategy being promoted to them, as well as an individual reader’s age, interests, cognitive aptitude, background knowledge and social and cultural identity.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Fiction versus non-fiction: a comparative investigation at Prospect Primary School
June 2007; Pages 10–11
A literacy activity involving comparisons of fiction and non-fiction texts proved beneficial for students at Prospect Primary School, South Australia. The activity effectively engaged students, and developed skills in higher-order thinking, critical literacy and in comparing and contrasting texts. Each student chose two texts, one fiction and one non-fiction, and completed a verbal and written report. The class was encouraged to make their first selection based on personal interest or existing reading preferences. The teacher and teacher-librarian helped students overcome challenges with sourcing material, such as difficulties finding non-fiction that was both interesting and of an appropriate level. To find suitable texts, the teachers helped students to conduct key word searches or to use alternative sources such as the local public library or a chapter within a non-fiction book. Text format caused confusion between fiction and non-fiction texts, but extended students’ knowledge of genres. For example, some students initially selected biographies as fictional texts but reassessed their choices. Students enjoyed the ‘detective work’ of finding and matching texts. By comparing the texts, students learnt about the level of research required for authentic fiction writing. Some mentioned the pictures or hard/soft cover differences between fiction and non-fiction, while others noted differences in the style and tone of language. The activity generated interest in previously unknown authors, and helped both students and teachers become more aware of individual reading preferences.
Subject HeadingsSchool libraries
We don't need another hero
Autumn 2007; Pages 2–3
The presentation of effective school leaders as ‘heroes’ who work long hours, get little sleep and lose their personal lives creates a dysfunctional and unhealthy role model. Books that cast effective school leadership in this light can make practising school leaders feel like under-achievers in comparison. Recent research finds that teachers tend to see principals as unhappy, stressed and unfulfilled. Such teachers are reluctant to pursue leadership positions, a pattern that is contributing to the current shortage of school leaders. According to one recent Australian study, however, 39 per cent of principals reported their job was ‘going well’ while 23 per cent of principals reported ‘loving’ it. A further 26 per cent viewed their position as ‘OK’. Principals reported being proud of their school, staff and profession and caring and respecting students. Over 80 per cent felt they were performing well or very well, and only 1 per cent felt they were performing poorly. In reality, principals are known for being highly committed, caring, calm and rational. Highly effective principals are not infallible and lead balanced lives. Such characteristics offer a healthy model of school leadership that should be promoted actively, in place of the ‘hero’ model.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Perspectives regarding the role of school psychologists: perceptions of teachers, principals and school psychologists in Victoria, Australia
Volume 16 Number 2, 2006; Pages 211–223
School psychologists sometimes disagree with the role seen for them by principals and teachers, according to the findings of a recent study in Victoria. Researchers surveyed the opinions of 21 principals, 86 teachers and 81 school psychologists in government, Catholic and Independent primary and secondary schools in Victoria. There was broad agreement among these groups that school psychologists should conduct relevant research, conduct psychological assessments, counsel students and provide programs for them, and inform teachers on welfare issues. However, opinions varied on a range of other issues. The psychologists believed they should offer advice and help to teachers with regard to the disciplining of individual students, but teachers and principals were ‘wary of such advice’. Almost half the teachers considered it appropriate for the school psychologist to offer other school staff a fee-based service alongside the psychologists’ core counselling role for students. This attitude indicates that the teachers are unaware of ethical dilemmas that may arise for psychologists if teachers as clients confidentially reveal problems that may have a negative impact on the school. A cause for concern is that just over one-fifth of the psychologists also agreed with the idea of a two-tier service. However, principals and teachers were less likely than psychologists to defend the confidentiality of their interactions with students. Principals and teachers were more likely than psychologists to support the concept of mandatory counselling, or counselling as a form of student discipline.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
Indigenous students in school science
Volume 53 Number 2, June 2007; Pages 10–15
International research suggests ways to help Indigenous students link their existing knowledge to school-based science. Methods that are context based and use constructive approaches to learning are most effective in this context. Currently, Indigenous students tend to memorise key scientific concepts rather than developing scientific understanding. Indigenous students also tend to grow up learning about the world in metaphysical and supernatural terms, which may oppose scientific thinking. Learning about the land, environment and animals, and building family relationships, is fundamental in Indigenous society. Their success in learning science depends on students’ own views of the everyday and school world, how well they move between their worlds and the level of assistance provided to help them do so. Science learning should first access Indigenous students’ cultural and everyday knowledge. Students may observe natural phenomena within the everyday environment, or use Indigenous values or scientific principles to explore western scientific concepts and practices. The transition to school science should be facilitated, explicit for students, involve conversation about both perspectives, validate existing knowledge and relate to fundmental scientific concepts ‘in the context of science’s societal roles’. Teaching from cross-cultural and multicultural perspectives allows students to integrate knowledge. They require students to consider problems from a school science and indigenous perspective, and develop both perspectives as they learn. The pluralistic perspective, however, positions western science as the ‘gate keeper’. It requires students to use western science descriptors and theories, and use indigenous perspectives later and only for a selection of the concepts presented in the activity. Collateral learning is another effective approach, where students consider the conflicts between western science and their own cultural understanding. Students must rationalise the perspectives, for example, by reflecting on differences and the relative purpose of each type of knowledge. Various models designed to integrate Indigenous knowledge into science learning in Canada, Alaska and other countries are mentioned.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsIndigenous peoples
Teacher study fails the test
4 June 2007; Page 16
The recent study by Andrew Leigh, ‘Study reveals teacher skill discrepancy’, has been widely cited as evidence that effective teachers can be readily identified against that of poor teachers. Dr Leigh examined the literacy and numeracy test scores of three cohorts of Queensland public school students, each cohort comprising about 30,000 students. The study reported the relative positions of classes of students within the overall state results from Year 3 to Year 5 for two cohorts, and from Year 5 to Year 7 for the other cohort. Media reports drew unwarranted conclusions from the researcher’s results. Reports claimed that classes with improved relative positions ‘must have had good teachers’. This assertion is incorrect, because of the relative nature of the measures, and because it is impossible to isolate the impact of the intervening year. A third objection is that the study’s method does not allow for the impact of factors beyond the teacher, including parents and school and community culture. A further problem for value-added modelling of this kind is the limited reliability of the underlying measures of student achievement. The study was also limited to numeracy and literacy. As a result of these problems, the model used in the study does not provide the basis for a ‘viable and legally defensible system’ for measuring the performance of individual teachers.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Teaching and learning
Liberating the creative potential of teachers
Winter 2007; Pages 29–30
Innovative teaching requires creative space to plan high quality, varied and well-paced lessons. However, recent accountability measures such as published league tables and national testing have tended to limit teachers’ creativity. Beckfoot School in Britain has developed strategies to manage external assessment demands while also providing opportunities for teachers to innovate and take risks. To raise student achievement, the school focuses on the quality of teaching, student behaviour and motivation, personalising the curriculum and developing creative leadership potential of staff. All staff undertake a residential leadership training program designed by the school, which covers emotional intelligence, communication, decision making and delegation and also includes a self-evaluation. Research and development groups have been established, bringing together representatives from each curriculum area, education networks and the student-teacher mentoring program. Unnecessary meetings have been removed. Instead, teacher teams meet and plan lessons once a week, which has fostered the creation of cross-curricular learning experiences. During this time, examples of teacher best-practice are showcased. Networks of support staff cover teaching absences and are responsible for exam invigilation, administration, display, technical support and pastoral care of students. The school has also developed its own teaching magazine. School staff report that although accountability measures and workload pressure do still hinder their creativity, they have benefited from the increased sense of teamwork, trust and support that has been developed.
Subject HeadingsSchool culture
Teaching and learning
Perspectives on the music program: opening doors to the school community
Volume 93 Number 5, May 2007; Pages 32–37
Music educators need to promote the music curriculum among teachers, the principal and the school community. Doing so requires understanding the current perceptions held by teachers and school leaders. Teachers form the staff majority and can offer valuable support for music. Principals are also critical, as they are the key administrator of the curriculum, make key decisions on hiring teachers and also provide liaison to outside groups. Various studies have shown that classroom teachers and principals value music education that develops interdisciplinary, social and affective skills, artistic awareness and lifelong learning through the arts. Music programs that highlight the processes behind outcomes, develop transferable skills and bring out the achievements of students are likely to gain support from the teachers and principal. Such programs can also be used to demonstrate effectiveness against legislated standards. Other school staff are often unaware of the skills required for music, so the music teacher should demonstrate them by explaining musical processes. For instance, the teacher or students may give verbal explanations of complex or unfamiliar music within a school performance. Music is valuable in meeting a wide range of cross-curricular goals, such as listening. Involving staff in a musical composition can help them understand how music requires creative thinking, problem solving, collaboration and experiential learning through the brain, body and feelings. Music notation may support reading and writing skills, while music can be related to historical and cultural works. Music teachers may also circulate their own or an externally published arts newsletter, which outlines instructional goals, cross-curricular skills or activities and further resources. Students’ musical achievements provide evidence of the value of music education and may spark future collaboration. Achievements can be highlighted by posting relevant pictures, reports or programs in prominent places in the school.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsArts in education
Cyber-bullying: an emerging form of aggression for the ‘always on’ generation
Number 2, 2007; Pages 16–19, 41
Schools, community groups and authorities must develop a unified, legally binding definition of bullying to reduce its occurrence. A definition would provide access to legal damages, and build community awareness of the different types of bullying. It should cover cyber-bullying, which involves using information communication and technology (ICT) such as email, text, chatrooms, mobile phone cameras and websites to intimidate others. Recent reports of cyber-bullying have included the use of mobile cameras and websites such as Myspace and Youtube to defame other students, teachers or schools. Criminal law cannot be applied to bullying or cyber-bullying in Australia, except where incidents are physical, and where assault can be proven ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. The Werribee DVD case illustrates how cyber-bullying can be viewed as a criminal offence. Statute law and codes also cover cyber-bullying in some States. However, all schools may be held liable for bullying under the terms of their duty of care. Where a school fails to identify potential bullying and ‘minimise risk proactively’, students may seek civil damages. Civil damages don’t necessarily require the same level of intent or standard of proof as criminal damages. Requirements for civil damages include ‘actual harm’ be suffered and the instance be ‘reasonably forseeable’. The latter concept may apply for example when the school has a history of bullying or they have received specific complaints about it from studetnts. ‘Actual harm’ may include internet defamation as it did in a recent US case, where material is ‘defamatory… or causing contempt, ridicule, reduced estimation of the person’. Further consideration is needed as to whether ‘actual harm’ includes harm requiring psychiatric treatment. Schools’ duty of care may also cover incidents that occur outside the school gates but within school hours, as found in one case in a New South Wales court of appeal . School staff can develop school-wide risk-management policies and procedures to help prevent bullying, and also educate students about cyber-bullying. The legal ramifications of school-based cyber-bullying need further research, given that it may open victims to abuse from a broader audience. The concrete nature of visual images and written words may also cause more psychological harm than verbal taunts.
Duty of care
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
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