Learning a second language: why bother?
Volume 11 Number 7, August 2007; Pages 1–3
Australian education ministers have published a major report calling for high quality languages education for all students, but the record of Australian schools and universities is 'abysmal' with regard to LOTE teaching. Half the students in the compulsory years are not learning a LOTE in a mainstream school. LOTE does not receive adequate teaching time and is often taken by teachers who lack proficiency in languages. Timetabling often discourages or prevents students taking a LOTE in Years 9 and 10. The morale and status of LOTE teachers are both generally low. Only 12% of Year 12 students in Australia take a LOTE subject. In terms of languages education, Australia's formerly strong comparative place within the OECD has now plummeted. The article briefly reviews the position of LOTE in the compulsory years' curriculum of each Australian State and Territory. There are a number of decisive reasons to lift the place of LOTE in Australian education. Extensive research demonstrates its value in stimulating cognitive development, particularly for students of average or below average academic ability, which can then flow into other subject areas including mathematics. Authoritive research has described the role of language learning in physically developing sections of the brain. Other research conducted in the 1960s found that LOTE study at primary school level does not detract from learning in other subject areas. Economically, countries without bilingual populations are likely to face increasing pressure, as English proficiency becomes standard throughout the world and languages such as Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Hindi and Arabic increasingly challenge the position of English in international commmunication channels, including the Internet.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsLanguages other than English (LOTE)
Language and languages
Thought and thinking
Exploring the development of conceptual understanding through structured problem-solving in physics
Volume 29 Number 9, July 2007; Pages 1089–1110
Disadvantaged South African schools often face problems such as inadequate resources, poorly trained teachers, and a pedagogical focus on rote-learning. Students in these schools are therefore unlikely to gain solid problem-solving skills in their education. Local researchers have attempted to address this problem by trialling a problem-solving approach to teaching the topic ‘energy’ to 189 Year 12 Physics students at eight schools. Approximately half of the students were taught to solve physics problems using a structured problem-solving strategy encouraging multi-dimensional representation of problems. The other half were a control group taught using traditional methods. Students in the experimental group were required to draw a diagram representing each problem, applying numeric values and identifying unknown variables. In this respect, the strategy differed from traditional strategies in which students initially establish algebraic equations, which researchers thought inappropriate for disadvantaged students with poor maths skills. After completing the diagram, students were required to identify and write down the relevant physics equation, substitute the algebra in the equation with numeric values, and solve the problem. Finally, students were taught to apply their calculations to the solution of real world problems. After 10 months, researchers analysed students’ exam results, focusing particularly on difficult energy-related questions which required deep conceptual understanding and abstract representation. Students who received problem-solving instruction were significantly more likely than their peers in the control group to approach physics conceptually rather than mathematically. They were also much less likely to use a formulaic approach which in harder questions tended to yield incorrect results. About 40% of students in the experimental group demonstrated understanding of complex physical concepts, compared with 11% of the control group, and the experimental group scored significantly higher on the Physics exam overall. An analysis of exam papers showed that these students were more likely to generalise the use of diagrams to questions on other topics in Physics. Researchers concluded that students’ ability to represent problems multi-dimensionally significantly improved their understanding of physics and should be taught in teacher education. The problem-solving strategy was deemed particularly appropriate for South African schools as it does not require expensive materials.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsSouth Africa
Inquiry based learning
Empowerment in science curriculum development: a microdevelopmental approach
Volume 29 Number 8, June 2007; Pages 987–1017
A recent study has evaluated the effectiveness of three curriculum models by comparing achievement in a ‘traditional’ or teacher-controlled curriculum, a ‘discovery’ curriculum, controlled by students, and a curriculum which attempted to balance curricular responsibility between teacher and students, using the DESIGNS model. The study was conducted over a two week period in six middle school science classes at schools in the USA. Both teachers in the study taught classes in all three curricular styles so as to enable evaluation of teachers’ capacity to implement shared control. In DESIGNS classes, teachers defined the learning outcomes and explained them to students, but students were allowed to implement their own strategies in pursuit of these goals. Students in DESIGNS classes were first shown a functional but poorly working prototype electro-magnet, and were then encouraged to improve upon the prototype by ‘messing about’ with materials. This was supported by a storyboard activity encouraging recognition of variables. Students in the DESIGNS curriculum then completed worksheets focusing on student experiences, as well as a second storyboard activity which more explicitly highlighted the importance of manipulating variables. In discovery classes, students were also instructed to improve on the prototype’s design, and were not supported in their exploration by either storyboards or worksheets but were simply required to present any findings visually in a graph, demonstration, or picture. In the traditional curriculum classes students were directed to apply what they had learned from lectures and set readings to complete activities including textbook worksheets, and the textbook’s laboratory practical activity. Data gathered from observation and questionnaires delivered to students at the end of the unit showed that the DESIGNS curriculum considerably outperformed its alternative classes. Students in the traditional curriculum classes had little difficulty completing the practical task, but were generally inattentive during the unit. Conversely, discovery curriculum students were clearly engaged by the unit, but struggled to grasp concepts and did not appear confident in their findings. Teachers reported that the DESIGNS curriculum was the most demanding to teach, but recognised that the shift from content-focussed to student-focussed teaching was valuable and necessary.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Thought and thinking
The waves of leadership
Number 3, 2007; Pages 20–21, 27
Different conceptions of leadership have superseded each other in waves over the last century, influencing educational thinking and practice. Early conceptions dominated by the image of the 'great leader' gave way to a focus on adminstration and governance under the influence of thinkers such as Max Weber, in which the place of the leader was almost absorbed into the notion of a rational, efficiently functioning bureaucracy. From the 1960s the notion of scientific management became predominant and remained so into the 1990s. This thinking applied concepts drawn from the business world, such as quality assurance, mission statements, strategic planning, value adding and stakeholders, discussed in terms of competition, marketing, budgeting, and school self-management. However, in the 1970s an alternative current emerged in the form of 'effective schools' literature. This approach examined 'what really added value in schools'. Supporters of this approach argued that school leadership had to be defined mainly in terms of its role in enhancing teaching and learning. This approach generated trends such as Productive Pedagogies and stressed the importance of the individual teacher, the individual learner, and the role of the home, school and peers. In the new century this current led to the development of state and national teaching awards, funding for teacher professional development through the AGQTP, and the establishment of Teaching Australia. The imminent departure of many incumbents in school leadership means that 'opportunities have never been greater' for those who aspire to replace them.
The Australian Certificate of Education: what progress?
Volume 6 Number 3, August 2007; Pages 4–5
Over the last year and a half there has been progress towards an Australian Certificate of Education (ACE) covering the final years of secondary school for all Australian States and Territories. A report by the ACER 18 months ago suggested that State and Territory certificates could be considered the local form of an ACE, once three key requirements were in place: a core common curriculum, a common reporting format, and a specification of minimum standards to be met by students, at least in literacy, numeracy and ICT. Since then the Australian Government has funded an analysis of existing Year 12 curricula in English, Advanced Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Australian History, and has sought expert opinion on what the curriculum should cover in these subjects. The analysis found a very high level of common content between jurisdictions. Last year, Australia's education ministers set up a working party to consider common mechanisms for reporting and quality assurance to facilitate common measurement of senior secondary students' results in all subjects across Australia. The ACER recommends that an ACE should require students to demonstrate basic employability skills in teamwork, communication and planning, as well as meeting set standards of literacy, numeracy and ICT literacy.
Subject HeadingsEducational certificates
Senior secondary education
Performance pay: what's the profession's best next move?
September 2007; Pages 50–52
The Australian Government Education Minister has hired consultants to devise a performance-pay model for Australian teachers. The Minister has been influenced by a key US report, Performance Pay for Teachers from the Center for Teaching Quality. It is significant that the report authors have all gained certification from the USA's National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), a body known for the rigour and reliability of its methods for evaluating teacher performance. Australia needs a similar body, which certifies levels of teacher performance in a rigorous and authoritative manner. The certification such an organisation provided could then be recognised by Australian employing bodies in ways they considered appropriate. Certification is 'a portable qualification' independent of particular employers or positions, and distinct from the internal forms of evaluation, such as performance management reviews that are measured against specific contractual obligations. While the latter form of evaluation is sometimes used as a basis for pay bonuses, the practice is rarely applied to the teaching profession. Payment against external certification protects employers against charges of bias. The benefits of evaluation through an external agency are recognised in many other professions. Debates over performance pay in Australia often fail to distinguish between evaluation by employer and by external agency.
Subject HeadingsTeachers' employment
Education research could improve schools, but probably won't
19 June 2007
The findings of research in education have little influence on practice, for a number of reasons. Findings are not easily accessible: while some information services provide summaries of the literature, the reports themselves are not usually available very readily and they are usually written 'for other researchers in academic-speak'. Even if these barriers were overcome, teachers and school leaders 'are not consumers of research'. Attempting to act on the findings of research also involves 'altering value structures, disrupting routines, and teaching old dogs new tricks'. It is also likely to incur substantial costs. The variety of findings on a given topic mean that policy makers and practitioners can select the subset of results that suit them. Attempts that are made to apply research are often carried out crudely and can then discredit the research. Research results are usually derived from standardised test scores that do not measure qualities such as students' habits of mind, social skills and artistic creativity that should be fostered during their schooling. The components of the education system interact extensively, so effective reform requires various demanding problems to be addressed simultaneously. To enhance the impact of research on education practice, teacher educators should attempt to give their students an appreciation of the importance and value of education research. There should also be more emphasis on longitudinal studies, a high quality form of research.
Subject HeadingsEducation research
Circles of knowledge
Volume 17 Number 5, 15 August 2007; Page 18
To promote the education of Indigenous students Australia, it is imperative that local Indigenous communities participate deeply in school life and the learning process. Indigenous frames of reference and ‘ways of knowing’ should also be accessible to non-Indigenous children. Contact with Indigenous communities can be established through Indigenous co-operatives, health centres, education houses and local identities. The system could draw on the experience of other countries in which education is viewed as a community concern. In Sweden, ‘study circles’ or ‘learning circles’ have existed for over 100 years. These community partnerships comprise small groups who gather to engage in discussion about issues which are important to them, sharing experience and engendering mutual respect. The principal function of this process is the construction of local narratives, leading to respectful and informed resolution of problems. Given this international perspective, programs promoting the inclusion of local Indigenous communities might also be relevant in non-Indigenous education. Schools throughout Australia must establish learning circles with Indigenous groups, discussing educational issues, establishing culturally sensitive approaches to curricula, and sharing language. Learning circles would not be restricted by assessment requirements, as implication of a ‘correct’ view assimilating others, is inappropriate for reconciliation purposes. Structures such as these, promoting plurality, participation and respect, serve to enrich our democracy.
Subject HeadingsAboriginal students
School and community
Children of the new millenium: research and professional learning into practice
Volume 14 Number 1, 2007; Pages 57–66
Recent Australian research investigating young children’s use of ICT at home and school has revealed a need to broaden concepts of literacy, develop appropriate pedagogy linking home and school, and provide teachers with the technical skills and understanding necessary to achieve these aims. A total of 31 teacher-researchers observed and described the ICT practices of 140 children aged between 4 and 8 from rural, remote, inner- metropolitan, multicultural, and high and low income communities. Teachers visited the homes and communities of children to document their use of ICT, and developed an observation tool with which to describe technology, numeracy and literacy interaction appropriately. This ‘multiliteracies map’ allowed teachers to describe children’s abilities in terms of technical competency, cultural understanding of how ICT is used and how to derive meaning from media as well as critical evaluation skills. Finally, the capacity for ICT to improve numeracy and literacy learning was evaluated by observing children’s use of ICT in various curriculum projects. The research found that even in rural and remote locations children had unprecedented access to ICT outside of schools and were competent and enthusiastic users of web technologies and software. Teachers were able to capitalise on children’s knowledge by using similar software at school to that used in homes. Teacher-researchers recognised the importance of utilising inquiry-based learning towards ICT outcomes. Given the ‘glut of information’ available to web users it is imperative that children gain experience with problem-solving and critical thinking in authentic contexts, alongside explicit instruction in deconstructing and critiquing media. Teachers also noted the importance of continuous professional learning, and facilitating the design of engaging and relevant learning activities. Mentoring was seen as critical to professional learning, and was also observed at the student level. These observations revealed a need for inclusion of ‘multiple sign systems’ in early literacy programs. Multimodal technologies offer new representational possibilities which were seen to enhance print-based literacy skills, requiring interpretive skills beyond those emphasised in traditional literacy.
Subject HeadingsTechnological literacy
Thought and thinking
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
PreK, in play
Volume 49 Number 8, August 2007; Pages 1–8
For decades the idea of universal education for 3 and 4 year olds in the USA has been debated at various levels of government. The scientific literature clearly states that early childhood education is critical to brain development; however, opponents argue that taxpayers already subsidise the ‘Head Start’ program for early education, which Congress recently reauthorised at an estimated cost of $7.4 billion for the 2008 fiscal year. The legislation relating to pre-kindergarten education varies between states, and many argue that the solely private provision of early childhood education in some states compounds the disadvantage of underprivileged families. Conservatives argue, however, that universal preK is a 'socialist' notion which advocates the integration of a ‘currently effective’ private system into ‘an often ineffective K-12 system’. They argue, despite evidence to the contrary, that children aren’t emotionally ready for school until the age of five, and that state-provided early childhood education will create ‘institutional’ rearing conditions. Cost is also a significant obstacle, especially following the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER)’s call to mandate bachelor degree qualification for pre-kindergarten educators. NIEER research found that children taught by teachers with bachelor degrees played more imaginatively and scored higher on language tests. However, mandating that preK teachers hold college degrees will necessitate higher state expenditures if preK teachers are to be paid equitably. Higher costs will also be incurred by extending PreK hours to meet the requirements of modern, dual-income families. However, longitudinal research suggests that such expenditure on quality preK could yield long term gains for literacy and numeracy. The Chicago Longitudinal Study found that costs associated with quality universal preK could also be offset by economic and social benefits to society, as preK program participants were less likely to be arrested as juveniles. PreK is likely to be raised as an election issue in 2008, with some candidates incorporating preK policies into their election platforms. A major symposium in 1997 highlighted the example of the US military’s exemplary child care standards, which include systematic accreditation and oversight of centres, unannounced inspections of facilities, mandatory and rigorous training for personnel, and ‘relatively sufficient’ funding.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Early childhood education
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