Acting to improve outcomes for Indigenous students
16 February 2007
Three experienced Indigenous educators apply the L5 Leaders Lead principles developed by APAPDC to an Indigenous setting. Two of the authors then describe some of their experiences as principals. School leaders must ‘personally value and acknowledge Indigenous culture’ and its place within Australian culture while they continue to examine ‘their own feelings about racism, social justice and equity’. School leaders need to listen to the Indigenous community, negotiate achievable targets with them and, in turn, negotiate ways to achieve these targets with school staff, taking care that staff share responsibility for them. Leaders need to promote interaction between Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and students, to bridge great differences in lifestyle and culture, build effective working relationships and allow Indigenous input into the curriculum. Leaders need to keep up with Indigenous issues over time. Indigenous community role models should be invited into the school to motivate and challenge staff and students and develop their own skills and confidence. Gavin Khan describes his first appointment as principal in South Australia at a ‘crisis school’ where half the student population was Aboriginal. He built on existing family ties to the local Indigenous community to get to know the other members of it. He also devoted extensive time to dialogue with staff members, to understand their beliefs, hopes and fears. He challenged entrenched beliefs about pedagogy, including the notion that the poor performance of many students was due to learning disorders or disabilities. He introduced concepts of personalised learning. Significant resources were spent on training and development for staff and students. He collaborated with health and social work agencies to implement school-based learning programs. Susan Matthews led another very disadvantaged school in rural western New South Wales, whose student population was 98 per cent Indigenous. She set about giving students a sense that the school was safe, nurturing and connected to the community, and that it valued both learning in general and ‘Aboriginal ways of knowing’. Her practical focus was on the youngest students. She attempted to introduce a new, reception grade of schooling, but was required to end it after twelve months.
Subject HeadingsAboriginal students
School and community
Social life and customs
Merit recognition, not merit pay... but for whom?
Volume 42 Number 2, November 2007; Pages 32–33
Merit pay for teachers has been supported on the grounds that teachers want it and that it would motivate them to improve, promote competition, and therefore excellence, and attract a greater number of highly-qualified people into teaching. By contrast, a recent US book on teaching awards by Hans A Andrews cites research findings that merit pay is one of the least motivating influences on teachers. In the book Awards and Recognition for Exceptional Teachers, K–12 and Community College (Matilda Press), Andrews instead supports the motivating power of awards for teachers. His book details an extensive array of awards for teachers, in particular those in the USA, provided by public funds as well as philanthropic agencies and corporate sources including giants such as Disney and Wal-Mart. Andrews calls for awards to be systematically extended so that they become ‘a component of an articulated educational values system in every college’, recognising and supporting exceptional teachers. He argues that awards promote a teacher's self-esteem and confidence, inspire hard work, highlight areas of expertise, and encourage teacher participation in the profession through the process of applying for grants. However, this emphasis on awards for individual teachers goes against one of the major trends in teaching, the recognition that collegial support underpins individual teacher performance. This insight is recognised, for example, in Teaching Australia’s draft Charter for the Australian Teaching Profession. Glyn Davis, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, has called for less criticism of teachers by politicians and the media, as well as more recognition of the importance of the teaching profession as a whole and the contribution of teachers’ professionalism to the social fabric (see article in The Age 27 January 2008).
Teaching and learning
Learning gender in primary school playgrounds: findings from the Tomboys Identity Study
Volume 15 Number 3, October 2007; Pages 317–331
In England the Tomboys Identity Study has investigated enabling and limiting factors on ‘tomboy’ identities of girls in the upper primary years, and how these identities relate to girls’ physical activity levels. At two schools during 2005–06 the researchers studied a class of students from last term in Year 5 to first term Year 6, observing students during lessons and in the playground before and after school, and interviewing parents, teachers and other school staff. ‘Holly Bank’ is a large well-resourced school with ample and varied spaces for students’ use. The poorer, ethnically diverse ‘Benjamin Laurence’ has only a small, concrete space for student activities. At about age 10, girls’ levels of physically activity were seen to decline, due to peer pressures to move beyond childhood and to be cool, nice, girly and attractive to ‘dominant’ boys. ‘Just talking’ within their social groups began to pervade some girls’ behaviour as a source of status and shared identity, and a way to ‘make or break friendships’. Jobs allocated by teachers, for example helping younger students, took children away from active external play. The impact was greater on girls since they took these roles more seriously. Open spaces were largely taken over by dominant boys for playing football, especially at the more crowded poorer school. Girls were in effect driven out of football teams by boys’ hostility to their participation, and sometimes by policies of male school staff. Play equipment in the schoolground has a key role in sustaining physical activity levels among girls of this age, since it is socially well accepted that girls play on this equipment alongside boys. This play can help to sustain and develop physical activity as an aspect of a girl’s public behaviour and personal identity. Schoolgrounds should have a large, varied and spacious allocation of play equipment.
Subject HeadingsGirls' education
When politics and technology are not the solution
Number 4, Summer 2007; Pages 18–19
Schools can play a key role in protecting children from the dangers of the Internet by teaching computer ethics. Discussions of computer ethics could address students’ experiences of online chatting, blogging, downloads of music or movies, and participation in virtual worlds such as Second Life. It could also take up issues such as privacy, piracy, hacking and cyber bullying. The most effective means to teach computer ethics is to embed aspects of the topic within other subjects. For example, citizenship studies could include coverage of appropriate standards of behaviour online. Students could be asked to reflect on their Internet experiences in their diaries and classroom discussions. Computer ethics should be covered at all educational levels. National political regulation cannot protect children effectively from Internet dangers, due to the global nature of the Internet and of Internet regulation. Services such as NetAlert include advice and resources about technological protections against harmful aspects of the Internet, and should receive more funding. However, technology-based controls struggle to prevent abuse of the Internet and by themselves do not offer sufficient protection of young people.
School leadership: the challenges being faced by English secondary schools
Number 168, September 2007; Pages 1–18
School leaders in England are currently paid little more than the highest-paid classroom teachers despite the significant increase in leadership responsibility in the last three years. In addition, inspection bodies in England often erroneously attribute the success and failure of a school entirely to its principal, ignoring parental attitudes, local employment prospects, teacher recruitment issues and broader social influences. These factors have exacerbated the shortage of school leaders in England. School leadership must become a more collaborative and distributed venture in order to develop a more sustainable system of education for the coming decade. Leaders’ moral purpose must extend beyond their own institution to encompass a shared responsibility for the education of all the young people in the area. Funding formulas must support partnerships between schools and the local community, and accountability measures should focus on the achievements of partnerships and federations of schools. The ‘league tables’ currently in place work against collaboration and should be abolished. Some encouraging steps are being taken towards more collaborative and distributed leadership in schools, which have the potential to improve principal retention rates. More widely distributed leadership roles offer leaders continuous professional renewal and provide other school leaders with experience to assist them in commencing principalship. Principals and other leaders can now take time away from their school to work as assistant inspectors with Ofsted, as the leaders of local Building Schools for the Future project, or in a number of secondment positions. Principals working in wider leadership roles, or ‘system leadership’, benefit the entire education system by increasing collaboration and knowledge sharing, and gain external experience which can benefit their own school. Despite significant progress towards collaborative and distributed leadership in the past few years, tensions between competition and collaboration remain. Competition for resources and capital, and within areas such as accountability and student achievement, to some extent prevent school leaders from collaborating with other local schools and institutions. Government policy must implement policy drivers which promote partnership and are connected to the realities of implementation. Accountability measures, pay and conditions must reflect a shift towards more collaborative, distributed leadership.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
From arithmetic to algebra
Volume 65, November 2007; Pages 66–71
Much of the difficulty that students encounter when approaching algebra stems from their learning of arithmetic. Primary school teachers, many of whom have limited experience with mathematics, tend to introduce number properties as ‘truths’ or axioms without developing students’ conceptual understanding of number systems. As a result, the truths that students take from their early experiences in arithmetic do not generalise to later experiences with numbers and operations, such as addition and subtraction of negatives or multiplication and division of fractions. In order to ‘bridge the gap’ between arithmetic and algebra, the USA's National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has proposed embedding algebraic reasoning standards in primary school mathematics syllabuses. To implement the new approach successfully, teachers will require support in developing their content knowledge, learning how to integrate algebraic thinking in maths classes, and providing rich and explicit instruction that will improve students’ understanding. Teachers should model what they want students to do using multiple examples with verbal explanations of each step. Teachers can promote conceptual understanding by using concrete representations to demonstrate the underlying concepts of problems, for example explaining that 2/3 ÷ 1/3 means 'how many 1/3s are in 2/3s'. However, these representations should be reinforced with explanations and applications of algorithms. When clearly explained and modelled, students can begin to understand why the algorithms work and, therefore, gain a more conceptual and generalised understanding than gained by either concrete or algorithmic explanations alone. Primary students should learn that algebraic expressions will satisfy the same properties and conditions that they have observed in arithmetical problems because, without this understanding, algebraic equations can seem arbitrary. Additionally, teachers should encourage students to generate multiple solutions to a problem, such as 3+5=2+4, which will challenge students to see the ‘equal’ sign as indicative of balance rather than as simply pointing to the answer. If appropriately supported with step-by-step demonstrations, young students can also learn to convert word problems into algebraic expressions. Such understandings will help students develop abstract reasoning and problem-solving skills, and help them to avoid common misconceptions about numbers and operations.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
What is literacy for students with severe learning difficulties? Exploring conventional and inclusive literacy
Volume 7 Number 3, 2007; Pages 149–160
In England, schools are expected to teach literacy using frameworks from the National Literacy Strategy and Literacy across the curriculum. Teachers of students with severe learning difficulties (SLD) are also expected to conform to these methods, which emphasise phonics, grammatical knowledge, word recognition and knowledge of content. SLD students are not typically expected to achieve conventional literacy. However, inclusive literacy practices may allow SLD children to enjoy books, stories and other media in ways meaningful for them. As such, teaching SLD students using conventional literacy practices might not represent best practice. A recent study investigated teachers’ views and practices in relation to teaching literacy to students with SLD with the aim of documenting examples of inclusive literacy methods. Literacy lessons were observed in 35 special schools which received positive Ofsted reports in literacy teaching. Interviews with teachers supplemented this data. The study found that teachers understood ‘literacy’ as referring to diverse practices including traditional orthography and phonics study, reading practice, reading with symbols and non-conventional literacy activities. The study found that there was greater use of conventional resources and practices than of inclusive resources and practices in SLD students’ classrooms despite academic research indicating widespread availability of alternative materials such as web-based resources, film versions of books, photo stories, music and audio books. Teachers conformed largely to government literacy strategies, focusing on teaching SLD students to read and write, if only at a functional level. Teachers’ commitment to conventional literacy practices and government directives might result from a fear of censure by Ofsted for non-compliance, or from a dedication to providing SLD students with the same opportunities as their mainstream peers. Additionally, most teachers of SLD students have only received training for working in mainstream schools, and may not be aware of more inclusive literacy practices. Inclusive literacy practices have the potential to enable SLD students to enjoy what conventionally literate people can enjoy, even if only partially, and this is what educators of SLD students should aim for.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsSpecial education
Using video stimulated reflective dialogue to learn from children about their learning with and without ICT
Volume 16 Number 3, October 2007; Pages 321–335
In England and Wales, the Interactive Teaching and ICT project (ITICT) has trialled a new research technique known as video-stimulated reflective dialogue (VSRD). In VSRD, video clips of lessons selected by teachers are shown to student focus groups as a prompt for reflective dialogue. This research method is thought to help students analyse which pedagogies are most effective. In stimulating reflection on learning practices, VSRD also acts as a meta-cognitive intervention which can improve students’ learning. A recent study used VSRD to investigate primary children’s capacity for higher-order meta-cognitive skills. Focus groups of students aged 5 to 14 were shown video clips of maths, science and language lessons they had previously received. Researchers did not observe any explicit meta-cognitive reflection on learning processes in the focus groups of children aged 5–7. Most children in Key Stages 2 (7–11 years) and 3 (11–14 years) were, however, able to comment on which learning activities they enjoyed and which motivated them to learn. Key Stage 3 students were more explicitly aware of their learning than Key Stage 2 students, with many able to use the video as a prompt to reflect on their learning both in the specific classes shown and in general terms. Older students were able to distinguish between ‘fun’ and effective learning tasks, commenting that interactive whiteboard (IWB) demonstrations were not necessarily effective despite their attractive displays, and some students were able to analyse which teaching and learning strategies worked for them. Students from schools with a focus on thinking skills were more capable of explicitly describing their learning processes. Comments from the student focus groups suggest that teacher–student interaction is a more influential factor in students’ learning than the type of technologies employed, and that students favoured the deeper levels of interactivity afforded by environments in which viewpoints were challenged and answers had to be justified. The study found that VSRD may have application as a tool for prompting older students to reflect on their learning and for encouraging classroom cultures which support dialogic interactions between teachers and students.
Social to academic: university-school district partnership helps teachers broaden students' language skills
Volume 29 Number 1, Winter 2008; Pages 41–45
In the USA, the number of students from homes where a language other than English is spoken has doubled in the last 20 years, and yet teachers have received little sustained professional development to cope with this change. In an attempt to address the professional development needs of teachers in schools with high numbers of English Language Learners (ELLs), the American Government has funded a partnership between the University of Massachusetts and two local public schools. The ACCELA Alliance is based on educational research in Australia and the USA, and aims to support teachers in incorporating four concepts about language teaching and learning in their work with ELLs. The first key concept is that students’ language use is regulated by a series of choices about which words to select, how to structure sentences and how to organise information. From this perspective, the teachers’ role is to broaden ELL’s abilities to use language across a variety of social and academic contexts. In order to make appropriate language choices, students need to understand that academic language differs from ‘everyday’ language. Academic language makes greater use of content-specific vocabulary, more complex grammatical structures, a greater variety of conjunctions and various formatting conventions, all for the purpose of communicating information more succinctly. Consequently, instruction in academic language aims to develop students’ visual and information literacy as well as to expand students’ specialised vocabulary. The fourth key concept promoted by ACCELA states explicitly that academic language instruction does not aim to replace the linguistic forms students use in their homes and communities, as these home language practices enable students to stay connected with their communities and to gain insight into the complexities of a multilingual and multicultural society. ACCELA teachers complete a master’s degree and earn a state licence to teach English as a second language. In action-oriented curricular units, ACCELA teachers design and apply standards-aligned curricula based on in-depth analysis of linguistic conventions and identification of culturally relevant materials and projects. Initial analyses of teachers’ curricular projects have found that many ACCELA teachers gain abilities which help them support all learners.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish as an additional language
English language teaching
United States of America (USA)
Nine ways to catch kids up
Volume 65 Number 3, 20 November 2007; Pages 16–21
A range of strategies can help struggling students to learn mathematics. Teachers should first identify the concepts and skills that are essential to the curriculum, ‘and discard what is extraneous’. These essential components can then be organised into ‘manageable chunks for learning’, allowing more time for students to practise each skill. Teachers should also ensure that each lesson is paced according to students’ needs, supporting students at critical learning moments rather than at the conclusion of a class or in later consultations. A four-step ‘routine’ of reinforcement can help students to feel more at ease with in-class assignments. In the first step, the teacher models what students are expected to learn by completing a problem on the board, while ‘thinking aloud’ the steps required to complete the task. The teacher then models an additional, similar problem, but this time asks questions of the students. This technique also provides an opportunity to model correct mathematical vocabulary. Maths vocabulary should also be explicitly taught, used consistently and displayed in the classroom for reference. In the third step, the teacher presents a similar problem to the class, which the students are asked to solve in pairs. The students’ solutions are then discussed and, in the final step, students solve another problem independently with reference to the examples previously completed. In another intervention strategy called the ‘think-pair-share’ process, students are first asked to collect their thoughts on a particular problem, then to talk these over with a partner and then to share these with the whole class. This process provides students with an opportunity to clarify their conceptual understanding by requiring them to communicate their ideas. Explaining the connections between new topics and mathematical concepts already covered can also assist struggling students. In order to promote students' general mathematical development, teachers should require students to calculate problems mentally, estimate solutions prior to solving problems, and use pen and paper to record their thinking processes. Supplementary instruction for struggling students should focus on repairing students’ misconceptions in foundational areas.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Creating improved learning spaces for science and technology
Volume 51 Number 4, 2007; Pages 24–27
The Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) state that students develop deeper understanding of discipline-based concepts when they are encouraged to reflect, take personal responsibility for their learning, and relate it to their own world in a flexible learning space. The Parliament of Victoria Education and Training Committee’s ‘Inquiry into the Promotion of Mathematics and Science Education’ emphasises the central role of the learning environment in engaging students in Science and Technology education. As such, the committee noted that learning environments should provide ready access to resources, encourage active engagement with evidence in contexts relevant to students, and allow students to work like scientists in collective problem solving activities. Caulfield Grammar School’s Malvern Campus aims to incorporate these principles into the renovations of their Science and Technology Centre. The renovated centre will create three major learning zones within a single classroom; a hands-on and written task zone, a computer-use zone, and a multimedia presentation zone. The zones will not be separated by walls, allowing students to move between zones as needed in various tasks. Classrooms will house interactive whiteboards, audio-visual equipment, computer software, and facilities for group work such as large, portable tables. Particularly for senior students, this flexibility will facilitate higher degrees of self-guidance in learning tasks. The provision of tasks with ‘vital appeal’ is integral to the success of such inquiry-based models. In addition to these renovations, the school plans to create a new outdoor learning space for use in Life Sciences and Environmental Science. Six garden plots growing a variety of plants, will facilitate investigations into plant-life, the effective use of water, and nutrient cycles in conjunction with the existing compost recycling and worm farming programs. The new facilities will support the school’s objective of helping students to understand science and technology themes through creative experiences embedded with course content. Explicit content teaching will be used primarily to scaffold students’ understanding.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsSchool buildings
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Subject knowledge development by science student teachers: the role of university tutors and school-based subject mentors
Volume 25 Number 3, November 2007; Pages 293–306
England’s National Curriculum for Science requires all new science teachers to be able to teach all disciplines of science to the end of Year 9, and one specialist science (biology, chemistry or physics) at least to the end of Year 10. This requirement has significantly increased the level of content knowledge demanded of science student teachers. However, a recent study has found that student teachers are reluctant to ask their mentors and tutors for help with science content knowledge. A questionnaire was given to 50 secondary science student teachers at the end of their first term in a teacher training course. Student teachers, university tutors and school-based mentors were also interviewed. Student teachers were asked about strategies they used to develop their science content knowledge, how they rated each strategy's effectiveness, and how they perceived their tutors and school-based mentors. Neither university tutors nor school mentors were cited as a frequently-used source of professional support or subject knowledge. Further investigations found that student teachers were aware of potential tensions between their tutors' and mentors’ ‘pastoral and assessor roles’ and feared that, by admitting to the gaps in their science content knowledge, they were exposing failings that might adversely affect their assessment. Student teachers also expressed concern that staff were ‘too busy and important’ to be troubled with issues of subject knowledge. University tutors agreed that, despite their desire for further consultation with students on matters of science content knowledge, this would not be feasible at current levels of funding. School mentors, who supported and assessed student teachers during their teaching practice, expressed a belief that ‘teaching is the best way to develop subject knowledge’ and while they believed themselves to be better placed than tutors to teach subject knowledge, researchers found that issues surrounding pedagogy and classroom management continued to dominate mentor–student teacher discussions. Mentors seemed unaware of students’ concerns about ‘fitting in’ and appearing confident in their knowledge, and researchers suggested that such concerns should be discussed with student teachers and highlighted in mentors’ training.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
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