Whither history teaching?
Number 4, 2007;
The study of history gives students an 'intellectual toolkit' which enables them to 'think, analyse, sift information, and make judgements based on evidence', and to link past events to their current social contexts. History can be made accessible and engaging for students through means such as classroom debates and discussions, examining simple primary sources, and evaluating relevant films and documentaries with scaffolding of vocabulary and context. It may be useful to teach some local history, contextualised within wider historical currents. Australian history should also be given a global context to deepen understanding of it and to enhance its interest to students. Historical study equips students to evaluate Internet content critically, gives them vocationally oriented skills in problem solving, research and communication, and provides what Brian Hoepper calls 'historical literacy'. As Inga Clendinnen says it offers a way to sharpen students' understanding of values, through the study of past conflicts over values and interests. The Future of the Past report published in 2000 found that history can validly be taught either thematically or chronologically, but in either case it should involve studies in depth and critical thinking. This approach is best achieved through history as an independent subject. Within SOSE, history can be fragmented and repetitive across year levels. The debates about history teaching in recent years rest on two different views of its purpose. For author Kevin Donnelly and the former Australian Government, school history is chiefly a way to help develop national identity. See Donnelly's commentaries 6 January, 30 January, April, and September 2006. However, Inga Clendinnen sees dangers in such 'patriotic history', citing 'the corrupt feel good history' taught in the USA. Donnelly approves the call by Gregory Melleuish for school history to centre around key dates and events and their global context, and the everyday life of past Australians. Melleuish presented a detailed plan of how this material could be taught in Years 9 and 10. However, to cover such extensive material would involve a 'chronological dash' with superficial treatment. The study of history cannot cover all historical knowledge of benefit to students, so historical study necessarily involves acquiring the skills that can be turned to new historical contexts.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Teaching and learning
School mental health promotion: MindMatters as an example of mental health reform
Number 3, 2007;
Australia is an international leader in mental health policy and practice. An example of this practice is the MindMatters program covering mental health promotion in schools. MindMatters was implemented in 1996. The program is structured around the promotion of mental health and aimed towards entire school communities rather than towards individual students with an identified need for support. It faced considerable initial resistance and difficulties because of its new approach, which contrasted with previous practices that had only targeted young people perceived to be at risk. Adopting a whole-school approach in line with the Health Promoting Schools Framework, the program’s implementation required a change in teachers’ roles to reflect the relationship between mental health, connectedness to school and academic success. After a one-year trial, an evaluation of the program indicated achievement of ‘intermediate health promotion outcomes’ such as increased health literacy and healthy public policy, but inconclusive evidence of mental health outcomes. Other findings emerging from the trial included the importance of staff professional development and support from the school executive, as well as an awareness of the difficulties schools encountered when implementing a whole-school approach. An ACER study found that 70 per cent of all Australian schools with secondary enrolments are using MindMatters, including 52 per cent who use the program as a key resource. The program complements rather than replaces specific interventions for at-risk students, and there is evidence to suggest that outcomes for these at-risk students are significantly better where there are broad promotion-focused mental health programs. MindMatters has succeeded in its aims to reconceptualise mental health issues positively and to build partnerships and capacity in school communities, and it now forms a support base for any new mental health programs that are introduced.
Subject HeadingsMental Health
School and community
CAS technology and the mathematics curriculum
Number 3, November 2007;
A pilot study of Computer Algebra Systems (CAS) in mathematics teaching is currently running in 22 New Zealand secondary schools. The use of CAS technologies such as calculators, graphics calculators and computer software is supported by the current New Zealand mathematics curriculum. The focus of the pilot study is on using the technology to improve pedagogy. CAS technologies are powerful learning tools that enable students to spend valuable learning time concentrating on mathematical ideas rather than on rote calculations and other routine tasks. This makes room more tasks that develop problem solving ability and conceptual understanding. Arguments that the technology undermines mathematical rigour are countered by the fact that students are now routinely tackling complex concepts earlier in their schooling than before the technologies were available. CAS also allows students to identify with material in a way that is relevant and interesting to them. Senior statistics students can now use probes to collect their own untidy, real-life data instead of relying on constructed data sets from textbooks. The potential for new ways of assessing student understanding using the technology are also considerable. An initial evaluation of the technology has been conducted that suggests that the technology can inform mathematics pedagogy at a deep level. If the conclusions of research currently in progress support the initial evaluation, all New Zealand schools will be given support using this pedagogy.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
28 April 2008
Literacy levels have been steadily declining at Yuendumu School, in a remote Warlpiri community 300 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs. This decline coincides with a drop in the number of Warlpiri teaching staff. In the early 1990s the Two-Way bilingual education program was flourishing, with ten mainstream teaching staff and ten Warlpiri staff supported by a teacher linguist. Currently the school has only seven mainstream teachers, one trained Warlpiri teacher and four Warlpiri assistant teachers. This has led to decreasing attendance and a generally low standard of written and spoken English. To increase literacy levels in remote areas, entire communities must be supported to become literate. More teachers are needed, in particular Indigenous teachers who can serve as role models for their students. Fully qualified teachers are very important because teaching assistants lack the status of teachers. Warlpiri children should have the opportunity to learn in classrooms where their own people are in charge. Leadership is often an issue for schools in remote areas, as it is difficult to attract strong applicants who are dedicated to taking a community-based, bilingual approach to education and literacy. The knowledge Warlpiri teachers have of their language and culture is invaluable in the classroom, and it is vital that more Warlpiri teachers receive training. Entire remote communities should be educated and provided with basic language and work skills. Teaching adults language skills will work in tandem with formal literacy education in schools to build strong and literate communities.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsAboriginal students
Defining a 'good teacher'. Simply!
Number 1, 2008;
Good teaching is the result of a combination of personal characteristics and skills that can be developed over time. A survey of 54 teachers and trainees conducted for an MA dissertation has revealed a high level of consistency in these qualities. The survey was administered to a range of people of differing age, gender, geographical location, and levels of teaching experience. Qualities most commonly mentioned were creativity and open-mindedness, with 89 per cent of participants naming these as important. Other personal qualities identified by more than three-quarters of participants were ‘caring’, ‘enthusiastic’, ‘flexible’, ‘knowledgeable’, ‘patient’, ‘well-planned’ and ‘respectful’. Building rapport with learners is essential, and a strong rapport is formed when teachers show genuine interest in their students and share information about themselves in return. Excellent teachers create a classroom in which they would be happy to be learners. They tend to emphasise the role of facilitator rather than performer and encourage students to ask questions, make mistakes and discover connections on their own. Having an open mind allows teachers to approach unfamiliar territory without fear and ask learners for feedback and content suggestions. Patience is essential, and the best teachers allow time for students to formulate answers and self-correct if necessary. They do not assume a class will remember everything that has been previously taught. Creativity and flexibility are crucial, in conjunction with well-organised lessons that have been planned around effective student learning. The best teachers are knowledgeable about both the subject content and research on teaching and learning, and keep up-to-date on course materials and developments. Classroom management skills, such as the ability to give clear and concise instructions or to discipline a class when necessary, are developed through experience. Pacing and estimation of the time needed for an activity also come with practice. The best teachers work to develop their own personal qualities and learnt skills, and teach with joy, integrity and attention to the progress of all their students.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Number 4, November 2007;
The winning entry in the International Reading Association’s Outstanding Dissertation Award for 2007 is a thesis exploring the effects of an intervention program at 25 urban public schools in the USA. The schools had very high rates of poverty and a large proportion of minority students. To determine the shape of the intervention, a preliminary analysis was carried out on children’s written work and reading reports. The analysis determined that the main problem for these children was automaticity when using the alphabetic principle, ie the idea that each letter corresponds to a sound. The problem was especially pronounced for vowels. Because so many students were affected, a class-level intervention program was devised comprising 60 multisensory word-study lessons, each 20 minutes long. The lessons were based on the Animated Literacy program, which uses auditory, visual and kinaesthetic cues to help students learn. The targeted focus helped students to learn alternative possibilities for pronouncing vowels and combinations of vowels, which enabled them to move to more automatic processing. With automatic processing, mental resources are liberated and the student can shift focus from code to meaning. Four hundred and fifty students participated, and were assessed after the intervention using tests of the alphabetic principle, phonological awareness, automaticity in use of the alphabet principle, and reading comprehension. Students who participated in the intervention lessons were matched for socioeconomic status, ethnicity and reading achievement with control students from other schools. Those who had received the multisensory lessons had significantly better results than controls on all of the measures except reading comprehension, which showed a positive trend but did not achieve statistical significance.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
United States of America (USA)
People born between 1976 and 1991, known as Generation Y, number around four and a half million across Australia. They are the second-largest generation currently in the workforce, and account at present for around a third of the staff in Australia’s schools. Generation Y staff tend to function differently to preceding generations, and being aware of how they differ can be a great asset for current school leaders. Typically, Generation Y workers dislike the traditional management style that elevates managers above other employees. They tend to be confident, optimistic, sociable and to have a strong social conscience. Opportunities for learning and skill building are important to them, as are clear goals and a supportive environment that encourages innovation and values new ideas. Preferred avenues of communication are usually informal, such as email, text or casual conversation. Generation Y members are technologically adept and eager to integrate new technology into their work. To attract and engage workers in this group, aim to provide a flexible workplace that allows for healthy work–life balance. Be sure to offer variety and opportunities for project leadership. Strive for transparency of processes and show respect for all staff, and openly appreciate and value the contributions these workers make. Give staff freedom to manage their own workload while also aiming to provide frequent constructive feedback. The confidence shown by this generation of workers is often surprising to those in older generations, but school leaders should not automatically assume they are antagonistic. Generation Y staff appreciate a working environment that respects skills and creativity, values workers as equals, and infuses work with purpose and a sense of fun.
Subject HeadingsGeneration Y
Teaching and learning
Education for sustainability
Number 3, November 2007;
The aim of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development is ‘to integrate the principles, values, and practices of sustainable development into all the aspects of education and learning’. This challenging task affords educators an opportunity to re-evaluate their thinking about how and what they teach in the classroom. In Australia, the term ‘education for sustainability’ tends to be favoured over ‘education for sustainable development’, but the two terms are effectively interchangeable. It is likely that terms and definitions in this field will change over time, which gives teachers and students significant degree of freedom in how they decide to approach the issue. A well-considered education for sustainability curriculum must include a discussion of how we know when a project has achieved sustainability. Critical and reflective thinking skills are also essential for understanding the interplay between environmental, social and economic factors. Education for sustainability favours experiential learning, and popular activities include field trips, conservation activities, practical audits of students’ personal energy use, and workshops. Teaching materials, such as the Education for Sustainability module developed by the United Nations Environment Program, Asia-Pacific Centre of Educational Innovation for Development (ACEID) and Griffith University, are becoming increasingly available. Education is critical in the context of a need for urgent change to address environmental issues, and teachers will play a key role in preparing students for the complex challenges of the future.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsSustainable development
Number 1, March 2008;
A study of 3,469 high school students in New Zealand has investigated the links between students' perceptions of assessment and their level of academic achievement. Four broad ways of characterising students’ attitudes towards assessment were considered: that it makes students accountable; that it makes schools accountable; that it is fun; and that it is not relevant and should be ignored. Overall, the students in the study moderately agreed that assessment held them accountable; somewhat agreed that it held schools accountable; somewhat agreed that it was enjoyable; and tended to disagree that they ignore it. The only response associated with strong academic achievement in students was the conception that assessment makes students accountable. Students who viewed assessment as fun or to be ignored tended to perform less well academically. Students who thought of assessment primarily as a means to make schools rather than the students themselves accountable performed at a significantly lower level. This finding is consistent with self-regulation theory, which states that learners who take responsibility for their own education tend to achieve more than those who locate responsibility elsewhere. It also supports the theory behind formative assessment, as students who do not ignore feedback show higher levels of achievement. The results have important implications for the increasingly popular high-stakes testing programs designed to measure school performance. The findings of this study suggest that if students are aware that test results will be interpreted to hold schools accountable, they may perform at a lower level than if they believe the test measures their own individual abilities. The role of personal responsibility is also central in teacher training programs. Student teachers should learn as soon as possible that assessment is a measure of their own performance as well as that of their students’, and that it may suggest areas for improvement or further attention in their teaching practice.
The incubator: today's students, tomorrow's teachers
In the context of widespread teacher shortages, it is notable that teaching is the most popular career choice for Year 12 students at Freeman Catholic College in Sydney. Principal Michael Addicoat has consciouly encouraged its students to consider teaching as a career. The school environment that he has cultuivated shows teachers as dedicated individuals who work very hard and respect their students as individuals. The school environment is also safe, positive and energetic, with the generally young teaching staff supported by a strong disciplinary system and carefully developed internal professional development programs. Managing professional development is a priority, and all teachers taking senior years classes for the first time receive special training. Students are explicitly encouraged to pursue teaching careers throughout Years 11 and 12, and competition between students for the available teacher training scholarships is strong. Many previous students currently in training to be teachers have taken inspiration from their principal, who is viewed as highly accessible, caring and uncompromisingly achievement-focused. A large number of those in training are eager to come back and teach at Freeman College, influenced by their own positive experiences at the school and the powerful sense of community and belonging they had as students.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Number 3, December 2007;
Around a quarter of New South Wales students are unlikely to complete Year 12 in mainstream settings. In the context of a recent push to lift Year 12 retention rates, alternative education options are increasingly necessary. However, communication between organisations and professionals in this area is often hampered by the lack of an overarching conceptual framework. The article sets out a schematic ‘map of the alternative education landscape’ that locates the services available along two dimensions. The first dimension relates to each program’s aim. Programs that aim to change the individual to fit the educational system are contrasted with programs that aim to modify the delivery of education to fit the individual. The second dimension relates to the stability of the program in terms of its funding and continuity. These dimensions were chosen based on an analysis of the documents circulated by various programs, many of which have been summarised by the Dusseldorp Skills Forum. The map is drawn up into quarters. The first quarter houses programs that are unstable and dedicated to changing the young person, such as the New South Wales Department of Education and Training (DET)’s Links to Learning program, as well as other DET programs such as mobile literacy and numeracy training. The second quarter houses programs that are stable and dedicated to changing the young person, such as suspension centres and behaviour schools. New funding has been earmarked by the State government for this area. The third quarter consists of programs that are unstable and aimed at changing educational provision. These are rare but include the Dale Young Mothers’ Program, which changes educational provision to cater for the needs of young mothers. The fourth quarter consists of stable programs dedicated to changing educational provision. These include Key College, part of the Catholic Church’s Youth off the Streets program, and Bankstown Senior College, which has a diverse student population that includes recent immigrants and mature-age students. While unstable and ad hoc programs can be extremely beneficial, the potential for change in Australian education policy rests in the fourth quarter. Mainstream education has much to learn from successful alternative education initiatives.
Subject HeadingsVocational education and training
Retention rates in schools
New South Wales (NSW)
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