A digital education revolution for a digital world
Sophisticated access to and use of ICT in schools will underpin the Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution, which will in turn enhance national productivity and workforce participation. This policy package, to be introduced over four years, comprises five elements. The National Secondary School Computer Fund, implemented in partnership with State and Territory governments, will help provide new or ungraded ICT for students in Years 9–12. Individual schools can apply for funding based on enrolment levels and existing technological facilities. The first $100 million of the Fund has already been allocated to 840 high-need schools. Secondly, the package will provide high-speed-fibre-to-the-premises broadband connections to all schools. This broadband access will facilitate schools’ use of applications, such as visual and audio streaming and high-definition video conferencing. Schools in remote areas will have access as near as possible to that of other schools. The third element of the package is the development of nationally consistent online content to support the national curriculum. Australia’s governments and non-government education authorities will coordinate an approach to ensure curricular and technical support and appropriate teacher training, and, as the fourth component of the package, they will also ensure that current teachers have access to ICT training. Finally, the Australian Government will encourage State and Territory governments to provide school Web portals that help parents monitor their children’s performance and support their learning, and facilitate interaction between parents and teachers.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Teaching and learning
Number 10, 2008
The concept of school readiness traditionally centred on the age or maturity of an individual child, but is now seen in terms of the capabilities of social groups and services around children to support their transition to school. The transition calls for ready families with the resources, skills and attitudes enabling them to offer good care and learning experiences to children; ready services that are available, affordable and of good quality; ready communities providing formal sources of support such as health services and libraries, and informal supports that offer social networking opportunities through facilities such as parks; and ready schools, with established transition programs, teachers trained in early childhood development, and services for young children and those with diverse needs. Research has established that effective preschool services involve children in nurturing relationships with preschool staff, integrate child care and education, promote early skills in maths and literacy, foster social skills and respond to cultural diversity. A key common element is that they offer children positive social relationships with parents, carers, teachers and peers, which equip them with skills required for school. Policies and programs are needed to address these issues through establishing integrated service networks, enabling different families to connect and providing resources and experiences to assist children’s learning. Children who have had good quality early care enjoy a ‘preschool advantage’. Such services are often currently directed to relatively privileged children, but when applied to disadvantaged children can help them make up lost ground. The cost of addressing these issues is more than made up for by the cumulative benefits of early intervention, which apply for society as well as the individual.
Subject HeadingsTransitions in schooling
School and community
Parent and teacher
Parent and child
Early childhood education
Child care centres
Family literacy: the missing link to school-wide literacy efforts
Volume 48 Number 1, 2007; Pages 57–70
Family literacy encompasses literacy learning in home and everyday life contexts. Without school literacy programs that explicitly incorporate family life, school-based and home-based literacy often become disconnected. Family literacy programs draw on the power of the family to help children construct meaning from texts, and aim to help family members work together to become literate. Parents must be ‘viewed and supported as the first teachers of their children’. Statistics gathered by the National Center for Family Literacy in the
Key Learning AreasEnglish
School and community
Revisiting VET in schools
20 May 2008; Page 10,12
The Australian Government has linked VET in schools programs to the goals of increasing school retention rates and helping to solve skills shortages in the economy. The author reviewed VET in schools for the Australian Government in 1997 and 2005. He found that VET in schools did not improve school retention rates, although these courses were ‘a useful curriculum selection’ for academically low-achieving students who stayed at school for other reasons. In 2006 a review by Tom Karmel found VET in schools improved school retention from Years 10 to 11 but had a negative effect from Years 11 to 12. Research by Gary Marks indicated that early leaving from school was not determined by the nature of the curriculum or individual schools. Nor has VET in schools helped to solve skills shortages. The link between school subject selection and later career choice is strongest for academically high-performing students and is not strong for students in VET courses. Students taking VET in schools are no more likely than other students to become apprentices. The Australian Government has initiated or foreshadowed some small, useful steps for VET in schools, including a shift in emphasis from Certificate II to more substantial Certificate III units. However, senior secondary education needs a much broader reconceptualisation. The ‘human experience of work’ should be understood as ‘a fundamental dimension of learning’. VET should be reconceived as career education targeted to all ability levels, including intellectually rigorous programs as one end of a continuum covering all students. Early school leavers should be offered accelerated apprenticeships as a means to address skills shortages.
Subject HeadingsVET (Vocational Education and Training)
The issues of early intervention: children and families influenced by the developmental spectrum of conditions known as Autism
Volume 21 Number 2, 2008; Pages 10–26
Children diagnosed with having Autism Spectrum Disorders commonly display a similar range of difficulties with social interaction and communication, but in other respects have little in common. Early intervention programs must be designed to take this varibility into account. Early interventions can be extremely effective for children diagnosed with some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Research has repeatedly identified two key elements in successful intervention programs: inclusion in normative environments and strong family involvement. Inclusive education practices should start at the earliest possible age, with autistic children participating in mainstream classrooms. Mainstream peers easily learn strategies for interacting with autistic classmates, and inclusion has been found to enhance gains in language and social skills, help build friendships and reduce the stereotyped behaviours common in autism. Despite the extensive research, inclusive interventions are unusual. Parent choice about programs is crucial, as the number of hours spent at home far exceeds the number of hours in even the most intensive intervention program. Parents’ interests must also be considered regarding location, as city travel can be prohibitive for rural and regional families. Where possible, service providers should go into homes, playgroups, childcare centres and other natural settings. Several recommendations are made to government on how funds can be distributed most equitably. Although issues of fairness can be contentious, resources should generally be allocated to parents who are actively seeking help and are willing to participate, and to services that provide an evidence-based intervention that is committed to families and includes long-term follow-up. Children with the greatest needs should be given the greatest investment and children most remote from program choices and supports should also be prioritised. Money should also be earmarked for research into the role of stress and other environmental factors for expectant mothers, neurobiological frameworks, and holistic rather than medical treatments. It is time for a shift in mindset from ‘special needs adaptation’ to ‘universal design pedagogy’ to benefit all children.
Volume 34 Number 1, February 2008; Pages 25–33
School rules embody standards against which student behaviour is judged. A Swedish study conducted in two primary schools has yielded a simple categorisation system for school rules, based on the function they serve in regulating school life. The researchers observed and took notes on everyday interactions, rule transgressions and teachers' explanations of rules. Two classes from each of Kindergarten, Grade 2 and Grade 5 were involved. Thirteen teachers were also interviewed on the themes of discipline, school rules and values-related pedagogy. Five overlapping categories of rules emerged. Relational rules govern social interactions within the school. They encompass pro-social directives, such as showing others respect and taking care of others, as well as prohibitions on bullying, teasing and violent behaviour. Structuring rules are those regulating school activities or the physical environment. Activity-structuring rules include not interrupting the teacher or other students, being on time for lessons, staying outside during break time, and being well prepared for class. Environment-structuring rules include not littering, keeping ball games away from windows and tidying up after oneself. Protecting rules are those that protect the health and safety of students and staff, such as prohibitions on running in corridors or cycling in the playground. Personal rules ask students to reflect responsibly on their own behaviour. These include asking students to think before they act, do their best and refrain from lying or blaming others for things they themselves have done. Etiquette rules are those that are based on customs or school traditions. These might refer to clothing or personal appearance, posture and bearing, or use of swear words and bad language. School rules are pervasive in school life, but often only become visible when they are transgressed. A categorical system of school rules has a range of pedagogical uses. Students can be made more aware of the reasons behind the rules, and research has shown this makes them more likely to follow them. Educators and school leaders can also use the framework to systematically review school and classroom rules, and to add, modify or subtract rules when necessary.
Subject HeadingsBehaviour management
Volume 14 Number 1, 2008; Pages 16–37
A coaching program has been developed for experienced principals in
Engaging modern dads in schools
Spring 2008; Pages 122–131
When fathers and father figures become involved in the school community, children’s engagement and academic performance has been shown to improve. Many men now prioritise time spent with family over work, and are eager to learn more about fatherhood and its potential impact. However, this interest does not immediately translate into increased school involvement. School is often seen by fathers as a feminine environment, and attending a parents’ meeting with no other men present requires the courage to challenge social conventions. This discomfort can be used to create a general dialogue on fathers’ feelings about school. Educators should not be afraid to explicitly discuss gender composition in staff or parent groups. Schools must first assess fathers’ current level of involvement and examine any unspoken assumptions that may be discouraging participation. Consider the timing of parent association meetings, norms for teacher–parent communication, and whether fathers are actively encouraged to become involved. Involvement will ideally not be limited to positions of power, such as the school board, but instead include reading in class and volunteering at school events. Boys need to see their fathers involved in school outside of sporting events. A steering committee can be formed to explore options for increasing involvement. One alternative is a Dads’ Club, network, group or association. A range of men should be invited, including fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, uncles and family friends. Dads’ clubs are most successful when they are formally connected to the school and in regular communication with school staff or the broader parents’ association. The club should draft a mission statement incorporating service to the school, nurturing healthy family and father–child relationships and the group’s role as a social network. A survey, perhaps online, could be conducted to find out fathers’ needs and interests. Activities should be fun and educational, such as hosting speakers on relevant themes or one school’s ‘Lightning Roundtable’, where demanding topics such as boundary setting, drug and alcohol use, sexually active teens and teenage driving were discussed for ten minutes each. The Dads’ Club should take care not to become too exclusive and should also be involved in planning activities for the wider school community.
Subject HeadingsParent and child
Parents' and teachers' associations
Parent and teacher
It's easy to be green: 7 steps to a healthier school
Spring 2008; Pages 76–84
The author is executive director of the Green Schools Initiative, and has designed a program that provides parents, teachers and school administrators with tools they can use to make their schools more sustainable. Making schools healthy and sustainable has been shown to save money and improve students’ academic performance, classroom behaviour and school engagement. To help schools become truly sustainable, a framework has been developed based on the Eco-Schools International framework currently used by 15,000 European schools. The seven-step framework draws on four interrelated pillars: a non-toxic environment; sustainable use of resources; natural playground spaces and healthy lunches; and the teaching of stewardship. Step 1 is to establish a Green Team or Eco-Committee, with representation primarily from students but also including teachers, administrative staff, cleaners, parents, and school board members. Step 2 is to adopt a Green Code or Environmental Vision Statement. This should be drafted by students and displayed prominently. Statements may range from a simple ‘We will turn off the lights’ to more complex and multifaceted pledges. Step 3 involves an environmental audit of the school. Students can be directly involved in data collection through measuring waste or checking leaking taps and computers left on overnight. Interpretation of the results is easily integrated into mathematics classes. Step 4 uses results of the audit to identify priorities for a Green School Action Plan. This should include measurable, realistic and achievable targets, for both the short and the long term. Step 5 is to monitor and evaluate the program, modifying it in an ongoing fashion when necessary. Step 6 is an integration of environmental values into the curriculum, perhaps using a curriculum resource such as Facing the Future. As well as developing practical problem-solving abilities, subjects such as science, art, maths, humanities and English are also well suited. Step 7 is informing and involving the community and celebrating achievements. Classroom displays, assemblies and newsletters can be used to celebrate targets achieved. Inspirational speakers are also very effective. A list of helpful resources includes the Centre for Ecoliteracy, Rethinking School Lunch, the Ecological Footprint Quiz and the SchoolNeutral carbon emissions calculator.
Mainstream education tends to be ‘fearful of things spiritual’. However, developing a nondenominational Spiritual Intelligence in students can lead to a greater sense of connectedness, responsibility, respect and compassion both inside and outside the classroom. Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) is the ability to use a range of different techniques to access intuitive knowledge, and to use this awareness to solve large-scale problems. To nurture SQ, teachers can help their students explore big-picture questions, such as ‘How should we live?’, ‘Is there meaning to life?’, and ‘Why is there something, rather than nothing?’. Community service projects are also beneficial for developing SQ, as they empower students to make a real positive difference in their communities. One example of a framework for environmental community service projects is Earth Force, which has developed a six-step plan for observing a local environmental problem and implementing positive change. Providing students with gardens and animals also helps to develop a sense of connectedness with nature. Other strategies for developing SQ include providing time for reflection and open-ended discussion; reading and discussing stories and myths from different cultures; stressing unity and cross-disciplinary elements in studies; using the ‘What, So What, Now What’ model to think about implementing positive change; and introducing students to methods of negotiation and conflict management. Studying the lives of ‘spiritual pathfinders’ such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Hildegard of Bingen, Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa can be particularly inspirational for both students and teachers. Teachers who introduce SQ techniques in the classroom almost always experience a new level of joy in their teaching. Focusing on diversity and harmony across ethnic and national boundaries also helps to develop SQ, and initiatives such as the British Council’s global partnerships between schools reinforce feelings of global connectedness. Focusing on awareness and spiritual education ‘is not about creating an educational Nirvana, it is about waking up to the sacredness of everyday living and learning’. Schools wanting to build their students’ awareness, citizenship and leadership should consider weaving SQ education into the curriculum.
Subject HeadingsSocial justice
Lessons learned about educating the gifted and talented: a synthesis of the research on educational practice
Volume 51 Number 4, Autumn 2007; Pages 382–396
A synthesis of all research studies and literature on gifted education from 1861 to the present has condensed the results into five broad lessons for educators. Lesson 1 is that gifted learners need daily challenge in their specific areas of talent. Over 100 studies indicate that daily challenge leads to enormous gains in both academic performance and self-confidence. Learners should also be challenged regularly in areas outside their special talent. When challenge is not provided, stress, anxiety and problem behaviours become far more common. Lesson 2 is to allow students to work independently in their areas of talent. The positive outcomes of independent study have been found to increase self-reliance, critical and creative thinking, and motivation rather than showing direct academic gains. Lesson 3 is to make different forms of subject-based and grade-based acceleration available. The results of acceleration are particularly beneficial in maths and science, since in humanities the additional deepening and broadening is not so readily measurable. For most gifted learners, both early entrance to kindergarten and acceleration programs have no negative impact on social and emotional adjustment. Lesson 4 is to give students opportunities to socialise with peers of similar ability. Extensive research indicates positive outcomes for this arrangement. However, ‘peer-tutored dyads’ consisting of one high- and one lower-ability student have no benefit for either learner. Lesson 5 is to increase the pace of instruction for gifted learners. When material is delivered at the actual learning rate of these children, retention increases and the risk of boredom and stress is minimised. Gifted learners generally need less review and practice, and a few widely spaced review sessions are enough. In-service, strategy-based teacher training is more useful than pre-service training. Educators aiming to implement best practice will probably need to reconsider their existing views of gifted education. There are many alternatives, and schools should choose those suited to their unique combination of learners, teachers and learning environment. If a range of grouping options is established, the role of the school can move to that of ‘matchmaker and monitor’, ensuring the best fit for all students.
Subject HeadingsGifted and talented (GAT) children
A science need: designing tasks to engage students in modelling complex data
Volume 68, April 2008; Pages 113–130
There is an increasing need for students to develop quantitative literacy: the ability to perceive the underlying structure in data, develop models that describe it, and understand the implications of predictions made by these models. Until recently, mathematics has lacked the tools widely available in other scientific fields to look more closely at mundane objects or events. However, computer-based tools such as Fathom can now be used to make data modelling more meaningful and intimate for students. The tools also store documentation of the repeated attempts made when solving a problem, allowing both students and educators to examine how their individual or group problem-solving process works over time. Engaging students in modelling tasks is an excellent way to develop data reasoning and problem solving ability. The tasks can also be a potent ‘democratising agent’, making powerful mathematical tools available to younger and less able students. When asked to engage in a model-eliciting activity (MEA), most adults and children fail to see the need for more than one cycle of development. Both children and adults must be guided beyond their initial ‘first-draft attempts’ at modelling. In an MEA, on creating curves of best fit after a first attempt by students, educators should introduce the idea that the model has two components: a ‘line of best fit’, plus a rule that describes how closely the data points follow that line. Problem solving should be viewed as a fluid process of adaptation to emergent norms and procedures rather than from the researcher’s usual ‘god’s-eye view’ that tracks linear progress towards a goal. When developing an MEA or other learning task, educators should aim for a task that can be completed thoughtfully and successfully by at least 70 per cent of students in the class. This level is considered optimum for motivation. Educators designing MEAs should explicitly address four elements: the targeted mathematical content; the theory of learning on which the activity is based; the outcomes students are anticipated to produce or achieve; and the position of the content in a broader context of how concepts and ideas develop throughout a child’s schooling.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
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