A national curriculum: inevitable compromise or a golden opportunity?
Volume 12 Number 6, 16 July 2008
The National Curriculum Board (NCB) has outlined seven draft principles guiding its planning for a national curriculum. The NCB has taken into consideration a range of contributions to current discussions on this issue, and the article reviews some of these proposals. Bruce Wilson argues that while the traditional curriculum cannot meet the needs of a changing society, reforms which draw on the ‘outcomes-based education’ model of curriculum have been effectively marginalised by opposition from politicians, media and the public. The best way forward is a modified version of the traditional subject-based curriculum, which articulates the core domain-specific knowledge students should be able to acquire, sets out what students should be able to do with this knowledge in real-world environments, and prepares students for effective citizenship. The curriculum should include both a core national component and locally decided content. Curriculum documents should briefly note key links to pedagogy and assessment. Peter Cole proposes that the national curriculum should focus on what all students are expected to achieve, but that it should cover only part of the school day and should be limited to the compulsory years. It should support interdisciplinary study while also enabling students to recognise the distinct contribution of each discipline to their learning. Robert Marzano discusses another issue that bears on curriculum planning: standards and how they should be measured. He suggests that traditional multiple-choice tests should be supplemented by tasks that require students to construct their own answers and demonstrate their reasoning. Students’ performance against standards can also be assessed through portfolios developed over time. A further approach is for teachers in each KLA to judge and report on each student’s progress using a range of coursework. In measuring student progress through a series of milestones, this approach is influenced by the outcomes-based model of curriculum, in contrast to standards-based approaches, which ‘differentiate the quality of student achievement within a cohort’. The CSCNEPA has produced a working paper proposing a set of knowledge, skills and understandings that students should have participated in at school. ISQ notes that Australia can realistically aspire to a world-class curriculum, offering students a certificate that is recognised worldwide.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
The complex world of adolescent literacy: myths, motivations and mysteries
Volume 78 Number 1, Spring 2008; Pages 107–154
‘Adolescent literacy’ refers to the reading, writing and acquisition of non-print literacies between ages 12 and 20, when young people experience rapid cognitive and physical development while at secondary school, and are expected to interpret increasingly complex informational texts. A study in the USA has examined the reading and writing preferences and habits of a sample of adolescent students. Evidence was drawn from an ongoing longitudinal study of a mainly Latino community in a disadvantaged urban area. Researchers surveyed 79 adolescent youth participating in the larger study. The researchers interviewed some of these participants, and collected school records, samples of student writing and student artefacts. The students were found to vary widely in the nature, extent and purposes of their reading and writing. They were generally engaged by good-quality adolescent literature that connected to their search for personal identity, self improvement, and personal relationships. They also sought texts that provided information helping them to develop their social networks and social activities. The reading material they chose generally fitted well with English language arts but was less useful for other school subjects. The students were, however, strongly motivated by school visits from professional subject-based experts such as scientists. The visits helped them link the subjects to their own search for role models and personal identity. The finding suggests that disciplinary subject matter could be made more engaging for students if it is illustrated through insights into the working lives of professionals, and shows the role that social networks and subject-specific writing plays in their professional work. Examples of such illustrative material include the fictional scientist’s log created by Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar and Shirley J Magnusson. In a similar way, some of Mimi Lee’s work shows how a history textbook can demonstrate the thinking of historians. Adolescents’ out-of-school reading fosters communication skills, relationship building, self expression, development of personal identity and participation in economic life. Such reading should therefore be valued beyond its contribution to school academic results.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
United States of America (USA)
Three school improvement mistakes to avoid
Autumn 2008; Pages 31–32
Many schools’ attempts at improvement are made more difficult by three common but preventable mistakes. The first is treating the symptoms rather than the underlying cause of the problem. For example, a school with students that have demonstrated poor achievement in reading may decide to dedicate extra time to literacy instruction without addressing the more fundamental problem of low expectations for student performance. Introducing changes without informing teachers of how to change their classrooms and teaching strategies to match will probably not be effective. In this vein, purely data-driven decision making is inappropriate since decontextualised data ‘is no more instructive than tea leaves’. The second mistake is to focus purely on the tangible aspects of a change and ignore the intangible aspects. Low school performance often springs from a school culture, teacher attitudes and beliefs. Research on high-performing schools in disadvantaged environments indicates that they consciously create a culture of high expectations. School leaders who form a ‘purposeful community’, united around a clear and articulated focus, are better able to achieve their goals. At a time when accountability is of vital importance for schools, it is easy to view school culture and environment as ‘soft’ issues; however, the authors’ experience suggests that successful change most often begins with these concerns. The third mistake is to bite off more than you can chew. Most improvement plans have too many goals and action items, which makes them difficult for staff to remember and seriously implement. A ‘less-is-more’ philosophy should be developed. One way to reduce the number of goals and retain an overarching big-picture approach is to implement a series of short-term, small-scale initiatives that will result in appreciable gains in student achievement. These small-scale projects often encourage staff to continue with more significant changes. It is also important to learn from mistakes, since making and identifying mistakes is part of any improvement process.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Are we supporting new principals?
June 2008; Pages 36–37
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
Catholic schools face critical point in their history
August 2008; Page 12
The article covers the opinions of a range of commentators on the state and direction of Catholic schooling in Australia. Last August a pastoral letter from Catholic bishops in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory urged Catholic schools to ‘re-examine how they might maximise enrolment of Catholic students’ and increase the proportion of school staff who are ‘practising and knowledgeable Catholics’. The letter, titled ‘Catholic Schools at a Crossroads’, noted that poorer Catholic children are increasingly enrolled at public schools and wealthier ones at Independent schools, while the proportion of non-Catholics at Catholic schools has risen from nine to 20 per cent in the past two decades. Peter Ryan, Director of Catholic education in the Victorian Diocese of Sale, has urged the sector to ‘engage with the world out there’, including families who do not attend church. Professor Graham Rossiter, of the Australian Catholic University National’s School of Religious Education, has affirmed the quality of religious education in Catholic schools and sees a crisis only for the ecclesiastical view of Catholic schools under which ‘the whole purpose of the school is to produce mass-going Catholics’. Terry Lovat, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Education and Arts at the University of Newcastle, argues that as the Catholic school sector broadens its social and religious base it faces more pressure to work for the wider community rather than act as a ‘narrow faith community’, which is an image it has avoided so far. Author Chris Bonnor predicts that the Catholic and public sectors will be driven into closer alignment, as recently suggested by Victorian Education Minister Bronwyn Pike, due to the broadening base of Catholic school enrolments and also to the decline in numbers of school age children. The President of the Catholic Secondary Principals’ Association, Vin Feeney, warns that it will be difficult for the sector’s schools to keep fees low, due to their traditional commitment to subsidise needy families and due to the growing costs for schools for ICT and other infrastructure.
Subject HeadingsCatholic schools
School and community
Social life and customs
Child neglect and the 'Little Children are Sacred' report
Volume 33 Number 1, 2008; Pages 5–11
The Little Children are Sacred report was released in June 2007. The Australian Government’s controversial response to the report has received more publicity and analysis than the report itself, and the report itself needs to be examined with a fresh eye. Child neglect was not a major focus of attention in the report, except as part of the background conditions in which sexual abuse occurred. However, neglect may be the most damaging form of child maltreatment in terms of its negative impact on children’s cognitive, socioemotional and behavioural development. The report documents many examples of inadequate parental care and supervision leading to child sexual abuse. The issue of neglect is often seen as less urgent than cases of physical and sexual abuse, and is correspondingly less likely to be reported and investigated. It is particularly problematic in a cross-cultural situation since child-rearing practices may be culturally or environmentally influenced. This makes the threshold for intervention by child protection workers highly contentious. ‘Harm to the child’ is usually used to justify state intervention; however, the effects of neglect accumulate gradually over time. The recommendations made by the Little Children are Sacred report address general support services and health outcomes, which are positive but do not guide child protection workers in responding to abuse claims. While the report outlines several minimal parental responsibilities, it does not state by how much they must be violated to prompt an intervention. The 1997 Bringing Them Home Report indicated that being an Aboriginal child has historically been seen as equivalent to being a neglected child. This view is clearly out of date. However, the autonomy traditionally given to Aboriginal children is now inappropriate in many areas where alcohol and gambling have dramatically increased the danger to an unsupervised child. The report missed an important opportunity to address child neglect as a pressing issue for Aboriginal children.
Subject HeadingsChild abuse
Pre-service teachers' understanding of child abuse and their professional role in child protection
Volume 33 Number 1, 2008; Pages 25–32
Pre-service teachers may not receive enough training in learning to recognise and address child abuse. Although child abuse is generally seen as a broad-based community issue, teachers are uniquely placed to spot signs of abuse and to educate children on acceptable and unacceptable adult behaviour. However, teachers may be unaware of their professional responsibilities or may neglect to report abuse due to lack of knowledge or fear of threats and intimidation. A study conducted at two campuses of a regional
Subject HeadingsChild abuse
Creating your own computer game is child's play
2 August 2008; Pages 26–27
A new programming language called Scratch, based on the way children use Lego blocks, is rapidly gaining in popularity around the world. The project was developed to give children more control and creative freedom in the way they use interactive media technology. The language is visual and user-friendly, avoiding complex code in favour of coloured building blocks that can be ‘snapped together’ in different combinations. The Scratch website allows contributors to upload their projects, and view and make comments on others’ projects. Since the website’s launch in May 2007 over 300,000 children have downloaded Scratch and uploaded more than 180,000 projects. At the recent Scratch@MIT conference, the creators noted that children are creating project genres that had never been envisioned. One Singaporean child created a ‘Can You Dance’ contest that asked other users to create their best dancing character, and then had viewers vote on the outcome in a process of elimination. International teamwork and collaboration across age groups is common. The largest number of Scratch users live in the
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Applying psychological theories to educational practice
Volume 45 Number 1, March 2008; Pages 150–165
The application of psychological theories to education has traditionally been either domain-general or domain-specific. Domain-general theories of learning, in particular the theory of ‘general intelligence’ or ‘g’, were popular from the early twentieth century. However, research on the nature of expertise in the mid-1970s triggered a shift towards domain-specific theories of intelligence and these are now prominent. Current domain-general theories of learning include Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and the theory proposed here of successful intelligence. Successful intelligence is an individual’s ability to use his or her capabilities in a balanced way to achieve success in life. Success is seen as individually defined, and requires people to recognise and work with their own strengths and weaknesses. An appropriate balance of analytical, creative and practical abilities is ideal. Teaching according to this theory helps students to develop their strengths and compensate for or improve their weaker areas. Most schools focus on analytical abilities, which disadvantages students who are strong in creative or practical intelligence. The analytical bias can also lead to the disadvantage of ethnic minority children, who often have strengths in non-conventional areas. A number of studies have tested the theory. One looked at children who were considered ‘gifted’ in one or more of the three types of intelligence. Those high in creative and practical intelligence came from considerably more diverse backgrounds than the children with high analytical intelligence, which is the traditional conception of giftedness. When these children were taught an advanced psychology course in a way that matched their intelligence type, they outperformed students who were taught in a way that did not match. Another study involving Grade 3 and Year 8 students in a low-income neighbourhood demonstrated that students who were taught with a combination of analytical, creative and practical approaches outperformed other students who were taught using standard memory-based curricula or purely analytical thinking. Other studies suggest that a ‘successful intelligence’ assessment predicts college performance better than the USA's Standardised Aptitude Test. The most recent version of the theory includes wisdom, the use of intelligence for a higher prosocial goal, as an additional intelligence type.
Subject HeadingsPsychology of learning
The hunter and the hunted: equipping young readers to traverse the paths of popular culture
June 2008; Pages 5–8
Shakespeare’s plays formed part of the popular culture of his time, and many of the popular texts available today are equally appropriate for study in school literacy education. The strong connection between today’s popular culture and youth is very useful for teacher librarians wanting to help young people negotiate the intricacies of adolescence. Three recent books are presented as examples of popular culture that address the respective issues of youth and childhood, economic and political forces, and culture and learning. The text Ads r us by Claire Carmichael, set in the near future, explores youth identity through the characters of Barrett and Taylor. Barrett was raised in a simple rural cult, while
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Social life and customs
Vocabulary: the key to teaching English language learners to read
December 2007; Pages 189–193
Lack of vocabulary is the greatest obstacle for English-language learners (ELLs) in reading at an appropriate grade level. Extensive reading is important in developing vocabulary, but it must also be supported by explicit vocabulary work in the classroom. The minimum number of words needed to enable extensive reading is thought to be between 3,000 and 5,000, and while students with English as a first language have commonly learnt between 5,000 and 7,000 words prior to starting school, ELLs usually lag far behind. Classroom vocabulary study should address both breadth of vocabulary, or the number of words known, and depth, which is the richness of each word’s meaning and includes knowledge of collocations and phrases as well as information about sound and spelling. Strategies that help ELLs to acquire vocabulary include using cognates in the first language, if they exist. Cognates are words derived from a common root which have retained similar meanings, pronunciation and spelling. It is also important to ensure that ELLs know the meaning of the basic words that first-language speakers are already familiar with. Review and reinforcement are crucial and can be carried out through read-alouds. In a mixed-background classroom, first-language students as well as ELLs have been shown to benefit from explicit vocabulary instruction and word-learning strategies. General vocabulary knowledge has been argued to be the most accurate predictor of reading comprehension, and helping students to acquire vocabulary should be a high priority in literacy teaching for ELLs.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish as an additional language
English language teaching
Education for sustainability for the K–6 curriculum: a unit of work for pre-service primary teachers in NSW
Volume 23, 2007; Pages 3–12
There is currently a strong need to address sustainability education in Australian schools. Following research findings indicating that the knowledge levels of many of Australia’s primary school teachers are low to the point of ‘ecological illiteracy’, the University of New England has developed a compulsory unit for pre-service teachers to increase their knowledge and ability to integrate such issues into the curriculum. A fundamental consideration in the unit is the incorporation of institutional aims, or the policy frameworks that are already in place at the level of government and professional organisations. The main documents involved were the National Environmental Education Statement for Australian Schools, the NSW Policy on Environmental Education for Schools, and the NSW Institute of Teachers framework for pre-service teaching. There is little general consensus over how education for sustainability should be taught in Australian schools, complicated by the many different definitions of sustainability and their diverse emphases. Pre-service teachers should have the opportunity to consider and evaluate the different definitions available, and to form their own interpretation. Since teachers who are currently in training will encounter constantly changing information on the environment over the next several decades, the unit focused more on learning processes and pedagogy than on informational content. There was an underlying constructivist philosophy, with learners gaining awareness through their own physical experience and active investigation of natural processes. The student teachers spent substantial time in natural environments throughout the course, and visited relevant locations in the community such as the water treatment plant. Assessment was conducted through an inquiry-based learning task, with students choosing a personally important environmental issue and researching how this issue was played out on both a local and global level. Students also learnt how to plan learning sequences in sustainability education that could be integrated into other Key Learning Areas, relieving the potential stress of an overcrowded curriculum. The unit, which was designed to be fully grounded in the realities of the
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Making field trips podtastic
March 2008; Pages 18–21
A team at the Harvard Graduate School of Education has developed a learning module that allows students to participate in a ‘wireless, handheld field trip’. The application mixes podcasts, multimedia, internet research and interviews in a way that guides students through a series of museum exhibits. The dual goals of the project were to increase the time students spend at exhibits and to deepen their engagement with what they observe. The isolation and individual focus that can come with using podcasts in education is countered in this project by activities that encourage interaction with others and group work. Using well-equipped handheld computers instead of MP3 players allows students to take digital photos, record interviews of museum staff and visitors, and search for more information on the internet. The learning module has been trialled with primary school children visiting the Boston Museum of Science. In this sequence a simulated version of Greta, a live tamarin monkey at the museum, guides children through the exhibits, asking questions and giving information. The module is customisable by both teacher and student, with correct answers to short quizzes ‘unlocking’ the next podcast. The technology used is deliberately accessible to the average educator, and software includes GarageBand, Final Cut Pro and iTunes. Creation of these learning modules demands a greater time commitment from educators at the outset, but ultimately allows for less active, whole-group instruction during the field trip. The simplicity of the model makes it easily adaptable to a variety of educational contexts.
Subject HeadingsEducational innovations
What's cool for school
June 2008; Pages 45–48
A number of innovative music education products have recently been released, and many were on display at the 2008 MENC Biennial In-Service conference. Some of the most interesting innovations include the Clarflupet, a teaching tool that allows students to try out clarinet, flute and trumpet mouthpieces using the same instrument; a how-to-conduct DVD called The Anatomy of Conducting; and an integrated tone generator and metronome known as the Harmony Director, widely used by Japanese band directors to develop excellence in intonation and accuracy in rhythm. Other innovative products are the BodyBeat Metronome, which helps kinaesthetic learners and directors through a small device that keeps a steady beat vibrating next to the body; space-efficient music filing and storage systems; and a series of African djembe drums that avoids the common problem with sound projection in the classroom. A new volume titled The Habits of Musicianship: A Radical Approach to Beginning Band takes a new and well-researched approach to music pedagogy, beginning with two notes instead of the customary long tones. This book is available for free download by music educators. Finally, a songbook has been developed based on the video game Guitar Hero, allowing teachers to take advantage of the game’s popularity in the classroom.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
There are no Conferences available in this issue.