Growing leaders: the challenge of finding tomorrow's leaders today
Volume 12 Number 7, August 2008
Recent thinking on the nature of leadership, in schools and elsewhere, has shifted focus from individuals’ personal characteristics to the notion of leadership as a potential resource spread throughout an organisation. Hartle and Thomas describe six steps by which schools can tap into this potential. Schools can create a culture of growth, which encourages innovations, accepts that failures will occur during risk taking, facilitates collaboration, and trials aspiring leaders in leadership roles. Within this culture existing leaders actively and visibly model leadership behaviour. Schools can benchmark current practice, which can be identified through surveys of staff perceptions about the school leadership, and through an audit of current policy and roles related to leadership functions. Schools should define leadership qualities needed for different leadership roles, for example the roles of principal, deputy principal, head of department and teacher as leader. Schools can identify the leadership talent pool. Potential leaders tend to seek opportunities to learn, look at issues in fresh terms, bring out people’s best qualities, take risks, seek and use feedback, and learn from errors. They are also open to criticism and are able to adapt to differing cultures. Schools need to assess individual talent through effective performance appraisal processes. Finally, schools should grow leadership talent. Some systems seek to identify groups of promising staff to groom for future leadership, for example by providing professional development targeted at leadership roles. Teachers should be encouraged to look at issues beyond their classroom and to take positions on whole school issues. New models of school leadership are emerging. One is co-principalship, in which two part-time personnel share one position. Another model is executive principalship in which two or three Heads of School report to a CEO. In Britain a third model is emerging in areas which struggle to recruit and retain principals in which one principal is responsible for several schools.
Phonological literacy: preparing primary teachers for the challenge of a balanced approach to literacy education
Volume 31 Number 1, February 2008; Pages 59–73
The University of New England (UNE) has introduced an electronic module designed as an introduction to phonology and phonics for pre-service primary teachers. The module is designed to give primary teachers an introduction to phonics and phonology in a way that will help them understand why children find it difficult to learn to write. The program, called Teaching Foundational Literacy, was developed by the UNE’s School of Education and School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics. It incorporates elements of Luke and Freebody’s Four Roles of the Reader and aims to be less technical than many current textbooks, which often either neglect phonics completely or condense the material so much that the reader becomes overwhelmed. Concise definitions of technical terms, including ‘phoneme’ and ‘literacy’, are provided throughout. The module consists of four recorded lectures available to student teachers via a protected URL. It covers spelling in detail and explains that students face the most difficulty in hearing and reproducing the phonemes in a word, and not with spelling irregular words, as is commonly believed. Pre-service teachers are taken inside the minds of early literacy students, learning how the ability to perceive sounds in spoken words develops in tandem with learning an alphabetic writing system. The final unit uses real-life examples of children’s spelling to emphasise that writing is not simply phonetic transcription, and that phonics training alone is not enough to develop sophisticated writing and spelling. Student teachers’ evaluations of the module indicated that many found it helpful in untangling exactly why children have difficulty learning to read. The module’s self-test questions and interactive examples were rated very highly, and student teachers scored significantly better on the parts of their final exam that were related to the module. In the overcrowded teacher education curriculum, phonics has often been overshadowed by the whole-language approach and sociocultural theories of language learning. However, the strategic use of phonics was 'demonstrated in the findings of the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (NITL)’ and is now mandated by government. The role of phonics in literacy learning has been a divisive political issue, but the UNE module seeks to progress beyond ‘the sterile “phonics versus whole language” dichotomy’.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
English language teaching
Volume 22 Number 4, Summer 2008
The author reflects on the impact of laptops on student learning and school life, a year after they were introduced for all students in her class. Her school serves a demographically diverse outer suburban community in Seattle, USA. She found that students’ work with the laptops allowed them to build significant technical skills. Access problems were gradually resolved. The education district provided adequate time for teachers to learn the new technology, and suitable training was run by other teachers in ways to apply the laptops within the curriculum. However, further experience with the new technology raised a range of educational, social and ethical issues. The education system now uses teachers' email accounts to disseminate routine information, and the volume of such information rose substantially, creating workload pressures. Teacher professional learning was given over to technology training, which did not, however, cover the potential effects of ICT on students’ daily lives and wellbeing. An example of these effects is students' exposure to the commercial advertising that accompanies most computer-based forms of communication. As teachers spent more time reading and writing emails, updating their websites and sourcing curriculum materials online, they had less face-to-face contact with students. Since students can use the laptops surreptitiously for entertainment or chat, teachers were now expected to monitor students' Web usage remotely, creating an issue of trust that eroded student–teacher relationships. Teachers could also now be monitored by administrators. The students’ face-to-face interaction with each other fell in the author’s class as they communicated more online. English language learners were disadvantaged by the relative decline in spoken communication time during classes. Another issue is that the online world encourages simple collection of information rather than problem solving and analysis. Educators need to discuss these problems. They also need to explore the ways ICT is being used for positive social purposes such as enhancing social justice and equity, for example through the Digital Youth Network and action by a group of Californian high school students who used MySpace to organise support for immigrants’ rights.
Subject HeadingsTechnological literacy
Social life and customs
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
English as an additional language
Computers in society
2 July 2008
Research indicates that students are more motivated to undertake careers in science, technology and mathematics if they have had a solid background in science education before age 14. However, such education is held back by primary education’s heavy stress on literacy and numeracy, by lack of resources and by many primary teachers’ lack of confidence to teach science. Secondary science has been held back by traditional teaching methods, which have proved ‘very resistant to change’, and by lack of national coordination. The Australian Academy of Science (AAS) has created several programs that provide resources for school science, grounded in inquiry based learning (IBL). The Primary Connections program is addressed to primary students. This program aims to develop skills and knowledge in both science and literacy through curriculum units on topics that relate science to students’ lives. The program has also trained about 400 professional learning facilitators and 700 curriculum leaders to deliver professional learning to classroom teachers. Primary Connections is used at about 2,500 schools covering all sectors and jurisdictions. Some of its curriculum units incorporate Indigenous perspectives, developed in collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups and other experts, and the AAS is currently preparing a website related to these units. The units call on Indigenous students to share their knowledge of native plants. This participation has improved these students’ self-confidence and engagement in science classes and has stimulated their literacy learning. The AAS is now developing a program called Science by Doing for junior and middle level secondary students. The program was developed and trialled by 65 teachers in 11 clusters. The clusters continue to meet regularly and receive Web-based professional learning resources. Primary Connections is aligned with the national statements of learning with its outcomes mapped against each system’s syllabus. As a result it can readily be incorporated into the forthcoming national curriculum. Science by Doing can also be readily aligned to the new curriculum. Other organisations have also developed programs to boost students’ engagement and achievement in science and technology, including the CSIRO’s CREST and Scientists in Schools initiatives and the STELR program developed by the ATSE. The article is the transcript of the author's address to the National Press Club and includes questions and answers from the media.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Inquiry based learning
Research focus: best science pedagogy
February 2008; Pages 24–25
Several recent models of pedagogy have implications for science education. The most up-to-date models emphasise the importance of teaching metacognitive skills, and of developing students’ ability to evaluate and regulate their own learning. Earlier models included the ‘pedagogy of apprenticeships’, in which students learn procedures but not necessarily the rationale behind them; the ‘blank slate’ model, in which students are viewed as blank canvases waiting for knowledge; and a pedagogy of thinking, discussion and collaboration that emphasised thinking but did not consider metacognition. The choice of science pedagogy is often influenced by the teacher’s knowledge and experience, with more experienced teachers tending to focus more on having students think and engage with the material. The more secure teachers feel about their subject knowledge, the more likely they are to choose an appropriate pedagogical model. The pedagogical strategy of ‘questioning’ can be used to great effect in all teaching, but some types of questions are more effective than others. Questions that test students’ knowledge of facts are less helpful than questions that ask them to think and compare various aspects of the subject material, such as ‘Why are salting, smoking and freezing all effective ways of preserving meat?’. Bigger questions may have to be broken down into several smaller ones before they can be adequately addressed. Research also indicates that, where possible, teachers should avoid giving marks and instead write formative comments on students’ work at least every two to three weeks. The evolving role of the teacher, shifting from knowledge dispenser to facilitator, will necessitate further pedagogical shifts. A New Zealand Government review notes that students will need to be given time and structure to think through ideas, and a European Commission report on science education recommends an inquiry-based approach to science education for all students.
Key Learning AreasScience
Research focus: emergent science
April 2008; Pages 26–27
‘Emergent science’ refers to scientific thinking, and the attitudes needed to develop scientific understanding, in children up to eight years of age. Research in emergent science takes place at the point of overlap between science and early years education, an area in which there has traditionally been a knowledge gap. As the thinking of young children differs markedly from older children, it is important not to carry assumptions about science education into emergent science frameworks. Young children have a number of skills that support the development of scientific thinking, including the ability to observe closely and to make rudimentary predictions. At around five years of age they become able to group and classify, a preliminary stage in understanding variables, and from six years onward they display an ability to hypothesise about abstract situations. Young children’s scientific theories are developed directly from experience and may be remarkably resistant to challenges from adults. Children's understanding of science is facilitated by emergent scientific attitudes. These attitudes can be characterised as motivational attitudes such as enthusiasm, curiosity and questioning, which support engagement with science; social attitudes such as cooperation, responsibility, independence and tolerance, which support working with others; practical or behavioural attitudes such as perseverance, creativity, sensitivity and flexibility, which support participation in practical scientific activities; and reflective attitudes such as respect for evidence, critical reflection, tentativeness and open-mindedness, which support cognition and methodical reflection. A 2003 British review of research into early science pedagogy found that the constructivist approach recommended by Science Process and Concept Exploration (SPACE) research in the 1990s had not been implemented. Early years educators must be given an understanding of how constructivist techniques, such as exploratory play with adults, help to develop children’s scientific understandings. The author established an Emergent Science electronic network in 2006, with aims to facilitate communication between researchers, support early childhood professionals and evaluate the impact of early years science research. The network plans to undertake a research review and conduct further collaborative research in the area.
Key Learning AreasScience
Early childhood education
Gender differences in science and math
May 2008; Pages 28–33
The perception that boys are better than girls at science and maths is entrenched at many levels of education, despite negligible evidence to support this belief. Studies have shown no gender differences in maths performance at age nine and minimal differences at age 13, but evidence also indicates that boys have pulled ahead of girls significantly by age 17. Research has found that in the middle years of schooling girls lose confidence in their academic abilities regarding maths and science, and their interest and motivation to study these subjects declines soon afterwards. The American Association of University Women published a report in 1992 suggesting that gender discrepancies in maths performance could be eliminated through changed teaching practices, and other studies have suggested that environmental influences have a far greater impact on performance than gender does. Factors such as early childhood environment, gender stereotyping, family expectations, teaching practices, assessment procedures, and the nature of science as a discipline can all substantially affect school performance. The first step in addressing negative environmental influences for girls is to openly discuss the issues involved. Training teachers in equitable teaching practices is also highly recommended. School principals are essential in dealing with these issues, so it is suggested that principals be required to stay up to date with current research into gender and maths, science and technology. Other ways of overcoming bias at school are learning about outstanding women in the community and inviting them to come and speak to the students, getting to know the students and any personal experiences they may have with gender bias, and increasing science faculty members’ knowledge of prominent female scientists.
Key Learning AreasScience
Whatever happened to infant play?
Summer 2008; Pages 7–9
Child-initiated play offers students in the early primary years a chance to build their self-confidence, make a smooth transition to the school environment, and apply their desire for physical movement and active exploration of their environment to learning tasks. However, in England, children’s opportunity to play is held back by a number of factors. One is a mandated starting age of four or five, which has remained unchanged since 1870. Another is the requirement for young students to focus on numeracy and literacy, advanced as a way to overcome inequalities deriving from differences in children’s home situations. Play is incorporated in the curriculum in Scotland and is being introduced for ages three to seven in Wales, but play has yet to attract support from policy makers in England. At a local level, a number of projects have incorporated some elements of play in lessons, with promising results. For example, the Creative Learning Journey project has improved young students’ engagement by introducing activities such as making smoothies in class time. However, these activities remain teacher-directed. By contrast, another study found that child-initiated play is most effective for children’s learning. The Primary Review, a comprehensive evaluation of the primary curriculum, is currently under way, with preliminary findings showing that tests at school are contributing to children’s anxiety levels. Challenges that must be addressed by a play-based approach include the widespread apprehension from teachers and head teachers that children will be delayed in meeting England’s Year 2 achievement targets. More information and debate on this issue is available from the National Education Trust.
Early childhood education
Transitions in schooling
Volume 5 Number 3, 2008; Pages 17–22
Research in Australia and elsewhere indicates that selective-entry schools hinder student learning and achievement, as well as exacerbating social inequality. A number of European countries, including Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands, promote selective entry schooling by separating schools into academic and vocational streams. A report compiled by the American National Bureau shows much larger between-school variations in achievement in these countries than in countries that have a comprehensive school system. Figures also show that in countries with selective schooling policies the gap in academic performance between high- and low- performing schools is greater than can be attributed to differences in students' socioeconomic backgrounds. Several Australian studies have indicated that selective schooling tends to lower overall student achievement. They found that while selective schools do not significantly improve the Year 12 results attained by high-achieving students, the academic performance of students at other schools is adversely affected by the ‘bleed’ of high-performing students from their ranks. University entry is also affected by selective school policies, with the rate of entry to universities in Germany and Austria significantly below that of countries with non-selective education systems. Some children, such as deaf children or those with mental disabilities, do need to be educated separately to ensure they receive the best possible education. However, a comprehensive school system provides the best model for the vast majority of students.
Subject HeadingsAbility grouping in education
The child with ADHD: getting the balance right
Winter 2008; Pages 40–41
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is diagnosed when a child displays inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive symptoms so severe that his or her development is compromised. Inattentive symptoms include trouble paying attention to tasks, persevering with difficult work, shifting from one activity to another, and planning and organising work. Hyperactive symptoms include restlessness, fidgeting and moving around inappropriately, while impulsive symptoms include interrupting others, impaired control of verbal and behavioural impulses and constantly changing the rules of games. Most ADHD symptoms become significantly worse in the classroom and other social situations, which is probably due to the child becoming overwhelmed by the novel and complex environment. Symptoms tend to be much improved in non-threatening and non-challenging environments and when children feel confident and in control. New neuroscientific studies have identified several brain regions that show differences between children with ADHD and those without. In general, it appears that the ‘working memory’ capacity of ADHD children becomes more readily overloaded than that of other children. While stimulant medication can support the working memory of these children in highly stimulating environments, careful alterations in learning environments can also help them to cope. Certain teaching strategies also benefit these children. Making a learning outcome personally relevant to the child, usually through working to create empathic and responsive relationships, improves their learning outcomes. The practice of breaking new information into manageable pieces and repeating it more frequently is also recommended.
Subject HeadingsLearning problems
The active classroom: supporting students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder through exercise
Volume 40 Number 5, May 2008; Pages 16–22
Exercise is known to be beneficial for children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and has also been shown to have a positive effect on the attention span and academic performance of non-ADHD children. Numerous studies have demonstrated the effects of aerobic exercise on brain oxygen levels, cerebral metabolism and brain growth, and several researchers have argued that our bodies are designed to learn while moving. It can be challenging to incorporate physical activity in the regular classroom, but the results are noticeable. For ADHD students, a classroom environment that encourages movement has been shown to reduce problem behaviours and to improve the physical coordination difficulties that often characterise these students. Since remaining seated in a chair and focusing requires effort from all children, they should be encouraged to take an active break every 30 minutes, perhaps with a short ‘stretch break’, deep knee bends or singing and dancing to music. Transitions from one activity to another are especially difficult for ADHD students, and these times should be used for them to move around, take a short walk or stand and take several deep breaths. Movements like this should be incorporated in the classroom routine for maximum benefit. Another option is to use ‘lesson energisers’, short activities that integrate physical activity with academic subjects. For example, a ‘tour’ of California might have students mime surfing, climbing a redwood tree, stomping grapes, picking oranges and playing basketball as the teacher points to various spots on the map. Energisers are available online from the East Carolina University and the Educator’s Reference Desk. Recess activities are also important, with research indicating that vigorous exercise in the playground is associated with improved attention immediately afterwards. Children with ADHD may lack the social skills to participate in informal games with classmates, so structured games are highly recommended. Students should be reminded repeatedly but unthreateningly of the rules and desired behaviour, and directions should be kept simple. ADHD students are also assisted by a clutter-free environment, frequent verbal praise and reinforcement for positive behaviour, and engagement in monitoring their own behaviour, perhaps through giving themselves points when on task.
Early childhood music education in Australia: a snapshot
Volume 109 Number 3, January 2008; Pages 55–61
Policy for early childhood music education in Australia varies between each state and territory and between public and private providers of early childhood education. In almost all states and territories’ curriculum documents, music is included under the heading of Arts or Creative Learning. The frameworks and guidelines provided are deliberately broad to allow individual schools and centres scope for adaptation; however, their lack of detail means that teachers are not often given practical suggestions or concrete outcomes to work with. Many guidelines are so general that ‘almost anything could be deemed to fulfil the mandatory requirements’. Programs at private centres are offered by individual teachers or franchised music schools, such as Suzuki and Kindermusik. Private instrumental tuition, especially for piano and violin, is also common before the age of eight. Since the mandated curriculums offer so much flexibility for early childhood teachers, high-quality teacher training is crucial. However, music education does not play a major role in any of Australia’s early childhood teacher training programs. Most commonly, music is covered only in a single, semester-long subject, or as part of a broader subject on teaching creative arts. The past twenty to thirty years has in fact seen a decline in the hours dedicated to music teaching at every Australian institution offering an early childhood education degree. Teachers who have recently completed these programs do not feel equipped to teach music beyond a very basic level. In-service professional education programs, such as those offered by the Orff Schulwerk Association, the Kodaly Society and the Dalcroze Society, are therefore of great importance. The international Early Childhood Music Education Commission (ECME) is also a useful resource. It would be extremely beneficial for Australia to develop a set of national guidelines, similar to the United States’ Prekindergarten Standards for Music Education, to provide detailed information for educators on specific standards and skills in early childhood music.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsEarly childhood education
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