Diagnosing school decline
May 2008; Pages 667–671
A school’s academic results often decline when it uses ineffective practices to cope with major challenges such as sizeable budget cuts, new mandates from education systems, loss of key staff, and an influx of at-risk students. One such ineffective practice is undifferentiated assistance, in which all students receive the same form of supplementary help. Struggling students must have their specific areas of need identified, and addressed through individually tailored content and teaching methods. Undifferentiated assistance is often due to inadequate monitoring of progress. Students’ acquisition of core concepts and skills needs to be tested to permit timely, targeted assistance. Schools face pressure to cover a lot of content, but it is counterproductive to do so at the expense of formative assessment. Targeted help for struggling students should not replace their mainstream class work, in which they cannot afford to fall further behind, but organising alternative times for remedial help can be hindered by inflexible daily schedules, which may also obstruct teachers’ efforts at collaboration. Alignment problems occur when the content taught does not cover all the material mandated and tested at system level, a problem revealed when groups of students fail to answer particular test questions, and when content taught does not prepare students adequately for the following year’s work. Ineffective staff development refers to professional development that is episodic and only weakly related to core academic concerns. Professional learning at declining schools needs a sustained focus on core curriculum elements such as reading proficiency. Lost focus occurs when ‘everything seems to be a priority’ and the school does not address its core academic needs, or other enabling conditions such as student attendance levels. Lack of leadership is a widespread problem. The loss of an effective leader sometimes precedes academic decline. Hasty hiring or fatalistic acceptance of poor-quality candidates causes long-term problems: it is usually better to keep extending the employment of substitute staff until a truly promising candidate is available for ongoing work. Other common errors are allowing increased class sizes, having an over-reliance on untrained helpers, and having more rules and harsher punishments to solve behavioural problems.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Best and brightest
15 September 2008; Pages 6–7
New graduates from a range of disciplines are being encouraged to teach in schools for two years, after undertaking brief bridging courses to prepare them for the classroom. The concept was introduced in the Teach for America program in the USA. Over 20,000 graduates have taken part in the program, which is targeted at filling vacancies in disadvantaged, hard-to-staff schools. In 2002 a similar program, Teach First, was introduced in Great Britain. The Victorian Government is supporting a further version of the scheme as part of its new education Blueprint, and the Australian Government Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, has urged other States and Territories to follow Victoria’s lead. Supporters of the scheme believe it can help to address concerns, including the decline in literacy performances of high-achieving students in Australia, relative to other countries, low school completion rates relative to other OECD countries, and the continuing inequality of educational outcomes among Australian students. Supporters cite successes from the overseas programs, which have had a high take-up rate. Many schools have commended the participants’ enthusiasm and talent. The program stands to make participants more valuable to subsequent employers. It is also seen as a way to deepen links between school and community. However, there are a range of concerns about the proposals. One is the perceived lack of a strong evidence base for the effectiveness of the overseas programs. The short preparation time for the program is seen as having the potential to diminish recognition of more substantial teacher education courses, and of failing to recognise the need for substantial and specific training in how to teach. Other concerns include the potential for early burnout of the young professionals involved, the significant numbers of participants who resign after the completion of two years, limited ongoing support for the participants, the perceived need for teachers in challenging classrooms to have extensive classroom experience, the risk of ‘horror’ scenarios, such as legal action by parents, and the need for more resources to go to existing pre-service and in-service training and to improved career structures for teachers.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Teaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
Capitalising on emerging technologies: a case study of classroom blogging
Volume 108 Number 5, 2008; Pages 173–183
A blog for Year 11 calculus classes illustrates the potential of these websites to assist student learning. The award-winning blog, created in 2005 by a
Key Learning AreasMathematics
High school outcomes for students in a Montessori program
Volume 22 Number 2, December 2007; Pages 205–217
Montessori schools typically feature multi-age classrooms, a high degree of autonomy in student learning, and little or no homework, standardised tests or grading. The current spread of Montessori programs beyond early years education and private settings into some public primary schools calls for further investigation into its effectiveness. A study has compared two groups of students who graduated from high school in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) between 1997 and 2001. One group, who had participated in MPS Montessori programs over the K–5 years, was compared to another group matched for gender, SES, ethnicity and high school attended. Once other variables were controlled, the Montessori group was found to have significantly higher scores in maths and science, and equivalent scores with regard to English and social studies. The result may derive from the fact that the Montessori program allocates roughly equivalent time between maths and science on the one hand and language arts on the other. By contrast, instructional time in most primary schools is weighted heavily against maths and science, according to a major study published in 2007. Family life also tends to give far more support for students’ cognitive development in language arts than in maths and science. The study found ‘compelling evidence’ that students are not disadvantaged at secondary school level by having had a Montessori background. It also found that Montessori methods can be readily applied within mainstream primary school settings. The article refers to a range of earlier evaluations of the Montessori approach. The MPS study is available from the website of the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI).
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Early childhood education
The future challenge of principal succession in New Zealand primary schools: implications of quality and gender
Volume 36 Number 1, 2008; Pages 41–55
New Zealand is facing a crisis in the supply and quality of future principals. The unique system of self-management in New Zealand schools contributes to this problem, since it gives governors and boards of trustees complete authority to choose applicants based on locally determined factors rather than on objective experience-based criteria. Focus group interviews conducted with school board members involved in principal selection have revealed significant gender bias in many principal selection procedures. In 2002, when the data was gathered, men were six times more likely to be awarded a principal’s position than women, despite representing less than 20 per cent of the total teaching work force. Many of the male applicants appointed had few qualifications and little experience, and in some extreme cases were first-year teachers. Boards often perceive male candidates as better able to discipline male students, and as providing male role models for students from single-parent families. This is despite the fact that responsibility for behaviour management in New Zealand schools usually rests with Deputy or Assistant Principals, 80 per cent of whom are women. Applicants tend to be favoured if they can coach boys’ team sports, which are seen as an important arena for non-academic boys to achieve success in New Zealand. While some female candidates were viewed positively because of their perceived nurturing and multi-tasking abilities, it is unclear whether this perception had a positive or negative impact on their candidacies. Age is also an important consideration, with some boards inclined to favour applicants in the same age group as their members over older, more experienced candidates. Since women are on average older than men on their first appointment to a principalship, this tendency may further disadvantage female applicants. New Zealand must act to ensure that unregulated principal selection procedures do not continue to disadvantage high-quality candidates. Legislation, perhaps through the creation of an officially registered and qualified pool of aspiring principals, is one viable option.
Subject HeadingsNew Zealand
Why has high-stakes testing slipped so easily into contemporary American life?
May 2008; Pages 672–676
High-stakes testing, the practice of conducting standardised tests with far-reaching consequences for schools and teachers, has become central to the United States education system. It rests on the principle that such testing will make teachers and students accountable, causing them to work harder and be more motivated. However, there has been no persuasive evidence that the effect of high-stakes testing is positive (see previous research published in 2006 by Nichols, Glass and Berliner and in 2007 by the Center for Education Policy), and the evidence for unintended negative results is mounting. High-stakes testing may lead to corrupt practices, such as cheating and data manipulation; to distortion and narrowing of the curriculum; and to teacher demoralisation. There are several reasons why high-stakes testing has settled so quickly into American educational culture. First, it mimics the process of business accountability. Monitoring productivity and aiming to increase it without cost is appropriate for business but inappropriate for schools. In addition, high rates of student mobility make teachers accountable for students they have not taught. The second reason is a misguided idea of future workforce needs. The US economy is unlikely to need more highly-qualified graduates in the future, so forcing students to learn material geared towards college education may be counterproductive. A third reason involves an aging white population demographic that is determined to separate the ‘deserving’ from the ‘undeserving’ poor and to maintain existing social structures. A fourth is the indifference of most middle- and upper-middle-class parents towards the testing, since their children are unlikely to fail. This is offset by an increasing number of parents who vocally oppose the inequality caused by standardised testing. Finally, the spectacle of test results is enjoyed by ‘a game-playing, competition-seeking nation’ in much the same way as a sports competition, with endless discussion over why certain schools fail, school track records, and how to improve the performance of failing schools. The policy of high-stakes testing has fitted in easily with contemporary American culture, but is distorting the education system and must be abolished.
United States of America (USA)
Those were the days
Winter 2008; Pages 197–203
Over the last 20 years there has been a revival of interest in using children’s literature within the teaching of history. As well as providing a powerful way to engage young students, good-quality historical literature can add depth to children’s understanding of the past through authentic presentation of historically contextualised language, everyday practices and social values. The literature can be accompanied by a range of instructional strategies. One is the use of text sets: collections of books grouped by common topic or text type. For example a text set on the US Civil Rights Movement might consist of novels, secondary history sources, and informational pamphlets, posters, maps and audio clips. The components of the set can present different perspectives on and opinions about the topic. A related strategy is the use of jackdaws, or artefacts, 'scavenged' by teachers or students, which evoke an historical period. They might include political badges, period music or a recipe from the Great Depression. If original material is unavailable, substitutes can be reconstructed, perhaps with help from Internet resources, which are often extensive. The creation of time lines offers a way by which students can construct for themselves the order of historical events. Simple time lines may consist of events described within one book or a chronological listing of selected historical books. Through literature study groups students can meet to read and discuss texts that they select from a range offered to them by teachers. Finally, celebrations can be ‘a festive and culminating experience’ on a topic. They can incorporate cultural aspects of the era such as dance, music or period clothing, and students can also watch a film about the period or perform a play about it.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Social life and customs
Teaching and learning
Uninvited guests: the influence of teachers' roles and pedagogies on the positioning of English language learners in the regular classroom
Volume 45 Number 2, June 2008; Pages 495–521
A new study in the USA has examined the interactions between English language learners (ELLs) and their regular classroom teachers. Data was collected over one semester at a middle school in New York State, with the researcher observing and audiotaping each of three English Language Arts (ELA) classes and one English as a Second Language (ESL) class for 1.5 to 2 hours every day. Two students in each ELA class were selected for close observation, of which two were Russian, three Korean and one Bolivian. The teachers were also interviewed to ascertain their views about teaching ELLs. The observations revealed that teachers’ viewpoints had a large impact on how they treated ELLs in the classroom. The first teacher, Mrs Young, positioned herself broadly as a ‘teacher of children’. She made an effort to engage her ELLs by asking them about school and cultural practices in their own countries, where this was relevant to the lesson content. She spoke about her own difficulties living in a different country, and helped students understand what it might be like to speak English as a second language. The ELL students in her class were initially quiet, but became more animated and eager to participate as the semester continued. Their American peers were understanding and encouraging. The second teacher, Mr Brown, positioned himself as a teacher for regular students. While his classroom style was democratic and student-centred, he did not attempt to engage his ELLs. On several occasions he chose American monocultural subject matter that excluded these students completely. His teaching resulted, unintentionally, in a positioning of ELLs as invisible and powerless. The third teacher, Mrs Taylor, positioned herself narrowly as a teacher of English. In contrast to their ESL participation, neither observed ELL student participated in class. In both cases their academic performance dropped to a failing grade. The non-ELL students in Mr Brown’s and Mrs Taylor’s classes were less willing to partner with ELLs and to include them in discussions. Teachers would do well to consider how their behaviour can position ELLs and deeply influence their confidence and participation in the classroom.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish as an additional language
English language teaching
Teaching and learning
A test of the critical period hypothesis for language learning
Volume 29 Number 1, 2008; Pages 16–29
Researchers differ as to whether they accept the existence of a ‘critical period’ for second language learning. While there is general agreement that language learning becomes more difficult with age, a critical period would be indicated by a sharp drop in the language proficiency attained by children who commenced language study before and after a certain age. The age is usually proposed to be somewhere between 5 and 15. A recent analysis of United States census data has not found evidence for the critical period hypothesis. The analysis used a one per cent sample of foreign-born men and women aged between 25 and 64, taken from 2000 national census data. The two main variables of interest were age at migration to the United States and self-rated proficiency in English. Instead of finding a sudden drop in proficiency at a certain age of migration, the data indicated a pattern of gradual decline in language proficiency. The pattern was consistent across genders. There was, however, a difference between the pattern found for Mexican immigrants and people born in other countries. Non-Mexican immigrants showed a relatively steady pattern of decline up until age 40, after which there was little change. Mexican immigrants, who made up the single largest immigrant group, showed a steeper decline until around age 16 but little change after 16. There was found to be an interaction involving the ‘linguistic distance’ between English and the immigrants’ native languages, with speakers of languages rated as more distant from English, such as Greek, Japanese or Arabic, showing a greater decline across the earlier years than speakers of more closely related languages, such as Danish, Portuguese and Italian. However, the study’s basic finding was not altered: steady decline in language proficiency with age at migration, in contrast to the sharply defined ‘critical period’ that has often been hypothesised.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsLanguage and languages
Languages other than English (LOTE)
English as an additional language
United States of America (USA)
Mothers' beliefs about literacy development: Indigenous and Anglo-Australian mothers from different educational backgrounds
Volume 54 Number 1, Spring 2008; Pages 65–82
Mothers’ beliefs about literacy must be taken into account in family literacy programs, but limited research exists on what these beliefs are and how they vary. A study has investigated the beliefs held by 11 Indigenous Australian and 9 Anglo-Australian mothers with a range of educational backgrounds. The mothers participated in open-ended interviews about their home literacy practices and views, with questions including ‘How do you think children learn to read?’ and ‘Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your ideas and beliefs and attitudes towards literacy?’ Participants’ responses were examined in detail using techniques from discourse analysis, for example through categorising the types of verbs mothers used to describe the learning process. Two of the Indigenous mothers and four of the Anglo-Australian mothers were tertiary educated, while nine Indigenous and five Anglo-Australian mothers had left school at or before age 16. The tertiary-educated mothers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, had so many common views on literacy that they were collapsed into a single category. This suggests that education is a more important determiner of literacy attitudes than ethnicity. The tertiary-educated mothers talked about their children's love of being read to, their interest in books, their desire to learn to read, their learning to put sounds and letters together, and learning words by sight. The early school-leaving Indigenous mothers also referred to children as loving to listen to stories and being interested in books, but were more likely to name specific skills such as memorising stories, sounding out words, and linking words and pictures. Early school-leaving Anglo-Australian mothers spoke about children liking being read to, seeing words repeatedly, and needing to have a good memory. Many of the mothers, regardless of educational background, referred to the importance of being literate, and many also spoke about the difficulties and disadvantages associated with being illiterate. The research indicates that family literacy programs should avoid considering Indigenous mothers as a homogeneous group, and instead should aim to design programs that are as compatible as possible with the literacy views of the parents involved.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Parent and child
ZPC and ZPD: zones of teaching and learning
Volume 39 Number 3, 2008; Pages 220–246
The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is important in social constructivist theory, describing tasks that a student is unable to solve alone but can successfully solve with assistance. The less well-known Zone of Potential Construction (ZPC) emerged from radical constructivist theory. It is a teacher construct, usually used in mathematics, that models a student’s conceptual structures. The ZPC includes any possible modifications to student knowledge that could make more operations available to the student. A recent study has investigated a semester-long series of interactions between one pair of Grade 6 students using the TIMA: Bars mathematical software. The children, known as Will and Hillary, were given tasks designed to probe and develop their knowledge of mathematical operations with fractions. It became evident that Hillary had begun the lesson series with a more sophisticated knowledge of fractions than Will, who struggled initially with the concept of 2/3 and was not able to reproduce wholes from fractional parts. While both children were able to successfully complete many of the tasks, Will’s solutions often came only after he had watched Hillary solve a similar problem. His explanations indicated that his knowledge was mainly procedural rather than truly operational. Will’s solutions tended to be based on his social interactions with Hillary and the teacher, and therefore lay within his ZPD; however, the tasks did not appear to trigger a conceptual reorganisation as they did for Hillary. It was only towards the end of the semester that Will began to develop a partitive fractional scheme, which allowed him to clearly see and use the relationship between fractions such as 2/5 and 1/5. The findings imply that ZPD is a useful but insufficient conceptual tool for mathematics teachers. The differences between students’ understandings of mathematical operations cannot be explained by social interaction alone. Rather, there must be an attempt to determine why some students are able to internalise new operations more readily than others. Forming a model of the student’s mental operations, such as a ZPC, allows teachers to determine how best to assist students in internalising new operations.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Can teachers lead teachers?
June 2008; Pages 762–765
A number of measures can be taken to retain more teachers in the profession in the USA. Teacher pay must be increased to a level comparable to the private-sector earnings of similarly qualified graduates. Maths and science graduates, in particular, currently receive far more attractive salaries in non-teaching careers. Mentoring programs can play an important role in retaining new teachers by giving them support from experienced teachers, and practised teachers, by encouraging them to share what they know and develop new skills. Administrative support is another key element in teacher retention as it helps to avoid teacher burnout. Principals must act to create supportive environments. Feedback from principals is crucial in encouraging teachers to stay in the profession: a study of beginning teachers by Susan Moore Johnson and Sarah E Birkeland found that those who were still teaching after three years cited ‘regular feedback about classroom teaching’ as a major reason to stay. The provision of acceptable working conditions, including adequate facilities and teaching materials, is also important, particularly in more challenging school locations. Teachers, in particular highly capable teachers, value professional autonomy and should be given opportunities for flexibility and growth. There are four ways in which teachers can take more leading roles and simultaneously address the problem of teacher retention. Teachers can participate actively in professional teacher organisations, join with principals to steer school decision making and leadership, learn how to apply for educational grant funding, and create and support a teacher mentoring program. The current climate of escalating need is a chance for teachers to actively decide on the shape of their future profession.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
United States of America (USA)
There are no Conferences available in this issue.