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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Abstracts

Teaching or service? The site-based realities of Teach for America teachers in poor, urban schools

Volume 40 Number 5, 16 July 2008; Pages 511–542
Barbara Torre Veltri

The Teach for America (TFA) scheme involves a five-week course preparing recent non-teaching graduates to take classes for at least two years in high-need schools. Participants receive comparable salaries to teacher training graduates plus a US$10,000 stipend paid over two years for any past or future educational expenses, and other support. TFA has had strong endorsement from large corporations. TFA teachers have had overwhelming approval from participating principals and are avidly sought after by many schools. The author, a teacher educator at Northern Arizona University, worked with about 300 TFA teachers taking K–8, bilingual or special education classes, covering five consecutive cohorts. Her research on the scheme involved classroom observations; interviews with TFA teachers, TFA administrators and school staff; and involvement in a wide range of related activities, 1999–2007. TFA interviewees described their shock at encountering community violence and extreme social need, and frustration at large class sizes, inadequate supplies, high teacher turnover and external mandates imposing a scripted curriculum. They struggled with ‘a maze of community issues’. In response they generally applied their strong problem-solving skills, and some voluntarily provided extra-curricular enrichment activities for students. However, many also indicated dismay at their limited preparation and some said they were ‘learning how to teach on other people’s kids’. They also described inadequate support from within their school and education system. It is notable that the program is not used in high-SES areas, despite its vaunted value. The TFA’s representation as a 'community service' reflects a ‘missionary’ attitude reinforcing negative images of high-need students. Current TFA arrangements could be improved. The stipend could be made available only after participants have spent two years in the classroom and committed to two further years. The money could be offered beyond the TFA to candidates willing to train for teaching in high-needs areas, and teach in them for at least five years. Some of the stipend funding could be redirected to hire experienced teachers to coach TFA participants prior to starting in the classroom. Participants could receive three week’s practice in teaching in summer schools before the school year, supported by teacher educators and mentors.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teacher training
Teaching and learning
Ethnic groups
Socially disadvantaged
United States of America (USA)
Conflict management
Community service
Teacher evaluation
Violence

So you say you want a revolution? English and literacy educators shaping digital futures

Volume 16 Number 2, 17 June 2008; Pages 23–31
Rosie Kerin

The promise of digital education is starting to be realised in Australian schooling through the Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution, The Le@rning Federation’s digital learning materials, and the spread of interactive whiteboards. However, teachers need further support if the potential of these resources is to be realised equitably across classrooms. A recent research project investigated such issues in relation to the teaching of English and literacy. After examining the way that English teaching and digital technologies have been represented since the 1980s, the project focused on the experiences and professional identities of four mid-career English teachers in South Australia working in the middle and senior secondary years. The teachers took part in a series of group meetings and three were subsequently interviewed. The project highlighted three major issues. The first is the need for ‘playful and sustained professional learning’ that allows teachers extended opportunities, preferably a whole day at a time, to experiment with technology. The second major issue is access to timely and informative technical advice. Teachers need ‘plain-speak’ explanations of technological problems, or help in understanding the distinctive terminology used in applications and by technical support officers. These technical officers often decide who gets most access to and technical assistance with ICT. Technical staff may prioritise classes for senior years over middle years. If they do not understand the role of ICT in modern teaching of English and literacy teachers, technical staff may de-prioritise these teachers’ access to equipment and support, relative to teachers in maths and science or classes in computers or media. Thirdly, the problem is aggravated if some of the English faculty themselves identify with traditional images of English teaching as entirely print-based. Innovative English teachers may be stifled by unsympathetic heads of faculty. Innovative curriculum coordinators may struggle to win over other staff. Teachers seeking to apply ICT also need the stimulation and mutual development that comes from constructive collaboration. School leaders, technical support staff and classroom teachers all need to address these problems. Failure to do so will aggravate inequalities in students’ access to the benefits of digital education.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

English language teaching
Literacy
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Senior secondary education
Middle schooling
School culture

Transforming pedagogies with new technologies: advertising

Volume 43 Number 1,  2008; Pages 15–21
Patricia Corby

Examining advertisements in a historical perspective can give students important insights into how language and images are used to persuade, and how this practice has changed over time as a reflection of broader social changes. A teacher at Geilston Bay High School in Tasmania has developed a course based on material available on the internet for two online subjects, Business Enterprise and Creative Writing. The Creative Writing class comprised 18 students in Years 8 to 10, while Business Enterprise comprised 17 students in Years 7 to 10. Several learning objects that depict a sequence of Victa Lawnmower advertisements, available through The Le@rning Federation (TLF), formed the starting point for the course. Students considered questions about the intention of the advertisers; the content of images, such as why a woman rather than a man was depicted in the 1955 lawnmower advertisement; the balance of text and image; and how the advertisements had changed over time. A large range of historical television and film advertisements, dating from the 1920s onwards, is available on the Australian Screen website and is a useful study resource. As part of the unit, students also listened to jingles such as Happy Little Vegemites and the Sydney Flour Song, also available through TLF. One advertising missionary clip depicts Coca-Cola advertisers introducing the product to a large audience in remote Papua New Guinea, provoking a number of positive and negative comments from the students. In assignments still to come, they will be asked to create collages of advertisements aimed at a certain target group, and to predict where advertising will appear in the future and the type of language that might be used. They will also create their own advertisements. The digital resources have proved an effective way to ‘bridge the resource divide’ for students in isolated or rural communities.

Key Learning Areas

English
Studies of Society and Environment

Subject Headings

Tasmania
Distance education
Business
Technology
Technological literacy

Screen no match for the page in education

8 October 2008
Mark Bauerlein

Major and costly investments of ICT in school education have been very popular, but a number of research projects have not found evidence that this technology has improved students’ academic achievement. The research includes studies by University of Chicago economists in California, the USA’s National Centre for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), and a state school district in New York. Other research has identified poor and even declining reading skills among school students in the USA. Further studies have found that people read screens haphazardly and resist steady engagement with online text. Together, these findings reflect the fact that reading on screen works against academic learning in important respects. Students tend to ‘extend long-established postures towards the screen’: they seek to avoid deep thinking by finding and reproducing only superficial information. In general, people's tendency to scan screens rather than ponder deeply on their texts works against serious intellectual engagement. Screens ‘flatten’ the act of reading by giving equal representation to a richly developed novel and a simple hand-held message. The literacy required for screen reading is qualitatively inferior to that needed to read a significant book, which, unlike screen-based texts, can have a powerful impact on one’s life. Books can encourage the disposition to probe deeply into major areas of intellectual endeavour such as philosophy, art, science and biography. The ‘shape and tempo’ of online texts differ too substantially from printed academic material to be adapted to general academic purposes. Online information is valid only for niche uses such as ‘narrow, just-in-time learning of information nuggets’, once a conceptual framework for this learning has been established off line. (See also transcript and audio of interview with author on ABC Radio National's Counterpoint program 13 October 2008 and new publication by the author.)

KLA

Subject Headings

Educational evaluation
Thought and thinking
Literacy
Reading
Websites
Internet
Information literacy
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
United States of America (USA)

The principal's priority 1

Volume 66 Number 1, September 2008; Pages 72–76
Jean Johnson

Principals are increasingly expected to take the role of instructional leader in their school, formulating and applying a comprehensive understanding of student learning. Principals in this role regularly visit classrooms and give teachers individual feedback, as well as arranging school structures to make student learning the first priority. A number of reports indicate that United States principals view instructional leadership positively. More than nine in ten agree, for example, that ‘ensuring that all teachers use the most effective instructional methods’ is a key part of today’s school leadership. However, the vast majority of principals have indicated that they need more time to work on aspects of curriculum and teaching development. Many principals in high-needs schools found that everyday emergencies threatened to displace long-term curriculum planning from the agenda. One report divided these principals into two groups. ‘Transformers’ were those who engaged strongly with a vision of how the school might be and worked towards it, deprioritising or delegating some of their regular tasks. ‘Copers’, on the other hand, spent the day struggling to keep on top of things, often being so overwhelmed with urgent work that instructional leadership was neglected. Since almost all principals have considerable teaching experience, they tend to relish the role of instructional leader. However, principal preparation programs often neglect this area, being ‘out of touch with the realities’ of today. The most pressing current concern is school organisation. Schools must be structured so that principals are able to devote enough time to instructional leadership, perhaps through training other administrative or clerical staff to deal with everyday matters. The article is based on five Public Agenda reports: A Mission of the Heart: What Does it Take to Transform a School? (2008); Lessons Learned: New Teachers Talk About Their Jobs, Challenges, and Long-Range Plans (2008); Reality Check 2006: The Insiders: How Principals and Superintendents See Public Education Today (2006); Rolling Up Their Sleeves: Superintendents and Principals Talk About What Is Needed to Fix Public Schools (2003); and Stand by Me: What Teachers Really Think About Unions, Merit Pay, and Other Professional Matters (2003).

KLA

Subject Headings

School leadership
School principals
United States of America (USA)

Why phonics teaching must change

Volume 66 Number 1, September 2008; Pages 77–81
Jeannine Herron

Most phonics instruction programs teach children sound–letter correspondences in a way that may be inefficient and confusing. To be comprehensible and enjoyable for students, phonics instruction must be informed by current understandings of children’s brain development. The main flaw in most phonics programs is that they ‘teach the code backwards’, beginning by teaching children to convert letter to sound rather than sound to letter. Learning to read involves the creation of new neural networks linking three features: the pronunciation, meaning and visual appearance of words. Instruction should be designed to build connections between these three areas, which in good readers are usually found in the left hemisphere. Dyslexic readers often inappropriately activate the right hemisphere when reading, a pattern that is reversed when they are given intensive phonics instruction. Phonics instruction that moves from letters to sounds activates brain areas involved in visual pattern recognition, a task for which the right hemisphere is dominant. Students should instead begin by constructing words they hear read aloud, perhaps using letter tiles, pencil and paper or a keyboard. This activates the processes involved in comprehension and pronunciation before those involved in visual processing, strengthening links within the left hemisphere. In this way, writing can become a direct path to early reading rather than being seen as a separate subject. A number of changes to phonics education are suggested. One piece of advice to teachers is to de-emphasise the names of letters. Some of the most common spelling mistakes occur when children rely too heavily on the sounds of letter names in their writing. Another suggestion is to have students pay attention to their mouth movements when they speak. Linking these body movements and feelings to the sounds and letters is likely to forge stronger neural connections. When students ask for help in spelling a new word, teachers should advise them to ‘sound it out’. Most exception words should be introduced only after students have a solid grasp of the 40 basic English phonemes and their corresponding letters or letter combinations.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

Reading
Phonetics
Literacy
English language teaching
Pedagogy

Real Australian teachers working in an Australian Islamic school

18 September 2008; Pages 54–56

Cultural bias is a fact of life for Australians of Arabic or Muslim background. As new principal of Al Sadiq College in Western Sydney the author saw at first hand prejudice against his students, staff and school community. This bias within the broader society predates September 11 and the ‘war on terror’. While parents in general are concerned for their children’s future, Arabic Australian parents have the additional anxiety that their children will suffer future discrimination in employment and social life. Such discrimination also threatens to obstruct these children’s identification as Australians. Like all other ethnic groups Arabic Australians are entitled to preserve and foster their cultural heritage. Their tendency to congregate in particular geographic areas, often reproducing specific global regions from which they emigrated, is a common characteristic of immigrant communities, for example those who arrived from the north west of England in the 1960s. As well as recognising the impact of ethnic or religious discrimination, educators should also be aware of other issues that potentially affect the learning of Arabic Australian students. One is students' need to learn English as a second language. Another issue is the differences in cultural attitudes and practices that sometimes emerge in speech and manners. For example there tends to be greater physical contact between adults and children in Arabic communities, which may make an Arabic child feel estranged within a predominantly Anglo-Saxon environment.

KLA

Subject Headings

Islam
Students
Australia
Social life and customs
Racism
Discrimination
Private schools

Towards an integrated second-language pedagogy for foreign and community/heritage languages in multilingual Britain

Volume 36 Number 1, June 2008; Pages 79–89
Jim Anderson

The increasing diversity in British students’ backgrounds has posed challenges for the traditional model of foreign language classes. Students who speak ‘community languages’ (known as ‘heritage languages’ in the USA) often fit neither the profile of a completely competent native speaker nor that of a standard second-language learner. Although there is a trend towards more inclusive language teaching policy in Britain, Australia and the USA, policy has not yet articulated the needs of these intermediate groups. The new pedagogy would be based strongly on the affective and cognitive aspects of acquiring a language instead of on memorisation and grammar rules. There would also be an increased emphasis on acquiring intercultural competence, or the ability to be aware of cultural difference and behave in culturally appropriate ways. Current policy is still dominated by an ‘assimilationist discourse’ that assumes monolingualism as the norm and does not make a genuine effort to support children’s home languages. The situation for different community languages varies widely, however. The British Government has begun to invest substantially in the teaching of Mandarin due to increasing trade and educational links, which may unintentionally reinforce its domination of the linguistic status hierarchy over other varieties such as Cantonese and Hakka. To teach community languages, educators must realise that they have deep emotional and personal resonances for many students. There should not be an overly rigid attitude about the use of English in classrooms, since many students have grown up naturally using a combination of English and their home language. A communicative, content-based approach has been shown to be most beneficial in classrooms of mixed ability, and activities such as brainstorming, directed activities related to texts (DARTS) and collaborative project work tend to be beneficial. An internet-based multimedia project undertaken by students of Urdu and Bengali, for example, was shown to be successful in helping students develop multilingual literacies.

Key Learning Areas

Languages

Subject Headings

Languages other than English (LOTE)
Language and languages
Great Britain

Why we run our school like a gifted program

Volume 66 Number 2, October 2008; Pages 38–42
Linda Conlon

At Quaker Valley High School in Pennsylvania, USA, students have access to flexible scheduling and are encouraged to pursue their personal academic interests. The school, which is not in danger of failing to meet adequate yearly progress targets but is home to a number of students who need extra support with academic study, has remodelled its curriculum based on best practices in gifted education. A rigorous curriculum based on the Advanced Placement syllabus has been implemented, as well as differentiated instruction, personalised course and career counselling, and widespread enrichment opportunities. The shift began ten years ago with the support of the principal and district administrator. Teachers were initially apprehensive, worried that the changes would result in decreased test scores for students considered to be of average ability. However, school staff have discovered untapped potential in all students, and have used the time saved from identifying ‘gifted’ students to improve their services for all students. The use of learning contracts has been beneficial for a number of students, for example a group of physics students who had already covered some of the subject content. They decided whether or not to attend class based on information on the teacher’s website, and signed a contract that they would study in the library during periods they were not attending. Highly capable students are assisted with flexible timetabling, enabling them to decide on a schedule for attendance of classes that clash. The school also provides some advanced classes through an online provider, which allows students access to classes that would ordinarily not be provided due to lack of resources. A final graduation project, which students choose themselves on the advice that it should not ‘feel like school’, brings out strengths students have in creative or social service areas that might not be evident in the regular school curriculum.

KLA

Subject Headings

Gifted and talented (GAT) children
Gifted children
Curriculum planning
Equality

Foreign languages: a guide for the inhibited

Volume 36 Number 1, June 2008; Pages 111–115
Rosemary Wilson

With English gaining in currency as a global language, many English speakers do not see any benefit to learning a second language. Knowledge of a language for instrumental reasons, such as for professional success, is no longer seen as a necessity. This means that those aiming to promote modern languages as a field of study might be well advised to focus on their benefits in other areas. For example, the role of a foreign language in expanding the mind and developing self-confidence has been well documented. Language learners often comment that the additional language allows them to discover parts of themselves that were not otherwise accessible, echoing the comment attributed to Charles V, ‘to possess another language is to possess a second soul’. Language is different to learning most other skills due to its intimate relationship with self, and it would be valuable to emphasise this aspect more strongly in foreign language classes. A number of studies have noted positive personality changes as a result of foreign language instruction and study abroad experiences, in particular increases in self-confidence for students who were previously shy and introverted. One participant in a weekly French language conversation activity commented that the intellectually demanding nature of speaking French as a second language ‘makes you less inhibited because you have less space to think about yourself’. Removing or diminishing compulsory language study, a common trend in mainly English-speaking countries, will rob students of the opportunities for new and different presentations of self that another language makes available.

Key Learning Areas

Languages

Subject Headings

Language and languages
Languages other than English (LOTE)
Emotions

Helping students 'notice' spoken grammar

Volume 17 Number 3, July 2008; Pages 24–26
Christian Jones

Helping students articulate the differences between spoken and written texts is an effective way to deepen their knowledge of grammar and idiom when learning a foreign language. A number of activities can help students to notice spoken grammar. First, normal listening activities can be supplemented with questions such as ‘What do you notice about the language?’ and ‘What phrases do the speakers use when they wish to check or clarify what someone has said?’ Back translation is another useful activity. Students are asked to translate a text into their first language and then re-translate it into the second language. They can then compare the two versions, discussing the differences in how their first and second languages deal with certain discourse markers and idiomatic phrases. Another type of activity is comparing and transforming spoken and written texts. For example, students might read an informal email between friends and rewrite it as a conversation, staying mindful of the features of each discourse form. Alternatively, the teacher could present a spoken cooking commentary, perhaps from a television show, and ask the students to rewrite it as a standard recipe. The discourse features they must leave out or introduce could form the basis for a discussion. A final activity is to ‘naturalise’ a text. Since many textbooks contain relatively unnatural and stilted language, students can be asked to make the conversation more natural by introducing hesitations, ellipses and discourse markers such as ‘right’ and ‘well …’ These types of activities are all effective in demonstrating how grammatical features in spoken and written language differ according to context.

Key Learning Areas

Languages

Subject Headings

Writing
Speech
Language and languages
Languages other than English (LOTE)
English as an additional language

Accommodating diversity by behaving in class-centred ways

Volume 24 Number 1,  2008; Pages 51–58
Rose Senior

English as a Second Language (ESL) classes typically consist of learners with a range of different backgrounds and proficiency levels, which can raise difficulties for teachers. Techniques arising from a ‘class-centred approach’ to teaching can be a valuable way to unify heterogeneous language groups. Class-centred teaching (CCT) is a framework constructed on the basis of 12 years of research. Its central principle is the inherently collective nature of classroom learning. CCT involves managing classrooms in ways similar to established principles of group dynamics. It is particularly important in communicative classrooms, where all students should feel comfortable and supported enough to participate regularly and enthusiastically. Experienced teachers often intuitively use a CCT approach, for example by employing a combination of whole-class, individual and pair or small-group activities, or by adjusting the task type or pace to the collective mood of the class. A class-centred teacher realises that students need opportunities for both active participation and passive listening and reflection. ESL teachers face an unusual situation, because their students often have very different knowledge and vocabulary bases. A skilled class-centred teacher can take advantage of this diversity by choosing activities that allow for different knowledge levels. Brainstorming is one effective activity that draws on the knowledge of the class as a whole. Students with large vocabularies can be proud of their contributions, while students with smaller vocabularies may think of a word nobody else has come up with. Class-centred teachers also ensure an atmosphere of respect and fairness in their classrooms.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

English as an additional language

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