The culture of learning
Volume 33 Number 2, 2008; Pages 26–32
Contributors describe professional development initiatives at the independent schools where they teach. Most of the programs involve collaborations with universities to promote professional learning for pre-service and current teachers. Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School set up a Centre for Professional Practice in partnership with Queensland University of Technology in 2005. Through the Centre university academics provide training and professional development for pre-service and beginning teachers, and for the teachers tutoring them. The Centre allows current teachers to reflect on practice and to study emerging theories of education. The Centre has expanded to include other teachers at the school, and now also involves Griffith University and the University of Queensland. Teachers’ work within the Centre can be credited towards a higher university degree. The Centre has its own website within the school’s intranet, and provides a forum for discussion between teachers, student teachers and academics. In 2007 Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School in Melbourne joined in the University of Melbourne’s program for practicum placements under its new Master of Teaching degree. Student teachers are based at one of the schools 80 days over a year, including one three-week block. Ivanhoe became a ‘Lead School’ in the program, coordinating placements and learning experiences for student teachers at Ivanhoe itself and at two neighbouring schools, Doncaster Secondary College and Reservoir District Secondary College. At Ivanhoe supervising teachers model best classroom practice and have presented talks on pastoral care, student and careers counselling, curriculum development and use of ICT. The student teachers have taken an active role in school events. The article also describes a collaboration between Hale School, Perth, and the University of Western Australia (UWS); a collaboration between St Paul’s Grammar School, New South Wales, and the Macquarie Christian Studies Institute (MCSI); and a mentoring program at St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School, Queensland.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Maintaining the balance: weighty issues in school leadership
Volume 33 Number 2, 2008; Pages 67–69
The roles played by school leaders in former times have left traces in leadership practices today. Most of the early independent schools in Australia expected the ‘head master’ to display personal charisma, scholarship and energy to ensure academic rigour, discipline and adherence to the religious and moral beliefs of specific Christian denominations. In all these respects they carried over the traditions of Britain's private school system. These traditions also required respect for established hierarchies of social class, one aspect of which was the head's subordinate relationship to a Board consisting of social superiors. By the mid-twentieth century school management structures and governing bodies had become more socially diverse. The head was more autonomous from the Board and had substantial responsibility for the running of the school. The head's professional expertise and ‘accomplishments in certain high status cultural forms’ was seen as a generic quality that equipped them for roles as efficient administrators. The head was also expected to consult with staff, involve the school community, and facilitate teamwork. In the 1980s further social trends once again shifted the pattern of school leadership. Central authorities took more control of curriculum and professional issues but devolved other forms of decision making and responsibility to the school level. Change management and risk management became key concerns. The notion of head teacher as instructional leader gave way to the concept of the transformative leader, able to develop a vision and rally staff around it. Today there is increasing recognition of the contextualised nature of school leadership, which calls for principals to forge leadership roles from the specific situations faced by their schools. The article appears in edited form under the title ‘School leadership models’ in the print edition of Independence.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Punitive measures fail Aboriginal education needs
Volume 4 Number 7, October 2008; Page 12
To improve the school attendance and retention rates of Aboriginal students in the Northern Territory, government policy should draw more extensively on evidence gathered by workers in Indigenous education, who have identified a number of effective measures to engage Aboriginal children in remote communities. The curriculum should connect with Aboriginal students’ beliefs and allow students to draw on and take pride in their own cultural backgrounds. Free breakfast and lunch programs can attract attendance from children in troubled families. Members of the local Indigenous community should be involved in school life, eg through an elder in residence program. There should be an expectation of high academic achievement. Aboriginal teachers and teacher aides can support students and advise on curriculum and teaching practices. Such measures have been implemented effectively in a number of situations, 'with no funding or by leveraging off funding given for other purposes'. By contrast, multi-million dollar programs linking school attendance to welfare payments do not address the educational needs of remote Indigenous communities. There is little evidence that such policies are effective. The Halls Creek School trialled a voluntary scheme linking school attendance to welfare payments, but an evaluation of the scheme by Professor Robyn Penman found that it did not improve attendance rates. The evaluation also found that school attendance was affected not only by parental attitudes, but also by the quality of teaching and school culture, and by home conditions that worked against school readiness and against the development of a culture of learning. Policies linking children’s school attendance to family welfare payments imply that the problems faced by Aboriginal people ultimately derive from their own behaviour, and that this behaviour can be changed by ‘carrot and stick’ incentives. The author argues that these policies are driven by ideology rather than evidence. (See also the author's submission to the Review of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response, prepared with colleagues at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning August 2008, and media release 19 March 2008 from the University of Technology Sydney.)
Subject HeadingsAboriginal students
Social life and customs
Retention rates in schools
The 'Next Step' survey: moving on from Year 12
Volume 12 Number 8, 5 September 2008; Pages 1–3
Next Step is an annual survey of recently graduated Queensland Year 12 students, conducted between April and May each year. The 2008 results revealed that more than three-quarters of a total of 33,568 respondents were in the workforce in some capacity. Nearly one-third had entered employment directly, in either a full-time or part-time capacity, without undertaking further education or training. The most common profession for males was Sales Assistant, followed by Labourer and Food Handler. Females were also most commonly Sales Assistants, followed by Clerks, Receptionists and Secretaries and then Food Handlers. Research by James Athanasou into the job choices of Australians has suggested that these choices may not match people’s real career interests. His analysis of 7,477 responses to the Career Interest Test indicated that people’s vocational interests were fairly evenly spread over the categories of Business, People Contact, Creative, Practical, Outdoor, Scientific and Office work. However, the nature of employment in Australia places most people in Business and Practical occupations, with only six per cent in Scientific and less than two per cent in Creative occupations. This mismatch raises a question as to whether schools should be catering to students’ interests or preparing them in a more direct way for the realities of the workforce. Schools and education policymakers have the difficult task of balancing the conflicting skills needs of industry, tertiary institutions and the broader community, as well as the demands of a rapidly changing job market. A potential solution, which some schools have already begun to implement, is to focus on developing the generic skills students will need for such a job market. These include adaptability, clear communication, creativity, organisation and motivation, entrepreneurship, understanding of environmental sustainability and confidence in interacting with people from different cultures and diverse minority groups.
The 'empowerment' of students: a contribution from systemic functional grammar
Volume 42 Number 2, 2008; Pages 165–181
Many senior-level students receive their marked essays back from teachers with comments such as ‘organise your ideas more clearly’ or ‘add depth to your argument’, but few concrete suggestions for how to do so. A recent grammatical analysis, based on five A-level essays judged by teachers as excellent, has identified a number of features in the sentence structure used by their authors. The analysis was based on linguist Michael Halliday’s systemic functional grammar (SFG). SFG is primarily concerned with linguistic choices rather than grammatical rules, and previous research has indicated that skilled writers show more control over the grammatical choices they make. The analysis examined all 567 sentences making up the five essays, all of which were written for English Literature about Toni Morrison’s book Beloved. Twenty per cent of the sentences included ‘heavy nominal groups’: extensions or modifications of the simple grammatical subject. This feature can be seen in a phrase such as ‘The destructive effect Beloved had on Paul D …’ and is a concise way of presenting information, as well as a noted feature of good academic writing. A high proportion of adjuncts were also used. Adjuncts are grammatically optional words or clauses, such as ‘most importantly’, ‘therefore’, and ‘At the climax of Beloved’. They unobtrusively add extra information and are frequently used by skilled writers. Projection, the incorporation of quotes, paraphrases, ideas or opinions in a sentence, was also a commonly used strategy. Projecting clauses, such as ‘Morrison claims …’ or ‘Beloved’s excessive dependence on Sethe suggests …’, are powerful persuasive devices, since they emphasise the author’s ideas and opinions rather than facts. Another grammatical device, the thematicised comment (‘it is interesting/evident/clear/significant that …’) can also be used to subtly convey the author’s opinion. If teachers become aware of the grammatical features of good writing, they can move towards teaching them explicitly. A student asked to ‘add depth’ could be shown how to use an adjunct or heavy nominal group, while a student needing greater text coherence could be shown how to use adjuncts to link a sentence to previous ideas in the essay.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Senior secondary education
Why mathematics teachers should teach reading
Volume 33 Number 3, August 2008; Pages 12–14
Mathematical word problems contain precise, densely packed information, making them different to the texts students encounter in other school subjects or in their recreational reading. Most students tend to read quickly and superficially, either rapidly reading every word or reading only a few letters and guessing the rest. Different reading strategies are needed for mathematical problems, and maths teachers are those best equipped to teach these strategies. As well as an initial skim reading, mathematical problems require multiple, slower readings to allow the brain to fully process the information it receives. The method of following text with a forefinger can be particularly useful, and should be introduced in Year 7 to help students develop positive habits as early as possible. On the second, closer reading of a problem, students can underline or highlight significant words or phrases, make notes or sketch diagrams. Such concentrated reading practice must be practised in class. Many teachers write notes on the board and have students copy them, which can lead to disengagement and copying errors. A possible alternative strategy for developing mathematical reading skills is to have students read about a new topic from their textbook. They can then answer teacher questions such as ‘What is this material about?’, ‘What conclusions are you expected to reach?’, and ‘Can this material be connected to anything you have learnt previously?’ This strategy takes time and is difficult for students at first, but eventually leads to deeper understanding, stronger reading skills, and more confidence in tackling extended word problems. (See also earlier article abstract in Curriculum Leadership 1 August 2008.)
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Language and the performance of English language learners in math word problems
Volume 78 Number 2, Summer 2008; Pages 333–368
Research has shown that non-native speakers of English are disadvantaged by mathematics test questions that have linguistically complex features such as difficult grammatical structures, unfamiliar vocabulary and confusing layout of words on the page. The investigation used a combination of interviews with students, expert linguistic analysis and Differential Item Functioning (DIF), a statistical measure of whether students with similar overall scores performed significantly worse on particular test items. The test involved was the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) for Grade 4 students. Of the 39 test questions, statistical analysis flagged 10 as being answered less accurately by English language learners (ELLs). Of these, half were from the learning strand data analysis, statistics, and probabilities. The interviews, conducted with 24 Spanish-speaking ELLs in Spanish and English, used think-aloud protocols, with the students working through questions that had been flagged as differentially challenging for ELLs and non-ELLs. In many instances, students showed that they understood the mathematical concept but could not interpret the question due to a language-based misunderstanding. Long, complex sentences took longer for the students to read and were generally more difficult to understand. ELLs’ smaller vocabulary proved a particular problem for test items containing low-frequency or otherwise unfamiliar words, such as ‘identical’, ‘spinner’, ‘chores’ and ‘vacuum’. Two test items measuring the same mathematical knowledge showed differential performance for ELLs and non-ELLs, most likely because one of them used vocabulary from a school situation, including ‘pencils’, ‘notebook’ and ‘colour’, while the other referred to home-based activities such as ‘rake’, ‘vacuum’ and ‘weed’. Most ELLs do not speak English at home, making them far less likely to know the English words for these activities. The results suggest that test writers and editors need to be trained to identify and reduce linguistic complexity. If possible, they should be given transcripts of student interviews that indicate where and why they encounter difficulties. Teachers should also be aware that ELLs may need additional scaffolding in the classroom to understand word problems.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
English as an additional language
English language learners and response to intervention: referral considerations
Volume 40 Number 5, 2008; Pages 6–14
It is often difficult to disentangle the difficulties associated with learning English as a second language from those caused by a learning disability. A three-tier Response to Intervention (RTI) model is suggested to help teachers determine whether an English language learner should be referred for special education. An RTI model uses assessment results to identify students likely to benefit from additional tutoring or other strategic interventions. An initial screening process uses curriculum-based measurement probes and informal progress monitoring. Students identified as having a potential learning disability proceed to Tier 2, which involves an additional tutoring program given in small groups. Tier 2 involves more detailed performance monitoring, in particular increased tracking of students’ learning rates. Students who do not respond to the Tier 2 intervention are likely to be learning disabled. These students proceed to Tier 3, after consultation with special educators, parents and ESL teachers. Tier 3 interventions include one-to-one instruction, evaluation by a multidisciplinary team, and an individualised education program (IEP). Important factors teachers should consider when deciding whether to refer a student include their level of native-language proficiency, both interpersonal and academic; their level of interpersonal English proficiency; their rate of progress in English language acquisition; their level of reading comprehension in the native language compared to English; and any evidence of previous failures to respond to intervention. All materials used for evaluation should be checked to ensure they are comprehensible to students from other cultural backgrounds and, where possible, should be administered in the student’s native language. Parent consultation is also a valuable source of information, and parents should be included in any teams set up to assess a child’s progress. Professional development must be provided to all teachers involved, with recommended topics being formal and informal evaluation practices, background information on second language learning, accommodations and adaptations, and appropriate instructional strategies.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish as an additional language
Academic and racial segregation in charter schools: do parents sort students into specialized charter schools?
Volume 40 Number 5, July 2008; Pages 590–612
Charter schools in the USA are independent schools, but receive public funding and are supported by government educational services. A study has tracked the racial and academic characteristics of Arizona students in grades 2 to 9 who moved from public district schools to charter schools between 1997 and 2000. The study used data which is estimated to cover approximately 96 per cent of Arizona students. The study found that students moving from district schools to charter schools are exposed to less racial diversity, but slightly more diversity in the academic achievement levels of other students. Results vary between types of charter school. For example, Montessori schools offer students more diversity in both ethnic and academic terms, whereas charter schools built around a ‘back to basics’ approach to education, which cover 16 per cent of charter school students in the state, were the type of charter school offering least racial or academic diversity. Racial segregation was found to be higher at primary than secondary charter schools. Supporters of charter schools sometimes explain high levels of racial segregation in schools as an incidental result of parental preference for particular academic orientations, which happen to correlate significantly with ethnic background. The current research findings do not support this argument. Nor, however, do the findings support the allegation that charter schools ‘cream skim’ more academically able students from the public sector. In fact, some charter schools aim to attract at-risk students as a ‘niche market’. The findings underline the complexity of the criteria by which parents choose schools for their children.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
United States of America (USA)
Leadership talent identification and development: perceptions of heads, middle leaders and classroom teachers in 70 contextually different primary and secondary schools in England
Volume 36 Number 3, July 2008; Pages 311–335
A UK study has investigated the importance of various personal qualities in determining appropriate candidates for future school leadership. Focus groups containing heads, middle leaders (such as subject area and special needs coordinators) and classroom teachers met between May and July 2005 to discuss two themes: the nature of leadership and management, and the ways in which leadership talent was identified in their schools. Findings emerging from the focus groups included a list of 20 characteristics seen to be indicators of leadership talent. There was also discussion of issues around self-disclosure of leadership ambitions and the merits of using ‘gut feeling’ to detect future leaders. Based on these findings a questionnaire was distributed to 70 heads, 191 middle leaders and 168 classroom teachers at 70 schools. The schools were selected to represent a range of different sizes and demographic contexts. All 20 qualities considered, which included such items as ‘shows initiative’, ‘shows confidence’, ‘has good communication skills’, and ‘has good subject knowledge’, were found to be important. When participants were asked to rank the five most important qualities, four of these were listed by over half of the participants: people skills, good communication skills, vision and the respect of the staff body. Respect from pupils, professional values, enthusiasm, initiative and the ability to deal with stress were also highly rated. Least highly rated were accessing professional development courses, ambition, having an ‘aura’, and experience of project leadership. A number of qualities were differently valued by heads, middle leaders and classroom teachers, suggesting that teachers aiming for leadership may not have a completely accurate idea of what heads are looking for. For example, vision, professional values and dealing with stress were more important to heads than to middle leaders or teachers. Working hard was more important to classroom teachers than to middle leaders or heads. With respect to career development, most participants said teachers should take responsibility for their own long-term career planning. They also favoured self-disclosure of leadership aspirations. ‘Gut feeling’ about leadership potential tended to take precedence over national standards in the selection of principals.
Evaluation of elementary students' attitudes toward science as a result of the introduction of an enriched science curriculum
Volume 54 Number 1, Spring 2008; Pages 30–49
A curriculum enriched with technology, learning activities, e-mentoring and visits to a nearby science museum has been shown to improve primary school students’ attitudes towards science, in particular those held by girls. The project, known as Scientists 2010 and involving five schools in Alberta, Canada, was implemented in 1999 to increase students’ understanding, attitudes and inclination to pursue scientific careers. The cohort being studied was in Grade 2 at the start of the program, which will continue until 2010 when the students reach Year 12. Included in the program are a week-long ‘Museum School’ at the nearby Odyssium science centre (now known as Telus World of Science), IMAX movies, field trips, weekly email contact with volunteer mentors in the community, and frequent access to computers and the internet. To determine early changes in students’ attitudes, a 40-item questionnaire was administered in May and June of 2002, when the students were in Grade 4. Results were compared with five similar schools that were not participating in the project. A factor that measured appreciation of science, including questionnaire items such as ‘I think scientists have interesting jobs’, ‘Science makes me think’, and ‘I enjoy learning science’, was significantly higher in the project group than the control group. There was no significant overall difference in attitudes about the practical applications or difficulty of science. Girls from non-project schools scored significantly lower than boys on the confidence item ‘I don’t do well in science’, a result that was not found in project schools. Girls from project schools scored higher than their non-project counterparts on broad factors relating to appreciation of science and to knowledge of its practical applications, as well as on specific questionnaire items including ‘Science is fun’ and ‘Science is one of my favourite subjects’. A measure of learning styles showed collaborative learning with other students, teachers and parents to be favoured by the majority of students, irrespective of project participation. The findings have implications for the development of school science curriculums that will inspire young people in the pursuit of science in later years.
Key Learning AreasScience
Bullying in schools
Volume 30 Number 3, 2008; Pages 43–44
University education in Australia must train teachers in the recognition and prevention of bullying. Many teachers and parents are particularly ill-equipped to cope with cyber bullying, an increasingly common form of bullying conducted via email, text messages and the internet. The Australian Government’s Cyber-Safe Schools program recommends that victims use strategies such as keeping a detailed record of bullying occurrences, telling someone, blocking bullies by contacting mobile phone or internet providers, or changing their contact details. A whole-school approach is necessary in reducing bullying. This is accomplished through creating a safe school culture and environment, distributing information to students and parents, and using class discussions and assigned readings to include the issue of bullying in the school curriculum. A recent report on the social and emotional health of Australian students indicated that many students feel they are not learning about emotions, managing stress or solving interpersonal problems. It is useful to teach students how to psychologically ‘reframe’ situations in order to avoid self-blame and promote an attitude of detachment in bullying situations. Training students in relaxation techniques and expressive therapies can also be highly valuable, especially in helping to heal the damage caused by bullying. The ‘no-blame approach’, one method in which bullies are asked to think of something positive to say to the victim, is contentious among researchers. However it appears that both ‘punitive’ and ‘non-punitive’ approaches can work, providing they are tailored to individual school environments. Many print and electronic resources are available, including the Australian websites Bullying in Schools and Bullying. No Way! An accessible and humorous print text that aims to build students’ psychological defences is Bullies, Bigmouths and So-Called Friends by Jenny Alexander.
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