Changing classroom practice through the English National Literacy Strategy: a micro-interactional perspective
Volume 45 Number 3, September 2008; Pages 701–737
The article closely examines two successive lessons run by a classroom teacher implementing the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) reforms in England. The research shows how the NLS aim of promoting students’ higher order thinking skills did not play out as planned at the classroom level. The research was part of a wider study in 2003-04 at a poorly performing outer suburban primary school populated mainly by white working class children. The lessons covered the NLS Year 6 Narrative Reading Unit. To stimulate higher order thinking the teacher asked open-ended questions about a class text, which had been provided in the NLS curriculum support materials. However, when students failed to respond he quickly narrowed the questions' scope, hinted at answers, moved on, or broke down the open questions into smaller, closed ones. Contrary to reform aims students were not encouraged to annotate the text themselves. The reform plan's call for students to discuss the text in pairs, which would allow them to explore ideas privately before risking an opinion to the whole class, was not implemented in the lessons. Students’ independent work was directed to small, specific tasks, frequently interrupted by the teacher, again blocking scope for exploration. Professional development (PD) accompanying the unit gave little detail about its underlying rationale or ways to implement it and to overcome likely obstacles. Nor did the PD process include feedback to teachers about their practice. The PD was delivered through traditional, passive transmission pedagogy. The school’s staff meetings were dominated by concern to meet pressing standards and assessment requirements rather than improve pedagogy. There was some bitterly expressed concern for meticulous formal compliance with the reform ‘so that the blame for failure would fall on the materials rather than the teachers’. There are strong incentives for students and teachers to maintain traditional classroom practices. In this study, for example, students who delayed writing entries in their notebooks until helped by the teacher thereby missed a chance to develop independent thinking, but they also reduced risk of failure; and after teacher input their notebooks would make the teacher ‘look better’ to external evaluators. Familiar, traditional methods also involve less stress and risk for teachers and students.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
English language teaching
Volume 55 Number 10, 2008; Pages 1248–1260
It appears that some countries are far more effective than others in identifying and nurturing boys and girls with high mathematical ability. White students born in the USA, especially girls, are vastly underrepresented in elite mathematics competitions. Many may be reluctant to self-identify as talented in mathematics, as this skill often carries a social stigma. Several changes need to take place so that girls are encouraged to be excellent in mathematics. The myth that females cannot be profoundly gifted in mathematics must be publicly laid to rest. The general public’s perception of mathematicians must also be improved, perhaps through the news media and television shows such as Numb3rs. A study examining female participation in mathematics has been recently conducted, motivated by a speech given in 2005 by Harvard University President Lawrence Summers. The speech argued that a major reason for the shortage of women in mathematics research positions at elite United States universities was partly due to gender differences in ‘intrinsic aptitude’, especially at the extreme upper end of the scale. The study examined data from elite mathematics competitions such as the Putnam Mathematical Competition and the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). High scorers on these tests have mathematical problem-solving ability at a level of approximately one in one million. The study examined the performance of males and females in these competitions, recording their country of origin and, where obvious from students’ names, their ethnic background. Top-performing teams at the IMO tended to come from countries in either Asia or Western Europe, with the USA the only exception. The excellent performance of teams from Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania indicates that low-population countries can perform well if they have rigorous mathematics curricula and strong support for students with mathematical talent. The number of girls in IMO teams shows high variability both across countries and over time. Bulgaria’s team has included girls since the first competition in 1959, while the USA’s first female team member participated in 1998.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Gifted and talented (GAT) children
Volume 50 Number 2, June 2008; Pages 123–133
A range of popular educational theories have drawn unwarranted conclusions from neuroscientific research. Brain imaging technology has demonstrated the existence of local brain activity, but straightforward links between areas of the brain and mental functions are inappropriate, since 'most of the brain is involved in most tasks' (see author’s 2006 article) and 'the way the brain goes about dividing its labours is quite separate from how we see such divisions on the outside'. Brain activity is only relatively localised, with activity in one area usually accompanied by lesser activity elsewhere. Brain functions are dynamic, quickly shifting location. The physical location of particular types of mental activity shows significant variation between people. Importantly, localised brain activity occurs within the context of a constant, extremely high level of inter-connectivity across the whole brain. The cognitive functions arising from the brain, such as memory, language and logic, are themselves deeply interconnected. In contrast to Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (MI), a 1993 meta-analysis by John Carroll found positive correlations between subject-specific abilities. A 2001 meta-analysis by John Duncan found that similar areas of the brain were used for language, logic, mathematics and memory, and in 2006 Lynn Waterhouse developed this point as part of a refutation of MI theory. The localisation of brain functions in the right or left brain hemisphere has also been exaggerated. The notion of visual, auditory or kinaesthetic (VAK) ‘learning styles’ has been very popular but conflicts with strong evidence, from both neuroscience and educational practice, that sight, sound and touch all reinforce each other during learning. A review by Frank Coffield et al of evidence on post-16 year old learning styles indicates that educational approaches catering to specific learning styles did not improve learning. Leading scientists such as Joseph Hellige have called for the brain to be understood as fundamentally interactive rather than compartmentalised. Another common idea, that people only use 10 percent of their brains, is entirely unsupported by evidence. It is true however that physical exercise which improves the cardio vascular system will also benefit brain function, and the absence of evidence for multiple intelligences does not detract from the value of offering students different ways to learn.
Subject HeadingsLearning ability
Thought and thinking
Volume 50 Number 2, June 2008; Pages 135–148
Brain imaging techniques have the potential to evaluate the accuracy of some current hypotheses about the neural causes of dyslexia. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can target the location of various functions in the brain, while electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetic source imaging (MSI) can contribute information about how quickly various processes occur. Neuroimaging studies suggest that theories emphasising an underactivation of the phonological system in dyslexia may be more correct than those that contrast visually-based ‘Chinese’ and sound-based ‘Phoenician’ strategies for word reading. It had previously been proposed that readers of alphabetic languages such as English and Italian would use different brain areas – and therefore show different difficulties – to those experienced by readers of logographic languages such as Chinese. However it appears that, regardless of the language and how it is written, typically developing children learn to read by using neural structures that are already in place for spoken language. Over time, reliance on these areas is diminished and new areas are created to specialise in written word forms. The brains of children with developmental dyslexia show an underactivation of important areas in the left hemisphere that deal with phonological information. In terms of the time course of reading-related brain processes, it appears that children at a high risk of developing dyslexia are slower to activate areas for letter recognition and letter-sound pairings than are typically developing children. One study found that in dyslexic children, these processes became even slower between Prep and Grade 1. Neuroimaging techniques can also be useful in determining whether, and how, remediation programs work to improve children’s reading. A study of one intensive remediation program revealed that activation in a left hemisphere neural network essential for reading, which had been underactive in the participating dyslexic children, had normalised after the program. In time, brain imaging techniques may be employed for early screening and identification of infants and children at risk for developing dyslexia.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Volume 50 Number 2, June 2008; Pages 177–186
Studies linking neuroscience and music education are relatively new. Brain imaging techniques have been used extensively with trained professional musicians, and experimental studies have been conducted on the musical concepts of infants, however there has been limited generalisation to the broader field of music education. Infants have been shown to possess an innate ability to extract the rules of music. This capacity is shaped early in their development by cultural and environmental influences, including repeated exposure to culturally determined types of music. Structural differences have been demonstrated between the brains of musicians and non-musicians, with musicians showing enlargement of the corpus callosum connecting the two hemispheres, as well as of several regions controlling auditory and motor function. Findings reveal that deliberate, repeated practice is the most important predictor of these brain changes. The age that training commences and the intensity of training over time are direct influences on the extent of the changes. Learning to read musical notation appears to involve separate processing mechanisms for pitch and rhythm that are synthesised relatively late in the perceptual process. Neurofeedback, which provides a participant with real-time data on their brain and nervous system activity, and gradually teaches them to modify the activity, has been demonstrated as effective in improving musical performance and developing an ability to consciously increase attention and relaxation. The potential for neuroscientific research in music education is vast, but so far remains largely unexplored.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Weighing it up: thinking about the implications of school-based obesity prevention initiatives
Volume 55 Number 1, 2008; Pages 19–22
A range of programs and practices in schools are addressing the need to combat obesity. However, there is a danger that these measures may send mixed messages to students. On one hand, programs urge students to accept and value their bodies and the diverse body types of other students. For example, Primary Fightback is a package designed by the International Diabetes Institute that includes teacher and parent information and a set of classroom activities. The package includes advice to students on how to monitor their physical activity, how best to eat evening meals (with the television switched off and seated around a table), and on how to develop self-esteem and appreciation for a diverse range of body types. However, such messages may be weakened by other aspects of current programs and classroom practices. One problem is ‘victim blaming’: the ‘revitalisation of individualising practices in schools’, through which individual students are implicitly held responsible for weight problems that have broader social causes. Another issue is that overweight students tend to be stereotyped and portrayed as ‘other’. In a Year 10 Health Education classroom, observed as part of PhD research by one of the authors, the teacher uncritically allowed some students to compare overweight people to the widely ridiculed cartoon character Homer Simpson, without regard to the impact this would have on the self image of any overweight children in the class. The representation of obesity in the language used for health promotion sometimes encourages students to be dissatisfied with their own bodies and have the effect of encouraging body dissatisfaction. An industry, similar to the weight loss industry, is ‘burgeoning around school-based programs and initiatives’. School level activities draw in a range of community participants, from doctors and television personalites through to personnel involved in local weight management services, gymnasiums or food sales. Another problem in obesity prevention programs is the ‘messiness’ or fragmentation that results from the wide range of disparate organisations involved in school programs.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Rethinking the youth weight debate: the 24 hour day
Volume 55 Number 1, 2008; Pages 5–10
Recent research suggests that the sleep patterns of children and adolescents make an important contribution to their body weight. In 2007 researchers Sarah Biggs and James Dolman published findings of a recent analysis of data obtained from the 1985 Australian Fitness Survey. The analysis found that sleep duration predicts body mass index (BMI) and waist girth after controlling for diet and physical activity. The impact of sleep loss appeared to be greater for males. The analysis also found that children less than 12 were more at risk of becoming overweight than adolescents. An earlier study of the Survey found that sleep duration had an inverse relationship to BMI and waist circumference, albeit for boys only. Both studies build on earlier international research linking body weight to hours of sleep amongst children and adolescents. The article includes a table briefly summarising six studies covering the USA, Germany and Japan. This Australian and international evidence is particularly significant given the limited success of current anti-obesity programs. Recent scientific studies confirm long held anecdotal beliefs about the impact of sleep loss on mood, motivation and sense of well-being. The article include tips for good ‘sleep hygiene’ and for identifying signs of sleep loss. Websites for further information on sleep include sleepfoundation.org, talkaboutsleep.com/children/, and sleepaus.on.net/.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Taking the fear out of the first year
Volume 50 Number 8, August 2008; Pages 1,4–5
The problems of new teacher attrition and burnout are being tackled by the Boston Teacher Residency (BTR) program through an intensive focus on the preparation of new teachers. A full year is allotted to practical preparation, including work with an experienced, specifically trained mentor teacher. Backed by a supportive professional learning community, new teachers are encouraged to see mistakes as necessary for learning. Many new teachers find themselves snowed under by paperwork during their first year, and they must learn to prioritise some types of marking over others. The BTR program developed its curriculum through outlining a list of eight core competencies of a successful teacher, with these competencies then mapped backwards onto the teacher education curriculum. The teacher residency programs are based on the experience of medical residencies, with pre-service teachers participating in practical training in underperforming public schools. A recently issued report on the job situations, challenges, and plans of new teachers found that their teacher preparation activities could have been more appropriately matched to the diversity found in real schools, and that new teachers struggled with large class sizes and with issues of classroom management. To offset the latter problem, BTR has student teachers visit and observe classrooms, studying the different classroom management techniques employed in different environments. In another approach to tackling high new teacher attrition, the Vancouver School District has made a number of changes to its educational structure. In answer to criticisms of lack of administrative support, the district has created a new model for administrator competency that is aligned with the teacher competency model. They have provided increased training in classroom management strategies and information about some of the social risk factors that may be affecting their students. While an increase in teacher pay is not feasible in the short term, it is hoped that these measures will lessen the importance of money in teachers’ decisions to stay or to move on from teaching.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Volume 66 Number 2, October 2008; Pages 20–24
The skills required in the workplace have changed dramatically in recent years. Instead of searching for employees with a high level of content knowledge, interviews with executives of leading companies suggest that they now seek more general skills. Students need to develop competency in seven key skills if they are to succeed in the workforce. First, critical thinking and problem solving are crucial. Knowing the right questions to ask is key to finding innovative solutions to challenging problems. The second skill is the ability to collaborate and lead effectively, particularly in ‘virtual teams’ that have members all over the world. Leadership skills are seen to be lacking in many new graduates, in particular ‘the ability to influence’. The capacity to be mentally agile and adaptable is the third important workplace skill, and the fourth is well-developed initiative and entrepreneurialism. The fifth skill, effective oral and written communication, is often surprisingly poor in recent graduates. Executives frequently noted the difficulty recent graduates have in organising thoughts into words and conveying a point with focus, energy and passion. The sixth skill is information management, since employees now encounter massive amounts of information every day. Teaching students how to access and analyse information is a central challenge for today’s schools and teachers. Finally, employers now seek people with curiosity and imagination, since the demand for beautiful and unique products and services is higher than ever before. Despite this changing skill set, classroom observations indicate that even advanced classes in the highest-performing schools are rarely designed to develop the new skills. Examples of classes in advanced placement (AP) Chemistry, US Politics, and English show unengaged students learning by rote and failing to actively develop viewpoints on the material. The definition of excellent teaching must be redefined to take into account these new and highly sought-after workplace skills.
Subject HeadingsEducation aims and objectives
Volume 23, June 2008; Pages 114–126
The mindsets and assumptions of teachers can have a significant, long-term impact on their students. The same student, for example, may be seen by one teacher as defiant, lazy and unmotivated, but by another as struggling with learning and in obvious need of help. Each attitude is conveyed either explicitly or implicitly to the student. The most effective educators understand the pervasive, enduring effect they can have on students’ lives, and consciously foster an attitude of hope and resilience. They believe that all students want to be successful, and adapt their teaching style if there are students who do not appear to be learning. They attend openly and empathically to the emotional needs of students, and view discipline as a teaching process rather than as intimidation. The most effective teachers favour a strength-based model, with emphasis on learning that starts from students’ areas of competence. School psychologists can be of particular help in developing positive, inclusive mindsets in teachers, either through meetings with administrators or through direct training and consultation with teaching staff. Examples of useful workshop and training activities include asking teachers to write a paragraph describing themselves as educators, and having them reflect on how the self-descriptions guide their behaviour towards students. Teachers can also be asked to consider their own teachers, in particular those from whom they learned most. These influential teachers commonly focused on the ‘whole child’ instead of only on the subject material. Teachers can also be asked to think of small gestures that they or their own teachers have made that convey a sense of caring to students. School psychologists can introduce teachers to literature on resilience that emphasises their impact and helps them avoid emotional burnout. For example, the presence of a ‘charismatic adult’ in the lives of children who are struggling has been shown to be crucial in building resilience, and although they may be unaware of this, teachers are often placed in this position.
Subject HeadingsResilience (Psychology)
Teaching and learning
Volume 66 Number 1, September 2008; Pages 59–66
School policy can result in the exclusion or humiliation of students who speak minority languages. One classroom teacher in the USA has developed a curriculum that explicitly addresses language and power, designed to examine the historical context of African American Vernacular English (Ebonics) and refute some of the myths surrounding it. The curriculum can be flexibly implemented over a timeframe of five to ten weeks. It includes film, literature, poetry and nonfiction, and is structured around five topics: Naming as a Practice of Power, Language and Colonisation, Dialect and Power, Ebonics and Language Restoration. Ebonics is often viewed in the school context as simply slang or poor English; however, for decades linguists have recognised its deep and systematic linguistic features. Learning about Ebonics as a highly structured grammatical system provoked pride and curiosity in students who had previously felt ‘attacked by the red pen’ for writing or speaking in non-standard English. Students in the course felt empowered by their new linguistic knowledge, developing a sophisticated understanding of the differences between dialect, language and slang. After the unit, students felt that they could now be confident after years of being criticised for the way they spoke. In order to be truly inclusive, schools must be alert to the ways their policies can unintentionally exclude or devalue students’ home languages. Paying close attention to these issues in the curriculum can be highly beneficial for both majority and minority language speakers.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
Language and languages
United States of America (USA)
Managing conflict in school teams: the impact of task and goal interdependence on conflict management and team effectiveness
Volume 44 Number 3, August 2008; Pages 359–390
Conflict is usually considered a destructive force for any group work, and many school team managers go to great lengths to avoid it. However, a recent study conducted in Israel has suggested that conflict, if managed correctly, can be a key part of the work process and even improve team performance. The study involved data collected from disciplinary teams and their leaders at 149 primary schools. The participating disciplinary teams ranged in size from three to eight teachers and were distributed relatively evenly across maths, science, literature and language disciplines. All 923 teachers involved were female. A number of factors were measured, including task interdependence, or the degree to which team members relied on each other to do their jobs, and goal interdependence, or the level of commonality in individuals’ goals, rewards and feedback. Conflict management style was also measured with respect to two approaches highlighted in previous literature. The integrating style of conflict management involves active collaboration and open communication, while members of groups with a dominating style tend to firmly press for their own opinions and use their influence to have their ideas implemented. Team effectiveness was also reported by the team coordinators. In general, the integrating approach was more commonly used for managing conflict. Teams that rated highly in both task interdependence and goal interdependence (‘high-high’) were found to perform best, with no difference between groups rated high-low, low-high and low-low. This was also the combination showing the highest level of integrative conflict management. Groups with the most dominating style tended to be rated high on task interdependence and low on goal interdependence. Given the current trend towards teacher teamwork, it is important that teams be set up with explicit structural arrangements for handling conflict in an integrated, constructive manner. The study’s findings suggest that the best basis for this is to create an environment of high task and goal interdependence, a combination which in turn maximises team performance. Team members can also be trained to express ideas honestly and directly, to listen and respond sensitively, and to use strategies such as a formally designated devil’s advocate.
Subject HeadingsConflict management
Reaching their potential: teaching kids with Asperger syndrome
September 2008; Pages 28–31
Asperger Syndrome is diagnosed when children show significant difficulties with social interaction and limited, stereotyped patterns of behaviour. These children also commonly experience problems with motor skills and coordination, often manifesting as an apparent clumsiness in balance, gait and arm movements. Educators must understand these difficulties and take them into account when designing or supervising classroom activities. Although the neurological causes of Asperger Syndrome are not entirely understood, decreased activity in certain areas of the brain makes it more difficult for children with the syndrome to learn, retain and transfer motor skills. It is important for teachers to be mindful of teaching style, since children with Asperger Syndrome often find it difficult to copy the movements of others and are therefore not helped by teacher demonstrations. Teachers can do a great deal to assist children with Asperger Syndrome in participating in classroom life; however, they must first be trained to recognise the syndrome and adjust their classes accordingly. Teachers of Personal Development and Health and Physical Education in particular can modify their classes to accommodate the children. Considerations for them include the time of day, duration of activities and possible extra equipment or modifications to games that will make the lessons more accessible for children with Asperger Syndrome. Examples include using larger-sized balls for games or increasing the number of tags in oz-tag. One-to-one instruction or buddy systems can be helpful for teaching tasks or games. Physical positioning and proximity to the teacher should be carefully considered, since children with Asperger Syndrome tend to be more attentive when they are close to the teacher. A high level of structure within the learning environment is also more relaxing for these students. While labelling children can be helpful in a practical sense, this practice should eventually be replaced by a more holistic approach that takes into account the needs of each individual child.
There are no Conferences available in this issue.