10 November 2008
Australia currently faces two main sets of issues when it comes to educational policy and practice. The first is the knowledge and skills dimension, or the broad context of today’s learning. The second is access: who misses out and how can they be included? Three simple strategies have been successfully used at schools in Victoria to respond to current educational challenges. The first is to move school facilities and buildings from a position of marginal importance to the forefront of the transformational agenda. Ballarat High School, for example, has created new, flexible learning spaces with glass walls and doors, so learning within the classroom is made visible. The resulting learning spaces, along with more engaged teaching and teamwork, has seen student ratings of teacher effectiveness rise from two per cent to over 90 per cent. The second strategy is coaching and peer feedback. The Victorian Government’s Performance and Development Culture initiative accredited schools who implemented peer feedback mechanisms, and many schools around the state have been developing a culture based around coaching and team teaching. An increasing focus on individual teachers’ specific knowledge and strengths has replaced the idea that one person must necessarily hold all the expertise in a particular area. Opening up the classroom and allowing people to watch and discuss what happens there has also had a profound effect. The third strategy is centred around the notion of regeneration, and aims to lift morale and performance at struggling schools. In the Bendigo region, for example, a regeneration has been devised to increase student engagement through effective teaching and broader subject offerings, which is expected to impact positively on retention rates and ultimately on the community itself. Three of five existing schools in the region will be merged into two new schools, to be entirely rebuilt on the existing sites. A new approach to teaching will be based on personalised, active learning and high expectations. Interest in and commitment to this initiative from local business has been extremely high. A video of the presentation is available.
Subject HeadingsSchool culture
Teaching and learning
Leading a school for improved student outcomes
11 November 2008
There is a clear connection between student achievement, professional learning, quality teaching and leadership. Until the mid-1960s, it was generally believed that student achievement followed socioeconomic status: that schools, in other words, 'made no difference'. Research has demonstrated this to be false, with schools, and especially individual teachers, accounting for large differences in student performance. However, it takes time for teachers to develop from novice to competent to expert, and the common expectation that first-year teachers will immediately be capable is unrealistic. Teachers develop not just with time but through rich and stimulating experiences and opportunities. For a school to improve, changes in leadership are often necessary. School culture must begin to focus on the student as both a learner and a person, not one or the other. There has been a tendency to underestimate the impact of leadership on educational achievement. To improve, schools need leaders who emphasise and invest in professional learning; who use welfare policies to get children back into learning, rather than as ends in themselves; and who can ‘zoom in’ and ‘zoom out’ to examine both details and the big picture. Leaders of successful schools are able to piece together important issues from interactions that are often short and unfinished. Effective leaders also regularly push against their own constraints, saying ‘yes’ often, while poor leaders tend to feel threatened by new projects and ideas and say ‘no’ more often. Teachers in these successful schools make comments about their principal such as, ‘He/she gives a lot and expects a lot.’ Successful leaders are risk-takers and encourage others to do the same. A positive attitude is important, since attitude is contagious, as is the courage to make unpopular decisions in students’ best interests. Principals who themselves regularly engage in professional learning act as role models for both staff and students. Professional learning should be selected to satisfy three Rs (relevance, rigour, and readability) and be adaptable to the school context. Teacher quality must be a high priority. The biggest equity issue currently facing Australian education is not getting access to technology or school facilities but placing a quality teacher in every classroom. A video of the full presentation is available.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Geoscience education: an overview
Volume 44 Number 2, September 2008; Pages 187–222
The term 'geoscience' refers to the earth sciences that were formerly known as geology. The study of geoscience has several features. It looks at holistic, interacting Earth systems such as the water and carbon cycles; it applies methodologies suited to large-scale thinking and the integration of large and incomplete data sets; and it demands sophisticated spatial thinking. It also calls for knowledge of geological time scales, in terms of both amounts of time (also known as absolute or deep time) and the sequencing of events (or relative time). Such knowledge cannot be assumed. A 2005 survey of higher education students in the USA conducted by Libarkin et al found that fewer than half of the participants believed that the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old, while research in Britain has found an ‘all pervasive confusion’ about geological time scales amongst primary student teachers. Geoscience also employs specific forms of fieldwork, investigating processes and products unavailable in the classroom. Misconceptions relating to geoscience are widespread amongst students and impede later learning. Rocks, for example, need to be classified in terms of the processes that formed them, rather than in terms of incidental features such as colour. Research by Chang and Mao 2003 found that students learn geoscience most effectively through a problem-solving approach, interactive but teacher-directed, assisted by computers. However, AAAS research indicates that US teachers rely heavily on textbooks and that coverage of geoscience in US textbooks is ‘almost universally poor’. There is a strong need for system-wide, comprehensive teacher professional development to address these problems. Nevertheless there is also scope for effective improvements to learning through school-level projects, if accompanied by well-designed curriculum materials and teacher professional development. The article reviews examples of the teaching of geoscience worldwide.
Key Learning AreasScience
Volume 12 Number 10, November 2008
In the USA, researchers Henderson and Mapp reviewed 51 studies of parental involvement in children’s learning, covering any stage from pre-school to Year 12. They concluded that parental involvement contributes to students' academic performance when it is directly related to the learning process. These findings are supported by other evaluations of programs that facilitate parents’ participation in their children’s learning. The Head First program has been found to help mothers promote their children’s mental, physical and emotional growth prior to starting school. The program uses home visits or classes at a central location, and an outreach program from teachers to parents. Elsewhere, the EASE (Early Access to Success in Education) project, which coaches mothers in developing young children’s literacy skills, has been found to be effective in stimulating the word skills of two-year-olds. Children's maths skills were found to be enhanced through a program associated with the Head Start initiative: teachers ran maths classes for mothers and children and lent learning materials to parents for use at home. In another project, students from higher-income families were found to benefit academically from school workshops for parents. Studies have found that the longer and the more intensively parents participated in programs, the more their children's results improved, irrespective of family backgrounds and income levels. While students benefit academically from parents’ involvement in the learning process, the research examined in the article found that students gained little or nothing from parents' participation in other education-related activities, such as involvement in the school community or parents’ meetings with teachers on non-academic issues.
Parent and child
Volume 66 Number 2, October 2008; Pages 90–92
In the USA, two recent reports suggest that high-achieving students are being neglected in the current climate of accountability. High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB, published by the Fordham Institute, outlines achievement trends for high-achieving students from 2000-2007. The study found that while the lowest-achieving ten per cent of students showed rapid gains in achievement over those seven years, the performance of the highest-achieving ten per cent was ‘languid’, showing only very small gains. This pattern of progress for low rather than high achievers appears to be a general feature of accountability systems rather than specific to No Child Left Behind. A national survey of teachers from Grade 3 to Year 12 in the same study suggested that struggling students are more likely to receive individual teacher attention than high achievers. Sixty per cent of teachers said that low-achieving students were their top priority, even though 86 per cent also said that schools should give equal attention to all students, regardless of their background or achievement profile. Eighty-one per cent nominated struggling students as most likely to receive one-on-one attention from teachers, with only five per cent naming advanced students as likely to receive this attention. Forty per cent believed that programs for high-achieving students are ‘too often watered down and lacking in rigour’, suggesting to the authors a ‘benign neglect’ of academic high achievers. Another report, titled Differential Growth in the Black-White Achievement Gap During Elementary School Among Initially High- and Low-Scoring Students, shows that the achievement gap between black and white students grows most quickly for high achievers. Black students who enter school scoring significantly higher than average on maths and reading make far slower progress than white students scoring at the same level. This is probably due to a combination of less rigorous curricula, fewer resources and lower teacher expectations.
Subject HeadingsEducational accountability
United States of America (USA)
The intellectual disability construct and its relation to human functioning
Volume 46 Number 4, August 2008; Pages 311–318
The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) has prepared a short article that articulates current thinking about the construct underlying the term 'intellectual disability'. The focus is on the ‘constitutive’ or theoretical definition, rather than on an ‘operational’ definition that describes how the construct can be measured, observed and diagnosed. The intellectual disability construct was introduced to replace the term mental retardation, which located the disability in the mind of the individual person. The concept of retardation emerged in the early twentieth century and was originally used in an educational context to describe a delay in progression through the grades for any reason. The term was therefore largely unrelated to ideas of mental capacity. Over time, mental retardation came to mean a discrepancy between chronological age (CA) and mental age (MA). The AAIDD’s relatively recent terminology shift from mental retardation to intellectual disability reflected a change in how the construct was viewed. Instead of locating disability within an individual person, it came to be viewed as a lack of fit between the person’s capacities and their context. This functional definition allowed for a view of human functioning as multidimensional, with each dimension interacting with the others in a complex fashion. In line with the World Health Organisation’s ICF model, the functional definition comprises the five dimensions of intellectual abilities: adaptive behaviour, health and wellbeing, participation in activities, and environmental and personal context. It also includes any resources and support strategies available. In this view, a congruent fit between an individual and their environment is seen as enhancing human functioning, while an incongruent fit is part of the disabling process. While the operational definition of intellectual disability (or mental retardation) has remained consistent for at least 50 years, the shift in the constitutive definition has implications for how society generally responds to affected individuals.
Intrinsically motivated, free-time physical activity: considerations for recess
Volume 79 Number 4, 2008; Pages 37–40
Recess is an ideal time for physical activity, but many primary school children do not use it. While structured, enforced activities are usually successful in increasing children’s level of physical activity, they do not cultivate children’s intrinsic motivation to be active. To develop intrinsic motivation, there should be a focus on three aspects of activity: autonomy, or the power to make choices; relatedness to others; and competence or physical ability. To increase children’s feelings of autonomy, it is important to provide a broad range of equipment. The equipment should be developmentally appropriate and can include standard items such as skipping ropes, balls and hula hoops as well as less traditional items such as hacky sacks or pedometers. Generally there should be at least one piece of equipment for every three children. To increase feelings of relatedness, the environment should be such that children feel physically and emotionally safe. A ‘Recess Activity Ideas Board’ can be set up, displaying several new activities every day. Of these activities, at least one should involve a collaborative activity such as creating a skipping-rope routine or counting the number of times a small group can hit or bump the ball without it touching the ground. To increase children’s sense of physical competence, they can be presented with a range of challenges to work at over an extended period of time. Self-evaluation and improvement should be encouraged over competition with others. It is also important to recognise and attempt to work around barriers to participation such as weather, accessibility of spaces, safety and personal or emotional problems.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsPhysical Fitness
More equal than others? Meeting the professional development needs of rural primary and secondary science teachers
Volume 54 Number 3, 24 September 2008; Pages 27–31
The professional development (PD) needs of primary and secondary science teachers in rural areas were examined as part of the SiMERR National Survey in 2005. The survey asked teachers to rate the importance and availability of different forms of PD. Responses were grouped by geographic area and controlled for the effects of school size, socio-economic background and geographic location. Primary teachers in remote schools identified much greater obstacles than teachers elsewhere in attending in-service events or conferences. However, the remote teachers expressed similar levels of satisfaction to other teachers in relation to financial support for attendance at such events. Instead they tended to attribute their difficulties in attendance to lack of relief staff, time spent away from their families, and indirect costs such as travel and accommodation in capital cities. Secondary science teachers identified their greatest unmet needs as being effective communication with education authorities and release time from face-to-face teaching in order to pursue in-school collaboration around activities such as programming. Non-metropolitan secondary science teachers highlighted their need for PD catering to student diversity, not only in terms of disadvantaged groups such as Indigenous students but also in relation to gifted students. The findings are relevant to current moves in education systems towards more online PD. In terms of technology, rural and provincial science teachers express a greater unmet need for ICT maintenance and support. These teachers also require participation in face-to-face events to avoid excessive personal isolation. Addressing these concerns will help to maintain teacher morale in these areas, and assist with teacher retention.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsRural education
Should science educators deal with the science/religion issue?
Volume 44 Number 2, September 2008; Pages 157–186
For many science educators, addressing the relationship between science and religion is not a part of standard science education. However there are a number of reasons for broadening this view and conducting science classes that explicitly engage with the issues raised by religion. Science can be defined as a form of knowledge that is concerned with the natural and manufactured world. Definitions of religion vary widely, but most include elements of ritual and practice, an experiential and emotional dimension, important narratives or myths, philosophical and ethical discussions, and often strong institutional and community links. There is now a large literature on science and religion, though many writers tend to oversimplify or caricature opposing points of view. In his series of lectures in 1990-91, Ian Barbour proposed a categorisation system for understandings of religion and science: conflict, in which one aims to vanquish or ‘swallow’ the other; independence, where the two are seen to use different methods and to ‘function as different languages’; dialogue; in which scientific advances can lead to religious questions; and integration, usually taking the form of natural or process theology. Advances in quantum, chaos and complexity theory have given rise to a number of attempts by both scientists and religious figures to locate divine action in aspects of the theory, but their success is debatable. The teaching of creationism and intelligent design is one of the most contentious issues in science education. If care is taken to be respectful of all students’ backgrounds, discussing creationism in science class can be a good way to employ critical thinking and discuss the nature of science, the status of scientific truth, and the continually evolving process of creating scientific understandings. Covering controversial scientific theories, and contentious issues such as genetic engineering, can also help to situate the subject material in a meaningful context. Students should neither be threatened nor overprotected. Instead they should be exposed to different viewpoints and given the chance to clarify their own thinking. While religion should by no means be a major part of science classes, there are good reasons for introducing students to the issues it raises.
Key Learning AreasScience
Mathematics and statistics for human rights
Volume 44 Number 2; Pages 14–17
The Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) set up by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) helps human rights advocates to interpret and apply human rights data through the use of statistical techniques and ICT. Such data often plays a role in court cases involving human rights. It typically includes personal testimonies, as well as records from morgues and cemeteries and from customs and immigration centres. One key statistical tool in this context is the use of multiple systems estimations, which allows for the interpretation of data collected from different, overlapping sources. An example of current HRDAG work is the analysis of data on deaths during the long civil war in Guatemala. The statistical evidence collected so far has played a role in the arrest of members of the Guatemalan National Police allegedly responsible for burning 39 protesters alive in 1980. Another example of the role played by statistical analysis in human rights cases is the work of Dr Patrick Ball through the Benetech Human Rights program, which dealt with the mass deaths of Albanians in 1999 in Kosovo.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsHuman rights
Energy and enthusiasm: don't start the school year without them
Volume 98 Number 1, 2008; Pages 18–25
Employing strategies that cultivate positive emotions can help to lift flagging motivation for teaching. An increasing amount of research looks at how emotions are involved in teaching. Teaching with Emotion: A Postmodern Enactment and The Energy to Teach are two books that suggest teachers can achieve agency with respect their own emotions. Several strategies can help teachers intensify their positive emotional experiences in teaching. Noticing the things that make you happy in the classroom, such as moments of engagement, excitement and sophistication from students, is a powerful way to enhance attitude. It is also important to keep learning from your students, staying fully present in the classroom instead of reverting to automatic pilot with previously successful lesson plans. Asking students questions with no predetermined answers, or paying extra attention to the student who just doesn’t ‘get it’, can be avenues for learning about texts and about the process of teaching itself. Sharing your personal reading or writing with students and colleagues can create a more open and encouraging atmosphere. Developing new ideas and sharing them with colleagues is another way to spark enthusiasm, though it may take you out of your comfort zone. Old activities can be adapted to new perspectives and situations – for example, having students write a poem from the perspective of a literary character. Finding ways to celebrate subject-relevant occasions and highlighting students’ accomplishments (even if only through token rewards such as stickers or stamps) bring a surprising amount of joy to the classroom. Pursuing passions and interests outside of school is crucial, as is seeking appropriate mentoring and support. ‘Literary mentors’ (even if they be found in biographies) can offer encouragement and advice for overcoming difficult obstacles. In general, becoming more conscious of emotions can help prevent them from taking over against your wishes.
Teaching and learning
How differing sociolinguistic relationships impact language acquisition
September 2008; Pages 37–41
Despite their obvious utility, sociolinguistic frameworks for school-based language learning remain largely unresearched. A number of studies do, however, highlight important features of classroom interactions that either facilitate or hamper second language acquisition. Pairs and other small cooperative learning groups promote independence, individual accountability and interpersonal intelligence in the learning process. Vygotsky’s social constructivist framework has been extremely influential since its translation for an international audience in the 1960s and 70s, however it focuses primarily on novice-expert interactions. More recent work suggests that non-native speakers are as effective together in dyads as native-speaker/non-native speaker pairs, and that linguistic accuracy in pair work is most often greater than in teacher-driven interaction. A study published in 2002 by Neomy Storch demonstrates that certain interactional patterns in pair work lead to better learning outcomes. She identifies four patterns: collaborative, dominant/dominant, dominant/passive and expert/novice. Collaborative interactions involve the pair working together, contributing equally to the solution of a linguistic problem. The four patterns can be characterised in terms of mutuality (the degree of engagement with others’ contributions) and equality (the level to which control of the work is shared). Collaborative pairs are characterised by high mutuality and high equality, while dominant/dominant pairs show high equality but low mutuality, and dominant/passive pairs show low mutuality and low equality. Expert/novice pairs, the type primarily dealt with by Vygotsky, are characterised by high mutuality and low equality. Storch found that collaborative pairs learnt the most, followed by expert/novice pairs. This suggests that high mutuality is more important than high equality in language-related pair work. Teachers can use these findings to maximise student learning by developing a sensitivity to pair dynamics, and by encouraging mutuality in group work through positive corrections, confirmations and clarifying questions.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsLanguage and languages
Languages other than English (LOTE)
Group work in education
Psychology of learning
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