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

Y educators? ;-)

11 November 2008
Peter Sheahan

School education needs to recruit and retain more ‘Gen Y’ graduates as teachers. Achieving this goal will require changes to both the public image of the profession and the prevailing culture of the school workplace. Material incentives to take up teaching are unlikely to be effective means of recruitment or retention. Publicity in support of better pay and conditions for teachers, although well meant, actually discourages recruitment to the profession by unduly emphasising negative aspects of the teaching environment. Nor will young people be attracted to teaching as a secure employment option in uncertain economic times, since they expect these times to be temporary. Gen Y graduates are much more likely to be attracted to the profession if they think the teachers they themselves had during their school years enjoyed good working lives. Therefore a positive school culture, essential in its own right, is also crucial advertising for teaching as a career. Young teachers can be retained in the profession if their work experiences match their values, expectations and aspirations. A key concern of many young adults is to make a difference, and to have their ideas heard and acknowledged. Just as school students are now encouraged to participate in and initiate their own learning, existing school staff and leaders need to give young classroom teachers real input into decision making. The upbringing of today’s young adults encourages them to question authority, which makes them challenging to manage, and sometimes they will try to accomplish tasks beyond their competence. School leaders need to allow for these qualities of young staff. Gen Y graduates also expect to have stimulating and varied work experiences, and to enjoy a sense of personal connection to their colleagues. They should therefore be offered new projects, sideways career ladders, opportunities to collaborate and contribute outside the classroom, significant levels of responsibility and influence, and opportunities for professional learning and for the use of technology. School leaders should try to find time to nurture young teachers. The process of changing school culture can be initiated at any level of schooling, including the local school or at the regional level.

KLA

Subject Headings

Generation Y
School culture
Teaching profession
Teachers' employment

Fixing teacher evaluations: evaluations pay large dividends when they improve teaching practices

October 2008; Pages 32–37
Thomas Toch

Teacher evaluation offers a powerful way to improve public school teaching. Currently, however, most US school districts rely on superficial ‘drive-by’ measures to evaluate teachers which rarely identify and improve poor performance. High quality systems draw on a range of more promising methods to evaluate performance. One method is to have multiple dimensions of evaluation. The Teacher Advanced Program (TAP) applies a modified version of Danielson’s teaching standards using the categories of planning and preparation, the learning environment and instruction. The National Board for the Professional Teaching Standards uses a two-part evaluation. The first part is a portfolio including lesson plans, instructional materials and student work, as well as videos of the candidate’s classroom teaching, their written reflections and evidence from peers and parents. The second part is a series of essays measuring the candidate’s expertise in their subject area. Having multiple evaluators is also important, as used in the TAP program and also in the Beginning Educator Support and Training (BEST) system, both of which employ a range of trained, experienced evaluators who are expert in the candidate’s subject area. A third important method is to combine evaluation with programs to improve teacher performance. TAP identifies weaknesses in the teacher which mentors then  with them until the next evaluation. Students’ results on standardised test scores are not sufficient as a basis for evaluating teachers. Teachers may not take the grade levels at which students are tested; standardised tests measure low-level skills, disadvantaging the best teachers who lift students’ higher level skills; it is very hard to separate out an individual teacher’s contribution to a student’s test results. Therefore, systems should use school-wide scores to evaluate all teachers within the school, a technique which also encourages teachers to collaborate rather than compete. The use of performance evaluation for salary determination is strongly resisted by teacher unions, who point out the superficiality of current evaluation mechanisms. TAP and BEST offer potential solutions to this problem. The article reviews the costs of the TAP and BEST systems.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teacher evaluation
Teaching profession

School mathematics as a special kind of mathematics

Volume 28 Number 3,  2008; Pages 3–7
Anne Watson

Most of the mathematics taught in schools does not accurately represent the practices of adult mathematicians. Children are taught ‘the kind of mathematics that can be done by machines’ instead of being given opportunities to explore, compare different types of argumentation, and devise effective representations of the concepts they learn. At its worst, school mathematics can be ‘a form of cognitive bullying’, since it imposes tasks that neglect to develop children’s natural curiosity. In school mathematics, authority comes from external sources such as teachers and textbooks, rather than springing from the internal validity of mathematical argument as a system of thought. The vibrant mathematical community at Cambridge University, where students congregate in the faculty cafeteria to discuss and argue over their ideas, is a type of environment that could be replicated to some degree in a classroom. Virtually all children are able to generate mathematical ideas, describe and categorise relationships, and develop mathematical algorithms and methods. However, these important skills are often eliminated from crowded curricula in order to increase pass rates. Rote memorisation of methods is favoured, with ‘proof’ often seen as a discrete topic instead of being used throughout as a standard way of testing the truth and mathematical validity of a concept. Drill is overemphasised, leading to a relationship between school maths and professional mathematical practice that is not unlike 'being made to eat all your spinach and becoming a chef'. School mathematics is also truncated in various ways because of time and curricular constraints, so students are not prepared for the ongoing, often uncertain nature of working with a mathematical problem. If school maths is to model true mathematical practice, there needs to be a greater focus on concepts that unify mathematical understandings (such as linearity) across year levels. Problem solving also needs to be approached purposefully, with the aim being to gain insight and construct arguments rather than just get correct answers. While school maths is partly designed to prepare students for employment and develop fluency with numbers in everyday life, only an introduction to mathematics as a discipline will teach students to view mathematics as a form of intellectual inquiry in its own right.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Mathematics
Mathematics teaching
Schools
Pedagogy

'School mathematics as a special kind of mathematics': selected responses

Volume 28 Number 3,  2008; Pages 8–18
Various contributing authors

The journal features 11 responses to Watson's article (see related abstract in this edition of Curriculum Leadership). The six most representive are summarised below. Rina Zazkis argues that there can indeed be a point of intersection between school mathematics and disciplinary mathematics, and that the size and nature of this intersection is determined by teacher education. Future teachers must be introduced to the process of working and thinking like a mathematician through open-ended tasks that ask them to conjecture, notice relationships, and explore mathematical principles. Guershon Harel observes that school maths does not model professional mathematics because of the limited meanings of knowledge, learning and teaching that are currently embedded in our educational systems. He calls for a fundamental reform in perspective that emphasises ‘the quality of ideas students uncover rather than the quantity of the material being covered in a lesson’. Alf Coles, Head of Department at Kingsfield School in the UK, and Nick Peatfield, a professional mathematician who completed a year-long teaching course that included four months teaching at Kingsfield, assert that their classes do encourage children to be active mathematicians. Because children are working at the frontiers of their own knowledge and not of the discipline itself, however, teachers and textbooks do and must hold the answers. Coles comments that when he is most in flow as a teacher, he is not asking ‘Guess what’s in my head?’ questions but is instead fully focused on the students’ learning and sense-making. As with other skills, including piano playing, drills are necessary and are often voluntarily undertaken in order to hone and test knowledge in different contexts. Vicki Zack writes that she was one of many who were ‘cognitively bullied’, and as an adult she came to feel cheated that she was not exposed to the beauty of mathematics. As a teacher in her Grade 5 classroom, she and her students are excited by the patterns they find and the discoveries they make. Viviane Durand-Guerrier’s French-language contribution looks at the nature of a mathematical argument. She uses Brousseau’s pedagogical model to argue that students’ learning is necessarily an interplay between the ‘domain of reality’, or the world of subjects and objects, and the students’ emergent mathematical theories. An important part of mathematical work for both students and mathematicians is to elaborate on new objects and theories that make observed phenomena understandable, whether they are within the domain of mathematics or outside it. Heather Mendick questions whether school mathematics really should aim to produce people who act like mathematicians. She highlights the exclusion that many students feel from mathematical communities such as that found at Cambridge, and comments that a large number find alternative pathways that suit them better. For this reason, we must ‘teach people both to be mathematicians (the rules of the game) and ... to be critical of the practices of mathematicians and of mathematics (to want to change the rules).’

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Mathematics teaching
Mathematics
Education aims and objectives
Curriculum planning
Pedagogy

Reading for life - a new approach to reading

Volume 44 Number 2,  2008; Pages 3–12
Agnes Nieuwenhuizen

Australia lags behind other countries in recognising the importance of reading for school students. Internationally, initiatives to encourage reading for pleasure have included the Britain's Booktrust organisation and National Year of Reading in 2008, CPNB in Holland, EU Read, and the first US Ambassador for Children’s Literature. Australia needs to dramatically rethink its approach to reading in schools. There should be much more reading: in the words of author Aidan Chambers, a school’s quality ‘can be judged by its emphasis on providing time to read and by the strength of its determination to protect that time against all other demands.’ The place of reading in most Australian schools has not been protected in this way, and teacher librarians are vanishing or being overwhelmed by IT-related responsibilities. Curricula have become more limiting, and an excessive focus on rigorous text study means that many students do not develop the habit of reading for pleasure. The 2001 Young Australians Reading report indicated that three quarters of 10-18-year-olds like reading to some extent, and 64 per cent would like to read more. However less than 20 per cent said that their school or public libraries were able to support their recreational reading interests. Some first steps for schools might be downloading and displaying a Rights of the Reader poster, hosting author visits, and offering students more choice in what they read. A movement away from class sets and whole-class study is essential – schools should aim to have students reading at least five books every term, but study only around one text per year as a class group. Potential activities include: recording thoughts about general reading in a reading diary; reading three of Sonya Hartnett’s books and commenting on whether her strong international reputation is deserved; reading translations of famous non-English books and exploring what they add to English literature; reading and exploring verse novels; reading real-life stories (perhaps incorporating a writing exercise that imagines the first chapter of the student’s biography, written after their death); and reading about climate change, using texts such as Flannery’s The Weather Makers, Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth and the speculative novels Exodus and Siberia.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

Australia
Literature
English language teaching
Writing

A perspective from the UK: recent developments and future opportunities for community languages in schools

Volume 12 Number 2,  2008; Pages 32–35
Claire Dugard

England is thought to be the most linguistically diverse country in Europe, with around 300 languages spoken. Language education is currently moving towards encouraging more diversity in the languages taught, both in mainstream and community contexts. The community languages most commonly spoken by the school-age population are Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati and Somali. Students have a broad range of capabilities in these languages, ranging from those who are bilingual and biliterate to those whose language skills are limited to the family context. The 2002 National Languages Strategy introduced a requirement, beginning in September 2009, that all children from ages 7 to 10 study a foreign language. Language study remains compulsory between the ages of 11 and 14, and schools can now choose which language they offer. There are also increased vocational study options for languages through the Languages Work suite of materials. The National Centre for Languages has released a number of curriculum guides for community languages such as Arabic and Tamil, with Cantonese, Somali, Yoruba among those in preparation. The new Asset Languages program allows students to be more flexible in the language units they take, with units available for less commonly taught languages such as Cornish, Irish, Turkish and Swedish. A large number of community language teachers do not have formal Qualified Teacher Status, and these teachers often face barriers to obtaining formal teaching qualifications. A number of video clips and other resources on good practice in community teaching are available from the Our Languages website.

Key Learning Areas

Languages

Subject Headings

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

Pre- and in-service professional development of teachers of community/heritage languages in the UK: insider perspectives

Volume 22 Number 4,  2008; Pages 283–297
Jim Anderson

Community language teachers can often feel unsupported due to a lack of clarity about appropriate pedagogical methods for their language learners, limited resources and restricted opportunities for professional development. To combat this, Goldsmiths College in London has recently introduced a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) in community languages. Certificates in Arabic, Mandarin, Panjabi and Urdu are currently available. Interviews with five graduates of the course now working in London schools were conducted in order to clarify the specific professional development needs of community language teachers. Despite the differences between language communities, several common themes emerged. Graduates generally felt that a modified second language pedagogy was more appropriate than a ‘mother tongue’ approach, and all emphasised the importance of making lessons enjoyable for students, particularly those who gave up their weekend time to come to classes. In terms of planning, the graduates found it very important to be able to adapt their teaching and course materials to suit the diverse range of language abilities and experiences they tend to encounter in a single classroom. They commented on the enriching effect of including intercultural, interdisciplinary and citizenship elements, for example through excursions and discussions about relevant political issues such as the Iraq and Middle East situation in an Arabic class. Graduates also recognised the importance of helping their students develop a healthy bilingual and bicultural identity. The scarcity of resources, particularly compared with mainstream languages such as French and German, was problematic. Themed packages of resources that could be used in a range of contexts would be very useful. ICT-based resources were seldom used, but all graduates commented on their importance for future teaching. A common problem for community language teachers is a feeling of isolation, since they are often the only teacher of their language in the school or district. Professional networking and collaboration was seen as essential to address this problem. Overall, results suggest that training and professional development of community language teachers should place greater emphasis on adapting to diversity, including intercultural and citizenship issues, using resources and developing professional networks.

Key Learning Areas

Languages

Subject Headings

Languages other than English (LOTE)
Language and languages
Professional development
Teacher training

Student-driven research

Volume 66 Number 4, December 2008; Pages 65–69
Makeba Jones, Susan Yonezawa

Having students design, conduct and present meaningful research about their school can be an excellent way to find out about a range of school-based issues. Student research often unearths views and beliefs that are surprising to school staff and can spur significant positive change. The School of International Studies in the San Diego High Educational Complex began its student-driven research project in 2006-07. The student participants learned about qualitative research in the social sciences through brief lectures, discussions and group activities. They chose to explore the question of how their school’s structural environment (the rules, policies and academic support structures) influenced students’ attitudes towards learning. Participants surveyed 292 students in Years 9-12 and interviewed 17 teachers and eight students. After data collection, results were analysed over a series of classes, paying particular attention to differences across gender and year level. There were also discussions about the presentation of research findings: for example, whether it should be reported that 28 per cent of female students thought the school was 'like a prison', or that 72 per cent did not feel this way. To be successful, student research must have the support of staff. If teachers are asked to nominate students they feel are suitable for participation, whether academically inclined or not, they are more likely to accept findings that may be surprising and perhaps disappointing. Principals should stay informed about the progress of the project as much as possible, addressing student attrition when this occurs and considering how various findings can be used to make positive changes. Possible topics for student-driven research include student and teacher engagement, safety, issues around ethnic and cultural diversity, aspects of the school environment, and assessment policies and practices.

KLA

Subject Headings

Education research
Students
Schools
United States of America (USA)

Educational leadership for the future: ideas from 'outside' and 'inside'

Number 1,  2009
Neil Cranston, Lisa Ehrich

Leaders from within and outside school education have valuable advice to offer school principals. The book, What is this Thing Called Leadership?, contains interviews with 10 prominent Australians about the nature of leadership. Some common themes emerge. One is that leadership is contextualised, taking varied forms in different circumstances. Another is that leadership qualities emerge from characteristics deeply embedded in the individual’s personal experiences, values and drives. Leadership involves an ability to evoke commitment and passion from others. Leadership is also ‘an ongoing journey’, requiring sustained engagement and persistence in the face of barriers. Leadership involves collaborative engagement with others. Leadership also involves accountability, and at the same time compassion and understanding. The application of these insights to education has been underlined by two research reports, What We Know About School Leadership by Britain’s National College of School Leadership (NCSL), and an article by Cranston et al, 'Current Issues in School Leadership', Australian Educational Leader 29 (2).

KLA

Subject Headings

School leadership
Leadership
Educational planning

Three 'musts' for raising student achievement

Summer 2008; Pages 46–47
Vicki Urqhart

Three recommendations from the McKinsey study, How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top, deserve particular attention. The first is the need to get the right people to teach. The high-performing systems of Finland, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong all have exacting recruitment procedures that select high quality candidates and in the process enhance the public standing of the teaching profession. Secondly, systems need to support the development of teachers’ professional knowledge and skills. A study of teacher-centred reforms in eight low-performing US primary schools (see Silva 2008) found that teachers’ effectiveness was improved by a number of factors in combination, including resources, tools and professional development. A meta-analysis examining ‘35 years of research’ on influences affecting student achievement emphasised the importance of professional collegiality amongst teachers. A third factor is to ensure that every child performs to their potential. This requires early intervention for struggling students, as is undertaken for example in Finland or Singapore. One promising tool used in the USA is the Response to Intervention (RTI) model.

KLA

Subject Headings

Students
Educational planning

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