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

Why self-discipline is overrated: the (troubling) theory and practice of control from within

November 2008; Pages 168–175
Alfie Kohn

The need for self-discipline is widely affirmed by both traditionalist and progressive educators. Nevertheless, the concept as commonly understood contains a range of questionable beliefs and assumptions. In psychological terms, too much self-control may inhibit expressions of warmth and joy, and reduce one’s openness to experience and creativity, leading to a bland emotional life. Research links excessive self-control to depression amongst young women, and it is also a feature of anorexia. High levels of self-control may reflect undue anxiety about losing control and, as Jack Block points out, when over-controlled people finally do relax they may display ‘disinhibition’, or wild and sometimes dangerous behaviour. As David Schapiro argues, self-discipline can indicate an inability to enjoy activities for their own sake: an exclusive, relentless and unhappy drive for long-term goals at the expense of all else. Similarly, persistence can sometimes indicate not so much tenacity and grit as a compulsive, counter-productive refusal to disengage. These negative dispositions block the emergence of self-understanding and personal identity. In psychological terms, self-discipline and tenacity are good qualities only when they are governed by internal choice and judgement, and guided by one’s system of values. The concept of self-discipline also raises philosophical issues: historically it is linked to certain religious notions that many personal drives and desires are suspect, or even shameful, and need to be internally suppressed. Often self-discipline involves acting as a mental ‘policeman’, rather than helping others develop their own system of values as independent thinkers. In political terms, the concept of self-discipline places sole responsibility on the individual for behaviours that have mainly societal causes, such as the high levels of personal debt that have been powerfully encouraged by the credit industry. Diagnosing children’s behavioural problems as lack of self-discipline deflects attention from these wider societal or social causes, which are thus less likely to be addressed. For example, a focus on how to encourage children to stop themselves from blurting out answers to questions in class, rather than waiting their turn, can deflect examination from the teacher’s approach to questions and discussion in the classroom. See also full text article on the author's website.

KLA

Subject Headings

Thought and thinking
Emotions
Self-perception
School discipline
Philosophy
Psychology
Teacher-student relationships
Students

Teaching twenty-first century science

Volume 90 Number 330; Pages 105–111
Pam Hanley, Jonathan Osborne, Mary Ratcliffe

In England, the 'Twenty First Century Science' course for 15 and 16-year-old GSCE students aimed to improve understanding of a range of ideas about science. These ideas included key processes and practices; the nature and limitations of data; and the nature of scientific theories, correlations and cause. The course also looked at the scientific community. Ideas about science were given equal weight with the scientific content knowledge in the course material and examination questions. The program was piloted for three years from 2003 in 78 schools. The pilot has been evaluated for its impact on teaching and classroom practice. Researchers interviewed and gave a questionnaire to a sample of participating teachers, observed their classroom practice, and led focus group discussions with students from observed classes. They found that teachers usually kept to class-wide work, being concerned that students, particularly low-performing ones, would not be able to sustain independent group work. Students were encouraged to participate actively in class discussions, perhaps due to the nature of the program’s classroom materials, but opportunities to encourage critical reflection were missed. Teachers gave twice as much coverage to science content as to ideas about science. Teachers lacked confidence when it came to providing explicit, detailed explanations of ideas about science. The evidence suggests that teachers were willing to modify their practice in line with course goals but needed time and encouragement to do so. The ICT resources provided with the course were well-received by teachers but may be used simply to reinforce existing teaching practices unless the technology builds in requirements for students to work collaboratively. Both teachers and students expected science coursework to include a substantial practical component, but research does not demonstrate the value of practical work for learning. Students found the pilot course easier than the standard one, which may indicate that it made science more accessible through its attention to contemporary public issues. The inevitable demands which the new course makes on teachers highlights a need for more development of professional communities of peers with access to external support.

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Science teaching
Secondary education
Educational planning
Great Britain

Why mechanics should be integral to secondary school mathematics

Volume 27 Number 4,  2008; Pages 187–199
Stuart Rowlands

Mechanics is declining in popularity in the UK to such an extent that it runs the risk of being dropped from the A-level mathematics syllabus. In fact, it is important to retain, and even extend, the existing coverage of mechanics for several reasons. Mechanics is an archetypal example of mathematical modelling. It provides an ideal point of entry for students into the constraints and characteristics of scientific thinking. The world of mechanics is theoretical and principle-driven, with abstract constructs and objects (for example, a frictionless surface or a world without gravity) absolutely integral to the conceptual framework. Engaging in this kind of abstract thinking is especially beneficial for students whose preferred mode of thinking is concrete. If mechanics and its concepts are introduced in an exploratory manner in Year 9 or 10, solid groundwork can be laid for the later concepts of vectors and kinematics, and for fluency in algebra, trigonometry and calculus. Teachers should introduce mechanics in its historical context, describing the changing views of the world that mechanics theories reflect. Student misconceptions can also be addressed against a historical background, perhaps by pointing out when a student's answer, though incorrect, is nevertheless a good one because it was the answer given by Aristotle and accepted for two thousand years. Mechanics is a difficult topic, which is part of the reason for its unpopularity. However, educators can make it accessible through historical narratives, discussions about its abstract nature, and references to its extensive use in science and applied mathematics. Mechanics should be taught in preference to the topic of Data Handling, which can be easily covered in other subjects. Ideally, it should begin as a compulsory subject at or before Year 10, and start out with a qualitative consideration of the laws of motion and the forces acting on a thrown ball or some other object. It is essential to use real-world situations and to emphasise the assumptions (ignoring friction, for example) that are implicit in many mechanics equations. The aim should be to develop students’ intrinsic motivation to learn science and mathematics, their sense of wonder at the world, and their sense of belonging to a technological society.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Mathematics
Mathematics teaching
Senior secondary education

Showing you're working: a project using former pupils' experiences to engage current mathematics students

Volume 27 Number 4; Pages 210–217
Garrod Musto

A UK project that invited former students back to discuss how they use maths in their everyday lives has been successful in improving students’ attitudes towards mathematics. Kingswood School in Bath implemented the program, known as Showing You’re Working, in 2007 to help answer students’ questions about the purpose of school maths classes. A list of past students was contacted by email about their use of mathematics in daily life and 40 responses were received. The diverse list of professions included epidemiologist, bomb disposal operator, engineer, organic pizza company owner and intensive care nurse. A booklet of the responses was compiled and distributed to students and parents, and several respondents visited the school and gave talks during a mathematical awareness week in March 2007. The fact that the speakers were former Kingswood students clearly had a significant effect, with current students realising that these adults had come from the same background, studied the same subjects and sat in the same classrooms as themselves. A pre-test and post-test conducted in March and October 2007 indicated that students’ attitudes towards maths and their sense of its usefulness in life improved over that period. There was, however, an unexpected drop in some of the positive statements for the Year 8 cohort, possibly due to a general apathy developing at that level. To combat this, Year 8 Question Time was introduced, in which students submitted questions of interest. Examples included What is the point of x? and What is the perimeter and area of Bath?. Questions were answered by staff via a series of PowerPoint presentations. This initiative had very positive effects, especially on the more disaffected or frustrated students. The Showing You’re Working program is to continue with a parent-student project about how parents use maths in their everyday lives. It is currently being piloted in several other local schools.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Mathematics
Motivation
Careers
Mathematics teaching

Writing in the 21st century

February 2009
Kathleen Blake Yancey

The internet has introduced new models of writing which need to be incorporated into the curriculum and teaching. In the twentieth century, writing was considered mainly in terms of form, such as grammatical correctness and handwriting, or simply as an unproblematic vehicle for expression. The dominant educational paradigms placed writing second to reading, downplaying the work of composition, which entails re-drafting and intellectual engagement with concepts and styles of language. Now the internet has allowed new methods for writing and new platforms for publication and self-publication, including message boards, emails and blogs. In contrast to print diaries and letters, online forms of writing encourage networking and other types of social participation in the writing process, as individuals compose material for diverse, interactive audiences. The curriculum needs to cover these new social, audience-oriented models of composition. At all year levels, writing should be seen a subject and not a method.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

Writing
Internet
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
English language teaching

The Facebook generation: homework as social networking

Volume 98 Number 2, November 2008; Pages 30–36
Stacey M Kitsis

Homework remains important as a means to allow students to practice skills and work through ideas outside school, but time pressures make it increasingly difficult for homework to be completed and assessed to a high standard. The author, an English teacher, has substantially overcome this problem by having students review and discuss each other’s homework electronically. Reading assignments involve students being assigned a randomly selected peer whose work they will discuss via email. Protocols have been developed for the content of messages. They must, for example, explicitly acknowledge the previous email. Scheduling conflicts and the availability of internet access are taken into account in the timeframes set. The teacher, who receives copies of all correspondence for assessment purposes, sets topics and may intervene initially; over time, the teacher’s questions become more open-ended and students’ exchanges more free. Students also complete homework through a blog, participating anonymously to encourage comments. As with emails, posts are limited to 200 words to make assessment manageable. Students are expected to provide concrete support for their comments, which must also respond explicitly to at least one prior posting. This process may be facilitated by the teacher until students have internalised academic expectations. The aim is not that students correct one another’s work but that they generate discussion of ideas as a means to develop academic knowledge as well as social and communication skills. A few days are allowed for the work to overcome problems relating to internet access and scheduling conflicts between students. The emails and blogging have proved popular with students and successful in giving them a sense of recognition for their work. Students have appreciated having additional opportunities for discussion, as well as having time to think about and formulate clear and reasoned responses. The quality and consistency of this homework has generally been higher than conventional homework seen and marked only by the teacher.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

Homework
Co-operation
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Writing
Websites
Reading
English language teaching

'But it doesn't count, sir' - a conversation about using electronic discussion in VCE English

Volume 43 Number 2,  2008; Pages 59–62
Kathy Jordan

ICT can be used to facilitate student discussion of coursework but its academic value and practical application depend on context, a fact insufficiently acknowledged in education literature. The article describes the use of an electronic forum to facilitate the discussion of a novel by Year 11 students. The school, for the senior secondary years, was based in regional Victoria. It had a good technology infrastructure and a strong commitment to the use of ICT in education and the achievement of high academic results. The class teacher saw the online forum as a means to improve students’ discussion of the novel and thereby also the understanding of it that they could apply in the exam. Being text-based, the forum encouraged wider student participation than verbal discussion; its anonymity freed students from potential embarrassment; and it recorded the process of creative thinking for later use. The fact that it was published encouraged students to do their best, and also gave them time to consider their postings. However students did not participate to the level the teacher expected and, contrary to his hopes, they made little use of the forum outside class time. Students indicated that they did not see the forum as sufficiently relevant to their exam preparation. He saw this response as support for his long-held concern that the Victorian curriculum places excessive emphasis on standards-based outcomes and performance in examinations. A number of conclusions follow. One is that there should be more explicit alignment of student participation with curriculum goals and assessment. Another is that students’ skills in online forums should not be assumed: rather, teachers should explicitly teach skills such as how to solicit a response to a post, how to reply to one, and how to express agreement or disagreement. Academic participation in online forums should be explicitly encouraged, with class time routinely allocated to it. To encourage a sense of student ownership, students should moderate the discussions themselves and have input into initial creation of the forums.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

English language teaching
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Senior secondary education

TeachIT: act now for teacher ICT learning

Volume 31 Number 2, December 2008; Pages 9–15
John Turner

'TeachIT' is one school’s model to help teachers and students engage with and develop their ICT skills. It aims to increase teacher confidence in ICT so that they are willing to learn new technologies for classroom application. The components of TeachIT include knowledge tests for new software to assess its relevance to classes, step-by-step software skills sheets for class use, reflective feedback on subject learning and related ICT learning, a knowledge bank containing activity suggestions and examples of successful activities, certification to acknowledge teacher learning, and a skills map to show which skills can be developed through particular software applications. The program has been designed to cover possible ‘gaps’ in teacher development: it ensures that work can be shared and monitored, software changes can be co-ordinated to ensure value to students and teachers, and ICT use can be authenticated by teachers. TeachIT represents a whole-school approach to ICT, and supports teachers’ skills development and teaching of ICT.

Key Learning Areas

Technology

Subject Headings

Technology teaching
Technological literacy
Technology
Secondary education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

The lessons are in the leading

February 2009; Page 14
Gordon A. Donaldson Jr.

Consciously using experiences gained from leadership positions for development, a process called ‘performance learning’, helps improve leadership skills. Teachers can assess, or have colleagues assess, their performance within the active context of leading. They can then isolate and attempt to extend identified skills through performance learning in subsequent leadership situations. Having identified a situation where improved leadership would be beneficial, alternative methods for resolving the situation could be explored, or currently effective methods reinforced. These methods would be planned and rehearsed, and applied when the situation next arose. Feedback would be incorporated into subsequent situations. Leadership, as a performance-based role, is ongoing, and a leader’s skills will develop during the act of leading. Conciously identifying and developing aspects of leadership for implementation during performance will help leaders improve.

KLA

Subject Headings

School leadership
Professional development
Leadership

Embarking on action research

February 2009; Pages 40–44
Catherine M. Brighton

This case study outlines how action research, a systematic enquiry into an identified problem, was used to engage secondary mathematics students. Having determined that female and ethnic minority group students in her class were lagging and disengaged, a teacher began to take steps to regain their interest in class. She analysed the behaviour and backgrounds of these students, noting significant clusters, and arranged a fortnightly meeting with other mathematics teachers to discuss how she might proceed. Based on these discussions, she planned practical classes where students worked in groups. These classes were aligned to students’ interests, preferences and ability, based on data drawn from test scores and questionnaires. She began collecting ungraded ‘exit cards’ at the completion of units to gauge students’ learning. She found that engaging students’ interests meant that they were more likely to learn and participate, to ask questions of her or their peers, and show better understanding of content. Reflection on her own pedagogical methods also facilitated meaningful teacher growth.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Middle schooling
Mathematics teaching
Case studies

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