Putting the pieces together: leadership for change in low-performing urban schools
Volume 40 Number 6, 16 September 2008; Pages 670–693
Evaluations of four persistently failing schools in New York City suggest common underlying problems, and ways that they may be remedied. The authors’ research found a lack of consistent leadership and management at the schools. Reactive crisis management undermined the development and pursuit of strategic priorities. External reform packages were usually adopted without integration into any pre-existing strategic direction determined by the school. There were pockets of successful collaboration within particular grade levels or departments and with individual leaders. However the core school leaderships did not build collaborative, autonomous local teams, instead applying centralised control to assist individual teachers. School leaderships and staff voiced a commitment to instructional effectiveness, but these sentiments rarely translated into effective practices such as classroom visits and walk-throughs by the principals, the consistent articulation of concrete instructional priorities, effective teacher professional development, challenges to mediocre teaching performance, or efforts to systematise teaching approaches around an agreed model. There were too few opportunities for leaders and teachers to meet to reflect on instructional practice or consider new approaches. There were few efforts to acknowledge or generalise localised successes within the schools. Professional learning and subject area meetings focused on curriculum content and test preparation rather than teaching practices, student experiences or the nature of student assignments. Although assessment data was extensively available, it was not used effectively to inform instruction, either because it was incomplete or incorrect, it was not well understood, or it arrived late. Assessment data instead tended to be applied to monitor compliance with performance targets. Supportive resources from external agencies, though widely available, involved fragmented, overlapping or competing criteria for funding and monitoring, and different timelines for implementation. They also usually focused only on individual aspects of school performance. Systems sometimes undermined schools by assigning them large numbers of high-need students, by allowing the creation of new schools nearby that attracted better students, or by reassigning effective school staff to other schools or regional offices. Such schools can be turned into successes. While the close interrelation of these problems currently hold schools back, success in any one problem area can generate momentum to improve in others.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
United States of America (USA)
Access to upper-level mathematics: the stories of successful African American middle school boys
Volume 39 Number 5, 2008; Pages 464–488
Factors influencing the mathematical achievement of African American boys are described, based on a study of eight high achievers. The boys were all in the middle years, enrolled in algebra and aiming for access to high level maths courses in later years. The author obtained data through a questionnaire; interviews with students, teachers, parents or guardians; classroom observations; autobiographical statements from students; tests results, and other documentation. The findings support previous research literature, which has identified key contributors to strong achievement among African American boys. These factors include rapport with caring teachers; previous exposure to rigorous maths; positive academic and social interactions with peers; positive self-image in relation to maths and their place within the school; measures to counter negative portrayals of African American males; and positive role models in their lives. In this study most of the eight boys had been discouraged from attempting higher maths by teachers or school leaders, who also tended to focus disproportionately on their real or perceived behavioural problems rather than their academic work. Four of the five boys who were eventually placed in programs for the academically gifted had had no support from their teachers. Several factors were of particular value in overcoming these obstacles. One was advocacy on the student's behalf by an adult, not necessarily a parent. Another was that each of the students had internalised a self-image as being competent at maths, on the basis of successes experienced in the early primary or even pre-school years, especially in relation to number recognition and knowledge of multiplication tables. The students had also experienced positive interactions with teachers in the early or preschool years. The study suggests that achievement among African American boys can be raised by broadening programs that provide positive experiences in early schooling; by measures to encourage maths teachers to understand their students’ backgrounds, such as interviews with them; and through the dissemination of broader social and political messages to counteract negative stereotyping.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
United States of America (USA)
Moving beyond talk
February 2009; Pages 20–25
Collaborative learning communities (CLCs) provide a forum for teacher learning and for collective action that can bring about change. The authors outline the conditions that teachers believed helped the CLCs in three New Jersey school districts create and sustain strong learning communities over a five-year project. A supportive school culture where staff sought to extend their learning and valued collegiality was beneficial to the implementation of learning communities. Sufficient time for planning and meeting was crucial, as scheduling difficulties and the lack of time to speak with colleagues was detrimental to group success. The most effective meeting format set aside substantial blocks of time during the school day. CLC processes, which set a theme or purpose for sessions, provided guidelines for participation, gave participants equal opportunities to speak, and fostered collaboration and contribution. Voluntary participation was important in ensuring effective outcomes for CLCs, as self-selected groups were seen to comprise teachers with similar outlooks and who sought to grow professionally. The attempts of one district to mandate the application of CLC norms to all existing learning groups was ineffective, as the groups simply continued to address district-defined issues, and their facilitators struggled to cope with the new requirements. Effective support and encouragement from school principals eager to see CLC success were less heavy-handed. These principals ensured the group’s meeting time was preserved, that necessary materials were provided, and attempted to integrate collaborative inquiry principles into other school meetings. Internal group facilitators were also seen as essential to the progress of CLCs, and were supported by district facilitators who provided support and training to new and continuing CLC leaders. These factors can improve the potential of CLCs to bring about active change, but a commitment to action is the crucial step.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Group work in education
Teaching Australian writing: polemics and priorities
Volume 44 Number 2, 2008; Pages 23–28
There is an ongoing debate about the place of Australian literature in universities and schools, between those who wish for a broad and globalised English curriculum, and those who wish to include substantial Australian content. In fact, the inclusion of Australian literature as part of the curriculum may help students to develop a sense of belonging and identity that assists with participation in a globalised world. English and literature teachers have struggled to teach Australian texts within a curriculum that increasingly demands new forms and types of content. However, many contemporary Australian texts are suited to current curriculum goals. Short stories by Elizabeth Jolley or Thea Astley can help students improve their critical techniques; poetry by Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Ania Walwicz invites a political response; and essays by David Malouf, Robert Dessaix and Morag Fraser can be used as examples of writing to a specific persuasive purpose. Comparing the ways in which Australian and non-Australian works present themes such as place and nation, or comparing two different text types such as Elizabeth Jolley and Chris Lilley’s Summer Heights High can also yield insights into the unique elements of various literary forms. The texts studied by students at school can have a lasting impact, and while Australian literature should not be included for its own sake, students should have the opportunity to be exposed to the diversity of experience offered by quality Australian writing.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Negotiating the dilemmas of community-based learning in teacher education
Volume 19 Number 4, December 2008; Pages 351–360
As part of their course work, pre-service primary teachers (PSTs) at the University of Ballarat were required to plan a community-based teaching and learning program in conjunction with their placement schools. The unit challenged PSTs to link theoretical understandings with practical outcomes oriented around the community. PSTs were encouraged to see children as active and informed community participants, and to reflect on different notions of community. While community-based programs in teacher education are designed to enrich students’ learning environment, they can be complex in nature due to the many stakeholders involved, and require learners to exhibit skills in the negotiation of relationships, flexibility and problem solving. Initially, many PSTs struggled with the uncertainty of inquiry-oriented teaching practices. They had trouble with appropriately conceptualising community-based teaching and learning, and sought to be ‘told what to do’. Some PSTs become frustrated at the lack of specific directions given for the unit, expecting support from the unit supervisors in negotiating processes and problematic situations arising during students' interactions with schools or communities. However, supervisors refrained from such direct interventions, which would have undermined learning toward managing the complexities of teaching. The situation emphasised the need for PSTs to develop their skills as professional decision-makers. Many PSTs, however, did find the project rewarding, and enjoyed the freedom of choice and expression it allowed them, as well as the ability to work collaboratively with schools and communities. The unit emphasised the need to link practical and theoretical components of education courses, and that explicit teaching in conflict-resolution strategies and decision-making would benefit PSTs.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
‘Students First’ and nurturing networks: visualising positive futures for New Zealand secondary students
Volume 2, 2008; Pages 22–28
Nurture groups and customised learning pathways can improve the achievements of at-risk secondary students. Nurture groups are small, supportive classes for students whose needs are not being met in mainstream classrooms, and focus on emotional and social development as well as academic progress. This article examines two case studies of nurture groups using the needs-based Students First framework in two New Zealand secondary schools. The first, the Linwood College Nurture Room, followed the ‘classic’ nurture room set-up where one main teacher is supported by an aide. Learning was collaborative, with the students working closely with the teachers, and was tailored to individual students’ needs and abilities. The students’ literacy and numeracy skills significantly improved, as did levels of engagement. The second group, the Year 9 mathematics class, Y9MC, had been performing well below national levels. A decision was made to apply the Students First framework to this class. Classes were redesigned around small groups, and appropriate materials matched to students’ learning levels were provided. An aide was employed to assist with individual or group teaching. The students’ academic achievement improved over the school year, and they were interested and engaged in their learning. In both case studies, learning was student-centred and tailored to individual needs, and appropriate resources and support were provided. Practical suggestions to assist at-risk students in line with the Students First framework include developing customised learning pathways, increasing personalised interaction in the classroom, and the teaching of social skills.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Are we simulating the status quo? Ideology and social studies simulations
Volume 36 Number 3, 2008; Pages 256–277
Simulations offer a powerful means to engage school students with historical, political and cultural events. However, teachers need to be aware of, and respond to, the values embedded in commercial products. Two role-play simulations produced by the Interact Simulations company illustrate this issue. In Skyjack (2002) students act as leaders of fictitious countries responding to an attack in the country ‘Moya’ that compares closely to the 9/11 attacks in the US. In House Design (2002) students role-play architects and designers preparing a family home. Each product includes a teacher guide and student guide. Skyjack, linked to NCSS standards, calls on students to develop knowledge about terrorist groups; skills such as map reading, research and comprehension; and feelings and attitudes toward topics such as the importance of international law and the role of national interests. However, when the leaders of the attacked nation call for an international coalition against terror the student participants are offered limited options for action; for example, there is no option to negotiate with the hostile parties. Descriptions of the countries from which the terrorists emerge suggest the Middle East and Afghanistan. The simulation omits historical context that could explain the emergence of terrorist groups. The student guide states that the people of the fictional country Gomag ‘have the same culture and religion’ as the terrorist leader, a blanket designation. The simulation’s documentation describes the suffering of victims of terrorism in Moya but does not consider potential civilian suffering in countries targeted for retribution by the international coalition. The House Design simulation aims to develop knowledge about house types and housing finance; skills in maths, problem solving and cooperative work; and certain attitudes, for example toward saving and consumer choice. However, the simulation once again contains embedded, unexplored values related to consumer culture, family type, and competition, including the allocation of ‘monetary rewards’ for the most successful student teams. Teachers can use such simulations effectively through critical exploration of their ideological assumptions, and by covering neglected issues such as the historical causes of terrorism and the existence of discriminatory or predatory lending practices in the housing market.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
United States of America (USA)
Interactive distance e-learning for isolated communities: starting and finishing the jigsaw
Volume 18 Number 2, 2008; Pages 1–24
The shift from radio to interactive distance e-learning (IDeL) for School of the Air students has resulted in improved access to learning opportunities for primary and adult students in remote communities. Using two surveys conducted over an eight-year period, the authors assess the impact of satellite-based distance learning programs in New South Wales and the Northern Territory. Both programs used computer-mediated systems that enabled one-way video and two-way voice and data communications between students and the class teacher. Benefits described by the NSW survey participants included the ability to hold real-time lessons of high transmission quality, the improved availability of resources due to Internet access and the increased opportunity for participant interaction. These factors, in addition to the greater diversity of teaching strategies made possible, and the ability to provide immediate feedback, resulted in a high quality learning experience. However, participants felt that further teacher training and development, and the implementation of an audio conference function could encourage greater interaction between students. The participants of the NT study similarly described the quality of communication and the ability to share visual information as vastly improved, with students able to see their teachers and view visually oriented lessons such as science experiments. All participants felt that students were learning the same or better with the new technology, and most teachers felt that the system was educationally appropriate, helped or required them to apply new teaching methods and content and was relatively easy to learn. In both surveys, improved access to quality education and the increased social and interactive opportunities for students and their families were perceived as the major benefits.
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
The ergonomic learning environment: deliberately planned or anything goes?
July 2008; Pages 28–38
Although secondary students spend a significant amount of their day using computers, in New Zealand there are no specific ergonomic requirements for ICT classrooms. This study, using data from interviews and observation, surveyed the extent to which classrooms in 18 New Zealand secondary schools provide an ergonomic learning environment. The survey took into account spatial considerations, the adjustability of computers and accessories, and the suitability of lighting and climate control. The schools performed well in terms of the ergonomics of the computers themselves, as funding allowed for good quality hardware that was frequently updated. They also generally scored highly in the suitability of furniture, such as available work space, screen depth, screen height, and table height. However, results on the item relating to chairs were poor, with many schools using chairs that were not adjustable, or were of poor quality. The teachers were conscious of this problem and had lobbied for better chairs. Additionally, desk designs in some instances had little useable room or required students to twist their necks in order to see the screen. Many rooms were cramped, with narrow aisles and dangerous cabling that ran through the room or behind desks. However, it was in the environmental considerations that schools scored the lowest: although lighting tended to score well, glare control and climate control were problematic. Teachers were concerned by the poor ventilation and air conditioning, as the rooms grew very hot during the summer. However, the school budgets could not support air conditioning. Although the schools had access to high quality technology, funding was not allocated for the necessary supporting equipment. The survey also found a general lack of awareness of ergonomic guidelines and the resulting potential problems for students. Formal guidelines need to be implemented to ensure that ergonomic needs are met.
Subject HeadingsSchool equipment
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
ICT technical support in Otago secondary schools
July 2008; Pages 17–27
The lack of technical support has been an impediment to the successful integration of ICT into New Zealand schools, with teachers and ICT coordinators often having to take time out to provide support. In order to identify the providers of ICT technical support in schools and the tasks they perform, this study examined the responses of 17 secondary schools to an ICT maintenance survey. While the Ministry of Education’s ICT Helpdesk and school technicians were identified as the main providers of support, members of staff also featured prominently. Of the staff providing support, most (57.5%) were employed primarily in a technical support role, and it was those staff that provided the greatest contribution to technical support hours. However, a large number of respondents were providing support in addition to their teaching roles. In many instances either these staff did not have a special time allowance for the provision of ICT support, or the time spent on support exceeded this time allowance. Most of this time was spent on specialist infrastructure support and on providing assistance to students and staff. The reactive nature of the support indicated that support levels were insufficient to ensure that the administrative and forward-planning aspects of ICT were being covered. While funding was sufficient for hardware, the amount allocated to support was comparatively low despite the schools’ complex ICT infrastructure. The demands of these systems need to be adequately taken into account when considering the allocation of support to ensure that teaching staff are not required to expend teaching hours on ICT support.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Peer tutoring for inclusion
Volume 55 Number 2/3, 2008; Pages 11–21
Peer tutoring, where one student instructs another, may improve outcomes for students in inclusive education contexts. In order to determine the effects of peer tutoring on student learning, the authors of this review selected 10 empirical studies involving peer tutoring in a physical education context. The selected studies showed positive outcomes for tutored students regarding time spent engaged in physical education. Improvements in motor skill performance and decreased reliance on adult support personnel were also reported. There was no evidence of negative impact on tutors, and in some instances, the impact was positive. The studies showed that trained tutors are more effective than untrained tutors in producing positive outcomes for tutored students. All but one of the studies involved some variety of tutor training, which most commonly took the form of appropriate instructional techniques, such as providing feedback to tutored students. Other training features included disability awareness, communication techniques, content knowledge and the use of resources in tutoring. While the program required some investment of time and effort, teachers expressed support for the technique due to the benefits it offers for tutees. These benefits included improved learning, the development of social behaviours, opportunities for leadership and inclusion and the enhancement of peer relations.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsPhysical education
Personalised learning for secondary students
July 2008; Pages 6–16
Over the past five years, senior secondary students at a rural school in
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
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