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

Brain research and reading: how emerging concepts in neuroscience support a meaning construction view of the reading process

Volume 4 Number 2, February 2009; Pages 21–33
Steven L. Strauss, Kenneth S. Goodman, Eric J. Paulson

Recent neuroscientific research challenges the primacy of phonological processing in the act of reading. The findings suggest that the whole language approach to reading offers a better fit than phonics with the combined body of evidence from neuroscience and psycholinguistics. Cortical centres of the brain, where higher levels of thinking occur, have been found to exert substantial control over the flow of information from the centres in the more basic area, the thalamus, which receives basic sensory information. The cortical centres send messages to the thalamus through which they actively select which elements of available sensory information are sent on to them. This process of selection is used to confirm or correct predictions about the nature of previously received information. These findings contradict the traditional conception in which the thalamus was seen as the area that selected which sensory inputs were conveyed to higher centres. The act of reading reflects these processes. Proficient readers construct tentative meanings as they read, taking cues from graphophonic word–sound relationships, from syntax and from semantic systems. They selectively using the text to confirm or revise the ‘hypotheses’ they form. This selection, ‘intelligent guessing’, uses far less time and energy than would be needed to decode all words. Evidence about these processes comes partly from miscue analysis, which draws conclusions from mistakes readers make while reading aloud from written texts. Important evidence also comes from eye movement research which reveals that people skip 20–30% of words while reading, based on the nature of the words and the context-driven needs of individual readers. Supporters of phonics-centred approaches to the teaching of reading point to fMRI studies, which reveal that particular areas of the brain are activated during decoding activities, as a person matches letters to sounds. However, the results are consistent with both phonics-based and meaning-based models, both of which recognise the phonological processing as part of reading.

KLA

Subject Headings

Reading
Psychology
Neurology
Brain
Phonetics

Beethoven or Britney? The great divide in music education

Number 20, April 2009
Robert Walker

School music education in Australia is in crisis due to its low quality, low status and socially unequal allocation. Quality music education involves the hard work of learning and practicing Western art music. Such education interacts with other subject areas to improve children’s thinking skills, brain development, and academic performance in other subjects. The paper highlights ‘three of the most pressing problems’ defined by the 2005 National Review of School Music Education (see Curriculum Leadership article 2 December 2005). Firstly, governments need to provide adequate resources to teach music throughout all schools. Proposals to solve the problem through the sharing of well-resourced independent schools’ facilities with other schools ignore both the scale of the problem and governmental responsibility for educational equity. Secondly, suitable training and professional development are needed for generalist primary teachers. Teacher education in music has been eroded by the transfer of teacher training to universities in the late 1980s, and the consequent emphasis on theory over practice; by the negligible time allocation for music; by the grouping of music education with other arts requiring different skills; and by an emphasis on vague sociological considerations at the expense of core concepts such as pitch and rhythm. Thirdly, the content of the school music curriculum needs to be clarified. Education has been confused with passive entertainment, and culture with the global entertainment industry. A wish to overcome social inequities and make music education accessible to the disadvantaged has taken the counter-productive form of ‘dumbing down’ subject content, reflecting a wider trend expressed elsewhere in the focus on multiliteracies and critical literacy. By contrast, programs such as Venezuela’s Youth Orchestra El Sistema show how the learning of Western art music can transform the lives of disadvantaged children. The distinctive value of Western art music derives from the technical skills and knowledge needed to apply its systems of harmony, melody and form, achieved through sustained work and discipline, the need for which is sidestepped in current curriculum documents. The curriculum should require students to learn some major works of the Western classical art traditions. The paper examines Western art music’s historical and cultural links to mathematics and Platonic philosophy.

Key Learning Areas

The Arts

Subject Headings

Music
Curriculum planning
Education policy
Teacher training
Teaching and learning

The new politics of education: analyzing the federal education policy landscape in the post-NCLB era

Volume 23 Number 1, January 2009; Pages 15–42
Elizabeth DeBray-Pelot, Patrick McGuinn

Current developments in US policy toward school education need to be understood against their historical backdrop. From 1965 to 1990, school education policy was fairly stable, characterised by substantial federal funding to US states under the rationale of improving educational equity. Teacher unions successfully resisted moves toward school vouchers, alternative teacher licencing, merit pay, charter schools, standardised testing and other accountability measures. At the same time, liberals’ efforts to increase federal intervention in support of equity and civil rights were substantially constrained by advocates of states’ rights, social conservatives suspicious of Washington’s ‘liberalism’, and libertarians hostile on principle to government intervention. However, the 1980s saw rising concerns about the US’s international competitiveness, expressed in the 1983 A Nation at Risk report, generating stronger interest in educational reform as a means to improve the US’s skills base through national standards, stricter accountability and market-oriented measures. This approach became dominant in the 1990s as business shifted decisively behind it and as the electoral popularity of standards, testing and other accountability measures became clear. State government leaders and their supporters positioned themselves to modify rather than oppose nationally driven changes to education, which were now receiving broad support across the Democratic and Republican parties. Liberals, teacher unions and social rights groups, confronted by the failure of educational spending to date to reduce social inequalities, were becoming divided, with some now falling in behind the drive for national standards. The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which consolidated this drive, was also supported by some civil rights groups who saw it as a means to help ethnic minorities. New coalitions of interest groups and think tanks have emerged since the NCLB’s advent, often making use of the online environment for their campaigning. While many of these groups support the NCLB in whole or part, the Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA) is a loose coalition calling for substantial changes to it. Overall support for national standards and related measures is likely to prove more durable than many commentators think, due to ongoing concerns to improve the US’s economic competitiveness.

KLA

Subject Headings

United States of America (USA)
Education policy
Educational planning
Economic trends
History

Classroom teachers’ perceptions of the impact of barriers to teaching physical education on the quality of physical education programs

Volume 79 Number 4, December 2008; Page 506–516
Philip Morgan, Vibeke Hansen

A study in New South Wales has investigated primary classroom teachers’ perceptions of the main barriers to improving physical education (PE) in their schools. Questionnaires were answered by 189 teachers across 38 schools, and 31 of the teachers were interviewed. The authors report on the results and raise concerns about some of the findings. The obstacle most emphasised by respondents was a crowded curriculum heavily focused on literacy and numeracy. PE lessons were the ones most often cancelled. PE classes were usually too short to allow quality lessons, especially when equipment had to be managed. A second major obstacle was the lack of funding for professional development. A further, although less central, concern was pre-service training, which was rated as only fair in terms of teaching gymnastics and dance, and average-to-fair in terms of games and sports, and active lifestyle. Taken together, these obstacles may have contributed to the lack of self-confidence about PE reported by many participants, particularly females. For example, some participants suggested that they were not good role models because they lacked the skills to make PE interesting to students, or lacked knowledge about rules of games. Programs were often tailored to available resources, or teachers’ preferences, rather than students’ developmental needs. Nearly all teachers avoided gymnastics, citing fears of student injury. Respondents frequently organised large group games, which tend to be dominated by a few students, to have harmful social effects on many students, and to marginalise girls. On the other hand, organised running or walking around the school during PE does not develop fundamental movement skills and rarely generates interest in physical activity. A further problem is the growing trend to use external providers for PE, which may aggravate inequities between schools. The authors note that the barriers highlighted by participants are similar to those raised 15 years ago. Possible ways to overcome these barriers include teaching teachers how to integrate PE with other subjects; dividing PE activities between teachers according to their skills and preferences; enabling better access to professional development and to specialists or outside agencies; and covering problem-solving strategies during pre-service education for PE. The article includes a literature review.

Key Learning Areas

Health and Physical Education

Subject Headings

Physical education
New South Wales (NSW)
Educational evaluation
Surveys

A 21st century classroom in 3C's

March 2009; Pages 3–5
Anne Mirtschin

The 21st-century classroom involves the three Cs: connection, communication and creativity. These characteristics were embodied in the Net Gen Education project, in which 300 students and teachers from nine countries worked together as part of an online global classroom. Topics covered were the emerging technologies outlined in the Horizon Report 2009, such as cloud computing and smart objects. Teachers were initially connected through online social networks, with Google applications used to store the contact details and files of participating teachers. Any communications were also archived online. Upon the project’s commencement, virtual meetings were held on a weekly basis. As time zone differences made common meeting times difficult, recordings of the meetings were made available for download. Communication was facilitated through a ning, which included discussions, forums, groups and multimedia uploads. Students learnt to become sensitive to netiquette and digital citizenship. The project wiki also facilitated communication through the shared creation of content; over several weeks, students worked with peers from other countries on selected topics relating to potential and emerging technologies. These technologies reflect ‘net generation’ characteristics such as customisation, innovation and collaboration. Creativity was encouraged, with students creating and customising personal pages on the ning, as well as contributing to the wiki by creating pages that contain text, hyperlinks and multimedia. Students also collaboratively created videos using clips sourced from each other; these videos, once uploaded, were judged by a global panel of judges. Through the project, students became confident participants in the global digital environment.

Key Learning Areas

Technology

Subject Headings

Virtual schools
Technological literacy
Internet
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Group work in education
Globalisation
Computers in society

No small thing: school district central office bureaucracies and the implementation of new small autonomous schools initiatives

January 2009
Meredith I. Honig

The function of district central offices (DCOs) has changed with the implementation of ‘small school’ initiatives in the US. The author examined the strategies used by the newly created small school office (SSO) departments of DCOs in Illinois and California to improve the implementation process. SSOs used relationship-oriented ‘bridging’ strategies to assist small schools’ efforts to improve. SSO officers worked with other offices to support changes in district policies to assist implementation, attempting to change existing office practices to accommodate the new requirements of small schools. They linked schools and DCOs to ensure that schools were compliant with district rules in order to reach short-term compromise while working to effect longer-term change supportive of the schools’ goals. SSOs advocated for small schools’ inclusion in state provisions, built inter-departmental relationships to leverage for change, and assisted individual principals with inquiries relating to curriculum and resources. SSOs were largely unsuccessful in effecting change across areas involving multiple DCO units and unions, such as school enrolment and staffing levels. ‘Buffering’ strategies were used by SSO officers to limit intervention from DCOs and external bodies while they sought to resolve short-term implementation issues such as the use of school buildings in shared, multi-school campuses. For example, SSO officers worked with individual schools to improve academic achievement in order to minimise scrutiny from those who did not ‘get’ how the schools worked. The boundary-spanning nature of the new SSOs also helped administrators facilitate change, allowing them to develop new office policies, routines and lines of authority. The small school implementation required the interaction of a number of institutions and the broader context of policy: awareness and subsequent negotiation of the dynamics of these institutions can help facilitate change.

KLA

Subject Headings

United States of America (USA)
Educational planning
Educational administration
Education policy
Education and state
Case studies
Administration

The use of Web 2.0 technologies in school science

Volume 90 Number 330, September 2008; Pages 113–117
Kim Chwee Daniel Tan, Thiam Seng Koh

Web 2.0 technologies can support and extend inquiry-based science education. They provide a number of functions for secondary level science classes as information, productivity, assessment, visualisation and simulation tools. Blogs and podcasts such as those by Scientific American and NASA can be valuable sources of information. Wikis contain user-generated articles covering many topics, and social bookmarking tools can be used to collect and categorise science-related information. Tools such as RSS facilitate productivity by filtering and organising information into 'feeds' to which students and teachers can subscribe. Instant messaging 'chat' tools provide audio and video conferencing options, and students can work remotely with universities to perform experiments involving sophisticated scientific instrumentation. Learning can be recorded, monitored, and assessed using tools such as e-portfolios, internet-based concept-mapping, and wikis. These tools can be used to promote classroom collaboration, and for viewing and evaluation purposes. Visual media sites such as Flickr and YouTube can be useful resources for science lessons, with some universities hosting videos of lectures on YouTube. Students can also upload their own images and footage to these sites. Virtual environments and simulations provide interactive experiences and can extend student learning, such as in the River City simulation, where students conduct experiments and make hypotheses about the health of virtual residents. The range of available Web 2.0 technologies allows students to access specialist information and equipment, making it possible to extend their learning in ways that might not otherwise be possible.

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Websites
Science teaching
Secondary education
Internet
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

Steps to effective use of ICT

July 2008; Pages 2–5
Keryn Pratt

There are four factors associated with effective school ICT use in the classroom. First, the purpose of using ICT in the classroom needs to be clear to teachers and students. ICT should not be used or taught simply because it is there, but because there are perceived benefits in doing so. For example, ICT might be used to enhance teaching and learning, or to overcome distance issues in a rural school, or because ICT proficiency is considered necessary in the post-school environment. Second, teachers should identify barriers to ICT use. Barriers include levels of access to ICT, and teachers’ skills and attitudes toward the technology. ICT must be both available and functioning, with appropriate support provided. Teachers who believe ICT can enhance learning are most likely to use ICT in their classrooms; a school culture supportive of ICT is also beneficial. Third, teachers should identify the social and practical issues associated with ICT use. Socio-economic background, as well as gender and ethnicity may affect computer access and use. Plagiarism, inappropriate internet use, and off-task behaviour may need to be managed. There are also ergonomic considerations such as eye-strain. However, teachers who are knowledgeable and skilled in ICT are more effective in overcoming these issues. Once the previous factors have been taken into account, the final key issue is which aspects of ICT should be used. Applications could involve word-processing, games, or internet research. ICT use may be teacher-oriented, or student-oriented, and could involve supporting existing practices, or encouraging new practices. Diverse and collaborative student-centred learning can be encouraged by considered and effective integration of ICT into the classroom context.

Key Learning Areas

Technology

Subject Headings

Technological literacy
Teacher training
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Computers in society

Consumer science beyond testing: taking multiple meanings

Volume 53 Number 2,  2009; Pages 8–15
Cheryl Jakab

Science students need to develop skills to analyse the accuracy or appropriateness of scientific claims and information presented in advertising. They should also be aware of how scientific terminology may be appropriated for mainstream use, with different meanings from its formal use in science. Knowledge of these terms and their multiple meanings can inform students’ approaches as consumers, and provide an understanding of the relationships between scientific terminology and its specialist and everyday applications. Students should be encouraged to critically evaluate the quality and context of the information they receive in order to properly assess advertising and reporting. For example, persuasive techniques may involve the selective use of information, or correlation may be incorrectly equated with causation. Accepted scientific knowledge may also be influenced by cultural norms: for example, the content of the 'food pyramid', which ostensibly represents a healthy diet, varies between countries. Students should be aware of how scientific product tests are used as part of advertising campaigns to sell goods, and how terminology can be co-opted for pseudo-scientific claims. Students could learn about the intersection of advertising and science by designing and conducting controlled tests, for example striving for objective results on a subjective topic such as ‘what is the best potato chip?’. Students’ awareness of shared and adapted meanings can help them develop their learning and encourage critical examination of products and issues. In doing so, the gap between the scientific and the everyday can also be bridged.

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Thought and thinking
Science teaching
Science literacy
Mass media study and teaching
Marketing
Information literacy

Preventing truancy and dropout among urban middle school youth

Volume 41 Number 2, January 2009; Pages 216–247
Louie F. Rodriguez, Gilberto Q. Conchas

Truancy and dropout are common among disadvantaged minority group youth in the USA. Intervention programs that empower young people, provide support, and link community and school contexts can increase engagement and retention. The Boston Urban Youth Foundation’s (BUYF) Building Futures program aims to re-engage truant minority group students from low-income communities and prepare them for college and other positive futures. Case managers work closely with students, conducting home visits and visiting them twice a week at school, where they advocate for the student. An after-school program provides tutoring and access to mentors, and students engage with staff and each other at a weekly ‘club’. Students are encouraged to develop long-term goals relating to education, career, recreation, and peer and family relationships. The authors observed and conducted interviews with six participants to examine their experiences of the program and determine its influence on their attitudes toward school. The program itself, as well as the club evenings were significant in providing a safe space for students to interact and develop new positive social networks away from street life. Students appreciated belonging to a group, as well as the close support from staff, college-level tutors, and older mentors, usually program alumni. Participants were offered incentives, such as a ride home, meals during tutoring sessions, and college visits. The college visits in particular allowed students to see tertiary study as a future possibility. The case management approach was seen by many students as the most positive aspect of the program, providing personalised attention and positive role models. Case workers were able to work with schools and teachers to create new goals and opportunities for students. Students began to see school as their own responsibility, and as an opportunity for the attainment of future goals such as higher education. Disadvantaged schools often struggle to meet the needs of vulnerable students, but programs that help understand complex urban environments and promote school–community relationships while offering support for individual students can mediate truancy and improve engagement and motivation.

KLA

Subject Headings

Young adults
United States of America (USA)
Socially disadvantaged
Secondary education
Poverty
Adolescents

Podcasting in primary science: creative science education

Number 105, November 2008; Pages 33–35
Susan Rodrigues, Emma Connelly

The use of podcasts in primary science teaching is a key aspect of the Scottish Partnership in Primary Science Project. As part of the project, primary students put together a themed monthly podcast relating to a current topic of study. Teachers are trained in audio software, and funding is provided for equipment. The work of one Grade 4/5 class studying ‘the body’ culminated in a podcast that drew upon the in-depth knowledge gained throughout the unit. Having considered the ways in which information could be accessed and presented, students completed body part ‘fact files’. Students shared information about their chosen body parts, and then in groups wrote verses about these body parts to a set tune. These verses were collated and recorded as part of the podcast. Working in groups, the class then put together information about the digestive system. The teacher recorded their contributions, which were enhanced with student-selected sound effects. Finally, each member of the class took part in a recorded ‘chat show’ where they pretended to be a body part answering an interviewer’s questions. The final podcast was then uploaded to the school website, where family members and other students could listen to it and post comments. Feedback received online and in the classroom indicated that students and students’ families enjoyed the opportunity to engage with classroom learning through the podcast. Podcasts can be used in learning to meet the four capacities outlined by Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence: students as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens, and effective contributors.

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Case studies
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Primary education
Science teaching
Scotland

From surviving to thriving

February 2009; Pages 8–13
Sonia Nieto

Teachers' sense of efficacy as educators can be fostered by an open, collaborative environment that encourages shared decision making and values teachers’ professional input. Professional development should be targeted to each teacher and their schools to provide meaningful and individualised programs. These programs should encourage individual growth as well as collaborative work, and allow teachers to select relevant topics for development. Partnerships with higher education institutions should be encouraged to provide teachers with further development and education opportunities. The University of Massachusetts, for example, worked with local teachers to help develop strategies for working with Hispanic English language learners and their families. Teachers can also take actions to facilitate enjoyment of their work. Self-assessment can contextualise and improve teaching and learning: for example, one white teacher of a multicultural class reflected on her unexamined preconceptions about her students. Learning about students and their backgrounds can result in better understanding of learners and their needs. One teacher reports visiting students’ families before the school term begins to learn about students’ home contexts and develop relationships. Developing relationships with other teachers to build strong, collegial communities can improve teachers' outlook and attitudes. Teachers can look to themselves and to their school communities for support, but the external support of policy makers and administrators is also vital to ensuring that teachers thrive in their roles.

KLA

Subject Headings

Professional development
Teacher-student relationships
Teaching profession
Teaching and learning
Teacher training

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