The case for collaborative assessment
Volume 23 Number 2, 2008; Pages 5–16
Collaborative assessment is a process through which students act jointly with peers and the teacher to develop forms of assessment and use them to evaluate submitted work. It deserves to be more widely adopted in schools, for a number of reasons. It is consistent with current thought about teaching and learning, which emphasises the importance of social context, social interaction and dialogue, as articulated by Vygotsky. It is also consistent with current thinking about assessment: it supports authentic assessment of students’ performances on daily tasks relevant to real-world settings, rather than formal test environments. It aligns well with the trend toward frequent, informal formative assessment, and it informs students about their peers' approaches to both coursework and assessment. It improves the quality of communication between students and teachers, a gain that feeds back into the learning process. It also enhances social skills such as willingness to share, listen, and affirm others. Assessments are likely to be more valid when given from a range of different viewpoints, provided that suitable criteria are established and implemented. The clarity of these criteria can also be improved through collaborative assessment, as students and the teacher tease out their meanings through discussion. Students’ involvement in the assessment process makes them more likely to accept the grades that they themselves receive. A number of strategies can be employed to implement collaborative assessment. One is the use of proformas, such as a yes/no checklist; a short answer format, where student assessors complete a templated sentence; or a rating scale using numbers, text or, for younger students, pictures, to denote levels of achievement. Other strategies include the use of students’ journals, or ‘process portfolios’, from which students progress from self-assessment of their learning to judgements of peers’ performances; ‘contracts’ through which students commit to the nature, timing and assessment of their coursework; class presentations; student-led reporting; and joint marking, through which different students compare the marks they assign for a piece of work with marks assigned by peers or the teacher. Collaborative assessment requires a culture of reflection, as well as clear and achievable targets.
Teaching and learning
Strategies to ameliorate teacher stress
Summer 2008; Pages 38–41
High levels of workplace stress are common among teachers, and is linked with attrition, and in cases where stressed teachers remain at work, decreased classroom performance. Consequences of teacher stress include less effective behaviour management and poorer relationships with students and colleagues, which can result in the breaking down of crucial support networks. While teachers report a number of common stressors, student behaviour and discipline issues, particularly in secondary schools, are a consistent source of teacher stress, affecting levels of job satisfaction and the quality of relationships. As teachers are often reluctant to admit they are suffering from stress, schools can refer to agreed-upon indicators to determine whether a teacher would benefit from support. Interventions should be confidential and supportive to ensure that teachers do not feel isolated or condemned. Strategies to mitigate stress could involve sharing information about effective approaches with a particular misbehaving student, behaviour management techniques, and providing opportunities for teachers to observe colleagues modelling alternative techniques. Peer support has been shown to be a critical factor to teachers experiencing stress; strong networks and mentor systems foster communication and allow early identification of stress, facilitating timely intervention. Leaders and mentors can provide structural and informational support to help teachers identify, analyse, and work to ameliorate stressful situations. For example, whole-school classroom management strategies, such as defined classroom rules and teachers' rewarding of appropriate behaviour, can improve student conduct and relationships between students and teachers. Leaders should implement effective, school-wide processes that are supportive and inclusive and allow issues of workplace stress to be discussed without stigma. They should ensure that teachers have access to professional development that provides information and strategies to address stress and that offers opportunities to observe effective teaching strategies, and for communication and feedback.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Six, going on sixteen
Volume 23 Number 3, Spring 2009
The behaviour, clothing and other products associated with adolescence and late childhood are now being adopted at ever younger ages. This trend is referred to as ‘age compression’ by media professionals and marketers. The trend is driven by the mass media’s powerful dissemination of popular culture through television programs and advertising targeted to children. The products and behaviour promoted in this way are increasingly seen by young children as markers of social prestige. Mass-marketed products and much popular entertainment tend to inhibit imaginative play, creativity, problem-solving skills and empathy toward others. They also reinforce gender stereotyping. Groups of US educators have begun developing methods to address these problems. Methods include the explicit teaching of social skills, eg how to read facial expressions, interpret peers’ reactions, and use words to solve conflicts. They also include curriculum units that explicitly celebrate the importance of imagination, pretending and play. A unit run by the author required children to create their own entertainment using simple, cheap, open-ended material such as sticks, dirt and scraps of fabric. It also involved reading stories that highlight the value of imagination. The Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment (TRUCE) organisation has prepared a guide for parents, which explains the popular culture’s negative impact on creativity and problem solving. When parents lamented to the author that simple toys were hard to find and expensive, she initiated a local toy library, based on donations from parents, shops and the IKEA company. The author also participated in a successful campaign to have highly sexualised material removed from commercially assisted school book fairs and book clubs. Parents and teachers in her community have been disseminating the key article The serious need for play recently published in Scientific American. They take encouragement from the Alliance for Childhood and from the state of Quebec's ban on all advertising directed to pre-teenage children. The article includes a list of resources.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Social life and customs
Service-Learning: what is it and why should schools consider it?
Volume 13 Number 4, 21 May 2009; Pages 1–4
Service-Learning integrates community service and involvement with academic study – for example, combining community work to reduce water pollution with learning about scientific analysis of water quality and the dissemination of findings to the public. This type of learning has recently attracted interest from many schools in Australia and overseas. Service-Learning is a course requirement rather than voluntary, sustained not episodic, and is strategically integrated into the school curriculum. It should not be confused with community service. Service-Learning addresses ‘complex problems in complex settings rather than simplified problems in isolation’: it involves problem solving through detailed study of an environment, with results measured in real social impact. Benefits of Service-Learning include moderate to strong gains on tests in language, arts and reading and on basic skills tests; improved problem-solving skills among primary and middle students; enhanced interest in academic study, and raised awareness of civic and social responsibilities, the influence of social and historical context, and ways to effect social change. It has also been found to improve self-esteem, social confidence and cultural awareness, and knowledge of career options. High quality Service-Learning programs are tied to standards, clear learning and teaching goals, and community contact. Planning for Service-Learning requires fundamental changes within the school, even among non-participants, and the communication of identified goals to the community. Applications of the project should be carefully considered by school staff and community representatives to take into account possible gaps and overlaps. Programs need to be sustainable in terms of leadership and teachers’ willingness and ability to engage with students and community members, which requires training. Service-Learning has to be well-integrated into teaching and learning; teachers concerned about a crowded curriculum should be reassured of its learning benefits. Health and safety requirements include a climate in which students are confident to express their rights and responsibilities, policies to ensure a safe environment, duty-of-care policies and procedures, adequate insurance cover, clear communication and enforcement of legal requirements, risk management including hazard identification, assessment and reporting processes, and regular monitoring.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
School and community
Business education in Australia's curriculum: a statement from Business Educators Australasia Inc.
Number 1, February 2009; Pages 4–8
Business education is currently represented within a range of secondary subjects and programs. It is reflected at post-compulsory level in accounting, business studies, legal studies and economics; and in the later compulsory years within commerce, consumer and financial literacy programs, and vocational studies, as well as Civics and Citizenship, ICT, Environmental Studies and Studies of Asia. Its importance has been affirmed in key curriculum documents: within Australia in the 2007 Future of Schooling in Australia report and the 2008 Melbourne Declaration, and overseas in the OECD’s Trends Shaping Education report (2008) and Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence launched in 2004. Business education received major support in 2005 with the establishment of the Financial Literacy Foundation, and the National Consumer Financial Literacy Framework of MCEETYA. Professional development for teachers in this area is provided by the Australian Government’s 2008 Consumer and Financial Professional Learning Program. The importance of consumer and financial literacy has been underlined by the current global economic and financial crisis, yet it is unlikely that many young people will acquire these skills outside of school. To secure awareness of consumer and financial literacy among all citizens, business education should be a core element in the curriculum of the compulsory years. It is also crucial that business education, with economics as its ‘informing discipline’, should be recognised within the forthcoming National Curriculum.
Subject HeadingsFinancial literacy
'Keeping it real': reconstructing Dewey for postmodern living
Volume 23 Number 2, 2008; Pages 81–96
John Dewey’s notion of the importance of ‘experience’ in learning is worth revisiting in light of current societal and technological developments that see learners increasingly engaging in secondary and vicarious experiences rather than those that are direct and ‘real’. For Dewey, experience occurs when an individual interacts with an environment, and then derives understanding from the action–reaction relationship that results. Learning is most significant when it involves experiences that require active participation: understanding can be promoted by a two-step model of experience and then practical analysis. This second, analytical, aspect of experience can be shared and reconstructed, resulting in indirect, vicarious experience; the lesser extent to which an individual internalises secondary experience is what differentiates it from direct experience. Today’s learners’ increasing engagement with virtual, mediated, and vicarious experiences therefore conflicts with Dewey’s emphasis on ‘direct’ experiences. While students still take meaning from abstract and indirect experiences, the value of their learning is likely to increase with the directness and authenticity of the experiences: for example, the activity of riding a horse compared with watching someone ride a horse on television. Today’s learners receive myriad technologically mediated shared, secondary experiences: given the learning opportunities provided by these technologies, teachers should not avoid them, but should make efforts to ensure that experiences are reconstructed in as meaningful and ‘real’ a manner as possible to facilitate greater internalisation and understanding. They should also consider the extent to which students are exposed to such experiences, and attempt to better balance direct and indirect experiences where possible. While shared experiences are valuable, students’ greater engagement with direct experiences can stimulate engagement with the real world, increase self-actualisation and active participation, and can result in deeper understanding.
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
Functional and continuously responsive: curriculum and professional development in urban schools
Volume 23 Number 2, 2008; Pages 17–32
'Backward design' unit planning, where standards and identified goals are used as a basis for developing teaching units, can help teachers improve their assessment practices and the coherence of their lesson plans. In the USA, a workshop-based program run by teacher educators helped teachers develop inquiry-based teaching units using the backward design curriculum development model Understanding by Design. This model required that teachers first identify standards-based goals and learning to be achieved, and then plan lessons with this in mind, rather than planning lessons and then selecting applicable standards. Teachers provided existing lesson plans for workshopping. Over 16 weeks, they collaborated to revise and reorganise their plans to address the skills and standards to be covered, and developed tasks that would help students reflect on the deeper understandings the unit was designed to achieve. The units were designed in a learning arc measured by ongoing assessment and a final performance assessment to demonstrate students' cumulative learning and evidence of deeper understandings. Self- and peer evaluations were conducted, and teachers continuously reflected on and revised their units. Teacher educators conducted follow-up sessions to ensure teachers received continuing feedback and support. Teachers’ engagement with unit objectives grew more sophisticated, developing from descriptions of daily procedures to standards-based goals and identified deeper understandings to be attained. There was greater focus on how these understandings would be achieved. Learning and assessment plans were more coherent and connected, with task and content difficulty increasing in line with students’ growing knowledge. The frequent, sequential assessment ensured that students had established the skills and understandings to complete the final performance task. Students were stimulated by the variety of inquiry-based tasks, and benefited from being provided with strategically laid out learning goals. Teachers' lesson and assessment planning improved both from the ongoing professional support and feedback they received, and their engagement with research-based curriculum development methods.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Authentic intellectual work: common standards for teaching social studies
Volume 73 Number 1, January 2009; Pages 43–49
Students should be engaged in more learning activities that require higher level thinking, interpretation, and problem solving rather than lower level tasks involving memorisation and reporting. By looking to the nature of intellectual work undertaken by and required of adults, such as in employment, citizenship, and personal contexts, teachers can challenge students to take part in real-world, complex learning, known as authentic intellectual work. This sort of learning refers to students’ application of knowledge and skills in identifying and analysing a problem and then working to solve it. It involves the active construction of knowledge through inquiry, and results in outcomes that have value beyond the classroom context. Inquiry-based, experiential approaches are better in helping develop students’ conceptual understandings than the explicit teaching of thinking skills. These understandings can be stimulated by engaging in inquiry that builds on students’ prior knowledge, that involves sustained, in-depth focus and understanding, and that may make use of varied forms of communication and communicative tools. To be of value beyond the classroom, tasks and challenges should not only engage students’ interest, but should facilitate meaningful and significant connections between knowledge and external, real-world situations. Students should be required to synthesise disparate information, speculate, and make connections. These approaches provide a foundation for the intellectual skills and work required for successful participation in society. In order to judge the degree of authentic intellectual work required by their assessment items, teachers should analyse tasks in terms of construction of knowledge, disciplined inquiry, and value beyond school. This framework emphasises complex understanding over disparate skills and memorisation of content. Rigorous, authentic intellectual work helps students' complex understandings and problem-solving ability, and can engage students and promote achievement.
Subject HeadingsSocial education
Inquiry based learning
How teachers respond to children's enquiry
Volume 46 Number 1, 2009; Pages 183–202
Studies have shown that children behave in a less inquisitive manner in the classroom than with their parents, although teachers report that curiosity is one of the top five characteristics they strive to encourage in students. While research indicates that students’ curiosity and motivation is heightened by surprising and engaging situations or tasks, data have indicated that classroom questioning in the early years tends to engage mostly lower-level thinking. In several studies, teachers have been found to discourage inquisitive, off-task behaviour in preference to the completion of set tasks. This may be the result of the highly structured school day and time and task constraints: goal specification has been shown to influence individuals’ approach to a problem. The authors undertook a study to examine the extent to which teachers’ encouragement of children’s curiosity is influenced by the nature of the directions they themselves receive about teaching methods. Teachers were directed to complete a science experiment with a student within a set timeframe. One group of teachers was instructed to help the student complete the set worksheet, another group was directed to help the student learn more generally about science. Prior to the experiment, the students had been cued by the researchers to deviate from the instructions by testing materials that were not included on the worksheet, and were told to cite curiosity as the reason for off-task behaviour. Teachers’ responses to the deviation were recorded and then coded as ‘encouraging’, ‘neutral’, or ‘restrictive’. While 88% of teachers in the learning-focused group responded encouragingly to students’ deviations, only 13% of the task-focused group did so. Teachers who responded restrictively tended to refer students to the worksheet, asking students to refocus on the current task, or suggesting students could experiment once the task had been completed. However, students’ responses to the experiment were generally positive, regardless of teachers’ response to the deviation. The results indicated that teachers were sensitive to the instructions they received, and could be influenced to discourage children’s curiosity when it conflicted with set goals. Further research should be undertaken to examine teachers’ responses in a classroom situation.
Subject HeadingsTeacher-student relationships
An exploratory study on principals' conceptions about their role as school leaders
Volume 8 Number 2, April 2009; Pages 173–196
Principals’ role conceptions are influenced by their leadership experience and knowledge and their beliefs about elements central to their leader role. These conceptions in turn guide their vision, actions, relationships and strategies. To explore how role conceptions shape leadership approaches and influence school climate, three principals considered to be prototypical examples of leaders in strong, average, and weak school-climate contexts were drawn from a larger sample. The principal of the strong-climate school was people-oriented, identifying most as a leader, mentor, and innovator, and attaching great importance to educational vision and relationships with teachers and students. This principal was a strong leader with a clear vision and close ties to staff, and engaged in frequent classroom visits to monitor the implementation of school goals and provide support to teachers and students. The principal’s identification with these particular roles resulted in supportive, innovative behaviour that helped promote a positive school climate. In contrast, the weak-climate school principal identified as an administrator and coordinator, prioritising structure and organisation and preferring to delegate innovation. She admitted she did not see herself as a leader, and had been unsuccessful in developing and implementing a school vision. She spent a large amount of her time on administrative tasks, and cited time constraints as a reason for not visiting classrooms or engaging with staff and students: these behaviours were reflected in the lack of close relationships and cohesiveness of vision that characterised the weak school climate. The principal from the average-climate school identified as a director, with the mentor and innovation roles, while still important, considered a lower priority. She felt that brief classroom visits were not productive, and declined to conduct them, which limited her interactions with staff and students. While she tried to develop a shared vision, she found it difficult to involve staff members, which is in line with previous research indicating that school leadership is characterised more by relationships than vision. The results indicate that principals’ conceptions of their role influence leadership behaviour and school culture: schools with strong climates tend to be led by principals who value mentoring and relationships.
Creative leadership: a challenge of our times
Volume 29 Number 1, February 2009; Pages 65–78
A fundamental challenge of learning and teaching in today’s context is the promotion of creativity, flexibility, and adaptability among teachers and leaders. Creative leadership involves problem solving and ‘problem finding’ approaches to address challenges and opportunities. Interviews and surveys were conducted with 11 school leadership teams to explore the nature of creative leadership. Most respondents defined creative leadership as making a positive difference by being outward-looking and adventurous, and by providing the culture and structures required to support change. The respondents also identified ways to support and develop school-based leadership creativity. Leaders should act as role models and advocates by modelling innovative leadership practices even in risk-taking situations. Relinquishing control demonstrates trust in staff members and provides increased autonomy that can encourage creative approaches. Innovation can be further encouraged by being supportive of experimentation, and challenging beliefs about failure being an unacceptable risk. A higher degree of creativity should be promoted and valued; setting high standards also helps build colleagues’ confidence. Leaders should expose staff to new ideas to stimulate creativity and provide opportunities for reflection and new approaches. A sense of productive, positive urgency around identified problems can encourage creative action, which may not occur if a problem is perceived as minor and not warranting change. The setting of targets should be avoided, however, as it tends to result in linear and outcome-oriented approaches and is ineffective at promoting creativity. In contrast, appropriate deadlines can promote engagement with new approaches, but staff should be given time and space for reflection and development of new concepts. Provision should also be made both for individual and collaborative approaches; time to reflect and think individually can be complemented by subsequent collaborative sharing of ideas. Creative approaches and thinking should be tempered by adherence to core values, which can help direct outcomes. Teachers’ and leaders’ attitudes to risk are integral in developing creative approaches; however, small or incremental innovation can still result in significant positive changes.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
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