New models of leadership for learning: exploring the concept and practice of co-principal job-sharing
Number 183, 14 April 2009; Pages 3–20
While principals are traditionally 'solo' school leaders, this model may not suit all phases of a school's development or of an individual leader's career. New demands in terms of principals' workloads may also lead to reconsideration of efficient principalship models. The authors examine alternative models drawn from an international literature review, and illustrate the operation of each model at particular schools. One model, employed by two schools, involved a partnership of two full-time principals: at one school principles shared all duties, while at the other some duties were shared and others divided. The sharing of a single principal position between two part-time staff was another alternative that was used by one school, and at another, the principalship role comprised the combination of one full-time and one part-time principal. A leadership model used by one school replaced the principal position with a teacher leadership committee: teachers took part in collective decision making informed by individual specialisation. Overall, these models of co-principalship were found to rely on personal compatibility, trust, and shared values about education, suggesting that implementation of such models should be voluntary and as needed on a case-by-case basis. Co-principalship was most effective when the incumbents had complementary strengths, skills and experience: the combination of different individual strengths constituted the core benefit of co-principalship. While co-principalship models can alleviate the workload of principals, new communicative needs arise that can significantly increase time demands. Co-principalship can be enhanced by professional development that addresses communication and interpersonal skills, including negotiation and conflict management, and supportive forms of professional learning, such as mentoring, shadowing, and observation. A range of obstacles to the widespread adoption of co-principal job-sharing have been identified. Cost is one issue. Other concerns relate to accountability, including distinct and appropriate delineation of roles and awareness of these distinctions among staff, students and the local community. Employing authorities are also concerned that continuity of leadership and outlook could be undermined, and that decision making could be delayed or otherwise obstructed. Suggested solutions to these problems include keeping costs neutral, documenting clear procedures for decision making and resolution of issues, allowing time for people to get used to the new model, and allowing potential co-principals to select their working partners, or to apply jointly for roles.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
The absence of Asia
Winter 2009; Pages 9–10
Recent research has examined the extent to which final year students across Australia’s States and Territories study content about Asia. The report, Studies of Asia in Year 12, was commissioned by the Asia Education Foundation (AEF) and undertaken by the ACER. It presents 2007 research data for the subject areas of English, History, Geography, Art, and International Studies and Politics. English courses were found to vary in the extent of Asian coverage, but some offered little Asian content, and some none at all. The texts that were concerned with Asia were often well-known titles from non-Asian authors, or were focused on war or other forms of conflict. Examiners’ reports indicate that Asian texts are chosen less often than others. History courses offer a range of ways to study material about particular Asian nations, but only a tiny proportion of students were found to study an Asian nation’s history: in one system, only 0.5 per cent of students did so. International Studies and Politics courses sometimes mandate a certain amount of Asia-related content, but these courses are taken by relatively few students. In Geography and in Art, there is no mandated coverage about Asia. Students’ learning about Asia therefore does not reflect the region’s great and growing significance for Australia. The research results also suggest that teachers will not choose to cover significant amounts of Asia-related material if it is unfamiliar to them or they have not previously taught it. To ensure adequate representation of Asia in final year courses, Asia-related content should therefore be mandated within the forthcoming national curriculum.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Studies of Society and Environment
Arts in education
English language teaching
Senior secondary education
Transforming secondary mathematics teaching: increasing the cognitive demands of instructional tasks used in teachers' classrooms
Volume 40 Number 2, March 2009; Pages 119–156
Extensive educational research shows that students' mathematical learning is enhanced when they face cognitively demanding tasks. These complex tasks cannot be completed through routine procedures and formulae. Rather, they require sophisticated procedures that connect to deep underlying concepts in maths. Research evidence indicates that many US maths teachers not only fail to set enough highly challenging tasks, but also tend to reduce the complexity of tasks already available within the curriculum. Cognitive challenge is undermined, for example, when teachers spell out procedures for tasks' accomplishment, or too readily accept incorrect or inadequate answers from students. Challenge is also undermined when teachers present tasks unclearly; allow insufficient time to solve problems, or allow too much time, thus encouraging a drift off-task; or assign tasks for which students lack necessary prior knowledge. Cognitive challenge for students can be enhanced by addressing these problems, and also by scaffolding of tasks, showing students how to monitor their own progress, modelling tasks, and presenting complex ideas in multiple forms. Through suitable professional development teachers can learn to select, use and maintain highly challenging tasks for students. Such PD can improve their grasp of how children learn maths, show them how to build on children's existing knowledge, and in the process change their beliefs about the nature of maths teaching. The article outlines these ideas in relation to a two-year professional learning program involving 18 secondary mathematics teachers. The program was found to increase the extent to which the teachers set challenging mathematical tasks and the extent to which they maintained the level of challenge within the tasks already set. Some teachers in the program used conventional curricula, while others used standards-based curricula designed to provide a higher proportion of cognitively challenging tasks to students. Evaluation of the program found that the type of curriculum used was not a significant influence on the level of cognitive challenge faced by participating students. The results support earlier research, indicating that teachers do not always use curricula in the intended manner, but significantly raise or lower the level of challenge in the way that they apply curricular materials.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Nanoscience and nanotechnology for the middle years
Volume 55 Number 2, June 2009; Pages 16–24
Teaching students about nanoscience and nanotechnology is important for several reasons. Nanoscience and nanotechnology have the capacity to engage students; students should be aware of the pervasive presence of nanoscale materials in the production of household and industrial goods; because they embrac physics, chemistry and biology, nanoscience and nanotechnology fit well into an interdisciplinary curriculum such as VELS. The article reports on a nanoscience module designed for Years 6–9 students, as part of an ASISTM project called Emerging Science for Middle Years. The module allows students to learn that the properties of a substance change with changes in its component particles' structure (eg carbon atoms can be arranged to form diamond or graphite) and size (eg large particles of zinc oxide make sunscreen appear white, while smaller particles make it transparent). The module was trialled during a Nanotechnology Day at La Trobe University involving 139 Year 6 students from two primary schools. After an introduction using presentation software, the students took part in three activities, respectively exploring the size of particles; the properties of sunscreen; and the properties of wire made from nitinol, an alloy which changes shape at different temperatures due to the arrangement of the nickel and titanium atoms that compose it. At the end of the day students completed a questionnaire about what they had enjoyed most and least, and what they had learnt. On average, the initial presentation was the event that students least enjoyed. It is notable, however, that students' accounts of what they had learned derived more from information covered in this presentation, than from the more widely enjoyed activities that followed.
Key Learning AreasScience
Seen from the learner's perspective
Winter 2009; Pages 16–17
The Australian Government's National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program aims to increase numbers of language learners to improving social and economic ties in the region. However, learners aiming to develop communicative competence in languages such as Chinese face specific challenges. Unlike the phonemic, Latinate alphabets of European languages, the Chinese orthographic system consists of complex characters comprising extensive, and often multiple, components. While these components can provide clues to the meaning and pronunciation of a character, the link between a written character and its spoken form cannot be teased out in the way that words in European languages can. Beginning students of Chinese are taught the oral form of a word along with its written counterpart, despite not having an understanding of the complex nature of the written form of the language. These approaches are counterproductive, and unhelpfully confuse oral and print language development. Teachers need to develop appropriate methods and resources for preparing learners to engage with the complex Chinese writing system as distinct from the spoken form of the language. One solution is to divide the curriculum framework for early-stage language learners into two strands, with the first focusing on oral communication, including sociocultural competence. The focus of the second strand would be the written form of the language, and would develop learners' understandings of characters as being not simply symbols, but complex compositions of interrelated components with discrete and cumulative meanings. Students should be given opportunities to learn how these components interact with each other, as well as the contexts in which they occur, and the phonemic and morphemic information they offer. Differentiation between oral and written skills would allow students to achieve more in limited amounts of time, helping to mitigate expectations of non-native speakers' disadvantage, and would address students' perceptions of the difficulty of learning Chinese. While this solution is not new, the development of materials and resources to support print-based literacy for these learners needs widespread and systemic support.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsLanguage and languages
Languages other than English (LOTE)
Analyzing 'inconsistencies' in practice: teachers' continued use of Round Robin Reading
Volume 25 Number 1, January 2009; Pages 87–103
Round Robin Reading (RRR), where students are called on in turn to read aloud from a text, is ineffective in promoting reading skills, and has a negative effect on learners' comprehension and fluency. RRR practices give students minimal opportunities for reading connected texts, and the interruptive nature of turn-taking provides disfluent reading models for students. The practice also has social and emotional effects, with many students, particularly poor readers, feeling embarrassed or stressed about being called upon to read. Despite widespread awareness of the problems of RRR, many teachers in the USA continue to use it, or slightly modified related practices, in their classrooms. As part of a study to examine why educators continue to use RRR, 80 primary teachers and 27 literacy coaches completed questionnaires examining their practices and perspectives relating to RRR. While many respondents used oral reading practices unrelated to RRR, 47 (59% of) teachers and 9 (33% of) literacy coaches reported using RRR or related instruction. Teachers who used RRR disagreed with or disregarded research around RRR, misconstrued research as supporting it, or were unaware of research around RRR. Reasons for using RRR were related to ease of evaluation of students' reading and misperceptions that it improved reading fluency. There are a range of more effective practices to improve primary students' reading abilities. They include Fluency-Oriented Reading, where students repeatedly read a selected text for comprehension and fluency; Wide Reading Intervention, where students undertake scaffolded reading of several texts; and Peer Assisted Learning Strategies, partner reading where high- and low-proficiency students are matched. This last strategy is also appropriate for intermediate and middle grades, as are Reciprocal Teaching, where students read texts silently then engage in turn-based class discussions; and Jigsaw, where groups are given a text segment, and representatives of each group then share their material with other groups. To help align professional and practical knowledge, teachers should be encouraged to engage with and critically evaluate research around RRR, as well as conducting their own classroom-based research. Professional development that focuses on meeting teachers' needs for instructional goals would also help translate goals into practice.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
United States of America (USA)
Teaching in culturally diverse contexts: what knowledge about 'self' and 'others' do teachers need?
Volume 35 Number 1, February 2009; Pages 33–45
Teachers need to develop culturally sensitive and responsive pedagogies to improve teaching approaches in multicultural classrooms. Successful practice in these contexts requires sophisticated knowledge of students' different needs, and understanding of the nature of students' values, beliefs, and cultural practices. Teachers should also be aware of their own and students' relations to the cultural mainstream. To examine teachers' understandings of their own and their students' identities, the author conducted interviews with and collected self-evaluations from eight monolingual Anglo-Australian pre-service teachers undertaking placement in multicultural schools. Pre-service teachers' knowledge of their own and students' cultural backgrounds and identities was generally limited. They considered themselves, as part of the ethnic mainstream, largely 'cultureless', and had little awareness or knowledge of issues surrounding ethnicity. One teacher from a rural community relied on supervising teachers' perspectives about students and their cultures to inform her own viewpoint, which resulted in simplistic understandings of students. This teacher considered students uncritically in terms of their 'other' ethnicity, attributing certain types of behaviour to students' ethnic backgrounds, rather than possible teaching or curriculum issues. Another teacher's position was that of racial blindness, where she argued that everyone was 'the same', a viewpoint that has been described as 'naïve egalitarianism'. While such a discourse aims to avoid racism and stereotyping, it homogenises diverse student groups and silences issues of inequality by lack of acknowledgement of differences that disadvantage some groups. The teachers struggled to engage students, in part because their pedagogy was presented from Western perspectives: one teacher was surprised when a classroom of language learners of various religious and ethnic backgrounds struggled with a newspaper article containing terms such as 'Anglican' or 'Archbishop'. Knowledge of students' backgrounds would have helped to determine potential gaps in cultural knowledge, and identify materials relevant to students. Teachers need to be aware of their own ethnic identities, and how their resulting perspectives influence their teaching approaches and shape interactions. Teacher education programs should provide opportunities for ongoing critical reflection of ethnicity, and first-hand engagement with students of diverse backgrounds.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
From Kidd to Dewey: The origin and meaning of 'social efficiency'
Volume 41 Number 3, June 2009; Pages 361–391
In education, the term 'social efficiency' has been associated with the conservative approaches of early 20th century US educators promoting education as a means to develop useful, vocational skills to promote social stability; it has been perceived as counterposed to approaches emphasising democracy, equal opportunity, and liberal education. However, examination of the literature indicates that while the term itself has been widely taken up, its definition has been historically contested and adapted, resulting in interpretations that have been sometimes progressive, and sometimes illiberal. Social efficiency was popularised by British author Benjamin Kidd, who presented it in social Darwinist terms, arguing that society profited most when individuals were given the chance, through education, to develop their potential and to compete with others; this allowed an effective system of stratification of participants by ability and expertise. Kidd's theory was later taken up in the USA and variously endorsed, critiqued, and re-evaluated. John A. Hobson argued that participation and cooperation rather than competition and conflict formed the basis of social efficiency; social liberal Lester Ward saw social efficiency as a sociological process fed by the assimilation of opposing forces, and regarded it as a means to promote democratic, cooperative enlightenment. Ira Howerth saw it as reason to promote schools as 'social centres' where children learnt to recognise their social responsibility. The concept of social efficiency was subsequently widely adopted and adapted, with both humanitarian interpretations, such as William Bagley's liberal approach, and conservative utilitarian approaches resembling Kidd's. However, it was the notable progressive academic John Dewey who defined social efficiency for education. Dewey noted that social efficiency could be adopted in narrow and utilitarian, or broader and more liberal senses: learning by doing, as opposed to 'reflective' doing. He promoted cooperation over competition, and argued against vocational stratification, stating that children's activities should not be hampered by parents' social status or narrow, utilitarian education; all children should have opportunities to become knowledgeable citizens.
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
Making the most of adolescence: harnessing the search for identity to understand classroom belonging
Volume 24 Number 3, May 2009; Pages 321–348
The negotiation and development of identity is a key part of adolescence, and by acknowledging and drawing on students' sense of identity, schools can foster a sense of belonging, which in turn supports motivation, engagement and achievement. Within the classroom context, certain school-based identities are legitimised through institutionally defined notions of success and learning. A disjunct between students' personal and school-based identities can arise; if not reconciled, it may affect students' success. Schools must therefore design learning experiences and contexts that bridge the academic and 'lived' worlds of students. A study of 83 Year 9 students examined whether a semester-long learning unit that involved students' exploration of their identities fostered classroom belonging and influenced learning outcomes. Students' questionnaire feedback highlighted the importance of relating classroom learning with students' conceptions of what was meaningful or important to them. They reported that their engagement and the quality and enjoyment of their learning improved when they could relate assignments and discussions to their real lives, interests and experiences. They were more likely to devote additional time to assignments that allowed such connections, such as tasks around the text To Kill a Mockingbird, where students had opportunities to provide their perspectives about race, socioeconomics, and prejudice. Being able to draw on their backgrounds, as well as having the opportunity to talk about their perspectives or tell their stories, was important to students, who enjoyed being able to bring their own and their peers' cultures, backgrounds, and experiences to assignments and discussions. They reported a preference for texts and assignments that allowed them to engage meaningfully with these aspects of their identities. In having opportunities to openly explore their opinions or tell their stories, students felt vindicated: classroom discussions were considered important primarily because they promoted self-expression. Students reported feeling more connected to the class as a result of hearing others' perspectives; additionally, students felt that by setting tasks that drew on students' identities and perspectives the teacher valued their opinions and experiences.
Subject HeadingsTeacher-student relationships
Situated and contextual features of test anxiety in UK adolescent students
Volume 30 Number 1, February 2009; Pages 56–74
Test anxiety, experienced by students in assessment contexts, can detrimentally affect their performance. It has been suggested that increasingly frequent and high-stakes testing practices precipitate assessment anxiety. Research interviews were conducted with 30 test-anxious students in Britain aged between 14 and 16 to identify factors related to assessment anxiety. Students placed pressure on themselves in order to achieve identified ambitions; while this had an enabling effect, students also felt that they had let themselves down if they failed to meet set goals. Self-acceptance was conditional on high achievement, which was tied to personal definitions of success. The extent of assessment anxiety varied with specific class subjects, and was based around perceptions of ability and preparedness. Time pressure, such as time limits in examinations or multiple deadlines falling within a brief period of time, exacerbated the anxiety levels of students who felt that they had insufficient time resources to perform adequately. Teachers' emphasis on the importance of achieving certain grades in GCSE examinations, and that not adhering to deadlines could result in failure, heightened students' awareness of the consequences of not meeting specific goals. The amount of material tested in an examination affected anxiety, with high-stakes testing of material learnt over a longer period resulting in higher stress than examinations on more short-term modules or units. While practice assessments helped alleviate anxiety, stress would return in actual exam situations, partly due to perceived consequences and pressure, and to the unfamiliar, austere environments in which exams took place. Students' anxiety had an impact on the demonstration of their cognitive resources, such as recall and problem-solving ability, and they described 'going blank' despite having prepared. Students who had strategies to compensate for 'going blank' fared better than others, but many students lacked knowledge of such explicit strategies. Test anxiety is primarily related to students' achievement goals and academic and personal self-concept. However, possibilities of lowered performance can be reduced by ensuring students have access to compensatory and coping strategies. These could include using particular revision techniques including mind maps and pictorial representations and, in an examination situation, trying to focus control or breathing, and moving on to the next question when an answer is not known.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Learning outdoors: the Forest School approach
Volume 37 Number 1, February 2009; Pages 45–60
In response to concerns about students' indoor-oriented lifestyles and lack of engagement with nature, Forest Schools have been developed in Britain to provide students with opportunities to interact with forest and woodland environments as part of an active, learner-centred teaching program. Classes or individual special needs children in participating schools attend Forest School sessions on an ongoing weekly or fortnightly basis for up to a year. Students undertake a range of activities designed to improve certain skills, such as storytelling, painting, tree-climbing, and learning about animals and habitats. Classes focus on learning rather than performance, with assessment seen in terms of shared understanding, and a constructivist approach is encouraged; teachers are guides and facilitators rather than instructors. Case studies of a number of schools participating in the Forest School program were undertaken to determine its impact on early and middle-school learners. A series of themes emerged, including personal, social, and educational elements. Students, having worked on collaborative tasks, demonstrated improved confidence, as well as awareness of others and an ability to work together. The activities resulted in increased motivation and concentration. Student-led learning encouraged curiosity and imaginative activities, with students developing their own games or conducting investigations around flora and fauna. The repetition of activities allowed students to improve their skills in particular areas, as well as to develop closer working relationships. Practitioners gained new perspectives on learners, such as individual learning styles and interests, from observing students' behaviour outside the classroom environment. Parents indicated that students were applying their learning from Forest School, such as naming plants in the woodlands. The outdoor context of Forest School helps students understand that learning can take place in multiple environments, facilitating connections between classroom and real-world knowledge.
Subject HeadingsClassroom activities
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