National curriculum and national professional teaching standards: potentially a powerful partnership
Number 184, April 2009
The national coordination of curriculum, assessment and reporting should be connected, at policy level, to national efforts to promote the quality of teaching. A partnership between ACARA and the National Partnership on Quality Teaching offers a promising means to achieve this connection. More than 20 professional associations for teachers or educators in Australia have now separately established their own professional standards. Employing agencies' official recognition of these standards would strongly encourage individual teachers to demonstrate how they are implementing the goals of the national curriculum. The national curriculum framing papers around English, Mathematics, Science and History contribute some essential groundwork for teaching standards, and provide an opportunity for subject associations to review the standards they have developed for their subject area. However, this process of alignment with the national curriculum should not be misunderstood as the imposition of a one-size-fits-all model. It is also distinct from the competencies commonly demanded by teacher performance appraisals, which 'do not attempt to describe what teachers need to know and be able to do' in different curriculum areas or grade levels. National teaching standards should be subject- and level-specific, as generic standards tend to trivialise teacher knowledge. Teacher expertise exists largely around this specific knowledge and skills; teachers taking classes outside their areas of expertise tend to fall back on didactic, dull and unchallenging methods. Empowering the teaching profession to set and regulate its own standards addresses the substantial, long-standing challenge of ensuring that the curriculum is implemented at classroom level. This approach is likely to be more effective than school-based accountability based on test scores, which does not guide teachers in how to teach better, and which encourages teachers and schools to distort the curriculum, and risks alienating educators. The approach will also encourage teachers to undertake sustained, quality professional development. Effective systems of standards, professional learning and certification should be accompanied by official recognition and career paths of high teacher performance. (See also abridged version of the paper on the ACER website.)
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Teaching and learning
Volume 8 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 8–11
The publication of nationally comparable information about schools, along with extensive funding of non-government schools, ‘make choice and competition the fundamental organising features of the Australian school system’. However, major studies of high stakes accountability for schools have found little or no evidence that the publication of performance data has improved academic performance. Studies published in the 2008 Handbook of Research on Education Finance and Policy and a separate review by Jaekyung Lee found that such measures have either no effect, or have minor positive or minor negative effects, on student achievement in reading and mathematics. These studies may overestimate the improvements resulting from test-based accountability, given other evidence of schools manipulating test results. For example, the New York City school reporting system encouraged schools ‘to use special dispensations for students during tests’. Other studies, in Chicago and England, have found little evidence that choice and competition improve student outcomes. Evidence from the University of Bristol and from the US Bureau of Economic Research indicates that such policies instead increase social segregation and aggravate achievement gaps. Like-school comparisons are advanced as means to filter out the impact of SES from evaluations of a school’s contribution to student outcomes, but existing models suffer from a range of methodical weaknesses. Some fail to distinguish the ethnic profile of schools. Others don’t allow for the number of households with or without children in the area: for example, the SES level assigned to a well-off area would be affected by a large pensioner population. The use of individual family data is inappropriate since many families, especially in poorer areas, do not enter such data on school application forms. The publication of performance data using the argument that parents have a ‘right to know’ ignores the established government practice of withholding information when public harm outweighs benefit. Nor can it be justified as a guide to resource allocation, since the government already has such information. Public reporting in fact allows governments ‘to abrogate their responsibilities by blaming schools and teachers’. More appropriate forms of accountability include the reporting of the numbers of schools within each educational jurisdiction that fall inside broad achievement ranges, and reporting achievement levels according to region, SES level, and ethnic background.
Subject HeadingsEducational accountability
Culturally responsive teaching of mathematics: three models from linked studies
Volume 40 Number 2, March 2009; Pages 157–186
Research suggests that integrating languages and art into classrooms can stimulate students' interest, promote achievement among minority or indigenous students, and support cultural understanding. Three models of culturally inclusive mathematics education in New Zealand demonstrate how mathematics, which is often viewed as 'culture-free', can incorporate significant cultural elements. The components model provides a structured, coherent method for designing and analysing culturally inclusive learning programs. The inclusiveness of a course design is analysed within a framework of course structure, which includes protocols, pedagogies, course assessment, and personnel; and of course content, which includes language, readings, contexts, learning activities and planning. Examination of lesson plans within this framework allows teachers to determine whether certain elements are culturally inclusive, and to adapt lessons as appropriate. For example, a lesson on measurement might be structured around the legend of Lake Wakitupu, the waters of which rise and fall at short, regular intervals. The holistic model uses a theme drawn from a traditional cultural practice as a central aspect of the course, for example the mathematics involved in tukutuku, traditional Maori woven panels. This model is best used in developing new courses and content, as pedagogy and content both need to relate to the central cultural element. The principles model is based on the three principles of the Treaty of Waitangi: partnership, protection and participation. This model emphasises class design and management that promotes consultation between cultural partners, recognition and promotion of other languages and cultures, and the inclusion of students and community. These elements can be exemplified through activities such as analysing the mathematics found in traditional Maori crafts, or examining the geometric properties of native flora. Culturally inclusive mathematics teaching can be facilitated by ensuring the existence of communicative and collaborative intercultural partnerships; a variety of inclusive and non-threatening learning contexts; teachers' cultural knowledge; flexibility of approach; and involvement in culturally responsive learning communities. Teachers and teacher educators should endeavour to develop cultural inclusiveness across all programs and competences. They should incorporate into their classrooms contexts drawn from various cultures; adopt holistic, integrated strategies; and develop and reflect on their own cultural knowledge, skills and culturally inclusive practices.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Promoting understanding of, and teaching about, scientific literacy in primary schools
Volume 55 Number 2, June 2009; Pages 25–30
A recent project has researched primary teachers' understandings of scientific literacy and the effectiveness of a professional development program designed to enhance it. Scientific literacy is defined in terms of the capabilities identified by Goodrum et al 2007. For the first phase of the study, 18 primary teachers and 18 secondary science teachers in Western Australia were asked via interview for their understandings of science teaching. The respondents frequently associated scientific literacy with the dimension of science communication. They emphasised language literacy rather than literacy specifically related to the study of science, reflecting the heavy emphasis on improving general literacy levels in recent education policy. Investigating was another commonly recognised form of scientific literacy. The respondents commonly, although tentatively, associated scientific literacy with knowledge of science content. Other dimensions of scientific literacy, such as the capacity to relate science to everyday life and to undertake critical inquiry, were less often mentioned. Responses suggested that the teachers lacked confidence in their scientific knowledge, which has implications for their enthusiasm in teaching it. The article then examined the impact of a professional learning program designed to strengthen teachers' capabilities to teach scientific literacy. Five of the primary teachers in the study participated in this program and were interviewed upon its completion. The PD was found to improve the teachers' capacity to teach science content and some aspects of scientific literacy. It was effective in helping the teachers apply examples of science from everyday life in their teaching and reinforced their capacities to teach science communication and investigation. It was less effective in encouraging them to teach skills in critical inquiry and the application of science to inform personal decision making. The participants did not engage strongly with the concept of scientific literacy, but rather sought to integrate what they were learning into their existing patterns of teaching. Teacher education and professional development programs for pre-service and in-service science teachers need to emphasise the importance of scientific literacy within the curriculum.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Western Australia (WA)
Much ado about very little: the benefits and costs of school-based commercial activities
Volume 8 Number 3, July 2009; Pages 307–336
School-based commercialism, such as fundraising, sponsorship or exclusive agreements, helps schools in the USA supplement their resources and develop links with businesses, but is opposed by those who feel it supplants funding, breeds consumerism, and increases inequity. A study of 806 secondary schools in New York and Pennsylvania analysed schools' reasons for engaging in commercial activities, and the perceived benefits of these activities. Most Pennsylvanian schools and three-quarters of New York schools engaged in some form of commercial activity. Two particular types of commercial activities, both of which are considered controversial but lucrative, were then selected for analysis. These were exclusive agreements, such as those with soft drink companies, and the appropriation of space such as scoreboards for business use. Half of the Pennsylvanian schools and a quarter of New York schools had exclusive agreements, and two-fifths of Pennsylvanian and almost one-tenth of New York schools had space appropriation agreements. Reasons for not engaging in these activities included community pressure and board policies: almost one-third of those with exclusive agreements were subject to criticism. However, few participating schools faced community disapproval for entering into appropriation of space agreements. The most frequently listed reasons for entering into commercial agreements were to supplement local revenues and to help fund specific programs or activities, usually extracurricular programs; for space appropriation agreements, the development of business relationships was also an important factor. However, analysis of revenues indicated that these agreements on average yielded less than 0.1% of school income, and often also resulted in increased personnel costs. While revenue from exclusive agreements met district expectations, earnings from the appropriation of space largely did not. While a majority of respondents indicated they would continue to use these agreements even if other resources were available, this may be due to the fact that the schools entering into these agreements tended to be low-SES schools with fewer resources. Policy around school commercialism should be clear; the social and commercial impact of its introduction should be considered. Improvement in school equity would reduce the perceived need for commercial agreements.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
School and community
Commercialization of education
Managing student conceptions about evolution using the integration of multiliteracies in the classroom
Volume 55 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 10–14
While beliefs about evolution are often firmly held and difficult to influence, constructivist strategies that encourage identification of existing, incorrect beliefs and self-directed, critical approaches to learning can help redress misconceptions. The use of various tools and media, including ICT, has been suggested as one method to help address incorrect beliefs. To examine whether integration of ICT into the science classroom can influence students' conceptions about evolution, the author analysed 17 Year 11 biology students' beliefs about evolution before and after an ICT-based learning unit on evolution. Over three sessions students used the online learning system Moodle to listen to podcasts, create mind maps, engage interactively with the Huxley–Wilberforce debate, view videos, and participate in interactive activities. Prior to the unit, students demonstrated a general lack of understanding of inheritance; misunderstood natural selection to be a specifically selective process for 'the good' of the species; conceived of survival of the fittest as relating to an individual's survival; and exhibited 'alternative conceptions' around evolutionary relationships, saw evolution as a volitional act, or raised issues of creationism. After completion of the unit, students no longer held alternative conceptions about inheritance and better understood natural selection and survival of the fittest, although some were still confused by the latter. Alternative conceptions had been largely dispelled. Students generally reported that ICT had facilitated their learning by engaging them, allowing interaction, and providing for different learning styles and levels. However, students generally preferred a variety of class formats, as ICT could occasionally be distracting or time-consuming, and they felt that ICT was sometimes used unnecessarily. From a teachers' perspective, issues with technology, initial set-up time, and students' attitude about ICT could pose challenges to the use of technology in classrooms. However, thoughtful, pedagogically sound approaches to ICT in a science classroom can provide valuable learning experiences.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Sources of middle school students' self-efficacy in mathematics: a qualitative investigation
Volume 46 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 275–314
Students' conceptions of self-efficacy in mathematics, ie the beliefs they hold about their academic capabilities, are influenced by a number of sources, including previous experiences and achievements, the actions and perceptions of others, and their study habits. As the middle years of schooling often coincide with a decline in students' self-efficacy and motivation, eight Year 8 students, four with high mathematics self-efficacy and four with low self-efficacy, were interviewed to determine factors influencing their mathematics self-conception. High self-efficacy students were confident in their abilities, drawing on past successes as proof of their natural aptitude. Perceptions of mathematics as difficult, as well as low or failing grades, undermined low self-efficacy students' belief in their ability to achieve future success. High-achieving students were supported by mathematically inclined parents and by peers and teachers who encouraged their abilities. In contrast, low self-efficacy students' parents often modelled low mathematics self-efficacy, or would discourage students through negative behaviours or comments. Low-achieving students compared themselves negatively against better performing peers, and felt unsupported by teachers, whereas high-perfoming students were motivated to out-perform classmates. The streaming of students into high- or low-ability classes also influenced perceptions of support and of others' conceptions of their mathematics competence. High self-efficacy students channelled nervousness about learning new topics into motivation for making the unknown familiar; in contrast, low-achieving students felt pressured or frustrated, and exhibited avoidant behaviours such as truancy. High-achieving students tended to have good study habits, completing homework systematically and early, whereas low self-efficacy students demonstrated poor study skills and habits, such as inadequate note-taking and preference for non-mathematics activities. Poor study habits may have been influenced by self-defeating perceptions of being unable to succeed in mathematics. Teachers and parents should be aware of how the behaviours and messages they send to students can affect and cement perceptions about ability. They should also ensure that students do not perceive academic competencies as inherent, but as abilities that can be improved with perseverance and appropriate strategies. Students with low self-efficacy should be supported to develop effective study skills and habits.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsParent and child
Gender inclusiveness in educational technology and learning experiences of girls and boys
Volume 41 Number 3, Spring 2009; Pages 253–276
ICT classroom tools that are designed to be inclusive can promote female students' learning. Tools can be inclusive in terms of content, visual and audio interface, or their instructional structure. For example, female students prefer tools that address subjects that are of interest to them, that encourage collaboration rather than competition, and that provide scaffolding and clear, immediate feedback. To examine how the inclusiveness of ICT tools affects the learning experience of male and female students, the authors observed and collected feedback from 81 Grade 9 students from four schools in the Netherlands. The tools used by the students were language- or social studies-related applications that had been designed by the classroom teacher, or were provided with a textbook. Tools were categorised as more or less inclusive based on a range of inclusion criteria such as their relevance to real-life contexts and varied interests, and the use of a variety of visual and textual materials. All students, but particularly female students, reported learning both more content and a greater variety of content when working with inclusive tools. Female students found inclusive tools easier to work with than less inclusive tools, and their attitudes toward them were more positive. Girls were less likely than boys to be engaged and on-task when working with less inclusive tools. The use of classroom ICT tools should take into consideration the degree of inclusiveness of such tools, as they can improve learning for both sexes, and in particular for female students. An index of inclusiveness is included.
Subject HeadingsClassroom activities
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
'Tears, laughter, camaraderie': professional development for headteachers
Volume 29 Number 3, July 2009; Pages 253–275
School principals need opportunities for support and professional development that are appropriately targeted to their level of experience. A study in Scotland collected information about the continued professional development (CPD) needs of 315 new and established principals using an online survey and follow-up interviews. Collaborative partnerships with universities and with education authorities were perceived by principals as the best way to meet their CPD needs. CPD needed to be highly relevant, varied, challenging, and to contain opportunities for discussion. CPD that involved collaborative and meaningful interaction with other principals was highly valued: principals typically sought practical insights and examples of change and excellence to apply to their own school contexts. Principals valued CPD that focused on leadership issues such as coaching, building leadership capacity, and distributed leadership; and management skills, such as dealing with underachieving staff, and managing and evaluating teaching and learning. New principals had a significantly greater perceived need for CPD around these areas than established principals, and were concerned about the technical aspects of leadership, such as processes and procedures and the application of knowledge. They valued coaching to help support their transition to a leadership role, as well as access to mentorship and induction programs. Almost all principals highlighted time for personal reflection and for reflection on their professional values as invaluable for meeting their CPD needs. However, established principals ranked time for reflection as a higher priority than new principals, emphasising the need for ‘professional refreshment’. Reflective activities included reading and study, sabbaticals, leadership retreats, and visits to other schools. CPD activities should provide opportunities that allow principals to connect with school and other leadership contexts, the wider policy context, and to engage critically with leadership and management. Principals need to critically consider and reflect on how concepts and research findings can be integrated into their practice in order to improve their technical expertise. They should ensure that their CPD provides opportunities to address all of the elements, such as the ethical, technical and social considerations of their position.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
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