What is this lesson about? Instructional processes and student understandings in writing classrooms
Volume 20 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 43–60
The quality of teachers' instructional goals, as well as how they are conveyed, can influence students' understanding of what they should be learning, as well as their levels of achievement. Using interviews with students and classroom recordings, the authors examined the writing lessons conducted by 15 primary teachers to see how lesson goals were made clear, whether feedback was aligned to those goals, and whether students correctly understood the purpose of the lesson. Student understanding of learning goals was linked to the clarity with which these goals were conveyed to students during the lesson, and were linked to prior writing knowledge. Teachers whose goals were clearest tended to first make links to prior knowledge by questioning students before introducing new material. Students' understanding of the relevant mastery criteria was closely related to their understanding of the lesson aims. Teachers who were most explicit in conveying learning goals tended to be most explicit in conveying what constituted mastery. For example, they might list 'criteria for success' on the blackboard or on student worksheets. Teachers who were explicit about learning aims and mastery criteria were most likely to give feedback relating to the learning goals. When asked what they had been told to learn, students whose teachers gave high-quality feedback were more likely to refer to deeper features of writing as related to the learning goals; students whose teachers gave non-specific feedback or focused on surface features were more likely to refer to surface features, such as neat handwriting or capital letters, when asked about their understanding. The results indicate that the way teachers structure learning environments can influence students' task interpretations. At primary level, students can benefit from having teachers explicitly assist them to understand learning goals and mastery criteria to help them monitor their learning progress. Teachers should check students' understandings rather than just assume that they have correctly interpreted these elements.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
English language teaching
Making sense of an everyday science text: linguistic, visual and spatial design
Fluency in scientific literacy requires knowledge of two interrelated types of literacy, the first involving knowledge of science concepts, and the second involving the ability to read and write scientific content. However, research has indicated that students have become less motivated to study and engage with school science, and that the ability of society as a whole to read and write scientific texts is generally poor. Educators need to consider both types of scientific literacy, and the complex nature of scientific texts requires teachers to scaffold these literacies for students. To highlight this point, the authors examine the literacy demands of a task demanded of students within a Stage 3 Primary Connections unit. The task was to analyse and interpret the science-related information appearing on bread wrappers. The authors draw on a framework for analysing multimodal texts that include linguistic, visual, spatial, gestural, and audio elements, the first three of which are considered in the current analysis. The different bread wrappers were found to make complex use of the three elements. All wrappers used scientific language, but the type of language varied; the nutrition, ingredients, and suggestions for storage panels all contained complex, domain-specific language. Some wrappers included information about meeting organic standards, while others highlighted the fact that they did not contain certain ingredients, information that requires the reader to make inferences or draw on prior knowledge. Certain design elements, such as images of wheat representing ‘wholesome’ food, or disproportionately large nutrition panels, required quite sophisticated interpretation. The difficult nature of these ‘everyday’ texts highlights the need for teachers to help students develop sophisticated scientific literacies; the framework described offers a means of making complex, interrelated elements more visible to learners.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
'Authentic' learning experiences: what does this mean and where is the literacy learning?
School curricula now emphasise 'rich' and 'authentic' tasks, but curriculum guidelines do not always define what is meant by these terms, leaving it up to teachers to interpret them and apply their expertise in developing learning situations that will fulfil these goals. In light of this, the authors examined four experienced primary teachers' conceptions of 'authentic learning', as well as examples of each teacher's authentic learning tasks. Four principles for developing and implementing authentic literacy learning tasks are then described. First, authentic learning experiences should draw on teachers' personal expertise. Each teacher's learning task reflected the teacher's vision and their conceptions of what 'authentic' meant. For example, one teacher who perceived authentic learning as 'making sense of the world' planned a task around recycling and composting in the community. Second, authentic learning experiences should reflect teachers' awareness of students' communities, including their practices and norms. For example, one teacher's time- and resource-intensive task where students had to set up their own bakery was appropriate for his older primary students from a high-SES background, but might not have been appropriate for other groups of students. Third, authentic learning tasks should recognise the social nature of literacy learning. This was evident in each of the examined tasks, which all challenged children's thinking around reading, as well as in creating texts that had a range of purposes and a variety of audiences. For example, a group who wrote a bicycle safety pamphlet aimed at younger children had to consider their language use, as well as structure and layout to ensure that their texts could be understood. This approach helps students become aware of different literacy expectations within a community, and allows them to apply their knowledge flexibly to texts. Last, authentic learning should make the most of available resources. Each of the teachers drew on school and community networks and resources to develop their tasks. For example, teachers from low-SES schools with limited budgets for travel had members from the community visit their classrooms instead. Teachers should consider these four principles when designing and implementing authentic learning experiences.
School and community
Addressing the educational challenges faced by African refugee background students: perceptions of West Australian stakeholders
Volume 19 Number 1, August 2009; Pages 25–38
Refugee children and youth who have fled sub-Saharan Africa face particular challenges in language learning, and the assistance they require places particular demands on ESL and mainstream teachers. A qualitative research project in Western Australia has surveyed the views of these students, their parents or caregivers, teachers and others contributing to their learning. Researchers surveyed 117 participants linked to eight primary or secondary schools. The responses indicated that while most refugees arrive with some of their immediate or extended family, they come from very diverse linguistic cultural and national backgrounds, and it may be hard to find help from interpreters or compatriots already settled. Refugees also face poverty-related problems such as poor housing, inadequate access to transport, and ill-health and, potentially, racism at school and in the community. Trauma from their exposure to civil wars may lead to social withdrawal or aggressive behaviour. Most refugees come from backgrounds with little tradition of written language, and need to learn basic organisational and time management skills, as well as a range of Western cultural ideas about which the curriculum assumes learners have existing knowledge. The children often need an introduction to concepts like sitting on chairs and holding pencils, and need to develop fine motor skills and habits of concentration. Most adolescent refugees aspired to higher study for professional qualifications, often in order to return to serve the needs of their home countries. However, teachers indicated that students' actual academic achievement varied widely based on their degree of disadvantage, and felt that some students concealed their needs to save face. Refugees who had been schooled in Africa had been grouped by existing levels of accomplishment rather than age level and were disoriented by the Australian system. Refugee parents also described using severe discipline for misbehaviour and felt Australian school discipline was ineffective. Educators believed that the two-year Intensive English Centre study programs for refugee children were insufficient; they reported introducing bridging programs in their own schools to address this issue. Educators also stressed the need to focus initially on oral language development, and to ensure this development extended beyond superficial language fluency to cognitive and academic language proficiency. The article has a table listing specific issues and potential solutions, including further practical support for schools and professional development for teachers.
English as an additional language
Western Australia (WA)
Perceptions that may affect teachers' intention to use technology in secondary mathematics classes
Volume 71 Number 3, July 2009; Pages 299–317
Although mathematics has been traditionally taught using pen and paper, mathematics teachers now have a variety of technologies available to them. The authors surveyed 92 secondary mathematics teachers in Victoria about the factors they saw as helping or hindering the use of technology in mathematics teaching. Most respondents believed that using technology would improve student motivation and enjoyment, and would help students to gain a deeper understanding of mathematics and to use mathematics in real-world contexts. Teachers were usually supported in using technology, and most reported that their co-ordinators or principals expected them to use it. However, teachers who felt that they were not expected to use technology were less likely to believe that it would improve student motivation. In addition, teachers who considered use of technology to be an extra, time-consuming task were more likely to feel that students should learn mathematics using pen and paper first. Barriers to using technology included the cost for students of purchasing it, class time constraints, and a lack of time for teachers to plan ways to incorporate technology in their teaching. While both males and females agreed that technology was valuable to student learning, male teachers were generally more positive about technology than females. For example, female teachers were three times more likely than male peers to feel concerned by technical hitches when using ICT. Interestingly, there were no differences in perceived enablers and barriers around technology use between newer or more experienced teachers. While perceptions of technology are generally positive among teachers, and among school leadership teams, several barriers remain. The issue of equity should be addressed, and professional development should focus on both skill development and addressing attitudes. Teachers should be given strategies for dealing with barriers to technology; female teachers in particular should be supported in using technology in the classroom.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
The links between handwriting and composing for Y6 children
Volume 39 Number 3; Pages 329–344
Handwriting, often portrayed simply as a presentation skill, is 'a language act, rather than just a motor act', requiring the cognitive ability to recall letter shapes and to coordinate memory and hand movement. Until it becomes automatic, handwriting consumes working memory that could be used for creative thinking, vocabulary selection, self-monitoring and revision. Some experts suggest that handwriting becomes automatic only around the age of 10. A recent Australian study of 114 students found that an eight-week handwriting program significantly improved their skills in this area. A different study found that the quality of children's composition was significantly improved when dictation freed them from the need to handwrite their texts. The present article describes a further study, examining the relationship between handwriting and composition among 198 Year 6 students in England. The participants, from four primary schools, spanned a wide SES range, with the gender balance almost even. The study established a correlation between low handwriting automaticity and poor composition, and suggests 'some direct association in the correlation'. Results did not vary significantly between left- and right-handed students. However, boys scored significantly lower than girls in the number of words they were able to handwrite per minute. The results were compared to those from a prior study of Year 2 students undertaken by one of the authors. The gap in handwriting automaticity between girls and boys in Year 6 was significantly wider than in Year 2.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Co-constructing distributed leadership: district and school connections in data-driven decision-making
Volume 29 Number 5, November 2009; Pages 477–494
In the USA, standards-based accountability systems mean that educational leaders are now required to analyse and use data to make decisions about all areas of education. Educators thus need to learn and develop new competences, and need support from leaders to do so effectively. Using interviews and site visits, the authors examine leadership practices in eight high-performing schools in four districts that were implementing data-based decision-making practices. Both schools and districts aimed to establish a culture of data use, developing norms and expectations for data use, and ensuring that data use was framed as a way to support rather than blame teachers. Principals saw themselves as instructional leaders and supporters of teacher development, and worked to establish a sense of support and trust between the district and school, and at different levels within the school, in order to build a vision of continuous improvement. Principals and district administrators attempted to model effective use of data as well as high expectations and professional accountability, all of which were seen as a way to promote capacity building. They encouraged teachers to see data as tools for improving pedagogy and learning, and helped them translate data into action plans. Staff at all levels engaged in professional development and were expected to share their learning and expertise with other staff members. Decision-making authority was also distributed across different levels and groups, allowing certain groups and individuals to take on particular tasks and specialise in particular areas; teachers were given authority over program and instructional decisions. Schools and districts developed performance goals and standards, and implemented regular assessments to monitor progress and adjust practices accordingly. The different schools also worked together to learn from each other, and to exchange knowledge, expertise, and data: ‘action walks’, where staff from one school examined another school’s functioning, were particularly valuable. Schools felt that these networks helped develop connections and encourage innovation. However, some concerns remained about balancing teacher autonomy with data use; schools also had to be careful to ensure that data were an indicator of their progress and effort rather than the end goal.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
United States of America (USA)
Does musical training improve school performance?
Volume 37 Number 4, July 2009; Pages 365–374
Previous research suggests that music education develops cognitive performance and helps to improve students' academic results. The authors compared the grades of 134 children in Grades 3–6 in Switzerland to examine whether taking music lessons affected students' learning. Students who took music lessons achieved significantly higher marks overall than those who were not learning an instrument. In addition, with the exception of physical education, these students achieved higher marks in all of their subjects than those who did not learn an instrument, significantly outperforming their peers in French and German, mathematics, history and geography, handicraft, and music. These results support the notion that music may be associated with overall, rather than domain-specific, cognitive functioning. Learning music remained a strong predictor of performance, after results were controlled for students' socioeconomic background. In addition, the achievement gaps between students who studied music and those who did not widened between Grades 3 and 6, indicating that ongoing musical training may result in continued cognitive gains. Drawing on research into cognitive development that indicates that practising music can result in 'use-dependent structural variations' during critical stages of brain development, the authors recommend that musical training should be begun early, and that it be recognised as an important part of learning and of the school curriculum.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsLearning ability
Twenty-first-century headteacher: pedagogue, visionary leader or both?
Volume 29 Number 2, April 2009; Pages 91–107
In Britain, government initiatives and policy have seen the principal's role gradually shift from that of a headteacher–practitioner to a more complex managerial position. In order to examine how school leadership roles have changed over the past 30 years, the authors conducted in-depth interviews with five experienced principals in Liverpool. When asked about their predecessors' role, respondents described their own principals as having been experts in pedagogy, but saw them as having a lack of managerial skills, competences and processes. In sharp contrast, respondents perceived themselves as outward-looking 'agents for change' who were required to actively engage with both their school and governing body, and the wider community. They saw competences as more important than qualifications, and saw effective communication and strategic management skills as integral to their role. Rather than the 'senior teacher' role of their predecessors, respondents' responsibilities included issues around attendance, welfare and accountability, providing opportunities for personal and professional development, as well as managerial and administrative tasks. They were aware of the increased expectations placed on them, such as dealing with the wider issues of society, in addition to parents' expectations around examination results, safety of children, and provision of suitable teachers. However, despite their diverse and complex roles, the respondents had little access to preparatory training or formal professional development opportunities, and had to actively design and focus their own professional development. In Britain at least, an evolution toward transformational leadership is likely in an education context that has shifted away from teaching and learning and toward child welfare. In this context, provision of formal preparatory training and targeted professional development is essential to ensure that principals develop the skills now required of them. In addition, while principals may not need to have the expert pedagogical skills of their predecessors, they must still be able to recognise and promote pedagogical excellence among their staff.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
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