Volume 37 Number 2, 21 May 2009; Pages 105–119
During a collaborative research project in New Zealand five university researchers worked with ten generalist primary school teachers, who undertook action research in different areas of the visual and performing arts. An initial phase of the project created case studies of the teachers' current practices in their arts teaching, including critical reflection on 'rituals' of practice formerly taken for granted. Some rituals were vindicated and affirmed by the study, while others suggested the need to trial new approaches, which were then conducted as the project's second phase. An established ritual in one music class was to allow the five-year-old students collectively to 'play' instruments made available to them on a table during unsupervised, free time, outside the packed formal classroom schedule. The children's efforts were now recorded on video camera. While performances were uneven some revealed 'subtle ensemble awareness' and children's sensory pleasure. As a trial the students were given access to the instruments in pairs rather than as a whole class: their persistence and ensemble awareness was seen to improve. However, a trial in which the children used the instruments alone was less successful as they were seen to lose interest quickly. In a drama class, the teacher disrupted a ritual in which she had formerly decided the goals and themes of lessons, by playing one of the characters in a drama and remaining within it, creating a tension in which children had to co-construct the drama. Immersion in drama was seen to free children with social permission to take on unfamiliar roles in terms of personality, age and gender. Other action research projects involved peer problem solving in art. Children shared ideas and helped one another as the need arose; in one class students started work upon arrival rather than when the bell rang, moving fluidly between individual and small group work. Whole-class discussion was used at need to address emergent problems. In one art class children wrote their names on a whiteboard to volunteer their assistance in solving problems which they felt confident to address; however, this 'expert' role varied between topics and over time. This peer assistance can help overcome the problem of one teacher having to understand and respond to each individual's fine-grained differences, but it is recognised that peer tutoring itself requires training and does not entirely substitute for the teacher.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsArts in education
Issues surrounding the integration of ICT into learning and teaching have been explored in a recent research project, focused on the use of an Interactive White Board (IWB) for literacy learning in primary school. It is widely remarked that many teachers apply technology for traditional pedagogical purposes instead of embracing its potential to transform teaching and learning. Rather than representing this behaviour as an obstacle to progress, it is more helpful to see such use of ICT as a manageable starting point, from which teachers may then explore new, technology-enhanced pedagogical approaches. A small research team has studied the use of ICT for literacy learning made by an experienced Grade 3 teacher in New South Wales. The teacher was based in a small, well-resourced independent school committed to the introduction of ICT for learning. The researchers interviewed her before and after literacy sessions with her students; examined curriculum documents, teacher programs and school policies; and observed four of her lessons. The lessons were conducted in an open plan area together with classes of two other teachers, in a smoothly operating team environment. The paper presents four classroom episodes involving extensive use of an Interactive White Board, one of which also involved a YouTube animation. The IWB successfully focused students' attention, and was a collective focus for the 90 children in all three classes; it was seen as fun and seemed 'to add importance to the literacy activities'. To an extent, however, the technology was found to impose limitations and distortions on the teaching and learning process. For example, an educational game provided through the IWB focused on developing students' grammatical knowledge in narrowly defined, traditional terms: in a post-class interview the teacher revealed an interest in exploring the effects of grammatical choices and links between grammar and meaning, but the technology was seen to direct the lesson away from this approach. Perhaps significantly, the IWB was often labelled as 'the activity' rather than a tool for use within an activity during the observed classes. It is important that students' learning experiences include opportunities to 'examine, create and evaluate the affordances of technology within carefully framed authentic tasks'.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
We have the technology: effective contemporary learning
Volume 8 Number 3, September 2009; Pages 24–25
It can be said confidently that massive spending on technology infrastructure in schools is shaping learning and teaching. One area that has felt this impact is testing. A study conducted by the Catholic Education Office Sydney has shown the value of ICT in using assessment data on literacy and numeracy, obtained from the New South Wales Basic Skills Test, to lift student results in a group of six primary schools of diverse socioeconomic profiles. The impact was greatest in schools where classroom teachers 'collaborated with the school executive to form a learning community'. The value of technology to 'customise, track and support an individual's learning' is also evident at the Australian Technical College (ATC) Northern Tasmania. The ATC uses a web-based management system that has enabled tutors to monitor and assist students moving between the College and work placements, allowing a far more flexible approach to industry placements. It has also made all of its learning materials available online. Students in New South Wales have benefited from the Australian Government's spending on technology for schools, which has included the provision of laptops to Year 9–12 students. Increased broadband access has allowed students to take advantage of better access to digital learning resources including The Le@rning Federation resources available via the Scootle portal. In school libraries, more space has been created by the shift away from desktop computers and the advent of 'smaller but more focused book collections', which have improved students' ability to undertake individual and group research. Students can also search online library catalogues offsite. Students' personal ICT is also being drawn into the learning process, and they are using these technologies to capture images and sound, and to create digital videos. Students can also 'use these devices on school excursions to hear podcast information on features they are seeing'. However, measures are needed to prevent the use of these devices for purposes such as cyberbullying.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
New South Wales (NSW)
Comparison of two small-group learning methods in 12th-grade physics classes focusing on intrinsic motivation and academic performance
Volume 31 Number 11, July 2009; Pages 1511–1527
Different small-group learning methods can affect students' learning and motivation. The authors examined how two different small-group learning types fulfilled the three 'basic needs' for motivation: autonomy, competence and social relatedness, and whether there was any subsequent effect on students' motivation and performance. The participants were 344 Year 12 physics students in Germany who participated in either 'jigsaw' classroom learning methods, or cylindrical rotation methods. In the jigsaw method, the lesson is divided into segments, and each student in each group is assigned a segment about which they must become 'expert'. In this way, each student teaches the other students in their group about their segment. In contrast, the cyclical method involves a set group rotating through set topics. A survey of students' perceptions around the different methods revealed that students' competence was enhanced by working in a jigsaw group. This was due to their claiming expertise over a particular segment, and having responsibility for transmitting this information. However, the cylindrical method more strongly facilitated students' autonomy. This was likely due to the fact that students were not constrained by roles or time in studying set topics. No differences were found in terms of social relatedness, likely because all students knew each other well, or had elected to work with each other. Students' 'basic needs' for motivation were perceived as being met equally by either condition. However, achievement between the two groups varied depending on the topic that was being studied. This may be the result of students' particular interest in one subject, or the ease with which students could understand a certain subject, as this may affect a group's collective learning, or the ability of an 'expert' to teach other students. The appropriateness of the use of either the jigsaw or the cylindrical rotation method largely depends on the intended outcome of the activity, for example, whether it is designed to foster autonomy or competence. In addition, the difficulty of a particular topic for students may also influence a teacher's choice of which groupwork method to use.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Group work in education
Toward a critical pedagogy of engagement for alienated youth: insights from Freire and school-based research
Volume 50 Number 1, February 2009; Pages 23–35
Alienation among students can lead to attrition and low levels of participation, and is most pronounced in disadvantaged and remote communities. Student alienation can occur when students feel no personal connection to their studies, feel that course material lacks relevance, or that they have little say in what is taught and assessed, and how. 'Coercive' approaches that seek to control behaviour resulting from alienation can also reinforce disaffection. In this category the author includes 'measures ... to raise the school leaving age'. A critical pedagogy, informed by the writings of Freire, can help students overcome issues of alienation and to transform 'unjust social relations'. Within this framework, students' interests, knowledge and concerns are respected and incorporated into the curriculum, and students are encouraged to become critical agents. Through interviews with staff and students from four disadvantaged secondary schools in Australia, the author examined the enabling and constraining factors of such a pedagogy. The teachers agreed that engaging students in personally relevant learning was challenging, particularly in light of the restrictions of the curriculum and external accountability requirements. However, many teachers successfully fostered respectful relationships with students, and sought to develop connections between themselves, students' lives and communities, and students' learning. Teachers drew on themes from popular culture, the arts, and new technologies in their teaching, and attempted to foster student agency rather than designing passive learning experiences. Still, while many teachers had begun to develop culturally relevant and experiential forms of learning, critical pedagogical practices were less evident. Tasks were related to students' interests, but often failed to address issues such as oppression or injustice, or to encourage students to critically address environmental, cultural and economic elements of their learning. To promote a critical pedagogy of engagement, teachers need to help students examine the impact of issues such as consumerism and technology on their lives; students should also be encouraged to connect their daily lives with global concerns, and be encouraged to take action. These approaches will help empower students, and alleviate alienation.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Volume 35 Number 5, October 2009; Pages 661–686
Initiatives in Britain to improve teacher support have resulted in large numbers of teacher assistants (TAs) being deployed in primary and secondary classrooms. Using classroom observations, the authors examined the role of TAs in classrooms, as well as their impact on pupil engagement and the amount of individual attention children receive as a result of their presence. Classroom observations were carried out with 686 mainstream and special needs pupils across 88 year groups in 27 primary and 22 secondary schools. TAs most frequently worked in a direct pedagogical role with individual pupils, particularly those with special needs; at primary levels they often worked also with groups of students. The presence of TAs meant that students received greater individualised attention; classroom control also improved. However, students received less individual attention from the classroom teacher. This was especially true for special needs students, who were those arguably most in need of support and individualised attention from the classroom teacher. While special needs students at secondary level may benefit from increased individualised attention, primary level pupils, who tended to be engaged by TAs in groups, were less likely to show marked effects in achievement or interaction. Findings that point to the limited nature of TAs' role in the classroom, support earlier research findings that, notwithstanding perceptions among teachers and principals, the presence of TAs in classrooms has not improved student achievement. However, these issues may also reflect the relative novelty of TAs and recent increases in the numbers of special needs students included in mainstream classes. Research into the wider pedagogical role of TAs should be conducted to examine ways in which all students can benefit from their presence.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
'No Outsiders': moving beyond a discourse of tolerance to challenge heteronormativity in primary schools
Volume 35 Number 6, December 2009; Pages 837–855
The authors describe an ongoing action research project to challenge 'heteronormativity' in schools by actively addressing issues of gender and sexuality. The participants were 15 primary teachers in Britain. Key to the success of the project was a series of guiding principles. First, the project had to be teacher-led and voluntary. This principle avoided the possible resistance that would be encountered by a mandatory, top-down approach, and allowed teachers to develop their own direction and pace. For example, one teacher used resources provided by the program to extend a literacy initiative, while another discussed with his class his upcoming civil partnership. However, some participants raised concerns that this approach could reinforce essentialist binaries around being gay and straight, as well as potentially result in low-quality engagement with theory. The second principle was that the project had to be supported by government and educational bodies. It was made clear to participants that the project was supported within a broader equalities agenda; this gave participants confidence in engaging in what could be seen as untested or potentially professionally risky approaches. Some teachers, however, felt that seeking permission from school personnel over their proposed programs devalued sexualities equality work; in contrast, others found having government policy support instrumental in seeking approval from parents and colleagues. The third principle was that the project must be collective, with strong collegial support. Online discussion forums were provided to allow teachers from different schools to discuss their planned classroom activities, as well as any incidents that arose. The teachers also used these forums to tease out theoretical issues and negotiate issues around identity. Being part of an external learning community helped sustain teachers who lacked support within their own schools. The final principle was that the project had to be informed by expertise and adequate resources. Teachers were given training on sexualities equality, and were offered ongoing support where necessary. Classroom books and learning resources were also provided. These elements validated teachers' expertise and their legitimacy in pursuing sexualities equality issues, as well as helping to make concrete the presence of the project in schools.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Gay and lesbian issues
Volume 25 Number 4, October 2009; Pages 290–310
Strategy instruction can help students with learning difficulties (LD) apply higher order thinking skills. The authors examined the effect of the 'Prove' strategy, designed to help students use self-questioning to identify, explain and challenge their propositional knowledge, on the achievement of 99 Year 8 students in the USA, 12 of whom had been classified as having LD. The Prove strategy involves the use of a 'graphic procedural facilitator' to aid students in assessing the strategies they used to question and review their knowledge. Before and after instruction in Prove, students completed test items that assessed their self-questioning strategies. The tests applied to different disciplinary areas, allowing the authors to examine how well students generalised the use of the Prove strategy. Student ability and the inclination to use the Prove strategy increased for both groups after the intervention. Regardless of disability status, students who had the weakest skills prior to the intervention benefited the most from the Prove strategy. The students demonstrated improvements in their ability to state a proposition by naming, explaining and defending it against alternative viewpoints, and were able to generalise the strategy across different disciplinary areas. Using procedural learning strategies in the secondary classroom can benefit students with LD; these strategies can prevent teachers having to wait for students to attain particular skills before being able to apply them to classroom learning. Guiding the learning process can increase generalisation, particularly when such strategies are used across all subject areas.
Subject HeadingsInclusive education
United States of America (USA)
Volume 39 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 29–48
Dialogic approaches to group discussions can help students develop the ability to resolve complex issues through engagement in reasoned argument. Through such discussions students acquire an 'argument schema', that is, a notion of what is involved in an organised and rational argument, and learn to apply it to new situations. An approach called collaborative reasoning (CR), which revolves around dialogic inquiry, is one way of helping students develop and refine an argument schema. In a CR discussion, primary students engage in a discussion of 'big questions', open-ended moral or social dilemmas, that arise from a particular text. Unlike traditional teacher-led 'recall and interpretation' approaches, where students are tested on their knowledge of the text, the CR approach involves open participation and shared authority, with all students forming their own judgements and responding to each others' assertions around the central theme or issue raised by the text. Research has indicated that students engaged in CR contribute more to group discussion, engage in more communication with each other, and are far more likely to discuss key issues than students engaged in traditional text discussion. Other research has indicated that when engaged in CR discussions students pick up and use other students' effective argument strategies. Another study found students' level of participation in a CR discussion to be a strong predictor of their performance on an argumentative writing task. The essays of students who had participated in CR discussions contained a greater number of arguments and rebuttals than those of non-CR students, and demonstrated students' ability to consider multiple viewpoints, as well as their ability to generalise and transfer their knowledge. The teaching of argumentation skills should be not be delayed to later years. The authors suggest that CR may also be extended into subject areas such as mathematics and science.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
Group work in education
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