A study has examined programs to develop the literacy levels of young students at a school serving a diverse, disadvantaged community. The staff at Blair Athol Primary in Adelaide had observed significant variation between the oral language proficiency of different groups of students. Over one year a teacher-researcher worked with a university academic and other teachers at the school to assess the oral language, vocabulary, phonology and levelled reading ability of 23 children in their first school year. A range of assessment tools and procedures were used. Based on an analysis of the results the teachers set up a play-based program to promote children's spoken literacy. The program was adapted as it progressed. Results were analysed after several months. The researchers identified complex variations in the vocabulary, reading achievement and phonological awareness of children from different cultural backgrounds. Indian students tended to score highly on reading assessments but low on vocabulary. Typically this group of students worked hard, with parental help, on drill and practice activities. The teachers commented that these students' focus on decoding supported their strong early reading performances, but might not equip them adequately for comprehension tasks involving more complex texts in later years. Another group of students was strong on vocabulary but weak on reading. They often had highly literate, affluent parents and literacy-rich home environments; they typically caught up on reading in later years. Children low on both vocabulary and reading typically came from refugee, Indigenous or low-income families. They generally lacked parental support for reading. Their phonological awareness was low, hindering them from segmenting words into distinct sounds. Contrary to expectations, the study did not find a strong relationship between oral language and reading proficiency. It therefore raises questions about the extent to which oral language development forms 'a neat, sequential base' for proficiency in written language. Reading aloud and storytelling provide ways to develop children's vocabulary, phonological awareness and syntax simultaneously. The paper discusses a number of differences between spoken and written language.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Social life and customs
Engaging teachers in investigating their teaching as a linguistic enterprise: the case of comprehension instruction in the context of discussion
Volume 30 Number 1, January 2009; Pages 51–89
Examining transcripts of classroom discussion can help teachers improve the ways that they elicit and support students' understanding of texts. The authors engaged 12 teachers studying for a Masters level reading comprehension methods course in the USA in a practical inquiry process to examine the sorts of planning, questioning and responses that could improve students' comprehension. Prior to any intervention, the teachers' classroom lessons were recorded and analysed by the teachers to see the types of questions and responses they provided students. Their analyses indicated that many teachers usually focused on the retrieval of textual information, and did not encourage elaboration or reasoning in students' responses. They were unlikely to guide students' questioning to build on other students' responses. The teachers reported that they had little formal training in cultivation of class discussion, and that their preparation for discussions was often cursory and informal. To help develop these skills, the teachers were trained in open questioning practices designed to help students explain, connect and question information in texts. They were also given planning guides that provided models for analysing classroom texts in order to guide more in-depth discussion, and for articulating and meeting learning goals. Analysis of their subsequent text discussion lessons demonstrated that the teachers were now less likely to use lower-level forms of questioning, such as asking students to repeat information from the text, or to give personal opinions. They were more likely to ask students to explain what was happening in the text, to connect textual information with prior knowledge, and to probe students' knowledge. They guided discussions more explicitly to ensure that students were building an understanding of the important ideas of the text, and began to ask for further elaboration and reasoning when eliciting students' opinions. However, teachers still struggled to guide students to integrate information from different parts of the text, and to encourage students to connect their perspectives and observations with those of other students. Transcripts can be used to identify pedagogical weaknesses around text analysis, questioning and scaffolding, from which teachers can develop a professional learning plan.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
United States of America (USA)
Developments in technology are resulting in changes in literacy that educators must address in their classrooms. Students are currently making wide use of digital media in ways that fall outside the traditional curriculum's notions of 'good writing', and teachers must find ways of teaching students to develop the skills to succeed in these complex online spaces. The last major shift in the teaching of writing led to 'an emphasis on the "writing process"', but what is needed now is a shift to a writing pedagogy that addresses digital writing environments, multimodal texts, and composing work with a wider purpose and audience. Schools must integrate these shifts into the curriculum across all year levels and disciplines, and must ensure that teachers are provided with professional development opportunities to develop their skills around digital literacy to guide them in incorporating innovative approaches to literacy into the classroom. Teachers need to address the fact that students are now increasingly writing with authentic purpose for a wide online audience, and are using a variety of media in their compositions. Collaboration should be encouraged. Students should be taught to navigate online environments with a view to becoming critical readers and creators. Inquiry-based writing is one approach to encourage students to develop their critical skills. In some classrooms, students are encouraged to write blogs and Twitter-like updates, as well as larger discussion pieces that integrate various media and invite feedback and discussion from other users. Multimodal compositions around a particular topic can be uploaded to websites such as Youth Voices or Drupal. However, teachers should be aware of the potential risks of working online, and should ensure that this awareness is passed on to learners and families through carefully considered policies around internet use both in and out of school, and seek parental sign-off. Effective integration of online writing and social networking into classrooms can help students develop their critical, creative and communicative skills, and to become active citizens.
Computers in society
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
The paper examines the current Australian Government's agenda for school education, and the extent to which it amounts to a 'revolution'. It is based on an analysis of policy documents, government reports, and ministerial media statements. Five themes are presented. The first refers to processes of policy making. The history of Australian Government's involvement in school education policy is traced, from the start of Commonwealth school funding in 1963 through to the subsequent establishment of national programs and collaborative bodies and agreements. The current, collaborative approach to education policy is 'a breath of fresh air', however the author states that the 'fragility' of these organisational arrangements should be recognised. The second theme relates to stated purposes and aims, and discusses the varying emphases which different Australian governments have given to the public and to the private purposes assigned to schooling. The author notes that the current Government stresses education's role in developing human capital: he considers this emphasis to be too narrow, but he applauds the Government's pursuit of social equity in education. The third theme is funding and resources, including recurrent funding of schools; the Government's substantial spending on school buildings and digital resources; and specific purpose payments, including the National Education Agreement, and associated National Partnerships around teacher quality, literacy and numeracy, and low-SES communities. The author welcomes this spending while raising concerns over equity and some aspects of delivery. The fourth theme is the official curriculum. The rationale presented for a national curriculum is critiqued, particularly in relation to the value assigned to the national curriculum as a means to address the challenges posed by globalisation. The author also queries whether sufficient connection is made 'between the stated goals of the curriculum and the curriculum itself'. Related issues include the place of specific subject areas, and the nature of cross-disciplinary learning and of the general capabilities to be encouraged in students. Other issues include how the curriculum can contribute to the achievement of social equity, and timelines for the introduction of the national curriculum. Theme five is accountability. Models of accountability based on markets, competition, standardised testing and incentives such as performance pay are contrasted to models relying on diagnostic testing, teacher professionalism and collaboration.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Volume 7 Number 1, 2009; Pages 31–40
The notion that modern youth are 'tech-savvy' in terms of learning has been tested in recent research that carries implications for school education. An anonymous web survey was completed by 533 students aged 18–22 at two Australian universities. Interviews were then conducted with 40 of the students, who also completed two information tasks, one academic, the other recreational. Participants' activity was captured through photographs and through software that recorded their computer entries and 'think aloud' comments. Almost all interviewed students used the internet heavily, and had done so since late childhood, although a minority disliked doing so for educational purposes. Rather than being blanket users of technology, they tended to use ICT to satisfy specific, changing needs and purposes, for example, those who used ICT for internet telephony were a distinct group from those who used it for peer-to-peer file sharing. Few conducted banking or shopping online. They generally read from printouts rather than on-screen. They were confident with ICT and open to exploring new technologies. However, on the search tasks, 20–30% struggled to collect, manage and evaluate information, and to find the same information twice. They relied heavily on Wikipedia and Google. Many struggled to use databases, and were unaware whether they were in a closed database or the open web environment. When on Google they rarely went beyond the first page of results, and assumed that material they could not locate was unavailable electronically. They tended to rely on simple keyword searches and to accept the first apparently relevant results. They also tended to use the concepts of relevance and authoritativeness 'almost interchangeably'. Students' selection of search results was very fast, indicating a reflex action. It appears that students do not spare time to read summaries or other possibly relevant information on a page. The culture of use they have adopted socially to search for incidental personally relevant information has become deeply entrenched. This pattern of use is transferred to academic contexts, overriding, for example, advice provided in university courses around sourcing specific information. This culture of use derives not only from the experience of the technology itself but also from the fact that information seeking skills are not taught effectively in the school years, which itself reflects acceptance of myths that 'digital natives' do not need such instruction.
Subject HeadingsInformation literacy
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Social life and customs
Teaching girls to tinker
9 November 2009
Recent tests in the USA indicate that girls have closed the gender gap with boys in mathematics, but girls still represent less than a quarter of tertiary graduates in engineering and only 15% of those in computer science. Common explanations for girls' low participation in these fields include lack of female role models, girls' aversion to the stereotype of the 'isolated geek', and their preference for the specific aspects of science involved in helping other people. A further reason may lie in the fact that 'girls don't tinker'. Girls see computers as means to other ends, while boys are interested in technologies and technical processes in themselves, and thus are more likely to tinker. Such experimentation may involve programming, where they develop an intuitive understanding of computer logic, while experimentation with hardware helps develop mechanical reasoning, a skill with one of the largest gender gaps. Girls' reluctance to tinker seems to stem from lack of social expectation that they will be, or need to be, proficient in technical matters. This expectation can be seen when adults intervene quickly to assist them when they struggle with technology. The social messages girls receive lead them to 'be afraid of doubt, investigation and experimentation'. This tendency is reinforced further by 'an education system that prizes outcome over process'. Teachers should create opportunities for girls to tinker that are free of the pressures of deadlines and marks. Parents should set up areas where girls can play with broken appliances or sundry materials, and can also invite daughters to observe when they themselves have to tinker in the home. At school, girls should be encouraged to work with a partner when experimenting, as research indicates that such collaboration builds their confidence in skills such as computer programming. The technical activities assigned to girls should be socially meaningful and valuable. The article is available via free subscription to Education Week.
Subject HeadingsGirls' education
Computers in society
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
A guide to inquiry-based learning
Volume 44 Number 1, 2009; Pages 4–11
Student-centred and driven by learners' own questions and interests, inquiry-based learning offers a way to engage students in meaningful investigations. They can be tailored to suit different age groups and subject areas, are well-suited to collaborative learning, and acknowledge and validate the perspectives and knowledge of students, including those from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds. When conducting an inquiry-based learning experience, teachers should act as leaders and guides, modelling appropriate questioning practices and inviting students' input. Investigations should be around open-ended but answerable questions, and should not be based on value judgements or solely around personal, internal exploration. Factual questions are more appropriate to inquiry than interpretive or evaluative questions. It is important that teachers carefully plan for inquiry-based tasks before implementing them. They should fit into wider program structures, learning goals and plans; planning should also cover scope, allotted time, topical focus, age appropriateness, and use and availability of resources. To encourage collaboration, teachers should guide individuals or groups of students to conduct their inquiry around a broad theme. However, students should still retain 'ownership' of their inquiry project, which should be a topic about which they are genuinely interested. Students should be focused not solely on the answer to their question, but on finding sources that could provide them with information that should be considered in answering their question. Students should be encouraged to examine a variety of sources, such as books, the internet and experts, and to develop critical evaluation skills in order to better assess the information they find. They should also be guided in evaluating the applicability of the information they find to their research topic. In reporting findings from an inquiry-based learning task, the emphasis should be not on recounting facts, but on showing how a student reached a particular solution. The final report may take a variety of forms as appropriate, and due to the personal and self-directed nature of inquiry, should be presented when students are satisfied with the answer.
Inquiry based learning
Group work in education
Volume 39 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 69–89
Efforts to implement educational reform in the Asia-Pacific region have led to 'reform syndrome', the rapid introduction of multiple initiatives and programs influenced by competition with neighbouring countries and without adequate consideration for a country's own particular cultural and contextual conditions. This has affected the teaching profession through increased competition, greater accountability, increased workload, and perceptions that their roles have been deprofessionalised. Three notable paradigm shifts in teacher management can be identified. The first wave, the 1980s–1990s, focused on internal teacher effectiveness, determined by teachers' ability to achieve the planned goals and tasks of knowledge delivery. However, results were often limited, leading to the implementation of policies that emphasised school and teacher accountability in terms of the diverse needs of stakeholders. Elements of this second wave included monitoring and review, choice, marketisation, decentralisation and performance-based funding. However, high levels of control, deprofessionalised teachers and short-term approaches conflicted with the need for long-term professional development. In contrast, the current third wave is future-oriented, emphasising the need for students to develop multiple intelligences and the high-level competences demanded by new technologies. Teachers are seen as facilitators of lifelong learning, and as such their own learning needs to be supported. The author argues that in this context, a holistic approach to recruiting and managing teachers and overseeing their professional development is needed. High-performing school systems in countries such as Australia, Finland and Singapore emphasise the intertwined aspects of attracting quality applicants, developing them into effective educators and ensuring high-quality instruction for all learners. Raising the status of the teaching profession and providing higher starting salaries can help attract high-quality candidates into teaching, and ensure better prospects for teaching as a career. Teachers can be developed through effective pre-service education programs and relevant and targeted ongoing professional development, and empowered and retained by working conditions that encourage effective performance and adaptability. Education systems and policymakers need to acknowledge current shifts toward decentralisation, development and personal autonomy when developing appropriate strategies for teacher management in the current educational context.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Number 761, September 2009
The Reading Apprenticeship (RA) professional development program is designed to assist secondary teachers in providing literacy instruction relevant to their subject specialism. The program's effectiveness is being tested by CRESST through an evaluation involving history and biology teachers. The paper reports on early findings related to the history teachers. The participants' integration of literacy into their teaching was rated using a 'teacher assignment instrument', which required them to document some aspects of their lesson design, to submit samples of 'high, medium and low quality student work' and to submit handouts and texts they had given to students. This method was deemed a more effective measure than teacher surveys, which rely on self-reported data, and classroom observations, which tend to be costly and therefore small-scale. The participants were asked to submit an assignment at the start and end of an academic year. The CRESST teacher assignment instrument, or rubric, measured RA implementation through three constructs: literacy instruction, content instruction and monitoring of student learning. Each construct contained several dimensions, broken down into qualities and domains. For example, the literacy instruction construct included the dimension of 'reading opportunities', which was designed 'to evaluate the degree to which the teacher used this assignment as a vehicle to provide students with the opportunity to read history texts'. The dimension of reading opportunities in turn included the qualities of the 'role of reading, duration of reading, and text variety'. It also contained the domains of centrality, (the most heavily weighted criterion, which 'considers how central reading is to the overall assignment'), time-on-task (which considers 'whether an appropriate amount of time was set aside for the reading task') and, given lowest weighting, the chance to work with a variety of text types including letters and newspapers. The teacher assignment rubric was also test with a control group of teachers who did not take part in the RA program. Early results indicated that the RA teachers displayed better integration of literacy instruction on 6 out of 11 dimensions of the rubric. The importance of these particular dimensions constituted 'strong evidence' that participating teachers were integrating key aspects of the RA program into their classroom practices. The rubric 'has proven to be a successful method of measuring teacher practice'.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Volume 1 Number 1, 2009; Pages 1–14
In recent years, the nature of science and STSE (science-technology-society-environment) approaches to science have shifted towards a focus on socio-scientific issues (SSI). SSI approaches help students develop academically helpful habits of mind, critical thinking and moral reasoning skills, and help empower students as knowledgeable decision-makers. However, the author argues that such approaches need to be extended further to encourage students to become active, politicised agents for change. He proposes an issues-based approach to SSI designed to challenge students to confront real-world issues. The approach involves a mix of local and global issues around seven areas of concern, including those of human health; land, water and mineral resources; and ethics and social responsibility. Students would progress through four levels. At Level 1 students develop an understanding about the societal impact of scientific and technological change. Level 2 involves recognising that scientific and technological development are linked with wealth, power and the exploitation of particular interests. The use of case studies around issues such as the Bhopal disaster could be used to promote critical awareness and discussion at both of these levels. Levels 3 and 4 involve, respectively, developing students' views and values, and helping them prepare for and take action on particular issues. Students should be emotionally engaged in SSI issues, and should feel personally empowered to effect change. They should be encouraged to take both direct and indirect action on issues. Indirect action should be authentic: rather than writing an imaginary letter to a newspaper, students should instead be encouraged to write a real letter to a real newspaper. While this type of issues-based curriculum could not easily replace current curriculums, it could be used to complement current approaches to science learning, helping nurture a generation of active, scientifically literate citizens.
Key Learning AreasScience
Volume 7 Number 1, 2009; Pages 26–30
The capacity of social software to engage students in learning has been explored in a 2007 study undertaken on behalf of DEECD. Social media offer students opportunities to write for authentic purposes and 'real-world' readers, and can induce students to think critically about their writing. The ability to draw on multimedia for communication may motivate reluctant writers, while the social aspects of these technologies can help students, particularly distance learners, overcome feelings of isolation and alienation. However there is a need to maintain protocols to ensure that meaning is adequately conveyed. This can be an issue with technology such as wikis, which are characterised by loose and collaborative text structures. The current study examined how both students and teachers could be supported in developing effective online learning communities. It involved three public schools in Victoria – one primary, one secondary and one K–12 – all of which had been successful in using ICT for learning. Nine teachers and 23 students were interviewed. The teachers considered their principals' support essential in developing effective online learning communities, as well as in developing whole-school, long-term strategies that covered ICT infrastructure and technical support for teachers. Principals were also seen as crucial in cultivating interschool partnerships and in creating opportunities for early adopters to provide PD to colleagues and to run programs embedded in the school curriculum. In the online communities evaluated through the study, teachers acted as either the main contributor or as the moderator of student contributions. Although not ICT 'geeks', the teachers had been motivated to 'get started' with ICT, and actively participated in online global professional learning communities. They encouraged co-learning between students and two-way communication with parents. Students valued the way that the online communities extended their personal networks within the school, and commented that it was sometimes easier to communicate with their teacher online, where they did not compete for attention, could be less formal, had time to revise their questions, and did not risk embarrassment before peers. They understood issues around safety and privacy, including the need not to disclose their own or peers' personal details online.
Teaching and learning
Family Group Conferences – are they an effective and viable way of working with attendance and behaviour problems in schools?
Volume 35 Number 5, 16 April 2009; Pages 205–220
In Britain, Family Group Conferences (FGCs) have been introduced as one way to ameliorate problems around behaviour and truancy. The value of FGC meetings, which involve families and welfare professionals, stems from their efforts to recognise families' responsibilities in working with their children, to empower families, and to be culturally sensitive. Using surveys and interviews, and attendance data of 78 students, the author examined to what degree FGCs resulted in improved outcomes for students compared with traditional response channels such as the Education Welfare Service (EWS). Professionals' perceptions of FGCs were generally positive; they were seen by many as a useful option to address attendance and bullying, while EWS was seen as better for addressing suspension, expulsion and behavioural problems. However, while FGCs were effective in some cases, they were ineffective in others. For example, it was often difficult to organise an FGC meeting with timing that suited both families and professionals, and in many instances meetings with referred students and families were never convened. Furthermore, data indicated that students' overall attendance did not necessarily improve as a result of FGC interventions. Coordinators acknowledged that this was due partly to the fact that the students involved were often 'last resort' cases, and that FGC plans required the cooperation of all participants, including families, students and professionals. In addition, in cases where increased attendance was seen, it was often followed by subsequent suspension, often because increased attendance did not address students' often pre-existing behavioural problems, with which schools had difficulty coping. While the principles underpinning the working of FGCs were popular among some professionals and are supported by the literature, FGCs were not necessarily more effective than existing EWS services. However, these principles, such as the use of family and student mediation and participation, may be useful to schools developing approaches to address behaviour management and attendance problems.
Subject HeadingsParent and child
There are no Conferences available in this issue.