Summer 2010; Pages 4–6
The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has just released the draft K–10 Australian Curriculum in the four learning areas of English, Mathematics, Science and History for national consultation. In this article the CEO of ACARA examines a range of issues related to the Australian Curriculum. The notion of curriculum can be understood as having four components, two of which are to be embodied in the Australian Curriculum. One of these components is the core curriculum, which is intended to equip students with the general capabilities they will need in everyday life, and also with knowledge of the 'big issues of the day'. The other component included is the formal curriculum, which covers 'disciplinary rules, understandings and methods'. The Australian Curriculum does not aim to cover the chosen curriculum, which will be developed by individual teachers and students, or the meta-curriculum, ie the 'activities, events and traditions' used to develop a community of learners and the personal character of individual students. The Australian Curriculum will facilitate 21st-century learning: learning that equips students for life and further learning this century, that encourages skilled information management through ICT, and that encourages social responsibility. It will also support social equity, deep thinking and creative approaches to work. Applying the priorities set out in the Melbourne Declaration, ACARA is coordinating the development of content and achievement standards to scope and sequence the new curriculum against international benchmarks. The Australian Curriculum will set out achievement standards covering content, as well as the levels of knowledge, understanding and skill development expected of students. It will allow room for 'going deep' and for inclusion of local and topical content. Attention to traditional learning areas will be combined with attention to ten general capabilities covering literacy, numeracy, ICT and personal and social skills, as well as to the cross-curricular themes of Indigenous perspectives, Asia, and sustainability. The online format of the Australian Curriculum means that it can be readily updated and reconfigured according to particular educators' needs, for example, by year level or cross-curricular theme. Schools and teachers will be supported by professional learning programs, in which AITSL can be expected to play a central role.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
Volume 9 Number 3; Pages 105–119
It is widely believed that individuals have different learning styles that mark them out as, for example, visual or verbal learners. It is also widely believed that instruction is most effective in the form preferred by the learner, a belief known as a 'meshing hypothesis'. These beliefs have had a major influence in education from preschools to universities, generating an industry around the creation of guides, tests and professional learning packages. It is certainly evident that children and adults have varying preferences about the format in which they wish to receive information, and it is also clear that people have varying aptitudes for different types of thinking. However, educational practices based around learning styles are valid only if they are evaluated through a set of exacting criteria: students must be grouped by their ostensible learning style; each group must be randomly assigned a particular instructional method; all the students must be measured against the same final test; and the results must show that each group of learners benefits most from distinctively different instructional approaches related to particular learning styles. An extensive literature review by the authors has failed to identify research studies that apply these rigorous methods and which, on that basis, support educational approaches targeted to learning styles. On the contrary, evidence challenging the value of learning styles appears in three well-conducted studies. One was by Massa and Mayer, who prepared a computer electronic lesson with different types of help screens targeted at either visual or verbal learners. Another was by Cook et al, whose study compared intuitive and sensory-based learning styles. Constantinidou and Baker set up a laboratory task for adult learners focused on visual and verbal learning styles. The article also discusses two fields of psychological study in which the research methods demanded by the authors have been widely applied, known as aptitude-by-treatment interactions and personality-by-treatment interactions.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Teaching and learning
Psychology of learning
Thought and thinking
Pupil perspectives on the purposes and benefits of studying history in high school: a view from the UK
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
Volume 23 Number 2, March 2009; Pages 355–384
The placement of students into English as a Second Language (ESL) programs may affect their academic achievement and their likelihood of pursuing further study. The authors examine differences in achievement between first- and second-generation migrants of matched backgrounds in the USA, based on whether they undertook streamed or non-streamed classes in ESL or Limited English Proficiency (LEP). Their study drew on data from the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement Study and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Student data from 26 schools, 20 of which served low proportions of immigrant students, and six of which served high proportions of immigrant students, were examined. The results showed that students placed in ESL programs at schools with low minority populations performed significantly below the achievements of ESL students who were placed in mainstream classes. The students in ESL programs in these schools were far less likely to enrol in the advanced classes required for access to tertiary study or to meet other requirements for tertiary admission than their mainstreamed peers. The first-generation students were most significantly affected by ESL streaming. These results may be to do with schools serving small minority populations having fewer resources for ESL teaching, and having fewer qualified ESL teachers. Scheduling constraints may also have limited the variety of classes students could enrol in. In addition, students may have experienced academic marginalisation and lower academic expectations than other students. In contrast, students who were placed in ESL programs in schools with large minority populations achieved better outcomes than their mainstreamed peers. They were more likely to enrol in advanced classes, complete more tertiary entry requirements, achieve higher grades, and fail fewer classes. Second-generation students in these programs derived greater benefits than first-generation students. Schools serving larger minority populations may have more experience in teaching ESL students, as well as more resources and qualified staff. Programs may be more rigorous to ensure the overall performance of the school is high, and students may be more easily socialised into the social mainstream of the school. Despite this, minority students' performance was well below other students' performance, and tertiary entry rates were extremely low. Schools need to ensure that minority students not only have the opportunity to successfully complete secondary school, but also to be sufficiently prepared for possibilities of tertiary study.
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
English as an additional language
United States of America (USA)
Examining teacher evaluation validity and leadership decision making within a standards-based evaluation system
Volume 45 Number 1, February 2009; Pages 34–70
Principal assessments of a teacher's performance do not necessarily correlate with their students' achievement. The authors examined principals' approaches to assessing teachers' performance in order to determine the features that led to an assessment where teaching performance was correlated with student achievement. The participants were eight principals, drawn from a group of 23, whose assessments of teachers' performance were either highly or poorly correlated with student performance. All of the principals worked in a district in the USA that had a policy of mandatory standards-based teacher evaluation. While it was posited that principals' 'will, skill, and context' influenced their assessments, few significant differences in these elements were found between the practices of the two groups of principals. All principals had positive attitudes toward the assessment process, and did not object to having to follow the complex and highly specified teacher evaluation process. They were unconcerned about how accurate their assessments were, believing that accuracy would result after sufficient observation of a teacher. Principals from both the highly correlated and the poorly correlated groups reported having received training in teacher assessment, used tools to facilitate their assessments, and drew on multiple data sources to make their judgements. Some principals from both groups admitted to adjusting scores or being more lenient when provided with additional evidence of teachers' performance. Context, such as the type of students served by the school, or principals' relationships with staff, did not appear to influence assessment. However, several principals mentioned that there was a lack of external oversight or high-stakes consequences surrounding their assessments. This may have influenced the effort put into their assessments. In part due to this lax oversight, principals often adapted the assessment process, using it, for example, to provide positive reinforcement rather than constructive criticism. These issues point to the need for assessment processes to involve clear incentive structures and expectations around acceptable assessment accuracy, as otherwise, low-stakes assessment can facilitate assessor leniency.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
United States of America (USA)
Volume 31 Number 18, December 2009; Pages 2459–2483
Science fairs offer students opportunities to participate in self-directed, open-ended scientific investigations. This opportunity to 'do science' may result in improved scientific and technology literacy, as well as increased motivation toward science. Students' presentations frequently involve high-quality research; reports that are written in an appropriate scientific style, including citations from scientific research; and demonstrate conclusions drawn from rigorous analysis. However, drawing on their experience attending four national science fairs in Canada, the authors note that there are additional issues around the national science fair that require critical review. In particular, the three themes of access, image and recruitment are examined. To qualify for the national science fair, applicants must successfully proceed through local and state fairs. Given that science fairs largely take place outside the curriculum, the applicants who were most likely to advance were those with access to relevant resources. Many of the students at the national fair had links with universities, or parents who worked in related fields, or who could offer assistance. They had access to sophisticated technology at home and outside of the home, and were generally well-spoken and sophisticated. Access to resources may therefore have had a sorting effect on who reached the national science fair. The second theme related to the image of science. Projects that cast science and mathematics in a positive light were much more likely to receive awards, as were projects that had potential commercial applications. In addition, sponsors' logos were visibly placed around the fair venue, and were prominently displayed on entrants' 'team' jackets. Sponsors also handed out merchandise displaying their logos. Sponsors used their presence at the science fair as a promotional campaign, and were keen to link their organisations with high-achieving students. Associated with this was sponsors' use of the science fair ostensibly as a recruitment drive to attract elite students into science programs at particular universities, and eventually into science careers. By offering extrinsic rewards to students, the science fair process may act as a filtering mechanism to encourage high-achieving students, frequently those from advantaged backgrounds, to enter science careers.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsCommercialization of education
'Parallel leadership in an "unparallel" world' – cultural constraints on the transferability of Western educational leadership theories across cultures
Volume 12 Number 4, October 2009; Pages 317–345
Current Western theories of management that dominate the field of school leadership and that emphasise individualism, competitiveness and self-sufficiency may not transfer easily for use in other countries. This is largely to do with their lack of cross-cultural relevance. Using as an example a leadership program called IDEAS, the potential issues around implementing Western-style leadership approaches in schools in Singapore are examined. The IDEAS paradigm, developed by researchers in Australia, is based on three premises: parallel leadership; teachers as leaders; and the principal's role in nurturing leadership among teachers. It has been piloted in three Singaporean schools. One issue was the way that the parallel leadership approach promoted by IDEAS emphasised individual expression. While self-expression is encouraged in the West, it can be 'viewed with disapproval' in a collectivist society such as Singapore. In addition, in an Asian society, communication and open expression may be limited when around those who are not perceived as having 'in-group' status. Compounding this is the high power distance, or the degree of inequality between superior and subordinate, that is commonly seen in Asian societies. Traditionally, leadership in Asian cultures is hierarchical, and input from subordinates can be seen as a challenge to the leader's authority or their 'face'. Face is an important element in preserving group harmony and in avoiding conflict. Subverting leadership hierarchies could result in loss of face, and so norms around inequality and leadership are strictly adhered to through formality and behavioural codes. This is in stark contrast to the low power distance seen in Western cultures, where egalitarian ideals encourage teachers' participation. These cultural differences highlight potential problems that might arise when Western theories around effective leadership approaches are applied without consideration for their potential lack of appropriateness within the target culture. The actual transferability of these theories will vary depending on the target culture and context. It is essential that the cultural assumptions and constraints inherent in these theories be discussed, contested and conveyed.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
An analysis of the relationship between the organizational culture and the performance of staff work groups in schools and the development of an explanatory model
Volume 12 Number 4, October 2009; Pages 389–407
Schools that emphasise work on an identified school development task relating to improving current and future teaching practices are more likely to demonstrate improved student outcomes. The authors examined the organisational cultures of 12 primary schools in Wales that were identified as high-performing despite significant levels of student disadvantage. Pupils, parents and staff were interviewed, and document analysis and observations were also undertaken. The schools were each working toward achieving a primary task. In all cases, this task was to provide effective and enriched teaching and learning, and to continue to improve on this provision. The task was undertaken with the understanding that meeting its goal would have important effects on the lives of the students. Staff were highly motivated and committed to their work, and their values and beliefs were strongly aligned with the primary task. School processes and structures facilitated practices that would allow the primary task to be achieved. Principals were encouraging and supportive, and were seen to embody the values of the school. Frequent opportunities were provided for teachers to enhance and enrich their teaching practices. Self-evaluation and classroom monitoring were common, and PD was highly valued. There were high levels of trust among staff, and emphasis on inclusion, collaboration and shared decision making. 'Reflection in action' processes were used to optimise current teaching approaches and facilitate improvement of future practices. Cultural uniformity was apparent, with little evidence of potentially divisive sub-groups, and staff were often hired on the basis that they would 'fit in'. The wider community was targeted for involvement with the school, and a wide range of extracurricular activities was provided to ensure students could access out-of-classroom learning opportunities. Having a clearly defined primary task with both current and future goals helped link organisational culture and performance. This link was most significant when the task and its interpretation was both meaningful to and shared among staff, and could be enhanced through reflective practice and cultural uniformity.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Researching 'teachers in the news': the portrayal of teachers in the British national and regional press
Volume 37 Number 4, November 2009; Pages 335–347
The media can be an important arena for shaping perceptions of teachers and the issues and challenges they face. To examine media representations of teachers, the authors analysed newspaper headlines in British newspapers from 1991 through to 2005. Using a collocation analysis, they examined the contexts in which the words 'teacher' and 'teachers' appeared. Many of the headlines involved collocations that had negative connotations. These included headlines describing individual teacher misconduct, as well as many headlines that contained words such as 'sacked', 'appeal', 'fears', 'crisis' and 'under siege'. Positive collocations were usually related to teacher training and reform. The portrayal of teachers in newspaper headlines changed markedly between the periods of 1991–1993 and 1996–1998. In the former, teachers were frequently positioned as non-agents and as targets, with headlines tending to use the word 'teacher' as an object of a sentence. Headlines were combative, with teachers being 'told', 'hit by', 'defied' and 'threatened'. However, in the latter period, while the language remains conflict-related, teachers are positioned as agents. They 'object', 'demand' and 'have doubts'. This indicates a shift in the perceptions of teachers from low status and respect to greater credibility and legitimacy. More recent headlines, such as those from 2001–2002, had less focus on discipline and 'bad' teachers, and were more likely to cover issues such as working hours, training, recruitment and job satisfaction. They were notably more sympathetic toward teachers than earlier headlines, with recognition and legitimacy afforded through both the language used and the number of articles dedicated to these issues. The 2003–2005 articles again gave a greater 'voice' to teachers, with headlines tending to reflect teachers' perspectives. The headlines portrayed difficulties experienced by teachers, such as unreasonable performance expectations and issues of student discipline, and tended to be more critical of the wider education context than of teachers themselves.
Subject HeadingsMass media
Teaching and learning
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