The challenges for history in the new curriculum
Summer 2010; Pages 21–22
The author examines issues surrounding the place of history in the draft national curriculum, and then examines the rationale and current state of development of the history curriculum itself. History joins English, mathematics and science as one of the four subjects in the current draft national curriculum. Like maths and science, history is often assigned to non-specialist teachers. This is not due to a shortage of teachers trained in the discipline, but to the 'low premium' that most education systems place on expertise in the subject when hiring teachers, assuming that 'anyone can take a history class'. The lack of specialist history teachers will not be addressed through the current program of massive infrastructure spending, but rather through the appropriate training of new graduates and existing teachers. The draft national curriculum has been built up from first principles: the need to develop a foundation of knowledge, skills and values, and the need to cater to all levels of ability and to diverse student backgrounds. The curriculum is also designed to prepare students for globalisation, rapid technological change, social diversity and sustainability. It pays close attention to the nature of historical inquiry and a world history perspective. These two elements of the curriculum serve a range of purposes. Firstly, they teach students to relate to unfamiliar types of people and situations, and to penetrate the representations that nations and social movements weave around themselves. Secondly, they offer a way to counteract perceptions that Australian history is typically taught in a repetitive, unimaginative way that is often accompanied by 'facile moralism'. Thirdly, Australian history itself is better understood in a world context. For example, Aboriginal ecology and culture can be understood more deeply if students also learn, for example, how and why agriculture developed. The history framing paper developed by ACARA proposes that in Years 3 to 6 history should be taught 'as a distinctive form of knowledge, albeit within an integrated curriculum framework', including local, regional, national and global contexts. The curriculum in Years 7 to 10 will cover the nature of history, and forms of historical representation, using a combination of overviews and depth studies. On the advice of ACARA, units are now also being prepared for Years 11 and 12.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
A conflict in your head: an exploration of trainee science teachers' subject matter knowledge development and its impact on teacher self-confidence
Volume 31 Number 11, July 2009; Pages 1529–1562
Science teachers' subject matter knowledge (SMK) is presumed to influence the quality of their classroom teaching. However, in Britain secondary science teachers are often expected to teach across all science disciplines, despite usually having tertiary qualifications in only one particular area of science. Using questionnaires and interviews, the authors examined differences in the ways 71 trainee science teachers prepared for and taught classes within and outside their subject specialism. Respondents indicated that their preparation for classes within their specialism was generally less intense and less formal than preparation for classes in another discipline. When teaching within their specialism, teachers drew heavily upon their own prior knowledge, and reported consulting other sources only to 'refresh' their knowledge. They were unlikely to consult with other teachers in class preparation. In contrast, when preparing for classes outside their specialism, respondents undertook more detailed preparation, consulting experienced colleagues, practising experiments before lessons, and learning necessary SMK. The quality of the teachers' lessons within and outside their specialism indicated that a high level of SMK did not necessarily translate to pedagogical content knowledge. In fact, teachers' intense SMK preparation for classes outside their specialism resulted in lessons that included more appropriate activities, met relevant learning objectives, and improved their confidence. In contrast, some teachers indicated that their more casual approach to teaching within their specialism, due to their confidence in their SMK, resulted in poorer lessons. Some respondents found it difficult to simplify and transfer their knowledge, and to streamline their lessons. The teachers who taught equally well both within and outside their specialism were those who had linked their SMK with high-quality activities presented in a suitable format. New and trainee teachers therefore should be encouraged to remediate weak SMK by seeking high-quality support, including from experienced colleagues, when teaching outside their specialism, and should be encouraged to seek support in translating their more specialised SMK into appropriate pedagogical approaches.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Teaching and learning
Would you want to talk to a scientist at a party? High school students' attitudes to school science and to science
Volume 31 Number 14, September 2009; Pages 1975–1998
Enrolment levels in post-compulsory physical science classes are in decline in Britain. To determine potential reasons for this decline, the authors examined students' attitudes toward science in school and science in the wider society, as well as changes in students' attitudes toward science between the ages of 11 and 16. Data were collected through a Likert-style survey with results supplemented with students' written comments. The participants were 285 secondary students in England and Wales who were aged either 11, 14 or 16. Students' interest in science and scientific careers was found to decrease significantly between the ages of 11 and 14 years, with chemistry faring worse than biology, and physics the least popular of the sciences. Students' interest in non-school science also decreased with age; they became less inclined to read about science or watch science programs. While they acknowledged that science careers offered valuable employment opportunities and good pay, the students believed that science careers were 'boring', and struggled to identify with scientists. Other reasons given for their disinclination to pursue science were their perceptions of science as not relevant to their future career aspirations, perceptions of physical science subjects as difficult, and the fact that older students who had to complete high-stakes external assessments felt that they could achieve better grades in other non-science subjects. While about a third of students felt that science was an important part of a general education, many felt that science was overrepresented in the curriculum. Students, female students in particular, noted the impact that their teachers' level of enthusiasm for the subject had on their own enjoyment of science. Younger students also valued it when teachers made them think, and when they employed a range of classroom activities. The ages 11 to 14 were found to be crucial in shaping students' perceptions of science, and efforts should therefore be made to give students of this age opportunities to explore science through a range of activities, and ensure that classroom science is linked with students' lives. Students widely reported enjoying science when it was set in real-world contexts; it would be helpful if such contextualised science were also explicitly linked to work within particular scientific careers. School-based factors can also be influential in improving students' attitudes toward science. An expanded version of this article can be found free online on the University of York website.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Volume 17 Number 4, November 2009; Pages 403–418
The number of women in the Netherlands who have careers in science and technology remains low, despite efforts to attract females into these areas. To examine the values young Dutch people consider essential in their future careers, and develop recommendations for improving girls' perceptions of technology careers, the authors interviewed 26 students of either gender aged between 15 and 17 years. Students' responses were analysed in terms of 'career anchors', core values and orientations that represent a significant influence on students' future career and subject choices. All of the students could be divided in terms of one or more career anchors. The most common career anchor was the 'functional' anchor, where individuals valued having expertise in a particular type of job. The 'stability' and 'service' anchors were also very common among both groups of students. Respectively, these anchors related to valuing jobs that offered safe and secure long-term roles, and jobs that offered students a way to achieve certain ideals, such as improving the environment. Service anchors were relatively common among female students, who would often justify their interest in science or technology with a service component. Personal identity, that is, whether students could 'see' themselves in a given profession, was also significant. Some students also had secondary or tertiary anchors, such as a functional anchor complemented by a 'lifestyle' anchor. Students' stated career anchors varied significantly within gender groups, indicating that boys and girls were attracted to particular careers for the same reasons. To encourage students of either gender to pursue study of the sciences and of technology, efforts should be made to match particular technical professions with a range of career anchors, and to highlight how technical careers are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, and therefore cater to a wide range of career anchors. Efforts should be made to challenge perceptions of technology as being 'masculine' in nature. However, measures aimed at increasing the representation of women within science and technology careers should also acknowledge the differences between individual girls' career anchors rather than attempting to appeal only to those that have been commonly perceived as being important to women.
Key Learning AreasScience
Volume 17 Number 1, February 2010; Pages 59–75
Queensland has a long history of externally moderated assessment at the senior school levels, but it is only recently that defined standards and teacher moderation of assessment have been introduced in Years 4–10. Teachers who previously used curriculum outcomes as developmental markers must now use standards to grade and assess students. However, these teachers have no formal training in using standards for grading purposes. Using interviews and video recordings, the authors examined how 15 teachers in a professional development session worked together in small groups to assess student work using the new standards. The teachers were given a series of support materials including student samples of different letter grade standards, annotated student work samples, a handbook for making grading judgements, and an information sheet to guide them through the reviewing process. The teachers were to compare their grading judgements and use evidence to justify their claims. Contrary to expectations, the support materials hindered rather than simplified the judgement process, and did not lead to shared processes or shared understandings about assessment. Individual teachers valued the different support materials to varying degrees. For example, while some teachers drew on the guide when marking work, others preferred to compare student work with the pre-graded samples. While some teachers adhered to the authority of the guide, others preferred to draw on their own knowledge of teaching or of their students when making assessments. For example, some teachers gave students the 'benefit of the doubt' when grading material. The teachers also struggled with some key definitions and with how to use the materials, and how to reach an overall grade after assessing individual criteria. This highlighted the need for the provision of clear guidelines around support materials. In addition, the stated standards also came into conflict with the teachers' personal standards and expectations relating to student achievement. When producing guidelines for standards-based assessment, common frameworks of reference for assessment should be clearly defined and disseminated, and teachers' use of materials and of their own knowledge should be taken into consideration.
Teaching and learning
Volume 39 Number 4, December 2009; Pages 407–422
The teaching of critical thinking skills in social science classes can be constrained by contextual factors. The author examined how social science teachers in Singapore responded to new curriculum requirements that encourage the teaching of critical thinking skills in order to prepare students for the requirements of global citizenship. The participants were 24 social studies teachers enrolled in a Master of Arts in Social Sciences. Data were drawn from their responses to questions posted on an online bulletin board. Three major tensions regarding the teaching of critical thinking were identified by the teachers. The first of these was lack of class time in which to encourage critical and creative thinking. Preparing for high-stakes examinations meant that teachers were pressured to cover the syllabus and teach to the test. The teachers felt that where critical thinking was introduced, it was reduced to simple formulae that students could use in examination contexts. Another critical tension was Singapore's 'Out of Bounds' markers, a term introduced by the government to reflect the limits of what was appropriate for public discussion. While some teachers felt that they needed to push these boundaries, many argued that there were potentially serious consequences for doing so. The markers, real or perceived, influenced the degree to which teachers could engage in critical discourse. Some were concerned about consequences, while others felt that the boundaries, while limiting free speech critical thinking, were for the common good. A third issue related to the teachers' role as politically neutral civil servants. The teachers followed an unwritten behavioural code where a critique of power structures was inappropriate, and felt that their role was to exercise 'social responsibility'. Their perceptions of being politically neutral affected their beliefs about the role of critical thinking in the classroom, as well as how it could be enacted. While government rhetoric called for the introduction of critical thinking skills, it simultaneously constrained it through policies and practices that limited teacher agency and decision making.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
Teaching and learning
Volume 29 Number 3, July 2009; Pages 307–320
Leadership 'apprenticeships' and internships offer valuable on-the-job learning opportunities for employees moving into a leadership role. Prospective leaders can develop their skills through studying effective leaders' approaches, through modelling, and through their own trial and error within the leadership context. The author examined a principal trainee program in Britain where 20 principal aspirants undertook a year-long apprenticeship working with the existing principal and leadership team of a particular school. Interviews with the apprentices and their host principals were used to examine perceptions of learning points, benefits and challenges faced during their participation in the program. These were found to vary based on the different school contexts, and on the needs of the individual apprentices. It was found that consideration of the nature of the placements was essential; apprentices benefited the most when assigned to a school context appropriate to their learning needs. For example, some apprentices appreciated seeing how things were done in a well-run school, while others found that in these situations there was little to learn. Apprentices reported a variety of learning experiences. The expectations of some apprentices were raised, and they developed clearer understandings of the intersection between school culture and teaching and learning. Other apprentices referred to learning points that related to values, confidence, resilience, reflection, relationship-building, and the importance of effective leadership. However, while some benefited from modelling of quality leadership, others were given first-hand experience of 'what not do to', or were not given opportunities to make the most of their skills. Host principals were generally positive about the extra leadership capacity and new ideas that apprentices represented, but some were frustrated by apprentices who were felt to have made insufficient contributions. Some host principals were also unhappy about apprentices taking leave to attend training sessions. Quality leadership apprentice programs require thoughtful planning, careful coordination with schools, and quality supervision and mentoring by knowledgeable experts. A school culture that encourages leadership development and learning, and that emphasises reflection, is also critical.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
Volume 12 Number 4, October 2009; Pages 347–365
With numbers of refugee students increasing in the USA, schools and school leaders need to find ways to encourage the involvement of refugee parents in their children's education. Drawing on interviews with staff from three schools in Wisconsin, the authors examine staff members' perceptions of barriers experienced by Hmong refugee parents, as well the schools' strategies to engage these parents in their children's learning. One major barrier to parental involvement was parents' low English-language proficiency and their low literacy levels in both English and Hmong. Strategies to mitigate this issue included hiring bilingual facilitators who could contact parents using the telephone or in person. There were concerns that parents' language and literacy skills, as well as their lack of knowledge about norms of parenting in the USA and about the school system and culture, made them feel ill-prepared to meaningfully engage in their children's schooling. These problems were compounded by the fact that parents often worked long hours in multiple jobs, and were often not home to help their children with school-related issues. Another issue was the fact that Hmong parents were seen as tending not to take an active role in their children's schooling, but rather simply to defer to teachers' judgement. This deferential behaviour related both to cultural differences and to Hmong parents' lack of experience with formal education settings. The schools used their bilingual facilitators to act as brokers to improve communication between the school and parents. The facilitators encouraged participation by inviting parents to attend parent–teacher interviews, and by running workshops and information sessions relating to different issues relevant to parenting and education, such as school rules and regulations. One school developed links with an existing Hmong community centre that ran evening literacy classes for parents. The centre also helped build family and school ties through various programs and initiatives. These programs improved parents' confidence in dealing with school personnel and education-related issues. A handbook for Hmong parents was also developed by one school. While parental engagement is a crucial factor in improving student outcomes, refugee parents should also be given opportunities to be included in decision making, and to engage in authentic interaction with schools.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Parent and teacher
School and community
Social life and customs
Volume 12 Number 4, January 2010; Pages 409–433
Teacher Leader (TL) programs where nominated expert teachers provide school-based mentoring and assistance to their colleagues can improve teaching and learning outcomes. Drawing on interviews, observations and achievement data, the authors examined the effects of a TL program in an extremely disadvantaged middle school in the USA. The TL program participants were exemplary teachers who had previously taught at the school, but who had been retrained to become full-time mentors and coaches to other teachers at the school. The teachers being mentored by the TLs were mostly inexperienced teachers new to teaching. The TLs' new roles involved mentoring these teachers, modelling high-quality lessons, providing professional development, and holding lesson planning sessions. They also conducted classroom observations and teacher assessments, and encouraged teachers to use student achievement data to guide teaching and to improve student outcomes. Assessment of the mentored teachers' pedagogical skills indicated significant improvements after a year of coaching and mentoring by the TLs. All teachers made gains, especially in their ability to facilitate higher-order thinking and reasoning, and in connecting students' learning with real-life experience. Other improvements were also found in improving students' motivation, lesson structure quality, and in classroom atmosphere. Mid-level teachers experienced the greatest gains in encouraging self-directed and relevant learning. The newer teachers significantly improved their ability to focus on critical thinking and questioning, as well as their feedback skills, and their ability to encourage greater understanding. Interviews with TLs indicated that they found the program very rewarding. They found the TL skill-development sessions, the quality teaching frameworks they were provided with, and their relative autonomy beneficial. However, they initially struggled with the very steep learning curve, and with how to diplomatically address issues of poor teaching. Teachers who received mentoring appreciated the efforts of TLs, and were grateful for the lesson modelling and plans they provided. There were some initial trust issues around whether TLs' assessments would be used for high-stakes performance reporting. However, over time, the TL project created a collaborative environment that positively influenced teaching practices and school climate, and resulted in improved student achievement in literacy and numeracy.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
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