Aligning curriculum with the goals of schooling
Education policy in Australia recognises that young people need the opportunity to acquire social, political and cultural awareness, and a global outlook. Such awareness is most likely to mature during the post-compulsory years by which time students have had the chance to develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions required. At present, however, only a small minority of senior secondary students take the subjects that help them understand society, such as art, science, literature, politics, economics and cultural studies. The design of the national curriculum should address this problem. As an initial step, consideration is needed as to how studies mandated at the senior secondary level can cover these essential aspects of learning. The design of senior subjects also needs to be considered. It is difficult for students to acquire a broad understanding of the sciences, humanities and the arts through narrow and specialised subjects. One option for overcoming this problem is to develop a small range of broader subjects that integrate a range of 'big ideas' relevant to a range of disciplines. Another issue is the timing of such studies. It may be best to spread them across Years 10–12, or else to cover them in Years 10–11, with Year 12 given over to specialised subjects. The latter option would 'maintain a common curriculum focus through to Year 11, when students are becoming more mature learners', give greater weight to Year 10, and allow Year 12 students to attend to the pressures of high-stakes competitive assessments. A related concern is the proportion of time that senior secondary students should be required to spend at each year level on the acquisition of social and global understandings. Students also vary in their needs, interests and levels of ability in the senior secondary years. To allow for these variations, students should be allowed to engage with social and global issues at standard, intermediate or advanced levels.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
International supports for building bridges to improved achievement for students
The paper examines the value of the international assessments PISA and PIRLS for informing literacy education, and considers the difficulties in comparing assessments between different populations. One major problem in comparing assessments is the diversity of populations and systems of governance in different countries. There are differences in the financing of education, including total government spending, allocation between government and non-government sectors, and personal expenses to parents; starting ages; the degree of centralisation, and standardisation, of education; the prevailing political climate; the demographic diversity of the population; and the compulsory years of schooling. Another set of problems surrounds the data produced by international assessments. Issues include sampling procedures, language and translation, and the diversity and distribution of the population. Differences also exist in terms of the prevailing cultural interpretations of childhood; retention rates; variations in number of days at school per year; the ability mix in classrooms; students' experiences of poverty and violence; and the importance publicly assigned to the tests themselves in different countries. The interpretation and use of the data from these tests raises further issues. Data can be misinterpreted, 'used selectively to provide the rationale for inappropriate practices', or used to distract attention from the impact of SES on academic achievement. Interpretation is heavily influenced by the mass media, which creates pressure for rapid decision making. The assessments' emphasis on large-scale quantitative research tends to downgrade attention to less measurable values such as artistic talent. Despite these limitations, international assessments are used heavily by policy makers in many countries, creating a consensus that is hard to challenge. The paper briefly examines the implications of these arguments for the interpretation of NAPLAN results. While there are limitations to international assessment results, educators can still apply them to validate 'many things they already know through intuition and experience', such as the existence of specific groups of students needing extra support. PISA in particular has also been valuable in identifying factors influencing literacy achievement. Factors include strong interest in reading, particularly non-fiction sources such as magazines, and wide use of well-resourced libraries. The International Reading Association (IRA) has also provided a range of professional development resources that identify factors associated with high literacy achievement, and highlight ways to improve students' literacy (Editorial note: IRA publications are available via the IRA catalogue and through Education Services Australia).
Subject HeadingsEducation research
Days of their lives: a mixed-methods, descriptive analysis of the men and women at work in the principal's office
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Recruiting new teachers to urban school districts: what incentives will work?
Volume 4 Number 8, August 2009; Pages 1–13
Attracting and retaining high-quality teachers in low-SES inner city areas in the USA remains a challenge, and urban districts are being encouraged to provide financial incentives for teachers to take on roles in challenging schools. However, findings from research relating to the effects of financial incentives on teachers' job choices have been mixed. To determine the influence of salary and other factors on job choice, the authors conducted focus groups with 40 pre-service teachers in Wisconsin. Drawing on the themes raised in the focus groups, the authors then devised and conducted a survey examining whether new teachers would accept any of a range of jobs characterised by different levels of pay, working conditions, and the composition of the student body. The respondents were 254 final-year pre-service teachers in Wisconsin. Initial results from the focus groups indicated that many respondents were willing to consider working in a range of schools, including high-needs schools, and that they drew on word-of-mouth information to find out about jobs or particular school environments. While pay and benefits were considered attractive incentives, respondents also liked the idea of loan forgiveness and subsidised further study; however, a significant minority of students felt that a high starting salary was not an important factor in choosing to take a particular job. More important factors included the school and district mission, the support and resources available to teachers, curricular flexibility, and teacher autonomy. These responses from focus group participants were reinforced in the survey results: respondents' willingness to accept a job was strongly influenced by the reputation of the principal, availability of induction programs and curricular flexibility. Respondents varied widely in the importance they assigned to certain school characteristics, but the influence of starting salary on respondents' job choices was generally low. It is possible that respondents' responses in terms of the positions they would accept were influenced by the oversupply of teachers in the area: new teachers were perhaps willing to be less selective if it meant getting their foot in the door. The survey and focus group data indicate that financial incentives aimed at new teachers may be better used to improve principal quality and to implement induction and mentoring programs.
Subject HeadingsSchool culture
United States of America (USA)
Teaching and learning
New heads on the block: three case studies of transition to primary school headship
Volume 30 Number 2, April 2010; Pages 127–142
The transition to principalship, as well as the subsequent development that takes place during the first year of leadership, is a complex period involving professional and organisational socialisation and the development of occupational identity. Using case studies, and drawing on interviews, the authors examined the experiences of three new primary principals in Britain, from which they identified three phases in the transition to principalship. The first phase, 'motivation and preparation', occurred prior to securing a leadership role, with the principals preparing themselves for their future role by seeking out relevant experience. Personal motivation and the influence of mentors were significant to this process. During this time, the principals established their own personal constructs of what it meant to be a leader. Formal preparation included a mandatory pre-service training program, but the principals felt that this program focused too heavily on management and was not adapted to the principals' own specific needs. More valuable preparation took the form of prior in-school leadership opportunities and experiences. Even so, the principals felt the significant personal accountability involved in principalship made it impossible to truly simulate the reality of leadership. The second phase was 'entry, orientation and immersion'. The principals found themselves facing situations requiring immediate change and innovation, but had to balance this with establishing quality professional relationships with staff and developing an understanding of the school itself. Professional and organisational socialisation was seen as key to leading cultural change, and the principals worked to establish key alliances and to distribute leadership in order to facilitate this. The third phase was 'control and action', during which principals found that the issues and themes identified during the second phase intensified and became more complex. This phase was characterised by an increase in confidence and competence that led to the development of occupational and professional identity. Growing understanding and awareness of the school context and needs led to the principals strengthening their vision and strategies for leading school improvement. A combination of a common staff outlook and developing leadership skills allowed the principals to shift their focus from the more immediate issues to longer term approaches. The key challenges for new principals are establishing occupational identity by coming to terms with how others perceive them, as well as shaping expectations and modifying observed behaviour to suit the context of their school.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
The simultaneous production of educational achievement and popularity: how do some pupils accomplish it?
Volume 36 Number 2, April 2010; Pages 317–340
Research has indicated that 'laddish' classroom behaviour attracts the highest social status among peers, who often look poorly upon studiousness and high academic achievement. Using classroom observations and interviews the authors examined the ways in which a group of 22 Year 8 students in Britain maintained very high academic achievement while remaining popular with their classmates. One significant element that emerged from the observations was the students' high levels of sociability and confidence: all were loud, assertive and highly participative. The students also tended to conform to typical standards of attractiveness, with the girls in particular wearing fashionable clothes and make-up, and the boys tending to be sporty. They also participated in rituals of 'boying' and 'girling': the boys engaged in 'masculine' behaviour, while the girls participated in rituals that could be seen as stereotypically 'feminine', such as applying make-up in class. These self-conscious routines could be seen as a way of helping to balance or deflect other students' perceptions of their high academic achievement. Yet despite frequent participation in the social interaction of the classroom, the students were highly engaged in the classroom pedagogy. They worked diligently, and frequently raised their hands to answer questions or offer responses. However, there was evidence that the students sought to produce an image of 'effortless achievement' in order to avoid being defined as overly studious; some students admitted clowning around in class for this reason. The students tended to be on good terms with the teachers and although sociable or cheeky were generally well-behaved, carefully striking a balance between resistance and engagement. Interestingly, many of the students surrounded themselves with less high-achieving and more mischievous friends who would act as the 'fall guy': the high-achieving students shared in the kudos derived from their friends' rebellious behaviour, but without consequences in terms of reduced achievement or disciplinary action. In order to balance their high achievement and popularity, the students engaged in constant identity work, and strived to give the impression of effortless achievement while actively participating in both pedagogic and social activities.
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
Mentoring and community: inquiry as stance and science as inquiry
Volume 32 Number 6, April 2010; Pages 807–828
Early career science teachers can learn to adopt inquiry-based approaches to classroom practice through suitable mentoring and through participation in supportive learning communities. The article describes the impact of two mentor-protege relationships, based on the author's interviews with the participants. Will began teaching in the 1960s in a very traditional environment, but became interested in inquiry-based approaches to learning and, over many years, gradually learnt ways to apply them in his teaching. After accepting a leadership position in the 1980s, he began mentoring Dan, a new teacher. Will encouraged Dan to adopt inquiry-based approaches to science learning by providing him with suitable learning resources and opportunities to attend conferences and workshops, and by offering positive feedback following classroom observations. While it took several years for Dan to feel confident enough to move from behavioural to inquiry-based approaches, the transition was facilitated by their joint participation in a new professional learning group devoted to inquiry-based learning. Dan was later promoted to chair of the science department, where he mentored new teacher Cathy. In his new role Dan worked to create a collegial, open environment, and encouraged discussion of teaching practices, the sharing of resources, and an accepting attitude toward classroom observation. Cathy took advantage of this environment to fast-track her progression to inquiry-based teaching. In her second year in the classroom she was confident in her teaching, and was regularly approached by other teachers for advice. A key theme in the interviews was the role of leadership in shaping an environment that supports both mentoring and the development of inquiry-based science practices. A related theme was the importance of collaboration and professional development in encouraging inquiry and facilitating teachers' identification with inquiry-based learning.
Key Learning AreasScience
The end of techno-critique: the naked truth about 1:1 laptop initiatives and educational change
Volume 9 Number 6, January 2010; Pages 5–25
Critics of 1:1 laptop programs argue that their benefits are unsubstantiated, and that innovative teaching remains the key to improved student achievement. The author argues that widespread access to laptops is only the first step toward using technology to promote learning. Technology-related reforms and innovations that focus on access often do not attend to the needs and values of teachers, and assume that best practices will spontaneously emerge from the use of technology. As a result, many reforms have failed to have a substantial impact. What is needed is a reconceptualisation of laptop computers and other technology as integrated cognitive tools rather than as technological tools. Schools that are able to realise the benefit of cognitive tools differentiate themselves from other schools through six components. One, the school community must have an explicit set of rules about teaching and learning. These will drive the overall design of the school. Two, these rules must be used to embed ideas, values and processes. Embedded design allows for a more complete picture of school design, and is in contrast to many reform approaches. Three, all members of the school community must be actively engaged with the design of the school, for example through articulated roles, responsibilities and shared knowledge of what constitutes learning. Four, feedback should be generated from the school community in order to drive bottom-up change. Five, the interaction between the above factors allows the school to develop a schema for teaching and learning practice. Last, community members, guided by this schema, themselves demand the use of technology, rather than having it imposed by external forces. The school can then build cognitive tools designed to reflect its vision for teaching and learning. Self-organising schools that develop cognitive tools will be able to blur the boundaries between teaching, learning and technology. They will be able to differentiate learning, and adapt practices based on feedback. In these environments, 1:1 laptop initiatives can help facilitate teaching and learning practices that meet the needs of all students.
Subject HeadingsSchool culture
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Thought and thinking
United States of America (USA)
Gender stereotyping and affective attitudes towards science in Chinese secondary school students
Volume 32 Number 3, February 2010; Pages 379–395
Gender stereotypes can influence students' subject-related attitudes and performance. Gender has a significant influence on attitudes toward science, with girls typically having lower self-efficacy and interest in science than boys. The authors examined gender stereotypes and attitudes toward science amongst 322 secondary students in China, aged between 13 and 18. Students completed the Implicit Association Test (IAT), where they were asked to match categories such as 'female' and 'science' or 'male' and 'humanities', with their response time indicating their implicit attitudes toward gender and science. Students' explicit attitudes toward science and gender were also explored using a questionnaire. Students' responses on the IAT indicated that they tended to view science as a male domain, and humanities as a female domain. This conception was stronger among older students. Female students who conceived of science as a male-oriented domain were more likely to see science as unpleasant and the humanities as pleasant, but their stereotypic view of science as male-oriented emerged at a younger age than their dislike of science, indicating that they were affected by a stereotyped environment. The male respondents showed a negative attitude toward science when it was measured implicitly, but not in their self-reported responses, suggesting that they were affected by the stereotype of science as being a more male-oriented domain, and wanted to be seen as having a conception of science that matched this perception. The results indicate the importance of an unprejudiced environment where there is no expectation of different achievement by boys and girls and where gender stereotypes will not be strengthened.
Key Learning AreasScience
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