The right equation
March 2010; Page 11
The article covers comments on the new national mathematics curriculum from a senior teacher educator, a senior maths educator and a maths expert. The content of the new curriculum is likely to challenge both students and the teachers who deliver it. These challenges will be felt most strongly in states 'whose content is out of kilter with what is being tested in NAPLAN'. In Queensland, for example, the introduction of mixed numbers will be moved from Year 8 to Year 4, and decimal operations from Year 8 to Year 6. These changes will also impact on teacher education. For example, students undertaking the Griffith University primary teacher education course were recently found to have an average mathematical understanding of about Year 8 or Year 9 standard upon commencement of the course. A 'significant number' also left the course with insufficient mathematical understanding, particularly with regard to the more abstract mathematical concepts, due to limited time for teacher training. The new curriculum introduces the four proficiencies of understanding, fluency, problem solving and reasoning, embedded within mathematical content. The experts endorsed the new proficiencies, but noted the challenge involved in measuring a proficiency such as reasoning via the multiple-choice testing used for NAPLAN. Efforts to make the new content accessible to students should not obscure the need to stimulate and engage high-performing students. The new curriculum may result in Queensland's Year 7 moving to secondary school level, where more specialist maths teachers are available. The forthcoming senior mathematics curriculum will pose further issues, such as the transition from Year 10 to Year 11, which is especially important given the long-term trend away from the study of mathematics at senior levels.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
A lack of chemistry
24 March 2010
The article covers comments from a range of experts on the new national science curriculum. The curriculum is divided into the three strands of scientific understanding, scientific inquiry skills, and science as a human endeavour. One of the strengths identified in the curriculum is its attention to the nature of science as involving testable claims which, for example, highlights the distinction between science and religiously based beliefs. The curriculum also connects science and culture, explaining the social and technological context in which science has developed. However, Deborah Corrigan and Amanda Davis argue that the curriculum's attention to science as a human endeavour does not go far enough, offering students too little opportunity to develop scientific literacy and awareness of the social context of science. They also feel that the curriculum does not do enough to integrate different scientific principles. As a result of these two problems the curriculum threatens to reduce students' ability to think in scientific terms. Amanda Davis is concerned that content descriptors are too vague either to ensure consistency, provide guidance to early career teachers, or persuade more established teachers to adapt their current practices. John Rice argues that the curriculum does not do enough to present the 'big picture' and lacks coherence; as a result, the school-level curriculum risks being overcrowded by the teaching of 'bits and pieces'. The fragmentation of the curriculum creates the further risk that teachers may give undue attention to 'outside issues' in which science content is diluted, especially when the teacher is not confident of their scientific knowledge.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Context-based chemistry: creating opportunities for fluid transitions between concepts and context
Volume 55 Number 4, December 2009; Pages 13–17
The context-based approach to teaching chemistry focuses students' attention on chemistry's applications to real-world situations. The approach has been used or trialled internationally as a means to engage students by connecting it to their everyday lives. The usefulness of context-based chemistry has been evaluated by small-scale research in Queensland and Victoria. The research found that while teachers recognised the benefits of this approach, some were concerned that students could not apply what they had learnt beyond the initial learning context. The approach also made it more difficult to assess a common body of knowledge among students. In Victoria, where students take external examinations, concern about this problem has contributed to the restoration of traditional teaching methods. In Queensland, however, the absence of external testing has encouraged the continued use of context-based chemistry. A recent research project in Queensland has sought to provide more detail about what it involves. The research took place in March–May 2006. It focused on 10 students in a Year 11 class at an independent boys' school serving a predominantly high-SES population. Data consisted of field notes, classroom observations, interviews with students and the teacher, and student journals. The current article reports one aspect of the study: the water quality study of a local creek. In groups the students prepared for and conducted tests of the water and produced a written report. This teaching sequence had been prepared jointly by the researcher and the classroom teacher. Subject content was taught as students required it during the sequence of tasks. Students' work was assessed according to their grasp of the canonical knowledge and language of chemistry and their ability to apply it to analyse and explain water quality in the creek. The researcher also sought evidence of 'fluid transitions', a shift to and fro between chemical concepts and the context. Results support prior research findings that context-based chemistry helps students to apply chemical concepts in real-world settings. To help students transfer knowledge to new situations, it may be helpful to explore concepts in several contexts.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Peer assessment in a test-dominated setting: empowering, boring or facilitating examination preparation?
Volume 9 Number 1, February 2010; Pages 3–15
Formative assessment practices such as peer assessment are believed to support student achievement. They are also used as a means to reduce reliance on summative assessment and high-stakes examinations. Using a case study approach, the authors examined peer-assessment practices in a co-taught upper primary ESL classroom in Hong Kong over two years. Interviews and focus groups were then used to gather the opinions of the two classroom teachers and their students about the value of peer assessment. The peer-assessment practices were implemented gradually, with the students first learning about assessment criteria, undertaking self-assessment, and then applying their new knowledge to their peers' work. This feedback was then used to define goals for improvement. The students had mixed impressions about peer assessment, with some finding it useful, and others frustrated by situations where their partners marked their work without seriously assessing its quality. Some commented that their peers were often overly positive or provided simplistic advice, while others noted that they were concerned that providing negative feedback could affect their interpersonal relationships. Differences in ability were also an issue: stronger students were concerned about the validity of weaker students' assessment of their own work, while weaker students were concerned about being able to spot mistakes in their more able peers' work, or would simply assume that they were correct. By the end of the first year, students were beginning to find the routine of peer assessment dull. They suggested that more variation in peer-assessment processes could help promote engagement. However, toward the end of the second year of the study, students began to re-engage with peer assessment. This was largely to do with the approach of high-stakes secondary entrance exams. The students were able to draw on their previous peer and teacher assessment notes to help guide their revision and study, and to anticipate particular challenges that might arise during the examination. The teachers helped the students to use their peer-assessment skills to develop more sophisticated study and examination preparation habits, such as checking their own work. However, in test-dominated settings, there is a need to ensure that peer assessment is used to help develop learner autonomy and examination skills, rather than to train students through drilling, or to encourage competition through comparison.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
English as an additional language
Investigating narrative writing by 9–11-year-olds
Volume 33 Number 1, March 2010; Pages 77–93
Almost a third of 11-year-olds in England fail to meet national benchmarks for writing. To examine changes in writing attainment over time, the responses of 112 Grade 5 students to a persuasive writing task and a narrative writing task were analysed. The same cohort of students completed an identical task the following year. Expert assessors rated students' responses based on a range of criteria such as organisation, grammar and vocabulary, punctuation and spelling, and the clarity with which they identify the purpose of the piece. Overall, the majority of students made gains in writing between Grades 5 and 6, with high achievers making substantially larger gains than lower achievers over the two years. There was a substantial variation in certain features in students' written texts across the two tests. The Grade 6 assessments demonstrated a very significant increase in students' attention to the specified story prompt. They also showed far greater awareness of reader and purpose, as well as the ability to write to a standard story format than they had in Grade 5. They were more likely to use dialogue to help resolve the narrative, and they used more action to develop character as well as the main event. They also used more connective features to create suspense, exclamations for impact, more sophisticated vocabulary, and more creative use of verbs. Their use of repetitive structures and incidence of spelling errors declined. However, overall, the responses showed little evidence of planning or self-correction; this may have been related to the limited time allowed for completion of the assessments. There was also substantial individual difference in the students' responses, indicating the large variation in writing attainment among children at upper primary level. Data from assessments of this type could be used to plan early interventions and support differentiated learning practices.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
The best start for a lifetime of learning
Summer 2010; Pages 23–24
The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2009, covers children up to the age of five years. The EYLF sets goals for children's learning and suggest ways to extend it, and sets out a common way 'for families and educators to talk about what young children know and can do'. The Australian Curriculum and the EYLF are based on different models. The EYLF applies a play-based model and emphasises social and emotional development and the basis they lay for other forms of learning. It aligns closely with Goal 2 of the Melbourne Declaration, which calls for all young Australians to become 'successful learners; confident and creative individuals'. The Australian Curriculum, on the other hand, is based on the tradition of a disciplinary curriculum. Curriculum designed on this model sets out content and allows teachers to select pedagogy that meets the needs of their particular contexts. However, the Australian Curriculum also identifies 10 general capabilities and three cross-curriculum perspectives. The forms of learning fostered by educators in play-based environments are likely to contribute to the learning of these capabilities and perspectives, which therefore offer a link between the two educational models.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
Early childhood education
Working the interface: brokerage and learning networks
Volume 37 Number 2, 2009; Pages 239–256
School-based learning networks are playing an important role in school improvement and teacher professional development in Britain. The aim of these networks is to provide collaborative environments where teachers can pool their resources and expertise, carry out collaborative enquiry, and share and critique each other's ideas. However, one challenge raised by these networks is how they can be supported and developed within the wider policy framework. Drawing on interviews and group observations, the authors describe the practices of 16 National College of School Leadership network facilitators, whose objectives were to build group capacity, make connections, act as critical friends, and to pass on information and learning. The brokers found themselves playing two key roles. The first role was to facilitate learning, which they achieved through coaching, fostering autonomy, and looking for network-specific solutions. The second was an accountability role that comprised internal accountability, such as holding the networks to their own espoused values and aspirations, and external accountability, such as annual reviews. However, these roles proved challenging as much of the facilitation work took place at and across boundaries. The facilitators found that they were 'bridges' that were removed from the actual practices of the networks. Many of the facilitators, who were often former teachers, found themselves at the periphery of group practices and identity despite attending meetings and participating in activities. This had challenging implications for developing and maintaining access to the groups in their networks, as well as the types of practices facilitators felt that they should be undertaking. Facilitators preferred a collaborative, facilitative approach that fostered learning, and struggled to strike a balance between encouraging bottom-up approaches designed to meet the needs of the groups and the demands of policy. They were concerned that the latter could undermine their careful relationship-building, which they considered key to their success in their role; without strong relationships with and understanding of the networks, they feared that other facilitative practices would be less successful. In addition, the facilitators wanted scope to reorient the focus of their role as the needs of the learning communities changed, and sufficient support and commitment to help mitigate tensions.
Subject HeadingsGroup work in education
Leading under pressure: leadership for social inclusion
Volume 30 Number 2, April 2010; Pages 143–157
Leading with a view to promoting social inclusion in disadvantaged schools requires particular approaches and practices. Interviews and focus groups were conducted with leaders, teachers and parents to examine leadership patterns designed to promote inclusion in three primary and three secondary schools serving disadvantaged communities in Britain. Three different approaches to inclusion were identified, with different leadership patterns evident as a result. The major focus for some schools was to improve achievement for all students. These schools emphasised learning as a way for students to gain access to society and to promote equal opportunities. They aimed to bring 'normality' and 'structure' to students' lives through consistency of teaching and behaviour management. The second approach sought to overcome barriers faced by particular groups. Schools in this category emphasised approaches that catered to students' social, emotional and health-related needs in addition to academic needs. These schools often worked to engage students and families from targeted backgrounds. The third approach focused on identifying and building on the capacities and skills of disadvantaged students. In these schools, the socialising role of the school was the major focus, with schools emphasising non-academic skills and enrichment of life experiences. A major issue for all the schools was the tension between inclusion and accountability. The demand of accountability meant that leadership was often top-down, with change driven by the principals. Distributed leadership tended only to develop after immediate threats had been dealt with and a clear vision had been established. Student voice and involvement also varied with the degree of pressure faced by the schools. Staff motivation was a key issue, with principals attempting to lead by example. Principals also emphasised improvements in achievement and convinced staff of the benefits of extracurricular involvement. Other themes were those of principal fit, and the school's relationship with the wider community. Schools working with more homogenous communities found it easier to develop community ties. The interviews highlighted the need for broader accountability measures that take into account a range of educational outcomes, including social inclusion and wellbeing.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
School and community
Can the literacy practices in an after-school programme be practised in school? A study of literacies from a spatial perspective
Volume 17 Number 2, June 2009; Pages 141–160
The literacies used within and outside the formal curriculum can vary substantially due to constraints such as external accountability pressures and time demands. To examine the possibility of transferring literacies between different contexts, the author examined the experiences of one low-SES Grade 7 student in New York within an after-school tutoring program, and in his school science classes. Substantial differences in literacy practices were found between the two contexts. Due to accountability pressures, the purpose of the school science lessons was to distribute core content to be covered in high-stakes tests rather than to promote inquiry. As a result, the lesson approaches were largely guided by the format and content of the textbook and worksheets. Students were told which pages to read, and which exercises to complete, and class labs were also highly structured. Discussion was infrequent, and students did not re-read for comprehension. Learning was not linked with students' personal lives or experiences. In contrast, the after-school program was structured in a way that allowed individualised attention. Students worked in pairs with a mentor on a literacy project designed to engage their interests: a music video review of two rappers. The tutor used an IRE approach, which involves Initiating a Response and then Evaluating it, to coach the students in writing the review and extending their ideas. This approach allowed the tutor to build a collaborative relationship with the student, and one that facilitated a positive attitude both toward writing, and toward the tutoring program. While particular literacy themes may have overlapped between the two contexts, the external forces that shaped the way these classes were run meant that it would be difficult to transfer literacy practices between the two. The integration of non-school literacies, while possible, would have required a substantial reorganisation of school and curricular structures.
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