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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Abstracts

Gatekeeper & guide

15 June 2010
Darragh O Keeffe

There is overwhelming evidence that teacher librarians play an important role in enhancing students’ literacy and their academic results. They achieve these outcomes by selecting quality resources, organising them in an easily accessible way, and showing students how to search through and evaluate online and printed information. With training in pedagogy, curriculum and information they are well placed to promote digital literacy and interdisciplinary learning. However, their numbers have fallen considerably over the last 20 years. The 2008 report A Snapshot of Australian School Libraries, which presented the results of a national survey, indicated that over half the schools surveyed had less than one full time equivalent library professional in their libraries. Facilities, book collections and school library support services have declined over the same period. A survey earlier this year by the Children’s Book Council of Australia found that many school libraries now have budgets below 1975 levels and 'a third did not have enough budget to buy one book per child'. In the 1970s every Australian education department had a central state school library advisory service, now there are two. As principals have acquired more control over staffing budgets there has been a tendency to replace teacher librarians with lower-paid or unpaid staff. Given this falling demand, the number of universities offering teacher librarianship courses has fallen from 15 to three over two decades, which has also reduced the number of academics to advocate for them. The decline has been uneven, however. Teacher librarians continue to be employed in relatively high numbers at many Anglican schools. The NSW and Queensland education systems continue to staff schools with teacher librarians. Teacher librarians themselves, such as those in The Hub advocacy group, continue to support the profession. The Australian Government has now funded thousands of new libraries and hundreds of refurbishments. It has also launched a parliamentary inquiry into school libraries and teacher librarians, which has received 371 submissions from organisations including the Australian Society of Authors and the Australian Council for Educational Research.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teacher-Librarians
School libraries
Educational planning
Education policy

Getting on the same page

15 June 2010

A range of experts offer feedback on the draft senior years' national curriculum in English, maths, history and science. The NSW English Teachers' Association (ETA) has stated its approval of the Essential English course as a means to equip students with the literacy levels they will require in the workforce. It notes that a full judgement of the English curriculum will only be possible after the publication of accompanying achievement standards. The science curriculum has been described as 'conservative' by Associate Professor Deborah Corrigan of Monash University, who argues that it unduly emphasises content and is unlikely to attract interest from students. Elaine Horne of Western Australia's Department of Environment and Conservation has indicated that the biology curriculum needs more coverage of Australia's bio-diversity and natural ecosystems. Other experts have suggested that the science curriculum is of less importance than overcoming the shortage of qualified science teachers, which is especially acute in remote and regional areas. In terms of history, John Whitehouse of the University of Melbourne has called for more varied learning pathways to be made available to students. He also argues the need to preserve certain strong elements contained within existing state curricula, such as the coverage of revolutions in the Victorian Certificate of Education and of ancient history in New South Wales. Professor Philippa Maddern of the University of Western Australia has called for more coverage of the middle ages, including that of regions outside Europe, and for more attention to the technological and social developments that preceded European colonisation. Mathematics educators have signalled the need for professional development to cover material in the new curriculum, particularly with respect to statistics. Other issues raised include the amount of content to be covered and the need for the structure of the curriculum to be flexible enough to retain students in high-level courses.

Key Learning Areas

Science
Mathematics
English
Studies of Society and Environment

Subject Headings

Science
Mathematics teaching
English language teaching
History
Education policy
Curriculum planning

Boom or bust?

15 June 2010
Linda Belardi

Boarding school enrolments have fallen by one fifth in the last two decades, as families move their children elsewhere or limit the years in which they are enrolled. Many factors have contributed to the change: economic decline, drought, and consolidation of farms into larger units with a consequent departure of some families to cities. The provisions of the government’s Assistance for Isolated Children (AIC) limit access for some families. Future numbers may also be reduced if the enrolments from international students decline. Boarding schools are also sustained, however, by off-setting factors. Families remaining in remote locations have limited alternatives to boarding their children, particularly if they wish to access learning opportunities unavailable through home schooling. Boarding school managers also see opportunities for growth. Some families are choosing such schools as places where children will be less exposed to the negative aspects of online social media. In the senior years especially families are increasingly attracted to the after-hours academic support offered to boarders and the routine that encourages orderly work. Several trends are emerging. One is towards part-time or weekly boarding: while these options meet the need of some families they also make for a less cohered student body, and suggest the need to rethink traditional models of pastoral care. School buildings are increasingly designed for multiple uses so that they can be repurposed if the number of boarders changes. Another trend is toward 'boutique boarding' as students expect semi-private living areas and more sophisticated recreation. Boarding schools have become 'an increasingly market-savvy, international and flexible sector'.

KLA

Subject Headings

Boarding schools
Rural education
Educational planning

Factors influencing entering teacher candidates' preferences for instructional activities: a glimpse into their orientations towards teaching

Volume 32 Number 10, July 2010; Pages 1389–1406
Vicente Talanquer, Ingrid Novodvorsky, Debra Tomanek

Beginning science teachers' preferences for particular instructional activities are likely to influence their pedagogical orientations and classroom practices. Through a survey, 294 pre-service teachers were asked which types of classroom science activities they prefer, and why they prefer them. Follow-up interviews were conducted with 22 of these respondents. The teachers showed a strong preference for three types of instructional activities: those that involved the real-life application of scientific ideas, those that developed science process skills, and those that involved fun, hands-on activities. They were less likely to select activities that involved discussion of students' personal ideas about science, problem solving, knowledge and understanding of science, or the history and philosophy of science. Four major reasons for selecting particular activities were given. These were the ability of material to engage students' interest; the perceived value of certain activities to develop skills and knowledge useful both within and outside school; their potential impact on student learning; and whether a particular activity met the demands of the curriculum. While the preferred activities were perceived to capitalise on these factors, the non-preferred activities were considered to be boring or irrelevant to students, or less important for learning. The implications of these orientations are discussed. Emphasis on motivation may result in the naive assumption that motivation nescessarily translates into meaningful learning; similarly, an emphasis on science process skills may be due to assumptions that activity can be equated with learning. Such approaches may encourage the development of students' procedural knowledge but result in less developed conceptual understanding. Some elements of the curriculum may also be overlooked if they are not considered to be appropriately engaging or relevant. Pre-service teachers' beliefs about learning and teaching and the nature of science need to be challenged to ensure that they are well-equipped to plan lessons that effectively foster an understanding of science. Diagnosis and analysis of student learning should be encouraged.

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Classroom activities
Science teaching
Teacher training

A comparative study of classroom teaching in Korea and Japan: a case study on reforming schools into learning communities

10 March 2010
Kyunghee So, Jiwon Shin, Woojung Son

Prepublished article.
Despite high levels of achievement, students in Korea and Japan often demonstrate low levels of interest, self-concept and self-efficacy, as well as poor attitudes towards school. These issues stem in part from the highly competitive nature of schooling in these countries. To encourage more collaborative and caring classroom environments, both countries are moving towards the creation of learning communities. The authors observed the teaching practices of two primary teachers in Korea, and two primary teachers in Japan over one year. All teachers had prior exposure to learning communities, but the Japanese teachers had longer and richer exposure to such approaches due to their experience with lesson study; a collaborative approach to teaching that has a long history in Japan. This meant that the groups' conceptions of learning and teaching differed, with the Japanese teachers having a more holistic conception of learning that involved not just the acquisition of knowledge and skills, but also an understanding of relationships, etiquette and learning itself. In contrast, the Korean teachers saw the main aim of teaching as the transmission and acquisition of knowledge. The Japanese teachers were found to be better placed to generate deep and genuine student involvement in the learning process. They avoided giving explicit directions and explanations, and encouraged students to express their own opinions and responses, and to share and connect these with other students' ideas in order to develop richer understandings. They used learning materials not as sources of authority, but rather as tools to elicit student thought. In contrast, the Korean teachers tended to treat the textbook as an authoritative source to guide what should be learnt. While they encouraged their students to engage in discussion, they often intervened before students had time to consider the material in-depth, and tended to guide the discussion towards a particular conclusion. However, over time, they did manage to effect changes that moved their classrooms towards becoming learning communities. Opportunities for collaboration and observation may help teachers to come to terms with the learning community model.

KLA

Subject Headings

Professional development
Teaching and learning
School culture
Japan
Korea (South Korea)

Implementing the mandate: the limitations of benchmark tests

Volume 22 Number 1, February 2010; Pages 53–72
Kim Bancroft

While benchmark testing in line with standards is widespread as a method to measure achievement in the USA, results often fail to take into account the particular context of a school and its students. The author interviewed teachers and administrators from a charter school serving a disadvantaged population, to examine how a new school-mandated English benchmark testing program informed teaching and learning outcomes. Teachers expressed concerns about the achievement gains expected by the tests, as well as the test items themselves. Many students had limited English language and literacy skills, and performed better when working on assessment materials that provided context and meaning, rather than on test items that assessed knowledge in isolation. Another problem was the scope of the tests which covered more than one hundred separate standards across a range of literacy skills. This posed a considerable challenge for teachers attempting to coordinate instruction, testing and their own personal teaching ideologies. Problems with the reflection and re-teaching components of the testing were also highlighted: teachers were required to help students, in-class or individually, to review material on which they had tested poorly. This raised issues in terms of time constraints and available resources. The teachers did not entirely support the program, and felt that the emphasis on testing took away time that could be better spent on teaching critical thinking and general writing skills. The tests were not seen to encourage deeper thinking, and teachers questioned why, as a relatively autonomous charter school, they were attempting to fit in with the 'dominant discourse of testing'. Administrators, however, noted that much of the school’s funding came from the business community, which saw value in standardised test scores. The challenges faced by this school highlight the need to accompany policy mandates with appropriate resources in order to help disadvantaged schools make the gains needed to catch up to other schools. In addition, testing and assessment processes need to be aligned with teachers’ professional judgement and approaches to ensure that students’ needs are met.

KLA

Subject Headings

Educational evaluation
Education policy
Teaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
Assessment

How can we enhance enjoyment of secondary school? The student view

June 2010
Stephen Gorard, Beng Huat See

Prepublished article
Students are more likely to learn well when they enjoy their education; this fact is now being emphasised within education policy in England. Using interviews with 798 Year 11 students and 295 teachers and other school staff, the authors examined the factors influencing students' enjoyment of schooling. Slightly less than half of the students reported enjoying school, and only a little over a third agreed that most of their lessons were interesting. Classroom-based factors, rather than personal or background factors, or the type of school attended, had the most significant effect on students' enjoyment of learning. Students identified the social aspects of school as key to both enjoyment and to learning. Important elements included being around others who wanted to learn, small class sizes, being able to work in groups and being encouraged to make decisions about their own learning. On the other hand, many respondents highlighted some students' poor and disruptive behaviour as detracting from their enjoyment of school. Positive relationships with teachers were also linked to student enjoyment, with students identifying being treated with respect and trust, and being treated as adults as key to their enjoyment of school. The quality of lesson delivery was another essential component, with students appreciating lessons that were innovative and that showed careful preparation. Variation in delivery and activity was also important. Support for learning was a key factor, with students indicating that having approachable staff and teachers who would provide extra help and support contributed to a positive learning environment. In contrast, poor lessons often demonstrated poor teaching technique, such as teachers speaking too quietly, moving too quickly, using passive pedagogical approaches, and stepping in to provide the solutions during question and answer sessions. Student enjoyment was most widespread in schools that had a co-operative culture, and where respectful, trusting relationships had been developed. Enhancing school enjoyment may result in improved relationships, as well as improvements in attendance, behaviour, and learning.

KLA

Subject Headings

School culture
Classroom management
Secondary education
Teacher-student relationships

Preparing pre-service primary teachers to teach primary science: a partner-based approach

Volume 32 Number 10, July 2010; Pages 1267–1288
John Kenny

Science teaching in the primary classroom is often limited due to primary teachers' low levels of confidence in teaching the subject, as well as national testing practices that tend to emphasise mathematics and literacy instead. Pre-service teachers (PSTs) therefore have few opportunities to see effective science teaching modelled. The author reports on a program offered by the University of Tasmania where PSTs worked in close collaboration with a practising teacher colleague and a teacher educator to plan and implement a primary science unit. The experience was designed to develop the PSTs' confidence and pedagogical content knowledge, as well as to provide a professional development opportunity for practising teachers. All participants found the program a highly rewarding experience. A number of key factors contributed to the PSTs' enjoyment of the project. The first was establishing contact with their school-based colleagues well ahead of time in order to develop a working relationship with their colleague and get to know the class they would be teaching. This eased PSTs' anxiety, and helped them to focus their planning and revise their approach as necessary. Another key factor was subsequent collaborative experiences that involved lesson planning and assessment development. The PSTs drew on their school-based colleagues' highly developed pedagogical skills and their contextual knowledge; in contrast, the practising teachers drew on the PSTs' knowledge of science-related pedagogical issues. A third factor was the successful implementation of the unit, which resulted in improved pedagogical content knowledge and greater levels of confidence in teaching science. The program was also valuable to the practising teachers in terms of their professional growth, with many noting that they were more motivated to teach science, as well as more confident in their ability to do so. Partnerships where PSTs work in tandem with school-based teachers to develop units of work may, in addition to providing improved outcomes for PSTs, be a viable and cost-effective means of professional development for their teacher colleagues.

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Professional development
Teacher training
Science teaching
Primary education

Educational reform, enquiry-based learning and the re-professionalisation of teachers

Volume 20 Number 3, 3rd  Quarter  2009; Pages 287–304
Ben Williamson, John Morgan

Teachers' efforts to engage with enquiry-based practices that encourage active student involvement in their own learning are held back by policies that emphasise competitive assessment. The authors examined 10 teachers' responses to the Enquiring Minds project, where teachers in Britain worked in partnerships with students to develop enquiry-based projects that drew on students' interests. The project was designed to counter the influence of the 'performance agenda', which the teachers found disempowering and frustrating due to its emphasis on 'spoon-feeding' information to students while discouraging critical examination. However, the teachers' perceptions of and engagement with the project varied depending on their professional identity as a teacher, and the climate of the school in which they taught. Some teachers interpreted the program as a 'what works' means to improve pedagogy and learning in a way that would '[maximise] the performance of the institution'. Others welcomed it as a way to address perceived shortcomings of the existing curriculum, which they felt did not adequately address students' personal contexts and interests, or encourage critical thinking. The teachers' notions of personal professional identity were often challenged or extended as a result of the program. Many of the teachers, for example, struggled to reconcile conflicting ideas, such as teaching in an enquiry-based manner whilst being responsible for their school's performance on high-stakes tests. For this reason, the critical pedagogic aims of the Enquiring Minds project struggled to come to the fore in a context of high-stakes academic competition. Efforts to reform the curriculum need to take into consideration the fact that teachers will take up innovations in a way that reflects both their own values about teaching and learning, and the mission of their school.

KLA

Subject Headings

School culture
Education policy
Professional development
Great Britain

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