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

Responding to the needs of the whole child: a case study of a high-performing elementary school for immigrant children

Volume 26 Number 3, July 2010; Pages 195–222
Margary Martin, Edward Fergus, Pedro A. Noguera

The authors examine how a primary school in the USA achieved extremely high levels of academic success despite serving a disadvantaged student body consisting largely of English language learners. Over a ten year period, the school's emphasis on the 'whole child' resulted in a community school approach, with the school growing to offer an extended service that included the provision of on-site counsellors and medical professionals, as well as targeted language and enrichment programs to improve outcomes for students and their families. Extended-day and summer programs aligned with the school's academic program were used to develop general and content-based literacy, as well as social language facility and other interpersonal skills. These programs were supported by a partnership with a local university, which also assisted with teacher professional development initiatives focused on language and literacy instruction, as well as onsite postgraduate education and teacher induction programs. Strong networks of professional practice were evident, and were carefully nurtured and supported through the use of consensus-building processes that drew on the whole school community. Through these networks, participants could integrate agreed-upon approaches, such as the use of a common school language, into all elements of school life. Certain factors were key to ensuring that these networks were supported. A shared common space was one important factor, with on-site services and facilities meaning that the school had easier access to students and their families; this access was also engendered through efforts to develop community trust. Strong leadership was also in evidence throughout the school. The principal cultivated high-quality working relationships, directed staff focus towards student learning and achievement, and involved teachers in decision making and implementation of reforms; leadership was effectively distributed among the school staff. The principal was also highly visible, taking part in staff professional development, working to secure resources to further the school's success, and ensuring that all teachers and support staff benefited from differentiated professional development. The school's consistent and deliberate focus on an identified goal, the needs of the whole child, in addition to its careful construction of networks of professional practice, were essential in developing a safe and supportive learning community that included staff, students, and students' families.

KLA

Subject Headings

School culture
School and community
Socially disadvantaged
United States of America (USA)

Where do children choose to play on the school ground? The influence of green design

Volume 38 Number 2, May 2010; Pages 177–189
Adam J. Lucas, Janet E. Dyment

The design of a school's outdoor areas can influence students' leisure practices, with natural 'green' areas in particular found to encourage diverse play and socialisation opportunities. Using observations and video recordings, the researchers examined the areas where students played, and the type of play undertaken, over an 11 day period at an Australian primary school. Six areas were identified as play areas: a native green area, a play equipment area, paved sporting courts, paved thoroughfares, a canteen courtyard and a dirt-surfaced mini oval. On average, the green area attracted far more students than any other area, with the paved sporting courts being the next most popular. The other areas attracted less than half the amount of students found in these two areas. Certain areas attracted certain groups of students, with areas such as the canteen courtyard and play equipment area being used more by girls, and areas such as the paved sporting courts and the mini oval used almost exclusively by boys. Girls were found to congregate in smaller groups across a range of different areas, while boys tended to congregate in large groups in fewer areas. The green area was the most gender neutral area. Examination of how students used the different areas found that while the sporting courts and mini oval were used for competitive sports, and the canteen and play equipment areas for socialisation and non-competitive sports such as skipping, the green area was used by both boys and girls for a range of co-operative and imaginative play opportunities. This supports previous research that has found that green areas offer open and safe environments for students of both genders and for students from a variety of different backgrounds, and encourage a diversity of play behaviours. Larger play areas within the school grounds should be constructed in such a way as to encourage diverse play opportunities for both boys and girls: green areas represent one possible and effective solution.

KLA

Subject Headings

School grounds
Play
Primary education

Readers' theater: a process of developing fourth-graders' reading fluency

Volume 30 Number 4,  2009; Page 359–385
Rachel Clark, Timothy Morrison, Brad Wilcox

Readers' theatre is an instructional activity in which students read the script of a play, with each student adopting the role of a particular character. These activities provide an authentic setting for repeated reading as students learn how to read their lines expressively, influenced by the desire to collaborate with and meet the needs of other participating students. Some commercial services provide scripts with an explicit reading level ascribed to each character. Having levelled characters provides the additional benefit that students of widely varying reading ability can all interact meaningfully and at a level of manageable personal challenge. The use of reader's theatre has been examined through the study of an eight week intervention involving three male Grade 4 students in the USA. The students were selected to represent both struggling and average readers. Prior to the intervention the students' fluency was rated respectively as two grades below, one grade below and on par with grade level expectations. The scripts used were either narrative or expository and where possible aligned with the curriculum. The students also took part in mini lessons that focused on the particular aspects of reading fluency needed for performance of the script, such as intonation. Findings from the evaluation supported the value of reader's theatre as a means to engage students deeply with reading. The intensive reading practice required for the activity was found to feed back into the students' proficiency and confidence with reading. The findings also support recent arguments that reading fluency should be defined not only in terms of reading rate and accuracy, but also in terms of the inclusion of the prosodic elements of 'expression, volume, phrasing, pacing and smoothness'. The findings were established through the use of both quantitative and qualitative measures. The quantitative measures consisted of two tools, one of which tested oral reading accuracy and the other the way they expressed themselves through the use of volume, phrasing, smoothness and pace. The intervention was measured qualitatively through interviews and students' weekly report sheets where they described their reading activities and feelings about reading.

Key Learning Areas

The Arts
English

Subject Headings

Reading
Drama
Primary education
United States of America (USA)

Developing students as writers through collaboration

Volume 17 Number 2, June 2010; Pages 201–214
Rebecca Humpris

Collaborative writing can be used to help improve students’ metacognitive awareness of the processes involved in writing and revision. Nine students from Years 7 through 9 in Britain participated in a writing exercise where they were asked to think aloud about the strategies they employed during the revision process. Re-reading before revising was a strategy used by only four of the students; most began to revise immediately, making changes as they re-read. The students who re-read did so to ensure coherence in their writing, as well as to ensure that their writing was appropriate to their audience. Most of the students made additions to their texts, but these were generally at the surface level, such as adding punctuation; few students deleted or reorganised sections of their texts. Substitutions were relatively common, with students replacing existing words with more complex ones, or ones that were more suitable to their purpose and audience. Most of the students conceived of writing as a linear process comprising planning, writing and only then revision. Few students were able to give reasons for their revisions. To encourage students to examine their writing processes more deeply pairs of Year 7 students were asked to participate in several collaborative writing activities together. The majority of the students found working with a 'writing buddy' to be useful in that it helped them improve their writing, encouraged discussion of the writing process, and allowed for immediate feedback. Talking about their writing helped them to understand, evaluate and justify their writing processes. The students also found that, having identified problems in their writing buddy's work, they were more inclined to self-monitor for these issues.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

Group work in education
Secondary education
Writing

Improving assessment of learning and for learning

Volume 37 Number 3, August 2009; Page 247–257
Wynne Harlen

Summative assessment is necessary for the reporting and tracking of student performance, but tests are not necessarily the most useful form of summative assessment. Tests are usually designed to maximise their reliability, i.e. their accuracy, and as a result, test content tends to be restricted to items that can be measured unambiguously. However, the pursuit of such reliability reduces the tests' validity, i.e. the extent to which they measure all relevant aspects of students' achievement. Dimensions of learning such as creativity and enterprise therefore tend to be neglected in summative testing, even when lauded at a broad policy level. A further problem arises when aggregate student results on summative tests are used to evaluate the performances of whole schools or systems. Such tests tend to demoralise low-performing students, and increase test anxiety especially amongst girls. They tend to narrow teaching methods to those deemed most important for test results, so that practical work, for example, may be neglected. A far more effective form of summative assessment is available in the form of teachers' own judgements. Teachers are well placed to assess the full range of students' learning goals, as they routinely collect evidence of many aspects of student performance during daily classroom practice. Teachers are in touch with learning processes as well as results. Drawing on teachers' judgements means that the anxieties and costs of high-stakes tests are also avoided. The reliability of teachers' judgements is improved when they are supplied with detailed criteria by which to describe the various aspects of student achievement, when there are clear processes for moderation of teachers' judgements, when suitable professional development is available, and when examples of assessed work are provided. The time and resources needed for collaborative moderation should be factored into teachers' work. The substantial experience of teacher moderation in Queensland testifies to the value of these forms of assessment. The article is based on work by members of Britain's Assessment Reform Group (ARG).

KLA

Subject Headings

Assessment
Teaching and learning
Educational evaluation
Great Britain
Queensland

Teachers' continuing professional development and higher education

Volume 71 Number 2, June 2010; Pages 215–227
Andrew Green

Secondary English teachers in Britain have varied professional development needs, in part due to their wide-ranging degree backgrounds, and to the fact that they are required to teach across several subject areas. A questionnaire was used to examine the professional development needs and preferences of 119 secondary English teachers in Britain, as well as the teachers' reasons for undertaking higher education-based professional development. While a part-time MA was the most popular type of higher education-based PD, short courses and one-off sessions were also popular. However, these short courses were not widely available. Academic and personal development reasons were the most common motivations for undertaking a Masters-level program; almost half of the teachers saw Masters studies as key to their career development opportunities. However, overall, career development tended to be relatively insignificant as a reason for undertaking PD, particularly in terms of shorter courses. The short courses or one-off sessions that were found to be useful for PD included those that were author-based, period-based, or genre-based. Courses dealing with creative writing, English Language, and related subject areas such as Media Studies were also popular in light of the changing curriculum. Teachers tended to choose these courses for practical reasons, such as filling a gap in subject knowledge and preparation for teaching. However, academic and personal interest were also common reasons for undertaking this type of PD, with teachers wanting to broaden or deepen their knowledge of particular areas. The teachers also described PD as an important means of helping to sustain their passion and enthusiasm for their subject. It was seen as a way of engaging with fresh perspectives, as well as increasing confidence, particularly in relation to teaching at a senior-years level. Teachers also used PD to find new ways to transform their knowledge into teaching forms. Two significant barriers to undertaking higher education-based PD were funding and time constraints. The responses indicate the need for higher education-based professional development to become more flexible in terms of scheduling, cost and material covered to ensure accessibility for teachers.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
Teacher training
Professional development
Great Britain

Learning in the home and at school: how working class children 'succeed against the odds'

Volume 36 Number 3, June 2010; Pages 463–482
Iram Siraj-Blatchford

Parents of disadvantaged children who achieve against the odds often make explicit efforts to improve their children's chances of success. Interviews with 21 high-achieving low SES children and their parents, as well as with three lower-achieving children, were undertaken to examine how the children's learning was supported at home. The children were British-born 11 and 12 year olds from a range of ethnic backgrounds. High levels of contribution from a range of family members were found for all of the high-achieving children, and all of the parents reported reading to their children, as well as listening to their children read. A range of other educational activities were reported. The children were also active participants in their own learning. Both parents' and children's attitudes towards learning tended to be highly instrumental, with education viewed as a means to improve their circumstances; all had extremely high aspirations for future professional attainment. The parents were strongly aware of their role in educating their children, with many noting that their contributions, in tandem with formal education, were essential in helping prepare their children for the future. The parents, and their children, considered achievement to be the outcome of effort rather than innate ability, and believed that this effort would be rewarded. The children demonstrated high levels of 'self-regulation', and tended to be mastery-oriented. In contrast, the lower-achieving children tended to be less persistent, and mentioned giving up easily when confronted with something they didn’t understand. The approaches taken by the parents of the high achieving children can be characterised as 'concerted cultivation': an educational schema that involves dialogical communication, parental encouragement and reward, helping with homework and providing additional teaching and learning, and the provision of extra-curricular activities. However, in some cases difficult personal and financial circumstances as well as time constraints were described as barriers to their efforts. While concerted cultivation approaches have been criticised as potentially leading to 'overscheduled' children, the interviewees viewed them as a way of obtaining the social capital required to achieve particular aspirational outcomes.

KLA

Subject Headings

Great Britain
Child development
Parent and child
Socially disadvantaged

Interactive whiteboards: interactive or just whiteboards?

Volume 26 Number 4, June 2010; Pages 494–510
Maria Northcote, Paula Mildenhall, Linda Marshall, et al.

Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) offer opportunities for interactivity, communication and collaboration, and it has been claimed that they have a positive effect on student attitudes as well as offering a means by which different elements of the curriculum can be integrated. However, concerns have been raised that IWBs are not necessarily being used in pedagogically purposeful ways, and that they encourage teacher-oriented learning approaches, particularly among inexperienced users. Working with a focus group of 25 participants consisting of teachers, leaders and consultants, the authors examined perceptions of IWBs' potential as a classroom tool, and how they were being used in primary classrooms. The respondents believed that IWBs could facilitate active learning that included collaboration, discussion, interaction and problem solving. They felt that IWBs improved engagement, had the potential to encourage higher-level learning when used appropriately and provided opportunities for revision. The respondents reported using IWBs for a range of purposes, including: demonstrations; modelling and exhibition of student work; communication of classroom rules; explicit instruction; and for organisational purposes. They frequently used software to create their own learning tasks, and drew on a variety of websites and general and education-specific software. They were positive about using the IWBs, as well as improving their skills with the technology in order to promote higher levels of learning. The IWBs were seen as being particularly well suited to certain contexts and offered significant benefits in learning areas such as science, technology, maths, and society and the environment. They also offered opportunities for ESL students, special needs students, and students with visual and tactile learning preferences. Some concerns were raised about costs, ease of use and positioning of the equipment. The responses indicated that teachers' preferred use of IWBs tended to be student-oriented, rather than technology- or teacher-oriented, and was designed to encourage interaction and participation.

KLA

Subject Headings

Primary education
Teaching and learning
Technology
Classroom activities

Linear functions: teaching strategies and students' conceptions associated with y = mx + c

Volume 5 Number 3, July 2010; Pages 202–215
Robyn Pierce, Kaye Stacey, Caroline Bardini

When learning the linear function y = mx + c, instructional approaches often focus on the variables x and y, which are seen to be the more challenging components. As a result, students may struggle to develop an understanding of the roles of the parameters m and c. The authors explored students' understandings of the variables and parameters involved in linear functions, and considered how they may be influenced by certain teaching approaches. The participants were 73 15-year-old students in four mathematics classes in Australia. Three classes were taught using an approach that used real-world contexts and graphics calculators, while the fourth class received textbook-based instruction. While the students’ first efforts with linear functions indicated that they struggled with using letters to represent variables, increased exposure to context problems resulted in most students recognising that letters can be used to represent variables, rather than fixed unknowns, and that the linear function links the two variables x and y. However, the students' understandings of the parameters m and c were less well developed, with students often failing to distinguish them. In particular they struggled with the use of c, and often omitted it, seeing it as an optional item rather than a vital component of the equation. It was sometimes used interchangeably with m. In a test item measuring the cost of hiring a plumber, students tended to perceive time as a continuum rather than as set intervals to which an hourly charging rate applied, and struggled to construct an appropriate graph. Students who had been taught using real-world contexts demonstrated better understanding of the use of algebraic symbols in writing and interpreting linear functions. These students were also more likely to use letters in their equations that were relevant to the context, such as h for hours. The results indicate the importance of teacher-led discussions over the role of the parameters m and c in linear equations, as well as what the different components of the function are capable of representing.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Secondary education
Mathematics teaching
Mathematics
Algebra

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