Volume 9 Number 2, April 2010; Pages 190–219
'Learning gaps' tend to emerge between schools systems 'stuck' maintaining current practice, and those willing to innovate. A 30-month case study examined the practices of a highly regarded but administratively 'stuck' school system in the USA. A number of factors were identified as affecting the system's capacity for organisational learning. One was its low emphasis on staff and organisational learning and development: teachers received only the minimum allowable professional development, and had few avenues through which to take up leadership opportunities. In addition, rather than allowing members of the schools’ communities to undertake inquiry or make suggestions for improvement, external experts were brought in, with the school community told to 'trust the administration'. Another problematic factor was that the system appeared to be caught in a 'competency trap', relying on previously successful practices which were becoming outmoded due to changes in the educational and community contexts. For example, the system fiercely resisted a district proposal to implement the increasingly popular International Baccalaureate, fearing the program would result in lower enrolments in more traditional Advanced Placement (AP) subjects, an area in which the system was known for excellence. A further issue was the highly controlled and centralised dissemination of information by the system administration. Rather than using data to drive improvement, the administration tended to withhold information, such as poor test scores, which might reflect negatively on the system schools. Similarly, significant effort was made by the administration to curtail feedback and minimise interaction with the school communities, again to protect their reputation. The supportive and inclusive social structures key to organisational growth and learning were absent, with the system instead using 'defensive routines to maintain control and ensure compliance'. The 'stuck' nature of this system highlights the importance of a leadership and administration that is open to inquiry and self-examination, and that seeks to foster trust and collaboration in order to drive improvement.
Subject HeadingsEducational administration
United States of America (USA)
Volume 26 Number 4, July 2010
Concerns about boys' academic performance usually focus on their literacy skills. Commentators such as Richard Whitmire point out that boys' relative weakness in literacy disadvantages them across all subject areas, including maths. Such concerns have led some education and media commentators to call for single-sex education or more 'boy friendly' practices in schools. However, others argue that these measures could disadvantage girls, and cite evidence that women continue to experience discrimination once they enter the workforce, and authors Bennett and Rivers challenge the overall concept of a 'boy crisis'. Research does indicate that girls out-perform boys across a wide range of countries, and, within the USA, across ethnicity and SES. However, research also confirms that there is less variation between boys and girls than there is between ethnic groups and SES levels. The specific pattern of girls' higher achievement unfolds differently between communities. For example, a study by Kenneth Hilton found that boys' low literacy performance relative to girls' remained stable over time in prosperous communities, but widened in disadvantaged districts. Achievement is influenced by both ability and motivation, which need different approaches to address them: again, these two factors vary between communities. A further factor at work is the 'Matthew effect' or the cumulative impact of discrepancies over time. 'Boy friendly' approaches to reading, such as the use of comics or action-focused subject matter, have some value as an initial means of engagement, but do not automatically lead on to proficiency in reading substantial academic texts. Building the bridge to such texts requires specific supports to struggling readers at all year levels. It requires a study of the specific reading gaps at a particular school, rather than reliance on state or national statistics. It also requires that education leaders attend to the broad pattern of literacy gaps, including SES and ethnicity, rather than focusing narrowly on gender.
Subject HeadingsBoys' education
United States of America (USA)
Innovative practice in middle years literacy: a New South Wales perspective on professional learning
Volume 18 Number 2, 30 June 2010; Pages 31–38
The middle years introduce a number of new literacy demands on students: a different curriculum, expectations of a wider vocabulary, more varied and difficult texts, and the need to be multi-literate. The article examines three professional learning projects in NSW, all developed under the auspices of the AGQTP, that help teachers meet these challenges. The first, system-wide project was Quality Teaching: Literacy in the Middle years (LIM), involving over 100 primary and secondary schools between 2004 and 2009. It focused on creating effective transitions from primary to secondary school at the levels of formal 'bureaucratic' liaison, social links, the curriculum, pedagogy, and students' capacity to manage their own learning. In partnership, primary and secondary teachers examined students' performance data to develop a common focus of teaching to address the needs identified. This work was also informed by satisfaction and perception data collected from students and teachers by each school. The teachers received professional learning designed to deepen their understanding of particular subject areas and their literacy requirements. The learning experiences of participants have been captured through a series of school stories. The second professional learning project was conducted at Campbelltown Performing Arts High School (CPAHS). Academic results indicated the need to improve reading comprehension in Years 7 and 8, while teachers indicated a desire for closer cooperation to deliver the curriculum more consistently across subject areas. An action learning team was created involving two coordinators and teachers from English, science, visual arts, and health and physical education. The team developed a common curriculum theme to be taught according to the syllabus requirements of each subject area, and later tested through a common assessment task, involving multimedia that called for an understanding of the core concept. The third project was built around an intensive 12 day residential course at Stewart House which introduced a group of middle years students to the nature of the learning process, using the ELLI tool and material on learning dispositions.
New South Wales (NSW)
Teaching and learning
Coherence and continuity in literacy learning and the middle years
Volume 18 Number 2; Pages 18–22
The Catholic Education Office Melbourne (CEOM) is modifying its approach to literacy learning. A 'stages of schooling' approach is being refined to recognise both the growing diversity of textual forms, and the current trend towards closer monitoring of students' academic performance. The CEOM's Middle Years Literacy Program has worked well over the last eight years in facilitating collaboration between teachers, and gave P–2 teachers appropriately high levels of support. However, a review conducted the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) has found that the program was less successful in facilitating students' transition from primary to secondary schooling. It is now felt that the professional learning associated with the strategy created 'artificial transitions' for students and teachers and in practice discouraged a whole-school focus. Some teachers came to rely too much on particular pedagogical strategies without due recognition of the students' different learning needs at different year levels. Teachers in Years 3–6 wanted more direction in terms of relevant professional learning, and how best to implement assessment for learning. For Years 5–9 the program did not do enough to establish links across schools. To achieve success teachers needed more time to collaborate, 'and more challenging of colleagues' beliefs and understandings' than 'could be risked'. In Years 7–10, it was difficult to maintain the visibility of literacy learning needs with each subject area. These conclusions have led the CEOM to develop a new learning and teaching strategy and framework, titled Learning Centred Schools: A Sacred Landscape. The middle years are now more closely linked to other stages of schooling. There is also a clear alignment to the Australian Curriculum.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Teaching and learning
Eavesdropping on contemporary minds: why we need more essays in our high school classrooms
Volume 99 Number 4, April 2010; Pages 50–54
Essays invite readers into a writer’s mind. They cover a range of topics and styles, and can be used to engage students in exploring ideas and the writing process. A popular column written by author Stephen King illustrates the way in which contemporary essays can be used to help students explore both the craft of writing and the structures involved. The brevity of these texts makes it possible for students to read them several times. Students can be encouraged to annotate the text to highlight arguments or statements with which they agree, and those they wish to challenge. These annotations can be used to support a class discussion where students explore the content of the essay. Students can then be guided to examine the structure of the essay. Based on their familiarity with essays, they may be scaffolded to look for specific items, or be instructed to simply identify structures that recur, such as topic sentences and examples. They may also identify features that seem to break what they think of as 'the rules' of essay writing, such as informal language use. Awareness of style can help students hone their critical and analytical skills. Two other sources for essays are held up as exemplars. The first is National Public Radio's This I Believe website, which includes audio essays sorted by theme. Students can use these essays to explore differences in craft, as well as to discuss a range of topics and explore their own beliefs. The Best American Essays series also provides a rich range of material that may resonate with students’ identities and experiences, and offer a variety of approaches to craft and style.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Thought and thinking
Crossing boundaries between cultures and disciplines: using geography and creative arts to build bridges with community groups in one school
Teacher educators at the University of Newcastle have worked with primary teachers and members of the local African community to develop a program that uses geography and the arts to promote respect for minority ethnic groups. The program was aimed at children aged 7–9. The intention of the program was to link teaching about the geography of Africa to 'the emotional pull' of the creative arts, which offer new approaches to learning through auditory and tactile forms of perception. The program involved 60 students for a total of six hours over three sessions, during which students interacted formally and informally with the academics, teachers and community members. Geographical content focused explicitly on Sudan, to counter the generic, undifferentiated view of Africa common among children. All arts activities were related to specific areas of Sudan and linked to these geographic origins through maps, images, artefacts and personal accounts. The program encouraged students' active participation, and personal interaction; this approach initially produced tensions, as the African community members had expected to teach children through 'mini lectures'. To assess attitudes towards Africa and Africans the students were asked to draw maps of the world, list all the geographic places they knew, and identify geographic regions they liked and disliked. The assessments were completed before and during the program and repeated three months later. Adult participants all maintained reflective logs. The program was found to improve the children's knowledge of the world and their openness towards other peoples. The paper also describes a range of factors thought to limit the effectiveness of multicultural programs in schools. They are often limited to superficial aspects of other cultures, such as food, dress and songs. Attempts to overcome prejudice by 'treating everyone the same' do not deal with the subtle disadvantages faced by ethnic minority children, who have less sense of belonging in mainstream society and less awareness of social protocols. The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has developed many valuable resource materials about regional countries, but 'many teachers do not know about it or how to incorporate it in their classroom', or rate it as a high priority.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsMulticultural education
Arts in education
New South Wales (NSW)
Volume 32 Number 11, July 2010; Pages 1465–1493
It is helpful to introduce students to scientific concepts through everyday language in the first instance, and introduce scientific terminology afterwards. A study compared the effects of this form of teaching science, known as 'disaggregate instruction', to standard approaches in which scientific terminology is taught alongside concepts. The participants were 49 Grade 5 students in the USA who were divided into treatment or control groups. Students' science knowledge was tested prior to and following an intervention that comprised a computer-based science lesson on photosynthesis. The assessments included questions that used everyday language, those that used scientific language, and 'hybrid' questions that incorporated both. Both groups of students performed substantially better on questions that used everyday language; they performed worst on questions that used only scientific language. However, the treatment group outperformed the control group on all measures, demonstrating gains that were twice those of the control group. The largest differences were found when students were asked to demonstrate their conceptual understanding using everyday language, with treatment group students significantly outperforming the other students. They used everyday language correctly more frequently than the control group, and were able to accurately use non-scientific descriptions to describe scientific phenomena. They also used science language and 'hybrid' language correctly more often than the control group, and were less likely to use them incorrectly. Science teachers should consider innovative ways of teaching science content using accessible, everyday language in the first place, as these practices not only result in improved conceptual understanding and ability to communicate scientific ideas, but may also help deal with issues of cultural disengagement that may occur when students are expected to use the particular type of language valued in science.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsSocial life and customs
Cross-sectoral leaders of partnerships in reforming senior learning in Queensland: implications for the professional learning of education and training leaders
A study in Queensland has reviewed school-industry partnerships in the state, and has examined the role that leaders play in their implementation. Researchers interviewed a total of 40 leaders holding senior, mid-level or local positions in school education, TAFE or the ETRF program. They found that top-level leaders play two main roles. They liaise with senior executives from companies and industry associations, sometimes with the involvement and support of politicians, creating the broad conditions for partnerships to be developed. They also provide strategic advice to middle-level leaders. These middle-level figures explore in more detail the possibilities for joint activities between educational and industrial organisations, for example in the joint development of training qualifications. During interviews these leaders noted that overcoming student disengagement was a key priority for them. At the local level, leadership roles are played by school principals and curriculum coordinators. Their work involves detailed, frequent collaboration with local industry leaders. It also involves close contact with parents, police and the representatives of shopping centres, to monitor students' whereabouts and safety during times set aside for work experience off the school campus. There are three models of school-industry partnership. Most common is the 'hub and spoke' model: an organisation such as an institute or academy provides an organisational centre to facilitate the operation of local school-level partnerships. Examples include the QCWT at Stanthorp State High School and the QMEA virtual college. Under the second, 'contractor/agency' model, a commercial agency organises contacts between schools and businesses. Where apprenticeships or traineeships are involved the agency pays students and charges the businesses that employ them. The third, 'direct engagement' model involves unmediated contact between educational and other organisations. The Australian Technical Colleges (ATCs) fall into this category. So do Queensland's specialist state high schools that build relationships with industries in the field of the school's subject specialisation, such as health sciences. Challenges and obstacles to school-industry partnerships include the dearth of industries in some schools' local communities; the uncertainty of long-term funding for partnerships, including the ATCs; and the shortage of manual arts teachers.
Subject HeadingsEducational administration
VET (Vocational Education and Training)
Volume 35 Number 5, October 2009; Pages 745–759
A study examining teachers’ job satisfaction has found a significant decline in reported satisfaction when compared with the results of a similar study in 1962. The factors reported as contributing to job dissatisfaction have also changed substantially. The study, drawing on survey responses from 210 teachers from eight schools in Britain, found that teachers were generally slightly less than satisfied with their role, a statistically significant decline in satisfaction when compared with the 1962 study. Their most common sources of job dissatisfaction were lack of time, pupil behaviour and pupil attitudes. These factors are substantially different from those reported in the 1962 study, where teachers were most concerned with issues of salary, human relations, and buildings and equipment; pupil behaviour and attitudes were not identified as problematic factors. The teachers suggested that their job satisfaction could be improved with additional time for preparation and collaboration, greater provision of funding and resources, and support for student behaviour problems. Other suggested changes included increased professional recognition, greater support from the administration, reduced class sizes and workloads, and fewer curricular changes and external accountability demands. Policymakers must examine the implications of the changing educational environment and make appropriate changes to address these sources of dissatisfaction. For example, teachers' increased workload should be acknowledged, and they should be supported in managing problematic student behaviour. Teacher learning communities may also help improve teachers' satisfaction and competence by equipping them to understand issues resulting from changing student populations and school curricula.
Subject HeadingsJob satisfaction
Teaching and learning
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