Literacy partnership coaches: an initiative of the South Australian Department of Education and Children's Services
Volume 18 Number 2, June 2010; Pages 39–48
The Literacy and Numeracy National Partnerships Plan in South Australia is providing support to a range of selected schools across the state. Under the plan 14 literacy coaches and 14 numeracy coaches have been placed in selected schools. The literacy coaches are helping classroom teachers to analyse student achievement data, and to develop and monitor intervention programs for students with particular literacy needs. The coaches focus on one-to-one work with teachers. To establish an effective learning relationship with teachers, the coaches have usually commenced by discussing with them the learning needs of individual students or groups of students. Analysis of student results brings out these students' misunderstandings or knowledge gaps, which in turn feeds into discussion of targeted teaching strategies. The emphasis is on how to advance rather than on critiquing teachers' current performances. While the coaches do not teach classes themselves, they may model particular teaching strategies with students at individual group or whole class levels, co-teach classes, or observe some of the teacher's classes. The schools selected to receive literacy support usually had high proportions of students close to the national minimum standard range expected for NAPLAN results, with the potential 'to make measureable gains in a fairly short time frame', and thus excluded schools with the highest and lowest bands of student performance. The selected schools are concentrated in four regions, two metropolitan and two regional. This concentration is expected to help coaches build supportive regional networks after an initial period in which they concentrate on helping staff at the school where they are placed. The coaches themselves take part in a five day professional learning program and convene three or four days each term to share experiences. Coaches are helped to build relationships with different teachers who vary widely in terms of classroom experience and their perspectives about working with a coach. The plan is informed by research on effective literacy and numeracy teaching, which underlines the importance of having performance standards that are established at a whole-school level and are clear to students and teachers. This is supported by on-site professional learning and monitoring of student and teacher performance. The article includes separate reports from three of the coaches.
Holding on to Gen Y
Volume 67 Number 8, May 2010; Pages 70–74
The Teach Plus Policy Fellows program in the USA is dealing with two significant problems in schooling: how to retain young teachers, and how to attract high-performing teachers to disadvantaged schools. Teachers are generally thought to join and stay in the profession due to their liking for children and interest in their specific subject areas. However, these satisfactions are also offered in other professions and feedback from young teachers points to a third motivator that is, in their eyes, more distinctive to teaching: the capacity to make a difference to society and advance the cause of social justice. Yet this desire is not as widely satisfied as the other two in actual classroom teaching. The two-year program addresses this problem by giving participating young teachers access to policy makers and research opportunities, and avenues through which to advocate reforms in the schools where they are placed. One group of program participants have considered the issue of how to attract high-quality teachers to disadvantaged schools. They have proposed that high-performing teachers be appointed to a disadvantaged school in a significantly sized group, a 'cohort of effective colleagues', rather than as individuals; that they take on roles in leadership and data analysis with reduced teaching load; that they receive a pay loading; and that they are selected on the basis of demonstrated success in teaching high-need students. These proposals are to be trialled in two schools later this year. The difficulty of attracting strongly-performing teachers to struggling schools is usually attributed to poor working conditions, but the wholesale improvement of such conditions can be seen as overwhelming and, implicitly, as an excuse for inaction. Young teachers' ever-present option to change careers can also become an excuse for passivity; in fact, the departure of Gen Y teachers from the profession is often experienced as 'heart-wrenching' and of uncertain outcome, suggesting that they can be persuaded to stay in schools.
Subject HeadingsGeneration Y
Teaching and learning
Making science real
March 2010; Pages 56–62
The article suggests several approaches to science teaching and learning. Many students struggle with the literacy demands raised by science. Problems include scientific vocabulary, the display of information in graphs, charts and other visual images, and complex syntax. During the last few decades education systems have tried to overcome these challenges by inserting elements of literacy teaching in science classes, but recent research in Hong Kong suggests that it may be more helpful to teach elements of science content in the reading classroom. Reading classes can be used to draw out and explain the verbal logic used to indicate causation in science texts. For example, texts used in reading lessons might pose hypothetic scenarios of the kind often found in scientific thought experiments. Within the science classroom, it is important to cover the big ideas in science, not rote learning of vocabulary and formulae. General ideas, however, should be raised initially in concrete ways, before moving to abstract concepts. These concepts should then in turn be reapplied concretely, following the learning cycle of exploration, concept development and application. Science lessons should also be made meaningful to students by relating to students' own ideas and to issues of relevance to them. Science textbooks, in general, are not suitable as the main means to convey any of these forms of learning as they tend to reflect outmoded approaches to science education.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience literacy
Prominent feature analysis: what it means for the classroom
Volume 99 Number 4, March 2010; Pages 84–89
Identification and analysis of the prominent features in students' writing can help teachers target their instruction to address particular shortcomings or highlight strengths. A group of 12 teachers analysed the essays of 464 Year 7 students in the USA to identify and list prominent positive and negative features. Positive features identified included effective organisation, variation of sentence structure, the use of 'striking words', effective transitions, awareness of audience and use of voice. Negative features included spelling and punctuation, weak overall organisation and redundancy. Certain features were correlated with high and low achievement, while some features, such as the effective use of voice, were found in both low-scoring and high-scoring assessments. Assigning numerical values to the different features allowed the teachers to obtain finely graded scores. In addition, identification of the spread of particular features and how they correlated with achievement helped the teachers guide their instruction. For example, while some essays contained instances of effective repetition, many showed redundancy. Instruction could be targeted to help heighten awareness of these features and to help students understand the difference between the two. Authentic models, such as exemplary student work, or examples from literature, could be used. Prominent feature analysis offers a way for teachers to work together collaboratively to analyse student work, diagnose areas for improvement and plan future approaches. Teachers can work together to develop consensus over features, to document them, and to reflect on which features appear most commonly and why. This approach not only helps teachers to make informed instructional decisions, but also to better articulate the features of their students' writing.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Critical readings: African American girls and urban fiction
Volume 53 Number 7, April 2010; Pages 565–573
Drawing on students' out-of-school reading interests can be an effective means of linking leisure reading with the more traditional forms of literature found in classrooms. The genre of 'urban fiction', a genre popular with many young African American female readers, is used to explain how non-traditional texts can be used to engage readers in a range of literacy practices. Urban fiction engages readers for several reasons: it deals with authentic situations and taboo topics, depicts characters with whom readers can identify culturally and racially, and can act as a 'guide to life' in a way that more traditional texts may not. Incorporating such texts into the classroom can help to legitimise students' reading cultures and personal identities and promote reading confidence and achievement. These texts can also be used as 'entry points' for teaching English-related skills while drawing on students' perspectives, and can be incorporated into settings such as book clubs, literature circles and silent reading. Teachers can also draw parallels between students' out-of-school literacies and classroom texts, such as comparing the themes and structures of rap lyrics and poetry. Non-traditional texts can also be used as a basis for enhancing critical literacy skills, such as character analysis and examining representations of power, identity, gender and culture. Problematic or stereotypical representations should also be examined. The texts can also be used to question why the perspectives included in these texts are excluded from canonical texts, as well as to examine authorial assumptions and the targeted audience. The ways in which readers understand and take messages from these texts, as well as the ways in which their conceptions of self are influenced, should also be examined.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsSocial life and customs
Lessons learned? School leadership and curriculum reform in Hong Kong
Volume 30 Number 2, June 2010; Pages 231–242
Schools in Hong Kong have been subject to extensive reform in recent years, but the quality of its implementation has been affected by issues such as weak leadership and poor management of change, teachers' lack of understanding of changes, and low levels of collaboration. To determine whether schools draw on previous experiences of reform in implementing new changes, the author examined how nine secondary schools in Hong Kong responded to a series of new reforms that required significant structural and curricular changes. Interviews with teachers and school leaders found that the schools were confident that they would be able to avoid any major problems due to their prior experiences with school change. The school leaders were aware of the aims of and motivations for change, as well as its implications, and were actively working to manage the changes in a way appropriate to their school context. They made efforts to develop teachers' understanding of the reforms, to provide relevant professional development and to encourage collaboration between teachers. They were realistic about their ability to deliver the reforms, and worked to implement elements they identified as essential to their particular school context; some schools took a staggered approach to implementation. Some identified shared principles and practices between the new reforms and previous reforms in order to ensure a smooth progression of implementation. The creation of an organisational framework in which these changes could take place was key to ensuring that teachers were more confident in their ability to deal with changes than they had been during previous reforms. The approaches of the schools to the implementation of the new reform indicated that schools are capable of learning from previous reform experiences, and developing appropriate strategies to ensure positive outcomes.
Subject HeadingsEducational innovations
A national perspective on the effects of high-stakes testing and standardization on elementary social studies marginalization
Volume 38 Number 1, Winter 2010; Pages 114–130
Over the past 20 years the time allocated to social studies at primary level in the USA has significantly declined. Research has suggested that social studies is viewed as less important than other core content such as mathematics and English, a perspective that has been reinforced by standardisation and high-stakes testing processes that tend to focus exclusively on these subjects. National data from two major surveys were used to examine reported levels of social science instructional time at primary level over 17 years. The time spent on social studies was consistently found to be much lower than that spent on English or mathematics, but slightly higher than that spent on science. On average, less than three hours a week was spent on social science instruction, whereas approximately 11 and 5 hours respectively were spent on English and mathematics. Time allocated to social science was at its lowest level after the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, although it was also found to have dropped significantly after the implementation of a series of high-stakes testing procedures introduced in 2000. Significantly more time was spent on social science in the upper primary years than in younger years; this variation was not found for other subject areas. Variability between teachers in time spent on social studies was also found to decrease after the implementation of high-stakes testing procedures, indicating that teachers' classroom autonomy may have been restricted as a result of the new policies. With the recent introduction of high-stakes testing for science, it is possible that further declines in social sciences instructional time will be seen.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
United States of America (USA)
The effects of education accountability on teachers: are policies too stress-provoking for their own good?
Volume 4 Number 5, June 2009; Pages 1–13
High-stakes accountability policies can affect teachers by causing role conflict and reduced self-efficacy, both of which may lead to increased levels of burnout. A survey of 100 primary school teachers in South Carolina examined teacher perceptions of the state's standards-based annual tests, and how the tests affected their work. Interviews were also conducted with 20 of the teachers. The teachers appeared to struggle with issues of role conflict. The vast majority reported finding it difficult to incorporate learning goals not immediately related to the tests into the curriculum, as well as having limited time to complete tasks related to the high-stakes tests. Two-thirds of the teachers reported having to change their teaching practices due to the demands of the accountability practices, with many reporting that they had de-emphasised group work, had moved to using teacher-centred approaches, and that they no longer insisted that all students master a topic before moving on. The teachers also tended to emphasise the subjects assessed on the high-stakes tests, such as English and mathematics, while cutting back on subjects such as social studies or science. The teaching of these subjects was often stopped altogether in the weeks preceding the tests. While the teachers' self-efficacy was by and large not affected by the tests, they did express concerns about their classroom performance being evaluated using students' one-off test scores; some teachers raised concerns about student backgrounds and abilities affecting achievement in ways that were beyond their control. The teachers made several suggestions with regard to the tests. These included using a variety of ongoing assessments rather than one high-stakes test, providing more resources, and involving teachers in policymaking processes that related to tests. Professional development and teacher leadership programs may also help increase teacher self-efficacy, reducing the risk of burnout and improving student achievement. In addition, efforts to foster connections between schools and their communities could help reduce the tendency to take a 'deficit' view of learning, encouraging teachers to move away from the assumption that there are certain background factors that cannot be overcome by classroom instruction.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Teaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
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