Six decades of continuous school restructuring
Number 46, April 2010
The author describes waves of reform in Australian education since the 1950s. The first wave occurred as part of the country's post-war economic reconstruction. Universal education was extended to secondary schooling. Teacher training colleges also expanded in number and scope. The Australian Government established a Ministry of Education in 1967, and towards the end of the 1960s state and federal governments began to working collectively to manage the growing financial demands imposed by school education. The second period of reform took place throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Federal-state cooperation deepened, and the Australian government began to intervene directly in schooling, and began financing non-government schools. The curriculum expanded, technical schools burgeoned and education departments were restructured. External examinations were increasingly criticised as a form of assessment. Teacher unions were active, refusing, for example, 'to teach alongside unqualified teachers, especially those with no prior training in teacher education'. Teacher education continued to expand. Extensive reworking of the curriculum continued. State education systems decentralised, setting up regional offices, while the non-government sectors became more integrated. Parents were increasingly able to choose between schools and participate in them. Period three, the 1980s–1990s, was characterised by 'economic rationality'. Governments introduced privatisation and market competition to school education, and sought value for money through tighter control of educational outcomes. Governments also tended to present private or semi-private schooling as the preferred model, and 'bred a perception' that they favoured non-government sectors in terms of funding. The academic aspects of schooling increasingly predominated over technical education, creating the conditions for a subsequent skills shortage. The overall effect of the phase was to 'sharpen socio-economic differences' in school education, while also subjecting it to 'useful disciplines'. A fourth phase commenced in the mid 1990s; dominated by the introduction of computers, which have transformed the way curriculum is presented, data is managed and schools are built, as well as the way that 'teachers teach and the way students learn'. Teachers also became increasingly able to move between countries and careers. In the current, fifth phase, globalisation is encouraging deeper interconnections between schools in different countries. International benchmarking of school performance has been established in the public consciousness, and the International Baccalaureate is 'introducing effectively a world-wide curriculum conformity'. The author also describes some of his personal experiences of each phase.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
Education and state
The next generation of testing
Volume 67 Number 3, November 2009; Pages 48–53
Current assessment systems, which rely mainly on multiple choice answers, assess only narrow aspects of students' work and do not indicate how students can improve. Performance-based testing, which assesses products such as portfolios, emerged as an alternative in the 1980s but then lost popularity due to concerns about their cost, reliability and compatibility with accountability mechanisms. Now, however, researchers are trialling new approaches, which draw on advances in ICT and cognitive science. The new assessment tools present information and questions in multiple forms, including graphs and other images, which offer students varied ways to undertake tasks, and allow the tasks to be more complex and more compelling for students. These tools also present problems in several steps, and allow students' responses to be tracked at each stage to capture their problem-solving strategies. Such information reveals a lot about students' grasp of underlying concepts. An example is the Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments (TRE) project. However, because such approaches assess knowledge of content as well as problem-solving processes, they can only be applied across contexts where the same content has been taught. This problem is avoided in the Calipers project which focuses more narrowly on students' problem-solving processes. Another new form of assessment, becoming popular in military and medical training environments, takes the form of fully immersive simulations. These simulations apply ICT to create very lifelike situations in which the learner has to synthesise and apply complex knowledge. There are, however, barriers to adopting any of these new approaches, including cost, logistical difficulties, and the need to ensure equity for students with relatively low access to technology. To be used effectively these approaches also call for a deeper understanding of how learning occurs within specific disciplinary areas. To make further progress in the use of these assessment methods, education systems must develop clear, common standards. The standards should be few in number as students need to do more work to demonstrate accomplishment than are needed for multiple choice tests. Education systems should also plan for extended trialling and evaluation before pilot projects are scaled up.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Integrating guided inquiry into a traditional chemistry curricular framework
Volume 32 Number 13, September 2010; Pages 1689–1714
While science teachers widely agree upon the value of inquiry-based classroom approaches, actual classroom practice in the USA remains largely teacher-oriented. The author observed the classroom practices of an exemplary secondary science teacher known for her inquiry-based approaches to examine the ways in which she integrated inquiry into a year-long chemistry curriculum. The teacher was found to engage her students in almost twice the amount of lab-work and half the amount of teacher-directed discussion and lectures than is typical of most science teachers. She very deliberately integrated inquiry into the curriculum by setting a year-long, overarching goal of developing her students' ability to work together as a class and by planning a series of inquiry-based activities to meet this goal. Her lesson plans for each unit of study were designed to seamlessly transition students in and out of inquiry. The teacher typically prepared students for guided inquiry by introducing and modelling relevant concepts and by engaging them in 'pair-share' discussions where students described their understandings of a given concept to each other. After this initial scaffolding, she then transitioned into the inquiry-based tasks by explicitly relinquishing control of the classroom to the students, challenging them to work as a class to solve a particular problem. She deliberately sought not to engage with the class during these sessions. Individual assessments and whole-class discussions on the material learnt were used to help transition the students out of the guided inquiry process. This process was supplemented by the teacher asking her students to reflect on their collaborative efforts and to identify opportunities for improvement. The teacher would then provide her own feedback about the class's performance during the unit, linking their efforts not only with required academic outcomes, but also with her overarching goal of successful class collaboration. The case study provides an example of how inquiry can be successfully integrated into a year-long curriculum whilst meeting mandatory standards, and highlights how opportunities for student-directed approaches can be increased by reducing time spent on traditional teacher-oriented approaches.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsGroup work in education
Volume 67 Number 3, November 2009; Pages 85–87
Schools benefit from using three types of assessment. Summative assessment is administered at the end of a year, semester or unit, to establish what students have learned at the end of one of these phases of education. Large-scale summative testing may be used to compare schools, to identify areas of poor student performance, such as a particular content area, and to revise a teaching program for future students. Formative assessment is administered frequently by teachers to identify how students are progressing within short time frames, as a guide to whether they should adjust their teaching practices. Formative assessment may require teachers to change current practices. Research by Perie et al indicates that it is important for education systems to provide adequate professional development to help teachers through these processes. Teachers should also have the chance to collaborate in developing formative assessment tasks, and to evaluate the success of this form of assessment over time. Interim assessments combine qualities of summative and formative testing. Interim assessment tests broad groups of students using common content standards, at intervals short enough to guide their immediate teaching practices. Research by Lachat and Smith has found that teaching is improved when groups of teachers within a school collaborate to develop interim assessments.
The complexities of change: formative assessment in Scotland
Volume 21 Number 2, June 2010; Pages 161–177
Having recognised the difficulty of ensuring sustained change after the introduction of reforms, the government of Scotland has explored ways in which its Assessment is for Learning (AifL) program can be successfully integrated into teaching and learning over the longer term. The AifL program aims to create a coherent assessment system with an emphasis on formative assessment. Preliminary research has indicated that practitioners have made meaningful changes to their classroom approaches, but that there remains some diversity of practice. This has implications for the success of a wider-scale roll-out. The author interviewed staff from five primary and four secondary schools in Scotland about the factors crucial for sustaining the engagement of teachers and schools with the program. One major factor was the program's 'educational integrity'. The AifL program had helped improve teaching and learning by de-emphasising curriculum coverage and encouraging instead a focus on students' understanding, thinking skills and ways of working, all of which teachers felt were valuable approaches. 'Personal and professional integrity' were also important, with the respondents indicating significant commitment to the program due to its positive impact on students' learning. They felt vindicated as professionals, and appreciated having a role in constructing the program, as well as being able to work as part of a learning community. A third factor was 'systemic integrity', with respondents highlighting the importance of the wider education system being committed to the program. This was evident through the widespread provision of relevant professional development activities, the strong research base behind the program, and the consistency of policy relating to AifL. However, the responses also highlighted the complexity of reform. While common themes such as time, networking and awareness of student needs arose, individual teachers and their schools approached the reforms in ways that varied depending on factors such as staff alignment with the reforms, available time and resources, and the school context. The responses indicate that successful and sustained engagement with reform is possible, but they also indicate that implementation is necessarily complex and that this complexity should be taken into account with the introduction and expansion of reforms.
Emotions and 'getting by': a pre-service teacher navigating professional experience
Volume 38 Number 3, August 2010; Pages 221–234
Teaching placements can be complex and challenging experiences for pre-service teachers. However, trainee teachers often avoid sharing elements of their experiences that may reflect poorly on them due to fears of being judged or critiqued. A series of interviews with a pre-service teacher about a placement experience highlight the ways in which new teachers may 'struggle for voice'. The respondent was an academically high-achieving individual who had received excellent grades for her classroom placement. However, the respondent's overall feeling about her placement was that she had 'just got by'. Her initially strong sense of self-efficacy, drawn from her life experience and her previous work placement, had been quickly undermined by her struggle to develop positive relationships with her students and her supervising teacher, leaving her feeling rejected and alienated. She felt that her supervising teacher's lack of support and tendency to intervene prematurely or unnecessarily also undermined her authority, but she avoided speaking out for fear of being considered incompetent or troublesome. Wary of the prospect of additional surveillance and of the possibility of putting herself into a vulnerable position, she avoided participating in action research or other collaborative activities. A compounding factor was the assessing role of her supervisor: she struggled with the idea of matching her teaching to both the formal professional criteria for competence and the individual preferences of her supervisor. Her responses not only indicate the complexity of the dynamics involved in a teaching placement, but also the potential for pre-service teachers to conceal the reality of their day-to-day struggles in order to retain an outward appearance of competence and professionalism. Teacher educators may need to examine such issues to ensure that pre-service teachers are not making professional compromises that affect their sense of efficacy and their enjoyment of teaching simply to 'get by'.
Subject HeadingsJob satisfaction
Teaching and learning
Reading difficulties and grade retention: what's the connection for English language learners?
Volume 26 Number 1, January 2010; Pages 91–107
In the USA, English language learners (ELL) are more likely to demonstrate low academic achievement, and are more likely to be held back or to drop out of school than other students. ELL students are disproportionately assigned to special education classes rather than being given the appropriate support for their particular language learning needs. As reading skills are strongly associated with drop-out and retention, it is essential that efforts be made to support these students' literacy development. Research indicates that ELL students benefit from the same types of reading instruction as mainstream students when some elements, for example oral proficiency measures and vocabulary emphasis, are tailored to their needs. Pre-reading and post-reading measures such as providing overviews and definitions or checking for understanding are also beneficial. Careful selection of age- and interest-appropriate material that encourages comprehension rather than addressing isolated skills can improve motivation and learning outcomes. Educators should also take into account students' prior schooling experiences and their literacy levels in their L1. Depending on their home language, students may need support with phonological awareness and orthographical knowledge. Early interventions and provision of early years literary programs can be helpful in reducing learning gaps that often present themselves later on. Interventions that have been found to result in gains in fluency, phonemic awareness and comprehension are those that include elements of vocabulary instruction, error correction and repeated reading. Small-group and cooperative learning activities may also have a positive effect on students' literacy skills. The progress of ELL students should also be monitored, with these outcomes used to inform instructional approaches. These interventions, in tandem with early intervention efforts, can help improve outcomes for ELL students.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish as an additional language
Collegial mentoring for effective whole school professional development in the use of IWB technologies
Volume 26 Number 4, July 2010; Pages 477–493
Peer mentoring may provide valuable opportunities for supportive 'just in time' professional development relating to interactive whiteboards (IWBs). Using interviews and classroom observations, the authors examined the impact of a year-long peer mentoring program designed to assist colleagues in classroom use of IWBs. The study involved teachers from a large secondary school in Victoria, as well as teachers from several primary schools. The site-based nature of the program helped ensure that the mentoring was relevant and targeted to the teachers' specific needs, and that their learning could easily be shared with colleagues. The non-hierarchical nature of the program also helped develop trust between the mentors and other teaching staff. The mentors were comfortable with their roles, seeing themselves as 'non-expert' peers working together to help teachers overcome any technological challenges that arose, as well as to help them to integrate the use of IWBs flexibly into their pedagogy. The teachers gradually weakened their framing, and began to encourage student-centred approaches such as allowing students to write on the board themselves. The teachers also moved towards more experimental and interactional uses of the technology. These changes were partly due to the way that mentors encouraged teachers to experiment in their approaches to the IWB and their pedagogy. The teachers often 'ran through' new techniques they wanted to include in their lessons beforehand with their mentors, until they were ready to eventually 'cast off'.The responses indicate that peer mentoring can be an effective and inexpensive way of helping teachers to develop both the technological and pedagogical skills required to work effectively with IWBs.
Teaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Prosody's contribution to fluency: an examination of the theory of automatic information processing
Volume 31 Number 1, January 2010; Pages 82–92
In their seminal work on reading, LaBerge and Samuels contend that fluent reading comprises two main components: accurate word decoding and automaticity in word recognition. However, the author of the present article argues that current definitions of fluency have evolved to incorporate the use of prosodic features such as stress and intonation. A number of studies have indicated the positive relationship between prosodic awareness and reading skills, as well as between prosodic skills and comprehension. This indicates that prosody may represent a link between automatic reading processes and non-automatic processes such as comprehension, and that comprehension relies on more than accuracy and automaticity. In addition to research highlighting the importance of prosody to reading development, prosody has also become an integral component of reading instruction. Instructional approaches focusing on reading fluency now incorporate not only accuracy and rate of reading, but also students' appropriate use of prosody: students are encouraged to be able to read in a way that is 'fluid, flowing, and facile'. One approach, for example, that aims to build this capacity for expressive oral reading is the widely used 'repeated readings' approach. Thus, while automatic processes are key to fluency in reading, LaBerge and Samuels's definition of fluent reading needs to be expanded to include prosody, an element that plays an intricate role in both fluency and comprehension.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsChild development
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