Middle year students talk: science sux or science rocks!
Volume 56 Number 1, 24 March 2010; Pages 13–16
Feedback from a group of middle years' science students suggests ways that education systems can improve students' engagement with the subject. It also points to wider social forces that influence students' subject choices. The feedback came from 35 Year 9 students in five focus groups. The students came from five South Australian high schools covering all school sectors and various demographic categories. The researchers drew a range of conclusions from students' responses. Students are motivated to learn science through inquiry-based approaches to learning. They are also motivated by taking part in laboratory experiments, as long as these experiments are meaningful and connected to their curriculum. This finding calls for investment in school science labs and for timetabling that facilitates students' participation. Students should be able to use technology in science classes, not only for research and writing, but also to collect data in varied ways. The use of technology helps to align science more closely to students' everyday lives, and meet their expectations of quick results from what they do. Students' comments also underscored the influence of parents' opinions on students, and hence the value of involving parents in school science. Finally, the feedback highlighted the way that social forces beyond the school impact on students' thinking. These influences include the prevailing cultural expectation of 'instant gratification', which needs to be contested in the context of science learning. Society's prevailing culture has also encouraged students to think about careers as an aspect of 'self-realisation'. Such self-actualisation is commonly idealised in the form of celebrity status, but rarely in the form of a science career. These cultural influences on students need to be factored into the creation and delivery of the curriculum. The article also draws on previous research including work by Goodrum, Hackling and Rennie and by Panizzon, Barnes and Pegg.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Volume 67 Number 8, May 2010; Pages 81–82
The author contrasts the benefits and drawbacks of value-added and traditional methods for judging teachers' performance. Value-added measures of teachers' performance aim to capture the teacher's specific contribution to their students' learning over the school year. However, a number of research reports challenge the effectiveness of these measures, or point to ways in which they may potentially distort results. Koretz 2008 warns that value-added measures need to allow for the fact that struggling readers learn more slowly than high-performing students. Lockwood et al 2006 found that the performance of individual middle years' maths teachers varied widely according to the type of end-of-year tests sat by their students. Goldhaber and Hansen 2008 identified differences in individual teachers' performances year by year based on their students' results in reading and maths. On the other hand, traditional evaluation methods also have serious flaws: they may be distorted by the bias of the assessor, or by the number and quality of classroom observations. The effectiveness of value-added and traditional measures have been compared in research by Jacob and Lefgren 2008 covering 201 primary teachers. They found that either method was effective in predicting the highest and lowest-performing teachers in the following years: value-added measures were slightly more accurate, but their reliability was also improved when principal's evaluations were factored into the evaluations. A consensus is developing around the need for multiple measures of teachers' performance. It should also be noted that 'expensive data analysis systems' may be less effective than measures that can identify 'the specific supports teachers need to improve their practice'.
Subject HeadingsTeachers' employment
Teaching and learning
Can education be a research based profession?
Volume 32 Number 2, 2010; Pages 21–23
An education expert based in Canada examines the links between research and practice in school education. There is a well-recognised gap between research and practice in schools. For example, strategies to enhance student engagement are not being pursued to the extent recommended by research, while strategies discredited by evidence, such as grade retention and tracking, remain widespread. In this respect school education is similar to industries such as health, where evidence-based practice is the exception rather than the norm. Where research has informed practice in school education it has often brought benefits. Research evidence that students' learning potential is not fixed has helped to reform the type of education offered to students in traditionally low-performing and disadvantaged groups. Research has also helped to discredit and overturn negative reinforcement strategies including corporal punishment. The idea that research should guide practice has been challenged in some places, on the grounds that teaching is deeply contextualised and requires autonomous decision-making. Practice does have to be contextualised, in all professional fields; however, professionals need to link these contexts to research evidence and monitor new evidence as it comes to hand. Research evidence is more likely to inform educators' practice if it has been genuinely accepted within the teaching profession, rather than being imposed from above. The article is the first of two: a subsequent article will examine ways in which school leaders can enhance the place of research within schools.
Subject HeadingsEducation research
Teaching and learning
Volume 61 Number 1-2, January 2010; Pages 77–88
Current collegial approaches to professional development encourage teachers to share their teaching practices and strategies. Technologies such as blogs, podcasts and email help facilitate this process by providing teachers with access to professional learning opportunities not typically available through formal PD provision. Making teachers' learning public via media posted online, such as videos, scans of class work or audio interviews with students, allows this knowledge to be critiqued, built on and shared with others within the profession around the globe. These networked learning communities encourage an emphasis on teachers' learning and the knowledge they create, resulting in a bottom-up approach to professional learning. Online communities can help connect successful teachers with struggling ones, reducing professional isolation and inviting changes in practice. They also facilitate a shift in focus from the practitioner to a practitioner's practices, encouraging teachers to connect, compare and reflect on different approaches. Online teacher communities are valuable not only to practising teachers, but also to pre-service teachers, who can use online artefacts and resources to guide their own planning and instructional processes. To facilitate the development of online learning communities, teachers should be encouraged to make regular use of multimedia recording devices, and develop an awareness of the value of opening up their teaching by sharing their experiences with others from the wider community of educators.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Teaching and learning
Volume 39 Number 1, January 2010; Pages 38–47
Drawing on a range of studies, the authors examine the effects of bullying, identify students likely to be bullied and evaluate the impact of school-based anti-bullying programs. Bullying has been linked with a range of negative outcomes, such as fear and anxiety, and poor academic performance. It is also more often seen in secondary schools as well as schools with a negative school climate. The frequency and acceptability of bullying is also influenced by peer group behaviour. Students who are at risk of bullying include boys, students with learning or physical disabilities, queer students and students who have difficulty fitting in. School-based anti-bullying efforts to combat these problems often involve the whole school, and are designed to increase awareness of bullying and decrease levels of bullying behaviour. School-wide programs have been found to be more effective than classroom-based programs of training in social skills, but overall results have been mixed. The authors contend that anti-bullying programs are struggling for several reasons: they frequently rely on anonymous self-report data; tend not to be based upon a theoretical framework; tend not to address wider social influences on bullying such as peers and families; do not adequately address diversity or changing community demographics; and they are usually targeted at all students rather than the small number of perpetrators. The authors argue that what is needed is a more holistic view of bullying. The social-ecological model of bullying, for example, takes into account the range of factors influencing student behaviour such as social and cultural influences, as well as environmental factors. This model can be used in tandem with evidence-based programs to guide anti-bullying efforts within the school and in the wider school community.
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
Volume 13 Number 1, March 2010; Pages 39–53
While recent education policy in Britain has emphasised the need to take student opinions into account when making decisions about teaching and learning, issues relating to authenticity and follow-through have been raised. The author reports on a case study where two innovative methodologies, a 'fishbone' visual prompt and a card-sort strategy, were used to elicit student perspectives about the factors perceived as contributing to an enjoyable lesson and the factors that helped them determine whether they were doing well in class. The participants were 132 students aged 11 to 14 from three schools in Britain. The most important factors contributing to students' enjoyment of lessons were to do with a teacher's interpersonal qualities such as their demonstrated respect for students and their ability to see them as individuals; their ability to provide praise and help as needed; and their ability to provide a fair working environment. Other factors influencing the students' enjoyment of lessons included the types of activities they were involved in and how these activities were carried out. Factors that helped students determine their progress included the provision of grades, reports, praise and comments on their work; the setting of goals; and recognition of individual student achievement. Follow-up reports found that two of the three schools continued to work with these tools and integrate student voice into their approaches, but one of the schools was unable to do so due to issues with the prevailing school culture. Incorporating student voice can be a valuable way of engaging and empowering learners, but needs to be perceived as such by teachers and administrators alike.
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
Time to talk: an urban school's use of literature circles to create a professional learning community
Volume 42 Number 6, September 2010; Pages 651–673
Literature circles are an approach to professional development where teachers reflect on and discuss valuable reading materials. They are designed to help teachers improve their instructional approaches and develop connections with other teachers. Using interviews and fieldnotes, ten teachers' experiences of a literature circles program run in a disadvantaged school district in New York are examined. The program provided the respondents with new ideas, reinforced current teaching practices and guided them to reflect on their teaching. The teachers were encouraged to share their perspectives and experiences, and develop relationships with other teachers, which was something that had been limited by their district's usual approach to professional development. They appreciated being active participants in their own professional development; much of their previous experience of PD had been formal and transmissive in nature. Another element of note was the theoretical nature of the material which teachers found empowered them as professionals. The ongoing nature of the program, in contrast to more typical 'one-off' professional development sessions, was also seen as valuable. However, while the teachers responded positively to the theoretical elements of the program, many struggled to connect the theory with their everyday practice, citing time and school culture issues as barriers. This suggests the need for collaborative and supportive whole-school approaches to professional development in order to encourage teachers to enact new and promising approaches.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Teaching and learning
Volume 30 Number 3, September 2010; Pages 321–337
This study examines the factors to which Chinese teachers attribute poor classroom behaviour, and the ways in which the teachers respond to such behaviour. The respondents were 244 teachers taking classes from Grade 1 through to Grade 12. Responses were gathered using preliminary interviews and survey instruments. The teachers were found generally to attribute students' poor behaviour to student-related factors, most commonly laziness, bad learning habits and a lack of interest in learning. Primary teachers were most likely to attribute poor behaviour to bad learning habits and secondary teachers to laziness or lack of interest. Few teachers attributed students' poor behaviour to environmental factors or their own teaching practices. Teachers at all grade levels tended to pursue positive ways of dealing with student behaviour rather than resorting to punitive strategies. The strategy perceived as most effective in dealing with poor behaviour was offering praise and incentives, although talking with students after class and pausing while waiting for a student to give their attention to the teacher were also common. Primary teachers were more likely to offer praise than secondary teachers, who were more likely to speak to students after class. Previous studies have found this latter strategy to be valued by students, and have found it effective in helping to address student thinking and help overcome the deeper causes of student misbehaviour.
Subject HeadingsTeacher-student relationships
Teaching and learning
Volume 47 Number 3, September 2010; Pages 563–594
High levels of teacher attrition and increasing student enrolments in the USA have led to concerns over teacher shortages, with maths and science staffing levels a particular area of concern. Policy has emphasised the need to train and recruit new teachers in these areas. The authors drew on three different nationally representative data sets relating to teacher recruitment and attrition, in order to examine the nature of the perceived teacher shortage. Staffing demand was found to have increased in line with rising student numbers; many schools reported difficulties in filling teaching vacancies, particularly in the areas of science and mathematics. While the overall size of the available teaching force increased at substantially more than the rate of student enrolments, in the case of maths and science teachers the numbers of incoming teachers were roughly equal to the numbers of outgoing teachers. This is in contrast to areas such as English that had enjoyed large teacher surpluses. Further analysis revealed that while teacher numbers nationwide were enough to meet demand, teacher shortages tended to be a local issue, varying depending on a given school context. Disadvantaged schools, for example, often experienced staffing difficulties, while affluent schools often had a waiting list of applicants. The geographical distribution of teacher training programs also influenced whether teacher shortages or surpluses were experienced in a given area. These findings are significant given the closely balanced numbers of incoming and outgoing science and maths teachers. Significantly, while a proportion of teacher attrition could be attributed to retirement, a large proportion was due to teachers moving to other schools. These findings highlight the role that individual schools play in teacher turnover, and suggests that schools should work to improve job satisfaction levels in order to stem attrition and therefore reduce the need for new hirings.
Subject HeadingsSchool culture
United States of America (USA)
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