Will the Australian curriculum up the intellectual ante in classrooms?
Volume 30 Number 3, 2010; Pages 59–64
The official curriculum is shaped by many factors before it 'comes to ground' as in schools. The 'enacted curriculum' is influenced by the factors governing its implementation and dissemination, and by wider factors including teacher education, professional development, evaluation processes, assessment and credentialing. The interplay of these factors decides the resolution of various tensions in the curriculum, between popular and disciplinary content, between conservative and radical views, and between 'canonical content' and generic training in skills and behaviours. There is a risk that these tensions will be resolved through an attempt to incorporate all opinions, leading to incoherence. A further danger, and the central concern of this article, is that revisions to the curriculum will be determined by beliefs prevailing in the media and political circles that have not been grounded in research evidence. The current debate on curriculum has been shaped by 'received wisdom' about a lack of basic skills instruction in schools, anecdotal evidence about declining quality of school graduates, and media stereotypes of 'politically correct value stances' and 'rampant classroom experimentation with new media forms'. However, a different picture of the enacted curriculum emerges from the findings of major studies into classroom practices: the Queensland School Reform Longitudinal Achievement Study (QSRLS) and two projects on pedagogies in New South Wales. The studies found that classroom lessons were frequently characterised by worksheets, transcription from the board, 'busy work' and answering set questions at the end of chapters. These studies also support three key findings in research literature concerning the needs of at-risk students: such students need 'an everyday focus on curriculum content' in intellectually substantial form; scaffolded discussions about substantial cultural and intellectual issues; and visible connection of academic content to everyday social life. Further evidence is available from the early findings of two current research projects in Queensland. One is a qualitative three-year study of the impact of social class on Year 1 literacy instruction. It has found that disadvantaged schools have fewer experienced teachers, and that teachers in these schools focus more on direct instruction in alphabetics and coding than teachers in mid and high-SES schools. The second study is beginning to examine relationships between print and digital literacies across the curriculum in low-SES schools. Evidence so far indicates that after the implementation of the My School website and NAPLAN tests, teachers have increased their emphasis on behaviour management, direct instruction in skills and test-taking, and reporting procedures, at the expense of substantial cultural, intellectual and community content. This pattern creates the danger of a cycle of decline if these inappropriate practices lead to a decline in academic performance and then to calls to intensify 'back to basics' approaches. In the USA and Britain, the gains achieved through mandated direct instruction in basic skills have produced only limited and transient gains while also contributing to higher teacher attrition and falling levels of student retention.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
A profession in transition: Implications for curriculum leadership
Volume 30 Number 3, 2010; Pages 1–8
The author examines changes in the teaching workforce and changing understandings of the teacher's role, and discusses their likely impact on the teaching and learning of history under the new Australian curriculum. The teaching profession is changing in a number ways. For example, the proportion of teachers employed on a casual basis has risen significantly. Another change is teachers' growing demographic diversity. Their cultural backgrounds are more varied and many new teachers now enter the profession from another career. At the same time, young 'Gen Y' graduates are joining the teaching workforce in growing numbers. They are 'the most formally educated generation', and have experienced relatively prosperous times with low levels of unemployment. They tend to be confident of their future prospects and emphasise 'mobility, adaptability and change'. More than one quarter of new teachers are expected to change careers at some stage. Their decisions about employment are strongly influenced by their values and their sense of a career's 'fit' with their personal identity. These characteristics of the emerging workforce are likely to have a significant influence on teacher retention. Education leaders within universities and schools have observed that the most promising graduate teachers are also the ones most likely to depart the profession early. Many of these issues are covered in the 2006 report The New Generations at Work. Gen Y history teachers have been exposed to a curriculum in which Australia's history and political system have been covered extensively, but in a manner which Anna Clark has criticised as 'repetitive and boring'. To prepare the ground for the new period of history teaching it is important to foster collaboration between experienced and novice teachers, and to cultivate collegial, supportive work environments. It is also important for existing school staff and professional associations to reflect on changing conceptions of the profession being introduced by new teachers.
'You need to talk to people': the value of survey data at a school level
Volume 32 Number 2, 2010; Pages 24–26
Staff opinion surveys (SOS) are administered annually at Victorian public schools. The surveys cover 20 aspects of the school environment, including individual and school-level morale, professional growth, workload and the supportiveness of the school leadership. The Department of Education (DEECD) uses the results to measure and compare schools' 'organisational health profiles' and staff well-being, as well as to monitor school leaders' performance. School leaders are given advice on how to interpret and apply the data. A recent study has examined staff perceptions of the SOS. The study involved 37 staff at three schools: one primary, one secondary, one P–12. Participants offered some positive feedback about the SOS. They indicated that it gave staff an opportunity to express their views about the workplace and stimulated reflection about the school. The anonymous and confidential nature of the survey encouraged staff to be frank in their evaluations of their school leaders. Staff also saw its value for accountability purposes. However, most feedback on the SOS was critical. Participants indicated that the SOS results might be unduly influenced by individual experiences such as conflicts with another staff member, or by incidental circumstances just prior to the survey. It was felt that negative feelings about one issue might distort responses to other, unrelated questions. The anonymous nature of responses reduces personal accountability for criticism and does not encourage a climate of openness and free communication. The fixed-response format of the survey does not allow respondents to describe complex issues. Staff described the importance of open discussion in the school about the survey results and noted that this does not always occur. Administrators argued that the SOS does not distinguish constructive criticism from negative feedback and makes it more difficult to implement initially unpopular reforms that nevertheless promise long-term benefits. Participants called for the SOS to be revised in several ways. The survey should invite feedback about successes and achievements. Questions should focus on the respondents' own circumstances and should be supplemented by open, qualitative feedback in forms such as interviews and focus groups.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Volume 5 Number 4, October 2010; Pages 338–355
Secondary teachers can play a key role in supporting students to meet the literacy demands of their particular subject specialisations but are often unaware of the need to do so. The author examines how a six-week teacher education subject involving workshops, reflective tasks and a custom-designed interactive DVD helped a cohort of 300 pre-service teachers to develop an awareness of literacy pedagogical content knowledge. The classroom units developed by five pre-service teachers are examined in terms of the degree to which they incorporate strategies for supporting literacy development. The approaches of these teachers are broadly representative of the cohort's overall achievement. In planning a science unit, one pre-service teacher prepared students for a reading task by defining unfamiliar technical terms, instructed students in reading science texts and scaffolded students to write a lab report by providing a strict structure to which students would adhere. A pre-service art teacher whose students were largely non-native English speakers prepared a glossary of terms related to her unit and developed a booklet to support students in an enamelling project. The students were also encouraged to write in three different literary genres and received scaffolding in each through the use of charts and templates. Another participant supported her maths students by offering definitions of key process words such as 'solve' or 'write an equation', and helped students break down the complex terms often found in worded equations. A pre-service teacher of history helped introduce students to complex historical accounts of a period by first acquainting them with more accessible autobiographical accounts from that time. The teacher also explained complex nominalisations and abstract terms to students; another history teaching colleague helped to support students in analytical and evaluative writing genres. These pre-service teachers' approaches indicate that introducing teachers to the need to incorporate literacy pedagogical content knowledge can help raise awareness of the literacy demands of different content areas and may translate to changes in pedagogy.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Volume 2 Number 2, 2010
In Canada, enrolment in physical education (PE) classes drops significantly after Year 10, when PE classes become optional. The authors interviewed 63 Canadian Year 10 students about their decision to continue or discontinue PE in the senior years and about the factors influencing this decision. Key factors influencing students' decision included past experience of PE and perceptions of self-efficacy in PE class. The students who chose to discontinue PE tended to describe classes as repetitive or overly competitive, or reflected that it favoured students who were good at sports, and in particular team sports. Female students often expressed a reluctance to be active in front of their peers, particularly in co-educational PE settings. Class scheduling choices and lack of knowledge of what the Year 11 PE course involved were also factors influencing enrolment decisions. The students who dropped PE after Year 10 tended not to see it as useful to their future and opted for academic classes seen as helpful for meeting university entrance requirements instead. Some students noted that they had not continued with PE because they had not been told by their teacher what material would be covered; in contrast, a number of students who persisted with PE had received more information about the course. A number of interpersonal factors were also found to influence PE enrolment. These included parents' perceptions of the value of PE and whether close peers were taking PE, with girls in particular more likely to take PE if their friends did. Other factors included the PE course curriculum, such as the types of sports played and whether the course involved content other than physical activity, and the physical activity opportunities locally available in the community, such as community sports groups or jogging tracks. The responses indicate a need for schools to better communicate the value of PE to both students and parents, and to ensure that PE curricula meet the needs of students of different athletic abilities and preferences. Students should also be informed by teachers about what is involved in the senior years PE curriculum before making their subject choices.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
The effects of the design and development of a chemistry curriculum reform on teachers' professional growth: a case study
Volume 21 Number 5, May 2010; Pages 535–557
Recent reforms to the secondary chemistry curriculum in the Netherlands require teachers to take a context-based approach to teaching. The authors examined three chemistry teachers' efforts to design such a unit, and how their pedagogical content knowledge developed during this process. Throughout the design process, two teacher learning phases were identified: the writing phase and the class enactment phase. During the writing phase, when the teachers were developing the unit, the teachers began to reflect on their usual teaching approaches, and became more open to using alternative methodologies such as cooperative work and role-plays. They also grappled with the challenge of starting from a context rather than a concept. The teachers also developed new understandings of the types of learning materials and chemistry content that could be, or that needed to be, incorporated into a context-based unit. For example, the teachers reflected on the benefits of supports such as having clearly defined group roles and processes, and structured logbooks that could be used to monitor student progress. However, although they had developed the unit together, each of the teachers implemented the unit slightly differently depending on their preferences as a teacher. During and after the class enactment phase, the teachers reflected on the success of the unit and considered any changes that needed to be made.While the group work was generally successful, allowing student ownership over their work and engaging the students, the teachers reflected that students needed to be supported to develop effective cooperative skills. In addition, they highlighted the need for instructional materials to be explicit and clear in order to allow groups to work without teacher intervention. The teachers also noted that students struggled to think in terms of models, and highlighted the need for the material to explicitly ask students to think in terms of concepts as well as to reflect on their experiences. Through both the development and the enactment of the unit, the teachers demonstrated improved pedagogical content knowledge, and also became more confident in their ability to meet the demands of a context-based curriculum.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Volume 38 Number 3, August 2010; Pages 207–219
Changes in pre-service teacher demographics mean that many prospective teachers have different expectations of teaching as a career and of the teaching environment from those of their practicum supervisors. These differences can lead to tensions between pre-service teachers and their supervising teachers. The author interviewed 16 teachers about the challenges they faced in their supervisory roles. The supervising teachers expressed feelings of disappointment, hurt and frustration when a pre-service teacher failed to meet particular personal and professional expectations. However, lack of pedagogical knowledge was rarely raised as an issue. Most frequently, the challenges highlighted related to the supervising teachers' perceptions that the pre-service teachers lacked commitment to teaching as a career, did not display professional courtesy and did not project an appropriately professional demeanour. For example, some pre-service teachers viewed teaching as an 'easy' or short-term job opportunity, which the supervising teachers resented. In addition, some pre-service teachers did not respond well to advice or criticism, leaving teachers feeling that their professional expertise had been dismissed. Unprofessional demeanour was characterised by traits such as inappropriate attire, tardiness or perceived immaturity. Many of these challenges were related to differences in supervising teachers' and pre-service teachers' conceptions of what was involved in a teaching career. Supervising teachers need to develop greater awareness of the diversity of today's pre-service teachers' experiences and backgrounds, and pre-service teachers need to be made aware of widespread professional expectations. Lengthening the time frame of teaching placements and improving opportunities for communication could also help prospective teachers develop closer working relationships with their supervising teachers.
Teaching and learning
Volume 24 Number 2, March 2010; Pages 330–358
Class size reduction (CSR) strategies have been used in the USA as a way of helping to close the achievement gap, but their outcomes have been mixed. Using observations and interviews at nine primary schools in the USA, the authors examine the influence of the principal in the success of a CSR program. Three of the nine schools were high-achieving, three low-achieving and three rapidly improving. Three major themes emerged. The first was the way in which schools found space to accommodate smaller class sizes. Seven of the schools, most of which were high-achieving or rapidly improving schools, made concerted efforts to reclaim or design new spaces. This included building new classrooms, partitioning classrooms or arranging for team teaching approaches in large classrooms. In contrast, the principals of the remaining schools, both low-achieving schools, felt unable or unwilling to change the way in which space was traditionally used. The second theme involved serving the needs of special needs students. Some principals, mostly from low-achieving schools, saw CSR as conflicting with efforts towards inclusive education and resorted to using pull-out approaches or separate programming for students with special needs. In contrast, other principals leveraged for resources to help maintain inclusive approaches. These principals adopted coordinated instructional approaches, clustered special needs students to make the most of special education staff and adopted co-teaching models. The third theme was that of building teacher capacity to teach small class sizes. Teachers needed appropriate professional development and support in teaching smaller classes or in team teaching. While some of the principals acknowledged this, and took an active approach to PD in terms of assessment, teaming and individualised instruction, others, most of whom were principals from low-achieving schools, instead took a 'sink or swim' approach. The research highlights the influence principals have on the implementation of CSR and points to a need for improved leadership skills in the areas of restructuring service delivery to suit all students, as well as the need to develop a more sophisticated awareness of special education approaches and teacher professional development requirements.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
United States of America (USA)
Learning to lead the risk-conscious organization: an empirical study of five English primary school leaders
Volume 13 Number 2, April 2010; Pages 121–139
The organisational culture of a school affects workplace learning opportunities for those in leadership roles. Over a year, the author used interviews and observations to examine the workplace learning experiences of five leadership team members in a small primary school in England. The school had above-average attainment and was led by a principal who had been in her post for ten years. Many of the teaching staff were new to teaching and three of the five members of the leadership team were new in their roles. A number of barriers to the leadership team's ability to learn were evident from the beginning of the school year. For example, it was the principal who led all induction and introduction meetings and processes. Approaches to formal PD were strictly managed. Most staff training was to take place within the school, with only the senior members of the leadership team allowed to network and attend training activities outside the school. Even then, development opportunities for the leaders were limited, with the principal vetoing some PD requests. This left staff feeling isolated and limited their learning. Opportunities for informal learning were limited by the teachers' strict timetables, which made it difficult to discuss practice and plan together; the only time allocated to the leadership team was a one hour weekly team meeting that tended to be led by the principal and often dealt with 'niggles' rather than whole-school issues. The leadership team members noted that any leadership discussion had to take place informally around other teaching commitments. Communication among other teachers was also limited and took place mostly via email or on the staffroom whiteboard. External communication was also strictly monitored, with the principal carefully managing all communication with students' parents as a 'protective measure' for new staff. School reports, for example, were templated and were checked by the principal before being sent out. This close regulation of staff time, an approach designed to quickly bring new staff up to speed so as to ensure continued student achievement, resulted in a restrictive learning environment that was not conducive to leadership development.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
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