The write stuff
April 2011; Pages 6–8
Author Alan Wright suggests some of the characteristics of a high quality school writing program. The teacher undertakes the same writing tasks as students, sharing their own knowledge of writing with their class, and modelling techniques. Students are encouraged to revise their work extensively, checking spelling and grammar but also working on character and setting, to develop a sense of responsibility and ownership over their work. Teachers read extensively themselves, absorbing the literature of professional authors and other educators. They offer quality literature to their students, explaining how to ‘read like writers’, and encouraging students to write within the style of established authors. Teachers create a supportive atmosphere where students feel able to take risks. Rather than use formulaic ‘sentence starters’ or contrived motivational activities, teachers urge students to draw on personal experiences. Teachers discuss each student's work with them, usually taking a short, task-focused approach. The teaching of individual students takes place at the point of need. Teachers encourage students to articulate their intentions, and the teacher monitors their progress and documents discussions. Writing classes are well organised, follow a regular schedule and are protected from disruption. Classes are also well resourced to support print or electronic writing, and have spaces available for each aspect of the writing process, including areas for talk and for silent work. Students are grouped in varying ways, from whole class to small group, paired and individual work. Teachers offer opportunities for students to publish their writing in a range of ways and to write with particular readerships in mind.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Teaching and learning
Volume 18 Number 2, 15 December 2010; Pages 68–70
In interview format, the author presents some of the views of media expert Renee Hobbs on media literacy and fair use in the middle years. Middle school students' use of digital media varies widely, according to class and geography, with the best predictor of media use being the mother's educational level. Some students are using ICT for creative activities such as writing, making music or videos and constructing video game programs. However, other children's media use is dominated by listening to music, playing recreational games and chatting with friends. Middle school children in disadvantaged areas often lack basic understanding of internet search techniques and the nature of web pages and hyperlinks. Peer to peer communications offer a very powerful way for middle students to learn about media. Today's tools allow students to create impressive media products, but simplify composition so much that students may learn relatively little. The dazzling 'bells and whistles' offered by these tools also tends to downplay content. Students sometimes interpret the values evident in mass media and popular culture, which includes 'put-downs and trash talk as forms of entertainment', as representative of the whole society's values. Educators should therefore offer students a critical approach to the media, which explores 'various ideas of what counts as beauty, knowledge and art' as well as 'cultural products based on exploitation, greed, and hurtfulness'. Given the scale of today's media production, authors and audiences need to be 'strategic and purposeful when composing, interpreting, evaluating and sharing messages'. Copyright and fair use have become major issues, as students incorporate copyrighted images into their work, and teachers link lessons to popular media content and encourage students to publish to the web. These trends come up against a 'culture of fear' caused by commercial media providers' copyright warnings. In establishing fair use, it is important to ask whether value has been added to the original content, whether it has been used for a different purpose, and/or whether the original content has been used only to the extent necessary, 'considering the nature of the work' and the new creator's purposes. The article includes a list of links to further information. (Article may be purchased as part of whole edition – see link below.)
Subject HeadingsInformation management
Intellectual property (IP)
Social life and customs
Mass media study and teaching
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Computers in society
The expectations game
May 2011; Pages 8–9
The crowded curriculum is now a well-recognised problem in school education. Schools are expected to address a wide and expanding range of social issues and concerns which were previously dealt with by the family or the local community. They include values education, health and safety messages and responses to particular social problems. One reason suggested for this trend has been parents' long working hours, which reduces their time and energy to cover such issues with their children. The contribution made by community organisations has also declined. Other explanations for the trend include 'institutionalised thinking' that turns to formal organisations such as schools as a first option to address children's needs, and an abdication of responsibility by parents, who 'want to be their kids' friends, instead of their parents'. The encroachment of these topics into lesson time clashes with expectations for schools to devote more attention to the 'basics' of literacy and numeracy. The greater demands on schools have not been matched by commensurate increases in resources or by a rearrangement of the curriculum to allow them to cover these topics. As a result, teachers' job satisfaction has declined. Various solutions have been suggested. One is to provide additional education programs for parents to prepare for a wider role in their children's social learning. This has already occurred around particular issues such as cybersafety, driver education, mental health, and some of the issues faced by disadvantaged communities. Such training could be undertaken by health services or education departments rather than schools. When new social problems arise for children, schools should be considered only as one among a number of options for addressing them. Another solution is to integrate the teaching of social issues as topics within major subjects areas rather than separating them into special teaching periods. A further option is to build schools up into sites resourced to cover wider social purposes, which has begun to occur with sites offering birth–18 service provision.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
School and community
Parent and child
The art of imitation
May 2011; Pages 14–15, 36
It is difficult for teacher education faculties to secure quality placements for their student teachers. To do so they often have to compete with other education faculties, including those based interstate and at open universities. Several universities may approach the same school seeking placements. Schools are made more reluctant to supervise student teachers by the pressures of a crowded curriculum and the transition to a national curriculum. Experienced teachers are offered few incentives to undertake supervision. There are calls to raise the financial incentive for experienced teachers to supervise student teachers; however, such induction is not paid for in other professions, and some commentators hold that this measure would do little to solve the problem. The Australian Government attempted to address the issue by creating Centres of Excellence to play the role of clinical schools, based on the model of teaching hospitals. However, this initiative 'has not lived up to expectations'. Possible reasons are the fact that universities had little input into the establishment of the schools, and the fact that these schools had 'many roles but little funding'. The model does not work in rural areas where schools are small and scattered and it would be difficult for any one school to serve others in a clinical capacity. Regional universities also find it difficult to organise school visits, relying instead on the quality of their documentation and web material concerning placements, and on an efficient phone contact system. One promising way to encourage school involvement, noted by the University of Western Australia, is to provide additional resources to schools as part of the placements themselves. For example, the student teacher may tutor one child, or develop an e-resource for a class. The article also refers to the potential for teacher placements to be affected by national accreditation of pre-service teacher training courses.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Using ICT to enhance curriculum opportunities for students in rural and remote schools
Volume 25 Number 2, December 2010; Pages 27–30
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) offers ways to reduce the disadvantages faced by students in rural and remote locations. Schools in these areas often lack infrastructure. They have high staff turnover and have difficulty filling vacancies, particularly specialist secondary positions. As a result students are offered fewer subjects and extension activities, and receive fewer school visits. Students are discouraged from undertaking VET courses because of the long distances they would be required to travel. Three case studies were conducted in two remote South Australian schools to assess different uses of ICT as a means to address some of these problems. Interviews and focus groups were used to gather feedback from students and teachers on the different approaches. The first case study was on the real time use of ICT to enable a teacher to run a class online while based at another school in the region. In South Australia this technique is called 'local delivery'. Videoconferencing and interactive whiteboards are two types of ICT used for local delivery. Students reported that local delivery enabled them to take subjects that they would not normally have access to. They commented that the real time technology helped make the classes feel like face to face, and teachers were able to respond to questions straightaway. In case study two, videoconferencing was used to create a 'virtual visit' for students unable to attend excursions due to their remote location. Students and teachers stated that the virtual excursions provided real time interactivity, unlike a video. The students appreciated being able to engage and interact with the presenters, and this left a positive, lasting impression on them. The third case study used a Moodle site to support students who were either absent from class because of VET courses or through illness. Feedback from the teachers indicated that although they were enthusiastic about the Moodle site, they encountered technical difficulties that impeded the project's implementation. Technical difficulties were encountered to some degree in all three case studies, highlighting the need for sufficient technical support and professional learning for teachers.
Subject HeadingsSouth Australia
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Volume 24 Number 1, 2010; Pages 52–82
School leaders need nine interrelated literacies to help teachers and students meet the challenges of today's world. These literacies equip them to deal with 'glocalisaction', the close linkage between global and local issues. Political literacy involves awareness of the formal and informal factors at work in the school community and its social environment. For example, school citizenship education needs to allow for the global trend for youth to be disengaged from conventional politics. Principals should also understand that they are part of a much wider stratum of middle level leaders affected by simultaneous political trends toward centralisation and devolution of authority. Economic literacy includes an awareness of international pressures to prepare students to be 'good workers and consumers', as well as an appreciation of the equity issues posed by international economic inequalities. Cultural literacy embraces an understanding of behavioural norms and 'hidden assumptions' in the workplace, including awareness of subcultures and each staff member's individuality. Moral literacy promotes knowledge of moral virtues and moral reasoning. It will help a leader to prepare students to be morally literate citizens, who can identify the values at play in a given social situation, make informed judgements, and respect others' views. Moral literacy also involves critical awareness of the moral frameworks imposed in media representations. Pedagogical literacy equips leading educators to access, use and critique existing pedagogical knowledge. Information literacy equips them to make informed judgements of information sources, across all formats, including online sources and the mainstream media. Organisational literacy covers the social patterns within schools, including awareness of different personality types and work styles as well as negative patterns such as social discrimination. It covers conflict management, and alerts leaders to the difference between enacted and purely formal organisational goals. It also involves understanding the links between the internal and external organisational environments. The next category is spiritual and religious literacy. Spiritual literacy involves authentic connection to one's inner self and to others, as well as a connection to meaning and purpose, while religious literacy gives 'order and systematic meaning to spiritual experiences'. Finally, temporal literacy covers the awareness of the histories and likely futures of people and institutions.
Social life and customs
'I had to teach hard': Traumatic conditions and teachers in post-Katrina classrooms
Volume 94 Number 1, 2010; Pages 28–39
A two-year research study has examined the impact of Hurricane Katrina on teachers and adolescent students in English Language Arts classrooms. It also examined the part played by writing activities and storytelling in addressing adolescent learning and behaviour after the traumatic event. The 10 teachers participating in the study took part in informal interviews, shared lesson plans, were observed in the classroom and completed a survey. The survey results identified two main areas of stress for teachers: concern about family, friends and students, and the fear of losing their jobs. The article presents detailed responses of two of the teachers who taught English Language Arts. Both said that when school resumed after Hurricane Katrina many of the students had been displaced due to the destruction of their homes. Many students had more difficulty in learning, were more prone to argument and physical violence, and expressed greater need for personal affirmation and hope. One of the teachers also reported a rise in the use of alcohol and illegal drugs among the students. One teacher stated that the students had a need to clear their minds of what had happened, so she incorporated more discussion, journaling, free writing, narratives and storytelling into her classes. After writing their experiences and sharing them verbally, the students were told to throw away the paper as a symbol of discarding their emotional troubles and stresses. Twelve months later she brought in copies of Time magazine to review the events of the hurricane. The students were required to produce three forms of writing on chosen Time articles: one was a journal, one an essay in formal writing style, and the other a critique. This is one example of the evolving writing curriculum this teacher created. The other teacher participated in a program called Healing Curriculum, which provided information and training about the effects of the disaster on children. Adapting the healing curriculum into her class, she used celebratory occasions to encourage the students' academic performance. She also gave the students assignments that involved interviewing people involved in Katrina, which covered oral histories.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsSocial welfare
United States of America (USA)
Poor Teaching for Poor Children…in the Name of Reform
27 April 2011
The author argues that the US education system has entrenched a 'pedagogy of poverty' for disadvantaged inner-urban students. This system contrasts sharply to the education offered to students in higher SES brackets. Schooling in disadvantaged communities is characterised by 'a tightly controlled routine in which teachers dispense, and then test students on, factual information; assign seatwork; and punish noncompliance'. It offers no scope for reflection, open-ended discovery or debate. The term pedagogy of poverty was coined by Martin Haberman in 1991, whose argument has more recently been reaffirmed by African American writer Natalie Hopkinson. The problems she highlights have been intensified by reforms carried out under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, despite the fact that they have been promoted as ways to improve education opportunities for the poor. The reforms measure progress by students' performance on standardised test scores. The curriculum preparing them for this assessment teaches skills in isolation and relies heavily on worksheets and rote memorisation. Frequently it also rests on a system of 'almost militaristic' behaviour, involving 'public humiliation for noncompliance and an array of rewards for obedience that calls to mind the token economy programs developed in prisons and psychiatric hospitals'. Computers are used mainly for drill and practice exercises. Many charter schools 'have concentrated on perfecting and intensifying techniques to keep children "on task" and compel them to follow directions'. Within such a system, improvement of standardised test scores disguises poor quality education. The alternative is to focus on creativity and sophisticated meaning-making, as exemplified in Reggio Emilia early-childhood education, in the 'performance assessment' high schools in New York, and in Big Picture schools. These sites 'start with students' interests and questions; learning is organised around real-life problems and projects'. Students are assessed 'by authentic indicators of thinking and motivation, not by multiple-choice tests'. An expanded version is available on the author's website.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
Do schools make a difference in their students' environmental attitudes and awareness? Evidence from PISA 2006
Volume 8, January 2010; Pages 497–522
A recent study has compared the effects of student – and school – level characteristics on students' environmental attitudes and awareness. The study used Flemish data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2006, covering 4,999 students at 156 schools. It was found that boys are more environmentally aware, whereas girls are more 'pro-environmentally orientated'. This result may reflect Flemish boys' higher academic performance in science subjects. It is also possible that Flemish girls evaluate their own knowledge levels more critically than boys. Students who followed a technical track were slightly less pro-environmental than general track students. And vocational track students were less environmentally aware but possessed more positive environmental attitudes. Constructivist teaching methods had little influence on either students' environmental attitudes or their awareness. One constructivist strategy, hands-on teaching, had a small but significant correlation with higher environmental awareness in students. However, teaching that focused on making environmental education more personally meaningful to students was not found to raise their environmental awareness, and teaching that related science to social issues did not correlate to more pro-environmental attitudes among students. Flemish formal environmental education is incorporated into all subjects rather than delivered as a specific course. As a result, approaches to environmental education vary widely between Flemish schools.
Subject HeadingsScience literacy
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