A review of fluency research and practices for struggling readers in secondary school
Volume 19 Number 1, February 2011; Pages 18–28
Many secondary students struggle to read well. They lack fluency, which involves not just reading rate, but also the understanding and use of prosodic features of language such as pitch, stress and junctures within a string of text. Lack of fluency derives from varied factors including speech language disabilities, dyslexia, and learning environments. Secondary students who lack reading fluency characteristically differ from those at primary level. The secondary students often read simple passages fluently, show good phonological awareness and decode complex words but, nevertheless, struggle to identify 'the natural juncture of a sentence'. Their fluency is also more highly correlated to reading comprehension that is the case for primary students. Their circumstances also differ. Older readers are expected to learn more from print. Most secondary school texts are expository and technical, and often the contextual cues surrounding key words are themselves hard to understand. As a result, struggling readers are at a cumulative disadvantage, as they read less, have less reading variety, acquire less background knowledge and gain fewer skills in picking up prosodic features. Interventions for older struggling readers are often drawn too directly from those used with primary students, focusing on narrative rather than expository texts. Research has established which strategies are most effective in developing the fluency of older readers, but these strategies are not always easy to implement in current secondary classrooms. These readers need authentic and appropriate texts, 'meant to be read orally and performed for an audience'. These readers also need to acquire meta-cognitive skills, eg awareness of when to slow down, re-read or seek clarification. However, the pressing demands of the secondary classroom mean that struggling older students are not taught these skills and do not have their reading scaffolded. Instead, the teacher simply tells the student the required content. Time pressures also prevent the use of a second effective strategy: giving students ample time to practise and 'perform' written texts. Struggling older readers can learn by listening to a fluent reader, but they rarely have opportunities to do so. Teachers are well placed to fill this role.
Teaching and learning
Classic and contemporary texts, and teachers' notes
June 2011; Pages 16–18
Contemporary and classical literature remain important parts of the English curriculum, but there have been changes in the context surrounding the subject of literature, and in the way teachers treat it. Today's students are widely expected to employ critical literacy to examine, for example, how an author attempts to position a reader. Assessment is likely to cover students' use of external references as well as the literary texts themselves. Students are now harder to engage, given media saturation from the online environment, so an increasing amount of teachers' time is spent in locating secondary sources likely to stir students' interest, particularly in relation to contemporary texts, which are less well provided for than the classics. Publishers meet this need by supplying teachers' notes with each book. The notes are written by English teachers and addressed to the needs of today's classroom. Like traditional teachers' notes, they summarise theme, plot and characters, but now also link to online resources that help students to explore these issues further. The article considers the example of Just a Girl, Jane Caro's historical novel about Queen Elizabeth I. The teachers' notes for this novel cite interactive sources for information and online note-taking, which students can use to investigate themes such as the nature of fiction in a first-person historical narrative, fictional and factual accounts as comparative sources of historical information, the nature of historical accuracy and authority, and the role of judgment in historical interpretation.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
English language teaching
15 July 2011
The Khan Academy is a website offering over 2,400 free educational videos, mainly on mathematics, science and economics. The videos, 7-14 minutes long, contain informal lectures delivered by site founder Salman Khan. They are supported by follow-on practice problems for the reader to complete. The maths lectures include explanations of 'all the hidden, small steps in math problems'. When a set of problems has been solved, software on the site suggests further topics for the user to study. After successfully completing work, students receive a range of token rewards such as online badges. The technology is 'lo-fi, even crude', but the site is now used by approximately two million people each month. In a school context, the Khan Academy can be used to offer individualised instruction to students, who can control the pace of the lesson and repeat sections as they choose. The site also supports the practice of 'flipping' some maths classes: students can be asked to use the website after school to learn core topics normally covered during class time. Class time then set aside for follow-up activities that would normally be done as homework. Site software allows teachers to track students' progress on a dashboard, and to 'see the instant a student gets stuck'. The site is now being trialed at two year 5 and two year 7 classes in California's Los Altos public school district. Teachers report significant academic improvement after the use of the videos, including dramatic improvement in the case of some individual students. Students have been very highly engaged while working on the site. The Khan Academy approach may be less suited to 'messier' subjects with more grey areas, such as history and writing. Critics of the site, mainly 'constructionists', have raised concerns about its focus on drilling, which they see as encouraging an excessive but widespread focus on test preparation. Critics have also expressed concern at the absence of face-to-face interaction with a teacher. Khan himself has firmly resisted taking sides in current policy debates on US education. The article includes personal background on Khan. It also comes with a list of other online tools that are useful for school education, and an extensive list of online comments from Wired readers.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Video recordings in education
In search of uncertainty
Volume 31 Number 1, April 2011; Pages 74–76
The Australian Curriculum: Mathematics is being developed against a background of conflicting philosophical approaches to mathematics. Maths may be understood in relativistic or absolutist terms. The absolutist or logicist approach presents maths as 'unchanging and unchallengeable'. The relativistic approach allows for its social origins and the social context in which it is applied. In the current social context, the absolutist approach to maths is encouraged by an economic rationalist orientation to education policy, which values readily measured outcomes. This approach generates myths of 'cold reason and hard control' in maths: it treats the curriculum as an objective factor beyond the influence of educators, who simply deliver its contents and follow it like a map, into a 'pre-constructed landscape'. The two contrasting approaches to maths create a dilemma for working mathematicians. On the one hand they often apply objectivist metaphors when describing maths, but on the other hand their work itself is characterised by 'fuzziness' and questioning, and is closely tied to social context. The author examines the extent to which the Australian mathematics curriculum recognises the social construction of knowledge, and the uncertainties and ambiguities inherent in mathematics and its teaching. The preamble of The Australian Curriculum: Mathematics acknowledges the social origins of mathematics and its aesthetic qualities, but it portrays mathematical work as an individual rather than a social practice. The documentation describing the curriculum's proficiency strands of understanding, problem solving, fluency and reasoning underplay the social context and the tentative, exploratory aspects of mathematics. These aspects of maths should be incorporated within curriculum documentation.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
June 2011; Pages 8–10
International schools represent a lucrative and swiftly expanding sector of education. Globally, the international school market is valued at about A$17 billion, and covers 28 million students. The international school sector has doubled over the last decade, and is expected to double again by the year 2020. Governments and large corporations in East Asia and the Middle East are actively helping the establishment of more international schools within their regions, to meet growing demand from their rapidly growing middle classes. More than half the currently existing international schools are based in Asia. China is also setting up its own international schools in other parts of the world. A major attraction of international schools is the International Baccalaureate (IB). The IB is offered by approximately 5000 schools, including almost half the existing international schools, and is also offered by a growing number of other schools. The rapid expansion of international schools raises the issue of teacher supply. The expansion is expected to generate demand for a quarter of a million Western-trained teachers over the rest of this decade, mainly in the areas of maths, science and early childhood education. This demand will exacerbate an existing shortage of teachers in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada and Britain. Early childhood teachers in Australia and New Zealand are well trained and in high demand overseas, and the current curricula in these countries equip teachers well for the IB environment. However, this advantage will diminish if the curriculum narrows in the future. A second issue raised by the expansion of international schools and the IB is the maintenance of teacher quality standards. Currently there are no quality controls over international schools. The rapid growth of the sector may attract some 'dubious' operators. The growth will also expand the diversity of international schools, making it more difficult for the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) to maintain current standards of curriculum and assessment. The article includes the case study of a music teacher who has worked in international schools in Norway and the Philippines.
Subject HeadingsEducational certificates
Passing the baton: principal succession in schools
Volume 17 Number 1, Autumn 2011; Pages 28–44
Planning for principal succession in New Zealand is influenced by a range of national and global factors. A critical shortage of school leaders is looming internationally. Many current leaders are approaching retirement or seeking early retirement, and potential candidates for leadership positions have become more reluctant to apply. One factor contributing to these problems is principals' heavy and rising workload. Principals are expected to oversee not only academic instruction but also many aspects of students’ well-being, as well as financial and legal, and public relations roles in the school, and the management of school infrastructure. A further set of demands are imposed by ongoing education reform. Many potential candidates have been discouraged from applying, due to concerns over work-life balance, and disenchantment with traditional leadership culture. The shortage of applicants points to the need for more effective succession planning. Principal succession planning in schools has similarities and differences to that found in the business world. Businesses usually have considerable freedom to plan succession, whereas schools and principals operate within the constraints of wider education systems. Nevertheless, schools would benefit from incorporating some of the characteristics of succession planning in business, where it is already embedded, and where the incumbent generally has responsibility to plan to attract and prepare successors. Effective succession planners develop a range of suitable candidates for positions before they become vacant. In New Zealand, principal succession planning occurs within the context of its system of self-managed schools, introduced in 1989. Each school is governed by a Board of Trustees, comprising the principal, a staff representative, five elected members and, in secondary schools, a student representative. The Board appoints and employs the school principal. The process of succession planning has been criticised by Macpherson 2009. It has also been challenged by Brooking 2008, who argued the existence of gender bias, and suggested a credentialing process in which Boards would be required to select principals from a professionally recognised and registered pool of applicants. In 2004 New Zealand's Chief Education Review Officer called for boards to assume some responsibility for the needs of the country's education system as a whole, but 'such a system will arguably be difficult to engender in what has become a competitive market driven education system'. System-level leadership is needed for the principal succession process. Two promising professional learning programs that help to address this problem are the Professional Leadership Plan 2009-10 and the Aspiring Principals Programme.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Disaster, waiting to happen?
June 2011; Page 19
Schools adopt ICT for a range of reasons. Apart from the opportunities that ICT affords to improve students' learning opportunities, and prepare them for modern life, it is also used as a marketing tool and in response to parental expectations. However, several important concerns deserve consideration. There is as yet no convincing evidence that technology improves students' literacy or numeracy. Young people strongly desire to use ICT, but not for academic purposes. Its use 'is often immature and counter-productive', and its value as a means to engage students tends to be short lived. On the other hand, there are significant drawbacks and risks in the widespread use of technology in schools. Cost and value for money are major concerns. Other issues include students' off-task behaviour, health and safety considerations, and theft, including the risk that students will be attacked and robbed if they carry expensive mobile equipment, and teachers' need for supporting infrastructure and professional development.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Teaching and learning
April 2011; Pages 199–207
A recent study has trialed the use of a set of measures designed to motivate students to undertake physical education (PE). The study involved a group of 27 pre-service physical education teachers (PTs), who were undertaking practicum experience with students in grades 4, 5 or 6. The PTs were instructed in the use of a motivation program known under the acronym TARGET, which is based on Achievement Goal Theory (AGT). Using the program, the PTs set the school students a variety of tasks, diverse in the level of challenge they set, but all targeted to the same learning goals. This approach was designed to allow all students to experience success, while also exposing them to progressively more challenging experiences. Students had a flexible timeline for the completion of tasks. Results of the program were examined through analyses of the content of PTs' lesson plans, and also through classroom observations applying AGT methodology. Results supported the value of the TARGET program as a means to motivate students. (The paper appears in a 3MB pdf document of conference proceedings – CL.)
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Teaching and learning
21 June 2011; Pages 46–48, 50
The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne has developed a virtual creative studio called Generator. Generator allows access to screen education resources, including the interactive Storyboard Generator. It is designed for media, humanities and English teachers to use in the classroom. Participants in Generator use social media to share and comment on resources. Content provided by Generator has no copyright restrictions, so teachers and students are able to adapt it. Generator's free media library houses more than 1000 individual videos, images and sound files, and the video gallery holds a diverse range of over 100 stories. Students can also download practical tips and resources to assist their own production, covering scriptwriting techniques as well as legal and ethical issues. ACMI have put measures in place to provide a cybersafe environment. For example, users are able to flag content as inappropriate. All uploads are moderated by ACMI. The Storyboard Generator is an interactive tool that enables students to create and share animated storyboards. The 'Choose Your Script' pathway is a guided activity through which students select scripts in one of three genres, and create a storyboard using existing storyboard cells. The 'Build your Own' pathway enables students to create their own script and storyboard, uploading their own photographs or selecting images from the Generator's free media library.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsVideo recordings in education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Teaching and learning
Bring on the drama
June 2011; Pages 40–44
School Drama is an artists-in-schools program that focuses on developing primary teachers' professional knowledge of and expertise in the impact of drama on children's English and literacy outcomes. The project was piloted in 2009 in partnership with the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. The project partners an artist with a teacher over a period of time, to demonstrate how to implement drama strategies in the classroom. School Drama differs from other artists-in-schools programs by providing ongoing support and by providing professional learning to teachers, so that the benefits of the program do not end with the departure of the artist. The University of Sydney is responsible for evaluating the project and for reporting on the outcomes for teachers and for students. These evaluations have been an important reason for School Drama's success, in combination with each artist's creativity and skill and the pedagogy underlying the program.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
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