Six common lesson planning pitfalls
Volume 131 Number 4, Summer 2011; Pages 845–864
Pre-service and beginning teachers are vulnerable to several mistakes in lesson planning. Lesson plans may fail to define learning goals sharply, so that key concepts are buried under too much content and factual detail. To avoid this problem, teachers should set learning goals at the start of the lesson planning process, and introduce them to school students before instruction begins. Establishing goals at the outset may also be applied to another error: the mismatching of learning objectives and assessment measures. The problem arises, for example, when the learning objective is lost within 'fun activities'. Another pitfall is to neglect summative assessment, as the new teacher struggles to cover content and manage the classroom. This problem appears if the teacher grades homework, which raises fidelity issues; if the teacher grades students based on classroom discussion, which is too vague a measure; or if the teacher simply does not set summative assessments. The teacher can avoid this pitfall by setting classroom assessments that require students to create tangible products showing what they have learnt. Lack of formative assessment is another common problem: without it teachers lack guidance about their students' immediate progress, and thus how to differentiate instruction. The authors recommend classroom activities that show students' ability to explain, interpret and apply what they are learning, to place it within a larger perspective, to look at it from different viewpoints, and to understand their own learning processes. Introducing the lesson may also be a problem. The teacher often starts by giving a short lecture, or by requiring students to read a block of text or undertake a brief introductory activity. These techniques risk disengaging students or may fail to focus students on key concepts. The authors recommend instead that students start with an extended 'exploration' activity that attracts their attention, connects to their prior knowledge, and introduces core ideas. The final pitfall is to leave students in passive roles, simply viewing or listening, or recalling facts. The solution to this problem lies in a broad paradigm shift in teaching and teacher education. Teacher education faculties should model the kind of active learning that pre-service teachers will need to apply in their own classroom.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
A snapshot of writing instruction in middle schools and high schools
Volume 100 Number 6, July 2011
The article compares results of two US studies on writing instruction in schools conducted, widely separated in time. The National Study of Writing Instruction was conducted over four years in the mid-2000s. Data was collected from 220 teachers of English, maths, social studies or science, at 20 middle or high schools, which had reputations for excellent writing instruction. Further evidence was obtained from a national survey of 1520 randomly selected teachers. The earlier study, conducted in 1979–80, involved case studies of writing instruction at two contrasting high schools, as well as a national survey of writing across the curriculum. In 1979–80 students were typically asked to write short texts, with writing instruction limited to feedback on students' written output. By contrast, in the current period teachers have a much more sophisticated grasp of writing instruction and are informed by a wide range of evidence-based practices. These practices include clear initial specification of writing requirements, the teaching of particular strategies for pre-writing, writing and revision, offering models for students' analysis and critique and the application of ICT to the writing process. Teachers' growing knowledge of writing instruction is reflected in some aspects of their practice, and the ways in which students learn. Students are now much more likely to share written work with peers, with a small but rising number writing for external readerships. However, collaborative writing remains much less common than teacher-led activities. Teachers are now more likely simply to respond to, rather than grade, students' written work. Teachers now devote substantial instruction time to the writing process, especially in English but also in social science and history. Overall, however, teachers' writing instruction has remained largely unchanged, due to the constraints imposed by 'on-demand, timed assessments'. Teachers indicated they lacked time to assess student writing of substantial length, and that high-stakes tests themselves require little writing even for the subject of English. On average, students 'are not writing a great deal', even for the subject of English. Writing in other subject areas is heavily constrained by test preparation, and by the need to cover extensive content during instruction. Exceptions to this pattern, in which writing was emphasised, were found in the International Baccalaureate schools, in some Advanced Placement exams, and in some subjects in certain states, such as geometry, in which students were often required to write proofs. ICT is used in less than a third of classrooms, except for maths. ICT is also usually used for teacher-centred instruction or for students' word processing, except in science, where just over 30 per cent of classes used technology to embed images or audio in student writing.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
13 for thirteen-year-olds
Volume 120 Number 6, Summer 2011; Pages 36–38
A range of strategies may be used to enhance the reading skills of middle school students. A first step is to dovetail with the characteristics of students in early adolescence, by allowing them scope to make independent decisions, by giving them opportunities to explore social contact with peers through collaborative work, and by setting the kind of cognitive challenges that they are now able to manage. A second strategy is to have students set up blogs. The social appeal of reading and contributing to peers' blogs is a powerful incentive for students to develop reading skills. The teacher can view all the blogs and interact with students themselves. Text messaging may also be used in a creative way, if permission for students to use mobile phones can be obtained. For example, students may be invited to adopt an unfamiliar persona and send texts to peers as that character. Another strategy is word study, with students identifying and pronouncing roots and stems, prefixes and suffixes, as well as learning about exceptions to the rules. Students' vocabularies should be developed, at times through context clues, but also through pre-teaching that equips them with knowledge of unfamiliar words used in forthcoming content. Writing about reading is a valuable way to enhance comprehension, so students could be asked to keep notebooks recording their thoughts as they read. Two further strategies are to identify and highlight the techniques used by expert writers within the texts students are studying, and to allow students more choice in what they read. The study of particular genres is also valuable: students will be more motivated by being able to read the genres they most enjoy; each genre also has its predictable features that help to guide students' understanding of the texts. Students should be encouraged to recommend books to each other, as another way to encourage independence, allow students to follow their interests, and collaborate. These recommendations can be formalised by having them written on a wall chart that students fill in. Other strategies are to meet students one-on-one, and 'get rid of your desk', walking around during the lesson.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Tween here and there, transitioning from the early years to the middle years: exploring continuities and discontinuities in a multiliterate environment
Volume 19 Number 1, February 2011; Pages 9–17
A recent study examined the whole-school implementation of interactive whiteboards (IWB) at one primary school. The article reports on an aspect of the study: the extent to which one year 4 teacher used IWBs to develop her students' multiliteracies. In doing so, the article examines the continuities and discontinuities in children's literacy development from early primary to middle school years. Characteristically, students in year 4 are quickly developing their skills in logical reasoning and comprehension; they are deepening social contacts with peers, and becoming more aware of society. They are also more exposed to the media, which target their demographic intensively. At school these students face the challenge of applying their literacy skills to the understanding of more complex, expository texts. They are also exposed to digital technologies offering the opportunity to interact with sources of knowledge as they read. As a result of these factors they need to acquire critical literacy and awareness of multimodal forms, which have the potential to overwhelm readers taught to extract meaning only from traditional text. For the current study, evidence was obtained from classroom observations, email correspondence with the teacher, field notes and formal reflections by the teacher and researcher. Evidence showed that the teacher developed students' technological skills, allowing them to interact with IWB resources, and to use multimodal texts such as learning objects and interactive games. However, she made less use of the IWD to develop students' critical literacy, or to draw out the distinctively multimodal aspects of modern texts, such as the way meaning is created through graphics, colour and highlighted words. She also described the difficulty of finding web texts suitable for year 4 students to learn from: texts tended to have poor sentence structure, use American English, or cover unfamiliar words or content. This problem suggests that teachers need more time to identify suitable texts for students.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Soft landings for new talent
Volume 33 Number 2, 2011; Pages 33–34
Beginning teachers face the strain of having to perform the same job as an experienced teacher. They have to generate new lesson plans, develop behaviour management strategies, deal with unfamiliar policies and processes, manage relations with parents and navigate staffroom politics. Any leaders who treat these problems as a 'rite of passage' for new teachers are likely to lose them, given the disposition of Gen Y teachers. The problem is not resolved by short-term induction programs. Extended programs are needed, covering a range of key issues. Firstly, new teachers should be encouraged to focus on instructional mastery. While their general enthusiasm for teaching may lead them to accept extracurricular duties, such commitments can easily lead to burnout and should be discouraged. To develop their instructional mastery they should be mentored by a talented peer, 'not simply a staff member with a gap in their timetable'. Ideally, the new teacher should be allowed a reduced teaching load to free up their time for planning or classroom observations. A second step is to provide a 'buddy' peer to provide social support, preferably close in age to the new teacher. New teachers should also have the opportunity to connect and share experiences. It is useful to ask new teachers what they need, to help personalise the support they receive. Beginning teachers should also be inducted into the culture of the school. If the school leader intends to change the prevailing culture, they may find that new teachers can become loyal allies able to 'evangelise' on their behalf.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
Volume 32 Number 3, June 2011; Pages 44–47,51
Instructional improvement in schools may be held back by a ‘culture of nice’. This culture has a number of characteristics, which may be expressed during meetings of a teaching team. Teachers refrain from making even constructive criticisms of each other’s performance. They do not probe the situations faced by other teachers, and the teaching strategies they employ. They tend share only their successes with other teachers, or they attribute failures to students or to the method of assessment used. While teachers may offer strategies to peers, they do not reflect critically on how they themselves might do more to apply such approaches in their own teaching. The culture of nice that is present at formal meetings may be accompanied, at informal gatherings, by a ‘not-so-nice’ culture of gossip or private complaints. Teacher leaders can employ a range of methods to overcome this culture, and its unhealthy effects. They should seek to create a safe environment for open discussion and constructive criticism, by drawing attention to the way that current practice inhibits genuine discussion. For example, they might draw attention to moments when the culture of nice is at play during a meeting. The teacher leader may invite others to challenge the teacher leader’s own assumptions. They may explicitly promote healthy norms, such as agreeing to disagree at times. A further technique is to have the team of teachers develop a lesson or an assessment collaboratively, and take collective responsibility for the result. The teacher leader may also model an open approach by raising issues they face in their own teaching. If the situation is too sensitive too implement any of these approaches, the teacher leader may nevertheless make progress by seeking to probe more deeply into successful practices, and generalise from them. They may raise a hypothetical dilemma to discuss, or pose a problem in terms of the learning needs of a student rather than the current practices of the student’s teacher. To forestall unhelpful discussion at informal gatherings following a meeting, the teacher leader may explicitly ask participants to evaluate the meeting’s value before it ends. They may also wish to hold follow-up meetings one-to-one with individual staff.
Subject HeadingsSchool culture
Teaching and learning
The issue of inclusion
June 2011; Pages 22–23
The inclusion of students with disabilities in mainstream classrooms has been widely advanced as a means to support social justice. However, while this practice has proved popular with academics and education administrators, teachers have expressed a range of concerns about inclusive practices, one prominent concern being behaviour management. When examining these issues, inclusive education practices in Italy deserve attention. Italy has favored inclusive classrooms since the 1970s, and the current rate of inclusion in that country is extremely high. In Italy there is a law that establishes 'fixed protocols' to support inclusion. The law sets strict limits on the number of students with a disability in any one classroom. It also sets out the level of support each one of these students receives from a special education teacher, whose case load is also clearly limited under the legislation. In Australia, teachers taking inclusive classrooms are normally supported by teaching assistants. However, this means of supporting students with disabilities has reduced the need for teachers to develop their own practice in dealing with such students. The tendency for teachers to look toward others to deal with these issues creates the risk that teachers are disconnected from students with disabilities. There are examples of outstandingly successful inclusive practices, but effective support mechanisms are needed if it is to be done well.
Teaching and learning
June 2011; Pages 35–38
The Australian Ballet School has addressed the problem of bullying through a program titled Connecting to School Community (CSC), designed to foster mutual respect and support amongst its students. The school’s in-house Performance Psychology curriculum dovetails with the program. Bullying may be physical, verbal or relational, and sometimes takes the form of cyber-bullying. It is widespread in society and pervades competitive school or workplace environments, facts which make it difficult to deal with. The school’s approach is to focus primarily on support for the student targeted by bullying. Students are helped to control their emotional responses to bullying, and how they display their responses. Learning to make friends is another important step for students. The school also seeks to cultivate mutual respect amongst students. It seeks to build students’ self-esteem, based on ‘who they are’ rather than on their accomplishments, which are variable and uncertain over time. The school also seeks to have an open culture in which incidents of bullying are easy to report. The emotional well-being of teachers is also supported. The school’s CSC program was developed with the help of research undertaken through the Gatehouse Project conducted by the Royal Children’s Hospital.
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