Neuroscience and reading: a review for reading education researchers
Volume 46 Number 2, 2011; Pages 156–172
Experts in literacy development and neuroscience review current knowledge about the links between neuroscience, reading processes and reading development. Some neuroscientific research promises to be of benefit to literacy education. For example, 'the auditory neuroscience of basic speech processing is transforming our understanding of how the speech signal is coded neurally, foregrounding the importance of syllables and speech rhythm over phonemes'. This research has implications for educational debates about phonics, oral language instruction, and the role of nursery rhymes and poetry in reading acquisition. In all likelihood, however, the research most relevant to classroom practice will continue to be that which is focused on classroom practice itself. The next most relevant area of research relates to cognitive and social aspects of learning, 'with cognitive neuroscience and educational neuroscience playing a more distant role'. 'What works' in the classroom will vary according to contextual factors such as teaching quality, resources and curriculum. The role of neuroscience has been clouded by oversimplified and sometimes deterministic views. As a result 'the computational-brain framework is the one most often garbled in the popular media and brain-based educational materials'. For example, neural imaging does not indicate areas of the brain dedicated to reading processes and does not identify 'a potential locus of confound for a struggling comprehender'. It is true that sub-processes involved in decoding may be mapped to particular locations, eg visual processing in the occipital lobe. However, the areas of the brain involved in more complex processes such as the construction of word meanings show 'great variability between subjects and readings'. Misconceptions about neuroscience in education may be seen in the context of other deterministic views; for example, 'much of the necessary information for behaviour and learning is not actually encoded in the genome', as commonly thought, but is instead 'off-loaded in the environment in which the genome has historically and developmentally functioned'.
Subject HeadingsPsychology of learning
What every school leader needs to know about statistical literacy
Number 8, November 2011
Statistical literacy prepares students for 'unrehearsed contexts and spontaneous decision-making' in later life. It is relevant across the entire Australian Curriculum, appearing explicitly in the Statistics and Probability section of the compulsory years' mathematics curriculum, in the two substrands of Chance and Data Representation and Interpretation. It is relevant to the three cross-curriculum perspectives, for which students will need to collect evidence and 'acknowledge uncertainty in claims made'. Statistical literacy appears explicitly in the General Capability of Numeracy. There are also explicit references to statistical ideas in the documents covering specific subject areas. The history curriculum sets out expectations that students will analyse data, including quantitative data, as they organise and interpret historical evidence. The English curriculum establishes expectations that students will understand, analyse and synthesise evidence, present arguments and evaluate sources and methodology. Statistical literacy is an aspect of the numeracy that students are expected to apply in the subjects of science and geography. Statistical literacy in the curriculum is not designed to develop an understanding of formal statistical inference, but rather to promote understanding of 'the inferential process through investigations built on upon "evidence, generalisation and uncertainty"'. Such understanding will equip students, in later adult life, to grasp gaming outcomes, for example, or to identify cases where media claims are based on unduly small samples. Statistical literacy is also important for teachers who are expected to interpret the growing amount of student assessment data.
Getting teacher evaluation right
Value-added models (VAM) of teacher performance are ineffective and misleading as tools for measuring individual teachers' work, but they are helpful in evaluating the results of wider, systemic interventions. The limitations of VAM models are evident in a number of ways. For example, individual teachers' effectiveness ratings have been found to vary significantly between particular classes and year levels, and also vary significantly according to the VAM used to evaluate them. Teachers are on average less likely to show value-added when large proportions of their students are English language learners, or special education students, who have been moved to mainstreamed classes; teachers taking gifted students 'add little value because their students are already near the top of the test score distribution'. A study of three leading VAMs cast strong doubt on their capacity to measure true teacher effects. It suggests that 'students have at least as much bearing on the value-added measure as the teachers who actually teach them in a given year', even when models control for students' prior achievement and demographic background. When evaluating the factors that contribute to student achievement, it is 'impossible' to distinguish one teacher's impact from that of students' parents, private tutors, previous teachers, and other current teachers: for example, 'the essay writing a student learns through his history teacher may be credited to his English teacher, even if she assigns no writing; the math he learns in his physics class may be credited to his math teacher'. Particular skills and knowledge may not be measured during the year in which they are learnt. However, these errors are reduced in large scale studies. In these contexts VAM measures allow conclusions to be drawn about the general qualities and practices of the type of teacher that add value to students' learning. For instance, effective teachers have been found to possess strong subject knowledge, which they can apply flexibly; connect to students' prior learning; to scaffold learning; to help students apply what they have learnt, and to monitor their own learning. Such research has informed the professional standards for effective teaching, which 'have become the basis for assessments of teaching that produce ratings which are much more stable than value-added measures'. An abridged version of this paper has been published in The Washington Post.
Subject HeadingsTeacher evaluation
United States of America (USA)
Secondary mathematics and statistics teachers: who are our teachers of the future?
Volume 48 Number 1, May 2011; Pages 23–37
In New Zealand a national survey was undertaken in 2010, covering prospective teachers of secondary mathematics who were enrolled in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses that year. The survey covered all nine ITE providers in New Zealand, and involved 179 students who were enrolled in mathematics as a major or minor option. The survey collected data on personal background, qualifications, motivations for undertaking teaching courses, as well as career pathways and possible trajectories. The research was spurred by concerns at the limited supply of maths teachers, and the resultant tendency for secondary maths to be taken by out-of-field teachers. While the total number of the cohort provides 'a healthy number of potential teachers', there are indications that not all these students will proceed to positions in maths classrooms. A significant number of the students were undertaking only limited coursework in maths and/or statistics, with almost 20 per cent undertaking 'no statistical papers'. Almost two thirds indicated that they liked maths, but only three in five thought they were good at mathematics, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the participants had relatively weak achievement records in the subject. Participants offered a wide range of reasons for wanting to teach and for taking maths courses, covering 'a mix of push and pull factors'. The cohort's proportion of female students (58 per cent) was higher than the historical norm. So was proportion of students with existing workforce experience: these students are likely to be able to draw on a wealth of examples of mathematics being applied in practical situations; however, there is very little evidence about how such students will affect the nature and quality of maths education in future.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Teaching chemistry in primary science: what does the research suggest?
Volume 57 Number 4, December 2011; Pages 37–43
Chemistry is included in the Australian Curriculum at primary school level. Mistaken concepts about chemistry can easily take hold at these year levels, and create significant obstacles to students' later learning, but primary teachers can play an important role in guiding students toward correct chemical concepts. The article discusses these issues in terms of objects, materials and substances; particles and the particulate model of matter, and chemical change. It suggests ways that teachers can encourage conceptual development and avoid inadvertent support for students' common misconceptions. For instance, teachers can ensure that students have firsthand experience of objects, materials and substances, with a chance to compare them to others; have students test their ideas empirically; use class discussion to generalise between contexts; make imperceptible changes perceptible, eg using a microscope; and encourage students to think through their ideas reason, eg using written exercises or concept maps. The article includes a table, broken down by primary year level, setting out chemical content in the Australian Curriculum and elaboration examples, alongside a research recommendation. Primary students commonly misconceive matter as being continuous rather than composed of particles, or else they tend to ascribe macroscopic qualities to particles. Research suggests that students' conceptions can be promoted by calling on children to generate their own representations of matter. They should discuss these concepts over time. Teachers need to scaffold this process, accepting that students will go through intermediate stages of understanding. For example, students can be encouraged to 'imagine' that substances consist of very large numbers of uniform, connected parts, and asked to develop models of how the parts might be linked. Physical changes should be introduced in varied contexts, using everyday examples but going beyond water and ice. Students should be encouraged to represent their observations in various forms, eg graphic tabular and verbal, and to evaluate and compare these forms. Teachers should encourage students to think of the products of chemical change as new substances and materials, eg that rust is qualitatively different to iron. It is also important to be aware of and acknowledge children's current ideas.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Teaching history in primary school: interrogating the Australian Curriculum
Volume 31 Number 3; Pages 78–83
The Australian Curriculum: History introduces a discipline-focused approach for the primary years. It moves away from the former, holistic orientation, a 'highly successful and internationally valued approach to the education of children of this age'. Such an approach was supported in the 2000 Report of the National Inquiry into School History. It was also supported in England's Cambridge Primary Review and Rose Review, both 2009, which each recommended a more integrated approach, after 20 years in which history has been covered as a separate discipline. The expertise of Australian primary teachers is currently in catering to the learner rather than in teaching history. They are likely to face considerable challenges in dealing with the primary history curriculum, with its sophisticated mix of conceptual and content requirements, historical skills and generic capabilities. England's 2011 Ofsted Report noted several significant concerns with regard to teaching history in the primary years, even after extensive experience of doing so. Australian primary teachers are likely to face even greater challenges. Teachers will simultaneously be expected to learn the curriculum areas of English, maths and science. To face these challenges teachers will need significant resources. Pre-service teacher education will also need to start preparing primary teachers as history educators. At the primary school level teachers need to allow for wide developmental differences and identify misconceptions. They need to clarify the meanings of events for primary age children to a greater extent than is needed for older students. For these purposes it may be useful to use the arts, local and community history and a narrative approach that personalises history for the young student. Most importantly, the curriculum document needs to give primary teachers a strong case for the shift to a disciplinary focus. The goals of promoting citizenship, developing values, and pursuing social cohesion are all readily applied within the SOSE approach. The curriculum needs to explain how they may be brought out clearly within the history-specific curriculum.
Flogging a dead horse: pseudoscience and school science education
Volume 57 Number 4, December 2011; Pages 21–25
Pseudoscience is popular, revealing the limits of scientific literacy in the community. It is evident, for example, in widespread public susceptibility to certain health scams. It has superficial similarities to true science, but lacks its 'depth' qualities, particularly in terms of the epistemology used to ground evidence: characteristically the claims made by a pseudoscience cannot be verified or falsified, rely on selective evidence and are subject to confirmation bias. Pseudoscience poses a challenge for science education. To ignore pseudoscience fails to deal with the issues it raises. To confront pseudoscience directly means to give it explicit coverage in the curriculum: this approach raises the problems of choosing which pseudoscience to confront, of responding to accusations of victimising particular belief systems, and of contesting with politically powerful movements such as the creationist lobby. A 'middle path' is to examine testable claims arising from various pseudosciences during coverage of authentic scientific topics. For example, the claims of astrology could be examined during a course on astronomy, homeopathy during a chemistry unit on solutions and concentration, and creationism during the study of evolution. In each case the treatment would apply scientific method and critical thinking. The bulk of the article reports on a study examining 'the pseudoscience status quo' in Britain, the USA, Australia, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand. An attempt was made to survey the opinions of members of curriculum units or science education associations in each country. In academic terms the study was 'a flop' due to the low response rate, 'which in itself says a great deal' about science education's ambivalence towards 'the pseudoscience bogey'. It appears that curriculum writers and associations 'assiduously ignore' pseudoscience except when it encroaches aggressively, as in the case of creationism. While curriculum documents often emphasise the development of scientific reasoning, there is a strong tendency to treat science content, rather than the development of scientific reasoning, as 'the arbiter of relevance' in the curriculum. At the same time, consideration of scientific reasoning tends to be confined to conventional topics.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Using the game sense approach to deliver quality teaching in physical education
27 November 2011
The traditional, skills-based approach to the teaching of physical education makes it hard for teachers to meet demands to delivery a program of high intellectual quality, one which makes the significance of learning explicit to students. The difficulty in providing such a program reinforces the perception of physical education as a non-academic subject detached from the main curriculum. One approach to this problem is to use the subject to address lifestyle-related problems such as obesity, but this orientation neglects the potential of the subject to develop intellectual learning. A more promising approach is offered by the pedagogy known as Game Sense (see video clip). It allows students to build their skills and understandings during active participation in a game or game-like activity, integrating physical, intellectual and social learning. Game Sense incorporates 'essential tactical structures' which are adapted for age and physical size, and for different levels of ability, inclination and motivation. Over time, the games increase in tactical complexity and in the skills they require. During this process the teacher 'guides, shapes and enhances learning but does not determine it'.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Psychosocial effects of food allergy: what do they mean for educators' practice in early childhood settings?
11 December 2011
A food allergy is an adverse immune response to certain proteins; nine foods are said to be responsible for 90 per cent of allergic reactions among Australian children. Currently, there is no cure for food allergy. It is a growing health issue, with one in 10 Australian children affected. From a medical perspective teachers are required to identify children with risks of food allergy and/or anaphylaxis, understand the causes and symptoms, and respond effectively, employing set procedures including the administration of an adrenaline auto injector. However, educators also need to address food allergy as a social issue which has implications for the wellbeing of children and their caregivers. For example, it is helpful if teachers acknowledge the socio-emotional issues for the child; assist families and children to find coping strategies, eg from Anaphylaxis Australia Inc; ascertain how a child's food allergy is managed in the home; develop specific ways to prevent risks while the child is at school or is supervised by school staff; and deal with issues of inclusion and self-esteem when the allergy affects participation in curricular or extracurricular activities. It is also important to educate the school community about the seriousness of food allergies to encourage cooperation and discourage peer pressure and victimisation, as well as the labelling of parents as overprotective.
Duty of care
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