English teacher education as literacy teacher education
Volume 44 Number 2, January 2012; Pages 180–187
The author reviews current issues in teaching and teacher education in the fields of English and literacy learning. Teacher education faculties face public pressure over the perceived quality of teacher training, and from the related trend toward alternative forms of teacher certification. At the same time, pre-service teachers with English majors use their courses to pursue a wider range of academic interests than ever before. The traditional love of literature is now accompanied by interests in screen-based media, for example, so the skills and knowledge that pre-service teachers acquire during their courses has become more diverse. There is also a trend towards greater diversity among secondary students, with a higher proportion requiring remedial help with reading and writing. Neither school curricula nor teacher education faculties have fully responded to this trend. Over time, educators involved in the teaching of English have separated into different organisations with separate specialisations, such as teaching English as a second language, speech pathology, or media studies. The constituencies for each organisation tend to have different cultures, perspectives and approaches to core issues such as reading ability and children's acquisition of basic literacy. However, K–12 education forms a common demoninator across this diversity. This common ground is a starting point from which to consider how to build a more closely integrated curriculum that can help K–12 teachers meet their increasingly complex challenges. Curriculum change in the USA, in particular the forthcoming Common Core State Standards, means that 'literacy education, not English education, will be the defining paradigm'. To respond to this change English teacher educators need to partner with K–12 teachers and higher education colleagues in arts and sciences. This response will help educators to 'claim the pedagogical high ground' within the new, more integrated environment. From this position they are better placed to challenge 'inordinate testing' in school education, with its 'punitive attitude toward students and teachers alike'.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
English as an additional language
Languages other than English (LOTE)
Language and languages
High challenge teaching for senior English as an additional language learners in times of change
Volume 46 Number 1, May 2011; Pages 11–20
The article reviews recent shifts in the teaching of English and English as an additional language/dialect (EAL/D), with regard to critical literacy. The context is the Queensland education system. The authors consider the practices of four teachers who provide intellectually engaging critical literacy pedagogy that allows for the language proficiency of their students. Critical literacy questions 'the naturalised assumptions within literacy', revealing 'power relations and ideologically motivated reader positioning'. Teachers sometimes find critical literacy different to apply when teaching EAL/D students; however, these students form a significant proportion of the school population. The teachers' critical literacy practices covered four important elements. One was the use of multimodal texts that connected to youth culture. For example, a year 11 unit used several online clips from the documentary Race Around the World to illustrate the way that language and image choice influence meaning. The second feature of their teaching was the careful elaboration of background knowledge. Rather than simply provide more background information – a practice than can overwhelm EAL/D students – they explained the cultural references behind the images used. The third element was a focus on involving the students in writing activities from the outset of the unit, with a strong emphasis on sentence level grammar and text level structure. One of the teachers described explaining grammatical terminology and the requirements of text types and genres. Students were actively involved through peer editing and co-construction of texts. The fourth element was active engagement through talk. These four elements of practice are 'snapshots of much more complex pedagogy'. The teachers' practices are examined with reference to Janks' model of critical literacy. The article also describes provisions for EAL/D students in current Queensland and ACARA frameworks. It additionally considers the more general education contexts, 'currently driven by corporate and disciplinary discourses that insist on reporting, assessment metrics and the standardisation of assessment'. In Queensland, these government mandates are evident in the 'ever-shifting and requirements of the English syllabus documents'. The Queensland senior English syllabus in 2002 contained a strong critical dimension. This emphasis was diminished in 2008 but re-established to some extent in 2010.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
English as an additional language
STEMM: science, technology, engineering, math...and multimedia?
Volume 86 Number 7, October 2011; Pages 46–49
Present education policy promotes STEM subjects heavily. This focus is understandable, but it should not see multimedia studies set aside as 'expensive fluff'. Multimedia and technological literacy programs should be regarded as a vital part of the curriculum. The skills and knowledge of multimedia students span the fields of physics, engineering, maths, ICT, writing, art and music. Multimedia studies equip students with skills relevant to over 230 different careers; most of them have higher than average growth expectations, though not all of them are commonly thought of as part of the media industry. While a basic level of digital literacy is now essential for processes such as job searches and job applications, it also underpins 21st century activities such as using social media, preparing a video resume, or branding using a QR code. Nicole Pinkard has argued that those without such skills 'may soon be considered illiterate'. The need for the technological and digital literacy provided by multimedia has driven the US Government to set up a dedicated department Digitalliteracy.gov. A key white paper, Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action, recommends the integration of digital and media literacy at all levels of education, through collaborative arrangements across all tiers of government. It recommends that public libraries and other community centres be funded as centres for training in these literacies, with particular reference to adult training. Multimedia studies do more than simply apply reading and writing to contemporary media: they also stimulate students' reading and writing activities by situating them in real-world contexts that provide immediate and authentic feedback. These contexts also discipline students to make messages 'clear, concise and compelling'. Multimedia studies prepare students for an information environment characterised by 'lack of certainty and conformity' in which students must learn to 'navigate in a buzz of confusion' and determine for themselves which sources to trust. These studies develop skills in solving complex problems. The information, communication and media environments of students have changed profoundly, and refusing to accept this fact 'is at best tragic'.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Interdisciplinary robotic activity hones important skills
Volume 71 Number 1, August 2011; Pages 15–18
A robotics project in Ohio has challenged middle school students to develop 21st century skills and knowledge. The project, an interdisciplinary unit involving a health class and a technology class, called on students to design and program a robot in small teams. The technology students, in pairs, had to design and assemble the initial robot using a commercial software and hardware package. The entire technology class subsequently met to receive further instruction in programming, after which the teams retested their creations. Each team was now warned that they would have to take apart the robot and reassemble it later. To help them prepare for this task they were permitted to take three photographs of the robot. Over the same time period, students in the health class were working on and developing techniques in non-verbal communication. On the first day of the project proper, the technology and health classes met together. Four-student teams were created, each member with a specific role: a 'creative director' and 'architect' from the technology class, and a 'builder' and 'tech consultant' from the health team. The teams were now told to reconstruct the robots, with two significant constraints: there was to be no speaking at all, and the technology students were not to touch the robot. The teams were to communicate using non-verbal techniques only, including use of the three photographs. Students were also allowed access to two class blogs, one covering technical questions and responses, run by the technology teacher, the other covering communication issues, run by the health teacher. On the second and third days students were required to reprogram the robot's movements. The four-student teams were split: the tech consultant and architect undertook the reprogramming, and the creative director and builder tested the program in an adjoining room. They communicated with the reprogrammers through posts and drawings on a third blog. Students found some relief from the project's demands through a 'confessional' activity: they faced a camera in seclusion, and had to articulate their frustrations and suggest ways to address them. The most successful teams invented creative forms of communication, devised ways to maximise one another's contributions, and persisted. Teams were assessed on the final products, member participation, creativity, construction and programming. Students were also assessed individually on the knowledge and skills they had acquired. The article discusses revisions to the project, making use of more refined communication software, and a link to the project website.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Reading, writing, return on investment?
February 2012; Pages 12–13
The article covers the opinions of several education leaders on the issue of selective public schooling. These schools have attracted attention due to excellent academic results, government support, and growing popularity with some groups of parents. In NSW over 3000 places are offered at year 7 level in the state's selective schools. Victoria currently offers four selective entry institutions, with other schools offering selective streams or accelerated programs. The popularity of selective schools may derive in part from the prestige deriving from selection by merit, rather than by capacity to pay fees. However, several concerns have been raised regarding selective schools. One is that by removing high-achieving students, selective schools will lower results at mainstream public schools, particularly in view of evidence that peers contribute significantly to students' learning. As a result, mainstream public schools are said to be at risk of residualisation, no longer truly comprehensive in their student populations. A second concern is the narrow ethnic and socio-economic composition of the student population of selective schools. Critics argue that, contrary to common belief, these schools have not offered an avenue for low-SES students to achieve well: while selection is on merit, private tutors often play a role in raising the results of students from higher-SES backgrounds. In response, the NSW Department of Education has pointed out that most applicants for selective schools are from English-only language backgrounds, and all NSW government schools contain high-performing students. The Western Australian Government model for selective schooling has relied on accelerated streams within schools, rather than separating high-achieving students into separate schools. The growth of public selective schools may be affected, however, by changing entrance requirements for universities, with the Australian Government removing the cap on places at universities.
Special report: drama
February 2012; Pages 19, 21–23
Three articles in the Education Review February 2012 form a special report on drama in schools. In ‘Opening the curtains to thinking’ David Roy argues that school drama does more than prepare future threatre professionals. At a higher level than most other subjects, it develops critical thinking, oral presentation skills, and a sense of self. The European DICE study found that drama lifts students’ performance in a range of key competencies, and recommended that it be a compulsory subject. At present, however, school drama tends to be limited to occasional ‘prestige events’, sometimes commencing drama only in mid to late secondary level. It may be directed towards underperforming or misbehaving students, or taken by out-of-field teachers. Improving the quality and value of drama education in schools involves raising its status, providing more professional development for teachers and suitable training spaces made available. In ‘Turning emotions into income’ Brad Haseman notes the support given to drama in the paper Shape of the Australian Curriculum: The Arts, which sets out how drama along with other fine arts area are to be covered in every school. The economic and career benefits of drama are spelt out in The Qualities of Quality: Understanding Excellence in Arts Education. Drama provides future workers with skills needed in the large and expanding service sector, where creativity is now highly prized. In this context, however, he adds that ‘economics and much of its neo-liberal language provokes strong feelings and effects’ and suggests that drama teachers be ‘guided by ethical rationales and traditions of critique’. Sue Davis, in ‘Real life doesn’t happen on a screen’, discusses the roles for both online and face-to-face activity in school drama. Digital technologies assist in the creation of dramatic activities and allow drama to be shared, eg via video or collaborative online spaces. However, not all students are ‘digital natives’: many use only a small range of sites and applications. Those who are proficient with ICT are often frustrated with at its quality in schools, and by policies and technologies restricting its use. Young people’s interest in ICT does not mean that they prefer it to face to face interaction, which they often prefer, both within the field of drama and more generally.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Teaching and learning
Five ideas for 21st century math classrooms
Volume 39 Number 3, Summer 2011; Pages 108–116
Five innovations promise significant improvements to secondary maths education. The first is the introduction of high-quality problem-based instruction. The problems currently posed in textbooks are often simplistic and unrealistic. Instead students should be confronted with problems open to various solutions, and which contain 'a lot of information they must sort through, analyse and discuss' to make an informed decision. A second step is to encourage students to develop their own solutions to problems, rather than having the teacher set out rules, definitions and model solutions at the commencement of a topic. For students to take such initiatives, a third step is required: the atmosphere in the classroom needs to be one in which mistakes are accepted as part of an inevitable process of trial and error, through which solutions are eventually found. Incorporating student-led solutions also requires patience on the teacher's part. A fourth innovation is to incorporate gaming, quizzes and other fun activities, sourced from teacher peers, the web and professional forums. Finally, students need opportunities to collaborate with peers. Collaboration is needed if they are to solve rich problem-solving activities. Collaboration should involve not only face-to-face work with classmates but use of online message boards or wikis, and may also involve work with students in remote locations. The five innovations are discussed in the context of improving the USA's economic performance against rival economies, and with reference to brain-based theories of learning.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Inquiry based learning
Attending to the gifted in rural schools
Volume 68 Number 8, September 2011; Pages 44–45
Rural schools find it difficult to provide for the needs of gifted students, as a result of limited funding and distance from supplementary learning resources. Gifted students are often simply given more work than other students, or called on to help them in their work. Research in 2001 found that gifted students in rural settings enjoy school more than city-based peers, as a result of closer relationships with peers and adults in their communities. However, there is other evidence that gifted students 'suffer greater rates of depression, discipline issues, suicide attempts, dropping out and self-destructive behaviour'. Regional system officials may employ a range of strategies to meet the needs of rural gifted children. It is important to ensure effective procedures are in place to identify gifted students, and to ensure that programs include only gifted students, to avoid pressues to dilute course content. One key strategy is to undertake differentiated instruction within heterogeneous classrooms, where most gifted students are found. While differentiated instruction is a widely-used catchphrase, schools and system officers are likely to need professional development to carry through this pedagogy effectively. Another measure is the establishment of individual learning plans for gifted students, perhaps based on the model employed for special education students. Gifted education programs may also be made a policy focus. The author is the Superintendant of the Oakridge School District.
Subject HeadingsGifted children
K–12 and university partnerships: bridging the advocacy gap
Volume 25 Number 1, September 2011; Pages 36–37
Health and physical education (HPE) departments within universities can play a valuable role in promoting school-level HPE. Physical education teacher education (PETE) academics have contact with a variety of stakeholders concerned with the health and wellbeing of children. They are also in a position to involve pre-service HPE teachers in projects that promote HPE at the school level while simultaneously giving them added experience in physical education. University sports clubs may also be interested in service-oriented projects at local community level, or contributing to an after-school fitness program. For all these reasons it makes sense for school HPE teachers to cultivate alliances with these colleagues at the tertiary level. School and university staff can collaborate around many events. One such event might be a 'physical activity day' in the school, possibly linked to a wider social program involving broader sports, health or fitness initiatives. The media and local politicians may be invited to attend these school-based events. PETE academics may be asked to give presentations advocating for HPE at a meeting of the school board or local parent-teacher association. Another possibility is to have PETE students run aerobics classes for school staff. HPE teachers can begin to develop partnerships with PETE faculties by contacting a relevant member of the academic staff located from the university website, and seek an initial meeting to explore collaboration. Teachers may also approach the university through its media and public relations unit. Once collaboration gets going teachers may wish to contact and draw in other interested stakeholders, such as regional system authorities.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
School and community
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