The assessment of reading comprehension cognitive strategies: practices and perceptions of Western Australian teachers
Volume 34 Number 3, October 2012; Pages 279–293
A study in Western Australia has examined how teachers of grades 5 to 7 assess students' use of reading comprehension cognitive strategies (RCCS) such as summarising, visualising, questioning, making inferences and predicting. The use of these strategies is not directly visible so it is hard to assess; it is sometimes inferred from students' written work or other representations such as role-plays. The limited literature on this topic emphasises the need for students themselves to be explicitly aware of RCCS, so that they understand each strategy and know how and when to apply it themselves. This metacognitive approach needs to be taught and assessed by teachers. There are several ways to assess students' use of RCCS. One approach is to question the student, not about the content of texts but on how the student thought about the text, eg what ideas or associations it stirred in the child's mind while they read it. Verbal questioning may be useful for readers who struggle with written questions. A second approach is for students to 'think aloud', verbalising their responses as they read. To be effective this technique is likely to need extensive modelling by teachers. Its value may be limited by students' difficulty in understanding and articulating their own thinking. Other approaches include interviews, surveys and inventories in which students report the comprehension strategies they use; the article suggests several tools for these purposes. Some researchers have developed rubrics to guide assessment of RCCS. Further approaches include miscue analysis and running records, as well as the most common approach, analysis of student work. The current study invited teachers across the three sectors of schooling to complete a survey covering their teaching and assessment of RCCS, and demographic details of the participants; 93 responses were received. Eight of the participants were later interviewed. The most common way they taught RCCS was by asking students to summarise a text. Only about 40 per cent of participants reported teaching students to self-monitor for meaning; teachers graduating in the last 10 years were twice as likely as experienced teachers to take this approach. In terms of assessing RCCS, participants relied heavily on analysis of students' written work and other output. Questioning was almost always used in relation to textual content rather than thinking strategies. The findings suggest the value of further professional learning in the assessment of reading comprehension strategies.
Western Australia (WA)
A strategy for supporting students who have fallen behind in the learning of mathematics
2011; Pages 719–727
As a whole, Australian students perform well on international tests, but there is a 'long tail' of underachievers. Given the pressing demands on maths teachers it is difficult for them to attend to the needs of individual struggling students. The Getting Ready intervention has addressed this problem through an out-of-class program for struggling maths students in years 3 and 8. The intervention is supported by the Wyndham Network of Schools in the Western Metropolitan Region of DEECD. Participating schools have released tutors to work with selected students in small groups. The tutors have prepared students for upcoming maths lessons by familiarising them with the required vocabulary, by focusing them on key concepts, by attempting to 'resurrect' relevant prior knowledge, and by modelling forthcoming classroom activities. The tutors have been asked to emphasise to students that actual lesson content would not be covered during tutorials, so that students know they need to concentrate during the subsequent lesson. A preliminary evaluation of the intervention has been undertaken. After the first six months of the intervention researchers interviewed three tutors, six teachers and seven students from participating schools. Researchers also analysed the videotape of one tutorial, and pre- and post-intervention assessments of participating students and non-participating peers. The test results of participating year 8 students were found to be significantly better than non-participating peers. The results for year 3 students were mixed and inconclusive. Interviewed teachers indicated that participating students were more willing to participate in class and better behaved following the intervention, with flow-on benefits for the whole class; the videotape analysis also supported the value of the intervention for involving disengaged students. During the intervention several organisational issues emerged. The ideal size for tutorials was found to be three students, to ensure opportunities for students to discuss questions and share strategies, even if one student was absent, while minimising students' anxiety about exposing their uncertainty to a group of peers. Each group's composition was carefully selected to avoid personality clashes. Students were from the same class so that they could continue supporting each other during lessons. Other issues included managing absenteeism, withdrawal of students from class, arranging time for tutors and teachers to meet, and professional learning of tutors.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Data modelling in the beginning school years
2011; Pages 226–234
The need for students to develop statistical reasoning skills is growing alongside the proliferation of data in society. Even young students need to acquire these skills, as they are increasingly exposed to data presentations in the mass media. They can develop these skills through the use of data modelling. Data modelling is a developmental process through which children inquire into and represent phenomena. The paper sets out the stages of data modelling for children. Young students must learn to grasp the idea that an object may be understood not just as a single entity but also as a collection of distinct qualities. They must then learn to select particular qualities as relevant for particular purposes, discarding others. They must learn to select and classify and group qualities of the phenomena. It is a challenge for young students to organise complex and varied attributes which appear in more than one classification group. The next stage for students is to learn to structure and display data. Young students find it difficult to impose structure consistently and often include redundant information. To deal with these difficulties children should have opportunities to select their own ways to structure and represent data, and then analyse what they have created. Part of the process of constructing and displaying data is to create inscriptions for it. Inscriptions commonly used by children include drawings and letter and numerical symbols. Children also need to learn that data occurs within a specific context, and is at the same time abstracted from that context. The paper describes a longitudinal study of data modelling involving three classes of students in grade 1 in an inner-city Australian school.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Curriculum leadership in a conservative era
Volume 48 Number 2, April 2012; Pages 304–346
School leaders may respond in different ways to shifts in the policy environment. A longitudinal study in the north eastern USA has examined how four primary school principals revised their concept of curriculum leadership between 2003 and 2006, in reaction to a shift in public thinking about curriculum. The shift was driven by neoliberals applying market-based concepts to schooling; authoritarian populists emphasising family and religion over state interventions; neo-conservatives calling for traditional values and discipline, and a new middle class whose professional interests and advancement depended on 'expanded use of accountability, efficiency and management procedures'. This coalition united around the idea that US schools were failing. It established a 'new common sense', with education leadership defined in terms of performance outcomes and curriculum reforms defined by standardisation. For the current study the researcher conducted monthly observations and interviews with the four principals, teachers, parents, and students 2003–2006. Interviews were also conducted with the superintendent and community members involved in curriculum issues. Two of the principals, one in a disadvantaged and the other in a mixed-SES school, increasingly accepted the ideas behind the current policy climate. They turned away from holistic teaching practices such as shared reading of real literature sets. They argued that a sharp focus on standardised test results served students better than 'planting flowers' in community service activities, or addressing local social problems. They endorsed more skills-based instruction, and more reliance on textbooks and externally developed, research-based models rather than teachers' own knowledge base. The other two principals, both in disadvantaged schools, reacted against the policy climate, noting, however, that the ideas behind it were making inroads into the thinking of teachers and parents. They accepted the key importance of students' test results, but argued the need for their schools to join in community projects as a means to engage students, draw on and affirm students' own background knowledge, and integrate their learning across subject areas. For example, one project addressed soil contamination; an English class studied textbooks, city reports and other resources before creating their own written reports. The principals argued for a critical examination of the ideological underpinnings of current policy among teachers and parents. In taking this approach they reflected an alternative stream of thinking about curriculum, championed, for example, by John Dewey, in which academic learning is interwoven with close scrutiny of society and its historical development, and also with the self-development of each individual student; curriculum cultivates democratic values rather than narrowly defined economic ends, and subject specialisation does not override holistic learning goals.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
Education aims and objectives
United States of America (USA)
How existing business management concepts become school leadership fashions
Volume 48 Number 2, April 2012; Pages 347–381
Over the past few decades, concepts and strategies developed for the business world have been taken up within the education community. However, their transience gives them the quality of fads, or fashions. Their influence in educational circles tends to culminate years after their popularity in the business world has faded. The authors trace the rise and fall of two business theories which subsequently became popular in education. They analysed over 200 documents covering business or educational literature, charting the appearance and progress of business-inspired fashions in consecutive editions of major books on educational leadership. They found that interest in the 'Management by Objectives' strategy emerged in the mid 1950s, reaching maximum influence over the next two decades. The second strategy was Total Quality Management (TQM), emphasising customer focus and continuous improvement. It peaked during the 1970s and 1980s. The authors predict the same trajectory for the currently popular concept of 'turnaround'. In business literature this concept referred to the idea of acquiring a struggling firm cheaply and revitalising it. It emerged with several accounts of corporate recoveries occurring in the 1950s and 1960s, rising rapidly in the early 1980s, when it spread to literature that aimed for a wide readership. Interest peaked in the 1980s and 1990s. However, criticism also grew, with Warren Buffet, for example, observing that '"turnarounds" seldom turn'. Within education circles interest was episodic during the 1990s, but gained momentum in the early 2000s. The turnaround concept is now widely applied in US educational thinking to describe state intervention in 'failing' schools. However, the concept of 'turnaround schools' is now attracting criticism within both business and educational settings. At a general level, educational thinkers may be driven to identify with business concepts in order to emulate or influence an elite social layer with significant influence in policy circles. More specifically, business concepts may be taken up by 'fashion setters (such as educational leadership scholars, consultants and writers)' to help them compete for the attention of 'fashion followers' in local or regional educational leadership roles. The authors invite education leaders to examine business-related concepts critically and to consider fostering 'locally sourced innovation'.
Education aims and objectives
United States of America (USA)
What if…my teacher was an app???
26 February 2012
In a blog post, the author contrasts two approaches to ICT in learning: the trend toward entirely online education in US secondary schooling, and the integration of technology into face-to-face teaching within a program operating in NSW. The trend to online learning is described in an article in the Wall Street Journal. Florida now requires all public school students to take at least one class online; Idaho is to require two online classes, and Georgia permits public school students 'to take entire courses on their iPhones or Blackberries'. The trend dovetails with a growing tendency for corporations to sell online educational services to schools that are unable themselves to provide these services. While it is assumed that teachers have prepared these online courses, it is sometimes unclear whether there are timely mechanisms by which teachers may check students' understanding of concepts, and whether the courses will be updated year to year. Consequences of the change include reducing opportunities to students, eg through 'slashing of the LOTE curriculum' or 'cancellation of the school play'. An alternative application of ICT to learning is evident in the public secondary schools in NSW. The author took part in a mapping exercise that formed part of the Strategic Secondary Education Research Program (SSERP) for Greater Western Sydney, a partnership between the University of Western Sydney and two sizeable regions of the NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC). The researchers found that 'ICTs and Web 2.0 technologies play "a fundamental role" in planning, delivery and access to innovative educational programs'. These technologies were integrated with 'constructivist, collaborative, learning-centred pedagogies' that helped to cultivate new relationships between teachers and students, and deepen teachers' skills and knowledge.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
New South Wales (NSW)
United States of America (USA)
Why science doesn't support single-sex classes
17 February 2012
Gender-segregated classes have been widely supported in the USA, in articles in the mass media, in popular books, and also by school officials and politicians, on the grounds that differences between boys and girls call for separate classroom environments. However, evidence increasingly tells against this popular approach. The authors briefly review a range of research, including a study of African-American and Latino males, another study in the Caribbean republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and research by Diane Halpern et al. Single-sex education is still strongly supported by figures such as Leonard Sax, author Michael Gurian and author Louann Brizendene. However, their arguments have been convincingly challenged by Lise Elliot, Rebecca Jourdan-Young, and Cordelia Fine, among others. Notwithstanding the 'mountain of evidence' against the single-sex classroom, its proponents continue to receive far more support and coverage in the mass media than its critics do. (See also the item The Truth About Girls and Boys in the New Publications section of this issue – CL.)
Subject HeadingsGirls' education
Immigration and school choice in Australia
Volume 45 Number 1, February 2012; Page 29–49
Australian Census data points to a relationship between the proportion of immigrants in a locality and the school choice exercised by native and immigrant Australians. An analysis of 2001 data shows that the proportion of native-born Australians enrolling at private schools is higher in locations that have large immigrant populations. Immigrants' own enrolment at private schools falls when their location has a relatively high share of like-type immigrants. It also weakens when a group of immigrants' English language proficiency rises. The finding occurs against a backdrop of concern about 'white flight', raised in Melbourne 2008 and New South Wales in 2006. Earlier school choice literature in Australia indicates that SES has an important influence on private school enrolments, alongside the type of school attended by parents, parents' educational levels, and family circumstances, including the presence of a father or mother at home. The findings may indicate that native-born families seek separation from unfamiliar cultures. Alternatively, native-born parents may be concerned that immigrant students will impose a burden on school resources to the disadvantage of their children. Native-born parents may also use a school's ethnic composition 'as a proxy for academic quality'.
Subject HeadingsState schools
Social life and customs
Exploring the influence of the mass media on primary students' conceptual understanding of genetics
Volume 40 Number 1, February 2012; Pages 75–95
The topics of genes and DNA tend to be avoided at primary school level, in line with Piaget's principle of introducing abstract concepts at the age of 14 or 15. This approach has been criticised, however, as 'producing neither sound understandings nor a scientifically literate population'. Research has found that students commonly hold misconceptions about genetics by late primary or early secondary levels, often due to exposure to TV programs on crime investigation. Research also indicates that students younger than 14 can grasp abstract concepts if suitably scaffolded. These abstract concepts include basic understandings of DNA and genetics. A study has explored links between mass media depictions of genes and DNA, and students' grasp of these subjects. The study took place at a new Independent K–10 school serving approximately 220 students close to the national average in terms of SES. The school is in a South Australian town of approximately 15,000 people. All the school's students in years 5 to 7 were invited to take part in a questionnaire about their exposure to media and their understanding of concepts in genetics, after which 25 students were interviewed. Findings support the belief that the mass media 'is the likely source of at least some of the conceptions' that students hold regarding genes and DNA. Electronic media was more influential than print media, with television the most influential form. All participants had a basic grasp of genetic inheritance. The questionnaire identified a range of misconceptions, eg spurious distinctions between genes and DNA, or the idea that DNA exists only in the blood. In general, students' misconceptions about genetics rose alongside the growth of genuine knowledge, a finding consistent with the belief that students obtained a significant amount of their knowledge from mass media reports. Some of the students' ideas were incomplete rather than incorrect, eg the belief that DNA was relevant only to the solving of crime. Limited knowledge 'should be readily expandable with appropriate instruction' and common misconceptions may also be fairly easily addressed. It may be more difficult to challenge idiosyncratic misconceptions of individual students.
Key Learning AreasScience
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