Science teacher learning progressions: a review of science teachers' pedagogical content knowledge development
Volume 81 Number 4, December 2011; Pages 530–565
A review of science education literature published 1986–2010 has examined typical progressions in science teachers' pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) over the course of their teaching careers. The review examines a number of dimensions of science teachers' PCK. One dimension is their orientation to teaching science, including their views about the purposes and goals of science, the nature of science, and the nature of science learning for students. Initially, primary science teachers tend to focus on ways to encourage students' curiosity and on 'fun ways to remember information'. Over the course of their careers they increasingly teach students how to find information themselves and how science connects to students' everyday lives. At the secondary level, science teachers initially focus on building students' confidence about learning science and students' awareness of the practical relevance of science in their lives. Over the course of their careers they increasingly attend to the need to foster self-directed learning and conceptual thinking about science, often by modelling such activity themselves. Science teachers' views on the nature of science also develop over time. They initially tend to see science as a set of discrete ideas, before moving towards a more integrated understanding. They also tend to take interest in a wider range of ideas about science, picking up on issues such as creativity in science and the observational nature of data. In terms of the nature of learning science for students, teachers tend to start with a concept of learning as a process through which students receive correct information, either from the teacher directly or through their involvement in lesson activities. Over time teachers attend more to the need for students to generate their own concepts, and teachers also focus increasingly on the need to identify and challenge students' misconceptions. Teachers also learn to present ideas in more varied ways. They listen to and probe students more closely, giving them more time to express their own scientific ideas. The article also covers changes in science teachers' instructional strategies, including inquiry strategies; 'science phenomena strategies' such as demonstrations; discourse strategies in science, including argument, writing, presentations and conferencing, and the portrayal of science; and student-centred vs teacher-centred strategies. In terms of the science curriculum, issues include the scope of science, and the relative importance of particular topics; organising a sequence for learning science content; curricular resources; and the use of standards. The final dimension considered is assessment of students' science learning, which covers teachers' ideas about particular assessment strategies and how and when to use them. Substantial research is available on the PCK of preservice teachers, examining their progression at several points in their studies, but comparable research on in-service science teachers is scarce, and rarely investigates their professional progression over the course of their careers.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
What we know about second language acquisition: a synthesis from four perspectives
Volume 82 Number 1, March 2012; Pages 5–60
Through a literature review researchers have investigated second language learning (L2) from four perspectives: foreign language education, research on child language, socio-cultural studies, and psycholinguistics. The review examined optimal conditions for L2 learning, 'facilitative L2 learner and teacher characteristics', and expectations concerning speed of L2 acquisition. Among L2 learners immersed in a society where the language being learned is most people's L1, the most important factor for success was found to be opportunities for informal use of the studied language with peers who use it as their native tongue. Teachers should therefore encourage L2 learners to mix informally with these peers, eg during extracurricular activities. Teachers should also encourage parents to read to children in L1 or L2 and take them to a library. Several studies support the use of bilingual education, particularly two-way programs that combine students from two different L1 groups with the aim of encouraging their full proficiency in both languages. A further optimal condition is well-implemented, specialised instruction, such as the 'sheltered instruction observation protocol' described by Echevarria et al and by McIntyre et al. A different set of issues confronts learners for whom the L2 is taught as a foreign language rather than a language widely or predominantly spoken in their societies. The literature suggests that these learners benefit from explicit instruction, particularly with regard to grammar, and also that their L2 learning develops when they have other academic subject content taught in the L2. By contrast, they do not appear to benefit from intensification, ie having the same amount of L2 coursework covered within a shorter time frame. Successful L2 learners tend to have strong L1 skills, which broadly correlates with high-SES backgrounds. They usually also have a strong aptitude and motivation for L2 study. Successful L2 teachers tend to 'have at least some proficiency' in their students' L1, have strong instructional skills, and adequate L2 proficiency. In terms of expectations about speed of language learning, L2 learners take 3–7 years to become proficient; younger learners take longer but are more likely to come closest to native speaker proficiency.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsLanguage and languages
English as an additional language
Effective grammar-teaching lessons from confident grammar teachers
Volume 21 Number 2, 2012; Pages 34–51
An Australian-based study has examined teachers' views on the place of grammar teaching in the ESL context. At an earlier time, the analysis of grammar was an important element of teaching English as a second language, but its role diminished with the rise of the communicative language approach. More recently interest in the teaching of grammar has revived. Research has found that language teachers themselves emphasise the role of grammar in language learning, when it is integrated into classroom practice rather than taught in isolation. Research also indicates that language teachers lack confidence in teaching grammar. The current study explores these issues further. Evidence was collected from 72 language teachers via questionnaires. The participants worked in Australia or overseas, attracted via snowball sampling. The participants were diverse in age and also linguistically, with only 23 identifying English as their first language. Interviews were subsequently conducted with 10 participants, eight of whom spoke English as a first language. The study found that only 53 per cent of participants felt confident to teach grammar, due to their limited knowledge of grammar and grammatical terminology; even some of the experienced teachers lacked confidence in this area. An interest in analysing language was cited by several respondents as important for good teaching. One participant argued that the growth in TESOL, 'as an industry, as much as a profession', has seen a reduction in the proportion of teachers who have a strong interest in language and in teaching: some practitioners are attracted to the profession for other reasons. Survey participants indicated that knowledge about a range of theories and approaches in grammar was important in generating confidence to teach it. They also indicated the value of having a range of ways to teach grammar, eg through the use of songs, computer games, pair work and group work. They felt grammatical knowledge was particularly important when offering feedback on students' writing. They also noted the value of quality textbooks and reference sources as supports for less confident teachers, and as a basis from which teachers may design their own teaching material. Respondents indicated that confidence to teach grammar grew alongside years of teaching experience; however, previous research suggests that experience is likely to be more useful when teachers begin with a good grounding in grammar and its relationship to pedagogy.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Teaching and learning
Language and languages
Spotting foolbirds: literacies hiding in plain sight in an urban English language arts classroom
Volume 43 Number 3, 2011; Pages 250–274
Students sometimes apply literacy skills and techniques for unsanctioned purposes in the classroom, such as reading unsuitable private material, or sparring verbally with a peer during lesson time. They seem unaware that the skills and techniques they apply on these occasions are, in themselves, valued by the education community, and could advance the student's own academic learning. These practices tend to be concealed from most or all peers, and from the teacher: camouflaged, like the grouse known as 'foolbirds' in G. Paulsen's novel Hatchet. The article includes three vignettes of such practices from individual students in a year 6 US classroom that was observed by the author during a research study. The first student, Keeirra, showed the skill of being able to 'interpret the nuances of the classroom context' and she also displayed the good literacy practice of reading steadily for personal enjoyment, when she read a racy adult novel during a free reading period, and was able to conceal her activity from everyone in the classroom except the researcher. The second student, Jamal, surreptitiously engaged in a game of 'snaps' with a peer during class time. Snaps is 'a verbal game of ritual insult played in African American discourse communities'. It requires the use of metaphor and simile and rapid, spontaneous dialogue. It is governed by culturally- constructed rules and norms, with performance evaluated by peers. It has some common ground with a teacher-sanctioned activity, called the 'metaphor game', in Jamal's classroom. However, space for the snaps game to take place was created by skilfully 'lying low', ie avoiding attracting unwanted attention, a practice that required constant vigilance and sensitivity to the fluid classroom context. The third student, Tatania, was one of several asked to read out an entry from her personal journal in class. However, Tatania secretly edited her wording on the fly, in response to her teacher's critical feedback on the preceding student's oral. Neither she nor her teacher was aware of the skills she showed in rapidly responding to perceived audience requirements. Further research is needed on how to identify students' hidden literacy practices, and apply them for academic learning.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
What is a reasonable answer? Ways for students to investigate and develop their number sense
Volume 17 Number 1, 2012; Pages 21–28
'Number sense' refers to a broad grasp of number and operations. It includes a sense of the meaning of numbers; a capacity to look at the world in terms of quantity and number, and to apply number and operations to computation; and an awareness of how context alters the significance of a particular number. Number sense is considered to be highly personalised. The article includes a table adapted from an earlier writer, setting out the key components of number sense, and understandings related to each component. It then describes investigations of number sense undertaken with a year 5/6 class. Students were asked to estimate numbers in a range of contexts, eg distances between cities or planets, and the age of their teacher. In class the students then discussed which referents they used, such as the age of their own parents, and how they estimated numbers where there were no obvious referents. In other cases students were asked to choose a correct answer from a range of options. Their strategies included selection of 'the middle answer' or the most common answer. Class discussions of such questions developed students' appreciation of the need to develop personal benchmarks against which to judge numbers, eg applying their prior knowledge that two two-digit numbers must add up to less than 200. There are various ways to teach number sense. One is through daily classroom routines, eg arranging students in a ring, nominating a number, having the students count backwards in tens, and, before the activity actually starts, asking students to guess the number to be reached halfway through the process. Other activities included 'subitising', ie immediately recognising the number of items in a group; asking for examples of contexts in which a given number is 'big' or 'small'; setting up small group discussions in which students progressively limit the range of possible answers to a numerical question; and having students progressively revise their estimates of an unknown number as further information about it is given. Students' answers to questions about number sense shed light on their grasp of other aspects of mathematics as well, such as area and perimeter, or conversion of units. Students who struggle with maths often lack number sense.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
How problem solving can develop an algebraic perspective of mathematics
Volume 16 Number 4, 2011; Pages 8–12
Problem solving plays a valuable role within mathematics, as a way to engage students and to extend their learning beyond 'the routine acquisition of isolated techniques and procedures'. The thinking required to solve concrete problems may be later generalised to more abstract understandings. The article describes approaches to problem solving used by two groups of students in a year 7 class. The solutions developed by each group show ways of thinking often associated with secondary school algebra. These ways of thinking are also applicable to situations beyond mathematics. During the problem solving, students considered mathematical objects relationally rather than simply as particular numbers. The students' solutions showed how an answer can be established by isolating one unknown. The use of calculators was permitted, to encourage attention on mathematical objects and their relationships, rather than on computational processes. The use of physical materials helped students to develop their mathematical argument 'in a strategic and organised manner'. The teacher encouraged students to apply previously learned knowledge rather than await her own explanations.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
A systematic review of the effectiveness of physical education and school sport interventions targeting physical activity, movement skills and enjoyment of physical activity
Volume 17 Number 3, October 2011; Pages 353–378
A literature review has examined the effectiveness of physical education (PE) and school sport interventions, in terms of their contribution to students' movement skills and to students' participation in and enjoyment of physical activity. It examined literature available on a range of databases published since 1990. Direct or explicit teaching was found to be the most effective instructional strategy. It provides specific learning targets and allows the teacher considerable influence over students' levels of participation as well as 'movement skill competency and even enjoyment of physical activity'. Examples of effective direct instruction have often been supported by a well-designed, prescribed curriculum, and by lesson plans, equipment, and web resources and, at primary school level, by mentors and in-school consultants. One of the most important supports for direct instruction is quality professional development that provides a 'learning space' for teachers, and does not simply put forward 'the latest fad or gimmick' as a 'bolted-on' addition to current teaching practice. Elements of student choice are also needed, to encourage the development of wider learning skills and independent learning. A whole-school approach is also valuable, so that responsibility for physical activity, like literacy and numeracy, is shared across subject areas. The article includes tables describing curriculum-based interventions, in different countries, that target student participation in physical activities, movement skills, and enjoyment. An appendix lists the 23 articles included in the final review.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Absence of widespread psychosocial and cognitive effects of school-based music instruction in 10–13-year-old students
Volume 30 Number 1, February 2012; Pages 57–78
School music education has a demonstrated ability to engage some otherwise marginal students, and to develop a particular set of skills and abilities. However, pressures on the school curriculum have mounted, sometimes pushing music education to the margins. School music education has sometimes been defended from these challenges through claims that it develops a broad range of cognitive and psychosocial skills applicable to other areas of schooling. These more extensive claims have been examined through two experimental studies, involving students aged 10–13 from middle to high-SES backgrounds in Melbourne. The first study involved 127 year 7 students at an all-boys school. Over two terms some of the participants received twice the normal number of lessons in music. Through tests before and after this intervention, the study looked for evidence that the students receiving more music education derived benefits applicable to other curriculum areas. The study compared these students' results to those of peers taking the same number of extra lessons in drama or the visual arts. The second study involved 100 students in year 5 or year 6 at a coeducational primary school. Some took part in a new classroom music program, the others in a drama program from the same provider. Results produced 'no convincing evidence' of psychosocial or cognitive development 'beyond that observed in alternative arts programs or continued normal curriculum'. The results suggest that the extrinsic benefits of music instruction 'may be limited to private or externally-based music tuition, or socio-economically disadvantaged schools': contexts in which broad academic gains have been demonstrated in previous research studies.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
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