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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Abstracts

Quality teaching and teacher education: a kaleidoscope of notions

Volume 62 Number 4, September 2011; Pages 331–338
Jian Wang, et al.

Teachers may be evaluated by what they bring to the classroom in terms of skills, knowledge and disposition; by their performance; and by the effect of their teaching on students. While closely interlinked, these three criteria have provided the starting points for different perspectives on the evaluation and reform of teaching and of teacher education. The first criteria, sometimes called the cognitive resource perspective, relates to teachers' performance on academic and professional tests, the coursework they have completed, and their certification status. This perspective has informed several aspects of policy debate on education reform, and has been a factor in the determination of professional standards for teachers. It has also been used to argue the suitability of graduates from the alternative teaching program, Teach for America, who often perform well on teacher tests. However, empirical studies measuring teachers' cognitive resources have identified only weak or minimal links to student achievement. The second perspective, teaching performance, has informed efforts to improve teachers' classroom practices through mentoring, reflection, collaboration, organisational support, and the generation of models for good teaching. One aspect of these efforts has been to equip teachers to adapt to the needs of students in different contexts and cultural settings. However, research evidence linking teacher performance and student learning outcomes is scant. Student outcomes are themselves the focus of the third perspective on judging teacher quality. The approach has underpinned student testing as means to make school systems accountable and to compare them with regard to student academic success, or, sometimes, students' development as good citizens. In either case, high student achievement is taken to indicate good quality teaching. Research has sought to trace back student performance to teacher quality, but once again results have been unclear, inconsistent, undeveloped or anecdotal. From teacher educators' point of view, the result of all this endeavour has been a 'kaleidoscope' of fragmented efforts to produce high-quality teachers. The article, an editorial, introduces a range of contributions to the edition of Journal of Teacher Education that discuss how to determine teacher quality.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teacher training
Teacher evaluation
Teaching and learning

Do we know a successful teacher when we see one? Experiments in the identification of effective teachers

Volume 62 Number 4, September 2011; Pages 367–382
Michael Strong, John Gargani, Özge Hacifazlioglu

In a recent US study, 165 experts – principals, assistant principals and 'administrators-in-training' – were asked to judge six teachers' quality, based on videos of the teachers' classroom practice. The teachers involved, taking grade 4 or grade 5 classes, had previously been identified as significantly above or significantly below average teacher performance, based on their students' scores on standardised tests over three years. One of the researchers' key concerns was to establish how well the evaluators' judgements aligned with this outcome-based measure of the teachers' quality. The study found that the evaluators' judgements of the teachers' performance aligned with the outcome-based measures only on a narrow range of criteria. These criteria all focused on instructional issues, such as articulation of the lesson's objective, integration of students' prior knowledge, the use of varied mechanisms and modes for delivery of instruction, the use of a range of examples, and whether teachers offered students opportunities for learning beyond the current lesson. The judges' overall ratings included two other criteria: teachers' classroom organisation and emotional support for students. When these latter criteria were included, the evaluators were found to have correctly categorised only half the teachers, a result 'indistinguishable from chance'. The misalignment between the evaluators' judgements and the outcomes-based measures, on the non-instructional issues, may be the effect of certain cognitive operations that tend to distort judgement over short time frames – for example, the 'inattentional blindness' that occurs when certain stimuli are missed while the viewer is distracted. The research reported above, called 'Experiment 3' the article, incorporated methodological refinements to two earlier experiments, also described at length in the article. The authors note the contentiousness of judging teacher quality in terms of improvements in standardised test scores, and 'share some of the skepticism' about such measures, but also note that these measures 'reflect something that policy makers and members of the public truly value'.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teacher evaluation

What matters most in distinguished literacy teacher education programs?

Volume 43 Number 4,  2011; Pages 319–351
Jan Lacina, Cathy Collins Block

Six highly-regarded programs for literacy teacher education in the USA have been analysed by experts in the field. The experts were invited to rank the most important features of the programs. A total of 18 experts ranked programs with which they were intimately involved. Three other experts ranked the features of two or more programs which they had previously examined as external evaluators. The six programs had all recently received the Certificate of Distinction from the International Reading Association (IRA). In each case the evaluations covered the entire programs rather than selected courses. The study used the classical Delphi method. Through an anonymous, iterative process participants completed a questionnaire, then refined their opinions as they analysed each others' feedback. A quantitative analysis of results found that the internal and external experts agreed on the most highly-valued qualities of the programs. The analysis identified 14 features of the programs in which the experts showed a statistically-significant level of agreement. The article ranks and describes the eight most highly-valued of these features. The most highly-valued was good-quality field experiences for the candidate teachers. In these cases content and instruction were sequenced carefully throughout the course, rather than towards the end, and aligned with the emerging needs of the candidate teacher. Senior faculty members modelled practices on campus or at the school before the teacher candidates were expected to implement them, through a gradual release of responsibility model. The faculty member teaching the course supervised most field experiences. Fieldwork was monitored by the whole faculty. The second most highly-ranked feature was the practice of offering candidate teachers opportunities to learn varied strategies and instruments for the teaching and assessment of school students, and for meeting the needs of individual students. Thirdly, approaches and themes were periodically revisited and 'spiraled' across semesters and content areas. The fourth element was exceptionally well-qualified academic staff, who modeled practices effectively, devoted extended time to feedback and were able to customise lessons effectively. The fifth characteristic was a theoretical and philosophical unity across all aspects of the program. In sixth place was a commitment and capacity to cater for the needs of diverse learners. The final elements were close collaboration between and across university and school staff, and a collaborative and cohesive leadership for the faculty. The article also described differences in the implementation of each practice across the six programs.

KLA

Subject Headings

Educational evaluation
Teacher training
Literacy

The impact of induction and mentoring programs for beginning teachers: a critical review of the research

Volume 81 Number 2, June 2011; Pages 201–233
Richard M. Ingersoll, Michael Strong

Researchers have reviewed 15 studies on teacher induction carried out since the mid 1980s, seeking to establish the effect of the programs on teachers' commitment and retention, instructional practices and student achievement. 'Induction' covers orientation programs as well as longer-term support and guidance. Overall the researchers found positive effects for induction courses, particularly mentoring programs. However, a significant variation from this pattern was the mixed set of results from a three-year trial conducted by Glazerman et at 2010, which focused on 418 large urban schools serving low-SES communities in the USA. On the one hand, the study found that, after two years, student achievement in treatment groups – in which the new teachers had received enriched, intensive induction – was significantly higher than in control groups, taught by new teachers who had received standard forms of induction. On the other hand, the study found no differences between the classroom practices of treatment and control teachers during the first year of the intervention. The study also found no differences in retention rates for treatment and control teachers over the course of the program. The findings of the Glazerman study may indicate that induction programs need over two years to bear fruit; the gains in student achievement found by comparable studies reviewed by the authors had measured achievement over longer time frames than the Glazerman study. A second possibility in the findings is that induction programs which serve to enhance student results may be not be similarly effective as means to retain teachers in low-SES schools.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teaching profession
Teaching and learning
Educational evaluation
Socially disadvantaged

Improving self-confidence and abilities: a problem-based learning approach for beginning mathematics teachers

October 2011; Pages 676–684
Martin Schmude, Penelope Serow, Stephen Tobias

A trial project in NSW has investigated the use of problem-based learning (PBL) as a means to assist primary pre-service teachers (PPSTs) to teach and learn mathematics. The project emerged from concern to address negative attitudes towards the teaching and learning of maths, among both primary school students and PPSTs themselves. It also aimed to address a concern that teacher education did not adequately integrate the teaching of mathematics content, mathematics pedagogy and knowledge about primary school students. The PBL approach lends itself to the integration of different areas of knowledge. It emerged in the Canadian medical profession in the early 1980s, driven by a criticism of a then-current teaching approach in which problems were presented to students only after they had been provided the facts, concepts and principles to solve it. Under the PBL approach students were introduced to these facts, concepts and principles only after the problem had been presented to them. Its adherents argued that the approach highlights the importance of the information needed to solve the problem, and that it enthuses students, helps students to retain knowledge and teaches them problem-solving skills. The four-week NSW trial was undertaken in second semester 2010, involving 82 PPSTs. It focused on the use of 'early Number' using the Count me in Too framework, and involved weekly two-hour tutorials followed by one-hour content lectures. The tutorials were in two sections. In the first section PPSTs were introduced to a problem scenario in a classroom, in which, as a teacher, they would be expected to identify a student's learning need and then assist their learning. The PPSTs analysed and discussed these scenarios to identify what they themselves needed to learn, as a teacher, to help these students. Once the PPSTs learning needs, called Learning Targets, were identified, individual PPSTs were assigned to research them and report back at the following tutorial. The participants later provided feedback on the trial via questionnaire. They valued the initial, exploratory phase of the tutorials, but expressed frustration at the second, report-back phase, which was found to lack structure and did not hold individual participants sufficiently accountable.

KLA

Subject Headings

Professional development
Mathematics teaching

Learning from a professional development design experiment: institutional context of teaching

October 2011; Pages 744–751
Jana Visnovska, Qing Zhao

A five-year longitudinal study has tested a professional development program designed for middle years' mathematics teachers within the same school district in the USA, in a high-stakes accountability environment. Evidence to evaluate the program was obtained from video recordings of PD sessions, field notes, copies of teachers' work and a research log. The program initially involved two strands, covering mathematical content and student reasoning, adapted to the context of high-stakes testing in which the teachers operated. As the researchers worked with the participating teachers, they perceived a need for more thorough and explicit attention to this instructional context, which became a third, formal strand of the program. This explicit attention to context in the program provided an incentive to the teachers to reconsider aspects of their practice: in particular, their attachment to an individualised, privatised approach to teaching. In group discussions the participants expressed and shared their frustrations with the current environment, and were persuaded of the value of a more collaborative approach in which their teaching was exposed to critical scrutiny from peers. The program also helped participants overcome a sense of resignation with regard to certain institutional obstacles to teaching. They shared a belief that educational leaders in the system placed too much emphasis on the teaching of mathematical content at the expense of developing students' mathematical reasoning skills, and noted that their teaching was closely monitored with this in mind. The program gave participants more confidence to challenge the priorities of the school district. When new teachers entered the program existing participants took the initiative in explaining the importance of attention to the instructional context as part of professional learning.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Professional development
Educational evaluation
Educational accountability
Middle schooling
Mathematics teaching

Predicting reading comprehension on the internet: contributions of offline reading skills, online reading skills, and prior knowledge

Volume 43 Number 4, 20 October 2011; Pages 352–392
Julie Coiro

The factors affecting comprehension of online texts have been considered in a study involving 109 students in year 7. The students were randomly selected from six middle schools covering five schools districts in north-eastern USA. The study found that prior knowledge about the subject matter of the text played an important role for readers with low skills in online reading. Prior subject knowledge was relatively insignificant for readers with average to high skills in online reading. This finding contrasts with a large body of research which highlights the importance of subject knowledge for the comprehension of offline printed texts. It points to the importance of the internet in allowing readers rapid ways to obtain the knowledge required for understanding of a text. However, other research suggests that the internet's value in this regard relates mainly to clearly-defined comprehension tasks that demand the identification of precise information. Prior subject knowledge remains important for online reading when open-ended search tasks are required.

KLA

Subject Headings

Internet
Websites
Reading comprehension

School culture meets sport: a case study in New Zealand

Volume 17 Number 3, October 2011; Pages 325–339
Lisette Burrows, Jaleh McCormack

An ethnographic study has examined how school culture and pedagogical practices influence the way that school sport is understood and described by staff and students. In the broader society school sport is typically advanced as a means to promote health and wellbeing and reduce obesity, and as a way to cultivate leadership, cooperation and a sense of fair play. It is also seen as a source for future Olympic athletes. These messages all promote sport as an inherent public good. However, research on school sport has drawn attention to the influence of school culture, and the socio-economic status of school communities, on the sporting practices at the local level. Critical analyses have noted that school sport often marginalises young people who do not fit the desired physical model. The researchers examined how these issues played out at Rowbury, an elite girls' school in New Zealand. Evidence was obtained from sources including observations of classes and break-time activities, interviews with staff, documents on school policy and ethos, and on the school's sports policy. Sports facilities are well resourced and prominently featured to those who attend the school and to visitors. A recreational class is compulsory for senior secondary students, who are also offered an additional, examinable subject in physical education. Students more generally are offered a wide range of opportunities to take part in social and competitive sports. The interviewed students strongly supported the school's approach to sport, and 'it is the absence of alternative and/or resistant storylines that stands out in the Rowbury context'. Another notable feature of the results was that the school was largely untouched by government policy agendas regarding sport, not needing direction, and likely to resist any mandate that challenged existing practices.

Key Learning Areas

Health and Physical Education

Subject Headings

Educational evaluation
Social life and customs
New Zealand
School culture
Sport
Social classes

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