Integrating literacy and science in biology: teaching and learning impacts of reading apprenticeship professional development
Volume 48 Number 3, June 2011; Page 647–717
The article reports on a professional learning program for secondary science teachers, integrating approaches to the teaching of biology with development of students' academic literacy. The intervention used the Reading Apprenticeship® instructional framework. It aimed to show participants ways to combine the teaching of subject content with the promotion of students' academic literacy. It showed the teachers ways to help students grasp the distinctive features of academic science texts, and techniques for deciphering them. At the same time it showed participants ways to develop students' skills in reasoning and problem solving. Through the framework, school students are exposed to academically demanding textbooks and academic texts lab materials, as well as journal articles and trade books. Teachers devote substantial time to strategies for understanding these texts, modelling the process and articulating their own metacognitive strategies, and having students discuss these strategies in small groups. For example, rather than have the teacher summarise a densely written scientific text on students' behalf, students might be called on to collaborate with peers to generate their own definitions of scientific terms used in the passage, and to generate questions about what they did not understand. The program also pays significant attention to affective and self-identity issues, given that low-SES students have often 'resigned themselves to low literacy and academic attainment'. The framework also seeks to develop students' inquiry skills. While investigations are often promoted as a means to concretise science for students, and engage them in scientific activity, they may also serve a 'less noble' purpose, as a way to avoid the problem of struggling students' low literacy levels, and 'degrade to activity for activity's sake'. The intervention, based in California, involved 56 teachers and 43 schools in the intervention, with a further 49 teachers at 40 schools involved as controls. The students were in years 8 to 10. The schools served low-SES communities with high numbers of Afro-American and Latino students. Evidence was collected via surveys and interviews with participating teachers. Teachers also contributed lesson plans and samples of student work. Participating students were also surveyed and undertook assessments on biology and reading comprehension. Participants in the intervention strengthened their capacity to develop students' science literacy and students' capacity to learn through inquiry, relative to participants in a control group. The students of intervention teachers subsequently performed better than control group peers on standardised tests in reading comprehension and biology.
Key Learning AreasScience
Inquiry based learning
Connecting teachers and students to the natural world through Operation Spider: an Aspirations citizen science project
Volume 58 Number 1, March 2012; Pages 13–20
A project called Operation Spider in South Australia has sought to improve the engagement and academic performance of science students from low-SES backgrounds. The project formed part of a wider 'citizen science' initiative, involving public participation in science focusing on various forms of wildlife. The initiative was itself part of the wider Aspirations initiative, aiming to encourage disadvantaged students to undertake tertiary study. Operation Spider involved a number of primary and lower secondary classes from schools in Adelaide's northern suburbs. The article describes the involvement and learning experiences of four of the teachers, and their science classes. One teacher took a year 8 science class, where she faced significant problems with attendance and student behaviour. Students had been accustomed to asking and responding only to simple, closed questions. She used Operation Spider to introduce a range of investigative activities for students. She asked them to complete journals, an unfamiliar activity for them, which required scaffolding. She then launched an exploratory activity, calling on students to develop testable hypotheses about the prevalence of spiders in their environment. It was not possible to undertake the activity on school grounds due to OHS regulations, so students undertook it in their homes. They were asked to find and keep spiders, note their characteristics and group them by these qualities. They were later asked to identify them via internet searches. The project was a great success in developing students' engagement and pride in their work. The students' journals did not show any development from closed to open-ended, exploratory questioning, but in themselves represent a step forward for these students. Other teachers used the project as a focus for ICT in learning, and involvement of parents who had previously been disconnected from their children's studies. The fourth teacher reported on her class's excursion to a university campus, and its value in opening her students to the possibility of higher academic study.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
The end of 'chalk and talk'
Volume 58 Number 1, March 2012; Pages 54–57
An experienced science teacher describes the impact of changed teaching practices on his students' academic results and their attitudes towards science learning. The teacher replaced his lectures with podcasts for year 9 science and VCE biology, and traced the results over four years. The podcasts were shorter and more condensed than the classroom lectures, which had often taken up most of lesson time. Students listened to the podcasts in their own time, while the teacher's class time was now given over to issues raised by particular students, where he probed what they had learnt from the podcasts and addressed any misunderstandings. He evaluated results over 2008–2011 by examining students' test results and through surveys of students. The test results of VCE biology students improved significantly after the introduction of the new teaching approach. Results for year 9 science improved only marginally. He attributed the difference to the fact that fewer year 9 students were motivated to study without teacher supervision. Anecdotal evidence from his classroom discussions with year 9 students affirmed the learning value of the podcasts for students who had listened to them. At the same time he observed that classes became more frustrating for students who had listened to these recorded presentations. A key advantage of the podcasts was the fact that they allowed students to control the pace of their own learning, and backtrack over points they had not yet understood. Despite the success of the initiative, his own initial response to the change had been one of uneasiness and guilt: a sense that having abandoned 'chalk and talk' delivery he was not doing his job responsibly, and that now he was no longer the focus of students' attention he had lost control over the learning process. These worries were allayed only by student feedback in support of the new teaching method, and by the improvement in students' test results. Podcasts are one of a number of new ways of learning afforded by new technology, which also includes blogs and wikis. (See also author's blog – CL.)
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Motivating mathematics learning: changes in teachers' practices and beliefs during a nine-month collaboration
Volume 48 Number 3, June 2011; Pages 718–762
Student motivation is a pressing concern for middle school mathematics teachers. To consider these issues six teachers in the USA met with researchers to explore motivational principles and strategies. The collaboration was built around four principles and related strategies, introduced sequentially. The first meeting considered the principle of competence, and ways to develop students’ belief in their competence to learn mathematics. Strategies included giving students more opportunity to speak about their mathematics tasks, articulate to themselves and peers their own problem solving techniques, ask questions, lead reviews of their homework, set their own learning goals and monitor their own progress. Teachers were also encouraged to provide more detailed information in their feedback to students, set high and consistent expectations, and ensure that students are aware of their own progress. Another strategy was to set students easy but non-routine problems. The second principle was belongingness, involving the desires for acceptance and for opportunities to contribute and share. The project applied this principle in the form of strategies for developing effective group work amongst students, which the teachers now trialled in their classes. Autonomy was the third principle, seen as a means to encourage students' curiosity and self-regulation, promoted via the strategies of calling on students to generate their own solutions to problems, articulate and justify their ideas, and evaluate those of peers. The fourth principle was meaningful learning, which, in mathematics, meant showing students the relevance of maths to their lives, helping them grasp the concepts underlying mathematical operations, and giving them a sense of the elegance of mathematical solutions. Teachers considered how students' work might be made meaningful through complex assignments. The article reports the classroom experiences and views of four of the participants. Evidence was obtained through interviews with teachers, classroom observations, and email correspondence. The teachers clearly wished their students to be motivated, and most of the participants reported successful use of the project strategies. However, evidence from this study highlighted the reasons why teachers may resist the adoption of promising motivational strategies. Barriers include teachers’ acceptance of institutionalized routines based around set mathematical procedures and operations, an emphasis on classroom management over instruction, reliance on textbooks, a focus on standardized tests, and some teachers' lack of interest in mathematics. Some teachers may also avoid stress by presenting student motivation as an issue for students themselves rather than for teachers. A more helpful way to resolve teachers' stress is to develop their own sense of efficacy in mathematics teaching, for example by observing positive results of their interventions with students. Strategies to improve students' motivation in maths also need to take account of the particular motivational barriers faced by students from disadvantaged communities.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
Teaching out of field: factors shaping identities of secondary science and mathematics
Volume 58 Number 1, March 2012; Pages 21–29
It is widely recognised that many teachers work 'out of field', taking subjects outside their specialities. Studies undertaken by the author and by other researchers shed light on how teachers themselves experience and understand out-of-field teaching. The article discusses the issue in relation to junior secondary science and mathematics. Evidence is drawn from the 2009 Teacher Identity In and Across Subjects (TIIAS) study. The article also includes a table summarising the findings of eight major research reports relevant to this issue. The author draws a range of conclusions. Teachers' experience and understanding of out-of-field teaching is determined not only by their subject content knowledge and their pedagogical content knowledge, but also by their context and by the personal resources available to them. Rural teachers often accept the need to teach across a number of subject areas, as part of their professional identity, despite the fact that they often lack easy access to subject specialists. Teachers tend to be more positive about out-of-field teaching when they themselves have had input into which subjects they will teach, and when they have an interest in or informal knowledge of the subject area. Teachers' interest in professional development to support their out-of-field teaching is influenced by whether they see themselves as simply filling in for someone, making the most of an opportunity, or pursuing an interest. Professional learning should ideally be initiated by or negotiated with the teachers, and should be provided at the point of need. School leaderships should maximise teachers' input into subject allocation and provision of professional learning opportunities. Teacher education courses need to prepare pre-service teachers to cope with out-of-field teaching.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Implementing the Australian Curriculum in rural schools
Volume 32 Number 1, 2012; Pages 34–44
Rural, regional and remote school face distinctive challenges in the implementation of a new curriculum. These challenges include limited and variable access to the internet and mobile phone networks, small enrollments, multi-grade classes, problems in attracting and retaining teachers, and a higher than average proportion of inexperienced staff. In 2010 a national survey was undertaken to gather evidence of school leaders' opinions of the issues they would face with the introduction of the Australian Curriculum. Of the 233 school leaders invited to participate 44 completed the survey. They noted three particular issues that needed to be addressed for successful implementation. Firstly, they needed time for the implications of the new curriculum to become evident to teachers and parents in their school communities. Secondly, they warned that the limited availability of relief staff would inhibit the professional development in the new curriculum needed by rural teachers. Respondents indicated that their schools were adequately resourced to implement the new curriculum in overall terms, but not in terms of the professional learning needs of their staff. Thirdly, they called for close consultation about processes and timelines for introduction of the new curriculum. One of the difficulties they anticipated related to the Australian Curriculum' shift to greater subject specialisation and toward more whole-class teaching. The concerns expressed by respondents mirror many of those described by British school leaders during the implementation of their own National Curriculum.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Teachers' professional development and professional learning: an examination of the shift in meaning of these terms and practices
Volume 32 Number 1, 2012; Pages 45–49
In education literature the term 'professional development' exists alongside the newer term 'professional learning'. In common usage the terms overlap, and professional development is sometimes taken to indicate all forms of ongoing professional education among teachers. In most cases, however, professional development implies formal educational opportunities organised for teachers by school leaders and education authorities. While professional development is valuable in some circumstances, it tends to take fragmented, one-off forms, 'largely externally imposed and "done" to teachers by experts'. By contrast professional learning is understood as an ongoing process of education generated and managed by teachers themselves. Professional learning in this sense covers activities such as team teaching, peer observation, visits to other schools, collaborations with university staff and collaborative reading of professional literatures. It also includes collaborations around small action research projects linked to current teaching practice. However, while such activities operate autonomously, they rely on the support of school leaders and education authorities, which provide for time release, coordination with other school processes, and integration into broader professional learning spanning teaching, curriculum and assessment. As it is often collaborative, professional learning also requires a willingness on the part of individual teachers to deprivatise their practice. Teaching institutes around Australia have created frameworks of professional teaching standards as a means for teaching quality assurance and the ongoing improvement of teaching practice. The attainment of these standards, and accreditation associated with them, sometimes involves mandated professional learning. Such professional learning is most usefully pursued through teacher-generated collaborations at the school level.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
“Teaching…I can see myself not doing that forever”: the beginning teacher experience – a study of the changing career expectations and required competencies of beginning teachers
A PhD research project conducted at the University of Tasmania has studied pre-service teachers' motivations for entering the profession, and how these motivations were affected by their experiences during student placements. The participants were in their first or second years of the University's Bachelor of Education course. Evidence was collected in 2007 and 2008 from via questionnaire and interview, and also from classroom observations and participants' journals. The participants were mainly young, with 44 per cent aged 20-25. Almost two third were women, reflecting national trends. Most had completed a bachelor's degree outside teaching: almost two thirds of these degrees were in the creative arts or humanities. Fewer than ten per cent came from trade backgrounds. Fewer than three in ten planned to remain in Tasmania, an intention that is likely to reflect limited job opportunities in the state. Over 90 per cent of participants intended to have children. However, only just over one third of the sample believed that a teaching career offered family friendly working conditions. Other concerns raised by participants included management of student behaviour and rising class sizes.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Volume 48 Number 3, June 2011; Pages 763–793
EPIC, or the Evidence-based Program for Integrated Curriculum, is a stand-alone preschool curriculum in the USA, designed for the development of mathematics, language and literacy. It is intended for young children from disadvantaged backgrounds involved in the Head Start program. EPIC involves several elements. One is interactive reading of storybooks with children, in a way that promotes their participation and which also focuses on the development of core vocabulary. It uses books selected to promote children's concept development. A second element is the combination of large-group work designed to give children a sense of belonging, with small group activities focused on intensive skills practice adapted to individual children's needs. A third component is the use of transition activities designed to support continuous learning in between more structured learning activities. Attention to the learning environment is a further feature, with a strong focus on props and visual cues to strengthen key skills and vocabulary. The final key feature is the use of home activities to connect other family members to the child's learning activities. The article reports on an evaluation of EPIC in which it is compared favourably to an alternative curriculum, Developmental Learning Materials (DLM). DLM had itself been compared favourably to alternative programs in a large-scale evaluation conducted in 2002.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Early childhood education
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