Knowledge about language in the Australian Curriculum: English
Volume 35 Number 2, June 2012; Pages 127–146
Language is one of the three strands of the Australian Curriculum: English, complementing the strands of literacy and literature. The prominence given to language reflects its significance for the other strands, for other subjects across the Australian Curriculum, and for students' future lives. Grammar is a key component of language. Research has found that traditional grammar and traditional ways of teaching grammar do not improve students' writing. Grammar is now being taught through a functional approach, focusing on how the use of language varies according to social context and purpose. Teachers have long taught that different genres of language are applied in different cultural contexts; genres are continuing to emerge, develop and hybridise. The curriculum indicates genres relevant for learners at each stage of schooling. Language is further refined in terms of 'register' as it adapted to suit particular situations. Register covers 'field' or subject matter, 'tenor' or audience, and 'mode' or communication channel. It is also shaped by function, or purpose. One purpose is to represent what is happening, who is doing or participating in what, how things relate to each other; and to cover 'what when where' issues. Another purpose is to interact: to establish and maintain relationships and roles; to express opinions, including evaluations and appreciation; and to express different gradations of feeling. A third purpose of language relates to the internal function of cohering itself, via the structure of sentences, paragraphs and whole texts. The terminology of the curriculum includes familiar terms referring to traditional parts of speech such as verb and noun, and to grammatical classes and the forms they take. As part of its focus on meaning-making, however, the curriculum introduces new terminology when referring to the function of grammar, referring to processes in which we engage, participants in those processes, and circumstances surrounding the processes. In terms of pedagogy, grammar teaching is now to be interwoven with other aspects of teaching, as students are forging meanings: the language needed to accomplish particular purposes is taught at point of need. Teachers model text creation or construct it jointly with students, through scaffolding pre-planned or developed on the fly.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Tablet technology in the classroom
Volume 31 Number 2, May 2012; Pages 35–41
The value of iPads for schools has been examined in a trial conducted by the Sydney Region of DEC NSW and the NSW Curriculum and Learning Innovation Centre (CLIC). The trial involved three schools, five teachers, and over 90 students. Evidence was obtained from observation of lessons; surveys of the teachers and the students; interviews with teachers, students, principals and parents; samples of digital work; teacher and student blogs; and 'an app matrix providing a comprehensive data set'. Advantages found for the iPads included quick start-up, portability, capacity to integrate with various peripheral technologies, aesthetically satisfying presentations, and support for scaffolded, individualised learning. However, the trial also revealed a range of technical and logistical considerations, many of them stemming from the fact that iPads were designed for use by individual consumers rather than by groups of learners. Issues for schools include limited internet connectivity; other restrictions to internet access; the technicalities of downloading student work from the devices; time needed to set up the devices, establish iTunes accounts and install and update apps; the capacity of school infrastructure to manage wireless devices; ensuring suitable connections between iPads and IWBs; and availability of peripheral devices. Feedback from teachers and students in the trial highlighted the value of open-ended apps designed for content creation, which promote higher-order thinking and individualised learning. Game-based educational apps, intended to strengthen factual recall, were found to be of secondary value. In terms of pedagogy, the iPads were found to encourage more student-centred learning and allowed students more varied media for producing and sharing their work. A number of recommendations emerged from the trial. Schools need to establish methods for technical backup, in the absence of system-level support; assign budgets for costs incurred beyond the hardware; and establish procedures to store and share student content. For teaching and learning it is worth establishing a rubric, setting out explicit criteria for selection of suitable apps. Critical literacy and visual literacy need to be taught, given students' heavy exposure to digital media. Teachers may need training to help them acquaint students with digital copyright issues. Curriculum advisers may need training in how best to apply iPads within their areas of expertise. App developers need to provide a wider range of content-creation apps with open-ended capacity for content creation.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
New South Wales (NSW)
Social-psychological interventions in education: they're not magic
Volume 81 Number 2, June 2011; Pages 267–301
A range of studies support the use of small-scale social-psychological interventions to enhance the learning of struggling students. Typically the interventions focus on students' beliefs and feelings in and about school. The seeming simplicity of these solutions contrasts sharply to the complex barriers to learning that such students have faced, and also to the frequent failure of more elaborate and costly interventions. These contrasts have led many educators and commentators either to seize on such interventions as 'magical' cures, or to dismiss them out of hand as shallow and misleading. A recent study suggests that small-scale social-psychological interventions are powerful but heavily context-dependent tools. It found that their power derives from their interaction with several recursive processes that guide the trajectory of students' beliefs about their ability, their relations with teachers and peers, and their pursuit of academic knowledge. The article describes two types of social-psychological intervention. The first concerns students' interpretations of disappointing academic results. The intervention draws students' attention to circumstantial factors, such as the difficulties surrounding transition to a new school or school level, that would not inhibit them in the long term. It also challenges fixed theories of intelligence and emphasises the contribution of effort as opposed to innate talent in academic achievement. This approach has been found to increase students' willingness to study and to challenge themselves academically, generating higher expectations from others, and exposure to more advanced content, feeding back to improve the students' self-confidence. The second intervention concerns either self-perception of ability, or fearful, distracting expectations about treatment from peers, based on a student's ethnicity or gender – for example, the concerns felt by girls in STEM classes. These problems are partly structural, but insofar as they have psychological causes, the problems can be addressed by encouraging students to look beyond ethnicity and gender to explain negative experiences or find diverse, positive sides to themselves. Interventions may need to be focused around key junctures, eg before students choose between standard and advanced-content electives. Each intervention involved students in active roles; for example, writing letters to younger students, advocating the treatment message. However, all the interventions were also 'stealthy', concealing their purpose. This reticence lessened the danger that students would react against an attempt to influence them; minimised any initial, negative message that they were being targeted as 'failures'; and allowed students to grant themselves credit for any successes. The briefness of the interventions aids in their concealment, but the benefits of stealth are easily undone if teachers or parents apply well-meant but heavy-handed efforts to reinforce the desired message. When scaling up interventions, care must be taken to preserve core rather than superficial features. For example, activities encouraging students to value themselves must have solid grounding and go beyond the reciting of hollow, formulaic self-praise. Seemingly small aspects of the context might also alter the meaning of an experience for students, eg if students think their writing may be observed by peers during a self-affirmation exercise. When setting up interventions it is valuable to have access not only to theoretical expertise in psychology but also to 'contextual experts' such as teachers, administrators or researchers, with deep and intuitive knowledge of how particular environments will impact on the intervention for students.
'Just add facilitators and stir': stimulating policy uptake in schools
Volume 39 Number 5, September 2011; Pages 603–620
Queensland's Smart Moves physical activity initiative was introduced in 2008. The initiative mandated specific levels of physical activity for primary and junior secondary students. It was supported by teacher professional development and other resources, and by plans for schools to develop community partnerships. The implementation of such policies involves 'system actors' such as school and district leaders. Increasingly, however, education authorities also draw upon external support from 'non-system actors' who serve as mentors, leaders and facilitators, and are often tasked with winning support for the initiative at the local level. Smart Moves was implemented with help from eight non-system actors called Physical Activity Facilitators (PAFs). Seven of the PAFs had been specialist PE teachers, and one a generalist primary teacher. The PAFs visited schools, usually on one occasion only. Their role was evaluated in a study, the Physical Activity Links and Support (PALS) evaluation, supported by a range of major stakeholders in Queensland education. Evidence was obtained from PAF diaries, written reflections and other records, including documentation of support networks they developed to help implement the work. Participating school staff also completed surveys, recording their experience of working with the PAFs, and their perceived impact at the school. The PAFs themselves linked successful school experiences with strong and supportive school leadership, adequate facilities and resources, and existing support for newer staff via buddy systems or professional development. In some cases they also drew on their own prior knowledge of the schools involved. Their familiarity with the teachers' context allowed them to empathise and also to concretise the program and offer practical suggestions for issues such as timetabling and cross-curricular integration. They linked negative results to the absence of some of these factors, and also to a crowded curriculum, high turnover of school staff, or extreme environmental conditions faced by the school. Other hindrances included limited time for the project, including limited PD time with the principal and teachers. While their key networks were internal to the schools, they also stressed the value of schools deepening links with key stakeholder bodies, many of whom were supporting the evaluation. Survey responses were received from 61 of 221 schools. Over two thirds of respondents 'agreed very much or somewhat' that the PAF had improved teachers' knowledge of Smart Moves and had built their confidence to implement it and their awareness of where to obtain further supportive resources. However, only a minority of schools reported changes to the PE curriculum following the initiative, and the great majority of respondents indicated no change in school policy toward 'active transport or play areas across the school'. The PAFs' influence was heighted by their 'insider status' as agents of the education system head office; however, the 'political nature of their task' also raised barriers to ready acceptance. Limited preparation time and little prior contact with the school hindered them from grasping and negotiating the 'micropolitics' within each school.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Primary teachers, policy, and physical education
Volume 17 Number 3, October 2011; Pages 325–339
In New Zealand primary schools, physical education (PE) teachers are currently faced with shifting and sometimes clashing policies and initiatives. Competing concerns – to enhance literacy and numeracy, while also using primary school PE to promote student wellbeing – play out against the government's strong espousal of the market's role in education combined with central control of curriculum and assessment, and the introduction of national teaching standards. The curriculum introduced in 1999 supported a holistic, socio-cultural, critical approach to HPE. The later New Zealand Curriculum (NZC), introduced in 2007 and mandated by 2010, retained much of the intent of the former curriculum although in 'significantly abbreviated form'. However, research suggests that the holistic approach called for within the NZC has had little impact in NZ primary schools. HPE was also affected by the removal of HPE curriculum advisers which had worked nationally with primary schools, and by the introduction of National Standards which did not support the vision of teacher autonomy advocated in the NZC. In 2005 and 2006 the Government introduced two further initiatives that substantially impacted on the potential for schools to realise the holistic approach envisioned in the NZC. National Administrative Guidelines prioritised physical activities that develop movement skills. This narrower focus was also supported by the related Active Schools Strategy and associated Toolkit. In 2008 the Prime Minister articulated support for school sport as a way to reduce societal health costs, improve public attitudes towards competition, and reduce the risk of youth crime by supplying alternative ways to occupy young people's time. This approach was then crystallised in the Kiwisport initiative. The shift of perspective was introduced through add-on initiatives, without preliminary discussion papers or direct references to existing curriculum documentation on PE. It could be argued that 'taster' sports opportunities offered during school hours served as potential replacements to PE lessons. In schools, the confusion and uncertainty surrounding this set of policies and initiatives has created space for the growth of outsourced services and programs for fitness and heath, often backed up by 'slick advertising' but perhaps offering only shallow solutions. This 'commercialization, commodification and marketization' has been accompanied by a 'proliferation of extra-educational interest groups seeking a stake' in school services. In response, primary principals, teachers, and school communities need to 'craft coherence' themselves, taking back ownership of education reforms in this area, and identifying their professional development needs to provide holistic school-based HPE.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Building bridges not barriers
June 2012; Page 16
Schooling practices are needlessly restricting the number of students who progress to maths and science at senior secondary level. Many promising candidates may be culled by unnecessary academic requirements, such as an A grade in year 10 chemistry as a prerequisite for studying the subject in the post-compulsory years of school. Slow personal maturation may prevent some students from performing to their best level in year 10. At lower secondary level, students may also be set back if their teachers lack training and expertise or interest in maths or science, and are consequently unable to bring out the subject's aesthetic appeal to their students. High teacher turnover may also impede students' progress. Schools' concern about their standing on 'league tables' may also lead them to discourage some students from enrolling in challenging subjects at higher year levels. Academic progress is achieved through steady, ongoing effort, and failure to progress should spur measures to improve the rate of learning rather than cut back on opportunities and expectations. For these reasons, parents should not be dismissed as 'pushy' when they challenge a school's decisions about a student's academic opportunities.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Senior secondary education
VET in schools needs support
June 2012; Page 14
VET in schools (VETiS), while recognised in senior secondary certificates, does not currently provide strong outcomes for students, in terms of either work or as an avenue to further study. Students who participate in VETiS tend to come from disadvantaged backgrounds and often struggle to move beyond low-skilled, casual jobs. There are four key ways to strengthen VETiS at a system level. Firstly, students need more access to accurate and timely advice on future pathways. The abundant information provided on academic pathways should be replicated for vocational learning, with clear links between VETiS and VET studies beyond school. The need for this provision should be explicitly stated in system policies and should be a performance requirement of schools. Secondly, senior secondary certificates should be revised to accommodate more VET subjects and more options for mixing vocational and academic subjects, and allow closer integration of theoretical and practical, work-based learning. Thirdly, VETiS should be rebranded to avoid the misconception that it leads straightforwardly to employment, rather than serving as a pathway to higher levels of vocational study. The fourth reform needed is to build more effective and sustained partnerships between schools, industry and higher-level training programs.
Subject HeadingsVocational guidance
Vocational education and training
Transitions in schooling
Senior secondary education
Aspirations to and perceptions of secondary headship: contrasting female teachers' and headteachers' perspectives
Volume 39 Number 5, September 2011; Pages 516–535
A study in England has examined female teachers' and headteachers' perceptions of school leadership, and the factors disposing them to seek or avoid headteacher positions. Interviews were conducted with 30 teachers – 10 newly qualified, 10 mid career and 10 late career – as well as 10 headteachers. Several of the experienced teachers held middle level leadership positions. The headteachers, from a diverse range of schools, were positive about the role and its capacity to further their child-centred values. They all strongly valued the chance to work with young people and observe their academic and personal development. They valued pastoral work and caring relationships. Almost all described their enjoyment of classroom teaching and in its absence they felt they kept in touch with students via their participation in lunchtime duties or by 'dealing with difficult, demanding or disaffected students'. They consciously drew from a range of leadership styles, 'spanning traditional masculine and feminine paradigms' although usually with a preference for the latter. Generally they were not primarily concerned with their own popularity. Fearing neither intimacy nor isolation they had apparently 'developed emotional self-protection skills' such as a capacity to depersonalise negative experiences. Typically they measured their success not through personal relationships but through impersonal indicators such as test results, school leaver destination data and enrolment levels, and indicators of change management, all of which they identified with a caring role. For friendship and professional advice they drew on support networks largely outside their schools – mostly but not entirely other women – and from their own partners. For work-life balance they employed a wide range of measures, including formal, explicit limits to the intrusion of work into personal life. The teachers generally held negative perceptions of headship, with 28 of the 30 rejecting it as a career option. The teachers feared it would mean compromising their workplace relations; becoming tough, unpopular and isolated, and having no life outside school. In particular they linked it to 'aspects of current politico-educational culture, and its implicit values' abhorrent to them, such as competition, image management, accountability measures and 'blame culture'. The context for these views was England's introduction, over recent decades, of local management in schools, devolution of financial management, and cultivation of parent choice. They additionally feared loss of personal time, particularly family time in the case of the mothers. Teachers' responses may reflect participants' different experiences of the leadership and management. They tend to experience it as a bureaucratic instrument that intrudes into and adds to their work. Such educators' interest in headship may be increased by making them more aware of the autonomy and the stimulation that headteachers derive from strategic planning and interaction with external stakeholders.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Playing with mathematics: implications from the early years learning framework and the Australian Curriculum
2011; Pages 624–630
Early childhood education (ECE) in Australia is currently guided by two key documents: the Australian Curriculum and the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF). The EYLF, relating to children 0–5 years, advocates play-based learning, high-quality teaching and a holistic support for child learning and development, measured through broad outcomes. The Australian Curriculum is organised by subject area and focuses on content rather than pedagogy, and targets specific learning outcomes linked to particular subject areas and year levels. ECE and early primary school educators need to work with both documents to facilitate continuity of learning. The current paper considers how this continuity might be achieved in terms of mathematical learning, through a play-based pedagogy. The traditional approach to children's play conceived it as child-centred, with adults in the roles of 'stage managers or onlookers' – counterpoised to learning, which was seen as adult-centred. Current approaches to play, however, note the value of play for stimulating learning, and the value of child-adult interactions during play. In these situations the adult and child may share thoughts and co-construct meaning, and the adult may pick up on opportunities for teaching and learning, and scaffold the child's learning experiences. In relation to mathematics, the EYLF and the Australian Curriculum both recognise that young children can access powerful mathematical ideas that can serve as foundations for later learning. Realising these opportunities, however, depends on educators' own levels of understanding of mathematics and of the nature of children's play. There is also a need to address certain underlying tensions between the approaches outlined in the Australian Curriculum and the EYLF, with many early years' educators concerned that the Australian Curriculum and national testing may encroach on play-based child-centred approaches. A numeracy matrix has been developed to help educators to bridge the two curriculum documents. The matrix offers a guide to the mathematics that might be developed by preschool educators and a guide to the pedagogies which might be developed by primary school teachers. The paper includes two tables designed to illustrate the links between the two curricula.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Early childhood education
School governing bodies in England under pressure: the effects of socio-economic context and school performance
Volume 39 Number 4, July 2011; Pages 414–433
School governing bodies in England have assumed added responsibilities as part of moves for greater school autonomy. They have also been opened to wider public involvement, and include elected parents and school staff as well as appointed members from the community and local authorities. The head teacher is also typically a member. Governing bodies are responsible for financial management and allocation of the school budget, and using data to ensure 'value for money' and holding the school leadership 'to account'. These growing responsibilities and pressures raise equity concerns. A 2008 study examined how SES impacts on the performance of governing bodies. Data was gathered from a national questionnaire of governors at 731 schools: 155 schools were low-SES and 576 high-SES; 362 were classed high-attainment and 369 low-attainment. The research also involved case studies of 16 primary and 14 secondary schools, based on interviews with the head teachers and other governors, and observations of governors' meetings. Both sets of evidence confirmed expectations that low-SES schools had a smaller pool of potential governors to draw on. Low-SES schools were more likely to seek governors able to represent particular community groups, suggesting that they had more diverse communities. Formal mentoring of new governors is more likely to occur at high-SES schools, perhaps due to a reluctance to impose demands on potential governors at low-SES sites. However, governors' participation in subsequent training activities was equal across SES levels. Governors at high-SES schools were more likely to engage in long-term planning, perhaps due to more stable environments at their schools; were more likely to see themselves as representing community and parental interests; to work well together; to attend regularly; and to feel able to speak their mind. In terms of attainment, low-performing schools had fewer potential governors available to them, perhaps because such potential candidates did not think well of the school; governors at these schools were also more likely to describe difficulties balancing their role with other commitments, suggesting that they were already heavily committed. However, governors at all schools had broadly the same understanding of their roles, and were seen to display the same level of quality in their contributions. The individual governors at a school, including their capabilities and relations, constitute its 'governance capital'. This capital is not limited to elite groups in the community, and may be built up through skilful recruitment by existing governors.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
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