School community partnerships take a variety of forms, from informal one-off collaborations to complex alliances with community or business organisations, universities, or service agencies. Partnerships may also take the form of twinning with schools overseas. The most important linkage is between the school and its students' parents. Research has found that close bonds of trust between school and parents is a characteristic feature of the most effective schools. In these situations, parents are welcomed into the school, may use facilities, and take part in certain programs alongside school staff. At the same time, parents demonstrate respect for teachers' professional judgments. Some of the most effective ways to involve parents are outreach programs, such as regular face-to-face meetings. Activities focused specifically on improving student learning have also been found very effective. Such activities are designed to equip parents to help their children learn, by training them in specific skills, usually around numeracy or literacy. Parents also need a sense that the school respects and values their contribution to their children's learning. ICT offers a range of ways to encourage links between parents and the school. Barriers to collaboration between parents and the school include cultural differences between parents and school staff, and the time, cost and transport barriers faced by parents. These barriers may be overcome through interventions targeting particular groups of parents, such as those who are disadvantaged. Planning for effective school-parent partnerships involves an initial needs analysis, dialogue with parents to establish common priorities, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, and openness. Succession planning for key school staff is also needed. Partnerships with community or business organisations provide opportunities for both sides to develop their knowledge of young people and the issues they face, generate wider cultural awareness and reduce levels of anti-social behaviour. Students may also gain a stronger and more realistic awareness of potential career pathways. These partnerships also offer school staff the chance to develop skills such as project management. Education systems should give school leaders leeway to forge their own partnerships of this kind. Governments themselves constitute a further external force that schools must deal with. It is important for school leaders to develop expertise in areas expected from governments, such as assessment literacy.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Parent and child
Parent and teacher
School and community
Teachers' knowledge about language: issues of pedagogy and expertise
Volume 35 Number 2, June 2012; Pages 147–168
Under the new Australian Curriculum, many teachers of English are likely to require further training in how to teach grammar effectively, in a way that assists students across all areas of the English subject area. Grammar is to be taught within the language strand of the English curriculum. It is to be informed by a functional approach to grammar. This approach contrasts with traditional grammar instruction, which is still very influential in schools. A group of researchers has investigated teachers' readiness to carry out grammar instruction as envisaged under the new curriculum. The researchers led a trial professional learning program with a small number of primary and secondary teachers. The study involved three consultants and 50 teachers, drawn from a secondary school and one of its feeder primaries. The participants first completed a quiz on grammatical terms and a survey asking about the support they thought they needed to teach grammar. Interviews were also held with three primary and six secondary teachers. The knowledge gaps identified were addressed in workshops on functional grammar. The study identified 'piecemeal' knowledge about language, and wide variations in the teachers' knowledge of grammatical terms. Respondents were not always familiar with the more abstract, complex terms such as nominalisation and embedded clauses, taught mainly at secondary level. Fewer than half the participants had undertaken systematic learning about grammar or language. The overall impression 'is one of ineffective and scattered professional learning opportunities'. However, most participants agreed on the importance of grammar instruction to develop student literacy, and welcomed professional learning opportunities. The article includes a description of one of the teachers' practice, based on classroom observations. Many teachers are familiar with the philosophy of functional grammar, and with the teaching of grammar in relation to specific genres. However, the study supports earlier findings that many students are exposed to a heterogeneous mix of traditional and functional terms about grammar, which may confuse them. Effective implementation of the new Australian Curriculum will require high-quality teaching materials and texts, and expert assistance for teachers to equip them to analyse these texts.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
English language teaching
Learning the grammatics of quoted speech: benefits for punctuation and expressive reading
Volume 35 Number 2, June 2012; Pages 206–222
A study has examined the contribution that grammatics, or knowledge about grammar, might make to children's punctuation and to the quality of their expression while reading aloud. The study involved four students in a year 2 class within an inner-city primary school in Sydney. The students' punctuation and oral reading expression were tested before and after a period of instruction in simple grammatics. The researcher worked in the class for approximately one hour per week slightly over one school term. Students were given a contextualised introduction to simple grammar through written and oral texts covering varied genres and involving games, theatre and independent writing activities. The instruction included an introduction to two types of clauses: a 'projecting clause' was operationalised by mental or verbal processes, preparing the ground for other, 'projected' clauses. For example, 'the monster shouted through the hole' (projecting clause), '"wake up you numskull, night is leaving"' (projected clauses). Students' punctuation improved significantly in the post-test, in terms of their recognition of the presence of quoted speech, and their attempts to punctuate it. The children's oral readings were recorded and assessed for reading accuracy, fluency and dramatic expression. The children were also interviewed, before and after the period of grammatical instruction, and asked to explain how they knew what expression to use in their reading. For the study, dramatic expression was measured through a rubric designed to capture variations in the students' oral expression before and after the intervention. The results indicate that the students became more consciously aware of the need to attend to verbal processes when reading aloud. Overall, the findings support the value of introducing simple forms of functional grammar instruction in the early primary years.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
The explicit teaching of reading comprehension in science class: a pilot professional development program
Volume 15 Number 1, March 2012; Pages 73–88
Studies have repeatedly revealed the difficulties many teachers face in integrating literacy instruction into the subject areas. A recent study has examined how reading comprehension strategies might be included effectively within science classes. The study involved seven teachers at a New York school, taking science classes in years 3 through to 8. The participants were involved in 12 one-hour workshops held weekly after school during one term in 2010, in which providers explained an instructional strategy based on constructivist principles. The format of the workshops was flexible: teachers were able to shift the focus of the discussion to focus on issues of most concern to them. They also worked with the teachers in their classes, modelling the strategy themselves and showing teachers how to implement it themselves, gradually releasing responsibility for instruction. Lessons began with a brief science investigation to engage students and drawing out their background knowledge. Students were then taught active ways to use one of four comprehension strategies while reading to obtain further information on the topic. Students worked in pairs to develop a shared understanding of the text. Later, students worked in larger groups, sharing each of the strategies they had been learning to apply. Teachers' own learning was assessed through surveys held before and after the intervention. The teachers reported several difficulties in implementing the proposed approach. Students were unfamiliar with independent work in collaboration with peers, and did not always listen to each other or work well in pairs. Many students also resisted close scrutiny of texts, wishing to move on quickly after grasping key ideas. Some teachers reported difficulty implementing the strategy within the tight time frames of 40-minute classes, and more generally fitting the new approach within their busy teaching schedules. As a result, despite their enthusiasm, teachers' implementation of the approach was sporadic. Positive results of the intervention included gains in students' reading comprehension and growing familiar with peer collaboration for learning. While the model was designed to allow teachers to implement it flexibly, providers had concerns that some teachers did not apply it appropriately; for example, by reducing the cognitive demands on students, or using the comprehension strategies only for students' test preparation.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
What's the big deal about pre-tests?
Volume 27 Number 3, 2012; Pages 3–7
Pre-tests for primary students are conducted at the start of the school year up to year 3, through the mechanism of the Early Years Numeracy Interview (EYNI). This type of test should be extended to upper primary years, where it would serve a number of valuable purposes. In the first place, pre-tests provide an accurate profile of students' existing knowledge. They interrupt the circularity of current curricular thinking. The content of the curriculum for each year level is decided by experts, in consultation with the wider education community, but all these opinions about what is suitable for given year levels are shaped by the status quo. Pre-tests may therefore expose undue assumptions about what is suitable at each year level. Pre-tests are more accurate than brainstorming. Brainstorming, or probing questioning and discussion in class, is a popular informal technique for testing knowledge levels, but it gives too much weight to the more knowledgeable and confident students who are more likely to contribute. Pre-tests are also more effective than relying on students' final results for the end of the previous year, since students may, to varying degrees, have forgotten some of this learning. Pre-tests are a form of diagnostic profiling, in which students are asked questions of increasing difficulty within each topic area. They are not specific to any given year level. This type of test helps teachers identify, and thus plan for, the academic diversity within the class. Most tests are pitched to average students, and the answers, marked simply as correct or incorrect, don’t expose gradations of knowledge among high-achieving and struggling students. They can be formal paper and pencil tests or informal one-to-one interviews with each student, but formal tests can be compared more accurately to students' previous performances.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
29 March 2012
Fast-food companies, supermarkets and other businesses take pains to cultivate brand awareness among teachers and school children. Children need exposure to society including the corporate world, but educators and school leaders need to consider the impact of corporate influence within the school. Exposure for the company within the school setting, eg through educational presentations or fundraising activities, makes teachers 'complicit (and unpaid promoters) in a corporate marketing activity'. Sponsorship deals allow businesses to conduct market research into the consumer behaviour of adolescents and younger children, facilitating product development and future marketing. Over time, schools may also come to rely on corporate funds and may 'incrementally reduce barriers to a brand's involvement in the school'. School-based marketing circumvents parental influence and leaves them more exposed to 'pester power' from their children. While businesses may promote corporate social responsibility, 'the bottom line is paramount' and for this reason most corporate social responsibility is based within marketing units.
Commercialization of education
Volume 39 Number 3, November 2011; Pages 12–17
The digital age has altered the meaning of the terms ‘reading’ and ‘book’, and created new ways for students to engage with texts. The article considers five electronic reading environments. Ebooks provide the capacity for digital note-taking, highlighting, searches of the text by key word or phrase, immediate access to a dictionary, and virtual bookmarking. Some ebooks allow readers to adjust screen resolution, text size and background. While based on traditional, linear text of paper books, ebooks are also moving toward multimodal features such as images, hyperlinks, and embedded media. Some of these features have commercial dimensions, such as a ‘movie tie-in'. A number of popular authors are making their books available in these forms and making use of these features. Interactive storybooks have a narrator reading aloud. At times the text is highlighted while the words are being read. Some of these books offer high-quality navigation, however researchers have raised concerns that such books may encourage non-linear reading in a way that confuses young children. Reference databases provide access to information through search tools and indexes, and are well suited to the inclusion of embedded multimedia. Many incorporate features for readers to record their own notes or bookmark sections of text. Hypertext and interactive fiction allows readers to take their own non-linear paths through text, though once again they have raised concerns that some readers may be confused or miss some sections of text. Transmedia story-telling combines multi-modal features such maps with interactive facilities, for example social media connections. These new technologies have mixed implications for learning. While some of their features may support struggling readers, they can also constitute ‘eye candy’ that distracts from content. Others issues include the increasingly blurred line between fiction and non-fiction, and the ever-growing importance for young people to acquire the skills they need to evaluate e-texts effectively.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Inquiry and learning: what can the IB show us about inquiry?
June 2012; Pages 19–21
Inquiry learning in schools takes three main forms. The most common form is guided inquiry, in which the teacher sets a problem for a student to answer through a structured process. Two valuable alternative approaches are personal and collaborative inquiries. A personal inquiry is led by the student, who poses a question and conducts independent, unstructured research to answer it. The teacher’s role is to supervise this independent learning. During collaborative inquiry the student and teacher work together, negotiating a research question and ways to explore it. Both forms of inquiry are emphasised in the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program. Applying a constructivist approach, the program encourages students to explore topics by drawing on their background knowledge and the knowledge they are encountering across the whole range of disciplines they are studying, as well as to school activities and excursions. This activation of students’ prior knowledge is often overlooked during the traditional guided form of inquiry learning. Teacher librarians can play an important role in encouraging students to draw on their existing knowledge. One important way to help students is to encourage them to explore varied ways of thinking, for example through the use of ‘brainstorm clusters, mind mapping placemats, entry and exit cards or a Lotus diagram’.
Subject HeadingsInquiry based learning
Teaching and learning
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