The hijacking of the quality teaching movement
Volume 11 Number 7, 2012; Pages 8–11
In Australia and overseas there has been a growing emphasis on teacher quality. Attention to teacher quality is welcome as a way to highlight teachers' key contribution to student learning. However, this concept has been 'hijacked': teachers' centrality to student learning has made them targets for blame when students do not attain required academic standards. The best way to lift the quality of teaching further would be to devote further resources to teacher professional development, but the tendency to blame teachers for perceived student failure has instead generated 'top down simplistic' remedies, such as dismissal of teachers deemed to be lowest-performing, paying teachers by results, paying bonuses to teachers deemed to be high-performing, and raising entry standards for teacher education courses. Assertions that students are underperforming ignores Australia's strong performance on international PISA tests: here Australia has outperformed the USA, which is often held up as a country to emulate in terms of education policy. In keeping with this negative approach to teacher quality, professional standards are now sometimes understood as devices to regulate teachers from above, rather than a way to nurture teachers through collaboration with them. This approach also tends to distort concepts of teaching itself. John Hattie's position on Direct Instruction, which emphasises the need for clear planning for instruction and assessment, has been misrepresented as an endorsement of traditional, teacher-centred pedagogy. The teaching profession as a whole needs to challenge the evidence base used to blame teachers for perceived student underperformance. The author introduces the article with a summary of his extensive involvement in research into teaching and learning.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Learning to share: Australia's Building the Education Revolution and shared schools
Volume 44 Number 2, May 2012; Pages 105–119
Subject HeadingsSchools finance
The contemporary Gothic: literacy and childhood in unsettled times
Volume 12 Number 3, September 2012; Pages 293–310
Literacy educators should be aware of, and respond to, the Gothic themes that are now permeating popular culture for children. The Gothic is a loose tradition characterised by 'fascination with the grotesque, with decay and disintegration' and 'dark, perverse and indomitable forces'. Often referring to the past, the Gothic also evokes uneasiness about the present and hints at future apocalypse. The tradition has now lasted 300 years, adapting its form as society changes. Current Gothic themes include 'otherness' and uncertainty about self-identity. Monsters, for example, formerly portrayed as something hostile to defeat or exclude, are now likely to elicit sympathy and 'self-recognition'. Gothic imagery and ideas have been caught up in mass-produced, commercialised consumer culture, and the growing diversity of media forms, as well as in the 'Goth' subculture and lifestyle. The Gothic also influences children. Some children's toys 'resonate with the core motifs of the Gothic – death, insanity, the macabre and monsters'. As one example, the article describes a brand of Goth girl dolls, 'pale and thin (with added bone detail to emphasise this feature)'. In contrast to mainstream brands that portray girl dolls in 'aspirational middle class female employment' roles, the Goth girl dolls represent them in terms of one of various adult Goth subcultures or lifestyles. Several social trends contribute to the rise of the Gothic influence in children's lives. One trend is the intensifying focus on children as a commercial market. Another is growing media saturation, exposing children to harsh influences such as reality TV and frightening world events. These trends, sometimes understood as a 'loss of innocence', may lead adults to worry on children's behalf, but may also make adults uneasy about children themselves, who now 'know too much'. The negative influence of these trends cannot be addressed by trying to 'recapture a supposedly "lost" childhood innocence'. Rather, it can be dealt with by accepting children's new knowledge, and capacity to access information. Adults can draw on these resources to help children develop ethical principles, find ways to establish trust and authenticity, understand diverse cultures and viewpoints, and accept that social phenomena have many shades of meaning, which may shift unexpectedly.
Social life and customs
Compulsory literacy and numeracy exit standards for senior secondary students: the right direction for Australia?
Volume 56 Number 1, 2012; Pages 40–55
To receive a senior secondary education certificate, students are sometimes required to meet external exit-level standards in literacy and numeracy, usually in the form of examinations. Evidence about the value of these standards, which has been sourced mainly from North America, points to a range of potential benefits and drawbacks. A central rationale for setting compulsory hurdle requirements is to raise students' academic achievement by increasing the academic efforts of both schools and individual students. In practice it has proved difficult to determine the contribution made by compulsory hurdle requirements to students' overall academic achievement. One problem lies in isolating the impact of these requirements from other policy initiatives. Another problem is to separate superficial from substantial gains. For example, apparent rises in students' academic performance may be due to weaker performing students being channelled into streams exempt from the hurdle requirement. A further problem is the difficulty of comparing achievement across different curricula and jurisdictions. System-wide changes in achievement may conceal rises and falls among particular groups of students, all of which warrant attention. Overall, the evidence suggests that exit examination hurdle requirements are 'unlikely to lead to major increases in student achievement'. Three other potential benefits have been claimed for external hurdle requirements. They have been advanced as means to strengthen community confidence in the school system, although little research has been undertaken to test this claim. They also have been defended as a way to provide further information to employers and further education providers on students' literacy and numeracy skills, and as ways to make schools and education systems more accountable. Against these potential benefits are possible negative effects. Students who lack confidence in their ability to clear hurdle requirements may drop out; this issue may impact particularly among at-risk groups. Many jurisdictions attempt to ease this problem by offering several alternative ways to meet hurdle requirements. There is some evidence of educators 'teaching to the test'. A further concern is that teachers may be tempted to focus attention on borderline students, in an attempt to improve the numbers of students meeting hurdle requirements, at the expense of higher or lower performing students. However, there is some evidence that this is not the case. There is concern that untested, 'low-stakes' subjects may be disadvantaged by a test-driven focus on core subjects, but evidence here tends to be anecdotal rather than substantial, and some research indicates that students' performance on non-core subjects may be improved indirectly by improvements in students literacy and numeracy. Overall, there is no conclusive evidence that external hurdle requirements have a clear positive or negative impact on either disadvantaged students or the whole student body. Where hurdles are put in place, however, they should be accompanied by measures to support more vulnerable students. The rationale for external minimum competency standards is stronger in North America than Australia, where the education system is far less heterogeneous and therefore less needful of standards of this kind. Students' literacy and numeracy is more likely to be improved by directing resources toward further improvement of education in the early years.
Subject HeadingsEducational certificates
Completion of year 12 or equivalent courses
Volume 11 Number 7, 2012; Pages 4–5
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has called for an increase in the proportion of students completing 'year 12 or equivalent'. However, the qualifications identified as 'equivalent' to year 12 include the Australian Qualification Framework Certificate II (Cert II), which is 'not sufficient for entry into university, some TAFE courses or even year 11 at many mainstream schools'. They also include the Certificate of General Education for Adults (CGEA II): while this is a very valuable attainment for many who complete it, the CGEA II is 'a base year 10 standard of literacy and numeracy'. The article discusses the potential impacts of treating the Cert II and CGEA as equivalent to other year 12 qualifications. The diverse range of qualifications deemed to be equivalent to year 12 'allow for changes in funding models and diffusion of responsibility'. TAFEs, community-based courses and Registered Training Organisations now assume more of the responsibility for retaining students until the end of the year 12-equivalent courses, reducing pressure to provide funds for schools to play this role. TAFE institutions may be tempted to offer a higher proportion of Cert II courses, rather than Cert III courses which are more costly to run. Students who are deemed to have completed a course equivalent to year 12 are ineligible for a range of welfare payments and subsidised education programs. This represents a cost saving for governments. However, it sets up further barriers to students who try to progress from one of these 'equivalent' courses to a full, widely recognised secondary qualification such as the VCE or IB, and may have particularly deleterious effects on vulnerable students from refugee or Indigenous backgrounds.
Subject HeadingsEducational certificates
VET (Vocational Education and Training)
Transitions in schooling
Disproportionate over-representation of Indigenous students in New South Wales government special schools
Volume 42 Number 2, 2012; Pages 163–176
Indigenous students in NSW are over-represented in some categories of special schooling. While equally represented in schools catering to students with disabilities, they are disproportionately represented in schools catering to emotional disturbance, behaviour disturbance or juvenile detention. In the NSW public school system approximately five per cent of students identify as Indigenous. Data from the NSW education department's Schools Locator database and the My School website indicates that Indigenous students are over 14 times more likely than non-Indigenous students to be in schools within the juvenile justice system, and are also over-represented in schools catering to mental health issues. Several overlapping factors may be contributing to the disproportion. One is that NSW students may be assigned to special schools without the need for diagnosis or confirmation of disability, when these schools are concerned with behavioural issues. There is also evidence that schools serving rural Indigenous communities continue to apply a 'cultural deficit' model to these students, predisposing staff to judge them to be in need of special schooling. Research published in 2008 found there was a tendency to privilege biological and medical explanations over social or cultural influences when seeking to understand Indigenous students' poor school performance. Indigenous people themselves tend to attribute the disproportion to schools' lack of cultural understanding and the inability to accommodate cultural difference. They also cite the use of ineffective disciplinary methods, such as the use of suspensions for truancy. International researchers have drawn attention to the continued use of Anglophone cultural norms in assessment. A further factor disadvantaging Indigenous students is the high rate of the hearing difficulty otitis media within their communities. It is concerning that referrals of Indigenous students to special schools have increased since the state's 2004 Aboriginal Education Review. There is an urgent need to establish protocols to scrutinise school referrals to special schools, and to establish a systematic review of cultural practices in referring schools. It is also important that education systems publish comprehensive demographic data about students referred to special schools.
Subject HeadingsAboriginal students
New South Wales (NSW)
The role of reading identities and reading abilities in students' discussions about texts and comprehension strategies
Volume 44 Number 3; Pages 239–272
The identities that students hold about themselves as readers influence their reading performance. Researchers have found that self-identified poor readers are likely to avoid reading if they fear that their poor performance will be noticed, and are willing to accept that this avoidance will aggravate their existing problems as readers. Family members, peers and teachers all influence a student's self-identity as a reader and also their perception of the consequences of that identity. The way a teacher describes reading identity is therefore important for students' development as readers. Schools usually present an 'autonomous' model of reading, in which reading proficiency is understood in terms of skills and cognitive functioning. Students are understood to apply these skills and functions to study texts, understood as 'neutral' documents. Students are expected to conform to this uniform conception of reading ability. By contrast, an 'ideological' model of reading identity sees it as shaped by additional forces, including students' cultural backgrounds. This model allows students more scope to shape their own reading identities. A study has examined how year 6 students' identities as readers related to their reading levels. It involved three social studies teachers and three of their year 6 classes, based in two schools in the rural south of the USA. The students received instruction in a comprehension strategy, read a text independently, recorded their use of the strategy, discussed it in a small group, repeated the process with a second text on the same topic, and then reflected on and discussed the experience again. The process was repeated, covering four strategies in all: becoming metacognitive, making and checking predictions, activating prior knowledge, and 'asking, revising and answering questions before, during and after reading'. Evidence was gathered from the results of student tests of reading achievement, a tool for measuring reader self-perception, field observations and transcribed records of small group discussions. Students who identified as strong readers were found to discuss texts and reading strategies differently to students who identified as average or poor readers. In group conversations, the self-identified strong readers combined their discussion of the texts with discussions of the comprehension strategies used to interpret them. The self-identified middle-level and poor readers tended to separate their discussions of the texts and the reading strategies. These differences held regardless of the students' assessed reading levels. The findings 'challenge our ideas about what it means to be classified as a particular type of reader'.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Conceptualising teacher professional learning
Volume 813 Number 376-407, September 2011
The article reviews literature on teachers' professional development practices. The review finds limitations in the 'product-process logic' that prevails in the literature. This logic asserts a linear, causal relationship between effective professional development, improvements in teachers' instructional practices, and improved student learning. It has directed research towards the pursuit of particular learning activities that change teaching practices. For example, research has identified the need for professional development to be sustained rather than episodic, and to be school-based and integrated into teachers' work practices, rather than absorbed simply via 'presentation and memorising of new knowledge'. However, this logic is challenged by the fact that professional development activities that have all the characteristics agreed to be effective in the literature often fail to replicate when it comes to changing teachers' practices. On the other hand, the literature reports examples of teachers learning and changing their practices 'via activities that do not have the identified characteristics of effectiveness'. In its place it suggests that teacher professional development may be explained through the three-way interaction of the individual teacher, the school context, and the learning activity. For instance, the research recommends a collegial approach, but in some contexts collaboration can lead to the excessive imposition of group norms, hindering initiative and experimentation. The individual teachers vary in their beliefs, levels of teaching experience, formal knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge. These factors will affect individual teachers' receptivity and understanding of new teaching initiatives. New initiatives are most likely to be taken up by teachers when teachers have had a chance to trial them and integrate them with their own prior experience. However, the success of such initiatives will also be influenced by school-level conditions such as leadership, existing collegial patterns, and attitudes toward professional development.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
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