Volume 49 Number 5, October 2012; Pages 844–880
A longitudinal study in the USA has examined how teachers' professional practice may influence and intersect with their retention in schools. The study examined 15 new teachers at four points over five years, starting at their point of entry into a one-year teacher preparation program and following them through the early years of teaching or exit from the profession. The research was part of the Qualitative Case Studies Project. Participants all came from the same teacher education program at a Jesuit university. All had strong academic backgrounds. In demographic terms they matched the general teacher population. The quality of participants' teaching was measured using five overlapping characteristics. The first covered student-teacher relationships: this included the efforts the teachers made to understand students' lives and issues linked to students' backgrounds. It also included classroom management and the fostering of a sound learning environment. The second concerned content and curriculum, including scope and sequence, the quality of content and its conformity to standards, and ability to offer multiple perspectives that allowed for students' developmental levels and diversity. The third characteristic, pedagogy and practice, embraced values, the quality and coherence of assessment practices, and the attitude teachers presented toward subject matter. The fourth, responsibility and opportunities, looked at the richness and complexity of learning opportunities that they offered students, and their connection to students' interests and experiences. The fifth, professionalism, concerned the extent to which they took responsibility to pursue their own learning and to contribute to the school community and the profession. Based on these criteria the participants were grouped into five categories or 'configurations', each raising its own issues in terms of teacher retention and teaching quality. In the first configuration were six teachers who taught well and remained at the one school. These teachers worked to acquire any resources they lacked, and dedicated extra hours where necessary. Their practices minimised disruptions to the school, facilitated long-term collaborations with peers and families, and saved the school from the cost of re-hiring and re-socialising new teachers. School leaders can help such teachers by providing professional learning opportunities and 'guidance about how to choose their battles and safeguard personal time' to avoid burnout. The second category consisted of equally strongly performing teachers who nevertheless moved school. They reported receiving inadequate support or feeling out of alignment to the school culture. Such teachers may need more support from school leaders and better guidance during their initial teacher education courses as to which schools would best match their values and expectations. To retain such teachers, school leaders also need to ensure that the school's stated vision is also implemented on the ground. In the third and fourth categories were mediocre teachers who either 'hung on' precariously through a series of temporary, out-of-field positions, or move schools. In the latter case such weaknesses might be temporarily hidden, but such teachers are less able to build supportive professional networks. The career trajectory of such teachers is hard to predict, but the most promising scenario is for them to receive high-quality professional learning that gives them the chance to improve, or to be 'counselled out of the profession'. The fifth and final category consisted of poor teachers who were dismissed or not re-hired, and left the profession despite their strong academic credentials. These teachers may need more effective mentoring, or need to be identified during teacher education as potentially unsuitable for school teaching. A further participant did not, in fact, proceed to teach after the conclusion of the course, following unpromising experiences during practicum. While wasteful in one sense, in some cases it may be more suitable for all concerned to 'weed out', at this early stage, those who would not succeed in schools. The study 'highlights the importance of linking graduated ways of assessing and representing teaching practice with differentiated career decisions' – the different ways in which teaching practice links with career pathways and the implications for schools and education systems in terms of outcomes and in terms of their responsibilities.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Teaching and learning
Volume 16 Number 10, November 2012
Many factors combine to lower teachers' morale. They include rising work volume; more complex work; growing extracurricular commitments; greater accountability for students' overall wellbeing; greater bureaucratic accountability; more diverse needs in the classroom, including a growing number of students with disabilities; continually evolving pedagogy; 'endless' changes to policy and curriculum; and rapid changes in the use of ICT. Additional issues include critical and superficial film and media reports of 'failing schools', the suggestion that 'anyone can teach', and frequent reports of sexual harassment and abuse cases. Remuneration is also an issue. At school level, low morale is expressed in and exacerbated by 'problem-saturated' discussion among teachers, by cliques within the staff, and by 'burnt-out' teachers yelling at students. However, the issue of teacher morale has been successfully addressed in some countries, where teaching is a high-status profession. In Singapore the government pays trainee teachers, monitors beginning teachers' pay to ensure competitive salaries and offers retention bonuses at regular intervals. In Finland the high status of teachers is evident in demanding selection requirements and in the substantial autonomy teachers enjoy as to how they implement the national curriculum and school policy. In Australia schools can address low teacher morale in several ways. Principals should examine demands made on staff, ensure that staff understand their roles in the organisation, allow them some genuine control over their work, streamline their work, provide added resources or professional learning opportunities, offer flexible work arrangements where possible, and respond sensitively to individual needs to accommodate family or other personal concerns. Teamwork and inter-team collaboration should be encouraged at the whole-school level. Early career teachers can be supported not only by suitable induction and mentoring, but also by arranging for them to work with others who share their values and outlook, and by helping them to prioritise their work to avoid overload. When dealing with a staff issue there is value for principals in 'making decisions slowly' and 'finding out what the issue really means to the teachers'. Time pressures give principals very limited scope to recognise each of their teachers, so most of this affirmation needs to occur between other professional staff in the school.
Subject HeadingsSchool culture
Number 7063, December 2012
Privatisation has been widely perceived as successful in many industries, generating expectations that market reforms would produce the same success in school education. However, research evidence suggests that market reforms have not produced significant gains in student achievement. They have, on the other hand, contributed significantly to a rise in social stratification within schooling. A school's underlying 'test productivity' (the academic gains a school produces for students per dollar spent) is not immediately clear to parents and students, so it is not available as a criterion for school choice. Positive academic peer effects are widely touted as a basis for school selection. However, 'the direct evidence on the significance and magnitude of peer effects is mixed and often suggests these are small'. Instead, parents and students tend to select schools on the basis of more visible qualities: absolute achievement, rather than value-added; reputation and image; selectivity; and the presence of sought-after peers, irrespective of the actual educational benefits derived from these factors. This effect works to demotivate students from study. 'The intuition is that as selectivity increases, school reputation provides a more precise signal of student skill.' That is, students think that the labour market's assessment of their skill will depend less on graduation test results and more on the status of their school, whether high or low. The model developed by the authors implies a strong tendency toward stratification of schools, as they 'rationally try to engage in some sort of selection as a means of securing a market niche'. Even if laws attempt to prohibit selection, schools are spurred to introduce it in more subtle ways, eg by the requirements that parents commit significant time or resources to the school, which effectively discourages enrolments of disadvantaged students. In this way stratification may work against gains in academic achievement. This prediction is supported by anecdotal evidence that students who work very hard to get into a prestigious university lower their efforts once there. The authors recommend a more 'managed competition' in which parents and students perceive clearer links between academic effort and the long-term outcomes that 'they care about'. An example is the school system in China where test results are more significant routes to success.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Theorising a framework for contemporary health literacies in schools
Volume 32 Number 3, October 2012; Pages 1–10
Health literacy is a core component of the Australian Curriculum at primary and secondary levels. Its importance is underscored by ongoing concerns over issues such as diabetes, dental decay, unhealthy eating and young people's own concerns over drugs, body image, stress, depression and other health concerns. However, health advocates warn of insufficient resources to address these issues, while PE and sports advocates cite children's poor fitness and motor skills. Educators have raised concerns that health promoters 'attempt to dictate school policy and practice' using practices that differ from the thinking of teachers themselves. As a result, school-based health education (SBHE), while 'littered with well-intentioned and thoroughly researched programs', has 'failed to gain sustained purchase within the core business of Australian classrooms'. There has been limited support and training to ensure the uptake of SBHE principles and pedagogical approaches. As a result, schools have tended to rely on externally based health promotion professionals and agencies, sometimes via one-off presentations, to deliver health messages. By contrast, the 'health literacy' approach to SBHE offers a chance to improve health education in schools. Health literacy replaces a 'downstream', pathogenic, illness-solving approach to health with a 'salutogenic' model that emphasises an individual's access to and use of resources to create and maintain healthy living conditions. It includes critical elements that help individuals address barriers to good health. It also involves awareness of the multimodal forms in which health messages are delivered. One element of health literacy is 'code-breaking', which includes the ability to interpret nutritional information and prescriptions and labels, learn relevant terminology and seek further information. Another element is meaning-making, as the individual relates the information they receive to prior knowledge about their own situation, including their cultural context, as a basis to decide what they could afford or manage in terms of health care, to balance costs and benefits, and to reflect on past experiences. A third element of health literacy is the pragmatic application of skills and knowledge to the way that they cook, exercise and live. The final element is critical analysis of who provides health advice and why, how others are affected by one's health choices, the sustainability of these choices, and possible alternatives. The health literacies approach advocated in the article rests on Antonovsky's philosophy of heathly living. It is consistent with the Australian Curriculum 'in that it prioritises the importance of context in curriculum-making'.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Subject-specific literacies and transition in the middle years: examples of teacher thinking, research and practice
Volume 20 Number 3, October 2012; Pages 39–51
The middle years of schooling are marked by a number of transition points for students. It is also a time when literacy demands become more subject-specific, involving 'particular genres, modalities, vocabularies' and 'written and non-written forms'. The author reports on how two middle years' teachers have dealt with these issues. One teacher took year 5 science, the other year 9 English; both worked in high-SES schools. The article draws on a wider project involving 12 middle years' teachers, as well as 'experienced literacy researchers, literacy consultants from a state education department and representatives from the Australian Education Union'. It applied the Design-Based Research methodology 'that sits between more open-ended action research and formal experiments'. The first teacher, Jane, sought to improve her year 5 students' understanding and use of technical language in science, through a unit on the topic of 'bridges'. A preliminary test identified students' existing level of familiarity with relevant technical language. She then introduced explicit vocabulary-building activities. Students were taken through contextualised use of terms, 'like-word' lists, and lists of related terms. When students repeated the baseline data task their use of technical language was found to be significantly more accurate, sophisticated and concise. The students were pleased to have a wider vocabulary and were more interested in technical writing. Jane's own confidence in teaching science and technology improved. The second teacher, Mel, taught English in years 8–10. In year 9 her students moved to the use of individual laptops for learning; however, she was concerned that her students lacked internet search skills. As a baseline data task, students completed digital persuasive-writing tasks requiring internet research and electronic referencing. Students also completed a questionnaire asking how they had identified and selected websites for inclusion in the task. Results indicated that students rarely went beyond simple Google searches, and assessed authenticity mainly through a site's ranking on Google search results. Students also revealed poor understandings of plagiarism and referencing. In her subsequent intervention lessons she provided resources on specific internet skills such as the site, 21st Century Information Fluency. She also taught about plagiarism and modelled ways to avoid it, and suggested resources for paraphrasing, summarising and quoting and for online referencing. A repeat test and questionnaire showed significant improvement but also areas needing further attention. Finally, students were required to submit a research essay. Mel's experiences underlined the value of modelling rather than simple instructions and handouts. It also highlighted the need for teachers to find time for formative tasks, which might otherwise be overlooked considering the time pressures that teachers face.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
Teaching and learning
Technologically enhanced language learning in primary schools in England, France and Spain: developing linguistic competence in a technologically enhanced classroom environment
Volume 40 Number 4, September 2012; Pages 433–444
A collaborative project in three countries has explored the use of ICT to enhance language learning. The project involved six primary schools, two each in England, France and Spain. It also involved three teacher-training institutions, and local authorities and regional governments in each country. The children, aged 8–11, used videoconferencing, supported by webcam and email, to communicate with peers in the other countries. To support them the university researchers arranged for the placement of trainee teachers specialising in language education at each school, where they worked with the students' usual classroom teachers. Some trainee teachers were placed in their home country and some were placed abroad. Evidence was obtained via focus-group data from the children and from interviews with and questionnaires sent to classroom teachers and trainee teachers. The project proved a powerful incentive for students to learn another language. Students' enthusiasm helped them overcome two significant barriers. One was technical difficulties, 'all too often experienced'. The other barrier was children's nervousness about participating, overcome by practice and particularly by observing that their international peers had similar concerns. Their growing confidence made them ready to take risks in their attempts to speak in the other language. This reciprocity also sensitised the children to their own first-language use and the potential comprehension problems faced by their interlocutors, making them aware of the need to speak slowly and carefully. In the second year of the project the children made growing use of email, with incidental evidence that it improved spelling. The project also generated new views of the role of teacher and student. While there was a clear need for ongoing teacher support, the students increasingly wanted to learn for themselves and from each other. For example, they increasingly wanted to discuss spontaneous rather than prepared topics with their overseas peers. The project faces 'numerous unresolved issues', particularly in relation to pedagogy. Issues include 'classroom management, the balance between oracy and literacy, the use of appropriate language for audience and purpose, linguistic progression and assessment'.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Language and languages
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
There are no Conferences available in this issue.