Using Harry Potter to teach literacy: different approaches
Volume 43 Number 2, 2013; Pages 259–271
The Harry Potter series of fantasy novels have been widely drawn upon by teachers as a means to improve students’ reading. However, the approaches that teachers have taken to the series vary greatly, shaped by different policy contexts, pedagogic orientations, and conceptions of literacy. At a policy level the definition of literacy ‘as a skill measureable through standardised testing’ is gaining prominence, and is reflected in some national testing programs. This view of literacy is reflected in some journal articles about Harry Potter novels. However, this approach is not the most popular one in the education community. Other educators highlight the capacity of the Potter series to support a multiliteracies approach to reading, since the Potter phenomenon extends to films, video games, figurines and other forms. Yet many educational advocates of the series reject this approach too, supporting the value of the Potter books specifically. These commentators highlight the fact that the novels have been read simply for pleasure by great numbers of young people, at a time when reading for pleasure ‘is a threatened activity in the classroom context’. These commentators also note the way that the novels have generated book clubs and creative writing clubs. The notion of reading the Potter novels for pleasure is sometimes extended into an argument that the novels play a developmental role for the young reader, and perhaps also a therapeutic role. The novels allow the child to identify with particular fictional characters and their difficulties, helping the young reader to develop a sense of resilience and hope as the characters survive and eventually prevail. Similarly, the young reader can relate to the depiction of a world that often seems baffling, unstable and unreliable, and find solace as these challenges are overcome. The Potter tales offer concrete images of negative feelings, such as the despair and depression embodied in the ‘dementors’, and the novels may have a healing effect for the child as such darkness is symbolically overcome. Other commentators support the use of the books from the perspective of critical literacy, noting the novels’ strong support for the idea of inclusivity and defence of marginalised social groups.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Risk management for boards
Volume 17 Number 7, August 2013; Pages 1,3–6
The governance of corporations holds many lessons for the governing bodies of independent schools. Corporate failure almost always derives from a failure of governance, in forms such as cronyism, the cult of personality, inadequate financial oversight, failure to detect a conflict of interest, or excessive attention to detail at the expense of strategic oversight. Boards must strive to be fully informed about the companies on which they serve, without intruding into operational matters. They need to learn how to pursue key, probing questions, until they have satisfactory answers. Board members of schools might develop such skills by attending relevant conferences and presentations, participating in committees implementing government initiatives, or by requesting that the principal arrange presentations to the board on major issues in education. Boards should meet in ‘executive sessions’ without the CEO present to enable full and frank discussion. Boards also need to hold several discussions each year with ‘the next generation of leaders’ in the organisation, and ensure suitable leadership training for them, without undermining the current CEO. During crises it is crucial that boards speak with one voice to the outside world. Approximately half the members of a board should have backgrounds in the organisation’s industry. In the case of education, most school board members currently have expertise based in non-educational areas such as finance; boards need more members with backgrounds in education, if the board are to contribute meaningfully to the school and challenge decisions when required.
Middle year students' experiences in nature: a case study on nature-play
Volume 59 Number 2, June 2013; Pages 20–30
The authors describe findings from a recent study of children's attitudes towards nature, comparing the results to findings recorded in previous research literature. The literature notes that children benefit from exposure to ‘wild nature’. Such exposure stimulates a wide range of senses, with consequent benefits to cognitive learning. It also encourages risk-taking, with consequent development of self-management skills. Natural play environments offer opportunities for adventure; challenging physical activity; settings for imaginative and fantasy-play, sometimes involving miniature representations of things from the wider world; empathic connection to animals; exploration; development of local knowledge; discovery of special private places; and 'hunting and gathering' of real or imaginary things of value. There is evidence that friendships tend to be strongest when children have shared intense outdoor activities. Even urban settings sometimes contain areas of wild nature, which are relatively unstructured and free from adult supervision or awareness. Nevertheless, children tend to be increasingly isolated from nature due to poor public planning of environmental spaces, and growing parental and public safety concerns. Aversion to nature may take a variety of forms, such as fear of unpredictable animals or events, and intolerance of discomfort and the 'dirtiness' of natural settings. The study, part of the SEAP project, looked at how these issues manifested among 26 children in years 6 or 7 at a school in northern Adelaide. The students were called on to draw pictures of a natural place and how they related to it. They then completed a questionnaire and took part in a focus group offering chances to expand on their attitudes and experiences towards nature. Overall, their responses indicated few experiences in natural settings and there was little indication that they valued contact with nature. They tended to see nature as somewhere to 'go to', relying heavily on parental transport, rather than part of their everyday lived experiences. The examples of nature that they drew or described included school ovals, fruit trees in back yards, and possums that they had 'adopted', though animals were rare in the children's nature-drawings. With only three exceptions, the students' nature experiences were supervised or semi-supervised by adults, such as family picnics. Only four students described creative or imaginary play involving natural settings. Some students expressed a wish to have more opportunities for risk-taking and adventure, particularly at night-time. The authors encourage the development of natural habitats within school grounds and suggest giving students voice in the design of play areas.
Key Learning AreasScience
Australian secondary school students' understanding of climate change
Volume 59 Number 3, September 2013
In the primary years teachers often introduce the issues of climate change and global warming as relevant social issues, perhaps linking them to concerns about energy usage and the carbon footprint at household level. The issue of sustainability is one of the Australian Curriculum’s cross-curriculum priorities. In years 7 to 9 it is a part of the 'Science as a Human Endeavour' strand of the science curriculum. However, the science of climate change appears only at year 10 level. By this time students have been exposed to many confused or misleading accounts of climate change, global warming and the greenhouse effect in the mass media. A 2012 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists analysed coverage of climate change by a leading media organisation in the USA, finding that the great majority of its reports were misleading, while another study found a similar pattern of results in the Australian media. Studies indicate that students commonly confuse climate change with changes to the ozone layer, and greenhouse gas emissions with other forms of pollution. Researchers have recently explored these issues further through a questionnaire completed by 438 year 10 students in Western Australia. The students, aged 15 to 16, came from six schools covering all three school sectors. Student’s scientific knowledge of the greenhouse effect was found to be limited. While the great majority of students understood that greenhouse gasses work to raise temperatures, few understood the relative contribution of different gasses to the greenhouse effect. Only about half the students understood that the greenhouse effect is essential to life on earth, and that current climate change results only from an enhanced greenhouse effect. Students’ most frequent sources of information on climate change were, in order, TV, school science, the internet, school geography and the print media. In the questionnaire students rated climate change sixth out of ten environmental issues in importance, although two of the issues rated more highly by students – water conservation and renewable energy – can be related to the Western Australian context. Research also reveals that many pre-service and in-service teachers share their students’ misconceptions about global warming, climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. This includes educators ‘with science and environmental studies as their major teaching area’. Further professional development is therefore needed for both pre- and in-service teachers. The complex nature of these issues, while challenging to address, also provides a good example of the ‘messiness’ of real-world science.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsSustainable development
Western Australia (WA)
Volume 50 Number 4, 2013; Pages 8–11
Mathematical understanding is one of four proficiencies set out in The Australian Curriculum: Mathematics. ‘Understanding’ in this sense refers to the relationship between ideas, rather than simply an understanding of procedures. One effective way to develop mathematical understanding is through multiple embodiments of a concept. For example, students are more likely to understand the concept of a fraction if it is represented not just in the familiar image of pizza slices, but also using number lines, or parts of given lengths or volumes, or as entities in their own right. Using concept maps, fractions can be related to other concepts such as division, multiplication and decimals. Fractions should also be related to real everyday contexts. It is very helpful to present concepts such as fractions using structured materials: ‘multi-base arithmetic blocks (using many bases), algebra blocks, logic blocks, etc.’ Students can develop their mathematical understanding via group work in which they try to answer high-quality questions, preferably open-ended, set by the teacher. Popular sources of open-ended questions are RIME, MCTP and Maths300. The curriculum should be designed to allow for the fact that some concepts are pre-requisites for others. The curriculum should also set students challenges at their ‘zone of proximal development’, and since this 'zone' varies between individuals, students should be grouped according to ability level. The article illustrates ways in which these approaches may be used with regard to concepts such as place value, decimals, and algebraic variables.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Thinking flexibly about numbers: students developing their own written strategies
Volume 28 Number 4, 2013; Pages 3–6
The author has worked with students in grades 3 and 4 to develop their mathematical understanding. In the article she describes a range of beliefs about teaching and learning that informed her approach. Students should be encouraged to work out their own way to solve number problems, rather than relying on ‘a regurgitation of memorized procedures’. They need to forge their own connections between new content and their existing mathematical understandings. This self-activity develops their number sense and self-confidence with maths. The formal teaching of algorithms should be ‘delayed until the upper grades’. Students’ capacity for mental computation tends to develop together with their capacity to set out problem-solving strategies in written form, and students should be encouraged to ‘share and reflect on the various written methods used’ to solve mathematical problems. The Australian Curriculum: Mathematics already encourages students to attempt their own methods of mental computation, as do other mathematics curricula in Australia. The article includes a range of illustrated examples of students’ independently developed problem-solving strategies.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
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