Lesson study: towards a collaborative approach to learning in Initial Teacher Education?
Volume 43 Number 4, 2013; Pages 537–554
The practice of lesson study (LS) offers ways to enhance initial teacher education (ITE). During LS a group of teachers collaborate to investigate learning challenges faced by their students, and then meticulously plan ways to address these challenges in future lessons. The article, the first in a series on LS, looks at case studies of LS which took place during two eight-week school teaching placements at two secondary schools in England. Both schools were involved in a partnership program with a university. One case involved a trainee geography teacher in his first placement, the other a modern languages (ML) trainee in her second placement. In each case the trainee teacher collaborated with a mentor, who had significant experience of mentoring and middle level leadership, and with an established teacher in their subject area. Prior to each LS cycle researchers provided guidelines on the LS process to participants. The cycle itself consisted of two lessons, the first taught by the mentor, the second by the trainee. The lesson was filmed for later study by the researcher and LS participants, and at the end of each eight-week placement researchers interviewed trainees and mentors. Other data used for the research included transcripts of LS meetings, observation notes, and lesson plans. Both trainees responded well to the collaborative nature of the LS. The ML trainee noted the value of having experienced colleagues contribute to the planning of the lesson she delivered: it increased her confidence in its quality, and reduced her anxiety by distributing responsibility for any shortcomings in it. The geography trainee noted that his confidence was boosted by being treated as an equal during LS meetings. He said the contributions of experienced colleagues made him clearer about the lesson pedagogy and engaged him more deeply in planning and delivery than would otherwise have been the case. During the lessons delivered by their mentors the trainees observed three selected students. The trainees reported that this activity led them to reflect more deeply about pedagogy, although the ML trainee felt under-prepared for the challenge of observing student learning. Both mentors saw value in LS for experienced teachers. Noting that teachers sometimes lose confidence over time, they saw LS as a way to encourage them to try new approaches in the classroom, and to risk making mistakes. (To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Teachers as leaders in Finland
October 2013; Pages 36–40
The author describes processes used for teacher education in Finland, arguing that ‘tight control of quality at the entry into teaching’ is the mechanism that ensures Finnish teachers’ effectiveness. Primary teachers must study education as their major academic subject, for at least five years, at the completion of which they write a thesis that meets the same academic standards as other fields of study. The research-based course covers ‘child development, pedagogical content, curriculum, assessment, school improvement and leadership’. Courses for secondary education are just as rigorous. There are no alternative pathways, along the lines of programs such as Teach for America. Only about one in ten applicants are accepted for the primary level teaching course. Applications for places in school teacher education programs are highly sought after; the degrees are seen as significant assets in the Finnish labour market. A recent national survey in Finland found that teachers had the highest satisfaction rating of any professional group. The most important reasons for satisfaction were the professional autonomy they enjoyed, and their belief in their ability to influence children’s lives. Leadership and teaching are closely linked in Finnish schools. All principals are teachers, and most are members of the same union as the teachers. Teachers and students learn ‘in an environment that empowers them to do their best’.
An exploration of the gap between highest and lowest ability readers across 20 countries
Volume 39 Number 4, 2014; Pages 399–417
A researcher has examined data from 20 countries to identify distinctive characteristics of proficient and poor readers at grade 4 level. Data was obtained from sections of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2006 reading comprehension test, for students identified as performing below the low international benchmark or above the advanced benchmark set by PIRLS. The research also drew on responses to the PIRLS background questionnaire given by students, parents, teachers and principals, as well as from other OECD educational indicators. The research identified distinctive characteristics of proficient and poor readers at country, school and student levels. The number of students performing above the international reading benchmark was higher in countries where primary school teachers’ salaries rise after 15 or more years’ teaching experience. This variable was a stronger predictor of students’ reading proficiency than the structure of the curriculum in each country, or the financial resources available per student for primary education. At the school level, the most important predictor of reading performance was the presence or absence of students from prosperous families. Reading performance was poor at schools where family income was uniformly low, but ‘a proportion of more than 10% of economically well-off families is sufficient to ensure a significant decrease in the numbers of students below the bottom level’. Within prosperous school communities, the most important factor dividing strong and weak readers was the literacy level prevailing in the home. In fact, the reading ability of students from prosperous but literacy-poor homes was below the international reading benchmark of the whole student population. At the level of the individual students, a strong predictor of students’ reading achievement was their knowledge of letters before commencing primary school. Another important factor was a student’s belief in their own reading skills. This finding is consistent with earlier studies, which have found reading proficiency and reading self-concept to be mutually reinforcing. (To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)
How can the inquiry process be effectively incorporated into VCE education?
Volume 58 Number 1, 2014; Pages 20–23
Two science teachers have trialled the use of inquiry learning for VCE students at Manor Lakes P–12 College. The trial, in Unit 2 Biology, occurred after the teachers had identified barriers to learning during Unit 1, where students had struggled to understand, analyse or critically evaluate content during lessons and practical activity, and had demonstrated a passive attitude to learning. Given the demanding amount of content to be covered in the course, these obstacles threatened to impact negatively on students’ assessments, and on their performance in later units of the subject. The teachers applied a six-stage model of inquiry learning already used in the school’s F–10 curriculum. During the first stage, the teachers identified key concepts, how they aligned with the inquiry process, and the time required to cover them. The second stage of the model, ‘tuning in’, started with students’ first lesson. The students were asked to explore their local environment, identify and apply biological concepts such as mutualism, and then sort the information they had gathered according to relevant categories of knowledge. In lesson two students more explicitly linked what they has discovered to their prior knowledge, and in lesson three they sought to develop effective questions for the inquiry process. This led into the next stages, where students used a range of supports to develop their own research questions. These stages involved students in hands-on investigations, and differentiated and whole-class tasks. Students then reviewed and refined their formulations of their initial questions, before delivering multimedia presentations, writing articles about their research, and teaching other students about what they had learnt.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsInquiry based learning
Drama and literature: exploring the sustainability of Creative Arts partnerships
Volume 21 Number 3, October 2013; Pages 61–70
Creative arts partnerships offer schools a sustainable way to provide arts experiences to students, and a sustainable mechanism for teacher professional development in the arts. One example of such a partnership is the School Drama Project, set up by the University of Sydney and the Sydney Theatre Company. The cost-free project involves a professional actor teaching alongside a classroom teacher for weekly one-hour sessions over seven weeks. The teacher also takes part in a one-day professional learning workshop and one-hour planning sessions with the actor, ‘pre- and post-program benchmarking’, and follow-up activities. Over 60 schools are now taking part in the project. During the professional development workshops the actor and teacher work collaboratively. The teacher specifies literacy outcomes for students. These outcomes are to be achieved through process drama: ‘a range of theatre strategies to enable participants to enact or walk in someone else’s shoes in a fictional situation or context’. In the classroom, process drama is used in conjunction with quality literature. The actor models the use of process drama techniques, and works with the teacher to incorporate them into lessons. Ownership and responsibility 'shifts from the artist to the teacher by the end of the seven sessions’. The article reports on a case study of the project, at a public primary school in Sydney’s north. The success of the program at the case study school was attributed to support from the principal. The school, with approximately 700 students, was characterised by a strong interest in developing the creativity of its students, and high levels of support from parents. Evidence for the case study was collected from sources including observations of in-class project workshops and ordinary classes, lesson plans, and interviews with the classroom teacher and the principal. The teacher reported that students were strongly engaged by the presence of a professional actor in class. He found that team-teaching with the actor was a very beneficial form of professional development, partly because the skills developed could be applied immediately. The teacher also commented on the challenges of sustaining process drama over time, given the crowded curriculum, and recommended ongoing links with the theatre company, through visits or newsletters.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsArts in education
'English in the Cloud': the experience of one school in moving its curriculum and learning content online
Volume 21 Number 3, October 2013; Pages 41–48
St Leonard’s College is an independent coeducational school for all year levels, with 1400 students. In 2008 the school discontinued a 1:1 school laptop program after concerns that the program had not improved pedagogy. The school introduced an online learning space to support and encourage ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning. WordPress was chosen as a content management system (CMS), for its ease of use, and for the support it afforded to teacher collaboration, and to ensure that information was not separated into silos, or duplicated. The CMS provided for a simple page structure for the early learning and primary levels of the school; the students' posts are used mainly for communication with parents and to display student learning. For years 7–12, a more complex structure is designed to provide content to students organised by term and by subject. Some teachers have made use of this platform to created ‘flipped’ classrooms: content is made available to students after school hours, freeing up class time for discussion, collaboration, and attention to students’ individual learning needs. Students, particularly at senior levels, have benefited from the chance to learn, revise, and prepare for tests at their own pace at home. The school has also made use of mobile devices for student learning. For years 5 to 9 iPads are mandated. In years 10 to 12 students bring their own mobile devices, signing up to a code of conduct to ensure that students use the devices for learning, do not disrupt the learning of others, and respect privacy. In 2013 the school commenced a trial of eportfolios for students in year 6. Eportfolios were seen as a means to encourage autonomous, student-centred learning. The students have published their portfolios to the web, giving students the chance to receive feedback from an authentic external audience. Results of the trial so far are promising.
Subject HeadingsMobile devices
Teaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
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