Tearing down the language barrier
March 2014; Pages 22–23
The article discusses a resource to help teachers meet the needs of students for whom English is an additional language. There is an acute need for such resource. One third of Australian students speak English as an additional language or dialect (EALD). The bilingualism of these students is a considerable cognitive resource that is often squandered. Very few teachers receive the training needed to help these students. Schools and systems invest heavily in the promotion of literacy learning, but EALD students cannot access the benefits of this investment without a solid grounding in English language. The publication English as an Additional Language or Dialect Teacher Resource, available on the ACARA website, provides teaching resources and also descriptions of the stages through which students advance in English language learning. This latter tool, the English Language Learning Progression, identifies four stages in students’ development towards English language proficiency. It guides teachers in how to develop the students’ English language skills, and also offers teachers advice on how to introduce curriculum content to EALD students. It includes annotations for each content descriptor in the F-10 Australian Curriculum, alerting teachers to language or cultural challenges for students at each stage. Annotated work samples from EALD students help teachers to locate their own student’s place in the language progression. There is also an advice paper offering an overview of teaching strategies for use with EALD students, and annotated videos of classroom teachers, containing excerpts of their teaching practice as well as teachers’ commentary on how they have used the Teacher Resource to plan their lessons. Students at the developing and consolidating stages of English language progression can progress well with ‘careful and considered instruction of informed mainstream teachers’. However, students at the beginning and emerging stages of English need direct intervention from specialist EALD teachers. Currently, provision for these teachers is being cut back in most jurisdictions. As a result these students will struggle to advance academically. School leaders can assist EALD students by alerting teachers to the Teacher Resource, and by employing qualified EALD teachers to work with students and mainstream teachers. The EALD learning progression should be built into school reporting processes, to monitor students' development.
Subject HeadingsEnglish as an additional language
Language and languages
When teachers support and evaluate their peers
October 2013; Pages 24–29
Schools require mechanisms to support teachers, particularly those who are new or struggling. Schools also need mechanisms to evaluate teachers, and to oversee processes for improvement of or, if necessary, dismissal of underperforming teachers. Principals lack the time to play all these roles. Peer assistance and review (PAR) is a system through which selected teachers play these roles themselves. PAR was first developed in the Toledo Public School District in the early 1980s. Under this system, expert teachers are released from classroom duties to mentor peers at their own grade levels and subject areas. These expert teachers join school leaders on committee that oversees the mentoring process. The committee also oversees the process of teacher evaluation, deciding which teachers need assistance, which teachers will be granted tenure, or require intervention, and if necessary, dismissal. These expert teachers support peers allocated to them based on areas of individual need. The support plan covers instruction, classroom management, assessment, and professional development. When dealing with experienced teachers who are nevertheless struggling, the expert teachers work with them to design individual improvement plans. Under the Toledo model of PAR, the expert teachers must have a minimum of five years’ teaching experience; they are selected through a rigorous process involving interviews, classroom observations, and recommendations from peers and school leaders. They receive a stipend to remunerate them for participation. Studies have found that PAR programs have significantly increased retention rates for new teachers. The article also discusses the history and development of PAR. (To access this article, go to the ASCD home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
14 April 2014
Governments around the world have invested heavily in education reforms to lift the attainment of school students, but results have been modest. One key reason is that reforms have focused on the 'macro' level, without attention to how they play out in particular contexts. For example, one macro reform has been to establish standards for what students may be expected to know at any given grade level, but in many developing countries these standards have been applied without regard to the difficulties imposed by the local context, which means that students are often confronted with a curriculum too demanding for them. The same issue is relevant within Australia, where students at any particular grade level vary widely in their academic accomplishments. Learning challenges need to be set at a micro level, adapted to the differing needs of students at varying achievement levels. A related issue is that macro reform efforts often apply concepts prevailing in business, inappropriate to the school context. For example, incentive schemes inspired by the corporate world assume that ‘people know what to do and simply need to make more effort’, and hence will respond to ‘carrots and sticks’. A ‘focus on results’ as a measure of teacher achievement has sometimes translated into undesirable efforts to lift test scores per se rather than improve overall student learning. Research evidence suggests that improvement within the education environment is best obtained through capacity building and collaboration, adapted once again to local situations.
19 March 2014
Five ‘rules’ offer ways to develop and maintain student engagement. The first is to make learning fun. For example, student presentations to the class might become more inspiring to them if they use a microphone, like popular TV personalities. The microphone also increases the attention of other students, encouraging speakers to produce quality work. Classroom games modelled on TV games also excite many students, and offer learning opportunities. The second rule is to embed routines in the classroom. While students may grumble about them, routines offer a sense of stability and predictability that allows students a sense of control over their environment. The third rule is to main students' involvement in their work. Discipline problems tend to occur during 'down times' such as recess or transitions between classes, so down time should be minimised. Instruction should moving along at a quick pace, without losing individual students. Fourthly, students are engaged when learning is connected to real life. For example, older students might be focused on preparation for the workplace, eg by writing a resume, taking part in mock job interviews with school staff, and learning about etiquette and social skills surrounding job applications and working life. This leads into the fifth rule of engagement: exposing students to the group work they will encounter in their later careers.
Subject HeadingsStudent engagement
Teaching and learning
Mathematics: are we moving too slowly?
Volume 29 Number 2, 2014; Pages 20–22
Some primary students have a potential to learn maths that is significantly more demanding than the material officially covered at their grade level. These students have already acquired more advanced concepts, perhaps outside the school environment. The official curriculum should not be interpreted as a limit, or constraint, on the teaching given to academically advanced students. Instead, teachers need to differentiate the curriculum according to the developmental level of the students. Primary maths teachers should identify advanced students through diagnostic, or formative, testing, as each new topic is introduced. The author offers the example of year 1 students being called upon to use tape measures, and other measuring devices, to identify the length of chalk drawings, to the nearest centimetre. Foundation year students might be called upon to compare objects’ length, weight, and capacity, and describe their findings in everyday language. In year 7 students might be asked to establish formulas for the areas of triangles, rectangles or parallelograms.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Student choice: a powerful strategy for differentiation
Volume 29 Number 2, 2014; Pages 18–19
Instruction in the primary maths classroom may be differentiated to allow for students’ varying levels of understanding. One way to differentiate instruction is to allow students a degree of choice in what they study. To create these choices for students, teachers need to design tasks at different levels of challenge. One way to do so is by using the Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) types developed by Carpenter et al., in which students deal with unknown variables in different ways, and at different levels of difficulty. Other ways to offer students choice are offered by Christensen and Wagner and by Bray. Students who set themselves tasks that are too hard or too easy may be encouraged by the teacher toward more appropriate levels of challenge. Allowing students to set their own level of challenge encourages students to monitor and take responsibility for their own learning.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsIndividualised instruction
Teaching and learning
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