School gardens: teaching and learning outside the front door
Volume 42 Number 1, 2014; Pages 23–38
School gardens have attracted significant attention as part of a much wider interest in teaching and learning outdoors. Programs which focus on or include school gardens include the USA's Junior Master Gardeners and Edible Schoolyard projects. In England programs include Eco-Schools, Growing Schools, and the internationally-focused Schools Global Garden project. School gardens in England are flourishing thanks to environmental concerns, an interest in cheap living during times of austerity, a belief in the superior flavour of locally grown food, and concern that young people are separated from nature and do not know how food is produced. School gardens have also benefited from an education policy encouraging schools to offer after-hours activities, and funding opportunities from grants and corporate support. The article reports on research on the educational impact of school gardens. It discusses two studies, one on the impact of school gardens on primary students' learning in England, and another that is currently focusing on pedagogies associated with school gardens. The first study was part of an evaluation of Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)'s Campaign for School Gardening. While most schools in the RHS campaign were in affluent areas, it also included special schools and those serving high numbers of EALD (English as an Additional Language or Dialect) students. The study focused on ten case study schools within the campaign, covering various locations, SES levels, and academic performances. The research included interviews with staff, students, parents and school governors, as well as observations of garden clubs and lessons. The research found that school gardens enriched the learning process, by making learning tasks more vivid, memorable and 'real', in a range of subject areas. In science, for example, some students were asked to identify different types of leaf, and in maths, to measure the leaves and graph the results. For literacy work some students designed and created a booklet about what they had grown, which was then exchanged with booklets from schools in other countries growing different types of produce. At other schools students wrote letters asking for donations, or thanking visitors. School gardens also facilitated pastoral care. For some students the garden became a place of quiet sanctuary and reflection, sometimes a place to calm down after behavioural incidents. Work in the garden gave some students the chance to open up, to make new friends, and to interact across grade levels. Students gained satisfaction from visible accomplishments in the garden and from visitors' appreciation. School gardens also offered opportunities to deepen links with the community, eg through participation by volunteers, or sharing of garden produce. While these benefits won some staff members to support school gardens, others were less keen. The second study has been identifying reasons for this division. It has found that difficulties sometimes arise if the garden work is led by staff members with little official authority. A major barrier to support for the garden is the 'great deal of hard work' involved, both in the garden itself, in lesson planning around it, and in community coordination. At the policy level, school staff receive mixed messages as to the value of initiatives such as school gardens. On one hand schools are encouraged to be innovative and flexible and to make learning engaging for students. On the other hand they feel powerful pressure from the 'standards agenda' and from high-stakes testing, which together tend to reduce scope for experimentation, risk, and the exercise of professional judgement. (To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Class size and academic results, with a focus on children from culturally, linguistically and economically disenfranchised communities
Number 1, 2014
The relationship between class size and students' academic performance is contested. Researchers such as Hanushek and Hoxby have found that smaller classes produce little or no improvement to student performance. The findings of Hanushek and of Hoxby 'form the basis for the current rejection by both policymakers and media commentators of the relationship of class size and academic results', and these researchers are 'disproportionally referred to for evidence here in Australia', where caps on class size have risen since 1981. The author challenges these findings, on the basis of his review of 112 papers on the educational impact of class size, published 1979–2014. These papers cover education in a range of countries including the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England and other parts of Europe. The review identified a number of studies which found that smaller class sizes significantly improve students' academic performance in the first four years of school, particularly with regard to students disadvantaged by their SES, ethnicity or language background. These studies compared the number of students in a school to the number of classroom teachers. Hanushek, by contrast, compared student numbers to the number of teaching staff overall, a figure which includes non-classroom staff such as physical education teachers, principals, and welfare, library and careers staff. Some of the researchers covered in the review identified specific ways in which smaller class sizes impact on pedagogy. Smaller classes present fewer management issues. This frees up more time for instruction, allowing more direct interaction with students, and 'more teacher follow-up of questions'. Teachers in smaller classes are more likely to probe for answers, to pause after a question, and to allow more time for students to reply. Smaller classes also produce indirect benefits for student learning, by lowering teachers' workloads and raising their morale. Hattie argues that smaller class sizes have a disproportionate benefit in the early primary years. He suggests that teachers in these year levels tend to be more flexible and more willing to experiment with their pedagogy than teachers in later year levels. One low-cost way to realise the benefits of smaller classes is to reduce class sizes only for the key areas of literacy and numeracy. The author also recommends teacher professional development in the pedagogies that are best suited to small classes.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Teacher representation in news reporting on standardised testing: a case study from Western Australia
Volume 39 Number 4, 2013; Pages 385–398
In television, films and other popular culture, teachers have usually been portrayed either as 'heroes' or 'villians'; more recently, they have sometimes been portrayed as 'failures'. The hero-villian dichotomy has also been the pattern in press reports; teacher strikes have attracted particularly strong censure. More recently the press has represented teachers as accountable to 'consumer demands', and has also blamed teachers for declining standards in education. The authors examine how teachers have been represented in relation to one particular issue, standardised testing, in The West Australian newspaper between 1997–2001. In March 1997, the Australian education minister called for standardised tests to be introduced nationally. In the same month state education ministers decided to introduce state-devised standardised tests for students in grades 3 and 5. However, the teachers' union raised concerns over standardised testing. At this time articles in The West Australian predominantly represented teachers as 'subversives, resistant to accountability measures'. Teachers' fear of having their work compared to that of peers made them willing to 'undermine' the introduction of the tests. In some cases this meant that they would 'teach to the test', prioritising students' test performance above their overall learning. During the same period the newspaper 'conveyed the message that educational standards were falling', and literacy levels were too low; it reiterated concerns from the then Prime Minister that school systems had succumbed to educational 'fads' at the expense of core learning, such as spelling and grammar. A secondary theme in the coverage was sympathetic: that the accountability demands of the tests exposed teachers to added, undue pressure, especially as the overall demands on teachers were also rising. In contrast to these critical and sympathetic themes, there were very few articles presenting teachers in a positive way. It was rare, for example, for articles to mention that some teachers did not oppose the standardised tests. Spokespeople for teachers, including 'union representatives, politicians, academics and bureaucrats', should help to remedy this unbalanced coverage. When interviewed, they should take care to highlight the value of teachers' work. More positive coverage may help to improve the public standing of the profession, and thereby assist recruitment and retention of teachers. The authors' research is part of a wider project on The West Australian's representation of teachers in articles published 1987–2007. (To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Subject HeadingsWestern Australia (WA)
Can alternative education increase children's early school engagement? A longitudinal study from kindergarten to third grade
Volume 24 Number 2, 2013; Pages 212–233
A study has investigated the effect of alternative education on the engagement levels of students in the early school years. The study traced the development of 2776 students in Flanders, based in either traditional or alternative schools, from the third year of kindergarten until the end of grade 3. Most alternative schools in Flanders follow one of two approaches. 'Freinet' schools differ from traditional ones in their added stress on the self-development of children's learning, their attention to children's experience, and in the development of children's social skills and 'engagement within the democratic structure'. Steiner or 'Waldorf' schools put more stress on children's motivational, artistic and physical functioning than traditional schools, and place less stress on reading, spelling and arithmetic. Formal teaching commences at age 7. Children have the same teacher throughout their primary schooling. The study analysed data from a larger longitudinal research project. The study measured two aspects of children's engagement: their level of enjoyment of school, and their level of independent participation, ie the extent to which they took initiatives, set their own goals and determined their own learning. The study did not find that alternative education engaged students more strongly than mainstream education, in terms of either enjoyment of school or independent participation. Higher scores for both enjoyment and independent participation were, however, found amongst high-SES children, high academic achievers, girls, and older children. Children's initial level of language proficiency predicted their later school engagement less strongly in alternative schools than in traditional ones, perhaps because alternative schools placed less stress on cognitive learning, where lower language skills would be more of a disadvantage. Children in year 3 of kindergarten in alternative schools displayed lower levels of independent learning than those in traditional kindergartens. This suggests that children of this type were more likely to be sent to alternative schools, or that those in alternative kindergartens had become less independent than traditional peers during the first two kindergarten years. (To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Teaching and learning
Early childhood education
Exploring preschoolers' engagement and perceived physical competence in an autonomy-based object control skill intervention: A preliminary study
Volume 19 Number 3, 2013; Pages 302–314
A small-scale study in Ohio has examined preschool children's engagement levels, and their perceptions of their own physical competence, in high- and low-autonomy contexts. The intervention consisted of two 30-minute sessions per week over nine weeks, designed to increase participants' skill in object control, ie their ability to 'throw, catch, strike, kick, dribble, and underhand roll' a ball. The two groups experienced the same lesson plans, task progressions, motor skills activities, facilities and equipment. The intervention was implemented by two doctoral students, each taking half of the intervention sessions for each group. The intervention involved 25 four-year old children. The 12 children in the high-autonomy group were free to choose between tasks and the level of difficulty for each task. They also chose the length of time on each task, and which peers they engaged with. The other 13 children were placed in a 'traditional' low-autonomy environment, where the teacher determined tasks, time on each task, and which peers the children worked with: these children completed each task at three set levels of difficulty, varying between sessions. The children rated their own physical competence before and after the intervention, using an age-appropriate rating scale. The researchers also measured the children's task persistence, and the extent to which children successfully executed each type of skill in object control. In both contexts, the students' object control was found to have increased significantly, with gains most pronounced for low-skilled children. The increase in skills did not vary significantly between the high- and low-autonomy contexts. This finding held for both high- and low-skilled children in each group. The levels of engagement, too, did not vary significantly between the two groups. However, children in the high-autonomy context were significantly more likely than low-autonomy peers to believe that their skills had increased by the end of the intervention. This may be due to the high-autonomy children's entitlement to set their own level of challenge, allowing them to assign themselves tasks that were manageable at their current skill levels, and thus to experience success.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsStudent engagement
Early childhood education
An overview of web-based school collaboration: a history of success or failure?
Volume 43 Number 3, 2013; Pages 377–390
Since the 1990s, the growth of the internet and of tools for interaction online have encouraged schools to engage with one another, or with universities, in collaborative projects, within or between countries. In the last five years the swift growth of social media and discussion forums has further boosted this trend. However, research into such collaboration remains limited. Studies have highlighted the potential for such projects to stimulate multicultural and language learning, ICT skills, student engagement, and creativity amongst both teachers and students. Research has also identified obstacles to such collaboration. Some barriers relate to infrastructure, broadband, lack of technical training, the costs of online communication, differing timetables, time zones, and academic calendars. Existing staff workloads are another obstacle. Further difficulties arise from 'cultural differences, dissimilar levels of foreign-language skills and unfamiliarity with collaborative practices'. These problems may be addressed through careful pre-planning between the participating institutions, dealing with issues such as 'working methods, timeframes and frequency of communication'. Coordinators need to match the participating groups closely in terms of age, interests and expectations, and to anticipate cultural challenges. The overall aims of the collaboration need to be clarified at the outset. Teachers need professional learning in terms of both the technological issues and pedagogies associated with collaborative environments. Students should help to plan and set up projects, as their enthusiasm is an important success factor. Students should have a chance to discuss their existing use of online communication tools while being made aware of how to use internet communication tools safely and appropriately. At the conclusion of collaborations, teachers and students should reflect on their successes and limitations, and draw lessons for future projects. (To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Subject HeadingsSocial life and customs
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