Promoting science and technology in primary education: a review of integrated curricula
Volume 50 Number 1, 2014; Pages 47–84
Concerns have been raised that science and technology receive too little attention in the primary school curriculum. One way to improve coverage is via cross-curricular projects. A study has examined recent literature on projects that have integrated science and technology with mathematics and/or literacy, in the primary years. The literature, published 1994-2011, was evaluated by a focus group of researchers and teacher educators. The focus group identified five levels of potential curriculum integration, examining the costs and benefits of each, as illustrated in the experiences of eight cross-curricular projects. The benefits were understood in terms of improved students’ learning results, and greater motivation of students and teachers, and the costs in terms of time and resources needed for curriculum planning and professional development. The connected level of curriculum integration is the most simple: teachers continue to take different subjects separately but explain how the content of their lessons is relevant to one or more other subjects. This approach was used in the GTECH project, described by James et al, which involved middle years’ teachers of science, technology and mathematics. The connected approach required only small changes to the curriculum and was low-cost in terms of effort and professional development requirements. However, it was not found to be successful in expanding attention to science or technology in the primary years, nor did it raise students’ enthusiasm or their academic results. Three projects used the nested approach to subject integration, in which content from one subject is embedded within, and used to enrich, another subject. The projects were Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI); Wondering, Exploring and Explaining (see Anderson et al) and Australia’s Primary Connections. These projects were found to develop students’ subject interest, and to motivate teachers. Reports on these projects, however, suggest that the nested subject may be neglected. At the multidisciplinary level of integration subjects are ‘organised around the same theme or topic, but the subjects retain their identity’. Both the IDEAS project and the Angles (see Munier and Merle 2009) project used this approach. It was found to require considerable time and effort in adapting the curriculum, extensive professional development, and longer time-frames to consolidate teachers’ trust and commitment. However, it was successful in improving learning, attitudes and commitment in their subject areas, particularly science. At the interdisciplinary level of integration ‘there may be no reference to individual subjects or disciplines’. This approach was used for the Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading project. The transdisciplinary level, used for the AIMS study, is similar, but in this case ‘the focus is on the field of knowledge as exemplified in the real world’, built around a particular theme or project. Both these approaches ‘yield high student and teacher motivation and advanced learning results’ but need ‘vast and sustained investments’ from teachers and schools. Overall, the evaluation found that the higher the degree of subject integration, the more positive the results in terms of student learning and student and teacher motivation, but also, the greater the investment of time and resources required to support the project. (To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Project based learning
Working to maximise the effectiveness of a staffing mix: what holds more and less effective teachers in a school, and what drives them away?
Volume 66 Number 3, 2014; Pages 311–329
Policy makers and principals are concerned to retain high-performing teachers in schools. A large-scale Australian study has examined factors that encourage or discourage the retention of high-performing teachers, at both primary and secondary levels. It also examined whether the incentives that interest such teachers differ from those that appeal to their less-effective teaching peers. The process of identifying high- and low- performing teachers is difficult and contentious. Student test scores and teacher qualifications are limited, and potentially misleading, as measures of performance. The current study applies a different method, drawing on a substantial body of research which has found that high-achieving students tend to be taught by teachers with a particular set of attitudes. These teachers have a strong sense of their own efficacy, they feel driven to develop themselves professionally, they display a caring attitude to their students, and they feel enthusiastic about their role. It is believed that these teachers tend to be more effective because they are more likely to motivate students and to persist with struggling students, and that they tend to be better organised and more open to new teaching approaches. For the current study the researchers surveyed 919 full- or part-time teachers in primary and secondary schools, covering the three education sectors, in three regions of Victoria: a wealthy metropolitan area of Melbourne, a poor area of Melbourne with a high number of students from non-English speaking backgrounds, and a mixed-SES rural region. The researchers categorised the highest and lowest quartiles of respondents as high- and low- performing groups, based on responses to attitudinal questions. They then examined the retention incentives nominated by both groups, at primary and secondary levels. When asked about factors that would hold them at their school, the highly-effective teachers, primary and secondary, reiterated their interest in well-targeted professional development opportunities. They also cited the attraction of having a curriculum that is matched to student needs, having chance for input into curriculum planning, and having opportunities for greater responsibility. Teachers in the low-performing group, by contrast, tended to call for a more selective student intake and for reduced individual responsibilities. Respondents were also asked to nominate factors likely to drive them to leave a school. Student misbehaviour was a less significant issue for highly-effective than less-effective teachers, perhaps because the effective teachers were more self-confident, and less likely to take misbehaviour personally. Effective teachers were also likely to be attracted to ‘innovative schools with dynamic principals’, regardless of the school’s SES-level, and this too may have reduced concerns about student behaviour. More-effective secondary teachers emphasised the importance of a supportive school principal, perhaps because they need such support to pursue innovative teaching. They may also be more aware of the impact of poor leadership than less-effective secondary teachers. Furthermore, given the separation between subject departments in secondary schools, and consequent competition for resources, effective teachers may need leadership support for their subject area in order to achieve their ambitious teaching goals. To retain high-performing teachers, schools need to provide opportunities for quality professional development, and significant professional responsibilities. Policy makers should consider providing additional leadership positions at disadvantaged schools, to help retain effective teachers in these settings. (See also the author's archived article in Curriculum and Leadership Journal, then Curriculum Leadership, 9 May 2008.) To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
How we kill languages and fail our cleverest children
15 July 2014
Languages education in Australia has mostly focused on the later years of schooling. A more promising way to develop languages education is to nurture the language skills of bilingual children. Approximately one third of school students speak a language other than English in the home, and enter kindergarten with sound early knowledge of their mother tongue, and with the cognitive stimulation that derives from knowledge of a second language. However, this potential rarely realised; their knowledge of their home language is usually neglected, and becomes stunted over time. Instead, it should be cultivated, as part of these students' academic learning. Ideally this would involve bilingual education programs, but when there are many language groups in the classroom such programs are logistically difficult. Other steps are more manageable. One is to employ a specialist language teacher in each primary school, to advise classroom teachers, and help them draw upon the English as an Additional Language or Dialect Teacher resources made available by ACARA. Another step would be to employ teaching assistants who speak students’ home languages, to talk to these students during the school day. Specialist teachers, assistants and mainstream teachers can all work with parents to support home language learning, and link families to community language schools. At the same time, teacher educators should be building home language awareness into courses, across all subject areas. Taken together, these measures are likely to encourage bilingual students to pursue formal languages studies in later years, to build students’ self-esteem, to sustain children's bonds with their parents, and to develop a valuable economic resource.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsLanguage and languages
Parent and child
Teacher effects on student achievement in first grade: which aspects matter most?
Volume 25 Number 1, 2014; Pages 126–152
A study has examined different ways in which teachers contribute to grade 1 students’ learning outcomes, measured by start-of-year and end-of-year tests. The study considered three teacher variables: their backgrounds (a composite of formal qualifications, years of experience, and amount of in-service training), their beliefs and attitudes (measured via questionnaire), and their classroom teaching practices (also established via questionnaire). Evidence was drawn from the SiBo project, a longitudinal Flemish study of primary education. The current study drew on data concerning 3476 first grade students, in 196 classes and teachers at 111 primary schools. Teachers’ years of experience had a significant positive correlation to student outcomes in mathematics, but not in reading or spelling. Students’ mathematical achievement had significant positive correlations with teachers’ job satisfaction and with two elements of teaching practice: the use of estimation and classification. Teachers' choice of instructional practices impacted significantly on both reading and spelling results. Reading achievement was positively correlated to the use of whole-class instruction and homogenous reading groups, spelling only to homogenous reading groups. Students’ reading achievement had a positive correlation with their attitude toward the learning capacities of underprivileged children. Overall, teachers were found to have a ‘modest to strong’ effect on student outcomes. (To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Making the most of mentor texts
Volume 71 Number 7, April 2014; Pages 28–33
In order to become good writers, students first require strong models for comparison. By reading, analysing and emulating the work of good writers, students may improve their own writing, and are more likely to understand writing as a process. Introducing examples of mentor texts at each stage of the students’ writing process, and teaching students what to look for, encourages them to think about how a text is written. By looking at the structure, tone, voice and word choices the writer has made, students will begin to read like a writer, and therefore write like one, too. The author suggests providing passages from a piece of writing; asking students to identify what the writer did, and then emulate the same techniques in their own work. It is important to include mentor texts from a range of authors, genres and subject areas, and for the teacher to frequently demonstrate their own writing to the class. The article includes two drafts of a story written in different formats, as an example of how a first draft can be improved using sentence structure, imagery, and deliberate repetition. (To access this article, go to the ASCD home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Teaching and learning
Power Up! / Technology and the illusion of creativity
Volume 71 Number 7, April 2014; Pages 84–85
Popular technologies automate many aspects of traditional craftsmanship in written and pictorial work, eg through clip art, templates, built-in graphics, stock photos, and image-creator software. These technologies can generate a false impression of creativity in students’ work. The author suggests several ways in which teachers can avoid the ‘illusion of creativity’ and at the same time foster genuine creativity among students. Requesting students to draw images– either free-hand or through the use of an online drawing program–and taking their own digital photos that they then edit using a free online tool, will in turn discourage them from using built-in graphics. Introducing students to tools that don’t already include images or graphics forces them to provide the raw materials themselves, increasing the likelihood of genuine creativity. The author also stresses the importance of including creativity as part of student assessment, by including it as a criterion in assessment rubrics, and encouraging student explanation to judge the level of creativity displayed. (To access this article, go to the ASCD home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Teaching and learning
Reducing school mobility: A randomized trial of a relationship-building intervention
Volume 50 Number 6, December 2013; Pages 1188–1218
Student turnover hinders learning and disrupts school life. Many disadvantaged schools have particularly high rates of student turnover, aggravating their existing difficulties. The FAST (Families and Schools Together) intervention aimed to address this problem by strengthening links between families, children and schools. FAST involved 52 schools in Texas and Arizona, serving mainly low-income Hispanic families. FAST programs at each school typically commenced with outreach activities to connect with and engage families, followed by eight weeks of multi-family meetings at the school. These meetings were used for bonding activities between families. Activities included games, shared meals, parent social support events, and ‘one-on-one child-directed play therapy’. This eight-week sequence of meetings was followed by two years of monthly meetings led by parents. An evaluation found that social mobility at FAST schools was not reduced in overall terms, but was significantly reduced for two sub-groups of participants: African-American families, and families living farther than usual from the school. The most likely explanation for this result is that FAST was more successful in building family-to-family than family-to-school links. Since strong family-to-family bonds already prevailed in most of the Hispanic community, they derived relatively little benefit from this effect, compared to African-American and geographically distant families.
Subject HeadingsStudent engagement
Parent and child
Education - parent participation
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