Teacher quality: how can we help teachers to be the best they can be?
Volume 18 Number 4, May 2014
School leaders can take a number of steps to help teachers develop their full potential. One is to support high quality induction programs. New teachers report that they value the support they receive from experienced teachers, but don’t get as much as they need. They want to see experienced teachers model good teaching and student behaviour management, and they want to draw on existing good quality instructional resources. It is also important that mentors and new teachers are well matched. Other ways to support induction are: through meetings where new teachers can discuss best practice; to encourage experienced teachers to speak positively about students; and to signal to new teachers that their principal will support them on disciplinary matters when challenged by students or parents. Induction is often eroded by short term employment contracts, which are in themselves one of the biggest single contributors to attrition of new teachers. Another step to support teacher quality is to set up a pedagogy framework. Such a framework provides a common terminology for discussion of teaching and learning; aligns curriculum, pedagogy and assessment; and describes strategies for teaching, without prescribing specific classroom actions. Thirdly the principal can nurture quality feedback. Feedback is often associated with performance appraisal, generating defensiveness. This can be alleviated by fostering more positive feedback experiences. In this context new teachers should undertake peer-to-peer observations, commenting through the use of common, recognised criteria. Teachers should be encouraged to discuss research on teaching and learning, so that they grow accustomed to offering opinions about teaching in a low-risk environment. Leaders themselves should also model the giving and receiving of feedback. Professional learning is a fourth element in teacher quality. Professional learning is often linked to the implementation of policy reforms, where it tends to be rushed, fragmented and confusing. Professional development to improve teaching quality should be ‘grounded in the tasks, questions and problems of practice’ which teachers face in their daily work. New teachers should receive guidance on how to work with parents, including the management of informal and confrontational encounters, and on how to develop positive relationships. Finally, the school leader should protect teachers’ teaching time. Options include using para-professionals for non-teaching duties, holding professional learning on non-teaching days, and timetabling common preparation times to allow year levels or faculties to collaborate.
Subject HeadingsBeginning teachers
The problem-solving power of teachers
Volume 71 Number 2, October 2013; Pages 18–22
Teachers are increasingly concerned that their voices are not heard when education policies are being decided. Within schools, many policies are not in line with the realities that teachers and students face each day, and sometimes create unnecessary work. A more promising approach is to draw on the problem-solving powers of teachers themselves, to provide practical solutions to the issues faced within schools. The author describes how she and other teachers revised an impractical policy at their school. Under the original policy, students who had not completed homework assignments for a second time in one week were required to attend an after-school detention session. The policy generated many small but unhelpful interactions with parents, and caused additional work for the teachers involved. Initial attempts to remedy these problems were inconsistent and confusing for students and teachers. To overcome these issues, the teachers began collaborating and sharing their ideas, problem-solving a potential solution. The solution was then taken to, and accepted by, the principal: under a revised schedule, a teacher was rostered to stay back at the end of the school day to offer study assistance to students. These ‘office hours’ sessions allowed students the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a teacher in order to complete their homework or receive help. Support from the principal was vital, not only for formal permission to proceed, but to iron out some of the practicalities, and for advice on how to communicate the decision to other staff. Throughout schools, many policies that are essentially sound are undermined by practical problems of implementation. In this context the best role that school leaders can play is not to micromanage from the top, but to provide space and support for teachers to devise their own solutions. (To access this article, go to the ASCD home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Moderate learning difficulties: searching for clarity and understanding
Volume 29 Number 1, January 2014; Pages 1–19
The term 'moderate learning difficulties' (MLD) is used in England to designate students with significant general difficulties in literacy, numeracy and conceptual understanding. Approximately one quarter of students with special educational needs (SEN) have been placed in the MLD category. An ongoing study has followed 119 students aged 12–14, comparing MLD students to those with other special learning difficulties, those with low attainment, and those with average attainment. About half the participants were designated as having MLD. The students were based at 14 secondary schools—including three special schools—in either rural or urban districts. A questionnaire asked participating teachers how their school identified students as having MLD. Each student was also independently tested with regard to their reasoning, literary skills and disposition. The article reports on the first two years of research. The study found that many teachers did not fully understand the process for identifying students as having MLD, and that schools used different criteria to identify them. This uncertainty in the use of the MLD category ‘reflects a national definition of MLD that is loosely formulated and has no clear operational details’. Data from the USA suggests that it may be better to more thoroughly define and diagnose specific learning disabilities and to do away with the broader category of MLD. (To access this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Subject HeadingsLearning problems
Teaching the writer’s craft
Volume 71 Number 7, April 2014; Pages 34–39
While teachers are keen for students to learn to write well, the pressure of the assessment process often reduces teacher input to the correction of students’ completed texts. Students are unlikely to learn from this experience, as their focus tends to be on forthcoming, rather than completed, work. This process is particularly unhelpful if the feedback is punitive in style. A more effective approach is to intervene during the writing process, when the stakes are low and students are most open to absorbing new skills and ideas. The author highlights six practices that will help: independent reading, providing topic choice, daily revision, sentence study, combining sentences, and modeling the writer's craft. Independent reading allows students to discover how sentences flow, and to look at the ways that punctuation is used. It also assists them to read like writers. In addition, setting a purpose for their reading encourages them to read with intention, resulting in greater engagement. Providing topic choice allows students to write about what is important to them, and to think about their audience as they do so. Daily revision encourages students to re-read and listen to what they have written, enabling them to fine-tune their work. Sentence study involves students reading an interesting passage from a piece of work, noticing how punctuation is used, and then practising this structure in their own writing. Combining sentences looks at taking information and using complex sentences to provide variety of structure and flow. Finally, and most importantly, is modeling the writer's craft. Having the teacher demonstrate their writing process in front of the class, in a range of different writing styles, helps students to further craft the art of writing, and understand how choices in sentence structure and punctuation might be made. It is important for students to learn that in order to craft a great piece of writing, mistakes will be made. Mistakes simply demonstrate the messiness of first thinking and the passion of getting ideas onto paper, and provide opportunities to improve their writing. (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
A review of “effective” reading literacy practices for young adolescent 11 to 13 year old students
Volume 66 Number 3, 2014; Pages 293–310
A literature review has examined research on the teaching of reading in the middle years. Research published since the mid 1990s was studied, covering schools ‘where teachers have been nominated as effective practitioners in literacy teaching’, in a range of countries where English is the main language of schooling. The nature of ‘effectiveness’ is one of the issues that requires exploration. Higher-order thinking and knowledge construction is taken to be of key importance for proficient reading, but is difficult to measure. They may be obscured when the focus is on lower-order skills that are more readily subject to the quantitative measurements used in standardised testing. A further concern is the need for assessments to allow for cultural diversity. The literature review sought insights into the nature of effectiveness in reading, and evidence of effective teaching practices. Overall, the studies identified effective teaching with two main factors. One was continuing professional development of reading teachers, supported by the teachers themselves, and by the principal. The other key factor was sophisticated systems for monitoring students’ development, with the data then used to inform subsequent teaching practice. Other factors included strong subject knowledge; a passion for literacy and for teaching; integration of reading, writing and talking, extended across subject areas; high yet realistic expectations of students; and high levels of on-task behaviour in classrooms. However, many studies lacked attention to students’ cultural backgrounds, and the issues these backgrounds raised for teaching and for home-school interactions. (To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Volume 11 Number 1, February 2013
Although it was not originally intended for use within educational settings, the iPad has fast become the 'must have' item in today's classrooms. However, when it comes to using iPads for teaching and learning, teachers have had little to guide them, in terms of either academic research or targeted professional development. So what do teachers do when they are given a set of iPads and told to use them in classrooms? Since July 2011, the author has been involved in two research projects investigating the use of iPads for the teaching and learning of mathematics in the primary years. The first study involved a year 3 class group in a Western Sydney public school that was participating in an iPad trial that provided a set of 30 iPads for a six-month period. The second study included four teachers and their class groups from a Western Sydney Catholic school. Each class group had access to six iPads. The current article does not attempt to describe the projects in any detail, but highlights some experiences from the work that might be of interest to other educators planning to introduce iPads into their lessons.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Writing to the World
Volume 71 Number 7, April 2014; Pages 54–58
Although the traditional form of the written word is still a valuable skill to harness, it is often met with little enthusiasm from students. However, many students eagerly interact with their peers through informal online channels, without necessarily recognising these communications as ‘writing’. Online channels offer alternative ways to engage students in the process of writing. Blogging, in particular, provides students with the opportunity to connect with their classmates, receive instant peer and teacher feedback, and write about subjects that are meaningful to them. KidBlog is a safe and secure site that provides teachers with full control over the blogging process. Using this platform, the teacher reads and publishes every student’s blog post, giving them the opportunity to provide further instruction, prompts, or redirection as required. It also helps to identify students with similar needs, which can then be addressed through small-group instruction or guided mini-lessons. As students develop their writing skills, they begin to reflect on their learning and start to set short- and long-term goals for themselves. This helps them take ownership of their work, and engages them with the writing process as a whole. Collaborating and sharing their work with students from other classrooms, subject areas, or locations–nationally and overseas–provides further opportunities for students to develop and grow. By identifying each other’s strengths, and collaborating online, students can often create an end product that far exceeds what ‘one individual–or one individual class–could have published alone’. It also encourages diplomacy and conflict resolution, and assists them to justify their own ideas. (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
Where did I lose you? Accessing the literacy demands of assessment (originally published in Curriculum & Leadership Journal Vol 10 Issue 17, 12 October 2012)
Volume 10 Number 2, 2012; Pages 3–11
A study in north Queensland has investigated ways to make assessment of mathematics fairer and more effective for Indigenous students. The authors have worked with seven schools over the past three years to find ways to address the obstacles that Indigenous students face when learning maths. The article reports on their work with four schools during the final phase of their study. The researchers analysed year 3 and year 5 NAPLAN data from Indigenous students at all four schools; examined social and cultural factors that might have influenced scores, eg the linguistic conventions and cultural framing of content; conducted a survey in which teachers were asked about the individual dispositions of each Indigenous student; and held group interviews with the students' current teachers. One key problem is the language demands imposed by tests, and the cultural assumptions underlying this language. In NAPLAN spelling tests the researchers found that students' initial task, to identify misspelt words, imposed such a heavy cognitive load on the students that they struggled to deal with the second stage of the task of rectifying the spelling. Similarly, the language demands of written mathematical questions left them with few cognitive resources to address the mathematical content. The researchers dealt with these problems in three ways. Firstly they applied Newman's error analysis, a tool used to diagnose the point at which students' learning broke down. The article includes a tabular checklist of steps used in the analysis. Secondly they set students problem-solving tasks to be done in groups, in which students could reinforce one another's understanding and recollection of task demands, reducing demand on individual students' short-term memories. The third element was culturally responsive pedagogy. Overall, the researchers helped teachers to engage in 'effortful teaching'. That is, they modelled problem-solving activities, facilitated collaborative learning, used Indigenous cultural contexts to explain mathematical terms, helped students to 'decode' written assessment tasks so that they could deal with their mathematical content, and strove to create an environment in which the students felt safe to 'have a go'.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Current developments in Australian education: a tsunami approaches
Volume 13 Number 3, June 2014; Pages 7–8
The author argues that education in Australia is presently guided by ‘simplistic, unproven or disproved’ policies, proposals, and beliefs. One proposal is to improve teacher quality through incentives such as merit or bonus pay, or through punishments such as job dismissal or denial of salary increments for poorly performing teachers. On another front, teacher education is deemed to be ineffective, while teaching qualifications are held to be of questionable value, and perhaps ‘unnecessary’. The resulting push to devolve teacher education to schools represents a return to a ‘craft-based’ model, and also threatens to undermine education research which is based in universities. Australia is influenced by international developments that alter the role of business in schooling. One is the rise of government funded for-profit independent schools, which in some cases do not need to follow the prescribed curriculum. Another development is the growing push for corporations to be involved in curriculum planning, assessment, and teaching standards. Within Australia, greater autonomy for public schools ‘usually means more responsibility and less support’. Such policies are guided by the belief that ‘public education has failed’ and that the ‘free market, choice and competition’ offer solutions to most problems facing Australian education. However, these policies also threaten to impact heavily on traditional non-government schooling. These policies have generally been ‘copied’ from Britain or the USA, ‘despite a lack of supporting evidence’. So far, teacher unions and professional associations ‘have made little effort or headway’ in challenging these trends.
Subject HeadingsTeacher evaluation
Commercialization of education
Education and state
There are no Conferences available in this issue.