Australia's national curriculum: a step in the right direction?
Number 235, July 2014
The author examines a range of issues surrounding the content and implementation of the Australian Curriculum F–10 (AC), in the context of the current review of the curriculum, commissioned by the Australian Government. The article draws on public submissions to the review, and the author’s experience in and views on curriculum planning. The first section of the article examines the AC’s claim to quality. A study commissioned by ACARA mapped the proposed AC, for both content and cognitive demand, against the English, mathematics and science curricula of international comparators, and found that content differences were ‘slight’ and did not reveal ‘any consistent pattern of deficiency’ in the AC. In terms of cognitive demand, the AC was not consistently above or below comparators. The article also discusses issues of national consistency. Over time, in a shifting political landscape, jurisdictions have varied their implementation of the AC in terms of timing, the number of subjects affected, and the degree to which they have modified state-based versions of these subjects. In this context, the article discusses the broadly positive attitudes of the teachers’ professional associations, unions, parents, and ‘public interest stakeholders’, but also notes critical responses from principals’ organisations. The second section of the article considers issues of balance in the curriculum. Any attempt to set out the aims of a subject area, knowledge, skills, and understandings to be developed, is inescapably ‘ideological’ in nature, and will always be contested; the issue is whether the curriculum has an appropriate balance between different viewpoints. The article considers evidence and opinion concerning ideological balance in the history curriculum relating to Indigenous issues, coverage of political parties and unions, military history, and the evolution of British political institutions. It also considers how closely the AC aligns to state-based English curricula for literature, multi-modal texts, phonics, and whole-language approaches to reading. The third section considers implementation of the AC, where overcrowding is a significant concern. Allocations for particular subject areas have generally satisfied subject specialists in each of these fields, but taken together ‘have added up to too much content according to principals and jurisdictional authorities’. One probable contributor to this outcome is ACARA’s original remit to develop only four subject areas. The article also discusses issues surrounding assessment, resource sharing and the timing of the review. Issues for consideration by the review include how to address overcrowding of the curriculum while maintaining the content consensus achieved in each subject area, and how to align the AC’s three-step assessment standards to the requirement for A-E grading in schools. The author was a foundation member of the National Curriculum Board, and a member of the ACARA Board until 2011.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Teaching and learning
‘Building positive expectations’: literacy interventions with vulnerable youth
Volume 13 Number 3, June 2014; Pages 9–12
The Parkville Juvenile Justice Precinct has become an invaluable learning opportunity for secondary teacher candidates studying for a Master of Teaching qualification. As part of the Parkville College tutoring program, selected teacher candidates work with the College students once a week in a structured small-group tutoring environment where they focus on targeted literacy activities and critical thinking. Many of the students in the College have diverse learning needs, due to ‘highly interrupted’ schooling histories and often coming from backgrounds where significant trauma has taken place. They come with emotional, physical and behavioural challenges, which can make teaching and learning difficult. However, this targeted teaching program has already proven its value for these students, as they demonstrate improved literacy skills, self-worth and positive outlooks. The benefits for teacher candidates includes harnessing skills in facing ‘dynamic environments’ that will feature throughout their careers, and overcoming any stereotypes they may have attributed to vulnerable or disadvantaged young people. Prior to beginning the program, candidates are initiated with safety briefings and provided with information about the College students, including their backgrounds and specific learning needs. Throughout the duration of the program, candidates are asked to provide regular feedback on the current program, and offer suggestions for future programs and how they can be better facilitated. College staff are at hand to provide support for the candidates, offering advice on individual student needs, and to demonstrate a therapeutic approach to classroom management, which is vital to engaging these students. At the completion of the program, candidates were asked if they would like to continue to help by providing ‘ongoing tutoring’. More than one-third responded positively, highlighting the difference this program makes in the lives of the candidates that participate, and the students that they work with.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Volume 13 Number 3, June 2014; Pages 16–18
Service learning is a key part of the Year 9 ASPIRE program at St Michael’s Collegiate School in Tasmania, designed to encourage the ‘right’ kind of ethical and informed students—Attitude: Striving for excellence, Personal responsibility, Independence, Resilience, Respect, and Experiencing success’. Students and teachers in the program get the opportunity to work at a local, national and international level, offering practical and hands-on support to communities in need. This process ‘combines rigorous academic learning with service learning’ and offers benefits to the students and the communities they work with. Through these real-life experiences in small communities, students are encouraged to set goals, then ‘devise strategies to achieve them, implement strategies and review their own performance’, with the aim of becoming ethical and informed citizens of the world. At a local level, students spend five days on Bruny Island, learning about the history and culture of the area. They then plan and coordinate workshops in dance, art, and physical education, before spending two days in a rural primary school implementing their activities and lessons with kindergarten to year six students. At a national level, students either work in Central Australia or North Stradbroke Island with Indigenous communities, where they immerse themselves in the culture and learn from the local people. Finally, at a global level, teachers visit schools in the Solomon Islands, Laos or Fiji, providing professional learning support while sharing information and resources with the local teachers. They have also assisted with community projects such as building a school and women’s refuge centre, and establishing scholarships so local students can continue their education. Service learning does come with challenges, such as: ‘coordinating meaningful projects that are sustainable and ongoing’; time constraints in terms of fitting student preparation into daily lessons, and providing time for reflection afterwards; and ensuring that the projects are mutually beneficial and ‘impact positively on the community’. However, the benefits of the ASPIRE program include: creating students who are ‘ethical, informed, reflective and responsible decision-makers’; preparing students for lifelong learning; and improved school attendance—all while catering to different learning styles. Service learning is not a challenge to the traditional ways of academic teaching, rather it is an addendum which enhances and enriches the learning process.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Mentoring a preservice teacher to develop reflective practice
Volume 10 Number 18, October 2012
Government reports on teaching and teacher education emphasise the need for continuous critical reflection on teaching practices by preservice teachers, as well as practicing teachers. While universities have a responsibility to provide explicit instruction in critical reflection, preservice teachers also require guidance by experienced teachers. This article reports on a case study of an experienced teacher mentor and her preservice teacher during a practicum experience. The preservice teacher, Amy, was in her second year of a Bachelor of Education (Primary) degree at a satellite campus of a large Australian university. The study focused on her first field experience with a year 2 class at a school situated in a low socio-economic area of Queensland. Amy's mentor, Gina, had 20 years teaching experience in seven different primary schools. The study showed how a mentor who models reflective practices to a mentee and facilitates opportunities for the mentee's reflections, is likely to influence the mentee's pedagogical development.
Teaching and learning
New Zealand students' perceptions of parental involvement in learning and schooling
Volume 33 Number 3, September 2013; Pages 324–337
A New Zealand study has explored how high school students view their parents’ impact on their academic achievement in mathematics and reading. The study involved 1,554 students in years 8–11, across 59 schools. Evidence was obtained from the students’ assessment results calculated using a tool called 'asTTle' (Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning), which included measures of students’ achievement in mathematics and reading, as well as their liking for, and sense of their own efficacy in, each subject. The students also completed a survey on their parents’ involvement in their schooling, which covered four elements: the extent to which parents discussed their children’s future academic life and career with them; discussed their school activities with them; held high academic expectations of them; and the extent to which parents involved themselves in the school. The schools were close to the national distribution in terms of socioeconomic status (SES), ethnicity and achievement in reading and mathematics. Students who saw their parents as supportive of their learning tended to like both subjects more, and in the case of reading, achieved better academically. Mathematics achievement was unrelated to the four elements of parental involvement, and only weakly related to students’ liking of, and confidence regarding, maths. Reading achievement was stronger amongst students whose parents held high academic expectations of them. However, it was weaker amongst students whose parents talked more often than average to their teacher, perhaps because academically weaker students regulated their learning less well, prompting parental involvement. Parents were substantially more likely to talk about school activities with daughters than with sons. Students attending schools in low-SES areas were more likely to state that their parents talked to them about the future, but were less likely to say that their parents talked to their teachers. This result is of concern, given that these students may benefit most from parent-teacher discussions. Equipping such parents with the current language of learning and schooling may help to involve them further in their children’s education. (To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Parent and child
Middle leaders in schools: who are they and what do they do?
Volume 36 Number 2, July 2014; Pages 22–25
Delving into the question of who the middle leaders are in schools, this article begins by defining a middle leader as someone who is ‘responsible for significant departments, projects or processes’. It goes on to explore the roles that typically fall into this category, and how it is that they carry out this work. Middle leaders are usually not those who are responsible for the hiring or firing, or those charged with setting out whole-school directions; rather they may not have a formal title at all, and are often a bridging ground between these decisions and the junior management team. It is important to note that middle management is comprised of more than just academic staff; ICT coordinators and compliance managers also fall into this category. The authors clearly define the job of middle leaders into five distinct roles: management—the organisation of resources to achieve goals; administration—developing and enacting procedures for staff; supervision—monitoring and reacting to staff performance levels; staff development—ensuring that staff are able to do their jobs efficiently and effectively; and leadership—creating a positive attitude and behaviour in staff. After defining what middle leaders are, and what roles they undertake, the authors explore the responses received from a test of attendees at a postgraduate education leadership course run by a local university. The twelve subjects, who self-identified as middle leaders, were given a simple test to determine the activities they complete in their average working week. The results strongly indicated that the participants undertook a large amount of work under the management role on a weekly basis. Interestingly ‘no responsibilities pointing to the leadership category were mentioned by any of the participants’. However, the data did suggest that these staff members were acting in an additional role, one of ‘student focus’, where they were the next point of contact in helping students with academic or behavioural issues. These results demonstrate that more research needs to be completed in this area to determine exactly how the role of middle leadership is changing, and what is required in this role.
Intercultural understanding: a key capability in the multicultural world (originally published in Curriculum & Leadership Journal Vol 11 Issue 20, 6 December 2013)
Number 228, September 2013
The report consists of three papers ‘designed to provide an Intercultural (Asian) and an Indigenous lens to intercultural understanding’. Section one contains two papers. In the first, Kathe Kirby explains the role of the Australian Curriculum (AC) as a ‘game changer’ for Asia literacy. Building on earlier policy documents, the AC establishes three mechanisms to develop young people’s Asia literacy: the cross-curriculum priority of Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia, the general capability of Intercultural Understanding, and the teaching of six Asian languages in schools. Another key document is Asia Literacy and the Australian Teaching Workforce, commissioned by AITSL; this document defines the features of an Asia-literate teacher and principal. In the second paper Eeqbal Hassim looks in detail at the characteristics of intercultural understanding through the medium of language, and at the framework underlying the Intercultural Understanding capability. In section two Lois Peeler and Pam Russell offer an ‘Aboriginal/Indigenous lens’ on intercultural understanding, described in relation to Worawa College, a girls’ boarding school for years 7–10, providing ‘immersion in Aboriginal language and culture’ for 70 students drawn from more than 30 Indigenous communities. The college has developed a set of cultural standards, adapted from those developed by the Assembly of Alaska Native Educators. The paper sets out cultural standards for students and for teachers: students are to be able to recognise and build on their cultural heritage; to participate in various cultural environments; and to engage effectively in learning activities that are based on traditional ways of knowing and learning. Educators are to be able to incorporate traditional ways of knowing and teaching into their work; regularly link their teaching to students’ lives, using local resources; to participate in and support community events; and to challenge students effectively to reach their full potential as learners. The three cross-curriculum priorities of the AC, including the Asia and sustainability priorities, inform ‘every one of the learning units’ offered at the college. The college aims to maintain language and culture, balanced with the aim of proficiency in English. Its curriculum is ‘supported with scope and sequence documentation and assessment rubrics’. The college has also integrated the use of media and personalised learning. Each student has a digital learning portfolio, mainly oral and visual material. Teachers undertake a diagnostic assessment of each student to plan for personalised learning. While celebrating Indigenous Australians' identity, the school also works with 12 local partnership schools and is building partnerships with First Nation communities in Hawaii, Canada and New Zealand.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
Social life and customs
A closer look
Number 4, June 2014; Pages 24–25
The National Art School and the New South Wales (NSW) department of education have set up a program for Year 11 visual art students, sponsored by the Sir William Dobell Foundation. Each year, the education department nominates students from regional NSW and Sydney’s outer metropolitan areas to take part in four-day visual art workshops. There are five different workshops available, including ‘drawing the nude life model, portrait drawing, drawing the clothed model, experimental drawing with the figure, and objective drawing’. These workshops are held with dedicated artists and teachers, and complement current art education in school to further extend student ability and knowledge. They have been established to provide students with the professional facilities, studios and tuition they may not otherwise have access to, due to the ‘closure of many art programs across the state’. Throughout each workshop, students ‘develop a greater understanding of the creative process and a deeper appreciation of art’. By working alongside peers who share their enthusiasm for visual arts, students return to school inspired, and are expected to discuss what they have learnt with their school teachers and classmates. At the end of the workshops, the National Art School hosts an exhibition of student work, and invites their parents and teachers to attend. The National Art School also hosts annual two-day workshops for regional teachers, offering the opportunity for professional development and networking with other like-minded professionals. These workshops are held in different areas of NSW each year, and this year is the first where two workshops will run. With 15 positions available in each workshop, teachers get the chance to reconnect with visual art, to share their ideas with others, and discover how other teachers use their skills in different ways to engage various learning styles.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsVisual arts
Arts in education
Number 4, June 2014; Page 8
With the upcoming release of the new digital curriculum, academics are becoming increasingly concerned about teachers’ level of information technology (IT) knowledge. Part of the new curriculum requires students as young as the primary years to learn skills such as computer programming, meaning that their teachers will need to become ‘experts’ in this area. Teachers will require sufficient professional development (PD) and enthusiasm in order for students to engage with the subject, meet their learning requirements, and view IT as a possible career choice. The biggest challenge confronting teachers is that IT ‘moves so rapidly’. PD will need to be ‘taken more seriously, to ensure that teachers are prepared for the new curriculum’ so they are able to keep their knowledge and skills up-to-date with current technologies. Payment is another issue faced when implementing a PD program for teachers, but the outcomes speak for themselves. Teachers who are not confident or well-trained in a subject area will revert to teaching ‘from a book’ or to a lesser degree than is required. This results in students receiving a lower quality of education, as well as reducing their engagement and understanding. The IT industry is enthusiastic in supporting a PD program for teachers, however the Federal Government, for example, has not yet expressed assistance for supporting teachers to implement this new curricula. In order for students to receive an adequate education in the area of IT, it is clear that groups in ‘industry, universities and government all need to work together’ to help provide PD for generalist and IT teachers.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
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