Define and conquer
Number 5, August 2014; Pages 15–16
In the pursuit of improved student learning, it is important to distinguish between reforms to improve teacher quality and teaching quality. A focus on teacher quality raises the questions of how to measure individual teachers’ contribution to learning; how to select candidates for teacher education programs, and how to measure the quality of those programs. There is also the question of how to ensure quality learning opportunities for students until such time as low-performing teachers are replaced by high-performing ones. It is useful to focus on teaching quality, by seeking to improve the standard of the existing teaching workforce. Here, however, other difficulties emerge. Definitions of quality teaching are influenced by 'idiosyncratic' beliefs. The pursuit of quality teaching is also hindered by 'unhelpful dichotomies' between teacher-directed and learner-centred approaches to education: research in this field is inconclusive. Further confusion is introduced by the call to focus student learning rather than teaching: in reality, quality teaching must by definition facilitate learning. There is a tendency to conflate quality and innovation: innovation does not automatically raise quality, in fact quality may be compromised if too much innovation is introduced too quickly. It is helpful to provide specifications as to what constitutes good teaching. Such specifications may also help teachers look beyond the details of their immediate context, however important these may be. Different frameworks specify teaching quality in different ways. One of the ways to differentiate them is by looking at the different types of impacts they will have. One type of impact is discursive: the framework will shape what is and is not discussed and thought about. AITSL's Australian Professional Standards for Teachers broadly set out what teachers are expected to know and be able to do, while AITSL's Continuum of Classroom Practice goes into more detail as to what constitutes good classroom practice. The Quality Teaching model used in NSW and the ACT 'directs attention to the intellectual quality of learning experiences'; to the learning environment; and to the need to connect teaching to students' life experiences and to the wider world. The second way a framework may impact is in how it shapes the way that teachers are thought about, and how they think about themselves. For example, a framework focussing on technical skills positions teachers as 'technicians'. This leads into a third type of impact of a framework: on the 'lived experience' it has for teachers. For instance, a framework focussing on technical skills may generate stress if teachers have to produce, on demand, evidence of particular, narrowly defined skills. (See also the author's articles on the University of Newcastle website.)
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Volume 84 Number 2, June 2014; Pages 163–202
A critical part of student teachers’ practicum experience is the support they receive from the mentor, or cooperating teacher (CT): the school-based teacher nominated to guide the pre-service teacher, or student teacher (ST), during the teaching placement. Researchers in western Canada have conducted a literature review to examine issues surrounding the role of the CT. They identified 11 dimensions of CTs' participation in STs’ practicum experience. Firstly, the CT provides feedback. Most feedback is ‘narrow, particularistic, and technical’ in nature; even high-quality CTs do not always situate feedback in a wider theoretical context. Perhaps as a result, CTs tend to prefer to provide oral than written feedback. Often the CT does not appear able to adapt feedback to the ST’s stage of development as a teacher. Overall, CTs tend to dominate exchanges with STs, although a minority seek to help STs bring out their own strengths, and address their weaknesses, as teachers. The second dimension of CTs' role is as ‘gatekeepers to the profession’: they provide formative and summative assessment on STs’ progress. There have been criticisms that CTs’ assessments of STs tend to be too general in nature; CTs themselves have expressed frustration at lack of guidance and preparation they have received for their role. Thirdly, CTs model practice, based on the expectation that it can and will be reproduced at a later stage by the ST. Universities encourage such modelling, with the hope that over time STs will use them as a base from which to develop their own approaches to teaching. This relates to the fourth potential role of the CT, as someone who encourages the ST to reflect on their work. The fifth role is as ‘purveyors of context’: the CT introduces the ST to the apparent and also the hidden dimensions of teaching, including cultural and political aspects of school life. These roles are assisted by the sixth dimension of CTs' work: as ‘convenors of relation’, who create a welcoming, friendly, trusting and respectful relationship with the newcomer. The seventh role is as an agent of socialisation, who familiarises the ST with customs, beliefs, dispositions and habits characteristic of the profession. Research suggests that CTs are not always aware of the powerful influence they exert in this regard. The eighth role is as ‘advocates of the practical’: providing the ST with hands-on experience. While this role is vital, STs also need to draw more general, theoretical knowledge from their practicum experience, to allow them to address complex, unpredictable contexts they will face in their future professional work. The ninth role for the CT is one of learner. CTs often note the value of their mentoring role for informing their own teaching work. It is less common, however, for them to speak of the way in which their support for STs' practicum helps them improve their mentoring work with future STs. The tenth aspect of CTs role is as an ‘abider of change’, reflecting the cost they themselves face in terms of interruption to their own time, energy and classroom teaching. This links to the eleventh role of the CT: as teachers themselves, a role which their work as CT must not be allowed to interrupt.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
How can students know whether the information they find online is true – or not?
Volume 69 Number 6, March 2012; Pages 70–74
It is important to evaluate the quality of online sources, as they are not filtered by the quality checks that accompany traditional print sources, and the sophisticated visual presentation of online material may mask a host of inadequacies. However, it is a challenge for readers to evaluate online sources consistently, due to the volume of material they are exposed to, and the speed with which they move between different sites and articles online. In response to these pressures, readers tend to rely on intuitive judgements of a source. However, the criteria that readers tend to apply, such as the provider’s expertise or objectivity, are not always reliable. Reliance on expertise has proved insufficient in cases of bank failure and corporate scandal. A child’s report of being bullied is clearly not objective, but may still be valid. Readers may rely on ‘gut instincts’ but these may these may be unduly influenced by cultural background and values when judging a source. In the face of these difficulties, four rules of thumb are helpful for evaluating online information. The first rule of thumb is to draw on the ‘wisdom of crowds’. For example, the importance and credibility of an online article might be judged by the number of readers who view, comment on, or cite it, and by the average one-to-five rating they assign it. Popularity is not a fully reliable measure of credibility, however: for instance, a source promoting racial hatred may be extensively cited for educational purposes. A second rule of thumb is to examine how publications manage error correction: authoritative sites tend to acknowledge and correct errors explicitly. A third rule is to check various sources, and types of sources, with different viewpoints on an event or issue. It is also important to check how reports of an event change over time: early, erroneous reports of a sensational incident may flood social media and obscure later, corrected accounts. A fourth rule of thumb relates to infographics. Visual presentations of information should be critically examined to identify the sources of the information, and the vested interests behind those sources. In the classroom, it is important to teach students these simple but effective techniques for determining credibility of information. Encouraging students to ask questions is another strategy to ensure they are continuously evaluating information. Each learning area in the curriculum offers up a range of opportunities for students to research and analyse information. The article includes a section on how to evaluate material on Wikipedia. (The article is also available on the Noodle Tools website.)
Flipping the science classroom: exploring merits, issues and pedagogy
Volume 60 Number 3, September 2014; Pages 16–27
Flipped learning turns the traditional classroom lesson on its head, with teacher instruction being completed outside the classroom, and the follow-up activities or ‘homework’ being carried out during formal class time. The role of the teacher in a flipped classroom is that of facilitator or mentor. The flipped classroom requires extensive planning, as the teacher needs to video- or audio-record their teaching, and upload it on a suitable platform so that their students can then watch or listen at home, prior to attending the formal lesson. Alternatively, teachers can also use instructional science videos that are already available online. The formal lesson then involves hands-on activities, group work, problem-solving tasks, or individual instruction based on the knowledge gained in the lesson. There are a range of benefits advanced for a flipped lesson, or a flipped classroom. Students can learn at their own pace, and can catch up on any work they have missed relatively easily; the teacher can provide more time with individuals or groups of students in the formal lessons; teachers can differentiate lessons to cater for different learning abilities; more time can be allocated to higher-order thinking or hands-on activities; and parents are able to see what their students are learning. The difficulties with teaching in this format include the fact that not all students will do their homework or have access to the appropriate technology, and not all parents are supportive of flipped learning. The flipped classroom also involves students spending more time in front of a screen. For the teacher, preparing materials for each lesson can be time consuming. As yet there is relatively little research into the impact of flipped learning. However, a range of case studies have linked flipped classrooms to higher academic achievement, falling failure rates, and higher rates of engagement with lessons and homework amongst at-risk students.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsFlipped classrooms
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Number 4, June 2014; Pages 28–29
Recent research has found that suspension, as a disciplinary measure, has a negative effect on students, and on teacher-student relationships. A study undertaken by PhD psychology student David Quin, at the Australian Catholic University, sought the perspectives of 304 adolescents who had previously been suspended, from five schools in Victoria. Of these students, 43% believed that their teachers were less helpful on their return to school, and only 29% said that they had received help in catching up on the work they missed during their suspension. Also of concern was the types of activities the suspended students engaged in during their time away from school. Most of the students engaged in leisure activities such as ‘hanging out’, spending time online or watching television. While some took part in homework, paid work or volunteering, a small percentage drank alcohol or carried out illegal activities. Only about one-third had adult supervision during their suspension. Three-quarters of students who had been suspended felt that the experience did nothing to help resolve the cause of the suspension. A number of students did however identify measures that might help them avoid suspensions in future, such as being taught how to respond more appropriately to difficult situations, having someone to talk to, and having additional assistance with their classwork. The research highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to suspension of students. Suggested actions include: considering 'the individual needs of the student and family' prior to suspension; providing adult supervision and assistance with schoolwork during suspension; and setting up a 'formal re-integration to allow the teacher-student relationship to be repaired.'
Subject HeadingsBehaviour management
Suspension of students
Volume 11 Number 6, May 2013
Students in the early secondary years frequently struggle with introductory algebra, often due to the limited preparation they have received at the primary school level. Teachers need a sound knowledge of how to help students learn algebra and how to help them make up for gaps in their background knowledge of maths. In these respects, however, teachers themselves frequently need more extensive preparation. Perhaps as a result, algebra in schools is often reduced to rules for transforming and solving equations and these rules often seem meaningless to students. The article describes a project in New Zealand designed to address this issue: to explore and create teaching approaches that help students in years 9 and 10 to develop a conceptual understanding of algebra.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Bringing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into the classroom: why and how
Volume 21 Number 3, October 2013; Pages 24–29
The process of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is assisted when students from both groups are exposed to one another’s cultures and histories at school. The inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in schools has also been shown to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ attendance, engagement and involvement. In most cases however Indigenous students are not exposed to their own culture at school, and must consequently conform to Anglo-Australian perspectives or drop out. This imbalance needs to be redressed, and one means to do so is to give teachers opportunities to develop their cross-cultural understanding. A starting point in this process is to understand some basics about Indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians define themselves by three criteria: as having descended from Indigenous people, as having voluntarily identified as such, and as being accepted as such by the local Indigenous community. Indigenous Australians are widely dispersed, and their cultural practices vary widely between remote, regional and urban areas. In many cases Indigenous Australians from different backgrounds have been ‘thrown together’ and have developed ‘Kriol and Pidgin language forms’. So, while it is important to acknowledge the local indigenous culture surrounding a school, the school’s Indigenous students from other localities should also be recognised in lesson material. The locality from which material is obtained should also be mentioned. Teachers are concerned to avoid tokenistic treatment of Indigenous issues, but if taken too far, this concern can lead them to miss opportunities for quality learning experiences. The tokenism or depth of a learning experience depends on the extent to which it develops students’ intercultural knowledge, provides opportunities to interact with Indigenous people, and forms part of a broader exploration of Indigenous culture. In remote areas, Indigenous students should be encouraged to share their cultural knowledge within the school. At the same time they should be exposed to Standard Australian English as well as Aboriginal English, and should learn code-switching between their associated ‘cultural schemas’. In urban environments it is more likely that Indigenous students are one of many ‘non-Anglo’ groups, all of whom should have the chance to describe how a particular concept or narrative is understood within their own culture. The article lists a range of resources. It also offers a range of recommendations, eg to attend Indigenous cultural events, and to read the Koori Mail or National Indigenous Times. (This abstract was originally published in Curriculum & Leadership Journal Volume 11 Issue 20, 6 December 2013)
Subject HeadingsIndigenous peoples
Teaching and learning
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