The effects of standards-based reforms on Indigenous students' access to English as a Second Language curriculum and opportunities to learn
Volume 34 Number 3, September 2014; Pages 15–26
Curriculum standards are intended to raise student achievement, for example by helping teachers assess students’ prior learning, and plan new learning opportunities. In many nations, the standards are also used in tandem with national testing programs, designed to evaluate and compare the performances of individual teachers and schools. However, the impact of a particular curriculum will be affected by local contexts, including students’ existing cultural and linguistic capital. Disadvantaged students ‘are often placed in classrooms defined by basic skills, disruption and low expectations’. One particular concern relates to ESL students: under generic curriculum standards, their learning needs are often confused with those of native English speakers who struggle with literacy. Research indicates, however, that standards-based reforms can assist ESL students if accompanied by professional development for teachers. A study has examined the impact of one standards-based reform on learning opportunities of senior secondary Indigenous ESL students in the Northern Territory (NT). These reforms occurred slightly before the introduction of national curriculum standards in Australia, but were ‘informed by the same emphasis on standards’ as the forthcoming national reforms. Under these changes, students had to meet the minimum acceptable level of achievement on a designated standard for literacy in order to receive the senior secondary certificate. Another aspect of the reforms was the that there were now four English subjects. One was a revised version of ESL: drawing on Systemic Functional Linguistics, it specified that English language learners (ELLs) were to have opportunities to acquire the English needed for higher levels of academic study and post-school pathways. Another was a new subject, Literacy for Work and Community Life. It was ‘designed for students who traditionally struggled to complete schooling’, including Indigenous ELLs. It aimed to prepare students for everyday life rather than to equip them for the demands of senior secondary schooling. The study investigated the impact of the reforms at three NT schools. One was a remote school with 80% Indigenous enrolment. The school decided not to offer the new ESL subject: Indigenous students instead went into Literacy for Work and Community Life. School staff interviewed for the study considered the revised ESL subject too demanding for the Indigenous students. They also felt that as teachers they did not have the level of training needed to conduct the new version of the ESL subject, and noted the difficulty of attracting suitably skilled teachers to the school. The second school catered mainly to students of middle-to-high SES backgrounds, but 6% were Indigenous ELLs, from remote areas, and there were other ELLs from either refugee or prosperous backgrounds overseas. Once again, Indigenous students were guided toward Literacy for Work and Community Life, for reasons not clearly articulated. At the third school, 30% Indigenous students were from disadvantaged backgrounds, but these students were streamed into pathways where the senior secondary curriculum was not applied. It was also unclear whether the ESL subject at this school used the revised ESL curriculum. The findings illustrate the need to disseminate knowledge about the rationale behind ESL as a curriculum area.
English as an additional language
Volume 96 Number 2, October 2014; Pages 19–24
While classroom management varies according to context, four principles apply to all classrooms and grade levels. One is the need for planning before a lesson, when the teacher has a chance to consider and prepare for potential disruptions such as transition points in the lesson, or situations that might pose difficulties for individuals or groups of students, or the whole class. Secondly, effective classroom management draws on the positive relationships that the teacher has already built up with individual students. Positive relationships involve trust and warmth, as well as clear boundaries and consistent consequences for breaching them. A third principle is to establish a supportive environment for classroom management. This environment may involve physical reminders to students of what is expected, such a ‘calm down corner’. The environment also includes routines, eg an explicit signal to announce a transition between activities. These routines make the day more predictable for the students. Fourthly, the teacher should carefully document classroom management problems, to help them identify and predict patterns of misbehaviour. These four principles help the teacher to deal with students’ social and emotional development. Over time, children develop social and emotional skills such as the capacity for focus, attention, cooperation and self-regulation of feelings. Teachers can aid children’s acquisition and internalisation of such skills through reminders and supports, eg announcing the need to listen before story time commences. In middle school students acquire more advanced skills, such as the ability to anticipate consequences for their actions. Teachers’ expectations of students need to align to these developmental stages. The SECURe program is an intervention designed to apply these principles in schools for the preK-5 years. SECURe (Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Understanding and Regulation in education) is an interconnected set of strategies covering professional development and support for teachers, as well as lessons, structures and routines for the classroom. Children are taught age-appropriate skills to assist their cognitive, emotional and social development. After a pilot in 12 classrooms at two schools, the program was successfully applied at 42 additional classrooms in the other six schools in the same school district. The article includes a table listing the program’s routines or strategies, the skills they target, and explanations of how they work in the classroom.
Subject HeadingsTeacher-student relationships
Teaching and learning
Volume 96 Number 2, October 2014; Pages 25–30
Traditionally schools have responded to student misbehaviour by removing troublesome students from class, or in more extreme cases, through suspension or expulsion. There is clear research evidence that these strategies have a negative impact on these students, in terms of academic achievement, grade repetition, school retention, and encounters with the juvenile criminal justice system. A major US report in 2011 found no evidence that these exclusionary practices improve safety in schools. However, three alternative strategies have been found effective in managing student misbehaviour and improving academic results. One policy is Restorative Justice, which involves students working together with those who have been negatively affected by their behaviour to acknowledge and remedy the harm done. The second strategy is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). This approach emphasises action to prevent misbehaviour before it happens, by setting suitable behavioural expectations and rewarding students who meet them. Students who continue to misbehave take part in small groups, such as classes or clubs, where they have opportunities to learn social skills including conflict resolution. Students who exhibit ongoing problems are targeted for individualised treatments. The third strategy is Social and Emotional Learning, which focuses on helping students manage their feelings and social interactions, and on developing their self-awareness.
Subject HeadingsClassroom management
Challenges and opportunities for Australian Science education
Volume 13 Number 5, October 2014; Pages 4–7
There is an international consensus that science in the primary and early secondary years is best taught through inquiry learning methods. Inquiry learning addresses the problem of how to engage students and improve their academic outcomes, by immersing them in active investigations. As well as developing students’ inquiry skills, this form of study gives students the opportunity to learn about the nature of science and grasp scientific concepts through experiences in the natural world, all of which are called for in the Australian Curriculum. Direct and explicit instruction also has some role to play, but the current focus on these methods is excessive and may lead to ‘faddism’. The need to lift students’ engagement and academic achievement in science is underscored by several key indicators. Australian science students’ performance in international tests has fallen relative to those of other countries. On the TIMSS, year 4 Australian science students’ performance declined in absolute terms, and their ranking against students in other countries fell from 13th to 24th between 2007 and 2011. The gap between students in Australia and the highest-performing countries was particularly large for the tests covering the higher cognitive domains. This poor performance probably relates to the very limited teaching time devoted to primary science, which in turn is influenced by teachers’ lack of confidence in their abilities to cover this subject area. The PISA tests for 15 year olds show a fall in Australia's ranking against the Asian countries which compete against it in knowledge-based products and services. The academic gap between students from the highest and lowest socioeconomic quartiles is high in Australia, relative to that of ‘a number of benchmark countries’. There is also a long-term decline in the number of Australian students taking science subjects at senior secondary and tertiary levels.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsTertiary education
The place of science in early years
Volume 13 Number 5, October 2014; Pages 12–14
Young children are naturally curious about the world around them. They wonder, observe, and interact with their surroundings in an attempt to understand how the world works. Teachers can harness this innate curiosity to interest children in science. A drying puddle can be used to teach evaporation, while falling toys can be used to segue into a lesson on gravity. Young children require multiple opportunities to interact and explore scientific ideas to understand concepts. This should be done in both formal and informal settings, with help from family and friends as well as teaching professionals. The National Science Teachers Association in the USA have produced a position statement on early childhood science education, containing six principles. Firstly all young children are capable of learning the central ideas and practices of science. Secondly, adults need to help children learn, eg by providing suitable learning environments, providing skills and knowledge, encouraging children’s learning, modelling, and jointly exploring ideas. Thirdly, children need varied opportunities to explore the natural world; a range of experiences helps children ‘identify patterns, formulate theories, consider alternative explanations and build on their existing knowledge’. Fourthly, children acquire scientific knowledge and skills in both formal and informal settings. The fifth principle is that learning takes place over time, so children need opportunities for sustained exploration, and the chance to revisit earlier activities, and the sixth principle relates to the need for experiential learning.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Early childhood education
The PROFILES Project promoting science teaching in a foreign language
Volume 25 Number 2, 2014; Pages 207–225
One approach to foreign language learning is to have teachers and students use the language during lessons in another subject area, an approach sometimes referred to as Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). Science is a subject particularly conducive to CLIL, as science requires extensive discussion amongst students during inquiry processes. CLIL is promoted through the PROFILES project. PROFILES aims to raise science teachers’ self-efficacy by equipping them to conduct effective, engaging, inquiry-based science lessons. It aims to make science more engaging for students via student-centred learning and by raising science teachers’ self-efficacy. The article reports on foreign language learning during science inquiry lessons that were conducted as part of the PROFILES project. The article focuses on a particular teaching module for year 12 students, on the topic of carbon dioxide, conducted in a foreign language. The teachers elicited students’ prior knowledge, guided them towards simple scientific investigations involving combustion or the interaction of acids and bases, and then considered wider issues such as the role of carbon dioxide in global warming. (Article free online via free Dropbox software)
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsInquiry based learning
Language and languages
Formative Assessment of Collaborative Teams (FACT): development of a grade-level instructional team checklist
Volume 98 Number 1, 2014; Pages 26–52
The concept of the professional learning community (PLC) is now well established and popular in schools. However, the PLC is often enacted only in superficial forms. One reason for this is that researchers have not done enough to identify and explain the key features of a PLC, or to provide criteria against which educators may measure the effectiveness of their own PLC. One tool to help do so is the Formative Assessment of Collaborative Teams (FACT). The authors worked with a group of educators to develop, implement and validate this tool. Previous literature on PLCs has established a broad consensus on several of their core elements: a common mission, collaborative inquiry by teams of teachers, an orientation towards action, continuous improvement, and measureable results. FACT is designed to assist with one of these elements: defining and supporting collaborative teacher teams. A pilot conducted at three Utah primary schools found that FACT was ‘a viable observation tool, capable of discriminating amongst schools and grade-level teams’.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Teaching and learning
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