Volume 68 Number 1, September 2014; Pages 13–23
Researchers discuss learning principles drawn from a vocabulary instruction program. Over three years the Multi-Faceted, Comprehensive Vocabulary Instruction Program (MCVIP) developed, implemented and refined ways to improve the vocabulary of students in grades four and five. The students were based at a disadvantaged school in North Colorado, where approximately 60% of students spoke Spanish as their first language. From the outset the MCVIP was guided by several key findings from recent research. Vocabulary instruction should involve several approaches: the teaching of individual words, word learning strategies, and ‘word consciousness’. Different types of words require different learning strategies, for example, while a concrete noun may be readily learnt through a visual image, understanding an abstract noun like ‘democracy’ may require the development of significant background knowledge. Students should be exposed to a target word in varied contexts. Students should actively process word meanings. Over the course of the program the MCVIP teachers developed further practical insights, in collaboration with the researchers in the program who observed their classes, and administered tests to students before and after instruction. One challenge emerging from the MCVIP was how to provide rich word-learning experiences within the tight time frames of lessons. The article includes a table setting out a model for fast-paced coverage of a target word: it includes offering students a ‘kid-friendly definition’ of the word, exposure to the word in multiple contexts, and several prompts calling on the student to articulate the meaning of the word. Over time participating teachers became more time-efficient and flexible in applying this model. A second achievement was to develop students' capacity for deep processing of words. Deep processing is encouraged by asking students to contrast and refine word meanings, and apply target words during writing or analysis. To develop students’ deep processing skills, MCVIP teachers called on students to articulate conceptual connections between two target words, and to use two or more target words in a sentence. Students were also called on to apply a target ‘character trait word’ to a character appearing in a previously read narrative, and to describe a target ‘concept word’ within a tight word limit. A third approach that teachers developed during the program was to return to ‘anchor experiences’, such as kid-friendly definitions, whenever students displayed confusion about a word during class discussion. One student’s confusion about a word meaning can swiftly take root elsewhere in a class, unless addressed promptly. Finally, program participants found ways to foster equitable participation in vocabulary learning throughout the class, by calling on students at random to answer questions, rather than relying on a few ‘vocabulary virtuosos’.
Teaching and learning
Volume 19 Number 4, May 2015
Vocabulary development is essential for students’ academic achievement, and should therefore be treated as a strategic priority for educators. Research has identified a range of effective ways to enhance students’ word knowledge. Students should be exposed to target words multiple times, in more and more sophisticated contexts. These contexts should be meaningful to the students, and relate to their prior knowledge, and should include rich and varied information about the word. Students should play an active role in word learning. Research has identified some other strategies as ineffective. One is asking students to look up word meanings in dictionaries, where the words are explained with little or not context; students may struggle to understand the language used in the dictionary, and may be confused by multiple meanings provided. Direct instruction has proved effective in promoting learning of target words and in stimulating learning of other words. Indirect methods, such as encouragement of wide reading, are effective only as supplements to direct instruction, particularly for low-achieving students. Teachers of all subject areas should be involved in students’ vocabulary development.
Teaching and learning
Volume 23 Number 49, April 2015
The author argues that education policies in Australia, Britain and the USA are currently eroding the quality of public school education. The rationale for these policies is a crisis in public school education, but the only true crisis is being generated by these policies themselves, as they destabilise public schooling, without providing the promised improvements in student achievement. There has been a move toward centralisation of curriculum assessment, reporting and teaching standards, and a simultaneous move towards school autonomy, evident in Australia’s Independent public schools (IPS) initiative. An evaluation of the IPS found ‘little evidence’ of improvements to students’ academic performance, but did find evidence of growing inequality between schools. Similar results were found from an evaluation of Sweden’s ‘free schools’. The charter schools in the USA began as a means to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged students, but according to a critique by Diane Ravitch, they have become ‘a vehicle for privatization of large swaths of public education’: competing rather than collaborating with public schools, rejecting vulnerable students as unlikely to improve test scores, and often creating disciplinarian rather than innovative cultures. Similarly serious concerns have been raised about England’s Academy Schools, including cost, reluctance to enrol low-achieving students and erosion of teaching conditions. Governments in Australia have facilitated a drift toward non-government schools, providing inadequate support to public schools. Unlike private or semi-private schools, traditional comprehensive public schools do not have the option of excluding challenging students, either explicitly or indirectly; this lowers average student achievement and makes it easier to represent these schools as ‘failing’ or inferior. One of the main drivers of education policy has been the ideology of ‘user pays’, with education increasingly presented as ‘a commodity to be purchased and a cost to taxpayers’ rather than ‘an investment in the personal, social and economic prosperity of the nation’. At the same time large publishing and ICT corporations are deepening their involvement in the school education ‘supply chain’ that covers ‘curricula, teaching resources, teaching standards, teacher training, development and appraisal’ and student assessment. Large for-profit chains of schools are also poised to enter the Australian market, as soon as they are permitted to do so. Another dimension of current educational change relates to teacher quality and teacher training. Approximately 20% of pre-service teachers in the USA are now being trained through ‘alternative certification programs’, which privilege content knowledge over knowledge of pedagogy. Evidence suggests that alternative certification programs are highly variable in quality. These programs often involve school internships. This is part of swing in teacher training from universities to schools, returning to the model dominant in the nineteenth century. In England this has been accompanied by diversion of teacher training funding from universities, with negative consequences for educational research. This trend also increases the likelihood that new teachers will retain the methods currently employed in schools. In Australia the trend to school-based training is expressed, for example, in the Victorian Teaching Academies for Professional Practice initiative. The current wave of change in school education has not yet peaked. Unless the teaching profession responds to these changes now, they will soon reach overwhelming proportions.
Subject HeadingsCommercialization of education
Teaching and learning
Education aims and objectives
A pedagogical model for engaging Aboriginal children with science learning
Volume 61 Number 1, March 2015; Pages 27–39
Learning the language and culture of school science is challenging for students in general, but children from minority backgrounds face the additional struggle of adapting to the mainstream culture in society. Science classes may introduce terms and concepts that do not exist in minority students’ cultural backgrounds. To engage with these students, instruction must value their language and culture. The Aboriginal Education Program (AEP) aims to address this issue, by providing culturally responsive teaching at remote schools with high indigenous enrolments in Western Australia. The AEP was developed by Scitech, a Perth-based not-for-profit organisation aiming to increase participation in STEM subject areas. An evaluation of the AEP in 2012 found that it had significantly increased Aboriginal students’ enjoyment of and interest in science classes. The current article describes pedagogical practices that were found to be particularly effective in engaging Aboriginal students in the study of science, during visits to three case-study schools. The AEP team consisted of three presenters trained in science communication and cultural competency, and two researchers. The presenters delivered professional learning workshops for teachers at the schools, and ran sessions for students during the day, observed and recorded by the researchers. Analysis of the presenters' classes identified 11 practices effective in engaging the students. The presenters built relationships with the students: they had sent video clips about themselves to the school prior to their arrival, and now made efforts to know the names of all students. They used a collaborative, active and inclusive approach during lessons, for example, ensuring that all students, at some stage, articulated a prediction of the outcome of an experiment. Students were given ownership and agency: their input was sought, and they had opportunities to take responsibility for directing experiments. Small group work gave all students a chance for active participation, while hands-on activities involved the students via sight, smell and touch. Instructions were kept to a minimum to get students involved as soon as possible, and reduce the need for the presenter to repeat instructions. Behaviour management, while sometimes necessary, was low-key. Dialogue with students played an important role, as did the use of open questions. The presenters took care to build the vocabulary of students, in terms of process words such as ‘prediction’ and ‘experiment’ and also content words such as ‘absorb’, using a wide range of strategies to do so. Movement and gesture were also an important part of the presentations. The presenters took care to connect the lesson to experiences familiar to the students, for example the absorption of water by a white powder in class was compared to the absorbent properties of familiar items such as paper towels. The AEP offers a model for the teaching of Aboriginal children, and possibly other children currently disengaged from school science.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsAboriginal students
Teaching and learning
Western Australia (WA)
Preservice teachers of high school mathematics: success, failure, and persistence in the face of mathematical challenges
Volume 115 Number 2, 2015; Pages 56–65
One key way to improve mathematics instruction in high schools is to provide a stream of graduate teachers suitably qualified in the subject area. To do so it is important that students undertaking high school maths teacher education programs complete their courses successfully, in the face of significant academic challenges. One issue here, discussed in previously published literature on the topic, is the need for student teachers to understand that a person’s mathematical ability, like their general intelligence, is not fixed, but rather can be worked on and improved. However, current tertiary mathematics education may contribute to the illusion of fixed mathematical ability, by presenting a theorem or algorithm as a finished, ‘concise, flawless communication’: this conceals ‘the false starts, or the process’ through which it was first developed. A recent study has examined factors contributing to the persistence and success of students taking a high school maths teacher education program at a large university in the USA. Over five years, a survey was administered to 92 second-year and 95 final-year students, with 47 students completing both surveys. Almost half of the students who graduated, 47%, had failed at least one mathematics course during the program, and 29% of these graduates has had failed more than one course. Students who were successful in their first stage of the program were found to be significantly more likely to graduate, regardless of their success rates during later stages. Anecdotal evidence suggests that during their initial period of success these students had had their confidence built up by their instructors, and this helped them persist during later challenges. The authors suggest that mathematics teacher education programs explicitly address the fact that mathematical ability is not fixed.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Guidance for schools selecting antibullying approaches: translating evidence-based strategies to contemporary implementation realities
Volume 44 Number 1, January 2015; Pages 27–36
The pervasiveness of bullying in schools has generated a myriad of anti-bullying programs, but evaluations have found that they have had only ‘a modest to moderate effect’. Common obstacles include a poor fit between the chosen program and a particular school context, lack of buy-in from staff, and limits to the ‘strength and stability of the school environment’. Another problem is that evaluations of programs often take place in schools where they are well funded, enjoy high levels of interest among staff, and are closely monitored by researchers, underplaying the difficulties they would face when applied elsewhere. From a synthesis of current research, the authors identify the four most effective programs, and describe their common features To prevent bullying, schools are encouraged to take a holistic approach: they recognise the contexts students face inside and outside the school; foster a positive school climate; and embed anti-bullying messages in the curriculum. Programs also foster children’s social, emotional and character development and their conflict resolution skills, as well as stressing the need for bystander intervention against bullying. The school leadership needs to model suitable behaviour. The school should set up a team overseeing all aspects of school safety. Policies in response to incidents of bullying need to be clear, and applied firmly and consistently. Teachers need suitable training to identify and address bullying: the importance of such training is underlined by the wide variation in bullying that tend to occur between different classes at the same school. Training of pre-service teachers is also important. Effective anti-bullying policies include explicit guidelines for investigation and reporting of incidents, and disciplinary measures, establishing, for example, conditions for which police are called. Discipline should not shame the perpetrator, and should encourage reflective activity, including discussion with a staff member about their behaviour.
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