Leading or misleading? Distributed leadership and school improvement
Volume 37 Number 3, 2005; Pages 255–265
While the concept of distributed leadership has generated much debate in school leadership research, Harris points out that the connection between leadership generally and school improvement still has to be made, and that there is still no clear empirical link between distributed leadership and improved student outcomes. In addition to calling for more research into the connection between distributed leadership and student educational outcomes, Harris surveys the literature on distributed leadership in order to make the theoretical and empirical connections between it and school improvement more explicit. Her survey finds that there is much evidence in theoretical accounts of leadership and individual agency, and their relationship to organisational change, to support claims of the effectiveness of distributed leadership. With regards to the empirical case for distributed leadership, Harris finds a fruitful yield in her examination of school improvement literature, where meaningful school improvement is closely associated with strong collegial relationships, a high congruence between the values of principals and teachers, and dispersed sources of leadership – factors which are inherent in distributed leadership models.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Is research reaching the classroom?
Number 192, September 2005; Pages 42–44
The findings of educational researchers very often do not make their way to the level of the classroom because of teacher remoteness and isolation from the research, demands on teachers’ time, and teacher scepticism about the usefulness and applicability of the research to their particular local context. There is also the problem of the politicising of research findings, such as the results of the TIMSS report and other international comparative studies, and the narrow bases of curriculums and textbooks, which serve to deter teachers from being more adaptive and expansive in their practices. In order to make teachers more disposed to the adoption of educational research in their work, Parish recommends that researchers ensure that their work is relevant to classroom contexts, that it shows an awareness of the problems teachers face in delivering the curriculum, that it's accessible in terms of style and language, and that it avoids patronising practitioners.
Subject HeadingsEducation research
Sending out an SOS
Number 192, September 2005; Pages 22–23
Askew notes that the ‘discourse of effectiveness’, one of the dominant discourses in education, reduces the notion of ‘responsibility’ to ‘accountability’. In this discourse there is an over-emphasis on measurable effectiveness in education and the practices that it entails, including the availability of uniform downloadable lesson plans and intrusive curriculums. These practices have eroded the relationship between teachers and their students, reducing classes to ‘soul-less’ places where students are not valued as social beings, and where teachers are more concerned about meeting educational objectives than caring about whether or not students are engaged in their learning. In this environment, teachers too are valued less, as the curriculum is construed elsewhere, and teachers are increasingly ‘alienated from their labour’. Rehabilitating classroom environments will require a reconstitution of the notion of ‘responsibility’, so that, for educators, it includes caring about the people and the relationships with which they are involved. It is only by adding this moral dimension to responsibility that teachers will be able to save the ‘soul’ of their classrooms.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Vgotsky and assessment for learning (AFL)
Number 192, September 2005; Pages 9–11
Assessment for learning employs formative assessment approaches towards student learning, and it encourages students to make their thinking visible in a secure classroom environment. Carter observes that these principles intersect with those of educational psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who bequeathed the 'zone of proximal development' – the gap between what the child knows and can do and what they will, with the right stimulation and environment, eventually be able to do – to that field. In order for the zone of proximal development to be achieved, the student has to be able to work in a secure, social environment, in which concept formation can take place. Carter outlines Vygotsky’s theory and its commonalties with formative assessment, before sharing the results of his study which compared the educational outcomes of two mathematics classes undertaking a similar task. The study concluded that a positive social environment was a significant factor in explaining the difference in achievement between the classes.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Research works on blueprint for effective school leadership
19 October 2005; Page 6
Principals face growing workloads for reasons that include increasing accountability requirements, ongoing educational reform, and growing expectations of schools from parents and the community. Research by Helen Cannon at the Australian Catholic University has identified the demands of principalship on family life as the strongest factor deterring potential applicants from assuming the role of principal. She has proposed nine points for reducing pressure on principals. Elements of leadership should be distributed to teachers willing to assume more responsibility. Models for shared leadership need to be very adaptable as contexts vary widely. Professional support also needs to be highly customised. To succeed, shared roles need to be based on trust. The role of the principal needs to be balanced between home and work life, and also between system-wide and school-based responsibilities. Women’s distinctive input must be incorporated into support frameworks. Leadership capacity must be built in the school. There are a growing range of postgraduate programs available to aspiring school leaders, including two programs initiated last year at Monash University and the University of Melbourne.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Values education through thinking, feeling and doing
Volume 23 Number 2, August 2005; Pages 39–48
School curriculums have always emphasised objective knowledge, reason and rationality, but there is an increasing need in contemporary societies to balance the acquisition of knowledge with the teaching of values, as individuals, communities and societies are often having to confront a world in which they are required to make values-based choices about the use and distribution of resources, the application of technology and the social value of new research and knowledge. That students in schools confront and interact with values is a given; the problem for Nielsen is how to encourage their conscious interaction with values through a pedagogy which is intended for that purpose. This pedagogy, he observes, should avoid transmission and, instead, take a critical approach to values education, an approach which is best situated within a constructivist pedagogy which also seeks to engage students emotionally and experientially. With regards to engaging students experientially, Nielsen recommends the employment of service learning – ‘a curriculum of giving’ – in which students are encouraged to develop empathy through contributing to others in society.
Subject HeadingsValues education
Values education (character education)
Homework Literature Review – summary of key research findings
November 2004; Pages 1–22
The Department of Education and the Arts (Queensland) conducted a literature review of the available research on homework, with particular attention to its impact on families and students. The review was commissioned in response to community concerns about the amount of work expected of students outside school times, and to inform a community consultation process on education legislation. Among the findings of the review was that homework was generally of benefit to students’ educational outcomes as long as it was not excessive, and that it fostered parental interest in students’ learning – where it was not in competition with family leisure activities and did not place an onerous burden on parents’ roles. It was also found that the law of diminishing returns applies to the setting of homework, as there is a quantifiable point at which the benefit to students began to decrease. The effectiveness of homework can be increased by parents positively influencing the learning environment in the home, and by teachers ensuring that students are equipped to monitor their learning and cognition.
Arts and cultural awareness: learning with young children
Volume 10 Number 2, 2005; Pages 27–29
Schiller describes three projects, centred on the arts in early childhood settings, which were conducted through a partnership between an arts company, Windmill Performing Arts, the University of South Australia (UniSA) and the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services (DECS). The projects consisted of a holiday workshop program for young children, organised by DECS and conducted by preservice teachers from UniSA; a collaboration between a visual artist, a dancer and a musician to teach performance and art-making in early childhood settings; and a longitudinal study, Children’s Voices, which analysed the experiences of children (5–12-year-olds), who would not usually have access to the arts, attending performance art productions hosted by Windmill Performing Arts. Schiller describes the design, implementation and results of the projects for the adult participants and the children, and includes the findings of the longitudinal study, which concluded that there were distinct educational benefits for children from participating in the arts, especially in the areas of multiliteracies, interpersonal relationships and values education.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsArts in education
Early childhood education
Conceptualising diversity – defining the scope of multicultural policy, education and research
Volume 10 Number 2, 2005; Pages 6–9
Multiculturalism, conceptually, is reliant on definitions of majority and minority cultures, and its policy priority has been in assisting minorities to overcome disadvantage. Multiculturalism, in this guise, Kalantzis asserts, is the preserve of minorities, privileges, the notion of a dominant majority culture, and is circumscribed in its relevance to an increasingly complex, diverse global community. Rehabilitating the concept to one which problematises the dualism between minority and majority, could, foreseeably, precipitate a reconceptualisation of the notion of a dominant culture, and force a recognition of the diversity that resides within it. In this way, multiculturalism, and its concomitant, multicultural education, would cease to be a preoccupation of the periphery and, instead, become central to the development of ‘a pragmatics of civic pluralism’, a condition which embraces the diversity and multiple allegiances of a citizenry, and which is both better able to employ diversity at a local and international level, and to inform new educational and research initiatives in the area of diversity and learning.
Quality assessment to support learning
Volume 9 Number 7, August 2005
Content knowledge remains important in curriculum, but over the past decade there has been more emphasis on skills and competencies needed to deal with the growth of ICT and changing work force requirements. Assessment in schools needs to reflect this shift. In A practical guide to alternative assessment (ASCD, 1992) Herman, Aschbacher and Winters set out a number of steps in assessment design. The purpose of the assessment should be clearly communicated to students. Skills should be assessed in proportion to their importance. For example, high priority should be given to skills that take a long time to acquire, that relate to other complex cognitive, social and affective skills, that align closely with core goals of the school or curriculum, and that may be realistically acquired. The type of assessment used, for example multiple choice questions, should match the nature of the task. Tasks should align to students' expected rate of progress, and should use authentic real world situations. There should be clear measurement criteria, for example through exemplars or descriptions of appropriate outcomes. Rather than demanding a grasp of ‘scientific method’, actual components of scientific method should be called for. Ratings by different assessors need to be standardised, for example through documented and tested field guides, clear scoring criteria, examples of student work, by ensuring sufficient practice time and feedback for markers, periodic reliability checks, and regular retraining. The validity and reliability of the assessment needs to be demonstrated. The nature of assessment should be aligned to its specific purpose, for example in giving feedback to students. Teachers need high quality professional development in assessment, especially given the current moves toward more standardised testing.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
Standardising knowledge in a multicultural society
Volume 35 Number 1, Spring 2005; Page 29
A study has examined two sets of curriculum standards documents in California. The English Language Arts (ELA) and the History and Social Science Content Standards both minutely specify content and skills to be learnt. There is a high degree of central control over teaching and learning, especially within the ELA. Compliance with curriculum is enforced at primary school level mainly though the textbook adoption process, and at secondary level mainly through state-wide standardised tests. California’s public school population is 45 per cent Hispanic and only 34 per cent non-Hispanic White. However, the ELA effectively ignores student proficiencies in languages other than English. English proficiency is required for all tests that count towards grade promotion, class placement, and school rankings used to determine funding and state interventions. Apart from oral presentations, the ELA does not draw on the home and community experiences of students. The ELA is heavily phonics-based. The focus on decoding skills rather than on meanings declines after Grade 4 for native English speakers, but remains strong throughout schooling for students from non-English speaking backgrounds, which may block them from literary analysis and other higher level thinking that leads towards tertiary studies. Current literacy debates are concealed, with phonics represented as a consensus position established scientifically. The History and Social Science framework gives a predetermined view of history, rather than offering tools of historical inquiry. It presents the USA as multicultural, but based on Judaio-Christian traditions. US history is described in terms of the spread of Enlightenment ideals, first within the country and then globally through the USA’s expanding influence. The conquest of California from Mexico is marginalised in the curriculum, and covered mainly through maps and timelines. Of American people named for historical study in the Standard, only one per cent were found to be Latino or South American, although there are diverse accounts of European migrant groups. Much of the content focuses on the formal political system. The Californian Content Standards, and the standards-based movement generally, are seen as part of a political reaction against previous education reforms generated by the Civil Rights movement. The article uses Basil Bernstein’s concept of codes of power, classification and frame.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Teaching and learning
Social life and customs
Language and languages
English language teaching
English as an additional language
The development of mathematical discussions: an investigation in a fifth-grade classroom
Volume 7 Number 2, 2005; Pages 111–133
Open discussions in maths classes allow students to articulate and sharpen their ideas and integrate them with those of other students, and are encouraged by the USA’s National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). A researcher in the USA has observed a fifth grade maths classroom over six months, during which the teacher sought to encourage student discussion as a learning method. Data consisted of video and audio tapes, field notes, student work and reflective journals kept by the researcher and teacher. Three classroom episodes illustrate the development in the quality of student discussions and student interactions. Episode 1 documents the interaction between a pair of students who were asked solve a multiple-choice maths problem together, and then find a way to convince the class of their answer. The two students had a ‘parallel conversation’ showing that they were unable or unwilling to listen to each others’ solution methods. This was also the case with other pairs of students. The students did not seem to see it as ‘their role’ to comment on each other’s work. To encourage them to do so, the teacher used whole-class discussion to model the interactions she expected. In Episode 2 later in the year, paired students were now interpreting and responding to each other’s contributions, but still looked to the teacher to approve answers, despite her calls for them to decide their validity themselves. By Episode 3 students were willing to share incomplete ideas and information in class, and use whole-class discussion to seek new ideas and ‘dig deeper into the mathematics of the problem’. By this time, the teacher no longer fed in new mathematical information during class discussion, but simply clarified and rephrased student questions and redirected the topic as needed. Developing rich and valuable class discussions involves use of problem-based tasks, small groups settings, the nature of teacher questioning, growing communicative competence in the students, and encouragement of students to take responsibility for their thinking and interactions. The article draws on Cobb’s five elements of discourse as a theoretical framework.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Inquiry based learning
Language misconceptions of ethnic Southeast Asian primary school students: discussion and implications
Volume 20 Number 3, September 2005; Pages 21–28
A recent study reports on how ambiguous or inconsistent use of English language can lead to mathematical misconceptions among Southeast Asian students. The research examined second generation students in Australian primary schools. Findings follow the results found in previous studies. Participants showed difficulty with mathematical tasks that used culturally specific phrases such as ‘split the bill' or ‘brunch’. Many of these terms could not be directly translated into students’ first languages and had not been personally experienced by the students. Misconceptions were also caused by context-dependent words and concepts that have many different terms to describe them, for example ‘shared’, ‘divided by’ and ‘distributed’. For cultural reasons some students refrained from asking their teachers questions, thinking they would be seen as a mark of disrespect to their elders. A series of strategies to help students overcome language-based misconceptions are offered, with the primary focus on building understanding of concepts. Teachers can consider the words used when selecting resources, introduce terms explicitly and sensitively, provide additional contextual clues, and assist students in decoding these terms in context. Activities should have a real-life application where everyday and specialist meanings for homonymous words can be discussed. Other recommended provisions include adequate thinking time; discussion of why answers are correct or incorrect; support for both visual and verbal logical preferences; and opportunities for students to rationalise, elaborate and justify thinking. Teachers can avoid teaching mathematics as a ‘western idea’ by referencing historical contributions from various cultures, and by using current everyday mathematics examples from other cultures.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
English language teaching
English as an additional language
Stress and the music teacher: preventing burnout
Volume 12 Number 5, April 2005; Pages 51–53
Ongoing stress presents a serious challenge for music teachers, and often results in burnout. Music teachers must cater to a range of ages and skill levels and prepare individual, small group and whole class lessons. They must plan, rehearse and organise concerts and liaise with parents. They often work in several schools at one time and undertake lessons after school and during holidays. Music rooms are often isolated, which can increase feelings of alienation. Many music teachers are subject to high expectations, and fear making mistakes in the easily visible context of performance. As music is often considered outside the core curriculum by parents and administrators, music teachers may also have to fight for time, resources and status in the curriculum. To reduce stress levels, music teachers are encouraged to adopt new ways to reflect on their practice, such as keeping a journal to demonstrate successes, collaborating with colleagues or speaking to friends. Other recommendations include replacing large-scale performances with small, regular sessions, involving parents and administrators in rehearsals and seeking student ideas to retain creativity in performances.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
The country's calling
24 October 2005
The Victorian Government has introduced three programs to recruit and retain teachers in rural and remote schools. The Department has filled 808 country positions since 2001 through these programs. The Career Change pilot project provides financial assistance, paid study leave and a tailored course of classroom experience and practical theory for established engineers, IT specialists, scientists, tradespeople and other professionals. A revised scholarship program offers beginning and experienced teachers up-front incentives of $3,000 to $5,000 to fill country teaching positions. Schools in more remote, inland areas attract greater bonuses. A retention bonus of up to $4,000 is paid to teachers who remain in their position for over three years and two months. A third scheme encourages students to complete teaching rounds in the country. It offers a $900 up-front payment toward travel and accommodation. Some country schools have developed their own strategies, such as offering field trips for teaching students to experience the benefits of country-based practice. These benefits include greater responsibilities which can help fast-track teaching careers, and a sense of belonging and respect in a small community. Some teachers have found country students have a stronger work ethic than their city contemporaries. Negative aspects of teaching in a small community include infringements on personal time and often poorly-maintained Department accommodation. A related article discusses one teacher’s experience in a remote Indigenous setting.
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