What's all the fuss? Informed, critical learners – isn't that what democracy is all about?
Volume 35 Number 3, November 2005; Pages 26–27
This article contains two separate contributions from the authors on the subject of Critical Literacy, and its importance to democratic societies. Williams and Parker concur that, in the current controversy about the content of the English curriculum, a false dichotomy has been created between Critical Literacy and teaching ‘the basics’, or a traditional English course with texts from the accepted literary canon. Critical Literacy, they assert, has not been undertaken at the expense of a more traditional approach to English teaching, rather it is an extra dimension to the English curriculum which allows students to situate the texts they read within the discourses and cultural contexts that inform them. This higher order skill is reliant on students’ competence with basic literacy skills, but it also allows them to critically engage with texts, by questioning their ideological influences and assumptions – an analysis which is as valid and educationally fruitful whether the text is contemporary or part of the established canon. Moreover, implicit in Critical Literacy approaches are principles such as freedom, respect for diversity and fairness – values that are a necessary part of citizenship in liberal democracies, and therefore crucial to students’ education.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Blogging essentials for teachers and learners
Number 111, Spring 2005; Pages 8–11
Weblogging, the practice of maintaining a website with regular postings of personal opinion and autobiographical writings, was included in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2003 and has become a popular means of communication on the Internet, with the identification of over 14.2 million such websites in July 2005. Blogging is a form of information literacy, as it has a specific set of practices and tools and a set of conventions which are accepted by bloggers and users of their sites. As such, it is a skill which students will need as participants in the online environment. Furthermore, as Fraser asserts, it is also compatible with constructivist learning approaches, as it facilitates collaboration and student-centred pedagogies. This article contains a short history of the origins of the practice of weblogging, explains the practice and nomenclature of webloggers, and explores the cultural and ethical conventions which have become established in this form of online community.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Coaching for leadership in schools
Volume 27 Number 4, 2005; Pages 42–44
A recent initiative in Victoria has involved school principals in a coaching program in order to help them to refine key leadership skills, such as leading and managing change, motivating staff, strategic planning, and reflecting on their role as school leaders. Coaching allows those who have been coached to find space to reflect on their abilities and skills, to share their challenges with people who can help them to delve into the underlying assumptions of a problem, and to discover their potential for professional growth. McCoy suggests, however, that coaching should not be confined to just those in senior positions, as the same leadership skills and competencies are often needed at other levels of organisations. Year Level coordinators, for instance, often need to manage conflict, motivate staff, and delegate responsibility. Assisting personnel at lower levels in organisational hierarchies to become better leaders enables them to be more effective in their work, and also prepares them for more advanced levels of leadership.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
School improvement: the quest for continuous renewal
Volume 27 Number 4, 2005; Pages 16–19 & 36–38
O’Donnell discerns two pathways to school renewal – increasing accountability and school development – which, while not mutually exclusive, involve different approaches to school reform, a distinction that is often not made by those pursuing that initiative. Increasing a school’s accountability involves aligning the school’s objectives with a set of external criteria, which can also be a useful means for making comparisons between schools. School development, however, is about generating capacity within a school to bring about change, and involves a collaborative effort by staff to bring about agreed reforms. Schools should be clear about which pathway there are pursuing before undertaking reform, as the lack of clarity between the two approaches often undermines school reform initiatives. In this article, O’Donnell defines the two approaches, before outlining and describing the ingredients for creating internal capacity for change within schools, such as having a shared vision, reforming school culture, establishing a professional learning community, leadership and strategic planning. The purpose and composition of school reviews in the school reform process are also given detailed consideration.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Education aims and objectives
If the aim of school reform is student learning … then what’s next?
Volume 27 Number 4, 2005; Pages 10–12 & 46–48
While there has been an emphasis on school reform over recent decades, Townsend observes that it has had little if any impact on student achievement. A survey of international comparative studies, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Program for International Student Achievement (PISA), conducted among OECD countries shows that student performances have not improved over time, and in some cases have regressed. In light of this paradoxical situation, Townsend draws attention to an aspect of learning measured by PISA, student engagement at school, which in the study is measured through gauging students’ sense of belonging and participation. In the PISA study, there was a positive correlation between student engagement and achievement, a finding that has implications for school curriculum and the relationships between teachers and students. In his consideration of elevating the level of student engagement with school, Townsend recommends a radical change to the curriculum, a change to one that emphasises ‘human skills’, an approach to teaching that builds relationships with students and accommodates their perspectives on learning, and a reconsideration of the meaning of teacher capability to include ‘ability, values and self-efficacy'.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Education aims and objectives
A decade for progress
Summer 2005; Pages 4–6
The United Nations’ Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005–2014) aims to reduce environmental destruction and improve quality of life by increasing students’ knowledge, promoting informed decision making, and changing behaviours. The decade’s aims are supported in Environment Australia’s Environmental Education for a Sustainable Future – National Action Plan and the recently released Educating for a Sustainable Future for schools. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is more comprehensive than environmental education. ESD encourages teachers and students to consider ‘economic goals, social needs and ecological responsibility' and to reflect broadly and critically on behaviours and values, rather than just seeking to resolve immediate problems. Students are also required to explore ‘participatory and citizen action’ as individuals and in groups, rather than relying on science and technology for solutions. The Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative is one program under which ESD is being applied to teaching, curriculum reform and educational management. To ensure it is taught effectively, ESD should be integrated across the existing curriculum rather than taught separately. Professional development must be provided for teachers. ESD should be monitored throughout the decade, with local, national and regional measures established and reported bi-annually.
Subject HeadingsSustainable development
Different circumstances, shared challenges: finding common ground between urban and rural schools
Volume 87 Number 2, October 2005; Pages 123–130
Even though schools are often classified by their geography in policy-makers’ formulations of their profiles and needs, US rural and urban disadvantaged schools often face similar challenges, and, according to the authors, should align with each other to bring about reform. Classifying schools by the problems they confront allows them to overcome the arbitrariness imposed on them by their geography, and forces them to see the commonalities in their individual plights. For example, rural and disadvantaged schools in urban areas often have to cope with highly mobile populations caused by the employment needs of families. Furthermore, childhood poverty as well as overall disadvantage in the local community affect poor urban schools as well as rural schools, as both have to suffer the effects of the flight of more affluent families from their schools and communities. Given the problems and disadvantage that these schools face, retaining teachers is another common challenge, with new graduates often declining to teach in hard-to-staff schools. The authors contend that schools in disadvantaged communities are often at the mercy of policy makers who are responding to priorities and value changes which have little, if anything, to do with the challenges which confront rural and poor urban schools, such as the paucity of funding and the effects of socioeconomic disadvantage. Poor urban and rural schools, in together recognising the common challenges they confront, could be a stronger political force, and exert more pressure on the policy-making process.
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
What educators need to explain to the public
Volume 87 Number 2, October 2005; Pages 154–158
Those outside the teaching profession often have assumptions of education that are based on misconceptions and half-truths, according to Rich. These misconceptions often inhibit attempts by educators to explain the complexity of their roles to parents and others external to the education sector. In this article, Rich classifies seventeen misconceptions and half-truths which have formed people’s commonsense notions of education, and classifies them into three categories: 'assumptions that mislead'; 'solutions that don’t solve'; and 'blame that has no end'. The purpose behind this endeavour is to help educators to identify the assumptions others use when criticising the profession, in order to correct their misconceptions. For example, ‘assumptions that mislead’ include the belief that ‘schools are the primary source of education’, that test scores are ideal for measuring achievement, and that children come to school prepared to learn. ‘Solutions that don’t solve’ encompass assertions that reading is paramount, that better qualified teachers are the panacea to poor levels of achievements, and that merely by raising standards educational outcomes will improve. Rich’s overall message is that any reforms to education need to take account of its complexity and, therefore, have to be holistic, ensuring that ‘we build better students’ to ‘build better test scores’.
Education aims and objectives
Video games and the future of learning
Volume 87 Number 2, October 2005; Pages 105–111
The increasing dissonance between school curriculums and post-industrial society has undermined the relevance of the learning experiences provided by schools to the requirements of that society. Creating a new model of learning might require educationists to consider the powerful learning experiences provided by video games, an arena in which young people are already participating and creating their own knowledge and learning. The authors point out that the value of video games to education is not in their entertainment capability, but rather in their capacity to involve players in virtual worlds, which encourages contextual knowledge and understandings of those worlds’ identities, values and social practices, in much the same way that professional communities are constructed. This aspect of video games allows them to be adapted to educational contexts, as it becomes possible for students to engage the world of professional communities – architects, town planners, journalists and scientists – by participating in video game simulations which have adopted those communities’ epistemological frameworks, their knowledge practices, in the virtual world. According to the authors, this model of learning allows students to engage in educational experiences which are relevant to post-industrial societies, as they are learning the ‘core skills’ of ‘socially valued practitioners’. An additional educational approach inherent in this learning model is its invitation to pose problems outside the epistemological frameworks in which students are working, forcing them to become aware of the limitations of their approach, and encouraging them to develop new ways of thinking and problem solving.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Education aims and objectives
Reframing learning through wireless technologies
July 2005; Pages 43–49
The rise of mobile or wireless technology has seen the convergence of cell phones, laptops and personal digital assistants or hand-held computers. These tools can now serve as a diary, digital camera, Internet browser, email service and graphic calculator, as well as music player. Mobile technology is beginning to dominate ICT in many contexts. Such devices allow for mobile learning, known as ‘m-learning’, in schools. They are more flexible and much less disruptive to teaching practices than fixed computers, but drawbacks include tiny screens and limited computing power. ICT is typically assimilated into existing practices, for example by using SMS text messaging to notify parents of their child’s absence from school. However, m-learning is starting to be used in more innovative ways, for example in Queensland where teachers are to receive hand-held devices for use with lesson planning, staff communication and documentation of student performance. Most teachers need more training about how to integrate mobile devices into their teaching, but m-learning is likely to impact on schools in many ways, for example in 2002, New Zealand students used cell phones to support a teachers’ strike. Opposition to ICT in school education is not always backward looking. There are serious fears that students will misuse such devices at school, either as toys for non-educational play and discussion, to cheat on tests, to remove or sabotage school data, or for bullying. These issues should be addressed through dialogue with students, and should be taught together with the technical use of such equipment. More broadly, ICT is often associated with consumerism and extreme individualism that influences students heavily, and can impact strongly on school culture. ICT is often linked with values hostile to the idea of education as a public good, such as when it is used in school ‘branding’ as part of market competition with other schools. As schools are increasingly freed from government regulation, they are often more exposed to such pressures. M-learning should not be used to reproduce existing economic and social conditions, but should play its part in transforming education, aiding social justice and helping to produce ‘critical thinkers, critical consumers and critical citizens’.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Motivating boys and motivating girls
Volume 49 Number 3, 2005; Pages 320–334
A study of 964 lower and middle high school students has investigated the relationship of student gender and teacher gender to students’ motivation and engagement at school. The study covered Years 8 and 10 students in mathematics classes from five coeducational government schools. The relationship was explored at the student, class and school levels. It covered students’ enjoyment of the subject, their aspirations to further study in it, teacher–student relationships and academic resilience, ie capacity to handle study pressures. Teachers administered the Student Motivation and Engagement Scale and related items, in which students were asked to rate themselves on a scale on adaptive cognitions, such as mastery orientation, and adaptive behaviours, such as persistence and planning. The data was analysed through confirmatory factor analysis and multilevel modelling. The study supports the ‘gender invariant’ model, finding that the academic motivation and engagement of girls and boys is not significantly influenced by having male or female teachers. The only significant gender relationships were that girls reported better relationships with female teachers, while boys displayed no gender preference. The gender difference was not found to increase with student age. Girls displayed better study management, mastery orientation and academic resilience, but were also more anxious about study than boys. Year level was found to influence motivation significantly, with a drop in motivation, engagement and performance from junior to middle school for both sexes. The motivation of girls, but not boys, was found to rise in senior high school. Student-level factors were much more important than class-level factors in influencing motivation, and variation between schools was insignificant. Earlier research by one of the authors suggests that students may have a marginal preference for same-sex teachers with regard to personal and emotional issues. Future research should study longitudinal changes and should also cover younger children.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsState schools
Developing school leaders with the commitment and capacity to pursue the common good
Schools are expected to play a key role in addressing social challenges such as intense market competition, ICT, the growing divide between rich and poor, and terrorism. Governments demand a smarter work force from schools. Parents look to schools to instil discipline and responsibility. Social welfare agencies highlight the increasing fragmentation and hardship within families and communities. School leaders must perform more managerial and accountability-related roles. Catholic school leaders are called upon to play a greater religious role, in the community as well as in the school, such as conducting funerals. All these demands place considerable pressures on existing leaders and discourage new leaders from stepping forward. The 2003 project, Leadership Succession for Catholic Schools in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania (VSAT), investigated opinions about school leadership held by deputy principals, curriculum coordinators and religious education coordinators in Catholic primary and secondary schools. The study used a questionnaire and follow-up interviews. Participants were asked to describe their career aspirations, and the factors that would encourage or discourage them from becoming principals. About a third of participants were applying or thinking of applying for principal positions, however the study provides ‘no information about the quality of the applicants’. The most significant disincentives to applying for principalship were its likely impact on family and personal life. Another concern was the perceived transparency and fairness of the principal selection process. Participants referred to a lack of constructive feedback after unsuccessful applications, and expressed doubts about the knowledge and qualifications of selection panel members. Two groups of participants – primary school leaders, and leaders who did not intend to apply for principalship – ranked an unsupportive external environment as the most important disincentive. Issues included the threat of litigation, media criticism and industrial relations. A number of female participants perceived males to be advantaged in the selection process. The number of men willing to apply to become principals was two and a half times that of women, which is ‘very unhealthy’ given that 70 per cent of the teaching force is female. The Flagship for Catholic Educational Leadership is designed to support Catholic school leaders. It sets out the ethos and purpose of Catholic schooling. To assist Diocesan authorities in succession planning, it also identifies a number of qualities as key elements of Catholic education.
The successful school: a genuine trend or statistical artifice?
Most Australian education systems have developed data-driven and outcomes-focused processes of internal school review. The school level focus is of concern, given research that indicates that the greatest contribution to student outcomes is due to the quality of individual teachers; however, given this system focus, it is important that schools can make effective use of their data. Statistical literacy requires not just statistical skills, but also awareness of the contribution of social context to the results expressed by the figures. Schools are expected to draw on data from sources such as Queensland’s School Improvement and Accountability Framework (SIAF) and the New South Wales Basic Skills Test (BST). The current paper illustrates these issues by describing the use of BST data by ‘Peppercorn Primary School’. The school serves a disadvantaged community in northern regional New South Wales. The impetus for the current study was the principal’s perception that boys at the school were performing better than girls, against the national trend, and her wish to know why. The paper describes a range of problems in interpretation of school data. One problem is the difficulty of using trend data over several years for school review, when circumstances at the school can change considerably in that time. Another issue is ‘moving averages’, and the ways that the significance of average can be distorted by a few extreme ‘outlier’ results, for example a cohort’s performance is distorted by one or two exceptional children. The author concludes that different interpretations of data can be given depending on the choice of statistical technique, and that teachers and principals need to be aware of these issues.
Independent schools and accountability: the national agenda
Independent schools are publicly accountable in a range of ways. In purely educational terms they must meet government registration requirements, which usually specify elements of the curriculum. They must meet credentialling requirements to offer examinable courses and Year 12 certificates. Financially, they must supply audited annual financial statements. Socially, independent schools must adhere to the National Goals of Schooling, comply with laws governing corporate boards, comply with disability practices, and maintain not-for-profit status. Under the ‘new federalism’, the Australian Government is ready to ‘buy and regulate its way into what has traditionally been the domain of State and Territory governments’, and its involvement in school education continues to deepen. For some years it has involved and monitored independent schools as part of its commitment to testing and benchmarking literacy and numeracy; improving Indigenous education, maths and science teaching; and improving teaching in general. In 2003, the Australian Government introduced the National Education Framework for Schools. In 2004, it made school funding dependent on adherence to new reporting requirements including ‘plain language’ reports to parents. It demanded compulsory physical education and compliance with a uniform school starting age by 2010. It also required formal commitment to the National Safe Schools Framework; common outcomes testing in Maths, Science, English and Civics and Citizenship; and a commitment to fly the Australian flag. The Schools Assistance Act was passed in December 2004, with its associated regulations still outstanding and still subject to ongoing negotiation with other education jurisdictions in Australia. The Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA) has queried the educational value of some of the draft regulations, including the administrative burden and costs of the reporting processes which sometimes duplicate State requirements. In 2006, a ‘crunch year’ for performance reporting, independent schools will have to demonstrate compliance with accountability requirements. The Government aims to empower parents, for example by channelling capital funding directly through government school organisations. Meanwhile, other parties have put forward a range of funding models for schools. Proposals include an integrated funding system that would align practices in independent schools more closely to government schools. Such moves would undermine the core freedom of non-government schools to set their fees and serve particular communities. At the same time government schools are being encouraged to behave more like independent schools, with more autonomy allowed to their principals, which challenges independent schools to find ways to remain distinctive.
Subject HeadingsEducation finance
School and community
Accountability: what does it mean for independent schools?
At least four aspects of the drive for accountability have the potential to harm independent schools. Firstly there is the tendency of government to use schools politically, by making them provide ‘quick fix’ programs to solve wider social problems such as shifts in the labour market and poor levels of health and wellbeing. Such programs dilute schools’ core work around teaching and learning, impose administrative and cost pressures, and discourage applications for principal positions. Schools become ‘the repositories of blame for society’s ills’. Secondly, the standardised testing linked to accountability pushes schools to find ways to raise mandated test scores without necessarily lifting learning, eg when teachers teach to the test, or when schools remove low performing students. Finnish expert Dr Pasi Sahlberg has linked his country’s top school performance to the avoidance of intensive standardised testing, which suppresses creativity, flexibility and risk taking and ignores teachers’ expertise. Evaluation of schools through standardised test results also tends to pit independent schools against each other. Thirdly, the push for accountability works against the local control of curriculum, teaching, assessment and reporting that are key reasons for the success of independent schools. Fourthly, independent schools are effectively obliged to direct considerable resources into frequent and unproductive consultation and review processes with government. While independent schools have no choice but to comply with accountability requirements, they can employ strategies to ‘make accountability work for us’. When forced to collect data, schools should make sure the data is understood and used well. Schools should foster their own accountability mechanisms that encourage ‘strong and binding professional norms about what constitutes high quality teaching practice’, backed up by a supportive environment. Independent schools should work together and resist the pressure to compete. Schools should reserve their energy for ‘the big fights’ and not dispute small issues like ‘putting up flagpoles’. The school community should be kept informed, and told of local developments before the publication of test results.
Values education (character education)
School and community