Whole-school literacy success against the odds
Volume 14 Number 2, June 2006; Pages 9–17
‘Greenleaf Girls High School’ is in a disadvantaged area of Sydney, but its NESB students consistently score above the State average in every English course offered. Literacy work is led by a team of ‘Support staff’, including specialists in ESL or learning difficulties, community liaison officers and a librarian. Most have had extensive experience of mainstream teaching at the school. The Head Teacher Support is a key leader, involved in curriculum planning for all KLAs and designs professional development programs for staff. Year 7 classes are formed only after a four-week, whole-school orientation program, which is used to diagnose students’ needs and abilities in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving. The structure of Year 7 classes is decided each year by the Support team. A Running with Reading program for Years 7 and 8 is staffed by English or ESL teachers, the librarian or Support staff. Staff also work one to one with students to develop specific reading programs. A ‘Readers Theatre’ engages students with the books. Students are directed to ‘streamed’ reading boxes covering a wide range of material, and teacher-designed worksheets with comprehension and thinking activities. Reading Time is a set of units with further comprehension activities for Years 7 to 9, developed by the Support staff. Peer tutoring of the most at-risk Year 7 students is given by students in Year 10 or 11, who are trained in current reading pedagogy and gain TAFE accreditation. There is a Thinking Skills program for Year 7 students, a study centre offering one-to-one tuition and a homework centre after school. The PSFP funds extensive professional development at the school. PD is focused on whole-school priorities. Teachers in all subject areas are ‘saturated’ with the idea that literacy is central to their discipline, and create subject resources around students’ specific literacy abilities and needs. The school culture is shaped by high levels of continuity in core staffing, producing a deep awareness of the school context that encourages rather than inhibits innovation. The success and continuity of the school literacy programs give any new reform an incremental rather than disruptive quality.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
New South Wales (NSW)
English as an additional language
English language teaching
Closing the gap and accelerating learning in the middle years of schooling
Volume 14 Number 2, 5 June 2006; Pages 32–45
Learning to Read: Reading to Learn (LRRL) is a literacy program for middle years’ students. It has been highly successful in advancing reading skills, particularly for struggling readers. It has been implemented over three years with more than 1,000 students as part of the middle years professional learning project run by the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne. Common literacy teaching strategies rely on students’ previously acquired skills and knowledge when they commence a reading or writing exercise. As their uneven background preparation is inevitably revealed, students are often grouped by skill level, which progressively widens the gap in literacy skills between them. In contrast, the LRRL works to overcome this initial inequality through a six-step ‘curriculum cycle’. During the first step, Preparing before Reading, the teacher selects a passage from a major fiction or non-fiction text in the syllabus for intensive reading. The teacher writes up background knowledge about the text, summarises what happens at each stage of it, then reads it aloud. During the next step, Detailed Reading, the teacher discusses the text phrase by phrase, rephrasing it if necessary, relating it to the overall meaning of the passage, and drawing attention to the author’s patterning of language for possible later use by students. During Preparation for Writing the teacher provides notes to help students write a new text patterned on the passage being studied, which is then carried out during the Joint Rewriting, Individual Rewriting and Independent Writing steps. A professional development component of LRRL enables teachers to prepare these scaffolding lessons. The LRRL identifies textual patterning within whole passages, within sentences and within words. These three levels need to be addressed at once, which is not done by phonics-based, whole-language or critical literacy approaches. The article also describes the Middle Years’ Literacy Project within which the LRRL is situated. The LRRL is also described in author David Rose’s submission to the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy 2005. The LRRL is predominantly run off-site, supported by school visits from a project officer. It is integrated with normal classroom programs and is designed to be ongoing.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Changing representations to learn primary science concepts
Volume 52 Number 4, Summer 2006; Pages 17–21
A study has investigated ways to help primary students recognise and represent scientific concepts and methods across different modes, such as words, graphs and numbers. The researchers met with a Year 4 class teacher and a Year 5/6 composite class teacher to plan suitable student projects. The researchers then observed classes during the projects, and held discussions and interviews with the teachers. The researchers also interviewed the individual students, both during class time and at the end of each project. The Year 4 project was on the topic of electricity. Students constructed simple circuits using globes and batteries. The Year 5/6 project had the theme of collisions and force, and used inquiry to prompt students to represent concepts in diverse ways. The projects showed that students’ grasp of underlying concepts was developed by their efforts to articulate these concepts within specific representations, but also showed that the ability to create an adequate representation was no guarantee that they had truly grasped the underlying concepts. The researchers drew a number of conclusions. Teachers need to convey explicitly to students that the observation, measurement, reasoning and explanation used to identify causal relationships in natural phenomena necessarily involve multiple modes of representation. Teachers need to be clear themselves about scientific concepts and processes so that they can show students the continuity of underlying concepts beneath changing representations. Students need many repeated opportunities to explain the links between concepts, their representations and their referents in the natural world. Teachers need to keep presenting newly studied concepts in 2D, 3D and verbal forms, as expressed for example in the Primary Connections teacher professional development program. The capacity of students to create such representations is crucial for both formative and summative assessment purposes. Students also need to understand the form and function of the various features found within types of representations, such as the different meaning of arrows in different diagrams. As they advance through year levels, students should be guided toward using progressively more complex forms of representation.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsAudiovisual education
Making the familiar strange
Volume 4 Number 2, 2006; Pages 39–41
Research can ‘make the familiar strange’ by generating findings that challenge existing, comfortable assumptions. The process creates uncertainty, until a new, higher level of understanding can be reached. A challenging process of this kind is needed in the field of school library research. Ross Todd, an expert in teacher librarianship, conducted a study of all 154 school library programs in the US state of Delaware. The research consisted of interviews with library media specialists (LMS). The article describes one group of findings from the study, focusing on the links between school library programs and the quality of student instruction. The study found that only 40 per cent of LMS had formal arrangements in place with teachers to integrate information literacy into the English curriculum, and the figure was considerably lower in other subject areas. Library–teacher collaboration typically did not take place at all in elementary (primary) schools where there were no LMS on site. In general, the proportion of LMS focusing on higher-order thinking skills was low. Primary age children were also found to be missing out on opportunities to learn critical skills related to ICT. Passive reading activities, such as book displays, were far more common than those permitting active engagement, such as discussion groups or literature circles. LMS struggled to articulate outcomes of library initiatives in terms of curriculum standards. Many respondents also tended to define their work in terms of ‘instructional inputs and processes’ rather than in terms of students' outcomes. The article includes a list of the survey questions and definitions of terms used.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
The author presents a manifesto for ‘re-imagining’ education, drawing on the themes of his recently published book, Re-imagining Educational Leadership. The implementation of system-wide transformational change requires a change in the way the public service and schools relate, with strong leadership in schools and school systems. Outstanding school leaders should be assigned as ‘system leaders’ who support a number of schools. School leaders should have the opportunity to examine transformation first hand in different settings and take part in related professional development, and those in large or challenging schools should receive substantial salary increases. School leaders should also be provided with ICT systems to manage all aspects of school operations including curriculum, pedagogy, accounting and accountability, as well as administration, business and finance support staff. Strategic outsourcing from market suppliers should be used to address short-term needs, one of which should be increased application of ICT packages to office management. Networks are central to the vision of ‘re-imagined’ education. Shared leadership processes where leadership responsibilities are distributed across and within a school will become common. Education systems should become agencies of support for schools, providing mechanisms for resources allocation, standards and accountability. New standards of professional support should be developed for system personnel. Partnerships between schools, public and private enterprises should be developed. The success of students is heavily influenced by the quality of teaching. Teachers should be highly valued professionals. PISA studies show excellent outcomes are achieved by Finnish students, perhaps because teachers are required to possess a Master’s degree. Schools should be able to adopt different strategies to recruit globally, and adequately reward and ensure the ongoing professional learning of teachers. Most school buildings should be re-built so they are fit for current educational purposes. (See summary of Re-imagining Educational Leadership in this edition of Curriculum Leadership Journal.)
Subject HeadingsSchool administration
Volume 64 Number 3, November 2006; Pages 8–13
The US national education policy No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is set apart from previous policies by its focus on holding schools accountable for student achievement on standardised tests. Schools that do not meet proficiency requirements face punitive consequences. Parents may be offered opportunities to transfer their children elsewhere, or schools may be required to supply supplementary services such as tutoring or after-school classes. Schools considered ‘in need of improvement’ for five consecutive years risk being restructured or taken over by the state. As January 2007 marks the fifth anniversary of NCLB’s implementation, these severe consequences may be imminent for some schools. Many educators are concerned that such sanctions have not been proven to raise student achievement, and have succeeded only in stifling innovation and narrowing the curriculum. Teachers are pressured into ‘teaching for the test’, neglecting curriculum areas that are not assessed. This includes subjects such as history, art, music and physical education, as well as intangibles like school culture and student wellbeing. However difficult to measure, these qualities are important factors in student achievement. Experts also argue that standardised testing fails to pick up on even significant instructional improvements, bringing its usefulness as a determinant of school quality into question. Some ‘tinkering’ is underway to fix NCLB’s most obvious flaws. New flexibility has been introduced into testing to better accommodate the special needs of some student groups. Extra tutoring is being prioritised over widening school choices for students in struggling schools. For many educators, though, a more sophisticated approach to assessment is required overall. Various states and districts are experimenting with different types of evidence for demonstrating student proficiency over time. Greater variety in assessments enables more meaningful data to be collected, which can then be used to inform and improve instruction. Although the transparency that NCLB has brought is welcome, this transparency could be put to better use if better data is collected, to paint a more accurate picture of both schools and their students. The article includes the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development's own legislative agenda for policy change.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
United States of America (USA)
January 2006; Pages 1–9
The Family Literacy program in South Auckland is a partnership between Auckland University of Technology, the City of Manukau Education Trust, and a primary school and kindergarten in the Manukau area. It assists parents of children at the kindergarten or primary school to gain a literacy qualification and actively participate in their child’s literacy learning. Because most program participants have had unsuccessful experiences in their own schooling, it is important that Family Literacy is an enjoyable and valuable experience for them. The program illustrates the Appreciative Inquiry approach to research. Appreciative Inquiry seeks to move beyond deficit-based language focused on ‘problems’ or ‘gaps’ to generate a ‘hope-filled discourse’, focusing on best and ideal practice. For educators, ideal practice is that which reflects the core educational vision of holistic and transformative learning. One of the Family Literacy facilitators used Appreciative Inquiry to ascertain what program participants valued most about their learning experience. In voluntary group meetings, participants were asked to provide two significant memories about their learning in the program. They were also asked to describe their ‘perfect’ learning environment, and which social aspects of the Family Literacy learning community had contributed most to their success in the program. Numerous themes emerged in their responses. Participants appreciated the adult educators’ ability to demonstrate flexibility, and move through various roles, such as tutor, inspirer, and friend. A warm, supportive environment, in which all learners were included and respected, was also important. Learners valued the opportunities they had to have fun in their learning and share their experiences with each other. They were also very explicit about the importance of involving their families/whanau in their learning journey. The research suggests that holistic and transformative learning contexts do exist, and that describing these through Appreciative Inquiry enables a new connectedness between imaginative speculation and authentic learning experiences.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsLifelong Learning
Initial teacher education students' views on play as a medium for learning – a divergence of personal philosophy and practice
Volume 15 Number 3, October 2006; Pages 307–320
Young children's play has been identified as a key element in effective learning. Recently, the Welsh Assembly announced its Foundation Phase strategy for teaching three to seven year olds, which incorporates play-based learning. The British Government’s new primary schooling strategy, Excellence and Enjoyment, implies a move in a similar direction. Play is characterised by a number of features. It is child-led and voluntary. It focuses on process and activity rather than the final product. It is low risk and highly engaging; and it has potential to build knowledge through experimentation. Some theorists view Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) as a threat to play-based learning, others see ICT as another play resource. A study of a cohort of Welsh student teachers explored the suitability of play as a vehicle for developing the students’ own ICT capabilities, and also examined the extent to which the student teachers subsequently incorporated play-based ICT learning into their teaching practices. The student teachers were given a short introduction to new interactive whiteboard software, and were left to experiment with its various functions. A trainer was available to answer questions and assess their emerging competencies. All participants significantly increased their expertise using the software during the session. Almost all indicated that play was important in learning to use new technologies for them personally. The ability to work at their own pace, lack of pressure to succeed and enjoyment were most frequently cited as positive aspects of the session. Almost all participants felt that play was also an important learning method for young children. However, in their teaching placements, virtually none of the student teachers used play-based methods to develop children’s ICT capabilities, or observed the use of such methods during their placement classes. Among the reasons given were: time pressure due to the demands of the national curriculum; limited computer access; a focus on testing; or lack of confidence on the part of the teacher mentor, student or children in using technology. Some students were also unsure how to differentiate building ICT capability from building knowledge in other areas using ICT. These inhibiting factors need to be addressed before play-based education policies can be translated into practice for ICT learning.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Reducing student 'suspension rates' and engaging students in learning: principal and teacher approaches that work
Volume 9 Number 3, November 2006; Pages 239–250
Following public outcry at a violent incident involving New South Wales school students, the New South Wales Government commissioned a series of studies into student welfare and discipline. Two focused on suspension and expulsion practices in New South Wales schools. Through statistical analysis, school visits and stakeholder interviews, the studies revealed a significant ‘school effect’ on suspension rates. While suspensions are often attributed to schools being situated in ‘difficult’ communities, researchers found that two schools serving the same community could have very different suspension records. Three case studies demonstrate the measures schools can take to lower their suspension rates. The first school, in a remote Indigenous community, worked closely with the community to determine appropriate standards for behaviour, and involved community members as both teachers and learners at the school. The school also provided substantial teacher professional development in positive approaches to behaviour management, and developed new curriculum materials tailored to its students, including a peer tutoring program. The second case study school serves a poor and highly multicultural community. Its new principal set out to improve student engagement and behaviour by introducing a number of non-traditional curriculum options. The principal struggled to gain community support for the curriculum changes, but is making gradual progress in decreasing suspensions. The last case study school also serves a multicultural community with a history of violence. The principal focused on educating students, teachers and the community about anti-racism and conflict management strategies. The school provided schoolwork to suspended students, and developed a comprehensive counselling program to help students reintegrate into schooling. The emphasis on ‘pedagogy over punishment’ in the case study schools contrasted dramatically with schools in the study that viewed suspensions as the result of deficits in the student or the school community. Like other schools with lower suspension rates, all three schools embraced a belief that the school, working with parents, external agencies and the community, has an important role to play in reducing student exclusion.
Subject HeadingsNew South Wales (NSW)
Suspension of students
Expulsion of students
Volume 9 Number 3, November 2006; Pages 251–260
The Wroxham Primary School near London was described by school inspectors in 2001 as in dire need of ‘special measures’, and in 2006 as ‘outstanding’. Wroxham’s principal describes its transformation. The principal was driven to assume the role, her first principalship, by a desire to prove that labelling schools and students on the basis of ability is neither accurate nor helpful. While her decisions were ‘taken from the heart’ during the time of rapid change, subsequent reflection and research has shed light on the process of leadership for school improvement. The principal set out to establish meaningful dialogue at all levels in the school, so that students, teachers and the community could feel that they had a voice that would be listened to. She began by meeting with each teacher to identify what they enjoyed in their work, and what they felt would help them. She worked with the teachers as she worked with her class, fostering energy, creativity and a positive, collaborative learning environment. School activities were redesigned to provide the widest possible range of first-hand experiences, from rock music to science to design and technology. Children were given greater responsibility for choosing activities at an appropriate level, and monitoring their learning through self-assessment journals and peer appraisals. A sense of trust between students and teachers gradually developed, as students came to feel that they had choices in their learning. Every term, the school holds a Learning Review Day, to enable children, parents, teachers and the principal to discuss children’s progress and future needs. The transformation of the school’s learning environment provides ‘insight into a fraction of what could be possible if only we allowed ourselves to take more risks and trust our young people’. The school is now working on publicising its achievements, with a group of children giving a presentation at the University of Cambridge in 2006.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Informal learning and its relevance to the early professional development of teachers in secondary schools in England and Wales
Volume 32 Number 3, September 2006; Pages 301–319
New teachers in England and Wales receive a competency-driven program of induction, requiring them to demonstrate that they have satisfied specified induction criteria. Critics of competency-based approaches argue that they risk producing teachers who are mere ‘technicians’, and reduce teaching to a fragmented set of skills. In England, new teachers have no entitlement to professional development for the first two years of teaching after the induction year. In Wales, some funding is available, but tied to government priorities. None of these current provisions acknowledge the importance of informal school-based learning during the first few years of teaching. Informal learning may occur in three ways. It may be deliberative, fulfilling explicit learning goals such as asking a colleague how they would tackle a particular problem. It may also be implicit, occurring without a deliberate effort to learn, such as an experienced teacher who intuitively knows how to cope with a difficult child but cannot explain how they know. The third type of informal learning, reactive learning, occurs in teachers’ spontaneous responses to specific situations. A proposed model of informal learning for new teachers links these three types of learning to development across cognitive, affective and behavioural domains, helping new teachers to shape all aspects of their professional identities throughout the crucial early years of teaching. While the highly individualised nature of informal learning is less easily linked to performance management objectives, it is no less important than the formal professional development programs which are currently prioritised.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Using an established school improvement program to build capacity at school and system level: the Hong Kong IQEA Programme
January 2006; Pages 1–17
Adapting Britain’s IQEA model of school improvement for implementation in Hong Kong has generated some valuable insights into the school improvement process. Conceptually, the IQEA model is straightforward: identify areas for improvement from evidence-based analysis of the school's current situation, select a limited number of priorities for action, then develop classroom and management arrangements as necessary to build the school’s capacity to pursue its objectives. Establishing such arrangements involves the development of a shared vision, overcoming the inevitable differences among staff through the process of collaboration while leaving room for constructive dissent and individual autonomy. Implementation of IQEA in Hong Kong has revealed certain conditions which can inhibit schools’ willingness to pursue improvement strategies, including competition among schools, disillusionment from over-exposure to multiple school improvement projects, and entrenched traditional models of pedagogy and school leadership. At the same time, Hong Kong’s schools have many strengths, including strong motivation to improve, cooperative working relationships and positive student attitudes. IQEA has already yielded some observable results in Hong Kong schools. Teachers have become more willing to take risks and analyse student responses to different approaches, and to recognise that daily engagement with complex teaching and learning issues is part of their professional role. At a management level, the IQEA schools have started regularly using data (although sometimes with an overemphasis on data collection over analysis) to inform their planning. Networking among schools to share resources and ideas has increased. One of the most important changes is the emergence of a new cadre of school leaders at a ‘middle management’ level. These teachers, many of whom are at a relatively early stage in their career, are able to champion and coordinate the process of school improvement within their departments, while thinking at a ‘whole school’ level.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
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