Grouping students for success: achieving excellence with equity
Volume 11 Number 2, March 2007; Pages 1–3
Students are sometimes grouped by ability as a strategy to improve learning. Grouping commonly takes one of three forms. Streaming refers to grouping entirely on the basis of performance or perceived ability. Alternatively, grouping is sometimes subject-based, especially for reading and maths, with students remaining in heterogeneous mixes for other subjects. A third form of grouping is the creation of achievement-based clusters within classes. The article describes a range of research reports and concludes that, in general terms, ‘few studies reveal positive results’ for grouping; that grouping has particularly negative consequences for disadvantaged students; and that it does not necessarily assist higher achievers. Special needs students have been found to need interaction with other students to develop higher-level thinking, interpersonal relationships and self-esteem. However, there is some evidence of the benefits of grouping for gifted students in the middle years. In terms of primary students, streaming has been found to produce no overall improvement in student learning but to generate ‘more disruptive behaviour, more off-task talk and little peer interaction of the kind that supports student learning’. Within-class primary groupings have been found to benefit the learning of all levels of students in the case of maths, but otherwise work against low achievers due to stigmatising, lower teacher expectations and the poor quality of independent work among these children, who lack skills to work unsupervised and tend to distract each other. At secondary school level, key studies have found no learning advantages in streaming. Research has, however, found that there are benefits to within-class grouping in maths and science. On the other hand research has found many disadvantages to all forms of secondary streaming, including the entrenchment of social divisions, delinquency, teacher bias and inconsistency in allocating ability groups, and anxiety about achievement among students in higher groups. Subject-based grouping at secondary level has been found to produce the same set of disadvantages in milder form. However, problems have also been identified in secondary mixed-ability classes, including work pressures on teachers who have to cater for many ability levels, and tendencies to ‘teach to the middle’ and unduly emphasise whole-class teaching.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Ability grouping in education
Against school-based teacher education
Volume 6 Number 1, March 2007; Pages 32–41
The school-based teacher education (SBTE) model has been advocated in the 2005 report Good Teachers Where They Are Needed by the Centre for Independent Studies. If widely adopted in Australia, the SBTE model would most likely take the form of an internship at a school, in which student teachers are paid as they learn to teach. However, there are decisive objections to each of the major arguments used to justify SBTE. The first argument is that by offering immediate pay for student teachers SBTE removes a major financial disincentive to study teaching, and is thus likely to relieve the current teacher shortage. The key cause of the teacher shortage, however, is the high attrition rate amongst early career teachers, which, at least in the USA, has actually been aggravated by use of SBTE. Teacher shortages are concentrated in certain subjects and geographical areas, a problem best dealt with through targeted financial incentive schemes. Overall interest in teaching positions will also be increased by raising the status of the profession, which can be achieved by offering higher pay for teachers that are more highly qualified academically. Another argument, advanced to support SBTE is the allegedly inadequate quantity and quality of student teachers’ current experience in schools. In fact, evidence of dissatisfaction from student teachers themselves is anecdotal and is challenged by the findings of a 2004 VIT survey. Good quality teacher education integrates theory and practice, and in this respect Australia is currently a world leader, with some courses offering rich experiences such as action research projects on practicum, and exposure to schools beyond the formal curriculum. SBTE is effective only in training for specific existing conditions, not for introducing innovations to a school. Good quality teaching also inevitably involves ongoing professional development. An ACER report on the SBTE-based Bachelor of Learning Management (BLM) at Central Queensland University did not endorse SBTE as a general model. The report’s favourable findings regarding the BLM course itself are open to question, given the methodological weaknesses of the study.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Volume 76 Number 4, Winter 2006; Pages 607–651
A review of 112 articles from seven major education journals investigated the challenges faced by new and preservice science teachers to determine what forms of support might be most effective in improving teacher retention in the USA. New teachers are faced with an exacting set of science expectations, set out in documents such as the National Science Education Standards. Five major themes identified in these standards were used to organise findings from the literature review. The first theme, represented in the greatest number of articles, related to teachers’ understanding of scientific content and disciplines. The articles on this theme, which focused mainly on primary teachers, showed that preservice teachers tended to exhibit relatively unsophisticated but often well-reasoned content knowledge. The second theme covered understanding of how students learn. In general, preservice teachers (again largely at primary level) were not found to have clear ideas about how to respond to students’ diverse ideas, backgrounds and learning styles, but they did recognise the importance of doing so. The third theme related to understanding of instructional techniques, including planning and assessment. Articles on this theme showed that new teachers’ instructional ideas tended to be more innovative than what they were capable of putting into practice. The fourth theme related to the challenge of creating effective learning environments. This theme was complicated by the multiple interpretations of ‘student centred’ environments found in the literature. The fifth theme related to the development of professionalism as a teacher. Articles on this theme emphasised the importance of personal qualities such as reflectiveness, personal history and self-efficacy, but shed little light on how these qualities might be developed. Overall, the five themes point to three strategies that might be effective in supporting new science teachers: content-oriented science coursework in teacher education courses, science instructional methods courses, and supportive induction and professional development programs for new teachers in schools. Engaging in reflective activities such as action research, and having access to educative curriculum materials and supportive collegial relationships, have also been recognised as vital supports for beginning teachers.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
United States of America (USA)
Winter 2007; Pages 40–47
In the USA, science teachers in independent schools have an interest in understanding the current campaign to introduce Intelligent Design (ID) into public school science. This push is spearheaded by the Discovery Institute, which has adopted a ‘Wedge Strategy’ for influencing public education, funded by conservative Christian groups. Since the 1990s attempts to have ID introduced into science syllabuses have been blocked by court decisions. The movement is now campaigning to redefine science itself so that it accommodates the possibility of supernatural causes for natural events. The movement has had significant successes. In 2006 a reference to science as the 'human activity of seeking natural explanations' was removed from the Kansas Science Standards in favour of looser wording that defines science in terms of various investigative methods designed 'to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena'. The change of strategic goal from directly implementing ID in schools to attacking 'naturalism' and 'materialism' more broadly has allowed the movement to attract wider forces into a coalition called the 'Big Tent'. Another strategy of ID proponents has been to cite various unanswered questions in evolutionary theory as evidence that the Darwinian approach cannot explain 'the underlying "truths" of biology', ignoring the fact that new discoveries in any field of science tend to reveal deeper levels of as-yet unexplained complexity in nature. Without undertaking scientific research of its own, the ID movement campaigns to a non-scientific audience 'against "God-less" evolution being taught with taxpayers' money', at the same time 'sounding scientific' through heavy use of science terminology. The ID movement also tends to identify evolutionary theory exclusively with natural selection and random mutation, overlooking elaborations to the theory. Independent schools may be affected by future government policy in this area and thus have an interest in supporting evolution teaching in public schools. Independent school science teachers should intervene in public debates on the issue. Religious schools should challenge the identification of religious belief with support for ID. Teachers should introduce students to genuine scientific controversies around evolution as a way to teach them to distinguish real from spurious scientific debate.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
March 2007; Pages 74–79
Homework has long been a hotly contested issue in education. Meta-analyses of the extensive body of relevant research have found a consistently positive and significant relationship between the amount of homework done and academic achievement. Opponents of homework claim that it contributes to a ‘corporate-style, competitive US culture’ that overvalues work to the detriment of home and family. It is also said to disadvantage students from home environments in which it is difficult to complete academic work. Others claim that teachers are not well trained in setting homework that supports student learning. There can be no doubt that homework should be appropriate and effective, and that schools should have strong policies in place to ensure that teachers use homework to the best advantage. Improving the instructional quality of homework is preferable to abolishing it entirely, which would deny students the advantages that homework has been proven to supply. Homework enables US students, who spend less time studying curriculum content than students in many other countries, to extend their learning beyond the school day. There are many different theories on how much time should be spent on homework, and no hard-and-fast rules. Teachers should ensure that homework is purposeful, whether introducing new content, practising skills to improve fluency, elaborating on content covered in class or enabling students to pursue their own topics of interest. Homework should be set at a difficulty level that challenges students while maximising their chances of completion. It should not position parents in the uncomfortable roles of experts, surrogate teachers or ‘police’, but provide clear guidelines for them to act as sounding boards for their children, to summarise what they have learnt. Effective homework assignments may enable parents to deepen their children’s understanding by offering opinions and discussions of topics covered in class. While the homework debate in the research community remains inconclusive, teachers should be aware of different viewpoints but trust their own professional judgement and experience.
Parent and child
United States of America (USA)
Teachers’ beliefs can facilitate or inhibit their implementation of curriculum reforms. While some teachers fail to take up reforms or actively oppose them, others make superficial changes to their practice, to give the impression of compliance, without altering their fundamental beliefs. This is particularly evident in constructivist reforms, and also in the subject of mathematics. While mathematics teaching has been described as having ‘the highest number of fleeting innovation attempts’, numerous international studies have found discrepancies between the curriculum set out by reformists and what is actually taught in mathematics classrooms. Some theorists have explained this by noting that the current generation of mathematics teachers are products of ‘traditional’ methods and curriculum, and may therefore lack the content knowledge necessary to implement reforms. While professional development in the US has focused on teachers’ mathematical knowledge, in Australia it has focused primarily on pedagogical practices. A South Australian study surveyed 127 mathematics teachers in government primary schools to determine their beliefs about mathematics, teaching and learning and their actual pedagogical practices. The survey also identified how many of a series of 15 reforms the teachers had experienced, from international reform movements such as Cuisenaire and New Maths to reforms specific to Australia or South Australia. Teachers had experienced an average of nine reforms, equating to an average of one reform for every three years of their teaching careers. Surprisingly, no correlation was found between participants’ teaching practices and their age, qualifications or experience. For most teachers, no relationship emerged between their beliefs and their classroom practices. The exceptions were those who expressed stronger beliefs in the beauty of mathematics, who were more likely to adopt straightforward, child-centred constructivist teaching methods, such as the use of manipulatives. Those who had experienced more reforms were more likely to use ICT in their classrooms, suggesting that the cumulative effect of many reforms may have provoked at least some surface-level changes in teaching practice.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Volume 65 Number 2, June 2007; Pages 125–148
In 1995, the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) found that US students were lagging significantly behind the six leading countries in mathematics: Singapore, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Belgium and the Czech Republic. An extensive national study into US students’ underperformance found that the six highest-performing countries used a broadly similar curriculum. Comparison of this ‘consensus curriculum’ with US curriculums identified four key differences: the US curriculums had too many topics and too little focus, especially in the early years; it was too repetitive, with topics introduced too soon and covered frequently but not deeply; topics in the US curriculum were not presented in a clear and logical order; and the topics were insufficiently demanding, especially in the middle years. The article connects these findings to the introduction of a new standards-based curriculum in California in 1998 which shared many of the attributes associated in the TIMSS analysis with ‘quality’ curriculum. While the former Californian curriculum had 19 topics in the first grade, the new one has only three ‘basic’ topics, which teachers are advised to emphasise, especially for struggling students. Further ‘non-key’ topics and standards are provided for more able students. The curriculum’s coherence is demonstrated in its comprehensive preparation of grade 1–3 students for the progression to more demanding topics in fourth grade. In all three grades, constant drilling and problem solving is used to accomplish memorisation to automaticity. A major study of over 13,000 students was undertaken in four economically disadvantaged Californian school districts which were ‘early adopters’ of the new curriculum and the accompanying textbook, Saxon Math. All four districts demonstrated ‘stunning’ increases in student achievement over the five-year study. Data from another more affluent ‘early adoption’ district indicated that the new curriculum may also improve results in high-performing schools. Despite warnings to the contrary, the study confirms that a quality mathematics curriculum may be successfully transplanted from its Asian and European origins into a vastly different cultural and economic context with remarkable results. An abridged version of this article is also available at Where’s the Math?
Key Learning AreasMathematics
United States of America (USA)
The Eaglehawk Focus Centre: a rural solution
Number 69, Summer 2006; Pages 31–32
The Eaglehawk Focus Centre in north central Victoria provides services to at-risk primary and secondary students. Its recent successes have come after early struggles that illustrate the heavy challenges in providing for ‘disruptive and sometimes dangerous’ youth. The Centre was initiated by a working party that included principals in the Eaglehawk schools cluster and representatives of community groups, human services agencies and the local university. The group proposed a framework for the Centre, within which participating students would retain ‘significant contact with their base school’ while also engaging with the wider community from which they had become alienated. A three-year program for the Centre was funded through a middle years’ initiative of the Victorian Department of Education and Training. The new Eaglehawk Focus Centre was set up within a YMCA facility. Despite months of prior planning, problems soon emerged. The original intentions for inclusion of mainstream students in the Centre’s activities were not realised. Principals and teachers, relieved at the removal of disruptive students from their classes, were reluctant to re-involve other students with the ‘problem kids’. The at-risk students at the Centre were consequently isolated; the dynamics between them were ‘electric and counterproductive’. Connections with other community members at the YMCA building were useful at times, but ‘far from ideal’ overall. After two terms the Centre was radically revised. It was physically relocated to a shop front next to a community service agency. The Centre was directed more towards providing services to the community, such as IT training for community members. Community service work was mixed with involvement in community recreational activities such as bushwalking, where there was participation by a much wider range students and of other members of the community. The revised model for the Centre has proved effective in raising students’ learning, self-esteem and community involvement.
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
Volume 17 Number 4, December 2006; Pages 465–482
The drive to introduce ICT into Australian schooling has ‘translated into a techno-determinist and technocentric plan’ too narrowly focused on ‘getting wired up’. Two projects in South Australia illustrate these problems. In 2001 the State introduced the Principals’ Development Program in Information and Communications Technologies. Two of the current authors were ‘critical friends’ supporting the project. They identified four discourses operating within it. The first was developmentalism, a ‘linear, lock-step’ approach to issues taken by most of the trainers and advisers, which held back those participants who sought to move quickly to address whole-school issues around ICT. It fed into an audit approach that sought to identify new competencies in participants, as explicitly measurable outcomes. In contrast to these approaches was a more postmodern discourse in which change was presented as inevitably ‘messy’, incoherent and chaotic, requiring advance though ‘small steps’, but this approach once again frustrated some participants. The fourth discourse was constructivism, taken to mean group work and experiential learning, which was only consistent with the first three discourses in so far as it could be measured in precise outcomes. Overall, the project lacked discussion of how wider social factors shaped ICT implementation and take-up, how ICT was being seen in government economic policy, or how ICT related to the workplace and wider community. The second project investigated, Information Technology, Literacy and Educational Disadvantage (ITLED), involved senior staff and selected teachers at six disadvantaged schools – two secondary and four primary. The results of this project once again demonstrated the need to allow for the large influence of social context in the implementation of ICT in schools. One example of context is the unevenness of resources available between schools. Another example is in the nature of students’ engagement with ICT, which is often technically impressive but narrow and uncritical. Schools need to feel their way in implementing ICT, without facing premature or excessive demands to be ‘cutting edge’ in their use of technology.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Parenting, teaching and leadership styles
Number 1, 2007
In a previous article, the authors argued that the dimensions of good parenting can also be applied to teaching. Characteristics of parenting can be separated into responsiveness to the child’s individual needs and demandingness, or expectations placed on the child to conform to family standards. Based on these characteristics, four parenting styles have been proposed by researchers: uninvolved, both unresponsive and undemanding; authoritarian, demanding and unresponsive; permissive, responsive and undemanding; and authoritative, both responsive and demanding. An authoritative approach has been shown to be optimal for both parenting and teaching, where sensitivity to the child’s individual needs is balanced with high expectations and clear, consistent structure. The four types of parenting and teaching may also be applied to school leadership. Uninvolved leadership is often practised by leaders who are too preoccupied or overwhelmed by administrative tasks to assume educational leadership in their school. The school culture becomes reactive, drifting and susceptible to capture by competing factions. Authoritarian school leaders demand high levels of compliance and are often more concerned with processes than people. While the order they maintain may have some advantages, it is often achieved at the expense of innovation, and leaves considerable potential untapped in the school. Conversely, permissive school leaders are primarily concerned with people and relationships. They tend to spend significant time being ‘available’ to colleagues, and readily make allowances for transgression or failure. While permissive leaders may create happy, sociable working environments, their leniency is vulnerable to exploitation, and can compromise the clarity of the school’s direction. Authoritative leaders combine the best advantages of the permissive and authoritarian styles. They are people-oriented, and actively establish collaborative professional networks within and beyond the school. At the same time, they are unequivocal in their expectations of themselves, their staff and their students. They have a clearly articulated vision for the school, but recognise the impossibility of getting everyone to move simultaneously in the same direction. Through astute use of distributive leadership, they establish patterns of evaluation, planning and action which lead to continual improvement.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Parent and child
Using e-literature and online literary resources in primary and secondary school: part 1
Volume 26 Number 1, February 2007; Pages 13–18
There are a wide range of digital resources available to help teachers manage literacy learning in the classroom. Some electronic resources enhance and extend readers’ experience of printed texts. They include online excerpts from printed books and audio recordings by the author. Another set of resources consists of electronic versions of texts formerly existing only in print, many of which are now out of copyright and can be used freely, available through services such as the Gutenberg Project and the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL). A third group of resources have been first created in digital form. They include e-stories for early readers that use audio and hyperlinks to help children decode textual meanings, or to elaborate stories through forms such as maps or character descriptions. Other resources that stimulate learning include online information about early, unpublished drafts and manuscripts of major works. Some sites allow readers to contribute narratives intended to supplement or create variations on the author’s original work. These contributions may be subject to rules established interactively by groups of other readers. Teachers may benefit from traditional lesson plans now online, and from professional discussion forums.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsMultimedia systems
English language teaching
Building your own library intranet
Volume 26 Number 1, February 2007; Pages 43–44
The school library intranet is a valuable resource for students and the school community. The intranet, a collection of web pages available to all library users, maintained and organised by library staff, has the potential to act as a central hub for all information relevant to a school. The main advantage of this medium is the ease with which information can be updated, so information remains relevant and current. The mark of quality website design is clarity and simplicity with minimal graphics and consistent layout. Examples of relevant content are upcoming events, career information, timetables, school rules and regulations, and links to all school e-resources. The article suggests a way of organising information into categories as a first step in creating an intranet.
There are no Conferences available in this issue.