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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Abstracts

Vocabulary assessment: what we know and what we need to learn

Volume 42 Number 2,  2007; Pages 282–296
P David Pearson, Elfrieda H Hiebert, Michael L Kamil

Vocabulary assessment needs to incorporate five subtle elements of word knowledge, some of which have been explored in recent research studies. The first element, incrementality, refers to the gradual deepening of knowledge about a word and increasing precision in its use. Stallman et al have investigated ways to measure the incremental growth of students’ understanding of important words. Multidimensionality is used to indicate the different types of knowledge pertaining to a word (eg whether it is typically co-located with other words). Polysemy indicates multiple meanings of a word. Interrelatedness between words refers to links based on linguistic usage (eg ‘dogs bark’), or to underlying links in meaning between words. Heterogeneity refers to varied use of a word in different contexts, and has been highlighted by Nagy and Scott (2000) in Kamil, Mosenthal, Pearson and Barr as a technique to cultivate nuanced understanding of words. Designers of vocabulary assessment also need to consider three conceptual distinctions. The first is the extent to which vocabulary knowledge is discrete or is embedded in assessment of text comprehension, an issue examined by the Rand Reading Study Group (RRSG). The 2000 report of the National Reading Panel (NRP) found that vocabulary is best acquired in meaningful contexts. The second distinction is between selective tests, assessing knowledge of a defined group of words, and comprehensive tests. Current vocabulary assessments do not select words ‘on the basis of any evident critieria’, and are consequently useful only for norm-referenced testing. A promising alternative approach is to test students’ knowledge of a particular category of words, ‘best thought of as less common labels for relatively common concepts’, for example ‘stunning’ instead of ‘pretty’, widely employed by mature language users. This approach arises from research by Beck et al, and is built on in work by Hiebert 2005. The third conceptual distinction is the extent to which textual context is needed to determine a word’s meaning, explored in the recent NAEP framework. Future research should explore ways to improve our understanding of the concepts identified in this paper, and how they can be employed to improve vocabulary assessment.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

Reading difficulties
Reading
English language teaching
Literacy

School curriculum for the 21st century

Volume 27 Number 2, June 2007; Pages 12–16
Bruce Wilson

Some of the elements of a national curriculum have already been agreed upon in Australia. In the 1999 Adelaide Declaration Australia's education ministers endorsed the need for the curriculum to cover skills in literacy, numeracy, and vocational education, and to provide an understanding of Indigenous culture and ‘the value of cultural and linguistic diversity’. In 2005 the education ministers, through MCEETYA, further agreed on the need for students to learn more about Asia, and set out a national framework for values education. Statements of Learning have been agreed describing ‘essential skills, knowledge, understandings and capacities’ in English, mathematics, science, ICT and civics and citizenship. Most of these documents ‘are explicitly intended to underpin a new curriculum’. Calls for further measures have been advanced in ACSA’s document A Guide to Productive National Curriculum Work for the Twenty First Century, in the AEU’s Educational Leadership and Teaching for the Twenty First Century, in Tasmania’s former Essential Learnings framework and the SACSA Framework, which have called for the curriculum to equip students more fully to deal with globalisation, to learn how to learn, and to grasp the interconnection between disciplines. There is broad agreement in the general community on the need to educate students about the environment and social diversity, and to address skills shortages in maths, sciences and other areas. However, while the leaders of the education community generally support a radically reformed curriculum as the best means to take up these issues, they are resisted by ‘politicians, much of the media and many members of the public’ who seek a return to earlier approaches to education. The resolution to this impasse needs to be ‘viable both educationally and politically’. Educators must seriously acknowledge opposing views, and articulate an approach that ‘extends those views in ways which are persuasive, comprehensible, challenging and engaging’.

KLA

Subject Headings

Curriculum planning
Education policy
Education aims and objectives

School curriculum for the 21st century: a rough guide to a national curriculum

Volume 27 Number 2, June 2007; Pages 6–11
Peter Cole

A national curriculum should not just amalgamate current State and Territory curriculum statements, ‘tidying up’ differences between systems’ statements of learning. Nor should it redefine or go beyond ‘what the states and territories have hitherto considered to be essential learning’. A national curriculum should cover material ‘that will enable all students to develop a broad general knowledge of their world’, including its ‘history, institutions, economy and values’, social issues and cultural life. It should have a global orientation and include learning in the major second languages. It should also incorporate key developments in the last decade: the recognition of the stages of learning; the need for personal and social ‘soft skills’ to be covered in the curriculum; the need to set outcomes in terms of what students should know, value and be able to do, and the need to set standards for knowledge and skill outcomes. Such a curriculum will help to equip students for a globalised world with shifting centres of economic power, help them deal with issues such as the environment and security, and cover the importance of science and technology, numeracy, innovation, and knowledge as economic forces. Although much of this curriculum’s contents could be described in terms of the traditional disciplines, the ‘kind of learning usually associated with school subjects in the disciplines’ is ‘out of step’ with current needs. The national curriculum should support interdisciplinary study, allowing blocks of time for extended projects, while also giving students a sense of the distinct contribution of each subject discipline. Such a national curriculum would build on positive elements already evident in some systems’ curriculum statements. Alongside the curriculum, national, commonly credentialled subjects should be developed for the senior years. In terms of assessment, there should be more emphasis in the senior years on open book exams and the use and analysis of multiple resources, and in the junior years more assessment by exhibition. Assessment used should be ‘more concerned with reasoning than recall’ and cover ‘what students can do as well as what they know’.

KLA

Subject Headings

Curriculum planning
Education policy
Education aims and objectives
Economic trends

Disrupting preconceptions: challenges to pre-service teachers' beliefs about ESL children

Volume 28 Number 3, June 2007; Pages 188–203
Michèle de Courcy

Teacher education must develop new ways to disrupt pre-service teachers’ beliefs about ESL students. Teacher educators sometimes mistakenly assume that their students will interpret readings similarly to themselves; however, pre-service teachers lack their lecturers’ years of experience interacting with second language learners and may interpret ESL literature as methodology for dealing with the ‘problem’ of ESL students. Negative beliefs or naivety about ESL are particularly common in rural settings, as these students are far less likely to have direct experience with ESL students. A 2002 report found that only 5 per cent of the population of regional Victoria were born overseas, compared with 25 per cent of Melbourne and 20 per cent for Australia as a whole. Because the young teachers that graduate from regional settings can be employed in any mainstream primary school in the State, it is imperative that they receive some preparation for the linguistic and cultural diversity they are likely to encounter. A study of beliefs held by pre-service teachers in a rural university setting has found that exposure to literature regarding ESL may be reinforcing students’ negative perceptions of ESL learners. Students read a variety of literature addressing diversity and prepared anonymous reflections on these texts. The reflections showed that students were open to some new ideas; for example, many expressed surprise that the ‘Aboriginal English’ dialect was not just ‘bad English’. However, analysis of students’ texts also revealed several disturbing findings. Students generally prescribed all agency to teachers in their writing, seeing ESL children as passive recipients of teachings. The phrases used to describe ESL students often contained negative connotations, with several students implying deficiency in ESL students or assuming that these students were foreigners, differentiated from ‘Australian students’. Some of these negative trends were also observable in the set literature, and the set reading for this university’s program has subsequently been altered. The encouragement of more positive understandings of ESL is particularly vital in the modern political climate of diminishing support for ESL learners, in which students are subsumed into classrooms with teachers untrained in ESL, ‘to whom they are invisible’.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

Racism
Teacher training
English as an additional language

School improvement, the school librarian and process approach

Volume 10 Number 2, July 2007; Pages 117–131
Judith Collins

The school librarian is strongly placed to be a change agent for school improvement. This role is well adapted to the promotion of resource-based learning (RBL), or a project-based approach to the curriculum. This approach has been found to assist school improvement in several ways. RBL is flexible, and can be used to target particular skills such as conceptualisation of a problem, or preparing a search strategy, and can be applied in varied student grouping and across the curriculum. It can be introduced ‘at the point of need’ into the syllabus, and encourages students’ initiative and engagement. A school librarian focuses solely on  the process of students' learning, whiile teachers must also focus on students' final products. The process focus means that librarians may adapt more easily to a project-based curriculum than teachers. The librarian's role is separate from the major divisions of the school, and so is well positioned to be a broker between them in the implementation of curriculum reforms. The librarian is responsible for delivery of information skills but does not expect to monopolise the teaching of those skills, and so usually desires collaboration with teachers. RBL encourages such collaboration. The school librarian’s ability to support curriculum reform is enhanced when the school facilitates the collaboration with other staff. Collaboration can be supported in several ways. One way is to give the librarian significant status within the school (eg by inclusion in the official management team, or involvement in working parties). Official education policy should also emphasise the value of the librarian's role. The librarian should be allowed time for collaboration around curriculum planning, which is otherwise taken up by the core roles of information specialist, promoter of reading, and manager of a resource centre.

KLA

Subject Headings

School libraries
School culture
Curriculum planning

Guided inquiry and the VELS - an international research project here

Winter 2007; Pages 22–23
Mary Manning

‘Guided inquiry: integrating the Victorian Essential Learning Standards’ is a research project that will gather evidence of the value and role of the library in implementing VELS. The project is a partnership between SLAV and researchers from the Centre for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, USA. The project will measure the effectiveness of collaborative, guided inquiry approaches to teaching, by evaluating students’ development of deep understanding and thinking processes. Teams of teachers and teacher–librarians at five Victorian schools will be trained in guided inquiry and apply these principles in a unit of work. Teachers will then reflect on their experiences in research diaries. Students of participating teachers will complete individual research projects requiring them to use a range of information sources and media, and will be tested on curriculum content and their experiences of research three times during the project. The schools selected for the research sample maintain effective school libraries that provide and integrate ICT into teaching and learning, provide information literacy and technological literacy skills programs, and structure learning experiences based on the principles of guided inquiry as elaborated in ‘Transforming information into deep knowledge and deep understanding’.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teacher-Librarians
Libraries

Interactive whiteboards: the future is already here

August 2007; Pages 32–35
Bart Halford

Schools and systems must invest not only in ICT but also in suitable professional learning and in-house support. Bishop Druitt College in Coffs Harbour has adopted this approach. The school plans to install interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in every classroom by 2008. In 2006, four IWBs were trialled in selected classrooms by a group of pioneer teachers who supported each other’s learning. Small collegiate groups have been found to effectively support professional learning in the ICT context, and staff surveys found that this approach is preferred by 66 per cent of teachers. Suppliers of IWBs are likely to provide large-group instruction, but it is important that schools recognise the necessity of ongoing small-group and individualised learning. Teachers also require ‘sandpit time’ to play with, trial and discuss new ICTs. Teachers may invest their own time in this learning, but school leadership must be prepared to allocate resources and time to training, research of appropriate web materials, trouble shooting, equipment down time and archiving. Professional learning programs should be locally based and practical. For example, pioneer teachers at Bishop Druitt located and created classroom resources during their training, and subsequently left the training session with new skills and a set of valuable resources with which to initiate classroom integration. Some of the most useful sites for use with IWBs are developed by The Le@rning Federation, which provides digital objects and resources closely aligned to Australian curriculum. However, teachers must carefully evaluate the educative value of any curriculum resources used, considering ease of access, curriculum content relevance, and appropriateness of literacy and content levels. Bishop Druitt College has built ICT time into their staff meetings to facilitate the sharing and archiving of such resources. When investing in IWBs, schools should budget for hidden costs and considerations such as the removal of blackboards because of dust in IWB projectors, casual staff training, and equipment related to IWBs such as keyboards, remote controls, and perhaps computers to run with the boards.

Key Learning Areas

Technology

Subject Headings

Professional development
Elearning

Engagement in action: university-school system partnership for teacher development

February 2007
Wendy  Moran, Michael Bezzina, Jude Butcher

University Education faculties often develop transactional, rather than transformational, relationships with schools. In transactional relationships, each party is focused on achieving their own aims. For universities the purpose of the relationship is to secure practicum placements for its undergraduate students and research sites for its academics, whereas for schools the relationship is focused on recruiting staff, consulting expertise and accessing professional literature. Although these purposes intersect, the parties’ different perspectives lead to somewhat unhelpful relations. For example, although it is in both parties’ interests that research literature is published, the university’s focus on scholarly achievement leads to research being reported in journals not commonly read by teachers. Departing from this trend, the Australian Catholic University and the Catholic Education Office (CEO)’s Parramatta diocese have developed a transformational relationship built upon their shared vision for the region. The two organisations have developed and maintained joint initiatives focused on shared aims of mutual capacity building, learning that makes a difference, and creating new knowledge. One of these initiatives, the Leaders Transforming Learners and Learning, encourages teachers and principals to become involved in research and learning with the university. At ELIM, a residential leadership program, schools, CEO and ACU meet to share experience and insight for a total of 20 days. Research at ACU has identified a range of key enabling factors that are believed to have contributed to their transformative relationship with CEO. The shared aim of developing transformative learning practices, with its altruistic focus, was identified as foundational to the relationship as it underpinned a commitment to an ‘outward looking mind-set’. Communication through personal liaison and committees, recognition of equal status, openness to change, long-term engagement in sustainable initiatives, and enunciation of clear procedures for resource allocation were the other enabling factors identified.

KLA

Subject Headings

Education research

Interactive whiteboards: improving teaching

August 2007; Pages 28–30
Phil Bayne

Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) offer features that can enhance students’ learning experience. Their versatility and ease of use make IWBs suitable for all classrooms, primary and secondary, and the opportunities they offer for interaction, spontaneity and collaboration are enjoyed by all students. Visual learners are particularly well served by the technology, and because IWBs can be written on just like black or whiteboards, there is no need for a keyboard or for typing proficiency. Blackboards and whiteboards are quickly becoming obsolete in competition with the saving, printing, and sharing features of IWBs, which are compatible with Microsoft Office applications and can be linked to the Internet. These features enable teachers to engage students’, particularly boys’, attention for longer. The technology can display material to a class that would otherwise need to be viewed individually, such as text or images scanned directly from a book. IWBs are easier to use than computers, and can facilitate classroom instruction in more complex tasks such as searching the library for resources. The technology has been proven to be easily accessible to teachers regardless of gender, age or previous ICT exposure, and many teachers use the ‘notebook’ application to organise and plan their lessons. It is critical, however, that teachers use IWBs in meaningful ways with the aim of improving pedagogy, rather than as a decorative tool.

Key Learning Areas

Technology

Subject Headings

Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

Education emerging

August 2007; Pages 6–8
Rebecca Leech

Generation X and Y students challenge educators with their multi-attentional methods and short-term idea of learning, but are likely to respond well to technology-based learning. The lab.3000 Incubator, a joint initiative of the Victorian government and RMIT, runs a range of practical programs for teachers and students on the potential for ICT to be integrated into teaching and learning. Through the use of free software, podcasting, animation and mobile phone technology, the lab.3000 Incubator delivers multi-modal instruction aimed at reaching a wide range of students. Presenting information to students in several modalities can serve a variety of individual learning styles. ICT also has enormous capacity to promote interactive learning. Digital storytelling, creating a short film with personal narration and digital media, is one of lab.3000 incubator’s most popular programs because, ‘From a student’s point of view, why would I have to sit there and watch a DVD when I could find the information and make my own movie?’. Similarly, animated adventure games are easy to create and require students to learn things and solve puzzles as they complete each stage. Given this capacity for ICT to engage students, schools should refrain from banning students’ access to technologies and filtering Internet access. Despite the wide availability of inappropriate content and misinformation, sites like Wikipedia, YouTube and MySpace offer valuable learning experiences for students. A YouTube search for Winston Churchill allows students to hear real, unaltered audio of Churchill reciting a definitive speech from World War II. Wikipedia searches and contributions can prompt meaningful discussions about authorship and validity, a learning area required by Victorian curriculum standards. However, the inequitable availability of ICT resources is of serious concern in the technology-infused curriculum. Teachers integrating technology into assessment should ensure that print-based resources and assignments are available to students whose access to ICT is limited. The curriculum must be central to any use of technology in schools.

Key Learning Areas

Technology

Subject Headings

Elearning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

The ecology of early reading development for children in poverty

Volume 107 Number 5, May 2007; Pages 407–427
Lynne Vernon-Feagans, Kirsten Kainz

A longitudinal study in the USA has examined which social and economic factors are most predictive of children’s literacy development. The study involved 1,913 economically disadvantaged children from a nationally representative sample, and data were collected through literacy testing of children, interviews with parents, teacher questionnaires and administrator responses. Two predictive models of childhood reading performance were compared to an ‘unconditional’ measure of children’s reading development from kindergarten to Grade 3. The ‘partial’ model predicted children’s reading performance based on factors affecting the child and family. These factors included the child’s age, gender, race, family literacy practices, and their parent’s income and education. The ‘ecological’ model was based on the same child and family factors, but also considered the affect of classroom and school dynamics in predicting children’s literacy performance. Class and school dynamics considered in the ecological model included whether the kindergarten class was of full or half-day duration, the level of comprehensive literacy instruction provided, the percentage of the class that read below stipulated grade levels, and the urbanicity, economic segregation and minority segregation of the school. The study found that the ecological model was generally more predictive of literacy development than the partial model. Although child and family factors were more predictive of literacy level at the time of kindergarten entry, the influence of these factors decreased over time. Schools with minority populations greater than 75 per cent, high concentration of below-grade readers and low levels of comprehensive instruction were strongly associated with lower student reading performance. The concentration of below-grade readers was particularly predictive, and this may be because teachers in such classes lessen the pace of literacy instruction to help struggling students keep up, thereby constraining the average level of reading achievement. Funding and policy therefore must  strive to provide teachers with instructional support and resources such as specialists, teaching assistants, levelled books and literacy software. This support will allow teachers to individualise instruction without compromising on rigorous learning pace. Data also indicated that children’s literacy development was less affected by teaching practice in Grade 3 than it was in early primary. This finding is a strong argument for maximising effective reading instruction in early grades.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

Literacy
School and community
Reading difficulties
Education policy
Early childhood education
Child development

Capacity building with ICT

August 2007; Pages 40–46
Andrew Fluck, Ivan Webb

The ways in which ICT is perceived vary enormously, and the perceptions held by teachers and students will affect their ICT use and hence teaching and learning practices. For example, is ‘playing’ on the computer a reward for students, or is ICT integrated into every lesson as an educative tool? Schools need to consider what can be done to develop an ICT framework that engages their community appropriately. Homework assignments that require ICT use raise equity concerns. Schoolwide use of ICT is better shaped by ‘rules of thumb’ than detailed policy, as it must be changeable and adaptive within the school context. For example, while older primary students will adapt easily to producing all written work on a word processor, this is inappropriate for young primary students, who will encounter mechanical issues and perhaps become confused by spell check configurations. ICT use will also be affected by the degree to which students and teachers take ownership of technologies, as computers that ‘belong’ to one class are used more casually than computers that are shared. Because the implications of ICT decisions are so varied, every school requires an ‘ICT architect’ to promote a singular concept about what ICT means in the local school context. The ICT architect of a school consults with stakeholders to identify needs and possibilities, evaluates the school’s capabilities based on infrastructure, and monitors and advises on development. It is important that this person is not an isolated expert who is called out to solve technical difficulties, but rather an integrated staff member who can help develop the skills of others, so that the skill base of the whole school improves. When this occurs, equipment is better cared for, decisions about purchases are more informed, technology matches school practices (and vice versa) and professional learning takes place as a routine of everyday interaction between colleagues rather than sporadically in a hierarchical, top-down structure.

Key Learning Areas

Technology

Subject Headings

School administration
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

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