Making the most of professional learning communities
May 2008; Pages 1, 4–7
The article recommends three roles for members of a professional learning community, and suggests ways that school leaders can encourage teachers to adopt them. The first role is that of critical friend. Leaders should provide structured opportunities for teachers to review each other’s lesson plans, in groups of between three and seven, using agreed criteria and procedures. These methods will help to overcome common but unhelpful aspects of school culture, which discourage collegial feedback, or at least critical feedback, and which equate academic freedom with isolated and unscrutinised practice. Leaders should introduce these measures slowly, perhaps through modelling of discussions around lesson plans developed elsewhere, asking for volunteers. At first they should be undertaken once a semester. Over time these practices should become generalised across grade levels, subject teams or more varied groupings. Secondly, a professional learning community can involve common analysis of data on student work. Teachers should actively discuss assessment data and formulate student plans. They should themselves dissect and summarise such data, rather than simply discuss data prepared for them at system level. They should examine achievement data from many sources, including local classroom work, employing formative assessment. This collective analysis benefits from the use of questions that examine, describe, evaluate and interpret student work, and which identify follow-up actions for teachers. Thirdly, professional learning communities are valuable as vehicles for continuous learning. One form of such learning is organised discussions of shared professional readings, consisting of articles and papers or summary material, with each participant responsible for presenting a reading item. This material may initially be selected by leaders but should ultimately be self-generated by participants. A second form of such learning is action research involving ongoing collaborative inquiry. The article suggests a range of action research topics.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
Learning lessons: What No Child Left Behind can teach us about literacy, testing and accountability
2007; Pages 5–10
The literacy provisions of the
The literacy provisions of the
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
United States of America (USA)
Volume 82 Number 4, 2007; Pages 587–616
Early childhood education intervention programs for disadvantaged children can produce benefits that outweigh their costs. Sustained and intensive programs are more costly but also deliver greatest proportional benefits in social and financial terms. The most telling evidence for these claims comes from evaluations of three intensive programs implemented decades ago: a study of the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project 1962–67; an evaluation of the Carolina Abecedarian Project 1972–77; and a longitudinal study, operating since 1986, of the Chicago Child–Parent Centres. The costs of the programs were found to be substantially outweighed by estimated benefits such as reduced calls on welfare and remedial education services, reduced crime rates and tax revenues from anticipated higher earnings. The most widely used programs in current use have been found to be less costly but also less beneficial. An impact study of the USA’s Head Start program, covering one year of the program, found small to moderate benefits for three-year-olds, especially from disadvantaged ethnic groups, on selected cognitive and socioemotional measures. There were fewer benefits for four-year-olds. An evaluation of the Early Head Start program found small but significant benefits on some measures of cognitive, language and social and emotional development. A 2001 meta-analysis of early childhood education interventions found that their impact clearly relates to their intensity and duration, with ‘a marked fade out effect’ in years following lower-intensity programs. Overall, research firmly demonstrates the social and financial advantages of intensive and sustained early child education programs for disadvantaged children, but some issues remain unresolved. While some studies link programs’ effectiveness to teachers’ qualifications, teacher credentials may ‘serve as a proxy’ for factors such as lower staff turnover, higher pay and better professional development options. More research is needed on appropriate starting ages, parental input and the relative emphasis on cognitive and social skills in programs. Therefore, governments should fund a range of further high-quality interventions that test the impact of variables including different starting ages, summer programs, enrichment activities such as dance, languages or geography, and different target populations and settings. Programs must allow for parental needs, preferences and cultural sensitivities.
Subject HeadingsEducation finance
United States of America (USA)
Early childhood education
Volume 12 Number 3, April 2008
Debate continues over the role of technology in enhancing educational achievement. A major review by European Schoolnet has recently been conducted, covering the impact of ICT on student learning, motivation and outcomes, drawing on 17 impact studies. The review found that ICT has a positive effect at primary level, principally in relation to English, and with less impact for science and maths. The impact on science was most pronounced for middle and upper primary level. The effect of ICT was ‘highly dependent on how it was used’ and on ‘the capacity of the teacher to effectively use’ particular applications. Interactive White Boards (IWBs) are widely approved of by teachers and students as a means to motivate learning, improve efficiency of classroom presentations, assist interactivity in class, and, generally, as a way to provide a ‘bridge to the digital world’. There is little hard data on the benefits of IWBs for student learning. Research in England on IWBs in maths classes found the technology was most beneficial when used to support lesson structure and to promote ‘diversity of aesthetic, verbal, numeric and kinaesthetic experiences’. Students’ Internet research skills were most effectively developed when they received structured support on search techniques. A 2002 study by Becta in England examined the impact of the Internet on students within and outside school. It found that students learnt Internet skills most effectively when usage was focused on curriculum-related topics, rather than through lessons that targeted the technology itself. The research also highlighted the need to teach students how to identify and evaluate sources, and to adapt and synthesise retrieved information. The article briefly discusses email and new technologies such as social bookmarking. Overall, the article concludes that ‘the evidence is not yet available’ as to whether ICT will ‘deliver on its potential’, especially in terms of lifting student outcomes. It also concludes that ICT is ‘not to any large extent impacting on teachers’ practice’, and is not generally being used to support new forms of teaching and learning.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Using ICT to enable students to master spelling
Volume 30 Number 2, December 2007; Pages 14–16
Spelling is particularly difficult for many students, since it is a retrieval process that requires exact lexical knowledge. Successful spelling is most often the result of explicit and well-planned teaching. Many software packages have been developed to help students learn to spell, but their quality varies and some may confuse students and do more harm than good. Twelve of the best software packages are presented, based on a detailed list of criteria that address the type and usefulness of feedback students receive, capability to create word lists tailored to individual students, whether words are spoken, whether the program is structured to ensure student success, design features of the user interface, and level of student enjoyment. The packages selected include the Catch Up series, which incorporates high-frequency words and work with syllable structure to help students from early years onwards make fast progress in their writing and spelling. Letterland’s Living ABC teaches young children the sounds of alphabet letters, and their Living Code Cards target the phonic structure of words and incorporate stories, songs and other activities. Starspell 2.2 asks a student to listen to, rehearse, and concentrate on a word. The word then disappears and the student must spell it. Both Word Wizard and Wordshark contain many fun and interactive spelling games. Wordshark includes forty-one different games covering over 5,000 words, is based on the well-known Alpha to Omega literacy program and is designed for students aged 4 to Adult. Sherston Education produces Spellmate, which is ideal for home practice, as well as the multisensory Spell It! and the media-based Spelling Show. The new Track series includes Alphabet Track, Eye Track for visual perception, Phoneme Track, Spell Track, Idiom Track, and a Two Wise Owls program that teaches children mnemonics for irregularly spelt words. Excellent software packages to help with desktop publishing are Textease, a user-friendly word processing package that includes a speech engine for reading aloud any text the student writes, and TextHELP!, an add-on program for conventional word processors that is used by many secondary and tertiary students. TextHELP! scans, speaks, spells and speeds up the writing process.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Volume 49 Number 3, 2007; Pages 289–297
Children’s books that tell refugees’ stories are invaluable for the important social issues they raise, such as inclusion, citizenship, respect and diversity. They also introduce readers to examples of human courage and endurance in horrifying circumstances. Some educators have considered the material unsuitable for children. However, the world now contains over 12 million refugees, many of whom are children. It is best if these confronting issues are discussed in a secure environment before they are encountered in real life. There are currently around 60 children’s books in English that tell refugees’ stories. This article focuses on those appropriate for children aged 5–7. The first book selected is Sherry Garland’s The Lotus Seed, a story about a family fleeing the civil war in
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Studies of Society and Environment
Volume 9 Number 1, Autumn 2007; Pages 12–19
A number of myths currently surround the teaching of artistically talented students. These myths may impact negatively upon curriculums and programs designed for these students. The first myth is that special talents and abilities in the arts are separate from cognitive and intellectual abilities. This false dichotomy ignores the high correlation between the two sets of abilities, and disregards the needs of many students who are both artistically and academically talented. The partitioning of intellectual and artistic ability has led to a devaluing of artistic talent, and to art programs being pushed to the periphery of mainstream education. Cultural context strongly shapes individual decisions to express meaning through language, science, visual or performing arts, and these choices are rewarded differently in different cultures. The second myth is that terms such as ‘giftedness’, ‘creativity’ and ‘talent’ are non-problematic. There are in fact no universal definitions of these words, which are increasingly becoming replaced by the term ‘talent development’. This shift springs from an increasing realisation that creativity can to some extent be taught, and that progress in art usually only follows intensive, long-term instruction. The third myth is that only a few people have artistic talent. In fact, talent is better considered as being normally distributed throughout the population. Its expression is also highly dependent on social norms and cultural expectations. Art curriculums should be designed to challenge students with all levels of artistic ability. The fourth myth is that talented students are easily identified through their artworks. Teacher expectations may block the recognition of artistic talent, and many students, especially adolescents, mask their art abilities at school. Teachers should look for well-developed drawing skills, interest, task commitment and motivation to identify potentially talented students. The fifth myth states that most decisions about the art curriculum should be made by experts in gifted and talented education. Instead, members of the local community should play a large role in program design. It is important to work within a framework of cultural pluralism, and to use the local environment as a basis for planning programs for talented art students.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsArts in education
Gifted and talented (GAT) children
A financial literacy tool: just how successful is this corporation?
February 2008; Pages 36–39
With a rapidly escalating number of bankruptcy claims filed by young people, school financial literacy tools are becoming increasingly important. Students should be taught to seek, analyse and understand data from a variety of sources. Just how successful is this corporation? is an activity for senior secondary students that looks at the annual financial reports of major companies. In the first stage, students request a financial report directly from a company they have chosen. They learn in the process that these are freely available and that companies are happy to provide them, often along with unexpected extras such as food vouchers or posters. The reports of many
Subject HeadingsFinancial literacy
'She had to buy a football book to do it': issues in the leadership of physical activity for girls
Summer 2007; Pages 32–36
The disengagement of many girls from sporting activities is a widespread problem, especially with regard to their participation in extracurricular sport. A study recently conducted as part of a British evaluation of sport and physical activity initiatives has indicated that leadership plays a key role in keeping girls in sport. The term ‘leader’ in this context is used to describe any individual who manages group physical activity sessions, including paid coaches, teachers and parent volunteers. The 18 focus groups in the study consisted of girls aged 10–16, some of whom still participated in organised physical activity and some of whom did not. As well as poor changing facilities, inappropriate uniform, and lack of interesting activities to try, the quality of leadership emerged as an important consideration. Poor leadership saw girls drop out even when facilities were good, while good leadership was able to compensate for poor facilities and environment. Good leaders were those who were genuinely friendly and supportive, and created an informal environment where the girls felt relaxed and appreciated. These leaders showed an understanding of the differing skill levels in the group, and involved the less proficient girls without pointing out their shortcomings. Girls also fared best with leaders who challenged them and motivated them to improve their skills. Girls in the focus groups who no longer participated in sports often cited the frustration of unchallenging sessions as one reason they had discontinued the activity. Skill development was central to continued participation, with one girl motivated to participate in football sessions because ‘I know when I go I’ll be able to do something else by the time I get home'. Supportive relationships and challenge are both critical to retaining girls in sport, and teacher training needs to reflect this. Both pre-service and in-service training for physical education teachers should involve mentoring and information on how to lead girls’ physical activity effectively, with the right balance between forming strong relationships and delivering interesting and challenging sessions.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsGirls' education
Against the grain: constructions of gender through teacher talk
Volume 42 Number 3, 2007; Pages 74–82
The classes of a pre-service teacher in
Subject HeadingsBoys' education
Teaching and learning
No gift for the talented: a lousy label for any child
Volume 7 Number 1, April 2008; Pages 4–5
A 'veritable industry' has developed around gifted and talented education. Concern to protect the interests of the gifted has converged with 'the contemporary push to increase competitiveness' and the promotion of selective schools to enhance opportunities for high-performing students. However, there has been inadequate evaluation of the results of 'the gifted and talented revolution'. In fact, a 'very large percentage' of children attending selective schools in New South Wales achieve lower results on their Higher School Certificate than could have been expected from their earlier performance in Basic Skills Tests. A likely explanation of this fact is the de-motivating influence of the prevailing, static concept of intelligence. This view, known as 'entity theory', represents intelligence as an inborn attribute. Such a view can lead students to avoid putting their intelligence to the test through strong levels of effort, for fear that it will reveal a lower than expected intelligence level. It can also lead to students seeing themselves as 'dumb', based on modest prior academic performance. By contrast, 'incremental theory' asserts that intelligence is influenced by effort and experience. This view was supported in a recent report in New Scientist magazine.
Gifted and talented (GAT) children
New South Wales (NSW)
The classroom library: a place for nonfiction, nonfiction in its place
Volume 48 Number 1, 2007; Pages 1–18
Most classroom libraries contain too little nonfiction. Nonfiction genres are estimated to comprise 84 per cent of adult, real-world texts, and nonfiction material is often preferred by boys and children of primary school age. Around half of the classroom library should be nonfiction. It should be displayed enticingly and organised according to topic. When selecting nonfiction material, teachers should aim to motivate their readers through providing a variety of choices. Reviews of nonfiction series books are available online, and awards such as the Orbis Pictus Award and the Robert F. Sibert Award identify high-quality nonfiction books for children. The American Library Association’s Notable Books List is also an excellent source of material. Small sets of books specialised around a topic, for example on the folktales, contemporary accounts, history and customs of a particular country, can be a worthwhile resource. Pairing a nonfiction text with a fictional account, such as a historical novel, can increase students' awareness of the characteristics of both genres. Good topics include volcanoes, animals, dinosaurs, black holes, and biographies of sportspeople and musicians. The Ripley’s Believe It or Not! series and Kids Discover magazines are also exciting and enjoyable. For students without English as a first language, providing nonfiction materials in their home language is a valuable literacy support. There should be multiple copies of some texts so the experience can be shared. Two appropriate texts for these literature circles are Buried in Ice and Secrets of Vesuvius. Reading aloud is an excellent way for teachers to stimulate interest, and students enjoy listening to quality nonfiction as well as fiction. Two-minute ‘book talks’, in which a teacher summarises or reads aloud an interesting extract from a book, are highly recommended. There should generally be no more than five book talks at a time, two or three of which should be nonfiction. One book well suited to this format is Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon. Readers' Theatre scripts are another entertaining way of engaging with texts, and the website includes advice on how to adapt any passage into a script.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
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