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

Making the most of professional learning communities

May 2008; Pages 1, 4–7
Jay McTighe

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.

KLA

Subject Headings

Professional development
School principals
School leadership
School culture
Teaching and learning
Co-operation

Learning lessons: What No Child Left Behind can teach us about literacy, testing and accountability

 2007; Pages 5–10
Allan Luke, Annette Woods

The literacy provisions of the USA’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act 2001 have significant similarities to some curriculum initiatives and policies on literacy implemented or advocated in Australia. Compliance to NCLB is achieved through sanctions and incentives, which are assumed to improve the work quality and the results achieved by teachers and students. The NCLB advances parental school choice as a means to enhance school performance through market mechanisms, supported by vouchers for poorer parents. Early in its existence NCLB legislation was criticised for ignoring substantial educational research, ‘including all correlation studies and those that related to single case sites’. Studies of the state-by-state impact of NCLB, by Audrey Amrein and David Berliner and by Barak Rosenshine found no consistent evidence of improvement in student literacy. In support of the NCLB’s narrow reliance on phonics or ‘alphabetics’ to improve reading skills, the US government advances a ‘gold standard’ evidence base which is, however, restricted and contestable. A major award-winning study of reading research by Scott Paris has seriously challenged ‘most of the scientific evidence’ produced concerning the development of reading skills, particularly research on decoding skills. The study found that knowledge and skills in vocabulary, inference and critical thinking are much stronger than phonics skills as predictors of later academic achievement. These findings are supported in research by Robert Calfee and the key role of vocabulary is supported in studies summarised by Donna Alvermann. NCLB has been implemented through programs that systematically ‘script, monitor and benchmark teachers’ everyday teaching’. Implicitly this approach blames teachers for problems in literacy, deflecting attention from factors like home/school transitions, poverty, school resourcing, and the increasing incidence of special needs. Research highlighting these issues was ‘ruled out from the scientific “gold standard” of the national reports’ on NCLB and reading. The NCLB relocates control of teaching and assessment from teachers, students and communities to government. The accountability regime associated with NCLB has not improved equity in USA, but has led to test-focused teaching, localised manipulation of test administration and scoring, departure of experienced teachers, increased use of packaged materials for teaching, and narrowing of curriculum. Alternative policies based on teacher professionalism, such as Literate Futures, have had successes in Australia, Canada and Finland. 

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

English language teaching
United States of America (USA)
Literacy
Educational evaluation
Educational accountability
Educational planning

The case for early, targeted interventions to prevent academic failure

Volume 82 Number 4,  2007; Pages 587–616
Irma Perez-Johnson, Rebecca Maynard

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.

KLA

Subject Headings

Education finance
United States of America (USA)
Education policy
Educational evaluation
Early childhood education

Fast, frustrating and the future: ICT, new technologies and 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.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
Computer-based training
Internet
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Elearning

Using ICT to enable students to master spelling

Volume 30 Number 2, December 2007; Pages 14–16
Pat Minton

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 Areas

English

Subject Headings

Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Technology
Literacy

Flightlines: exploring early readers for children about the refugee experience

Volume 49 Number 3,  2007; Pages 289–297
Julia Hope

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 Vietnam. One single lotus seed, taken from home, is a metaphor for adaptation and growth in a new environment. Two books about the Hmong people of Laos use Hmong story cloths as the basis for their plot. The Whispering Cloth by Pegi Deitz Shea is for a younger readership. Dia’s Story Cloth by Dia Cha is an autobiographical account for slightly older readers. British author Mary Hoffman’s The Colour of Home tells of a Somalian boy who has fled from Somalia to Kenya and then to Britain to escape the war. Books about specific geographic and political locations are useful for starting class discussions about refugees. From Far Away, by Robert Munsch and Lebanese refugee Saussan Askar, shows a girl’s loneliness in dealing with language and cultural barriers in her adopted country before being accepted and integrated into a caring classroom. Books that perpetrate stereotypes of refugee children as ‘lonely and lost’ or as objects of pity should be avoided. Instead, rich and authentic stories should be chosen that celebrate the resilience and courage of these children. Christophe’s Story by Nicki Cornwell, published in 2006, follows the growth of Rwandan refugee Christophe and the eventual pride he feels in telling his story to the rest of the class. Sensitivity is required in the teaching of this material, but the potential benefits for children are immense.

Key Learning Areas

English
Studies of Society and Environment

Subject Headings

Refugees
Children's literature
Primary education

Five myths about teaching artistically talented art students

Volume 9 Number 1, Autumn 2007; Pages 12–19
Enid Zimmerman

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 Areas

The Arts

Subject Headings

Arts in education
Gifted and talented (GAT) children
Curriculum planning

A financial literacy tool: just how successful is this corporation?

February 2008; Pages 36–39
Robert B. Blair, Betty S. Harper

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 US companies can also be found on the Wall Street Journal Online. In the second stage, students are asked to familiarise themselves with their report. They do this by going through and writing down the page number of information such as Corporation Address, Investor Relations Contact Name, Earnings per Share, Sales, Number of Shareholders, Current Assets, Current Liabilities, and Environmental Issues Discussion. The worksheet then asks students about their overall impression of the report, and whether they would invest in this company based on what they have learnt. Students then consult four consecutive issues of a financial newspaper and record the company’s performance. The activity should be conducted following a brief introduction to the accounting cycle and the nature of an annual report. It should also be carried out in conjunction with a discussion of why the students, as consumers, should be familiar with this information. Employers often pinpoint oral communication skills as lacking in school graduates, so a good idea for presentation is a brief oral report to the class. The report should be around ten minutes long and concisely summarise the highlights and interesting information found through the investigation.

KLA

Subject Headings

Financial literacy
Economics

'She had to buy a football book to do it': issues in the leadership of physical activity for girls

Summer 2007; Pages 32–36
Ruth Jeanes, Tess Kay

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 Areas

Health and Physical Education

Subject Headings

Girls' education
Physical education
Leadership

Against the grain: constructions of gender through teacher talk

Volume 42 Number 3,  2007; Pages 74–82
Claire Hiller, Kym Johnson

The classes of a pre-service teacher in Hobart were recorded, transcribed and analysed to examine whether she treated male and female students differently in the classroom. The teacher, a co-author of the article, is a feminist poststructuralist scholar and is dedicated to social justice and equitable treatment for men and women. However, despite this commitment, lesson transcripts indicated that her treatment of girls and boys in a Year 9 English classroom differed markedly. Throughout the series of twenty 75-minute lessons, she was found to praise her male students far more often, especially for assertiveness and rapid responses to questions. This occurred even if the responses were incorrect. The same behaviour from female students was usually ignored or reprimanded. Boys were often praised for original ideas, despite indications in the transcripts that girls’ ideas were equally original, and boys received praise for following instructions given to the whole class while girls did not. The teacher personalised relationships with many of the boys in her class, using their first names often and having discussions about issues unrelated to school. Girls’ names were used much less often, and less strong individual relationships formed between the teacher and her female students. Female talk was strongly discouraged, with girls often being rebuked for chatting when it was clear that all students were talking. From the standpoint of critical literacy theory, which aims to observe and challenge the assumptions underpinning everyday social interactions, the teacher’s behaviour positioned girls as passive, compliant and producing high-quality work without the need for praise. Boys were positioned as more assertive, individual and important than girls. It is especially important to conduct this type of critical analysis in classrooms, since this is an important site where young people learn about the expectations carried by particular social roles. The findings of the study indicate that even teachers with a passionate commitment to social justice and equity may not reproduce this ideal in their classroom behaviour. Careful observation and analysis of pedagogical practices is critical if students are to learn to challenge the boundaries of conventional gender roles.

KLA

Subject Headings

Boys' education
Girls' education
Pedagogy
Teaching and learning
Classroom management

No gift for the talented: a lousy label for any child

Volume 7 Number 1, April 2008; Pages 4–5
Catherine Scott

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. 

KLA

Subject Headings

Intellect
Motivation
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
Terrell A. Young, Barbara Moss, Linda Cornwell

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 Areas

English

Subject Headings

Reading
Library resources
Children's literature
Literacy

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