16 March 2006; Pages 14–15
Seventeen primary and secondary schools in South Australia have developed strategies to support students at risk of drug- or alcohol-related harm, under the 2003–2005 Drug Strategy Social Inclusion Research and Development Project. The participating schools were from the government, Catholic, and independent sectors. The strategies have been designed to include all types of students. The project’s website provides access to issues papers, selected report summaries, reflections along with proformas, readings and other resources to help other schools. The participating schools addressed various issues associated with student drug and alcohol harm, such as the impact of drink driving, drug misuse by remote and isolated students and social acceptance of binge drinking among youth. Flinders View Primary School developed a cross-curricular play-based approach, to scaffold learning and improve students’ self-esteem and resilience. Open Access College (OAC) developed staff policies and procedures for addressing drug-related incidents, recognising that current response frameworks do not address all of the issues faced by distance education students. Keith Area School and Gladstone High School developed responses with the assistance of local groups, promoting positive community attitudes in the process. Alongside action research, participants were involved in collective reflection, and attended workshops to learn about research processes. The project was funded by DEST and the National School Drug Education Strategy.
Subject HeadingsSouth Australia
16 March 2006; Page 13
Port Pirie West Primary School in South Australia is targeting student learning needs and resolving behavioural issues more effectively, thanks to a new data collection system. A range of student demographic and behavioural data is collected for each student, such as gender, attendance, cultural background, specific learning difficulties and findings from student, parent and staff surveys. Instances of negative behaviour are recorded specifically in terms of their location, type of instance, outside influences, time and associated weather conditions. The system has found strong correlations between different data elements, for example, high instances of student behavioural problems tend to occur at the same time as high staff absences through sickness, or during bad weather conditions. Data analysis is used to meet specific learning needs, for example, in directing the classroom allocation of students and teachers, and identifying literacy as a critical area for improvement. As a result, funds have been allocated for additional staff and extended literacy blocks introduced for all students. Further data analysis has highlighted the subsequent success of the blocks. The system was established as part of the Quality Improvement Schools Program and subsequent High Performance Outcomes Data Extension Trial.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Crisis? What crisis? A reply
March 2006; Pages 4–5
The author responds to criticisms of his report Why Our Schools Are Failing, made by Ian Keese in a previous article in Professional Educator (see earlier abstract). Keese alleges that the term ‘crisis’ exaggerates the problems facing Australian schools, but there is evidence of a crisis. The Vinson report made reference to decreasing staff morale. Outcomes based education (OBE) has been criticised by Bruce Wilson, former head of Curriculum Corporation. A survey of parents revealed concern about teachers’ objectivity with regard to civics education. Other evidence of a crisis includes the negative impact of political correctness on the curriculum, and a 1996 test of Year 3 and Year 5 students that revealed significant levels of illiteracy. Mistakes made in implementing OBE have been acknowledged by all States and Territories. The general vagueness of OBE outcomes has increased teacher workload, especially at the primary school level. There is little if any criticism of teachers in Why Our Schools Are Failing. However, schools and teachers are often undermined by ‘unresponsive bureaucracies, left-wing academics and teacher unions more concerned with ideology than what happens in the classroom’. The 2000 and 2003 PISA results would have looked less positive had they tested for students’ spelling, punctuation and grammar. In the TIMSS series of studies, the maths and science results of Australian students have been consistently poorer than those of students in a number of comparable countries. Much of Australia’s intended curriculum ‘has a decidedly left-wing, new age focus’. Groups such as the AEU and AATE are generally to the left of public opinion on educational issues. Keese argues for equitable funding as the key to improving the education system, however research indicates that there are more significant influences on it, such as school culture, curriculum, school leadership, the degree of commitment and professionalism of teachers, and the level of ‘freedom to get on with the job’.
Subject HeadingsEducation philosophy
Scaffolding the language of maths
Volume 14 Number 1, February 2006; Pages 23–35
Cowandilla CPC–7 School in Adelaide serves a disadvantaged community with a high number of Indigenous students. The difficulties of the students in making the transition from primary to secondary level maths have been investigated by the authors, who are the principal and the middle years project officer for Aboriginal education at the school. They found that many of students were able to grasp mathematical processes, but struggled with the language of maths texts. Maths texts typically include a high proportion of ‘content’ words compared to the ‘grammatical’ words linking them, and complex sentences with lengthy noun groups. Boxes and other supplements to the text tend to be used in inconsistent ways. These hurdles pose particular problems for Indigenous and ESL students. These difficulties are highlighted during the transition to high school from primary school, where maths is mainly taught in a much less challenging way through worksheets. The real life contexts used to pose problems in maths books are often unfamiliar and perplexing to ESL and Indigenous students. Such students are not always acquainted with the social conventions underlying the examples, for instance the fact that the hypothetical context in which the problem is posed is not important for solving the problem. To deal with these issues the authors drew on the Scaffolding Literacy teaching method. They explained to students the social function of text types such as narrative and science reports, and talked explicitly about why the authors of maths books write word problems. They set exercises in which students learned to distinguish given information from actual tasks in word-based maths problems. They also provided prior social knowledge required for the understanding of particular problems. These supports were provided in a scaffolded way, and were removed as the students moved beyond the need for them. While this work has been successful in helping students make the transition to higher levels of maths, it has also underlined the high level of attention needed to text forms and classroom talk for students from Indigenous or non-English speaking backgrounds.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
English as an additional language
Volume 85 Number 4, 20 March 2006
New Zealand’s Supplementary Learning Support (SLS) scheme has improved the academic outcomes and class participation rates of students with significant and ongoing learning difficulties. The scheme will be expanded to include 1,500 students nationally from March 2006. Participants generally remain on the SLS scheme throughout their education, and the ongoing nature of support is proving more beneficial than previous ‘piecemeal’ programs that last for a few weeks at a time. Under SLS, specialist learning support teachers (LST) work with selected students on a one-to-one basis for two hours each week. The specialists design learning plans around each student’s literacy and numeracy levels to ‘close gaps’ in understanding, something classroom teachers often lack the time to do successfully. As removing students from the classroom can reduce their level of participation in class, specialists prefer to provide individual assistance within the classroom. Specialists also work closely with teachers and teacher aides, often providing addition resources or guidance to help them teach the student concerned. Full-time specialists work with up to ten students from neighbouring schools, and assess students regularly. Those who are significantly behind in literacy and numeracy or considered a priority by government special education staff may be selected for assistance. The initiative was piloted in eight districts in 2002, and implemented nationally in 2004.
Subject HeadingsNew Zealand
Monitoring the quality of pedagogy
Volume 11 Number 2, 2005; Pages 70–83
School leaders seeking to improve teaching in their school often apply models of pedagogy that are unclear, unstated or assumed. Vague concepts such as ‘student-centred learning’ or pedagogy based on ‘learning styles’, although very popular, are not supported by coherent theories or a solid evidence base. School leaders need to use a model that defines goals explicitly in order to develop meaningful measures of performance, guard against subjective judgements and expose gaps in the evidence needed for evaluation. While a useful model needs to allow for local conditions, some general qualities apply. The model needs a defensible definition of student learning outcomes. It should challenge the ‘we already do that’ response from teachers yet also make changes seem attainable to them, recognising factors such as morale and ‘change fatigue’. Unnecessary jargon should be avoided, but unfamiliar terms may be needed for unfamiliar but important concepts. The model needs to fit within existing information about the quality of pedagogy in a school. These qualities have been incorporated in the New South Wales Quality Teaching model (QT). The QT was formulated by the author and others, and draws on their work with the productive pedagogy approach developed in Queensland. The QT measures pedagogy through the dimensions of intellectual quality, or pedagogy focused on imparting deep understanding; of the quality learning environment, through which teachers set high expectations and foster positive relationships among students; and of intellectual significance, through which teachers make learning meaningful and important to students. Each dimension is broken down into a range of ‘items’ that describe specific aspects of the dimension. Each item has an accompanying rating scale. A school needs to audit existing practices against the model. The audit is both a ‘reality check’ and a review of the distribution of school resources. The quality of existing evidence needs to be closely examined. Evidence might be collected by classroom observation, but as this method can be confronting for teachers, school leaders may prefer to begin with a study of assessment tasks and lesson designs. An ethic of mutual respect and trust is essential.
Subject HeadingsNew South Wales (NSW)
Teaching and learning
Rescuing teacher professionalism
January 2006; Pages 175–180
The first half of the twentieth century saw advances in teacher training and the development of the concept of a public sector that embraced education. The elite grammar schools were brought into the state system. After World War II teachers were seen as integral to the new welfare society, and as professionals who were ‘partners in the deliberations of policy’. Their professional status rose further with the extension of teacher training into three- and four-year courses during the 1960s. A Schools’ Council gave schools responsibility for their own curriculum and teaching methods. However, during harsher economic conditions of the 1980s and 1990s, successive British governments centralised control of curriculum and teaching and gave parents more power over schools. The Schools’ Council was abolished. The National Literacy Strategy and National Learning Targets improved test scores in reading and writing, but only at the expense of listening and speaking skills and advances in other curriculum areas. Workforce remodelling was introduced, and was accepted by all unions except the National Union of Teachers. Under this system schools began to use ‘students, newly qualified teachers and unqualified classroom assistants to cover for absent teachers’. As a result of these changes, a third of teachers are now considering departure from the profession within five years, to escape the workload, initiative overload and the ‘target-driven culture’. Workers in the school education community cannot by themselves solve these problems, but can take a number of measures to alleviate them. Teaching colleges should promote the value of longer, more professionally oriented courses. There should be a campaign for a single professional body for teachers, which would address issues of curriculum and teaching methods. Teachers will need to take the initiative in setting up such a body. More broadly, there should be a campaign to renegotiate the status of teaching and assert professional self-regulation.
Subject HeadingsGreat Britain
Teaching and learning
The medical research model: no magic formula
Volume 63 Number 6, March 2006; Pages 79–82
The USA’s cornerstone school law, the No Child Left Behind Act, restricts federal government’s education research funding to studies deemed to be ‘scientifically based’. The preferred model for such studies is medical research. The most popular experimental model in medicine is the randomised assignment design, in which a group of individuals receives standardised treatment, with results compared in a standardised manner to those of another group of individuals who receive a placebo. Such conditions are ‘rarely obtainable and may not even be desirable’ in the education setting. Participants are not selected randomly: Individual schools or districts usually decide whether or not to participate in studies. At each school or district trial programs are subject to many influences, or variables, unrelated to the study. Education staff conducting trial studies can never be blind to the methods they employ, like health workers administering a drug or placebo. Results of educational studies are also distorted by the ‘Hawthorne effect’. This effect states that simply changing the conditions under which a process takes place and then evaluating outcomes is usually enough by itself to produce positive results in the short term, but that these results are unrelated to medium- and long-term impact. Alternative models are better suited to the educational context. Ethnographic designs using on-site observations can capture classroom processes and how they vary between settings. Time series studies can be used to grasp the ongoing interaction of a range of influences. Quasi-experimental designs can be used to examine cross-sectional data on changes in student performance before and after a program is implemented. Other promising lines for education research are being developed around the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Growth Research Database.
Subject HeadingsEducation research
United States of America (USA)
Rubrics in assessment
Volume 43 Number 1, March 2006; Pages 8–13
In maths education a ‘rubric’ is a means for formal evaluation of a students’ level of attainment on a given topic. It consists of a table in which the rows identify different aspects of the topic being taught, and the columns identify the levels of attainment. At a broad level a rubric ‘often seems essentially equivalent to a checklist of observable behaviours’ and, as such, is a form of familiar, ‘common sense good practice’ in assessment. Rubrics are useful for giving students a preliminary glimpse of a topic and accompanying assessment criteria. However, they may encourage students to manipulate their work to maximise their performance narrowly around the assessment criteria for a task. Rubrics may also be difficult to interpret and may involve subjective judgements. It is unclear how rubrics can be used to rank student performance, which remains necessary at Year 12 level in the context of competitive vocational or tertiary selection. Even so, rubrics have become extremely popular. For example, they are almost the only form of assessment recognised in the 2003 handbook of the USA’s National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). The article outlines a range of potential applications of rubrics for maths assessment, including their use for measuring non-cognitive learning such as values education.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Volume 63 Number 6, March 2006; Pages 9–13
The quality of relationships among a school’s staff is the greatest single determinant of school culture and student outcomes. However, problems within these relationships are one of a range of ‘non-discussibles’ in a school, meaning they are only discussed informally and secretly. The lack of open discussion about problem relationships turns these issues into ‘land mines’, and the fear of setting them off usually paralyses attempts at resolution. Staff relationships take four broad forms. Parallel play characterises situations in which teachers do not overcome their separation into different classrooms, or in which principals of nearby schools rarely interact. In adversarial relationships, staff undermine one another by direct or indirect criticism or by withholding help. Congenial relationships involve cooperation around acts of daily living, such as offering a lift to or from work. In collegiate relationships staff interact deeply around their work. They discuss their own work, observe one another in the classroom or other settings, share craft knowledge, and protect or help colleagues in difficulty. Staff who attempt to introduce elements of such behaviour into an unsupportive culture risk being seen as pretentious or over-ambitious. School leaders can encourage collegiate relationships by supporting such staff; by signalling that interpersonal problems should be discussed; by explicitly stating the need for collegiate behaviour, and specifying forms it could take; by providing rewards for collegiate staff such as additional release time; and by modelling such behaviour by, for example, inviting another principal to observe a staff meeting to demonstrate peer observation.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
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