Openness and awareness – roles and demands of music teachers
Volume 8 Number 2, July 2006; Pages 237–250
Phenomenological research seeks to describe a certain phenomenon or experience from a number of subjective viewpoints, trusting the power of insight to make the experience understandable to the reader. The phenomenon described in the article is the relationship between the teacher and student in music education, as enacted in three Swedish music classes. In the study, the process of music teaching and learning is conceptualised as an interaction between the teacher’s intentions, expectations and experiences, and the students’ knowledge, expectations and experiences, with the end goal of making further music experiences possible for the students. Classroom observations and written reflection by both the researcher and the teachers were used to gain insight into this process in action. The key theme that emerged was the need for openness and awareness on the part of the teacher. Openness referred both to a recognition of students’ previous musical knowledge and experiences, and willingness to accommodate pupils’ ideas and preferences as they emerged. The role of the teacher may be characterised as a guide on a climbing expedition, where the pupils are the climbers. The teacher may have a route planned, where each step builds on the previous one to reach a predetermined destination. They may also choose to act as a ‘belayer’ standing at the bottom of the mountainside looking at the whole picture, supporting the student and suggesting footholds when the path is unclear. In all situations, the teacher’s responsibility is to enable the process to continue and develop. This requires teachers to have the holistic competence needed to move between the roles of instructor, guide and discussion partner in the shared process of meaning construction that constitutes music education.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsTeacher-student relationships
Informing post-school pathways
Volume 5 Number 4, October 2006; Pages 15–19
The role of paid part-time work was investigated in the Informing Post-School Pathways project. The project involved ten classes from six schools in
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
Vocational education and training
'Too many theories and not enough instruction': perceptions of preservice teacher preparation for literacy teaching in Australian schools
Volume 40 Number 2, July 2006; Pages 44–78
In 2005 the Prepared to Teach report described the results of a study on how well new teachers in Australia are prepared for literacy and numeracy teaching at the primary and secondary levels. The article reports on the study’s results related to literacy. The study involved reviews of Australian teacher education programs and of international literature; focus groups; and a survey of new teachers, experienced teachers, senior staff in schools and teacher educators. New teachers’ overall knowledge and competence in literacy was rated highly by new primary and secondary teachers themselves, but not by senior staff, teacher educators or experienced teachers. Experienced secondary teachers expressed concern that new teachers lacked substantial knowledge of literature, particularly those with undergraduate teaching qualifications. New primary teachers felt their courses had prepared them well in terms of the ‘language modes of reading and writing’, but not as well in the ‘skill areas of spelling, phonics and grammar’. Senior staff agreed, but were more critical of new teachers’ training in specific skills. New teachers did not feel well prepared to teach phonics. New secondary teachers did not feel as well prepared in specific literacy teaching strategies as their primary peers. The article includes a table listing the specific strategies new primary teachers felt were most important and those they felt best prepared to teach. Knowledge of ‘problematic’ or critical approaches to learning was given relatively high importance by teacher educators, who linked it to the deep knowledge of teaching required to sustain new teachers in later professional life, but new teachers and senior staff in schools preferred an emphasis on procedural knowledge. New teachers strongly valued practicum time and mentoring once in a school. Overall, the findings reflect a ‘long standing and internationally consistent scepticism about the capacity of teacher education to prepare beginning teachers’. Possible reasons for this perception include the traumatic nature of teachers’ first year in schools; the growing inclusion of students with high support needs in mainstream classes; the growth of linguistic and cultural diversity; the ‘feminisation and increased average of the profession’; and a decline in the status of the teaching profession.
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
Risk management in the context of challenging behaviour
Volume 15 Number 1, 4th Quarter 2006; Pages 3–10
Risk management seeks to ‘eliminate risk by establishing safe systems of work, safe work practices and safe places’. Disruptive, challenging behaviour by students in schools constitutes a risk to premises, equipment and people that should be managed by appropriate policies. These policies should be established and managed at the whole school level rather than seen as the responsibility of individual teachers. The article outlines a risk management process, and explores each step using a school-based case study. The behaviours that pose a risk to safety and the individuals and groups most at risk must be identified. Next, the school should analyse the purposes of and triggers for student misbehaviour, a task which involves scrutiny of the student’s personal history and the school environment. Risk should also be assessed in terms of frequency, severity and scope of misbehaviour. This assessment needs to consider the level of vulnerability of potential victims in terms of factors such as age and maturity. The next step is developing explicit strategies to eliminate or control risk at the organisational, classroom and student levels. This step involves measures to assess the safety of premises and equipment and to establish safe work practices within teaching and learning activities. It also involves the preparation of targeted learning activities such as social skills programs. Disruptive students may need to be set individual learning goals. The final step is to monitor and review progress, including newly emerging risk behaviours, new people at risk and new contexts that arise.
Authority, volunteerism and sustainability: creating and sustaining an online community through teacher leadership
Volume 5 Number 2, June 2006; Pages 109–129
The FarNet project sought to bring together teachers in ten relatively isolated schools in New Zealand’s Far North in an online professional learning community. Curriculum leaders were to create online repositories of resources for their subjects, contributed to by other online community members. The project did not achieve its goal, as few teachers visited the site more than once, and only six of the 19 subject areas had material posted by anyone other than the curriculum leader. The low uptake provides a valuable starting point for discussion about the conditions necessary for teacher leadership and professional learning communities to succeed. It may be easier to work with an established community, which shares a common need and sense of collective responsibility, than to attempt to establish such a community online. Such a community did not exist between the FarNet schools except in the Maori curriculum area, where strong existing networks meant the online resource pool was readily adopted. For other teachers, concerns about intellectual property and exposure to negative feedback inhibited contributions to the site. The expectations placed on the curriculum leaders may also have been unrealistic, as they were not given any formal authority in their schools to direct teacher participation, and did not receive leadership training. Their influence therefore depended on teachers’ ‘buy-in’ to the project. As the rationale and evidence behind the project was not communicated at the outset, it was widely regarded as ‘another top–down-driven initiative’, which did not correspond to teachers’ own perceptions of their needs. A shortage of volunteers for the curriculum leader positions also meant that many had been co-opted into the role. Some adapted the role to their own purposes, while others were overwhelmed by the ‘guilt and frustration’ of never having enough time, and abandoned the project. Few understood their role as one of leadership, and may not have been comfortable assuming this role because of the culture of egalitarianism in their schools. For such a project to work, formal structural leadership should be provided from another source, freeing up teacher leaders to concentrate on instructional leadership.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Hopes and challenges in using action research: the outcome of attempting to help in-service teachers learn how to design, evaluate and use reading comprehension questions collaboratively
Volume 14 Number 3, September 2006; Pages 377–393
In Ethiopia, children are encouraged to believe that learning English ‘entitles them to a wonderful life’. However, current English teaching methods tend to emphasise grammar over communication, resulting in deficiencies in reading comprehension. A lecturer in English teaching used action research to improve the skills of teacher trainees, in terms of their reading comprehension and in terms of their ability to design reading comprehension questions for their future students. The class was initially given a short text without explanation, and asked to respond to two very vague questions about it. Poor-quality answers resulted, and the class discussed possible reasons why this had occurred. The vagueness of the questions, the absence of a heading to direct their reading, and a lack of direction as to the purpose of their reading were among the factors identified. In the next stage of the research, students were provided with a heading, improved questions, and a brainstorming session before they started reading. They reread the passage and reflected in groups on their experience, then discussed their reflections with the rest of the class. Support materials were provided to help them frame their analysis in appropriate concepts and terminology. In the final stage of the study, the class designed and discussed their own reading comprehension questions, to relate their experiences to practices they might use in their future teaching. The research fulfilled its purpose of generating improvements to reading teaching, both in terms of the researcher’s own learning and the participants’ understanding of their future practice. Actively engaging the students in the analytical process deepened learning for all parties involved. It also revealed the difficulty of creating a true collaborative learning community. In class discussions of the groups’ analyses, participants tended to defend their own points of view rather than engage in collaborative knowledge creation. The effectiveness of peer reflection as a strategy proved ‘totally dependent on the participants’ willingness to learn from one another’, and required the lecturer to carefully balance the need for ‘ground rules’ to guide discussion with the need for uninhibited participation.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Volume 10 Number 2, July 2006; Pages 179–196
Few primary schools have specialist physical education teachers, so primary teachers are often called on to teach physical education as well as classroom instruction. Preservice primary teachers typically enter their training believing that physical education is little more than organised playtime, and may even dislike it due to low personal skills or interest or adverse prior experiences. In the USA, 193 preservice primary teachers were surveyed about their perceptions of physical education, and how they felt their skills and attitudes had changed during the physical education component of their teacher training. A large number of respondents felt positive about their ability to teach physical education after completing the course. This is encouraging in that teacher efficacy, ie teachers’ belief in their ability to teach a particular subject, is an important predictor of teaching performance. Respondents’ perceptions of their skills development focused mainly on emotional qualities, such as gaining confidence or becoming able to motivate students and make lessons fun. They also frequently identified both self-management and student management as areas in which they had improved. Most respondents attributed their skills development to the context of the course, emphasising the importance of quality practicum experiences, reflection, clear tasks and expectations, and active, supportive supervision. Most respondents found physical education teaching harder than classroom teaching. Whichever form of teaching they found harder, they tended to define physical education in terms of movement and an open setting, counterposed to the 'defined, static classroom', suggesting that their understanding of the specific content of physical education had not fully matured. The study indicates that a well-designed preservice course can give future primary teachers more positive attitudes towards physical education and the confidence to teach it. Even without comprehensive knowledge of its specific content, the preservice teachers came to recognise physical education not as play but as something to be taught.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsPhysical education
United States of America (USA)
Teacher aptitude research challenged
18 October 2006; Page 13
Earlier this year researchers Andrew Leigh and Chris Ryan published an analysis of data from the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth (LSAY), in which they drew widely reported conclusions about the teaching profession (see Report asserts fall in teacher aptitude, Curriculum Leadership 1 September 2006). The researchers compared the literacy and numeracy results of two student cohorts, one aged 14 in 1983 and the other in Year 9 in 2003. For each cohort the researchers compared the results for the entire student group to the results for two subsets of students: those who went on to become student teachers in the two years after Year 12, and the further subset who went on to become new teachers four to six years after Year 12. Between 1983 and 2003 the average percentile rank for the student teacher group fell from 74 to 61 when measured against all students, and the percentile for the new teachers fell from 70 to 62. The researchers noted that over the same twenty-year period there had been a decline in teachers’ salaries, and in the spread of teachers' salary scales relative to other professions. They suggested a link between these trends. However, the findings may be challenged on two grounds. Over the same period there was a marked expansion in the proportion of people in professional or managerial positions, and in the proportion of the two cohorts who entered tertiary education. As a result, teacher education had to compete for high-achieving students against a much wider range of other courses in 2003 than 1983. When this change is allowed for ‘teacher education and teaching have more than held their own’ over the period. The subgroup of student teachers selected by the researchers excluded those in postgraduate programs, who tend to be of higher than average academic standing. Postgraduates formed a larger proportion of student teachers in 2003, so their exclusion has a greater negative impact on the figures given by the researchers for student teacher results for that year. A second objection relates to the new teacher subgroup. This subgroup was effectively limited to students aged no more than 24. Once again this approach excludes teachers who had come from postgraduate programs, and skews the comparison unfavourably for the teaching profession.
Subject HeadingsTeachers' employment
The merits of merit pay for teachers
18 October 2006; Pages 12–13
Merit-based pay schemes for Australian teachers should be considered in the light of US experience. Such schemes were widely used in the USA during the 1970s but were abandoned after being deemed unsuccessful. They were found to demoralise teachers and weaken collaboration by introducing competition. Merit-based pay schemes are particularly likely to cause friction if teachers compete for payments that are funded within individual school budgets. They also create problems of measurement. It is very hard to isolate teachers’ individual contributions to student achievement and impractical to compare these contributions across the wide range of contexts within which teachers work. Measurement of students’ non-academic performance also needs to be considered. Research indicates that merit-based pay would not be the most powerful way to attract or retain teachers, who tend to be driven mainly by altruistic concerns. However, teachers’ unusually flat pay scale does have some negative impact on teacher retention. There is a ‘hidden resignation spike’ at the point when teachers reach the top of their current salary scale. At a similar career point, salaries in many other professions are rising steeply. Other obstacles to attracting and retaining teachers are their low social status, the pressure they face to solve many social problems for students, and the sense of powerlessness they feel when change is imposed on them. The most appropriate way to recognise and reward teacher performance is through an external evaluation process using a professional standards framework, like that provided by the New South Wales Institute of Teachers. The Institute sets three levels of accreditation for teachers. Pay scales aligned with these levels would give teachers an incentive to continue professional development, which is essential to improving teaching and learning. Professional learning should be collaborative, school-based and focused on local issues, and should be supported by adequate time release from classroom teaching and other duties.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Volume 32 Number 2, May 2006; Pages 133–146
A lecturer in teacher education provides his perspective on teacher preparation in England over the last 23 years, using primary English as a focus topic. A comparison of changes to courses in three teacher training institutions reveals seven key themes. Firstly, the traditional four-year course now competes with a wide range of teacher preparation alternatives. It is also now one of the few options for which trainees have to pay themselves, further reducing its popularity. Secondly, time spent on primary English in training courses has been reduced as the direct result of government policies which have shifted emphasis away from the teaching of pedagogy. Thirdly, terminology has changed. What was once described as ‘language’ has been narrowed to ‘English’ and then to ‘literacy’. This shift devalues knowledge about language as a general concept, casts children from non-English-speaking backgrounds in a deficit role, and privileges reading and writing over oral language. The fourth theme is the conceptual shift from ‘teacher education’ to ‘teacher training’. ‘Education’ implied induction into the reasoning and ethics required to make teaching decisions. ‘Training’ implies an acquired set of practical skills, consistent with the current policy emphasis on ‘teaching standards’. This gives rise to three more themes, in that trainee teachers’ activities, course readings and assessments now focus much more on practice than theory. In the past, teacher education students have expressed dissatisfaction with theory-based courses that left them without explicit practical strategies to employ in the classroom. However, although students completing a theory-oriented course may in fact become less confident about their practical skills, this is a symptom of a healthy problematisation of education which will enable them to interrogate their practice and make better teaching decisions. Teachers prepared only to undertake practical strategies are more likely to be reliant on, and compliant with, government direction. If teachers have lost the ability and inclination to constantly question their practices, then the changes to teacher preparation have not been for the better.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
English language teaching
Volume 32 Number 2, May 2006; Pages 185–196
In 2000, flexible courses in the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) were introduced in England and Wales. The PGCE is more flexible than traditional fixed one-year courses in terms of entry and exit dates, assignment deadlines and time for completion of work. Course participants create an individual training plan which combines in-college classes, practical work and self-study modules. Students with relevant prior experience can be exempted from some parts of the course. Flexible teacher training courses have arisen in response to the ‘emerging recruitment pattern’ of teachers who are mature age, who work full time but want a career change, who have child-care responsibilities, who already have some teaching-related experience, and who have subject degrees not directly connected to the national curriculum. Their appeal to a more diverse audience is likely to increase enrolments and funding for the university. In Goldsmiths College at the University of London, the provision of a flexible teacher training course was motivated by a commitment to the inner London community. Housing costs were discouraging new teachers from seeking positions in inner London schools, so flexible PGCE options were offered to attract mature professionals already living in the area. The new courses targeted subject areas with particular teacher shortages. Students’ evaluations of the courses reflected high levels of satisfaction with the degree of flexibility offered. At the same time, they re-emphasised the importance of college-based workshops and tutorials, supporting recent research findings that perceived membership of an ‘academic community’ is a key factor in tertiary student retention. Opportunities for social learning may be especially important in training for ‘a collegiate profession’ such as teaching. Further research is needed into the appropriate balance of in-college and self-directed learning, not only in terms of students’ experiences but also because of the implications for workload and collegiality among course providers.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Volume 5 Number 2, June 2006; Pages 89–107
The growing demands on school principals point to a need to restructure their role. Co-principalship is a little used but potentially effective solution. In the research described, 53 US co-principals responded to a survey about the characteristics of co-principals and their schools, the strengths and weaknesses of the co-principalship model, and their levels of job satisfaction. Conflict between work and non-work commitments, an important predictor of job satisfaction, was also investigated. The characteristics of the co-principals and their schools were typical of US schools in general. The schools had adopted co-principalship mostly because of difficulty in attracting or retaining good principals, large student populations, or the consolidation of multiple schools into one. Almost all respondents were full-time co-principals, each receiving a salary equivalent to traditional principals in their district. The respondents’ co-principalships were a mix of single gender and male-female pairings, with 83 per cent of the co-principalships including at least one woman. This suggests that the model may have potential for addressing the under-representation of women in school leadership roles. The most frequently reported strengths of co-principalship related to shared decision making and a shared workload. Respondents noted that the opportunity for collegial discussion resulted in reduced stress and better quality leadership decisions. Increased accessibility to the principal, and the opportunity to introduce gender balance into the position, were also mentioned. The most commonly reported frustration was a feeling of ‘being played off one another’ by teachers or parents. The communication and negotiation required to maintain a ‘united front’ could be very time consuming. When asked how they prioritised between their work and significant personal relationships, around half the respondents placed equal importance on both, and slightly fewer placed significant relationships first. Many reported a reduction in work–home conflict because of their shared role, leading to concomitant increases in job satisfaction.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
United States of America (USA)
Higher standards, better schools for all – a critique: can market forces close the social and achievement gap?
Volume 9 Number 2, July 2006; Pages 93–97
The British Government’s 2005 White Paper sets out proposals to reduce the impact of socioeconomic status (SES) on school achievement. Specific policies included transporting students from low SES backgrounds to higher SES schools, expanding higher SES schools and closing ‘failing’ urban schools. These policies rest on an outdated paradigm of school effectiveness, which blames schools for student failure. Research has shown that schools in low SES areas are actually likely to undertake more school improvement initiatives than high SES schools, but still meet with less success. The influence of students’ home backgrounds on their educational values and attitudes remains with them, regardless of the quality of the school they attend. Middle-class children are more likely to be raised to understand the impact of education on their future career choices, whereas low SES children are more likely to come from environments with oppositional attitudes to education. Closing low SES schools and moving students to higher SES schools is therefore likely only to lower the achievement levels of the receiving school. Having higher SES schools reserve a number of places for lower SES students will widen the achievement gap even further, as higher SES schools will skim the most able students off the top of the low SES schools’ ability pool. It would be better if policymakers were to address the special challenges that schools in low SES areas face through additional training, funding and resources than simply ‘reshuffling the pack’ and leaving market forces to create a new generation of educational winners and losers.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
Volume 35 Number 3, April 2006; Pages 15–24
The ‘scaling up’ of education research involves the ability to replicate the successful results of localised research trials in a wider setting. Such research has to be ‘internally valid,’ establishing that the successful results of a trial procedure can be attributed to the intervention rather than to other influences. A major threat to internal validity is selection bias, but such bias can be overcome by a properly constituted randomised control trial. The expense of such trials can be justified by the public benefits derived from them. While appropriately designed studies can be scaled up, they are not a substitute for contextualised analysis of the ‘nested, multifaceted, and often mutually reinforcing sets of social problems’ that result in low academic results. To show the influence of context on student outcomes, the article discusses variations in mathematics and science achievement of Year 12 students in the USA, as they were analysed through the 1988 National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS).
Subject HeadingsEducation research
United States of America (USA)
Engagement and deeper understanding through choice: empowering students through negotiating their own curriculum in the Social Sciences
Educators today are expected to cope with frequent policy changes, often driven by 'little more than political opportunism'. Educators are expected to implement these changes while also negotiating education’s current paradigm shift in thinking about the way in which learning occurs. This shift has not yet been understood by many people, including many politicians. The shift requires teachers to ensure that their teaching meets learners' widely varying needs in the classroom. It involves a move from teaching subject content to teaching dispositions or patterns of thinking that will equip students to pick up content knowledge as they need it in future contexts, aided by ICT. This paradigm shift is particularly controversial in the field of social sciences, which has traditionally been a vehicle for the delivery of values considered to be universal and absolute. In the subject of History these values have traditionally been embodied within a set of key dates and facts. In contrast is the progressivist approach to learning in the social sciences, which has been defined by R Gilbert as ‘an open inquiry process’ in which ‘the key content is based on student interest and contemporary issues’. This approach overcomes the rigidity of the traditional, content-based curriculum, and creates an opportunity for each student to choose their own learning pathways. This approach is pursued at AB Paterson College in
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Values education (character education)
New South Wales (NSW)