Academic freedom: a teacher's struggle to include 'other' voices in history
Volume 70 Number 6, October 2006; Pages 354–357
History teachers who keep rigorously to prescribed education guidelines may nevertheless face controversy if they use resources outside the political mainstream. The author, now an assistant professor at the College of Education, Athens State University, describes a controversy at a rural school in Alabama where he taught American history to a senior class. In class sessions he gave a formal lecture taken from material in the state-approved textbook. He supplemented this text with ‘conservative’ sources, Diane Ravitch’s Democracy Reader and American Reader, but also with 'radical' historian Howard Zinn's A People’s History of the United States and a companion volume of selected primary sources, Voices of A People’s History of the United States. Lessons followed the Social Studies section of the Alabama Course of Study through topics such as the age of exploration, the American Revolution, and the Civil War. A group of parents opposed the use of either of Zinn’s texts. After they complained to education administrators, the author ceased using A People's History, but continued to use primary source material in Voices, generating further controversy with the same group of parents. Colleagues warned the author of the danger of negative media coverage, however the great majority of his students were engaged by the controversial texts and by the debate over their use. The students resisted attempts to stop the use of these sources for class discussion. Voices was removed for one semester, after which time the author was permitted to use it alongside other primary source material. Based on these experiences the author drew a series of lessons for other teachers in similar circumstances. First, carefully evaluate how selected texts are to be used and ensure that their use is within official education guidelines. In the event of threats, take the initiative at once by contacting teacher organisations, professional bodies and other relevant groups for support. Approach the school board and other parents to explain your position as soon as possible, to guard against potential misrepresentation. Seek support from immediate colleagues. Finally, teachers need to understand that decisions over controversial issues are likely to be made at a senior level by people who are exposed to various political pressures.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsParent and teacher
Teaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
Podcasting for learning
Volume 4 Number 2, 4th Quarter 2006; Pages 23–27
A podcast is a radio program that can be downloaded from the Internet and either played immediately or saved to a computer or MP3 player. It is possible to subscribe to a podcast, which works via RSS (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) technology. Podcasting is only a few years old, but is growing exponentially. Podcasts on almost any topic are already available, and video podcasting is being developed. Students are familiar with these technologies, which provide them with new ways to display their learning. Podcasting also presents opportunities to deliver information to students in a popular manner, and to extend the media available for student-created learning. Podcasting fits well with project-based learning and extends students’ experience of the interactive web. Making a podcast is not difficult. It involves recording voices, mixing in appropriate music or sound effects, then exporting the product in MP3 format to post on a website. It is already possible to include images or a simple slideshow in a podcast. Both free and proprietary forms of software are currently available to generate podcasts. However, there are challenges associated with using this technology with students. These include security issues commonly associated with using the Internet. Sites such as iTunes may be blocked to students, so it may be advisable to access podcasts directly from websites or educational directories. Educators should take care to follow school guidelines in relation to personal information and images on the Internet, and ensure that students’ work is hosted only on a responsible website. Many schools have not yet developed either the technological infrastructure or policies for the use of such technology in the classroom. Other obstacles include inertia or even fear of technology. However, teachers have an obligation to engage with the technologies that students use in their lives, including podcasting.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Engaging pedagogies in mathematics and science education: some key ideas, issues and implications for research and teaching in South Australia
February 2007; Pages 1–15
As the numbers of Australian secondary students studying mathematics and science continue to decline, educators are seeking innovative pedagogies to attract and engage more students in these subjects. The article identifies six key issues in mathematics and science education. First is the pervasiveness of equity in current educational discourse, and the ongoing achievement gap between students from different socioeconomic or ethnic backgrounds. The assertion that all students have the right and the capacity to learn mathematics and science has implications for teaching and learning in these areas. The second issue relates to widespread contentions by governments that science and mathematics are beneficial to a nation’s social and economic wellbeing. In contrast, many students eschew secondary science and mathematics in order to gain higher university entrance scores in ‘easier’ subjects, or to pursue subjects that are seen to lead to more lucrative careers. Third, recent OECD descriptions of science and mathematics as developing ‘scientific literacy’ and ‘mathematical literacy’ have re-ignited longstanding debates about the purpose of these subjects: to produce future professionals, or simply well-informed citizens. The fourth issue is the evolution of knowledge priorities in these subject areas. From initial pedagogies that emphasised the transmission of content, science and mathematics have progressed through an emphasis on processes or competencies, to the emerging model that combines content and processes with contextual knowledge. A comparison with overseas curriculums suggests that there is much still to be done to meaningfully incorporate contextual knowledge into Australian curriculums and increase its relevance to students. The fifth issue is the need to cultivate a sense of wonder and enjoyment in mathematics and science students. While research demonstrates the importance of the affective domain in mathematical problem-solving, this has largely been overlooked in Australian curriculums. The final issue concerns the relocation of science, technology and mathematics professions from the academic to the private sector. Australian curriculums need to better reflect the interdisciplinary, team-based, real-world problem-solving activities found in business and industry contexts.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsScience literacy
STELLA: Can the tooth fairy read English?
Number 176, December 2006; Pages 38–41
The author, a primary teacher, conducted a school-based investigation into learning continuity for five-year-olds starting school. Working with colleagues and local preschool teachers, she planned to maintain pedagogical processes that mirrored what her students had experienced in preschool for their first six months at school. This project sparked her interest in the knowledge five-year-olds bring to school with them, and the extent to which this is valued in classrooms. Participation in the Standards for Teachers of English Language and Literacy in Australia (STELLA) program helped the author structure her questions and ideas around children’s understanding of the reading process. She observed the connections children made between literacy in a school setting and the ‘literacies’ they encountered at home. By asking each child what they thought about the purpose of reading, she discovered that they believed people read because they want to, or in order to learn. Most children associated reading only with paper-based texts, despite exercising a variety of ‘reading skills’ themselves in the games they played, in recognising logos and labels, or interacting with multimedia resources. The author surveyed her class’s parents, asking them to discuss with their child the various reading practices in their home. This exercise revealed the rich diversity of backgrounds, knowledge and values in the class community. The author next asked her students to bring something from home, other than a book, that they could read. Their items ranged from a bus ticket to a recipe written in a non-English-speaking-background student’s home language. Parents also came into the class to show the range of items that they could read, ranging from patient charts to music scores. From these presentations, the class published a brochure entitled You can read all these things! The activities widened the children’s appreciation of the scope of the reading process – no longer was it just something ‘done at school’. The author was gratified to hear that one child had asked at home whether the tooth fairy would understand him if he wrote to her in English, confidently informing his mother that ‘Different people read different things’.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Meeting literacy needs of pre-service cohorts: ethical dilemmas for socially just teacher educators
Volume 34 Number 3, November 2006; Pages 333–351
The drive to lift school students’ literacy levels is held back by the limited schooling opportunities and the ongoing economic pressures experienced by a significant number of current student teachers. Many of them, especially at the ‘new universities’ and at primary level, come from working class or rural backgrounds. They may arrive at university with insufficient skills in spelling, grammar, conceptual thinking and written expression, leaving them poorly prepared to meet the literacy needs of school students from backgrounds similar to their own. They may struggle to ‘read the world’ and fail, for example, to detect the political ideology underlying ‘common sense’ arguments, or to penetrate the ‘high cultural capital’ language used in universities, which includes unfamiliar interactional styles, ‘embedded meanings and taboo words or actions’. Teacher education faculties can address the needs of such student teachers by providing scaffolded but substantial literacy tasks, including in-class writing and redrafting exercises, and explicit comparisons of ‘elite’ and other literacies. Examples from student teachers’ own backgrounds should be used to help them learn ‘code-switching’, or the capacity to employ ‘dominant’ literacy genres when required. Student teachers weak in literacy are frequently reluctant to undertake such tasks thoroughly. Their resistance is partly due to time constraints imposed by concurrent paid work and also due to the economic pressures to move to full-time incomes quickly. Their reluctance may also be due to market-managerial and media discourses that are suspicious of ‘theory’ and which, by portraying student teachers as ‘paying customers’ of universities, suggest to them that they are entitled to reject or downplay coursework not to their taste. In response to these problems, teacher educators need to ‘mobilise politically’, reasserting the ethical rather than the consumerist meaning of ‘quality’ and ‘value’ in teaching courses. They should stress to student teachers the literacy needs of disadvantaged school students and build a work ethic around literacy development, without blaming student teachers for their current lack of such skills, or ignoring the economic pressures they face, or attaching the threat of immediate academic failure to assessment of substantial literacy exercises. The article draws on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Lisa Delpit.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Using collaboration as a strategy for improving schools in complex and challenging circumstances: What makes the difference?
November 2006; Pages 1–11
Recent government education initiatives in Britain have focused on schools working together. However, in the current education climate measures such as 'league table' ranking of schools make collaboration difficult. A series of case studies from six school networks have provided some insight into school collaboration in practice. Collaboration was found to benefit the schools in a number of ways. Immediate, practical solutions to emerging problems, such as moving teachers around to fill arising shortages, allowed schools to focus on core business without being distracted by day-to-day crises. Seeing colleagues in action challenged teachers’ assumptions of what is possible and raised their expectations. In particular, ‘successful’ schools which were failing to reach a minority of high-needs students had much to learn from less successful schools, where such students constituted a greater proportion of the student population. Curriculum opportunities were also enhanced, with some schools pooling resources to offer previously inaccessible subjects to their students. Strong evidence exists that student achievement and motivation improved in some partnerships. While these findings are encouraging, school collaboration does not happen easily. A number of success factors are critical for it to become more than ‘rather aimless meetings and time-consuming talk’. No one format for collaboration will fit all school contexts, and partnership arrangements must be adapted according to their size, nature and geographical proximity. Many schools have latent motivation to collaborate with others, but it takes impetus from committed, powerful individuals to make successful partnerships a reality. Collaborative school cultures and an atmosphere of trust are essential elements of such partnerships, as are clearly defined roles and expectations for all parties involved. Effective leadership, including the ability to work with education systems and outside agencies, is also important. Creating these conditions takes time, and partnerships between schools should be given time to mature. A feature of such maturity is the ability to accommodate disagreement without a breakdown in relations, so that the collaboration remains a breeding ground for new ideas, not an exercise in conformity.
High school student attitudes about physical education
Volume 11 Number 4, November 2006; Pages 385–400
A study of 515 students from six US high schools investigated student attitudes towards physical education. Through focus groups and questionnaires, students identified their likes and dislikes in physical education activities, and how physical education impacted on their lifestyles outside of school. Activities were classified into ‘sport activities’, including game, dance and gymnastic units, and ‘fitness activities’, focused on developing fitness via specific activities, usually in the form of running. The majority of students indicated that they liked sport activities. The three strongest reasons given were: fun, liking sports in general, and liking the particular activity offered. Common reasons for disliking sports activities were: disliking the particular activity, too much ‘teacher talk’, and because the activity was ‘boring’. Only half the students reported liking fitness activities. The top two reasons for liking fitness were: fun, and improving fitness levels. Students who disliked fitness tended to dislike running, or found it boring. Student comments on the physical education curriculum revealed a desire for greater variety. Suggestions included incorporating less common sports; organising ‘stations’ to accommodate different activities within a single class; and including games that students had played at primary school, such as tag. As these games were perceived as ‘fun for everyone’, regardless of ability level, students expected that they would enable greater participation in and enjoyment of fitness activities. Typical physical education classes for the students began with a fitness activity, usually running. This was often ‘really boring’ for students, and it was suggested that high-activity games would be a preferable replacement. Students were only slightly positive about the difference physical education classes made to their fitness and skill levels. Many voiced a desire for greater challenge. The different skill levels in physical education classes were recognised as a difficulty that might be effectively overcome by segregating ability groups. Of most concern was the finding that 82% of students did not connect physical education activities with their activities out of school. As student lifestyles become increasingly sedentary, physical education teachers need to replace ‘militaristic teaching strategies’ with innovation and responsiveness to student preferences, to make physical education more enjoyable and relevant.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsPhysical Fitness
United States of America (USA)
Golden times of writing: the creative compliance of writing journals
Volume 40 Number 3, November 2006; Pages 146–152
Writing journals are exercise books given to children for the sole purpose of encouraging independent writing, with time allocated for children to use them as part of the school day. Research has shown that free-form writing journals have significant benefits for literacy development. They enable children to use writing as a creative tool for experimentation and learning rather than as an end product to demonstrate learning after it has occurred. Free writing gives children a space to bring their own unique cultural contexts and literacy practices into the classroom. Furthermore, they support the development of an individual voice in writing, which is closely connected to the development of identity, and empowers children to communicate with and influence others. Despite these compelling benefits, the current education system in England does not leave much scope for writing journals to be used. The system is driven by rigorous standards and centralised curriculum, and teachers are pressured to ‘teach to the test’ even from the earliest years of schooling. The unique cultural capital children bring to the classroom is being increasingly eclipsed by the authorised social and cultural capital prescribed by the government. A study of seven English primary schools revealed that while teachers were enthusiastic about writing journals, they did not display the ‘creative compliance’ necessary to accommodate free writing within the confines of government policy. Independent writing was often offered to students only in ‘golden time’, or free time provided as a reward for completing prescribed tasks. Tellingly, most teachers who introduced writing journals saw them as a means to ‘raise standards’ rather than to improve their students' literacy per se. It is a mistake to believe that minimal and marginal experiences of free writing will be sufficient to support lively, engaged young writers. In light of substantial research evidence that play and free expression are essential to children’s learning and development, unstructured activities such as writing journals should be prioritised as an integral part of school life.
What I do is who I am: knowledge, skills and teachers' professional identities
2006; Pages 1–19
Current tendencies to judge teachers on the basis of assessable competencies risk reducing teaching to a set of quantifiable skills. However, the formation of teacher professional identities is a complex social and psychological process. A research project is currently exploring this process, involving in-depth interviews with a sample group of three NSW humanities teachers. The research understands professional identity formation in terms of the interplay between the I and the Me, or the reflective inner self and the active, visible social self. For teachers, actions are inseparable from professional self-concepts, so the I tends to be determined by the
New South Wales (NSW)
Eight years on: trajectories of childhood and adolescent resilience
2006; Pages 1–13
Beginning in 1997, the authors tracked a cohort of children aged between nine and 12 living in highly disadvantaged areas, over a period of five years. The study builds on a growing body of research into the factors that enable people to build resilience, or the ability to achieve positive life outcomes despite exposure to risk. Each year, each child was asked the same questions, discussing key incidents in their lives since their last interview, their achievements and regrets, and their future plans. Most interviews ceased in 2001, but a few participants agreed to one last interview in 2005. Two of these participants, both aged 21, were selected as case studies. They show how patterns of resilience and non-resilience develop over time, and how critical incidents or turning points can serve to perpetuate or reverse these patterns. An early critical incident for Adam was repeating his Reception year. Adam was therefore older and bigger than his peers throughout his schooling, which seriously impaired his ability to form friendships and attracted bullying. Retreating into solitary activities, Adam displayed a steady decline in his belief in his ability to influence his situation, leading to poor post-school choices most often dictated by the actions of others. Lydia, the second case study, faced highly challenging family circumstances, but was involved in many community music activities from an early age. This enabled her to take pride in her musical talents and provided access to a wide network of supportive adults. Although a serious breakdown in personal circumstances had pushed her into depression by her last interview, she still had constructive plans to seek help and take steps to improve her situation. The two case studies demonstrate how resilience can be self-perpetuating, as outgoing, cheerful children can readily attract the help they need to survive even the most adverse situations, whereas introverted, passive children are all too easily ignored. They also show that resilience and non-resilience are learnable traits, and suggest that there is much that schools can do to help children break negative cycles and develop the strength to cope with adversity.
Subject HeadingsResilience (Psychology)
School-based physical activity interventions: effectiveness, trends, issues, implications and recommendations for practice
Volume 11 Number 4, November 2006; Pages 401–420
Growing concerns about children’s physical activity levels have given school physical education (PE) new prominence as a key forum for promoting healthy, active lifestyles. A number of studies have evaluated the effectiveness of various school-based physical activity interventions. Interventions fall into three broad categories: increasing time spent on PE, increasing physical activity within PE classes, and classroom-based programs providing theory and information. Classroom-based interventions have proven least effective. The other interventions were found to be more effective, although increasing curriculum time for PE often posed logistical difficulties. Most programs researched were aimed at upper primary-aged children. However, as physical activity levels tend to decline with age, this may indicate a need for more interventions aimed at senior secondary students. More programs are also needed which target the specific needs of at-risk student groups, and student choice should be a feature of any PE intervention. Many PE interventions had been evaluated on the basis of physiological outcomes, such as fitness testing. Concerns have been raised that fitness testing may be uncomfortable for those students most in need of support in PE, and may serve to further alienate them from physical activity. PE interventions should aim to change physical activity behaviours, not fitness. To achieve its aim of fostering lifelong physical activity, school PE should also move beyond its current emphasis on performance-oriented team games, towards the more independent and unstructured types of exercise that are more characteristic of adult physical activity. Most of all, PE interventions need to look beyond the individual student to the environmental factors that influence physical activity. The ‘healthism’ that underpins much PE discourse assumes that individuals have the capacity to make healthy lifestyle choices, whereas choice is often limited by external factors beyond their control. Whole-school interventions which address the multiple levels of influence on physical activity (such as the M-SPAN project in the USA) are likely to be most effective.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsPhysical education
Young children's literacy-related play
Volume 176 Number 7, October 2006; Pages 707–721
In the past, research into children’s early literacy has been premised on the assumption that literacy development begins with formal literacy instruction in schools. In fact, most young children begin to read long before they encounter formal instruction. Children’s worlds are full of print, providing them with a wealth of reading knowledge long before they are faced with the demanding task of decoding meaning from text. Emergent perspectives on literacy now include ‘literacy-like’ behaviours, such as pretending to read, as legitimate contributors to literacy development. Constructivist theorists such as Piaget, Vygotsky and Bronfenbrenner have deepened educators’ understandings of how children come to construct meaning from their experiences. Play is one way in which children make sense of the world, often transforming real situations into frivolous and imaginary ‘realities’ as part of their experimentation with different constructed meanings. Scribbling, writing, pretend reading or responding to texts read to them are all play-based forerunners to the process of learning to read. The emergence of new technologies has extended the scope for children’s literacy-related play into multimodal environments. The hypothesis that play supports early literacy development has been well supported in recent research. For example, Kim’s 1999 research showed that enacting situations in play using storytelling helped prepare children to understand narrative structures in text. Another study demonstrated that young children who were provided with opportunities to play in a guided, print-rich environment were able to recognise the words that they saw, even when they were removed from their familiar context. Numerous other studies have elucidated other ways in which play contributes to literacy learning. While further research is needed to compare play-based strategies with other learning approaches, these findings suggest that children should be given enough time and space for play in the classroom, as well as the resources and scaffolding they need to become ‘meaning-makers’ in a literacy-enriched classroom environment.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Early childhood education
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