Focusing on ICT in rural and regional education in Australia
2006; Pages 20–24
A study has investigated progress toward the implementation of ICT in rural and regional schools across Australia. It was administered in 2005 by SiMERR, an organisation that promotes the development of maths, science and ICT in rural and regional schools. A survey was sent to 5,669 schools covering primary and secondary levels and all States and Territories. Following the survey focus groups were set up at 37 representative schools, each group involving six teachers, six students and six parents. A number of issues were identified. Access to ICT equipment varied between States. Respondents in remote locations said that satellite-based Internet connections were unreliable and also said their schools had limited access to technical help, even when critical equipment failed. Students’ home access to ICT varied widely between States. Students studying online often felt their learning was held back by their isolation from others and they also complained of a ‘transmission of content’ approach to their education. The schools generally struggled to attract and keep teachers skilled and forward looking in ICT. Teachers indicated a wish for more ‘experiential and applied’ professional development, with opportunities to apply it directly to the classroom. Respondents noted the importance of having school leaders with ‘skill, knowledge and enthusiasm’ relevant to ICT, a finding that shows the need for more systematic professional development around ICT skills and pedagogy in rural and remote locations. The article includes separate summaries of findings for individual States and Territories.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsRural education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Voices of Catholic lay principals: promoting a Catholic character and culture in schools in an era of change
Catholic schools in Australia work under the auspices of a priest and a ultimately a bishop within the diocesan structure. However, they now typically have lay principals and teachers, and an increasing proportion of non-Catholic students and staff, and are often the only real link to the Church for many members of their community. They face challenges such as the drift away from formal religion, and media reports of abuse by clergy. Within the Church they confront a changing ecclesiology. They rely on government funding and face government accountability requirements as well as the demands of the Church. A study has investigated principals’ views and practice at six Catholic schools, four primary and two secondary, within a rural diocese of New South Wales. Information for the study was gathered from interviews with the six principals, and observations, field notes and documents available at their schools. The study supported the belief that principals play a crucial role in maintaining the Catholic character of their schools. All the principals sought a ‘family atmosphere’ at their school, a task that was found easier by respondents in small schools than those in large ones. On the other hand, principals at small schools reported that their prior managerial experience did not prepare them as well for leadership of the whole school. Principals who had worked as Religious Education Coordinators felt themselves well prepared to be the religious leader of the school, but, overall, respondents felt that the religious preparation of principals is neglected. They reported that ‘many priests were authoritarian’, and held unrealistic expectations that married lay principals could be as visible and accessible as their clerical predecessors. Priests tended to view women as mothers and carers and therefore ‘had little or no regard for women in leadership positions’ or were at least sceptical of their capacities. Respondents felt that ever-expanding duties and expectations on Catholic principals produced guilt and frustration, which was reaching crisis point, especially at small schools where duties could not be as easily shared with others. The authors conclude there is a need for ‘a deliberate and conscious approach to integrate the religious and academic purposes in every dimension of the [Catholic] school’.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
It's time for research-based principal training
Number 69, Summer 2006
Principals’ training needs to keep pace with developments in education research. Prospective principals should take courses in two foundation areas, reading and maths, addressed broadly to the age level that they are intending to serve. These courses should include substantial practicum elements, which should cover work with struggling students. Principals should study teachers’ classroom planning and management. Educational approaches for special needs students should be another required area of study. Schools’ relationships with the families and communities they serve should be covered and should include observation of meetings between teachers and parents. Principals also need the skills required to judge between the many different educational programs offered to schools. Principals need to be given skills that allow them to distinguish solid research from ‘flashy but unsupported claims of skills marketers and self-promoting people with advanced degrees’. As new programs are constantly being produced principals need to learn not only specific programs but the broad characteristics by which to assess future ones. Over the last decade student assessment has been used increasingly to measure school performance and, as a result, principals need a solid grasp of testing procedures and data management methods to meet accountability demands. Further areas they need to study are facilities management and disaster management. As well as understanding school systems, principals require an understanding of how to deal with other areas of government, at various levels and across sectors such as law and health. They have to know how to perceive and work within the prevailing social climate.
Individual career plans: our vocation's salvation?
Number 1, 2007; Pages 18–20
The Australian Government’s 2006 report Attitudes to Teaching as a Career raised several concerns. A total of 45 per cent of beginning teachers anticipate leaving the profession in the next ten years, and many graduates who hold teaching qualifications do not pursue a teaching career. Reported perceptions of teaching included poor career progression opportunities, repetitive work and limited mobility, both within Australia and overseas. These findings point to a need to think differently about the context in which Australian teachers work. Individual career plans are one possible solution. The author cites the example of a private sector company targeting an individual for future leadership, assigning them a mentor and moving them ‘sideways or upwards’ every 18–30 months. While the size of this company presented advantages in terms of its large professional development budget and abundant promotional opportunities, schools can gain similar advantages by making greater use of professional networks. A teacher’s individual career path might begin with 3-4 years as a teacher, then 2–3 years as senior teacher, then a series of 2–3 year coordinator appointments at increasingly larger schools and greater levels of responsibility. It might also include an international posting of 1–2 years with a research or project focus. Such opportunities are currently offered in some individual schools, but in isolation. Staff must often leave their school to seek promotion, resulting in time-consuming application and interview processes, where both teachers and employers take a ‘stab in the dark’ as to the match between the candidate and the position. Effective utilisation of networks, with purposeful staff appraisal systems, could smooth mobility by sharing knowledge about the suitability of a staff member for a promotional role. Educators will face many challenges if they are to change the structure of the teaching profession and address the looming teacher crisis. To begin with, schools must overcome existing individualistic, competitive approaches to professional development and work together to make a clear statement to staff that every individual is valued.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Increasing young low-income children's oral vocabulary repertoires through rich and focused instruction
Volume 107 Number 3, January 2007; Pages 251–271
As poor vocabulary compromises reading ability, and reading is an important source of new vocabulary, limitations in vocabulary tend to be self-perpetuating. Schools need to take a more proactive approach to vocabulary development, especially for children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. For young children, hearing books read aloud is a highly effective way of introducing new vocabulary aurally, independent of the child’s own reading ability. Rich Instruction is a method for promoting deep understanding of new words in a read-aloud text. Rich Instruction typically involves explaining the meaning of the word in ‘child friendly’ language and asking children to repeat the word aloud. The teacher then provides multiple examples of the word in various contexts beyond the story in which it first appeared. Next, children make judgements about which of a series of accurate and inaccurate examples demonstrate correct usage of the word. They then create and share their own examples. Two studies demonstrate Rich Instruction in action. The first involved eight kindergarten and first-grade classes in a single US school. Four teachers were provided with selected texts to read aloud and training in Rich Instruction based on the Text Talk program. Their students showed significantly higher vocabulary gains than those in the four non-experimental classes. The second study was similar to the first, but with increased Rich Instruction, revisiting new words over six days. Children in this study made even greater vocabulary gains. However, the children did not learn all the target words in either study, and critics might therefore question whether the extensive time spent on Rich Instruction was worthwhile. Prior research has shown that children’s vocabularies normally reflect only a small proportion of the words they are exposed to, indicating that vocabulary acquisition is an inherently inefficient process. Also, not all words need to be explicated as fully as the sophisticated target words selected for the studies. Teachers need to find a vocabulary instruction and method that are most appropriate for the needs of their class. A list of stories and target words used in the studies is provided in the article.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
English language teaching
Relationship between pre-service and practising teachers' confidence and beliefs about using ICT
Volume 21 Number 2, December 2006; Pages 25–40
The plethora of recent Information and Communications Technology (ICT) initiatives highlights governments’ and communities’ expectations that schools and teachers will provide students with ICT experiences to enrich their learning. However, research on teachers’ integration of ICT has shown very little actual impact on classroom teaching and learning. Suggested explanations include issues of teacher confidence, expertise and professional development; teacher beliefs about ICT’s potential to improve teaching and learning; and school technological infrastructure, leadership and support. A survey of 929 practising and 285 pre-service Queensland teachers investigated their beliefs, attitudes and practices with respect to ICT. Both the practising and pre-service cohort reflected the gender balance in the teacher profession, with a significantly higher percentage of females than males. While more than half the male and female teachers reported that they were confident in using ICT, the percentage of confident males was much higher. As might be expected, less confident teachers tended to use ICT less frequently, resulting in a gender difference in ICT use as well. However, male and female practising teachers were equally supportive of the potential of ICT to enhance student learning, and both genders indicated that they would prefer their students to use ICT more frequently. In the pre-service cohort, no gender differences emerged. Instead, differences emerged at primary and secondary level, with pre-service primary teachers expressing a stronger opinion that ICT can enhance student learning than those in the secondary teaching course. These differences were not reflected in the cohort of practising teachers, with both primary and secondary teachers reporting equal frequency of ICT use in their classrooms. The study begs the question of what happens to Queensland state school teachers after graduation, to create the discrepancy between ICT beliefs and actual use, especially for female teachers. As over 70 per cent of teachers in Queensland state schools are female, this issue needs to be addressed urgently if all students are to benefit from ICT’s potential for learning.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Strategy development and progress in language learning
Volume 21 Number 3, December 2006; Pages 58–73
A study conducted in a private English language school for international students in Auckland, New Zealand, has investigated how students’ progress in language learning relates to changes in their use of language learning strategies over time. The students completed an initial questionnaire during a special study skills class in the first week of their course, indicating which of a list of language learning strategies they used and how often. They repeated the questionnaire after three months, which is the longest period of time students spent in a single course at the school. As most students completed shorter courses, only 30 students, aged between 16 and 32, participated in the study. Participants’ responses were compared with the number of levels through which they had progressed during the three-month course. The five students who had progressed furthest displayed increased frequency of use for most of the learning strategies listed. Their most frequently used strategies were those which took advantage of the language resources around them such as television, newspapers, native speakers or the environment. They also used a number of strategies reflecting conscious self-regulation of their learning, such as keeping a notebook, and revising and controlling their schedules to allow time for English study. These students showed a decline in their use of two strategies: making friends with native English speakers and using dictionaries. This may reflect the fact that the friendships international students expect to make with native speakers often prove harder to establish than anticipated. It also suggests that dictionary use may not always be beneficial for language learning. This is supported by observations that some students rely on dictionaries for literal word-to-word translations but show little progress towards English acquisition. Eight students in the survey showed an overall decrease in their use of language strategies over the three months. Almost all of these students also made no progress through the levels in the course. While other factors such as attitude and motivation clearly impacted on student achievement, the findings suggest that increased use of language learning strategies can be linked to progress in language learning.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish as an additional language
Primary workshop ideas for media literacy
Number 44, December 2006; Pages 84–88
A teacher at Armadale Primary School in Western Australia describes a process for teaching media literacy which has helped junior primary students learn about the narrative elements, codes and conventions of both visual and traditional written texts. After analysing the DVD cover of a particular film or television show, the teacher plays the opening credits and scenes. The class discusses the film’s aural, visual, technical and written codes. In this discussion, students consider how the various codes employ elements such as camera angle, lighting, costumes, font and dialogue to convey information about setting, plot and characters. The teacher might encourage students to identify conflicts and make predictions. Each student is then assigned focus questions on one of the following elements: characterisation, lighting, values and attitudes, soundtrack or camera work. After viewing the rest of the film and making individual notes, students who have considered the same element join together in small group discussion. Each group presents back to the whole class, or new discussion groups with one ‘expert’ from each element are formed. After discussions, the ending of the film is replayed and students explore plot resolution; visual techniques; their own personal responses; appropriateness of the title or alternative titles; and the various people required to create the film. Follow-up activities might include writing an alternative ending, writing a letter to a character or constructing an argument on a statement about the film. Media literacy might also be taught by workshopping DVD covers. Small groups are given one film cover and discuss how the title, picture, logos, setting and blurb may target a particular audience or suggest a storyline. After whole class discussion, each student creates their own DVD cover for a book or imaginary film, explaining the various techniques used.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
Mass media study and teaching
Connected: really connecting physical education and physical activity
Number 177, February 2007; Pages 4–7
Current models of physical education are focused on sports, including rules and organisation, social skills associated with physical education, or development of fundamental motor skills. The article suggests an alternative approach that addresses these three areas concurrently. The approach is informed by several prominent physical education models, including Taking Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) and Creating and Developing Games (CDG). The teacher begins the approach by organising students into small groups. Groupings should be decided carefully, as students will be required to reflect on how well they work together throughout and at the end of sessions. The teacher then selects one skill from the Fundamental Motor Skills (FMS) section of the curriculum in Victoria, or equivalent guidelines for the State concerned. In round robin fashion, each team teaches their game to one other team and learns that team’s game in return. One interchange per session is suggested, at the end of which the two teams provide feedback to each other. Students collaboratively referee their own games as they would in the playground, thereby building their understanding of rules and conflict resolution skills. In the subsequent session, each team works with a new team, gradually refining and developing their game through feedback from different teams. Discussion covers the quality of skill practice, and whether the game was enjoyable, safe, involving and easy to understand. The whole class uses the same criteria to score the games at the end of the round robin. The highest-rating game is inserted into the Sport Education in Physical Education Program (SEPEP) model, where teams undertake scheduled sessions of competition and practice. Competition acts as a motivator for improvement. Practice sessions allow students to analyse and improve strategies and skills, in line with the Teaching Games for Understanding model (TGFU). The article includes a two-term framework for implementing the approach. The article is based on the authors' presentation at the 13th Commonwealth and International Sports Conference, March 2006.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Triaging school finances and saving dollars
Summer 2006; Pages 15–16
Recent research has identified sound strategic planning and conservative budgeting as a consistent feature of 18 effective schools in New Zealand. The schools all used the ‘triage approach’ to school budgeting. The approach involves assigning budgets in three levels of priority. The first priority is costs associated with the essential running of the school, such as utilities, maintenance and staffing. Strategic needs are addressed in the second stage, where schools identify and allocate funds to a selection of priorities from their strategic plan. The priorities selected generally relate to raising achievement for a particular group of students, a particular area of the curriculum or associated programs such as technology or early years learning. New initiatives or ‘wish list’ ideas are considered as a third-level priority. The report on the research also notes that effective schools in Britain and New Zealand adopt a cautious approach to spending and estimating revenue and use the school’s strategic or long-term plan to inform budgets.
Subject HeadingsNew Zealand
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