Everyday Geography: revisioning primary geography for the 21st century
Volume 19, 2006; Pages 31–36
Primary school students can be successfully engaged with Geography if it is connected to their own life experiences. This ‘Everyday Geography’ can start with such familiar topics as road maps, weather forecasts, holidays, shopping, walks through nearby localities, and general news items in the media. Teachers can use these topics to introduce the geographical concepts. These concepts include place, interconnection of the physical and human environments, scale (local, national or global), developmental processes in societies and natural environments, and the sets of skills and tools (including ICT) used to investigate these issues. This approach puts curriculum development ‘firmly back in the hands of teachers’. At present, most primary teachers lack confidence in their ability to teach Geography in a way that engages students. As a result, primary students tend to dislike the subject, contributing to a fall in take-up of the subject at secondary level.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Teaching and learning
Volume 15 Number 2, 2006; Pages 149–158
In New South Wales, Geography is currently part of the broader subject Human Society and its Environment (HSIE) up to Year 6. Geography is a mandatory subject at Years 7-10, with additional electives offered for those years. A revised syllabus was introduced into Years 7 and 9 in 2005, and into Years 8 and 10 in 2006. The new syllabus integrates cross-curricular content, covering such areas as ICT, VET, literacy and numeracy, as well as Indigenous, multicultural and environmental issues. It also covers skills and knowledge in the use of geographical tools and data, and in the analysis, expression and presentation of ideas. At Years 11-12, Geography is an elective subject. A new standards-based Higher School Certificate was introduced in 2000 and first taken by students in 2001. The Preliminary Course in Year 11 covers the topics of biophysical interactions and ‘global challenges’ such as natural resource use, with a project to be completed over 12 hours. The Year 12 course covers the broad themes of Ecosystems at Risk, Urban Places and People and Economic Activity. The decline in student take-up of the subject in the senior years is a major issue for the discipline. The problem may be due in part to the fact that, while Australian Geography became mandatory in 2002, there is a shortage of teachers who have studied the discipline themselves, so many teachers have struggled to make it engaging for students. Students have also been attracted to alternative subjects, such as VET and business studies, promoted by ‘principals and decision makers’. The amount of Geography fieldwork has declined, despite its importance to the discipline, due to its high cost, its disruption of other classes, and growing concern over litigation. The decline in student take-up of Geography needs to be addressed through improved pre-service education in the subject, and professional development of existing teachers. School careers advisors also need to be more aware of the subject’s potential as a career for current students.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
New South Wales (NSW)
The key role of metacognition in an inquiry-based geography curriculum
Volume 19, 2006; Pages 24–30
Student learning in Geography is enhanced by the application of the concepts of metacognition, inquiry-based learning, constructivism and related ideas. Constructivist learning theory emphasises the way that learners make sense of new knowledge by relating it to their existing framework of knowledge, which is itself revised in light of the new information. Social constructivism, as developed by Lev Vgotsky, emphasises the role of social interaction in such learning. Inquiry-based learning allows students to undertake open-ended, and to some extent self-regulated, tasks that highlight the importance of their own collective construction of knowledge. Geography has moved from the memorisation of facts to incorporate inquiry-based learning. However, inquiry-based learning is frequently applied by teachers only as a supplement to core teaching practices. It should instead be incorporated into regular classroom activity and fieldwork. For example, the process of learning through maps is encouraged when children are asked to make maps, use them in the field and interpret them in class. Fieldwork, which involves collection of primary data, should move away from activities prescribed by the teacher, to allow some scope for student reflection, including a degree of student input into the development of hypotheses to be tested. Metacognition refers to ‘thinking about one’s own thinking’. Metacognitive strategies for students include reflection on which learning strategies work well, and about whether they met their learning goals during a given class exercise. Metacognition can be encouraged by posing open-ended questions. By contrast, limiting learning to set texts with comprehension exercises can be demotivating, and does not develop students’ skills in locating or selecting information. Some Geography textbooks, such as Geography for Global Citizens, are now starting to include open-ended research questions. Self-regulated learning involves selecting cognitive strategies and transferring and developing the skills and strategies from one context to another. Students’ reflection on their learning is also important and can be encouraged through logs, journals and conferencing. Facilitated group interaction during fieldwork and class activities has been shown to be very effective in solving problems that require metacognitive insight. Self and peer assessment constitute other means by which students learn to monitor their own learning.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Thought and thinking
Inquiry based learning
Project based learning
Volume 65 Number 1, May 2007; Pages 95–120
A Tasmanian study has explored the beliefs that underpinned two secondary mathematics teachers’ success in creating effective constructivist learning environments. The two teachers were identified, from an initial pool of 25, as those for whom constructivist principles were most consistently reflected in student perceptions, self-descriptions and independent observations of their teaching. The first teacher, Jim, had a Master of Educational Studies, and 29 years of teaching experience. He considered mathematics to be about connecting ideas and sense-making, and therefore endlessly fascinating and enjoyable. Jim felt that teachers have a responsibility to engage in ongoing learning. He often independently developed his own mathematical knowledge through reading, or ‘extra little things’ like sitting ‘folding bits of paper in times when I could be doing something adults think might be more important’. Jim regarded learning as organic, student-centred and unpredictable, and which could be influenced but not controlled by the teacher. His belief in the value of students’ contributions, and in the ability of every student to learn mathematics, was clearly reflected in his classroom practice. The second teacher, Andrew, had 25 years experience. Unlike Jim, the beliefs which underpinned his practice related more to the role of the teacher in a constructivist classroom, than to the nature of mathematics and student abilities. He believed teachers have responsibility for ultimate control in the classroom, to ‘send the kids off on appropriate paths, not just let them wander through the minefield.’ His classes involved many teacher-facilitated whole class discussions, where students felt comfortable writing their ideas on the blackboard and explaining them to the class. Andrew demonstrated a successful balance between devolving the construction of mathematical knowledge to the students, and maintaining the teacher’s authority over the social norms of the class. The differences between the two classrooms prove that constructivist principles do not prescribe specific pedagogies. The study also suggests that it is teacher beliefs, not methods or materials, which affect teachers’ practice at the level that makes the most difference to their students.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Inquiry based learning
What do we mean by 'critical'? Implications and opportunities presented by the new SACE literacy strategy
Volume 50 Number 1, Summer 2006; Pages 43–48
In South Australia, the new SACE Literacy Strategy makes use of critical approaches to literacy. The term ‘critical’ has three main applications in literacy, all of which the Strategy draws on. Firstly, being critical can mean a disposition to ask deep or ‘tough’ questions, to be curious and tenacious in investigation. While this application ‘verges on social critique’, it is ‘primarily concerned with authorial intention and clarity in transmitting messages from author to reader’. A second way to be critical is to examine the social purpose of a text, exploring how language embodies and expresses relationships of social power and identity. This approach raises social justice issues and suggests the possibility of social action. It is well explained in the outline of critical literacy provided by Tasmania’s Department of Education. Thirdly, a critical approach can be used as a framework in which to understand literacy more generally. A key example is the influential Four Resources Literacy Framework provided by A. Luke and P. Freebody. It identifies four levels of engagement with text which can be used to accommodate a range of literacy strategies (including phonics, reader response, whole language and critical literacy) which are often described as competing against one another. In the model’s first level of engagement with text, literacy take the form of a ‘code breaker’, covering the ability to recognise and use fundamental features of text such as the alphabet, spelling and word sounds. At the second level, the learner can ‘participate in the meanings of text’, understanding and using text in a given social setting. At the third level, the learner can ‘use texts functionally’, understanding the social issues and purposes that a body of text involves. At the fourth level, the learner can ‘critically analyse and transform texts’, perceiving how they advance some points of view and eclipse others, and understanding how they can be redesigned for other purposes. The four levels are interrelated. Narrower literacy models may succeed in imparting certain skills and knowledge, but they leave students unprepared for the current world’s conditions of employment and information delivery.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
Grammar knowledge and students' writing
Volume 11 Number 3, October 2006; Pages 40–43
The teaching of grammar to middle and upper primary students should form part of the process of helping them to write clearly and effectively. It should be discussed in relation to whole texts rather than in isolation. Within this approach, there are a range of strategies for the teaching of grammar. During the writing demonstration, the teacher writes and revises a text, observed by students, and along the way explains the grammatical structures and techniques used to clarify meaning. Joint construction involves the teacher and students creating a text together. The teacher may wish to work through a particular grammatical issue using mini-lessons involving small groups. Teacher-student conferences involve the teacher working one-to-one with a student, contributing to the revision phase. Reading helps students to learn grammar, especially when it allows them to compare the grammatical and lexical features of fiction and non-fiction. Students are likely to benefit from explicit explanation of grammatical concepts such as word groups, clauses and conjunction, or linking words (although once again this learning is best achieved in suitable writing contexts rather than through the presentation of an abstract set of rules). These grammatical concepts can become the student’s grammar vocabulary, a metalanguage to inform their writing, reading and dialogue. The article includes a table listing 22 grammatical concepts, with descriptions of their meanings and examples, for use with students.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Fast start to phonics
Volume 11 Number 3, October 2006; Pages 4–6
Many children know the names of letters and the sounds of some common letter combinations by the time they start school, but find it hard to learn unfamiliar letter combinations. Teachers can show them a range of strategies with which these letter groups can be learned. One such strategy is teaching children to segment and blend sounds in their reading and writing. For example, to write the word ‘sun’, the child would segment the sounds they hear in the word, breaking the word into the three phonemes: s / u / n. Likewise, phonemes would be blended together in order to pronounce a word when reading. These strategies must be demonstrated or taught explicitly for phonics to become useful. Physical manipulation of letters also appears to facilitate learning, because children are able to physically move the same letter to make and break apart many words. Another teaching strategy is the use of memory aids in associating letter names and sounds. However, the association between the memory aid (or mnemonic) and the letter it refers to can sometimes become so strong that it distracts from the intended association between the letter and sound. When this occurs, a child trying to segment the written word ‘sun’ will sound out ‘Sammy snake’ instead of / s /. Multimodal mnemonics may be able to counteract this effect. By utilising audial, linguistic, visual, spatial and kinaesthetic mnemonics concurrently (rather than individually), children may better understand the sound and letter relationship and not fixate on a single memory tool. A ‘fast start’, teaching phonics at a rapid pace in short bursts of around 20 minutes a day, could allow children to use and practice word construction in other curriculum topics more quickly. Learning a sound a day, rather than a letter a week, is ‘crucially important’ for many children who have not been taught sounds and letters before school, and also advantages the many students who may find the traditional pace too slow.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Authentic practice and process in music education
Volume 93 Number 3, January 2007; Pages 36–42
The article suggests ways to address a range of current issues in music teacher education (MTE). It argues that MTE should be holistic, treating the various components of music, such as rhythm and pitch, as interrelated 'dimensions', rather than as discrete 'elements', the most common model of MTE since the 1960s. MTE should take a contructivist approach to learning: with its emphasis on personal interpretation, music fits well with the constructivist belief that learners actively create knowledge. MTE should draw upon 'the most central and authentic conceptions of music and learning', rather than 'folk practices' which have long traditions but which are not connected to core concepts in music. MTE programs should be measured against formal standards, such as those set down by the USA's National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), that show how they enable students to acquire understanding of, and proficiency in, music itself. Key NASM standards cover the ability of MTE programs to enable students to analyse, evaluate and apply musical ideas, to synthesise different aspects of the program, and to generate new musical ideas. As well as music content knowledge, teacher education programs must also cover knowledge of pedagogy, and pedagogical content knowledge that deals with issues in teaching and learning that are specific to music. This learning can be achieved by the following set of courses. An Introductory course should stimulate students, bringing out their current ideas of music and the learning process, acknowledging what they already know and also introducing key ideas. Courses on learning and teaching should cover various theories of learning, if possible in specific relation to music. They should occur early in the program, so that students can relate them to their own current learning process. Methods courses should prepare students for all types of music teaching settings and should be linked to the theoretical base established in the rest of the program. Other courses should cover music theory and history, performance, and a philosophical component summarising the overall program.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Increasing connectedness between schooling and students’ real life experiences has frequently been identified as an effective means of improving learning outcomes, especially for students ‘at risk’. However, not all varieties of school connectedness are the same. The article sets out three different, but sometimes intersecting, interpretations of connected schooling. The first is motivated by utility, seeking to connect students to the workforce and the economy. It often involves programs aimed at developing students’ life skills, helping them ‘fit in’, and correcting perceived ‘deficits’ which prevent them from succeeding. It may also involve alternative vocational education programs which connect students directly with workforce participation. This approach rests on a ‘false construction of real life’, and ignores broader social conditions such as low wages and high unemployment. Ultimately, it produces a ‘culture of dependence’, in which students’ real lives are ‘written over’ in the interests of economic participation, and locks students into the self-fulfilling prophecy that they are ill-suited to an academic curriculum. The second variety of connected schooling relies on social constructivist pedagogies to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged groups. While social constructivist schools may appear to be ‘nice places’, such an approach is unlikely to succeed with many students, as it does nothing to challenge the social structures that underpin disadvantage. Connecting learning to students’ real-life experiences will not necessarily give them the evaluative tools necessary to understand their position in the broader social context. Furthermore, curriculum focused on popular culture may disadvantage ‘at risk’ students further by reinforcing stereotypes, and limiting access to intellectually rigorous material. The author advocates a third version of connected schooling, which is critical, transformative and empowering. This requires teachers to do more than care about students, but also to care about issues such as inequality, injustice, poverty and environmental degradation. Students must be empowered to engage with these issues, and take action to increase social justice in their own lives and the lives of others. School connectedness can thus make a genuine difference for all students, by building bridges between private action and community concerns.
Subject HeadingsSocial justice
Special education: a service not a sentence
Volume 64 Number 5, February 2007; Page 39
The inclusion of students with disabilities in neighbourhood schools benefits the entire school community by teaching diversity and tolerance. Inclusive schooling reflects the fact that in the ‘real world’ there are no specially segregated stores, workplaces or neighbourhoods. However, many schools still place students with disabilities in separate programs, often without regard for the type or degree of their disability and often before any attempt is made to accommodate them in the general education classroom. Schools need to work from the principle that all students belong in general education, and should only separate students when there is demonstrated need for alternative settings. Placing special needs students in neighbourhood schools without segregated spaces encourages development of social skills and inclusive communities. Teaching of students with disabilities needs careful forward planning between special teachers and other educators, rather than piecemeal, ad hoc collaborations. Where necessary, the curriculum should be customised to meet individuals' needs. Teaching should be creative, using techniques such as dialogue journals, simulations, thematic instruction, and drama and arts integration. Students with disabilities should also be encouraged to take part in after-school activities as this helps to foster the development of social relationships.
United States of America (USA)
School and community
Integrating ICT: the basics of successful strategic leadership
Volume 6 Number 1, March 2007; Pages 22–29
The successful integration of ICT programs in State schools relies on sufficient professional development of teachers and principals, an issue Australian programs have often neglected. A 2003 study of the role of New South Wales principals in ICT program development found that the potential for ICT to aid teaching and learning is constrained by principals’ limited technical skills and understanding. Furthermore, chronic under-supply of technical support and the financial burden associated with ICT operation and maintenance have been major inhibitors of successful ICT integration. England has witnessed more advanced implementation of ICT by school leaders, through the Strategic Leadership in ICT (SLICT) program, which serves as a guide to improving ICT integration in Australia. SLICT, a government owned provider of information, resources and professional development, aims to build the confidence and inform the professional judgement of participating school leaders. Part of the program involves discussion of ideas, practices and policies amongst principals in an online community prior to an offline visit to a high-performing ICT school. An innovative feature of the program is its self-review framework, which enables schools to rate their progress in different aspects of ICT and plan future ICT direction in terms of their own curriculum. Principals have expressed a preference for local networks and the face-to-face interaction of school visits over online community forums, and this preference has led to the emergence of small, local versions of SLICT. Considerable funding and support from the English and Scottish governments underpins ICT success in the UK, in addition to strategies aimed at developing a ‘vision’ for ICT and its appropriate incorporation in the curriculum. Most importantly, professional development has provided school leaders with the confidence and skills to manage individual ICT programs effectively. Australian ICT integration would benefit from more government support for online communities and skilled facilitators, development of ICT accreditation to motivate schools, and installation of Interactive White Boards (IWBs).
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsTechnological literacy
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Practical programs to recruit and retain effective teachers and school leaders
April 2007; Pages 15–17
The aging of the teacher population, and a widespread reluctance on the part of teachers to apply for executive positions, has led the Catholic Education Office (CEO) in Sydney to pursue new ways to attract and retain good teachers. Two new initiatives have been produced with this aim. The Leaders for the future program seeks to stem the loss of teachers in their first five years by providing an accelerated route into leadership positions for promising young teachers. Since 2005, approximately 265 teachers under the age of 30 have undertaken the program, which involves nine after-school sessions over ten months and additional holiday sessions. Teachers who have completed the program testify to its effectiveness, citing the value of course material on relationship and conflict management, navigating change and succession planning as relevant to leadership positions. The program also instils young teachers with the confidence to apply for promotion and provides contact with a network of like-minded colleagues. However, although the program qualifies young teachers for leadership roles, establishing credibility with more experienced colleagues remains a major challenge for this younger generation of teachers. A second initiative of the Sydney CEO, the Early Employment Offer Awards, targets undergraduate teaching students in their final year who demonstrate sound academic results, good reports of teaching practice, and a commitment to Catholic education and values. Out of approximately 300 applicants, around 30 students are awarded $1000 and a guaranteed offer of employment in a CEO school in Sydney. In this way, CEO has been able to further its aim of attracting the most suitable new teachers to full-time positions in their schools.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
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