The secondary Head of Department and the achievement of exceptional student outcomes
Volume 45 Number 1, February 2007; Pages 62–79
The Head of Department (HoD) in a secondary school faces numerous pressures, as the role combines a significant teaching load with managerial responsibilities. An ÆSOP study in New South Wales explored common qualities of HoDs in Government secondary school departments which demonstrated exceptionally strong performances. Criteria for measuring performance included students' results in standardised tests, value-added measures and nominations from parent groups, principals and DET officers. The researchers identified 50 exceptionally-performing departments in 38 secondary schools (selected from a range of areas and socioeconomic levels). The researchers observed Years 7–10 classes and interviewed principals and HoDs. The study found strong commonalities in both personal qualities and learnt leadership skills among the HoDs. Prevalent personal qualities included flexibility and consistency, and amicability and humility. HoDs considered their options carefully, were inclusive of others and demonstrated decisiveness when necessary. In negotiating with other faculties and groups, they were politically sensitive. HoDs were also experienced and effective teachers, possessing a depth and breadth of knowledge and seeking out best practice from outside their school. They were willing to share this knowledge and learn from other staff, and set an example by allocating themselves to lower-ability classes. Consequently, these HoDs were well regarded within their school community and were thus effective advocates for their departments in external relations. Within their department, they facilitated the development and implementation of clear policies and procedures in consultation with staff. Exceptional HoDs were found to encourage the professional development of colleagues through professional discussion and provision of relevant academic materials.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
New South Wales (NSW)
Cognitive tools for understanding history: what more do we need?
Volume 35 Number 2, September 2006; Pages 181–197
Students can be engaged in the study of history through involvement in the process of historical inquiry. Understanding historical inquiry means moving beyond a conception of learning as just the recall of factual knowledge, to a recognition that research can be used to generate fruitful questions. To reach this level of understanding, students need a strong grasp of the tools of historical research. For instance, they need to be aware that footnoting shows more than simply ‘where something came from’. It indicates the type of source used, which may shed light on the historian’s approach to a topic. Students often have a formalistic, superficial or idiosyncratic understanding of these tools and methods. During interactions with students, one of the authors was able to convey an historical understanding of material by showing and discussing the artefacts and sources he was currently using for historical research. Such artefacts and sources are ‘boundary objects’, in the sense that they can help a teacher and a student hammer out a common language with which to understand tools like footnoting. Not all teachers of the subject have enough understanding of historical research to play this role. Appropriately designed ICT can address this problem. While existing ICT products such as Sourcer’s Apprentice and Decision Point scaffold tasks such as note-taking, ICT should go beyond this role to convey a sense of the issues facing historians when they construct accounts of the past. For this purpose, the authors are developing a Web-based system known as a ‘library of practice’. It would include ‘video clips of historians at work in archives, searching for materials, selectively reading texts and making and organizing interpretive notes’. Volunteer historians would use a wiki interface to enter various interpretations of texts, and school students and their teachers would also be able to add comments ‘behind the scenes’. The article draws on the participation by one of the authors in the Tracking Canada’s Past (TCP) project.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Creativity: the essence of mathematics
Volume 30 Number 2, Winter 2006; Pages 236–261
Creativity needs to be recognised and promoted in school maths. Creativity in maths consists not just of finding alternative answers to problems, but also of ‘finding problems’ and being sensitive to deficiencies, ‘disharmonies’ and gaps in current knowledge. It means finding unrecognised links between ideas, techniques and areas of application, and breaking from old mindsets that limit intellectual exploration. Mathematical creativity also demands self-confidence. Some students are academically gifted in maths but are not particularly creative. These students perform well on current assessments, are computationally fluent and pick up skills and methods very quickly, but their ability levels tend to remain stable over time. Creativity is vital when applying maths to real-world problems, which often require reformulation. Creativity involves long periods of work, reflection and unconscious mental activity as the preconditions for short bursts of illumination, so creativity is held back by the demand to have work completed within short time frames. An over-emphasis by the teacher on speed, accuracy and following algorithmic rules dims curiosity and discourages creative thinkers from seeing themselves as good at or interested in maths. This teaching approach also encourages a student mentality of ‘waiting for the correct answer’ from the teacher. Efforts to improve maths learning often focus on simply intensifying efforts based on these common but unhelpful methods. In terms of assessment, an over-emphasis on accuracy disadvantages creative thinkers, as creativity involves risk taking. Standardised testing seeks to eliminate variability in scoring for more efficient marking, but this approach does not test for creativity and does not reflect the nature of real-world problems. Mathematical communication skills are crucial for creativity to be ‘recognised, appreciated and shared’. Students should be sensitised to the beauty of maths, ‘the ability to see the whole and to find harmony and relationships’.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsGifted and talented (GAT) children
14 May 2007; Pages 4–5
There are many reasons to be concerned about maths teaching in Victoria, and about the maths profession generally. Few people with university maths degrees work in the field of mathematics. Most leading experts, and more than a third of the State’s maths teachers, are over 50. Dr Kerri-Lee Harris has completed a study for the Australian Council of Deans of Science (ACDS), titled The Preparation of Mathematics Teachers in Australia. The study is available on the ACDS website, under Occasional Papers. The study found that maths teachers are ‘increasingly underqualified, unhappy and in short supply’. It describes responses from almost 900 teachers and 148 heads of maths departments in over 200 public, Catholic and Independent secondary schools. More than half the Victorian maths teachers indicated they ‘won’t front a class by 2011’. A fifth of them had taken only one year of tertiary maths. Figures from the VCAA show a 14% fall in VCE enrolments in higher level maths over the last five years. Students tend to describe school maths as ‘too hard’ and ‘not important’. The National Strategic Review of Mathematical Science Research in Australia has recently published a key report, Mathematics and Statistics: Critical Skills for Australia’s Future. It calls for an increase in the number of university graduates trained in maths and statistics; a broadening of research in maths and science; closer coordination with industry; measures to ensure that maths teachers are well-trained; and measures to encourage more students to take senior school maths. The Australian Government has announced that it will provide almost $3,000 for each full-time tertiary maths student to help address the shortage of maths professionals.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Maths minus reason = failure
14 May 2007; Page 16
The most valuable aspect of maths teaching is usually the training it can give students in how to reason effectively. This core role for maths teaching is evident, for example, in Euclid's Elements and accounts for the lasting importance of that instructional text across the centuries. It incorporates the Pythagorean Theorem, which illustrates the way in which a small number of accepted truths can create 'an immense structure of implied certainty'. Unfortunately, the VELS curriculum in Victoria is disdainful of the Euclidean tradition. VELS applies 'a fact-dominated approach, with a clear push to use "technology" in the teaching of every topic'. In general, secondary school maths is impractical, in the sense that it focuses on knowledge of topics such as geometry, algebra, trigonometry and calculus. This body of knowledge is likely to be 'rarely used and almost immediately forgotten', and the need for such knowledge, as opposed to reasoning abilities, has substantially been overcome by the advent of mathematical software.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Teaching children to become fluent and automatic readers
Volume 38 Number 4, 4th Quarter 2007; Pages 357–387
Two instructional approaches to the improvement of reading fluency in Grade 2 children, ‘fluency-oriented reading instruction’ (FORI) and 'wide-reading', have been tested through a comparative study in US primary schools. The study also tested reading comprehension as an index of fluent reading. A preliminary study found that both FORI and wide-reading improved fluency, judged on indicators such as the degree of accurate and automatic word recognition and prosody use when reading aloud, but also found that only the wide-reading method improved comprehension. The comparative study was conducted to assess more thoroughly the reasons for the success of fluency-focused approaches to literacy. It attempted to establish whether gains could be attributed to the repetitive reading of a text, the supported reading of several texts, or simply a greater amount of time spent reading. The FORI approach involves repeatedly reading a single text over a week while gradually diminishing the teacher’s support of the reader. Over one week, students are required to master one text, using techniques such as echo reading (where the class echoes portions of the text read by the teacher), choral (or whole class) reading, and shared reading with partners. The wide-reading approach incorporated many of these scaffolding techniques, but children read three texts a week instead of repeatedly reading one. Both approaches aimed to improve comprehension as well as fluency. Other classrooms using established literacy teaching methods operated as a control group. Results showed that both FORI and wide-reading approaches produced significantly greater improvements in children’s reading comprehension scores than the control classes. This may be because fluency approaches augment in-class reading time, because scaffolded reading techniques were used, or because the texts used in fluency interventions were controlled, containing very similar content. The study found that the two approaches were similarly effective in promoting fluency and comprehension skills, but noted that wide-reading is more resource-intensive.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Developing national professional standards for teachers of Australian history
Volume 28 Number 2, 2006; Pages 41–58
Over the years 1999-2002, the Australian Government and the governments of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland undertook efforts to establish the core characteristics of school History. These efforts did not produce an agreed vision of professional standards in History teaching, but did generate debate ‘frequently characterised by low level, populist interventions’. The article reports on subsequent work conducted by the authors to draft national teaching standards in History through a project funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and supported by the Victorian Government. The authors drew on British and North American research into the nature of teachers’ knowledge and teaching methods. Key research findings stressed the need to identify the distinct attributes of individual disciplines, to delineate their place in the curriculum clearly, and to give the teaching profession itself a key role in the development, validation, endorsement and promotion of teaching standards. The authors also drew on the historical literacy framework developed through the Australian Government National History Project 2001-2003 and the Commonwealth History Project 2003-2006. The authors decided that standards should be ‘content-free’, avoiding the need for frequent updating and for cumbersome accommodations of different curricula throughout Australia. During the ARC-funded research project, the researchers were assisted by a panel of primary and secondary teachers representing different geographic areas of Victoria and different levels of experience in History teaching. The research was conducted within one State only to avoid the need for ‘constant debate and consultation’ between ‘industry partners’ that had characterised attempts to develop national standards in another discipline. The VCAA and VIT were strong supporters of the project. The STELLA standards for English were used as an initial template. The History standards were intended to be ‘aspirational’, rather than rigid or all-encompassing. National endorsement of the standards was achieved after consultation with History Teaching Associations in other systems, whose main concern was the relationship of the standards with their local curriculum frameworks, and with the Australian Historical Association, academic historians whose concerns related chiefly to issues of content. The draft was accepted nationally with only minor modifications, testifying to the effectiveness of prior planning.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsTeacher evaluation
Civics and Citizenship education: state of the nation
Number 1, February 2007; Pages 5–8
In 1999, MCEETYA identified Civics and Citizenship education as an area of schooling that required more attention as part of the agreed National Goals of Schooling in the Twenty-first Century. Since 2002, which saw the completion of the Discovering Democracy program, the profile of Civics and Citizenship education has been enhanced by a number of initiatives. These include MCEETYA's National Assessment Program in Civics and Citizenship and the Civics and Citizenship Assessment Domain (part of a plan for the three-yearly assessment of student achievement against the National Goals of Schooling in this field). The Domain has separate components for Years 6 and 10. It includes distinct performance measures for Civics and Citizenship. It also includes domain descriptors, and a professional elaboration of the knowledge and skills expected of students. In 2006, MCEETYA published Statements of Learning in Civics and Citizenship, setting out what students should have the chance to learn in these fields during Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. While Civics relates to knowledge about the history and structures of Australian democracy, Citizenship refers to those dispositions, beliefs and skills that best facilitate participation in society. Civics and Citizenship education is connected with many other areas of study, and the best outcomes are accordingly produced through a whole-school approach. Advice on implementing a whole-school practice in relation to Civics and Citizenship is available in the Victorian Department of Education and Training’s document, Discovering Democracy in Action. In 2006, an ACER study reported on the 2004 results of the national assessment of Civics and Citizenship knowledge for Years 6 and 10. The study found that, while students are committed to democratic ideals, they show less grasp of Civics and Citizenship than expected, particularly in the field of Australian history. A variety of curriculum resources are available on the Civics and Citizenship Education website.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Where have all the students gone? IT secondary education in New Zealand
Volume 18 Number 3, November 2006; Pages 22–33
The global shortage of tertiary IT graduates poses a significant threat to productivity. Studies have shown that 92% of IT workers in the USA are employed outside the technology industry, and that the shortage of IT professionals reduces the US economy by $105.5 billion annually, reflecting a pattern throughout the developed world. In order to compete globally in the 21st century, New Zealand must urgently move to encourage more students to learn IT skills. A study in New Zealand has investigated the standing of IT courses in secondary schools. Researchers sent survey questionnaires to principals and IT staff at 312 selected schools. Small-area schools were excluded from the research. A total of 57 responses were received. While the low response rate reduced the statistical significance of the results, the responses revealed common themes and supported anecdotal evidence. One theme to emerge was the need for a more cohesive understanding of the subject, as definitions of IT vary considerably. This finding highlights the absence of a well defined, nationally recognised IT curriculum, especially beyond Year 11. A number of other themes emerged. Teaching of the subject is fragmented and inconsistent. Schools sometimes assume that the occasional use of IT tools in academic subjects overcomes the need for a dedicated IT subject, and this belief is perpetuated by the absence of achievement standards and accreditation in IT. Without a framework of achievement standards based on consultation with tertiary IT programs, students and teachers feel that the subject's curriculum is aimless and offers no pathway to tertiary or industry study. Another concern raised by respondents was a lack of IT resources in schools, including software, hardware and qualified teachers. However, principals commented that, although many of their IT staff lacked any technology qualifications, they were not inclined to recruit more qualified staff because of their belief that their school’s IT needs were being met. It is likely that these results are the consequence of the focus on IT integration in schools, rather than on assisting the development of IT as a discrete subject.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Transitions in schooling
Teaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
As diversity grows, so must we
Volume 64 Number 6, March 2007; Pages 16–22
The cultural and linguistic diversity of US students continues to grow. Achievement gaps along ethnic and economic lines indicate a need to re-examine how schools deal with diversity. Students from ethnic minorities are disadvantaged at school by prejudices in the community, and by the fact that most teachers are unfamiliar with their cultures and backgrounds. It is important to acknowledge existing inequalities in public schools and work from the premise that some students are disadvantaged. Honest discussions help to promote trust and understanding, and demonstrate that white teachers possess their own legitimate cultural connections. Through this process, teachers gain a better understanding of their personal culture and are therefore able to relate across ethnic differences more authentically. Schools must also confront historical inequalities in the education system by raising awareness of social justice narratives without implying ‘shame and blame’. Understanding the historical context of inequality enables a more objective view of current educational practice. By confronting these prejudices and entrenched biases, educators are better able to transform current practice with a view to reaching students disadvantaged under current practices. Schools should develop curricula that respect a diversity of student cultures and life experiences, hold consistently high expectations of all students, encourage the development of genuine, honest relationships, and address the idea that current curriculum materials may be failing some students. Programs of professional development aimed at developing trust, engaging personal understandings, confronting inequalities, and transforming practice are addressing this challenge. However, transformation must take place within the wider community for school practices to make real progress.
Subject HeadingsTeacher-student relationships
United States of America (USA)
A (Pod)cast of thousands
Volume 64 Number 7, April 2007; Pages 80–82
Creative utilisation of digital media can inspire and motivate students in their school work. Podcasting (recording audio files for broadcast and download over the Internet) and blogging (posting files and text on a webpage supporting user comments) are particularly effective media for classroom use, because they are easy to use and reach an extremely wide audience. A US primary school found that setting assignments which utilised multimedia resources produced several positive results in terms of both motivation and learning outcomes. Students were excited by the prospect of their work being accessible around the world via the web and therefore able to be viewed by their family and friends. Motivated by the prospect of an audience, students were more engaged in their work and in the collective work of the class. Students reviewed their peers’ podcasts on blogs and received feedback and encouragement from their own family and friends. Receiving comments from family members in other states was particularly motivating for many students. Significantly, there was a strong belief, however misplaced, that if something were to appear on the web, it must be a polished product; that if work was worthy of Internet hosting, it must be valuable. The specific nature of podcasting as a medium also furthered the attainment of the assignment’s intended learning outcomes. Students developed skills in language use while writing and revising their podcast scripts, and practiced expressive delivery by recording them.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
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