Techno-savvy or just tech-oriented?
Volume 21 Number 1, June 2007; Pages 17–20
The ‘Net Generation’ consists of children born after 1985. These young people are widely seen as being ‘intuitive visual communicators’, willing to learn by personal exploration rather than instruction, and able to multi-task and respond quickly to new situations. However, relatively little research has been conducted into how well this age group uses technology to seek information. Much of the research that has taken place challenges the stereotype. Writing in 2005, Oblinger and Hawkins suggest that students do not have a strong grasp of the technology underlying ICT applications, and lack respect for intellectual property. A 2005 survey by the UKCGO in Britain found that young people tend to uncritically trust information found online, communicate mainly with peers, rarely take part in ‘civic, global or political activities online’, and ‘generally lack the skills and technical knowledge to be innovative and create websites’. It also found that their skill levels were heavily influenced by age, socio-economic status and gender. Research by the UK Joint Information Systems Committee (see article by Banwell and Gannon-Leary, 2000) found that university academics and students overwhelmingly rely on search engines rather than specialised databases and services, and that students ‘rarely use even simple Boolean logic to refine search strategies’. The 2005 PEW Internet and American Life project found that teenagers tend to rely on one source of information and ‘stop searching once they think they have found the answer’. They tend to be uncritical of Web content, and unaware of the limits of the ‘free Web’. Results from a 2006 test of ICT literacy levels by the
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsInformation literacy
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Bringing teachers to the library
Volume 21 Number 1, March 2007; Page 18
A school librarian outlines strategies used to involve teachers in the school library and provide for more effective information literacy learning amongst students at a large Year 7-10 school in Tasmania. She was appointed to the role to introduce the new curriculum area, ‘Being information literate’. She noticed that when teachers took classes to the library for research assignments, they spent little time teaching research skills, and that the research that did take place was focused on the internet. She also found that teachers declined her offers of assistance in the planning of students’ research. In response to this situation, library staff designed short lessons to involve students in the use of the book collection for research. The lessons were designed to fit easily into teachers’ busy schedules. Repeated invitations and announcements at staff meetings were used to encourage teachers to run the lessons. Students undertook a ‘library relay’ based on 20 questions which could be answered by using the online catalogue, non-fiction, fiction, reference titles, citations and research skills. Each class split into teams to complete the relay, and students were highly engaged and persistent in sourcing answers. Having noticed that students were having difficulty with constructing citations, library staff then developed an activity around matching citations with various library resources. The activities provided time for library staff to talk with teachers, building a ‘strong starting point’ for future collaboration.
Words, slogans and meanings: the role of teachers in languages education
Volume 42 Number 1, June 2007; Pages 4–11
In the 1970s and 1980s, the ‘Communicative Language Teaching’ (CLT) model replaced the notion of language as ‘a static, structural, rule-governed, grammatical system to be “acquired”’. Instead, it conceptualised language as simply practical communication in realistic cultural contexts. The CLT was implemented through forms such as role play and other classroom activities. It was linked to the Australian Language Levels Guidelines. Textbooks were revised to include typical dialogues and authentic texts. Although a step forward, the CLT had significant faults. It did not allow for the ways in which the student’s own language and culture influence acts of communication. For example, students need to learn not just ‘how to act with people from “other cultures”’ but also ‘how to manage their own interactions in response to the expectations of such people’. Effective language communication requires students to develop a sense of how they are seen by people from other cultures, and a recognition that they ‘have a responsibility for how they understand others and how others understand them’. Within this strengthened concept of CLT, teachers move beyond the role of providing communicative tasks and activities, to recognise their own mediating roles and contributions as ‘interpreters and meaning makers’ in the classroom. CLT is one of two major developments affecting languages education that have failed to sufficiently allow for the mediative, interpretive role that teachers play in the classroom. The other is the introduction of ‘frameworks of outcomes and standards’ in Australian education systems. Frameworks based on outcomes are ‘inevitably reductionist’ and ‘essentially pre-structure learning’. Such frameworks are only accepted at a high level of generality, leaving their local interpretation wide open. An outcomes framework falsely assumes that ‘teachers can isolate their judgements of students’ performance from their own work in constructing that performance with students’. It is associated with forms of testing that assess only episodic learning, in accordance with a static view of language acquisition. It may be more appropriate for assessment to draw upon ‘ethnographic and peer-review approaches in science, appreciation and connoisseurship in the arts, and advocacy, testimony and judgement in the law’.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsTeacher-student relationships
Social life and customs
Languages other than English (LOTE)
Language and languages
Perceptions of language teaching and learning among Sydney secondary principals
Volume 42 Number 1, June 2007; Pages 12–19
Language education in New South Wales has benefited from the 2003 K-10 syllabus that supports continuity of language programs between primary and secondary schools, building on the 100 hours of language learning at lower secondary level that has been mandatory since the mid-1990s. However, they have suffered from changes that mean that many schools are now without their own head teachers in languages. Concerns amongst language teachers that were highlighted in a 1983 survey remain relevant today. They include ongoing pressure to ‘sell’ the relevance of the discipline, lack of time for LOTE in the curriculum, isolation (especially when their school had no Head of Department in their field), and a fear of losing skills when they taught only lower level classes. These concerns have been deepened by lukewarm support for LOTE from principals. A recent survey investigated the views of 49 principals in Sydney about language programs in their schools. The participants represented 37 government, seven independent and four Catholic schools, mainly in the north and west of the city. Responses indicated that teacher supply was a major issue, in terms of the availability of LOTE teachers, the combination of languages they could teach, their quality as teachers, and the difficulty of replacing them. Other major concerns were class size, timetabling, lack of support for LOTE amongst some school communities, and the common perception that languages are not ‘practical’ subjects. New national initiatives around intercultural language learning are likely to increase the importance of the discipline, but it will require ongoing work by principals and teachers in support of resources, including professional development.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsLanguages other than English (LOTE)
Language and languages
New South Wales (NSW)
China and the whole child
Volume 64 Number 8, May 2007; Pages 70–73
China has attempted to implement holistic educational practices that encourage moral, social, physical and academic development. However, entrenched attitudes and the realities of college admission have obstructed these reforms. China theoretically embraced the concept of educating the whole child during the Cultural Revolution, and it has recently introduced several reforms aimed at improving the overall well-being of students. Since 1986, the Chinese Government has reinforced a holistic approach to education, attempting to reform test-oriented education practices by launching initiatives such as the abolition of middle-school entrance exams, the promotion of local forms of assessment, the reform of college admission criteria and the diversification of the school curriculum. New curriculum standards have been developed, replacing the national syllabus and ending the Government’s monopoly on the provision and choice of textbooks. Students are now required to participate in group exercise and cleaning activities (to develop respect for manual labour and a sense of responsibility for the collective), and state-sponsored awards and prizes encourage them to strive for social and moral, as well as academic, excellence. However, despite these reforms, the retention of college entrance exams has meant that, in practice, school education remains test-centric. Because test scores are the sole consideration in college admission, schools overemphasise test performance, rely on rote memorization instead of teaching best practice, set excessive homework and focus on high achievers at the expense of the majority of students. These factors are part of school culture, and will not change until college admission criteria are drastically reshaped. Other systemic factors such as long school days and enforced extra-curricular involvement on weekends have also escaped reform, despite having led to a high incidence of sleep loss and childhood obesity. The recent diversification of college entrance exam content and admission requirements has been a desirable, but insufficient, reform.
Writing assessment: what would multiliteracies teachers do?
Volume 15 Number 1, February 2007; Pages 29–35
The multiliteracies approach should be applied not only to the teaching of writing but also to its assessment. The article examines ways in the multiliteracies approach could be incorporated into a commonly used tool for the assessment of writing: Vicki Spandel’s Six Traits. Spandel’s Ideas trait assesses ‘clarity, narrowness of topic, focus on one main message’ and ‘the absence of unnecessary information’. This trait could be supplemented with consideration of whether the students show awareness of how an author's social position affects their writing, and the extent to which students can identify social stereotypes in texts. An assessor’s judgement about authenticity of dialogue, another criterion within the Ideas trait, needs to allow for differences between the social worlds of the assessor and teacher. The Word choice trait covers qualities such as ‘use of appropriate, precise and enlightening words and phrases’, strong verbs, imagery, and effective use of repetition. It also values the students’ efforts to inform or entertain rather than ‘to impress’. However, teachers should be sensitive to the efforts made by students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Such children may have a particular drive to impress teachers or peers through word choice, but may struggle against their social inexperience in doing so. Spandel’s Conventions and layout assessment trait already allows for the assessment of multimedia and multimodalities. Assessment of knowledge about conventions, however, is likely to be especially demanding on students from non-English speaking backgrounds. This trait should also be adapted to allow for the assessment of students’ awareness of the different conventions operating amongst different social groups. Like the Organisation trait, it should test students’ awareness that different media may suit particular social purposes. The Voice trait allows students to display knowledge of the characteristics of a given social group. The article also considers Carl Anderson’s advice for teachers regarding the assessment of writers. It describes Anderson's suggestion that teachers take ‘assessment notes’ on each student, for purposes such as teaching writing strategies for particular tasks, and expanding the range of audiences for which the student writes.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Reading in the middle years
Volume 15 Number 1, February 2007; Pages 24–28
The authors, two cluster educators in Sunbury, Victoria, have worked with teachers in ten local schools to improve the teaching of reading. The teachers had expressed a number of concerns about middle years students’ reading skills, including varied ability levels within classes, problems with comprehension, students’ difficulty in selecting texts for themselves, and their limited enjoyment of reading. Students also lacked the ability to articulate their own strengths and weaknesses in reading. A model to promote reading was developed, which drew on the Principles of Learning and Teaching (PoLT) developed by the Victorian Department of Education and Training. In each school, one cluster educator worked with and mentored one classroom teacher for three to six hours a week, demonstrating new teaching approaches. New resources were provided, including additional student texts, professional reading for teachers, and visits by authors. A plan was developed to introduce the explicit teaching of reading skills and strategies to students over a school year. The main focus moved term by term from picture books and short stories to whole-class texts, reading groups and then non-fiction texts. In classroom discussion with students, the cluster educators and teachers described their own reading preferences and strategies, and sought to imbue students with a sense of reading as a natural part of everyday life. When reading aloud to the class, teachers were encouraged to explain their own reading strategies. Although challenging for the teachers involved, this practice also helped to deepen students’ sense of how reading connected to ‘real life experiences’. Links were also made to writing, spelling and oral language. As a result of these practices, a culture of reading began to develop across the schools. For example, students began to discuss books with peers at other schools during sports days. Participating teachers reported that the program contributed not only to students’ reading skills but also to social skills and social awareness. The teachers also noted challenges in the different levels of support needed by individual students. Plans for the future include a Cluster Kids Conference and a multiliteracies project with Victoria University, Sunbury.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
Staying at school
Volume 11 Number 4, May 2007; Pages 1–3
Australian States are raising the age at which students are allowed to leave school. Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria have recently passed legislation requiring students to remain in school until they turn 16. The article details some differences in State legislation relating to school retention. A 2003 report by the Business Council of Australia (BCA) highlights major concerns raised by stagnating retention rates. According to the report, if Australia is to develop economically, it must ensure a sufficient supply of labour for an economy increasingly dependent on highly skilled workers, and make certain that this workforce is capable of contributing to a cohesive society. School leavers are significantly disadvantaged by the increasing qualification requirements of the economy, as employment for early leavers is scarce. According to the ABS, up to 40% of those who left school at the end of Year 10 were not employed or in full-time learning in 2004, compared with only 16% of those who completed Year 12. There is therefore a significant risk that early school leavers will emerge as an unemployable underclass, incurring significant costs to the community. Early school-leaving is estimated to cost Australia around $2.6 billion in welfare, health and crime prevention costs, tax revenue, productivity and gross domestic product. However, there are some concerns that raising the minimum school attendance age will require schools to cater to potentially disruptive and uninterested students who are unlikely to become engaged in school. In recognition of this potential problem, Governments are introducing reforms to the senior years of schooling, providing more flexibility and wider opportunities through career planning, focused counselling and individual learning plans. Requirements extending compulsory schooling, and the concurrent governmental reform measures, are predicted to produce several positive results. A 2005 ANU study found that even students who were required to stay in school against their will (‘reluctant stayers’) were likely to earn 10% more per year than those who left school a year earlier. This amounted to an additional $100,000 in lifetime income for ‘reluctant stayers’.
Subject HeadingsRetention rates in schools
Problem-based learning in teams for a cluster-wide cyber science class
Volume 19 Number 1, April 2007; Pages 41–49
A New Zealand study has measured the effects of problem-based learning on rural students' academic motivation and outcomes in science, and sought to determine the feasibility of managing ‘virtual’ classes for these students. Teams of gifted and talented students from secondary schools in the CoroNet cluster formed online communities in which they researched and discussed real-world issues such as tsunami detection, human reproduction, and glider flight. In some cases, the project involved face-to-face student interaction at camps, where teams from different schools met with experts from their field of inquiry. Student attitudes to science were measured by periodic interviews with students, parents and teachers, and by a PROBLIT scale administered at the commencement and conclusion of the project. ICT applications were used extensively in teams’ research, with students accessing web cams and remote measurement devices in their research, and communicating with team-mates in other schools via video-conferencing. Other online activities included a formal debate conducted over Skype, and an online content quiz conducted in a ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ style. Camp-based and ICT-based projects both involved relatively independent research, which necessitated cooperative teamwork. Despite the project’s relatively small sample size of 17 students, it drew some conclusions about student attitudes to science, the efficacy of problem-based learning in science education, and the practicality of ‘virtual classrooms’. The students’ valuation of science was high by international standards, and did not decrease over the year as age-group trends predicted. Anecdotal evidence also suggested that the project improved students’ attitudes to science. Results indicated significant improvement in deep thinking skills over the course of the project. The project also highlighted some issues with the ‘virtual classroom’ model of inquiry-based learning. Schools’ lack of hardware, software and technical capacity, and factors such as teacher availability and classroom space can seriously constrain the effective operation of cyber-classrooms. However, problem-based learning can benefit all science education. Its implementation through ICT is particularly beneficial for gifted and talented students as, by students’ own admission, online communities connect 'like-minds'.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsGifted and talented (GAT) children
Inquiry based learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Inquiry learning in an ICT-rich environment
Volume 19 Number 1, April 2007; Pages 24–31
A recent study of two groups of gifted students in a rural school on the Coromandel peninsula, New Zealand, has found that ICT applications can effectively support inquiry-based learning in small groups. Students were required to investigate contemporary controversies through guided inquiry and subsequently publish their findings on the Internet. Teacher scaffolding was extremely important to this project, as the students were new to inquiry-based learning, and research has indicated that students often have difficulty locating, sorting, and applying web-based research. The web-based project offered significant inquiry learning challenges. Students often ‘tried to find the exact answer to their question rather than collect information from which they could deduce an answer’, and tended to judge web information based on the appearance of the site rather than its accuracy or currency. In order to scaffold the development of ‘sifting’ skills in the selection of websites, the teacher provided a selection of weblinks to ‘good’ sites on each topic, and instructed students in using search engines effectively. The platform for the web project was provided through an online Learning Management System, Knowledge.NET, so students could access their work from home and parents could help with homework. Despite the challenges posed by limited technological literacy and unreliable internet connection from students’ homes, ICTs were viewed as extremely useful in aiding the development of inquiry skills. Due to the contemporary nature of the topics chosen, obtaining information from traditional sources such as books and magazines would have been difficult, particularly in a rural area. Email and internet search engines connected students with primary sources, and provided direct contact with relevant individuals. The wealth and variety of sources available on the internet also helped students understand complex concepts, and one of the groups changed their position on their issue as a result. Students also viewed online presentation as very important, as it ensured their work reached an audience external to the school.
Subject HeadingsNew Zealand
Inquiry based learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
In New South Wales, the 2002 Mathematics K-6 Syllabus has significantly increased expectations on students. It is based on research conducted for the Board of Studies that recommends that certain mathematical concepts should be introduced to children at an earlier stage. One recommendation is that fraction notation should be introduced at Stage 1, corresponding to Grades 1 and 2, rather than at Grades 3 and 4. The syllabus calls on students to learn ‘sub-constructs’ of fractions (such as measure, operator and quotient), fraction equivalence, fraction addition and subtraction, comparison of fractions and mixed numbers. It suggests that by being shown a range of these ‘external’ representations together, students build up an ‘internal’ cognitive grasp of the concept of fractions. Teachers were surveyed regarding their knowledge of common fractions, their confidence levels about teaching the new syllabus, the effect professional development courses had on this confidence, and their views on when various concepts should be introduced to students. The teachers represented small and larger primary schools from a wide geographical area. Most taught Grades 5 and 6. The survey results indicated that teachers remained concerned about the high learning expectations set by the new syllabus, but that their confidence ‘reportedly improved’ after professional development. Further professional development should be carried out, focused on improving the teaching of sub-constructs of fractions and their translation from one form of representation to another.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Learning to love learning
Volume 64 Number 8, May 2007; Pages 58–61
The traditional school structure requires conformity to a set of predetermined and disconnected subjects taught at a pace deemed appropriate for the group as a whole. The Met is a public high school on Rhode Island that attempts to break from traditional school models while still operating with the same funding model as other public schools. Each student’s learning plan is individually designed to focus on their interests and strengths, and the academic and personal areas they need to improve in. Each student is allocated to a group of 15 students, under an advisor who is responsible for the students’ learning program and personal growth. The advisor essentially designs each student’s high school curriculum and ensures that it is both comprehensive and cohesive. The school’s hours and curriculum are flexible, so that all students can pursue their interests. For example, one student’s passion for Japanese pop culture led his advisor to seek out Japanese language programs in the community, and the student was able to attend classes at another local high school and take a university-level class by correspondence as part of his learning program. Students are also given the opportunity to apply their education in the real world, as from Year 9 onwards every student spends two days a week at an internship connected to their interests. Students’ personal development is also encouraged in the Met structure. Their advisory group and advisor are retained year to year, and advisors are therefore able to integrate students’ whole high school education as well as guide students on a personal level. The holistic and integrated curriculum offered at the Met establishes the skills and traits employers are interested in, such as a strong work ethic, communication skills, the ability to work with people, and inquisitiveness.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
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