School leadership preparation: time for a new approach?
August 2007; Pages 24–27
High quality school leaders are increasingly needed as schools face more complex tasks and are expected to shoulder responsibility for more social issues. A national approach is needed to ensure an adequate supply of good quality school leaders in Australia. A national approach could be used to address the key issue of identifying promising candidates for leadership. The early identification of potential school leaders is a particularly pressing issue, given current shortages, the ageing of current leaders, and the three to five years generally needed to develop leaders. A national approach is also needed to accredit school leaders. Mandatory qualification requirements have not worked to deter applicants for school leadership in Britain, or in areas of the USA where they have been applied. It would also need to see to the reorganisation of the operational and financial roles of school leaders. These leaders’ roles need to be recast into something more manageable and more clearly delineated. Britain’s National College for School Leadership demonstrates the possibility of developing a national strategy for school leaders. Several steps are needed to develop a national approach to school leadership in Australia. Substantial agreements must be reached between the States and Territories and the Australian Government about school leadership preparation and the standards to be adopted for leaders’ skills, attributes and practices. A good example of such a framework is the Victorian Department of Education’s Developmental Framework for School Leaders. Merit protection arrangements will need to be established, to help to ensure opportunities to all applicants, but these measures should not be given undue emphasis and should consider the use of methods used outside education. The ‘gene pool’ for school leaders may need to be broadened by exploring the appointment of business leaders. Principals are expected to be instructional leaders, and this role requires a solid pedagogical grounding. However, if ‘the job of the principal needs to be rethought’ then ‘maybe we need to revisit the issue of the size and nature of the gene pool’, and consideration should also be given to increasing pay.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
England's National College for School Leadership: a model for leadership education?
Volume 48 Number 1, 2007; Pages 80–98
Launched in 2000, England’s National College for School Leadership (NCSL) performed well at its initial core task of generating research and innovative programs to promote the development of school leadership capacity. The NCSL has established a strong national and international profile, developed substantial national programs for emerging and established leaders, and established a clear conceptual framework based on research evidence. However the NCSL is now confronting a number of challenges. It is difficult to demonstrate direct links between improvements in student outcomes and school leadership programs, when the impact of leadership is often indirect. As an initiative of the Blair Labour government, the NCSL may have less support if the government changes. The government’s demands for accountability of school leadership are posed in traditional terms of performance management, relying on a hierarchical concept of leadership, whereas the NCSL has moved toward a distributed leadership model. The NCSL may struggle to clarify these issues because the literature on leadership, including distributed leadership, is ‘murky’, ‘a “swamp” where different assumptions are “not contested”’. The growing complexity of leadership generates demands for more customised and therefore more resource intensive programs. A major problem for the NCSL is ‘mission creep’, as new expectations have been imposed on it, in terms of new programs to run and escalation of stakeholder expectations. At the same time, potential candidates for leadership programs who have not taken them up may be reluctant to do so at all, due to ‘massive learned helplessness’ inherited from the era of top down leadership. These problems may require the NCSL to move from provider to facilitator or coordinator of programs, sharing responsibilities with other organisations.
Language education, identities and citizenship: developing cosmopolitan perspectives
Volume 7 Number 1, 2007; Pages 56–71
Learners of a foreign language usually come to identify with that language community, and absorb some elements of its culture. Language education policy recognises the link between foreign language learning and intercultural communication, and connects this in turn to respect for values of diversity and democracy. However, there is a concurrent tendency in policy to link foreign language learning to the notion of unchanging, monolithic national cultures, expressed, for example, in the programs of Alliance Francaise and the British Council. As a result, language education till tends to present an exotic view of these cultures. It tends to obscure important social divisions within these cultures, and situates the learner as a socially passive, uncritical ‘tourist’ in relation to them. One way that it ignores social tensions and complexities in the foreign culture is by focusing on daily life and routines, with ‘folkloric’ elements emphasised to differentiate these routines from similar experiences in the learner’s own life. Language learning based on the notion of monolithic national culture does not reflect the realities of globalisation, which has generated multiple identities for many citizens, and wider loyalties that are not necessarily linked to kinship. To reflect these realities we need to adopt the concept of cosmopolitan citizenship, that allows people to explore their identity as citizens. The author looks at these issues by interviewing 34 foreign language teachers in Britain about their experiences in teaching their first language while overseas. The teachers were British citizens who had taught English overseas and then returned, or citizens of non-English speaking countries now living in Britain. Most had worked overseas for at least one year through school or university exchange programs, and were currently working in adult foreign language education. Although enthusiastic about their role, they often spoke of being stereotyped by students or other people while abroad. Their efforts to confront national stereotypes were hampered by notions of monolithic national cultures that still dominate language teaching materials and syllabuses. Promising approaches for confronting these obstacles have been offered in articles by Rosario Diaz-Greenberg and Ann Nevin, and by Cristina Ros i Solé, and in the Democracy and Diversity report by James A Banks et al.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Language and languages
Social life and customs
Languages other than English (LOTE)
The Test of Word Reading Efficiency (TOWRE) used in an Australian context
Volume 11 Number 3, 2006; Pages 139–145
The result of the PISA 2000 evaluation showed that 30% of Australian children are poor readers. Limited reading accuracy may underlie these students’ weak performance in the PISA study. ‘Reading accuracy’ refers to the ability to relate the written word to its spoken equivalent, an essential skill for comprehension of texts. Reading instruction in Australia has broadly relied on a meaning-based rather than skills-based approach, an issue central to the ‘Reading Wars’ debates. Evidence suggests that struggling readers have not been well served by the meaning-based approach and that instruction of these readers should now focus more closely on skills needed to decode individual words or phonemes. The Test of Word Reading Efficiency (TOWRE), developed in the USA, is an assessment tool designed to identify struggling readers. It measures sight word efficiency (SWE) by testing students on 104 words of one to four syllables. It also measures phonemic decoding efficiency (PDE), which is used to identify readers’ efficiency in reading unfamiliar words, using a list of 63 ‘pseudo-words’ of one to three syllables. TOWRE covers ‘raw scores, reading ages, grade equivalents, standard scores and percentiles’. A study has trialled the use of TOWRE among 1205 students in central Queensland, at five primary schools and one secondary school. The students were in Years 1–8. As one of its elements the pilot study measured rises in reading accuracy by Year level. Results were broken down by decile, and the study also identified the highest and lowest 5% of students at each Year level. The gap between the highest and lowest 5% of students rose more sharply than the gap between the highest and lowest 10% of students. Results support the value of TOWRE as a means to help in differentiating reading instruction. The article suggests ways to assist struggling readers. At each Year level there should be separate instructional groups set up for weak readers, with small adult to child ratios. These students should receive more frequent reading instruction than other students, and it should focus specifically on development of reading accuracy.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Easy to dance to: solving the problems of teacher evaluation with peer assistance and review
May 2007; Pages 479–508
Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) is a model of teacher evaluation in which ‘Consulting Teachers’ (CTs) monitor and mentor ‘Participating Teachers’ (PTs). This model offers an alternative to traditional teacher evaluation as conducted by principals. Based on data from surveys administered in a longitudinal case study, this article evaluates a PAR model applied in California to the evaluation of new teachers or those considered to be performing poorly. The study illustrates PAR's comparative advantage over traditional teacher evaluation. One critical failure of the traditional model is that school principals simply do not have time to conduct evaluations effectively, given their workload. In interviews, many principals lamented that traditional teacher evaluation consisted of ‘popping their heads in and out’ of at-risk teacher’s classrooms. Administrator–evaluators also lack specific content knowledge and may not be familiar with best practice for the subject, and their mentoring capacity is therefore limited. PTs in PAR, however, are generally matched with full-time CTs from the same subject area, and because the evaluations are based on ongoing observations of a PT throughout the year, the CT has intimate knowledge of the PT’s classroom and can provide meaningful and relevant feedback. This feedback is also grounded in best practice, as CTs receive training in performance standards. CTs are required to defend their evaluations in terms of these standards to a panel of union leaders, teachers and administrators. Traditionally, principals are not required to justify their evaluations to anyone, however, because unions are likely to contest any decision to terminate a teacher, and administrators prefer to transfer incompetent teachers rather than dismiss them. Consequently, labour relations, confidence in evaluative decisions, and teacher accountability were found to improve dramatically under PAR. There are, however, some challenges in implementing PAR. It is important that the CT evaluators selected under PAR are master teachers above reproach, and that a suitable framework of standards exists to guide their evaluations. Districts or schools implementing PAR should also be aware that PAR of veteran teachers is likely to generate controversy and should not be implemented until trust is built through PAR of novices.
Subject HeadingsSchool administration
Physical education: what's in a name? A praxis model for holistic learning in physical education
Volume 54 Number 1, April 2007; Pages 5–10
In Australia, Physical Education (PE) is often misrepresented as simply the school context for physical activity. The ‘Active Schools Curriculum’, for example, stipulates that all schools must provide 120 minutes of physical activity in curriculum time in response to concerns about childhood obesity, without explicitly relating physical activity to PE as a discipline. The curricular aims and educative purpose of PE are obscured by such physical activity-based perceptions of the subject. In theory, PE is that aspect of a holistic education which strives to develop awareness of the physical and active domains of human existence and how these affect mental and emotional processes. The educative purpose of PE is, therefore, to develop the ‘physically educated person’, that is, someone who believes in the value of movement as an essential element of life and lives accordingly. However, PE curricula in schools must be drastically revised if they are to achieve this aim. Traditional activity-based approaches to PE are aimed at elite performance in specific physical activities, and fail to promote the ‘essential learnings’ of the discipline. These essential learnings affect change in students’ lived realities outside school, and include social responsiveness, physical awareness, appreciation for holistic living, awareness of social constructions of physical identity, and motivation to maintain physical health and fitness. Constructivist approaches to PE can genuinely promote these outcomes by involving students in more dynamic cognitive activity in a context of physical activity. In a constructivist approach, teachers promote thinking by developing narratives associated with physical activities and limiting direct instruction. By focusing physical activities on specific learning purposes, teachers develop physically educated students who are better equipped to combat Australia’s health concerns in the long term.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
The effect of Game Sense pedagogy on primary school pre-service teachers' attitudes to teaching physical education
Volume 54 Number 1; Pages 24–28
‘Games Sense’ is a new approach to teaching Physical Education (PE), intended to transform teachers’ perceptions of the subject and encourage more extensive inclusion of it in the primary education curriculum. In this approach, teachers are more involved in stimulating reflection and discussion than in simply transmitting knowledge. Students participate in games that are modified to suit their developing abilities, and these games become progressively more complex as they approach the sport on which they are modelled. Despite the development of several such inquiry-based approaches to PE and some positive developments in the various state syllabuses, PE practices in schools still overwhelmingly emphasise mastery of technique. These traditional practices exclude and marginalise girls and less confident boys. Despite expressing a general interest in playing and watching sport, many pre-service primary teachers have negative attitudes towards PE as a result of their experiences as secondary school students. These teachers are reluctant to teach PE because they lack confidence and do not ascribe educational value to the subject. However, a recent study found that pre-service teachers responded enthusiastically to the Game Sense approach, despite scepticism towards PE prior to participating in the training program. The study involved questionnaires and interviews of 50 pre-service teachers in Sydney and Melbourne. After completing the program, participants testified that they enjoyed the social interaction facilitated by activities based on Games Sense, and that they felt valued and included. The constructivist grounding of Games Sense also helped teachers think of PE as integrated with other disciplines. Participants in the study only received one semester of study in Games Sense, and more teacher preparation and professional development programs would be required for these teachers to reach an adequate level of competence in the pedagogy. However, the Games Sense approach appears capable of transforming teacher attitudes towards PE given adequate support.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsPhysical education
Teaching and learning argumentation
Volume 107 Number 5, May 2007; Pages 449–472
A study investigating two approaches to teaching argumentation has found that students performed more effectively when they were not explicitly instructed in argument construction. Six classes from two public primary schools in central Illinois participated in the study, which tested knowledge of argumentation in groups of students receiving three different forms of preparation. The first group of students participated in discussions concerning ethical and social issues raised in reading texts. The second group participated in these discussions as well as receiving explicit instruction in argumentation. Teachers delivering this scripted instruction presented argument construction as analogous to construction of a house, with ‘reason’, ‘supporting fact’, ‘objection’ (counter-argument), ‘response’ and ‘position’ presented as the building blocks of the argument house schema. Researchers hoped that this ‘child-friendly’ analogy would scaffold conceptual understanding. The control classes received their regular reading instruction. The relative advantages of these teaching techniques were examined by assessing students’ performance on three argumentative tasks that tested awareness of the principles of argumentation, application of argumentative technique to a new modality (written work) and recall of an argumentative text. Researchers predicted, based on the research literature, that scaffolded instruction in argument theory would enhance students’ ability to apply their intuitive knowledge of verbal argument. However, students who received explicit instruction provided fewer supporting arguments towards their contention in a reflective essay task, although they displayed greater ability to articulate formal argumentative structures in an interview. Students who had received explicit instruction, therefore, had greater awareness of the rules of argumentation, but their more complex understanding may have interfered with their ability and motivation to produce arguments. Students who participated only in argumentative discussions generally produced more arguments in the essay task, indicating their ability to apply argumentative skills to a written modality. However, these students’ essays were less coherently structured, often including lengthy passages of text that had little relevance to the topic and did not conform to the style of an argumentative essay. Students’ performance on the argumentative recall test was not differentiated by the preparation they received.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Thought and thinking
Teaching primary science constructively: Experiences of pre-service teachers at Macquarie University
Volume 53 Number 2, June 2007; Pages 29–32
Constructivist teaching emphasises the importance of considering students’ ideas about a concept prior to introducing new content. In order to challenge and develop children’s existing ideas about scientific concepts, teachers must design activities and discussions appropriate to students' existing knowledge. It is therefore necessary for teachers to determine students’ level of understanding before devising lesson plans. A group of pre-service teachers at Macquarie University conducted a study to assess the effectiveness of a constructivist pedagogy in which students’ knowledge of a science topic was assessed prior to their engagement with educative activities. The pre-service teachers assessed their classes’ prior knowledge using a range of assessment techniques, some requiring multimedia responses such as annotated drawings and diagrams. These forms of assessment enabled children to overcome language difficulties and lack of confidence, and therefore more accurately represented their level of understanding. The pre-service teacher-researchers found that these test results greatly influenced their lesson plans. The data collected in assessment allowed teachers to narrow their focus to topics poorly understood by students, plan lessons with an appropriate level of assumed knowledge, and create a bridge from students’ prior ideas to new understandings. Where assessment results reflected gaps, limited knowledge of scientific terminology, or misconceptions, lessons were tailored to address these issues. Critically, teachers were able to challenge students to reflect on their own ideas by providing examples that did not logically fit with their preconceived notions. For example, a Year 6 genetics class overwhelmingly believed eye colour to be directly inherited from one’s parents, and the teacher was able to challenge this notion by asking how blue-eyed children of brown-eyed parents inherited their eye colour. After pre-testing, lessons typically consisted of demonstrations, ‘hands on’ activities in an informal, investigative environment, and group discussions. The success of this constructivist approach was attributed to the specific focus on content that students had been unsure about. Post-testing revealed that students had acquired deep conceptual knowledge that they were able to apply widely to different contexts. This article is the second in a two-part series.
Key Learning AreasScience
Lies, damn lies and history textbooks: two case studies in Japan and the United States
Volume 27 Number 1, 2007; Pages 15–25
There are a number of problems associated with the use of school history textbooks. They can be used by dictatorial governments to ‘construct a politically acceptable past’. Poor-quality textbooks tend to lack depth. Textbooks are often very expensive. Teachers without background in the discipline may be tempted to rely too much on school texts. Good teachers use textbooks as one source amongst many and not as a repository of definitive knowledge. The article examines Japan and the USA as case studies of countries where official textbooks are used heavily and have caused major controversies. In Japan debates over history textbooks have centred on highly contested representations of the country’s past military actions. In recent years debate has been generated by a ‘right wing revisionist group’ known as the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform challenged by ‘a leftist teacher union movement as well as other centralist-liberal forces’. In the USA a powerful movement arose in the 1990s against ‘political correctness’ and what was seen as undue emphasis on ethnic minorities or on ‘difficult’ issues from the past, such as Ku Klux Klan activities. After 9/11 the debate arose again, this time focused on allegations that Islam was unduly emphasised or uncritically represented in school texts. Another issue in the USA is that the enormous budgets spent on school texts encourage domination by large publishing houses. Many of these problems are avoided by allowing teachers or schools to select their own texts, as occurs in Australia and Britain. (See also earlier abstract Textbook fight not as simple as it seems in Japan.)
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
United States of America (USA)
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