Changing the odds
Volume 65 Number 2, October 2007; Pages 16–21
Research has identified seven principles of effective intervention for at-risk children. Firstly, resources are to be directed to children at most extreme risk. An example is Early Head Start program. This concentration of resources allows for small adult-child ratios, and such targeting has been shown to deliver the greatest relative return on resources invested. By contrast, overstretched programs tend to fail through lack of resources and consequent 'professional inertia'. The second principle demands that interventions be suitably timed. In many cases, this means early intervention programs such as Avance, however intervention should not occur before children with learning problems can be distinguished from those who simply need more time to develop. Thirdly, programs should be intensive, involving targeted use of regular and substantial blocks of time. An example is Bright Beginnings. The fourth requirement is highly trained staff. Fifthly, interventions should coordinate services around health, education and general family support, and should be sensitive to cultural and socio-economic conditions of families. Accelerated, compensatory intervention is the sixth quality of good programs. They stimulate cognition and language development, and encourage dispositions such as curiosity and confidence in problem solving, focusing on depth rather than breadth. One example is the Abecedarian program. Good accelerated programs specifically compensate for at-risk children's inadequate circumstances. Simply imitating average children's learning environments can be counterproductive for at-risk children. Finally, effective programs are monitored for accountability. Interventions for at-risk children are economically rational. One program was found to provide 'an economic return of $7.10 for every dollar invested'.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Narrowing the gap: the Aboriginal education priority
October 2007; Pages 50–55
Aboriginal people living in urban areas are facing problems such as dire poverty, erratic school attendance, welfare dependence, racism, physical and emotional abuse, low self esteem, poor academic performance, and isolation within communities. Indigenous students often encounter structures within schools that directly counter their own culture. For instance, Aboriginal people are brought up not to ask direct questions or make direct eye contact with elders, and teachers often misinterpret Aboriginal ways of communicating. Additionally, some educators argue that Indigenous boys do not engage with school due to the perception that schooling did not help their own fathers. Educators comment that they tend to deal with mothers and grandmothers of students, and that the men are generally absent, so young boys have few male role models. Teachers also worry that girls fall pregnant too early. The Catholic Education Office of Sydney is therefore keen to make Aboriginal Education a priority, despite the small number of Aboriginal students in Catholic schools, by instigating a range of initiatives such as the appointment of an Aboriginal Education Advisor in each of three regions, the provision of funds for Aboriginal education workers and other support staff in schools, extra professional development, and teacher training scholarships for Aboriginal students wanting to attend the Australian Catholic University. Aboriginal education advisors and workers attempt to work with communities and offer parents a non-confrontational communicative route with schools, preferably through someone with an Indigenous background. These staff are increasingly engaged in helping teachers integrate an Aboriginal perspective across the curriculum, rather than offering detached, one-off classes on tools and weapons. Individual schools and institutions are also initiating programs such as school breakfasts for students who do not receive it at home, cultural programs, secondary school scholarships, and University orientation days and mentor programs designed to encourage Aboriginal students to consider tertiary study. It is imperative that these programs operate in partnership with Aboriginal communities, establishing two-way communication in which educators learn as much about Aboriginal culture as the students learn about the power structures of mainstream Australia.
Subject HeadingsAboriginal students
Finding the key: the Aboriginal education priority
November 2007; Pages 57–59
The Australian Government’s report, What Works: the Work Program – Core Issues 4, shows that the gap in numeracy achievement between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students widens over the primary years. The report found that difference in numeracy scores between Aboriginal students and the rest of the school population is 14% at Year 3, rising to 33% by Year 7. These alarming statistics inspired Michelle Sunnucks, a numeracy project officer for the Sydney Catholic Education Office, to develop a small-scale early intervention program for struggling Indigenous students in southern Sydney. She argues that early intervention can help to narrow achievement gaps in later years by providing students with foundational skills and a positive attitude to learning, as well as the numeracy skills imperative for everyday life. Young students also respond to interventions faster than older students. The intervention program began as a pilot focussing on two Aboriginal siblings who were underperforming in numeracy. Sunnucks tested the students and wrote individual reports and learning programs for them. They received help from trained staff and parent helpers and, after only four months, their performance improved dramatically. As the program expanded to a larger-scale pilot, Sunnucks continued to write individualised programs for the students, describing areas needing support. The environment of the program is highly supportive, encouraging risk taking and setting high expectations. Maths games are tailored to students' competency levels, thereby avoiding the failure that can be experienced in large class activities. The students’ confidence has improved dramatically, and teachers note that they have become excited about numeracy skills - delighting, for instance, in counting things in line at the canteen, or doubling numbers. Classroom teachers note that students in the program are no longer afraid to put up their hand and answer a question. Parents have also become more involved and are pleased that their children are receiving help that many were denied during their own schooling. Attendance of Aboriginal students has improved dramatically. The program is still being developed and refined, and will eventually be extended to more schools.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Raising the bar: the Aboriginal education priority
November 2007; Pages 54–56
Several reforms initiated in the Catholic Education Office’s 2004 policy paper on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education have led to the development of Aboriginal Education programs in schools. The Principal of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Primary School in Waterloo, Susan Clifton, was moved to develop one such program after realising that many of her Indigenous students never moved out of local public housing estates, and rarely heard adults speak positively about goals for the future. Building on a previous relationship with a private school across the harbour in Mosman, Clifton developed a program in which students from both schools would visit an Aboriginal school in Central Australia. The students travel together in matching tracksuits, even visiting the Qantas Club at the airport to emphasise that selection for the trip is something to take pride in. The students hunt for witchetty grubs with local children, and learn to respect Indigenous culture by observing Aboriginal people in the desert speaking their own languages. Teachers have noticed that Waterloo students pick up words used by the more articulate Mosman students, and gain confidence in their own abilities. Clifton notes that the students chosen ‘not always are brightest ones; they’re not always our leadership students’, but staff comment that students who have completed the trip exhibit fewer behavioural issues, higher motivation to learn and greater pride in themselves. Waterloo also has a Year 6 mentor program to connect all students to role models including a science professor from the University of Sydney and a Qantas pilot. Earlier in the year, a group of Waterloo students spoke publicly, acted, and performed traditional Aboriginal dance for celebrities and dignitaries following weeks of rehearsals in the school’s cultural program. Waterloo has also established a transition program for Aboriginal students by partnering senior primary students with pre-school children. Besides offering pre-school exposure to local children who often have none, the program develops empathy in the senior students. Local community members appreciate the school’s new approach of setting high expectations and promoting pride in Indigenous culture.
The transfer of pupils from primary to secondary school: a case study of a foundation subject, physical education
Volume 77, 2007; Pages 14–30
The articles examines the transition of students from primary to secondary school in the context of Physical Education (PE) in England. The author interviewed 14 secondary school heads of department in PE, finding a significant discrepancy between rhetoric that supported transition measures and practice which often neglected them. Most the participants had not documented their transition practices as written policy, due to either recent adoption of the practices; a sense that is 'safer' not to document practice 'as they may be measured against what is written'; a tradition of ignoring policy documents as guides to action; or a tradition of 'lip service' towards transition issues. Having a policy does not guarantee implementation (for example one school adopted a transition policy only when it was formally required in a bid for sports college status). Participants said that the main reason to plan for students' transition was to provide continuity in curriculum and to meet the distinctive needs of individual students. However most actual transition practice at their schools related to a different element of the transition process, social integration of new students, and curriculum continuity received little actual attention. Discontinuity in the PE curriculum may in principle be planned as a 'fresh start', but in practice it usually results from lack of time, lack of appropriate or useful information from primary schools, or lack of confidence in primary schools' teaching and assessment practices. One major means to improve transition arrangements is to train specialist secondary staff to liaise with primary schools and understand the primary PE curriculum. However, it is hard for even specialist staff to address all the specific needs or wishes of particular primary schools (eg for swimming or dance). Sensitivity is also required, as such secondary specialists need to offer help without denigrating or being seen to denigrate the skills of primary staff. The article discusses factors influencing primary to secondary transition at system, school and classroom levels.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsTransitions in schooling
Will you help me lead?
Volume 65 Number 1, September 2007; Pages 65–68
Two educators in the USA describe their progress into leadership roles, noting the variety of possible roles available, the influence of existing leaders on their careers, and the signficance of accreditation by the USA's National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). NBPTS credentials demonstrate the accomplishment of high teaching standards. Teachers often seek them to obtain greater skills, recognition and pay as teachers rather than to become teacher leaders, but those accredited are often encouraged to take on leadership roles. After Bill Ferriter received NBPTS accreditation, he was encouraged to take on roles as mentor, team leader or committee chair. However none of these roles suited him, and he also found that high quality classroom teaching does not automatically prepare teachers to train other adults. After frustrating failures in his early attempts at leadership he was identified by Carolann Wade, a district level teacher leader, as suitable for a prominent role in the Teacher Leaders Network (TLN), an online community in which she was involved. In the TLN he initiated and took part in a range of policy discussions, which led in time to new roles for him as an education writer preparing and delivering professional development. Carolann Wade herself had previously gone through a similar process of leadership induction. After NBPTS accreditation, she was invited by a senior district education officer to provide professional development training to other maths teachers. She was prepared for this role by receiving her own professional development and other support from an experienced trainer. The two educators offer several recommendations to develop school leaders. Existing leaders should watch out for teachers showing potential, looking 'beyond titles' to actual performance and personal qualities displayed. The roles offered to potential leaders should be matched to their particular strengths. These teachers should be encouraged, guided, given feedback and introduced to others who can help them. Support should drop off as new leaders find their feet. The new leaders should also be encouraged to continue the leadership development cycle.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Opening up the black box: literacy instruction in schools participating in three comprehensive school reform programs
Volume 44 Number 2, June 2007; Pages 298–338
A study in the USA has evaluated the implementation strategies of school reform packages by measuring their success in changing instructional practice. Researchers measured program implementation in over 100 schools and thus identified a series of implementation strategies likely to motivate teachers to undertaken genuine reforms. The reform packages evaluated were the Accelerated Schools Project (ASP), a reform aimed at cultural change in schools; America’s Choice (AC), a reading comprehension and writing reform, and Success for All schools (SFA), a reading comprehension reform emphasising explicit instruction. ASP’s implementation strategy focused on promoting a commitment among school leaders and teachers to the program’s abstract vision of ‘powerful learning’. The program did not target particular subjects or provide explicit curriculum objectives, providing instead a set of generic goals for student-centred and interactive learning. By contrast, the AC implementation strategy provided teachers with extensive instructional guidance, including a curriculum guide and a set of instructional routines, and appointed AC coaches and facilitators to develop writing assignments and scoring rubrics. AC also expected schools to create two new leadership positions to guide implementation of the program. SFA’s implementation strategy involved providing clear, highly specified instructional routines for teaching reading. The SFA reading curriculum was clearly defined, and teachers were provided with weekly lesson sequences and ‘scripts’ to guide teaching activities within each 90-minute class. SFA also provided curricular materials, and each school was expected to appoint a literacy coordinator to supervise implementation of SFA alongside school leaders. The success of each reform was judged on the degree to which its desired instructional change was achieved. The study found that there was essentially no change to practices in ASP schools, while AC and SFA schools achieved the instructional changes aimed for by the programs. The study concluded that reform programs should focus on changing specific elements of practice in a curricular area, clearly defining the goals for change, providing written material supporting these goals, providing external facilitators to guide implementation, and emphasising the importance of fidelity to the program design through program designers, facilitators, and local school leaders.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
The case for late intervention
October 2007; Pages 68–73
‘Free voluntary reading’ is a highly effective model of late intervention for struggling readers. In free voluntary reading classes, students are simply provided with time in which to read and easy access to reading material. Students are not expected to complete book reports or comprehension questions, and are free to discard texts they dislike. Free voluntary reading requires little or no formal instruction, but it is critical that students have access to interesting reading material, and that the program is allocated sufficient time. A case study school in California implemented free voluntary reading for Year 6 students with low reading proficiency. Participants read self-selected texts for two 40-minute sessions a day, and discussed books with their peers and teachers. The school invested heavily in improving school and classroom libraries, and focused on procuring books which students were likely to enjoy, such as the popular Goosebumps series. Students in the volunteer reading group significantly outperformed students in the standard language arts curriculum on tests of reading comprehension. Critics of the free voluntary reading model claim that independent reading is impossible for struggling students, and that students will select low-level, poor quality texts, thus preventing reading development. However, research does not support these criticisms. Even struggling students are capable of engaging with simple texts, and students’ interest in their chosen material (for example, a newspaper sports section, comic book, or character-driven narrative) drives their development. Secondly, research shows that, although students may start with simple readings, their interests expand, so even low-level texts may act as a conduit to extended reading. Several strategies can be utilised to ensure that students develop the required self-motivated interest in reading. Studies show that seeing others read, as when a teacher reads to the class, can improve students’ perception of reading. Relating reading to students' personal interests is also effective, and research shows that even a single positive experience with a book can develop life-long reading habits. Late intervention models such as free voluntary reading have proven just as effective as early intervention, and education authorities should promote this option by improving school libraries, particularly in low income areas.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Teachers' perceptions of thinking skills in the primary curriculum
Volume 77, 2007; Pages 1–13
A study in central Scotland has examined the degree to which thinking skills are taught within the primary curriculum. Quantative data from a questionnaire was gathered from 36 schools, with 127 responses received from individual teachers or pairs of teachers covering all phases of primary education. The questionnaire asked respondents to indicate the degree to which particular types of thinking were encouraged at their school. The types of thinking were categorised as searching for meaning, critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, decision making and metacognition. The article lists the subcategories within each type. It includes tables and quantitative summaries of the results. The respondents noted some variation in the degree to which the different thinking skills were taught. The results 'highlighted the lack of a coherent progression of age-specific thinking skills' through the primary years. Thinkng skills can also be encouraged through involvement of students in initiatives such as assessment for learning and citizenship education.
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
Promoting discourse about sociocientific issues through scaffolded inquiry
Volume 29 Number 11, 2007; Pages 1387–1410
The inclusion of Socio-scientific Issues (SSI) in the school science curriculum empowers students to analyse scientific arguments critically and engage with scientific issues affecting society. To do this, students must develop clear understandings of the Nature of Science (NOS). A recent study has attempted to examine the extent to which students use their knowledge of the NOS in SSI arguments. In the USA, 36 science students in Years 9-12 took part in an SSI unit on genetically modified foods via Web-based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE) activities. The WISE activities required students to read several scientific articles about the controversy surrounding genetically modified foods. Prior to these SSI activities, students were introduced to a number of issues involving the NOS, such as the tentativeness of science, the validity and reliability of scientific claims, objectivity/subjectivity, and the role of government and special interest groups in science. As they completed the activities, students answered questions about the NOS in a workbook. Afterwards, students were organised into three groups for a ‘policy making’ debate. The study found that students’ conceptualisations of the NOS fell into two categories. Most students understood the ‘developmental/tentative’ NOS to some extent, recognising the difficulty of predicting outcomes in science due to the impossibility of controlling all possible variables. All students in the study conveyed some understanding of the ‘subjective and creative scientist’ NOS concept, demonstrating awareness of the involvement of personal motives, moral values, and data collection and analysis methods in determining a scientist’s argument. However, the study found that students struggled to apply their ideas about the NOS when evaluating scientific claims or when making arguments during the policy debate. Students should receive explicit instruction in argument structure and in what constitutes scientific evidence.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsInquiry based learning
There are no Conferences available in this issue.