Reforming assessment practices: implications of A to E reporting for pre-service teacher education
Volume 27 Number 3, 2007; Pages 36–48
The current drive towards formative assessment is hindered by the use of standardised A-E grading. Formative assessment supports student-centred learning, expressed, for example, in the Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century, which emphasised the need to prepare student for adult citizenship and to see to their ‘intellectual, physical, social, moral spiritual and aesthetic development’, and in Queensland’s ‘productive pedagogies’ model, which calls for recognition of ‘difference, connectedness, intellectual quality and social support’. However student teachers struggle to adapt to formative assessment, as they have rarely if ever experienced it during their own schooling and in many cases do not see it implemented effectively by current teachers. In their roles as teacher educators, the authors attempt to prepare student teachers to implement formative assessment in schools. The success that can be achieved in this regard is exemplified by a DVD prepared by an art major student, which provided a virtual tour of art in Melbourne’s public spaces. The DVD was designed to prepare school students for the later summatively assessed task of planning a public artwork in their school grounds. A voiceover on the DVD posed questions about the artworks to school students, allowing formative assessment of their responses and related follow-up instruction. However the promotion of formative assessment is held back by A-E grading. Such grading does not always recognise significant incremental gains by students, or their background contexts, so it can demoralise struggling students. Some schools have managed to combine the two models of assessment by having students complete ‘process portfolios’ in which they document thoughts about their successes and difficulties in learning in conjunction with their summative student reports. The portfolios help to identify some of the strengths and weakness of the student. The formative assessment documented in the portfolios informs the summative results and ‘authenticates the grading in the context of day to day classroom practice’.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
Senior secondary schooling in Western Australia: transforming curriculum, lives and society?
Volume 27 Number 3, September 2007; Pages 22–35
The article discusses curriculum reform initiatives introduced since 1998 for senior secondary schooling in Western Australia. The Courses of Study introduced through the reform process are considered in terms of official curriculum documents, particularly as they appeared in 2005, before ‘intense media, professional and political lobbying’ against the reforms generated a process of revision. The reforms aimed to convey a sense of ‘the ongoing historical, social and cultural construction of knowledge’ as part of a wider aim to empower learners during and beyond their school years. Educators were challenged to apply and adapt specialist content knowledge to the learning contexts of particular students (for example, covering the chemistry of cooking or welding in senior Chemistry). There were no direct specifications to teachers about how they would adapt content knowledge, a fact which critics ‘deemed a threat to standards’, citing, for example, the absence of any stipulation to cover particular novels in senior English, and the absence of key dates and facts in Ancient and Modern History. The reforms aimed to extend the range of subjects used for creating a Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER) for university entrance. They aimed to give students more freedom ‘to modify and adapt their pathways as interests and aspirations evolve’, allowing them varied entry points into courses and varied rates of progression through them to maximise their opportunities for participation and ultimate success in their future careers or study. The links between VET and academic work were also made more flexible. It should be noted, however, that the choice envisaged in the curriculum ‘remains a hollow notion for many students’ hindered by socio-economic disadvantage. The article discusses the reforms with reference to the work of Andy Hargreaves. He argued that teachers should not be ‘casualites’ of the knowledge society. Rather, they should help prepare students for it by teaching relevant content such as metacognitive skills, and by fostering values such as community and humanitarianism that may be overlooked in the knowledge economy. The author acknowledges an unnamed co-author.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Western Australia (WA)
From barrister to barista: the career experiences of graduate teachers prior to teaching
Volume 6 Number 4, October 2007; Pages 22–25
Many graduates now have diverse career experiences prior to commencing their teaching degree, according to research conducted for Australia’s four peak principals associations, the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA), Catholic Secondary Principals Australia (CaSPA), the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) and the Australian Secondary Principals Association (ASPA). A total of 636 out of 1300 teachers responding to a survey indicated that they’d had at least one career prior to teaching. The survey found that 43% of teachers had pursued a career in accountancy, banking, management or finance, 35% in hospitality, 35% in retail, and 18% in computing. Other research conducted by the Queensland College of Teachers found that only half of tertiary education students were aged in their 20s, and the average age for graduates was around 32. The wisdom and experience of many beginning teachers needs to be acknowledged in the education sector. Teacher education programs should give formal recognition of students’ prior learning. Schools should tailor induction programs to provide different levels of support to inexperienced and experienced graduates. However, regardless of prior career and life experience, the pressures of managing student behaviour, difficult parents, and normal school bureaucracy are likely to offer new challenges. Indeed, more career-experienced beginning teachers may be forced to unlearn attitudes and dispositions that prevent them from relating to today's Generation Y students. Schools should offer all beginning teachers the same level of support and mentoring, because in order to become effective teachers, both experienced and inexperienced beginners will have to learn much on the job. A complete list of beginning teachers' former careers is provided in the full report of the research.
Subject HeadingsTeachers' employment
Success for boys: a celebration of personal best
Number 4, Spring 2007; Pages 27–30
In Australian schools, boys exhibit low literacy rates, high suspension and truancy rates, a tendency to seek peer approval through negative behaviour, and disengagement from their schools. In order to address this issue, the Australian Government has provided funding to the Success for Boys program, which aims to expand teachers’ knowledge and understanding of concepts related to boys’ education. The program is not a ‘quick-fix’, but rather a complex, individualised, long-term pathway focused on strong school leadership, whole-school change, and teachers’ commitment to a change of mindset. The core module of the program challenges teachers to accept that schooling practices can be changed to achieve more success for boys. The program acknowledges that boys are not characterised by a single learning style, and encourages teachers to develop teaching styles focused on creating a positive sense of self for each student. For example, Karen Butler at The Pines Primary School in South Australia encouraged discussion of resilience by asking students to search song lyrics and music clips from contemporary music for messages relevant to the theme, and this activity has seen a marked reduction in behavioural problems. The program also teaches teachers to reflect on how they use language and non-verbal communication and how students might interpret these. The ICT module of Success for Boys instructs teachers in incorporating technologies into instruction. Schools have found that boys’ interest in ICT-related activities is not simply derived from an eagerness to play with computers; Year 7 boys at Roxburgh College were so engaged with writing podcast scripts that they were reluctant to begin composing their soundtracks on the computers. The program also includes a ‘Boys and Literacy’ module, a mentoring module involving community members and staff, and an Indigenous module. The Success for Boys Program also emphasises that educators should not focus on gender difference, but promote inclusion by disrupting traditional perceptions of masculinity which require boys to conform to ‘boy’ themes such as sport, technology, and toughness.
Subject HeadingsBoys' education
Backward in the bush?
Number 4, Spring 2007; Pages 44–45
In order to address problems of poor student engagement and an overcrowded curriculum, the predominantly Indigenous Crossways Lutheran School in Ceduna, South Australia, adopted a transdisciplinary approach to assessment and curriculum planning. The new approach was implemented in 2006 when the school applied for International Baccalaureate (IB) candidature status. Curriculum planners drew links between existing units in the middle school curriculum and identified gaps and imbalances within each area of study. Inquiry units derived from the IB Primary Years Program (PYP) were then incorporated into the reworked middle years curriculum. The new concept-based framework enabled teachers to identify links across the curriculum, and scope and sequence were refined with reference to the South Australian Curriculum Standards and Accountability Framework (SACSA). The school employed a ‘backward by design’ process, which begins with the development of a rich, relevant summative assessment task that allows students to demonstrate their understanding of central ideas and concepts. Teachers then identify the skills and knowledge necessary to complete the task, and ‘work backwards’ to implement learning activities that promote the development of those skills. The school developed a rich integrated assessment task ready for implementation in term 4 in collaboration with the AISSA Australian Government Quality Teacher Program ‘Innovative Pedagogies Project’. The assessment task assessed skills in the curriculum areas of English, history, geography, science and technology. The development of this summative assessment task constituted a valuable professional learning experience for staff, which was extended school-wide through presentations and professional dialogue. Students now benefit from a cohesive curriculum, exploring concepts in depth across a number of curriculum areas. Their learning is contextualised and they are able to see its relevance to everyday life. Indigenous students, constituting 70% of the student population, have benefited from the 'mass exposure to topic vocabulary', which has affected improvement in comprehension and communication skills. Students experience a reduced assessment load and produce higher quality work, and express pride in their work and a new enthusiasm for learning.
Subject HeadingsSouth Australia
Becoming a better teacher
Number 4, Summer 2007; Pages 6–7
Inquiry-oriented, student-centred, outcomes-focused approaches to teaching entail sophisticated skills, and many teachers struggle to implement them, struggling with large classes, poor resources and/or disruptive students. Educators must therefore develop practical and realistic resources to help teachers translate the intended curriculum into classroom action. These can be developed through collaborative ventures pooling financial and human resources from a number of jurisdictions. A variety of strategies can be undertaken in professional learning. Immersion strategies involve teacher participation in industry-related activities such as scientific investigations. Professional learning can also be achieved through investigations into practice. By conducting action research and case studies, teachers can observe and reflect upon the effectiveness of current practices. Collaborative strategies include arranging study groups, partnerships or personal network arrangements among teachers or between teachers and administrators, parents, or industry professionals. There are also three different types of curriculum-directed professional learning strategies. ‘Curriculum replacement’ refers to the implementation of a high quality curriculum unit addressing a topic or concept and incorporating effective pedagogy to accomplish learning outcomes. Curriculum implementation involves refining the use of a set of curriculum resources. ‘Curriculum development’ refers to creating new instructional materials or adapting existing resources to meet the needs of particular student groups. These strategies are not equally effective in all contexts. Some research suggests that curriculum strategies are most effective in science classrooms, while action research has very little effect. Further research into the effectiveness of different professional learning strategies is imperative, as it is important that funds are directed toward strategies that maximise learning.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Number 102, September 2007; Pages 1–15
New technologies should be used to provide collaborative, interactive learning experiences. An ‘emerging technology’, according to the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), is a device, program or online service which is not yet embedded into teaching and learning practices, but has the potential to enhance pedagogy, reporting, communication, and teachers’ relationships with students. iPods are one example of an emerging technology. While some schools are enthusiastic about the possibility of using iPods in education, others argue they should be banned in schools, as they are a target for theft and distract students from their work. Educational technologists are also concerned that where iPods are being used in schools, their integration within the curriculum is slight, with teachers believing that the devices’ mere presence in the classroom will increase students’ motivation. This trend, an ‘explosion of excitement and then later disappointment’, is typical of early use of emergent technologies. DEECD research stemming from its Ultranet initiative has shown that in order for emergent technologies to be effectively integrated, schools must provide ICT environments which are conducive to enhancing digital literacy and self directed learning, provide students with more options about how they participate in learning, and provide incentives for unmotivated students. The Ultranet aims to provide such an environment to all Victorian primary, secondary, language, and special development schools by 2010. DEECD has also fostered the uptake of emerging technologies through the CeLL Emerging Technologies Grants program. The program has provided funding for innovative Victorian initiatives, including the highly effective podcasting project at Wanganui Park Secondary College in Shepparton, which is now listened to by 8% of all Victorian biology students, and a trial of mobile camera-phone use in English classes at Flora Hill Secondary College.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
October 2007; Pages 46–49
Shakespeare’s plays have genuine contemporary relevance in their exploration of the human condition. Describing how power and desire drive our lives, they touch on philosophy, psychology and politics through vivid characters, stirring poetry and comedy. However, many students’ first experience of Shakespeare is confronting. The language is challenging and alien, particularly to students of non-English speaking backgrounds, and is often first encountered as a long slab of printed text. The conventions and styles of the genre are unusual to students only familiar with cinema naturalism, and the plays’ contexts seem irrelevant, set in far-off time and space. Teaching methods often exacerbate these issues. Reading a play in turn around the class is completely incongruous with the genre, and good and bad readers alike dread the frustration of long speeches. Students are also put off by some teachers’ misplaced reverence and purism with regard to authenticity: Shakespeare need not be acted out in Elizabethan dress. Plays should be taught ‘playfully’ and accessibly, in whatever style suits the purpose of the class. Students need to understand how the play is relevant to their own life experiences and their own interests. This may involve, as in the case of a class taught by the author during the Vietnam War, relating an exchange between Antony and Octavius to bickering between South Vietnamese generals. Once the context is made more familiar, students become eager to engage with characters they might relate to. Main characters and their actions can be analysed from the perspectives of minor characters, reporters, psychiatrists and historians, or from the perspective of an ideology such as gender equity. With skill and effort, teachers can enable students to enjoy Shakespeare. A new Postgraduate Certificate in the teaching of Shakespeare is being offered at the University of Melbourne from 2008, incorporating the expertise of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the production and rehearsal of Shakespeare.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Beating down the language barrier
12 November 2007; Pages 4–5
Two public primary schools in Victoria have successfully implemented bilingual programs. Huntingdale Primary Bilingual School runs its weekly assemblies in Japanese, performs the school musical in Japanese every second year, and offers Taiko drumming classes to enthusiastic students, parents and teachers. At Camberwell Primary School, each class has two teachers, with an English-speaking teacher taking English literacy while a French-speaking teacher takes maths and French literacy. Nine of Camberwell’s 25 weekly hours of class are taught in French. Both schools have recorded higher than expected academic results since implementing their bilingual programs. The students at Camberwell and Huntingdale have become fluent in their second languages despite generally coming from families where a second language is not spoken. Since the programs have started, both schools have seen dramatic increases in enrolments, and although Huntingdale initially chose Japanese for the program because it was not spoken locally, up to 25% of Huntingdale students now have one parent of Japanese background. Camberwell and Huntingdale are two of 14 state schools that were selected for funding by the State Government’s Bilingual Schools Project in 1997. The Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) has suggested that an expansion of the project might be a possibility, however, the department’s priority is to boost the number of teachers retraining to teach languages. The Principal of Camberwell, Christine Moore, argues that national action must be taken to encourage second languages. The Australian Council of State School Organisations (ACSSO) has called for compulsory second language learning from age seven or younger. Australian children spend less time learning languages than students in any other OECD country, and international research shows that this may severely disadvantage Australian students within a decade. However, the school charter proposed by the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) proposes that LOTE be optional for primary schools, arguing that schools need flexibility to deal with an overcrowded curriculum. The APPA also claims that it is unrealistic to mandate foreign languages when 26% of schools lack specialists to teach them.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsLanguages other than English (LOTE)
October 2007; Pages 56–61
In promoting early literacy, educators often focus on creating ‘literacy rich’ environments in which children are exposed to various sources of printed word. However, such approaches can further marginalise children from minority and low-income families, who often enter kindergarten without the pre-literacy experiences and oral language skills needed to take advantage of indirect literacy initiatives. In the USA, this problem is particularly apparent in urban schools, where more than 50% of students are substantially deficient in reading. Specialised reading interventions should therefore begin early and include direct instruction in pre-reading skills so as to prevent further disadvantaging students from minority and low-income communities. ‘Balanced’ reading instruction, incorporating both phonics training and whole-language instruction, can help urban students acquire the specific knowledge needed to decode print whilst also promoting comprehension. Balanced instruction should be explicit, repetitive, and systematically sequenced, and should involve a high level of student response. Teachers must identify those new students with poor literacy skills using frequent, skill-specific assessments in order to direct instruction appropriately. Supplemental instruction for at-risk students should emphasise phonemic awareness, but not to the extent that high quality literature and comprehension and thinking skills are excluded. Supplemental reading programs should also be culturally responsive, including multicultural literature to engage students more effectively. In whole-class instruction, teachers should encourage active student responses using choral response activities and movement. Struggling students can often misbehave during literacy activities, and to prevent this, teachers should allocate students to small groups according to ability. Peer-mediated learning can also engage easily distracted students in learning tasks. Schools may unintentionally exacerbate problem behaviour by excluding students from the instruction they need. Studies show that low-income, culturally diverse, and male learners are disproportionately subject to suspensions and expulsions, or ‘time outs’ in the early years. A more positive strategy is to identify ways to motivate students and help them catch up. As problem-students progress, they will participate more effectively in class.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
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