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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Abstracts

Teachers make a difference: the central role of teachers in top-performing schools

Volume 12 Number 1, January 2008

The article considers three major texts that examine strategies to improve student performance. The first text is a recently published report by McKinsey and Co evaluating 25 national school systems. It found ‘no measurable improvements in standards of literacy or numeracy’ in England’s primary schools, despite extensive reform. It also found that the charter school movement in the USA has significantly improved only ‘the best schools’. Across OECD countries, reductions in class sizes were found to have raised results only in very early grades. Three characteristics distinguished school education in top-performing countries. The first was the deliberate attraction of high-quality candidates to teaching. Top-performing systems limit the number of places available in teaching courses. As well as controlling the quality of applicants this measure makes the profession more appealing to high-performers by reducing struggle over jobs. It also raises the status of the profession, attracting further strong candidates. Strategies found to attract high-quality candidates to teaching included good starting salaries, measures to encourage non-teaching graduates into the profession, measures to remove low-performing teachers from the classroom, corporate marketing and recruitment techniques, and exacting entrance requirements for teaching courses. The second characteristic of top-performing systems was high-quality instruction of teachers and student teachers. Measures included ‘moving teacher training to the classroom’, coaching existing teachers, ‘enabling teachers to learn from each other’, helping teachers recognise their own weaknesses and general mindset, modelling best practice in real classroom settings, and using measures beyond material incentives to motivate teachers. Thirdly, the top education systems ensured close attention to individual students’ learning, including early identification and quick responses to learning problems, setting high expectations, focusing on numeracy and literacy, and establishing effective ways to evaluate schools and systems. The second text reviewed is an article by Brian Caldwell in the Sydney Morning Herald December 2007, proposing ways to implement the McKinsey recommendations in Australia. The third text is a paper by John Hattie given at the 2003 ACER Research Conference, presenting research evidence on the nature of excellent teaching based on a very extensive synthesis of education studies. The article includes a table ranking the effect size of different influences on student learning.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
Teaching profession
Teacher evaluation
Teacher training
Educational evaluation

School readiness and later achievement

Volume 43 Number 6,  2007; Pages 1428–1446
Greg J. Duncan, Chantelle J. Dowsett, Amy Claessens, et al.

A major study has estimated the correlation between different elements of school readiness and their relationship to later academic performance. The study drew on six pre-existing longitudinal data sets ranging in size from 690 to 21,200 children, including four in the USA, one in Britain, and one in Canada. Of the elements examined, early cognitive skills in mathematics and reading were the strongest predictors of academic success in later years. To a lesser degree, attention skills at school entry, such as concentration and attentive listening, also predicted later academic success. Students’ socioemotional skills were not found to influence their academic performance. Nor were behavioural problems, even among children who were rated by their mothers and teachers as having relatively high levels of problem behaviour. The researchers expressed surprise that their regression models 'produced no consistent evidence of nonlinear effects of problem behaviours on later achievement', even for subgroups divided by gender or socioeconomic status. Early reading ability strongly predicted later reading performance and early numeracy skills strongly predicted later mathematics performance. Surprisingly, however, early intuitive knowledge of mathematics and number was an even stronger predictor of later reading performance than early reading ability. The reverse was not true: early reading ability did not have a great impact on later mathematics performance. The results of the study highlight the importance of focusing on numeracy as a foundational skill from an early age.

KLA

Subject Headings

Numeracy
Reading
Primary education
Early childhood education

Mathematics and cognition

Volume 65 Number 3, November 2007; Pages 43–47
Arthur Hyde

Maths teaching is enhanced when teachers weave together maths, language and cognition into ‘a rope that is stronger, more durable, and more powerful than any single strand’. The author has worked with K–8 teachers to integrate recognised cognitive strategies for reading with recognised cognitive strategies for solving maths problems. For example, the reading comprehension strategy that asks students to consider ‘What do I know?’, ‘What do I want to learn more about?’, and the after-reading question ‘What did I learn?’ was adapted for  mathematical problem solving: ‘What do I know for sure?’, ‘What do I want to find out?’ and ‘Are there any special conditions, rules or tricks to be aware of?’. The author and colleagues have developed the Braid Model of Problem Solving, which combines seven recognised reading comprehension strategies with the four familiar phases of problem solving: understanding, planning, carrying out the plan and looking back. For instance, the reading comprehension strategy of ‘making connections’ asks the reader to relate what is in the text to their prior knowledge. This knowledge can be compared to ‘making connections’ within maths, eg making the simple conceptual link between the numbers 1 and 0.1. Three types of connections are important when students learn new mathematical concepts: links to students’ own prior experiences, links to real world situations and links to other mathematical concepts they have learnt. Introducing these strategies explicitly in the classroom has dramatically improved students’ work, in particular their explanations of the concepts involved. Successive concrete illustrations of a principle, such as the transition from positive to negative numbers, can also deepen students’ understanding. Creating various representations of problems, whether in words, as concrete objects or acted out, often helps students to see and express patterns and connections.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Thought and thinking
Mathematics teaching
Inquiry based learning
Psychology of learning

When students choose the challenge

Volume 65 Number 3, November 2007; Pages 60–65
David Suarez

A tiered system for mathematics instruction has been implemented in a Year 8 algebra and geometry class at Jakarta International School in Indonesia. The tiering system offers students a choice of three colour-coded levels of challenge for each task. Green problems represent the basic proficiency level that all students at the school are expected to attain, blue problems extend students’ skills and explore subtleties in the topic, and black problems are complex and advanced, often requiring creative application of the skill in a new context. For example a green-level task in the area of ‘understanding slope’ might ask students to find the slope of a line passing through the points (-4, 6) and (-3, 2). The blue-level task might look at parallel lines, while the black-level task might use algebra to consider the concept of gradient on an even more abstract level. Students solve the problems collaboratively, moving around to find others who have chosen the same level. The results have been extremely positive. Students find it empowering and motivating to choose which level to tackle, and they are performing better and taking more responsibility for their learning. This improvement is consistent across a diverse class that includes students who need remedial mathematics instruction as well as those who have already learnt most of the year’s curriculum. Lower-performing students now believe that tasks are tailored to their own ability level, and expect to succeed rather than fail. In the first half-year of implementation, students most frequently chose tasks that were more difficult than the green foundational level. The blue task was chosen on 59 per cent of occasions, followed by the green task at 33 per cent and the black at 8 per cent. Teachers wanting to implement a similar system should be alert to more challenging problems as these may be hard to find. They also need to develop a transparent grading system appropriate for the tiered tasks.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Mathematics teaching
Mathematics
Ability grouping in education
Secondary education

What's right about looking at what's wrong?

Volume 65 Number 3, November 2007; Pages 22–27
Deborah Schifter

The article describes a professional development seminar in the USA where teachers received a hands-on lesson in how to teach mathematics content at a deep level. A Grade 5 class, shown on video at the seminar, was asked to consider the thinking behind one student's incorrect answer. The lesson focused on deepening the students' understanding of multidigit multiplication. Having students devise their own calculation strategies is known to lead to a better number sense, and, importantly, to help students grasp that mathematics is 'a realm of ideas to be investigated rather than a set of facts, procedures and definitions to be used'. One student was asked to stand up and describe the strategy he had devised to multiply multidigit numbers, even though both student and teacher knew it was incorrect. Homework for the whole class was the task of figuring out the thinking behind this strategy and revising the approach to come up with a different answer. Watching the interaction on video, some teachers were surprised that the teacher would ask her students to examine an incorrect strategy in such depth. The teachers were then asked to do the activity themselves, working in pairs and threes. One group worked to come up with a detailed story context to illustrate their strategy, while another represented the problem visually using a shaded rectangle. In the discussion afterwards teachers discussed how they had developed their strategies, and compared approaches to discover how one group’s representation could be seen in another’s. The seminar challenged teachers to reflect on their own learning processes in order to bring out deeper insights into how mathematical ideas are related.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Professional development
Primary education
Mathematics teaching
Video recordings in education

Deriving word meanings from context: does explanation facilitate contextual analysis?

Volume 30 Number 4,  2007; Pages 347–359
Kate Cain

A recent study has explored ways to help children derive the meanings of new words from the surrounding story context. Previous research has shown that asking children to explain the answer to a mathematical problem improves their performance on subsequent similar tasks. The current study aimed to test whether explanation is also beneficial for children who are learning to read. Forty-five 7- and 8-year-olds at three predominantly middle-class schools in England participated in a short intervention program. In each of the three sessions students were read a number of short stories. Each contained one made-up word such as bope, the meaning of which could be inferred from the context of the story. Children were sorted into three groups, matched as closely as possible for ability. There were two experimental groups. The first was asked to give their definition of the new word and then explain how they had arrived at that definition. They were then given feedback on whether their answer was correct. The second group gave their definition, received feedback on the definition, and then were asked to explain how they thought the experimenter who gave them feedback had arrived at her definition. The third group, a control group, received only feedback on whether their definition was correct. All three groups improved their performance, showing a strong practice effect. In both explanation groups, performance improved more over the course of the intervention than in the feedback-only group. There was no significant difference in performance between the two experimental groups. This suggests that having children explain their answers, even if the answers are wrong, is valuable in focusing their attention on contextual clues within the text. The proportion of correct explanations that were derived from the text rather than from other aspects of students' prior experience increased for all groups and indicated a shift toward more accurate analysis of the text. Results suggest that repeated sessions are crucial for any intervention, and that explanation and feedback can be very helpful instructional techniques in the area of literacy.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

Reading
Literacy
Educational evaluation
Primary education

Developing a framework for visual literacy in the primary classroom

Volume 12 Number 3, October 2007; Pages 13–17
Stephen Arthurson, Helen Cozmescu

Visual literacy is defined by the International Visual Literacy Association (IVLA) as ‘a group of acquired competencies for interpreting and composing visual messages’. Based on this definition, a Grade 4 teacher has combined with a lecturer in language and literacy from the University of Melbourne to develop a detailed framework for the teaching of visual literacy in the classroom. The framework draws on a number of theories, in particular those of Piaget, Vygotsky and Rosenblatt. Luke and Freebody’s Four Resources Model was another important theoretical source, with its four roles for the reader of code breaker, meaning maker, text user and text critic. These roles were used to clarify the broad areas addressed in the framework and to develop the more specific types of questions to be asked within those areas. For example, as a code breaker, the interpreter of a visual text needs to have an understanding of how the image is composed, including colour, layout, use of symbols and how the designer’s choice of technique creates meaning. Questions asked within this broad area include: ‘Where in the picture does your eye focus?’ and ‘How does the art affect the mood of the text?’. As a text critic, the interpreter considers how the text is used to support, oppose, justify or explain a point of view. Some of the framework’s questions in this area are: ‘Are there contradictions between what information the written and visual texts are offering?’, ‘What elements of the text did you find effective and why?’ and ‘What would you have done differently if you had created the image?’. The article is accompanied by a table summarising the framework.

Key Learning Areas

English
The Arts

Subject Headings

Visual literacy
Curriculum planning
Literacy

The title fight: conflicts between separated parents in the school environment

 2007; Pages 17–19
Lisa Bradley

The author, a family law solicitor, outlines recent changes to the Family Law Act 1975 with regard to disputes between separated parents, and examines their potential impact on schools. The changes encourage parents and courts to consider shared parenting arrangements. The revised Act ‘enshrined a presumption of shared parental responsibility’ except when not in ‘the “best interests” of the child’. Separated parents usually now jointly decide issues such as religious participation and school enrolment. The other major change was that judges are now obliged to consider whether the child’s best interest is to spend equal time, or ‘substantial and significant time’, with each parent. Such decisions are made case by case. While joint parenting arrangements may benefit the child they also increase the potential for conflict in the school setting. Issues covered by the article include managing the terms of enrolment of children with separated parents; payment of fees and costs of extra-curricular activities; arrangements for collection of the student from and drop-off to the school; requests on the school from lawyers acting for a separated parent; subpoenas on the school to appear in court or provide evidence in court; court orders and parenting plans; and relationships with the police.

KLA

Subject Headings

Conflict management
School administration
Law
Parent and teacher
Parent and child

Legal liability and the supervision of students: the law revisited

Number 4,  2007; Pages 28–33
Norman Katter

The author, a barrister and senior lecturer in business law, addresses ‘the standards required to satisfy the duty of care by school authorities and staff’. Under common law in Australia school authorities have a ‘personal non-delegable duty of care’ for the safety of school students while at school. If a student is harmed through the negligence of school staff, the staff are individually liable to be sued and the school authority is also liable for breaching its duty of care. School authorities are also liable for the negligence of independent contractors engaged by the school. School authorities may be liable for harm to students if there has been no negligence by staff, eg if the authority had failed to provide in the school an adequate process of supervision and to ensure that it is carried out. However, there has been a shift of attitudes towards civil liability in Australian courts over the last decade, reflected in less favourable outcomes for plaintiffs. In a recent judgement the High Court of Australia considered the law relating to schools’ supervision of students. The case involved was Trustees of the Roman Catholic Church for the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn v Hadba. In the process of student supervision, schools must weigh ‘the magnitude of the risk, and the degree of probability of its occurrence, against the burden of taking action’. The High Court established the two principles. The first is that ‘schools are not insurers of child safety’ and ‘the mere occurrence of an accident involving harm to a child at school does not automatically involve legal liability on the school’. The second is that the law does not demand that ‘every child be observed for every single moment of time’. The article includes the text of the majority judgement of the High Court in this case. The article also describes earlier landmark cases, and four hypothetical scenarios for schools, labelled ‘drugs at recess’, ‘driven to suicide’, 'climbing calamity’ and ‘museum mishap’.

KLA

Subject Headings

Duty of care
Law
Educational administration
Schools

Exploring the potential of the Homework System and tablet PCs to support continuity of numeracy practices between home and primary school

Volume 44 Number 4, December 2007; Pages 289–303
Greg J. Duncan, Chantelle J. Dowsett, Amy Claessens

A trial of take-home tablet PCs for Years 1 and 2 students has found that these devices increased the children’s understanding of numeracy by facilitating links between home and school. Twenty-nine children in a rural Sussex primary school borrowed the tablets for four weeks. They used the interactive Homework Systems software package, which allows teachers to enter personalised information and tailor homework for each individual student. Parents are strongly encouraged to become involved by looking at the week’s learning objectives and trying to weave them into their child’s daily life. Six participating families were interviewed before and after the trial to determine its success. All families felt it was of benefit and that their child had gained greater confidence and independence in numeracy through use of the tablet. Most parents liked knowing more about what their child was learning at school and felt more able to help them with homework. One parent, however, said that her child’s independence with the technology had left her feeling slightly excluded. All families found that homework was increasingly integrated into family life, which was particularly true for several assignments that used the tablet’s digital camera. The relevance of numeracy in non-school contexts became increasingly evident, blurring the boundaries between home and school. Children’s enthusiasm for numeracy and the time they spent on the subject increased dramatically, and other siblings became involved and started to see homework as ‘fun, cool’. These positive results contrast with previous research which has tended to be inconclusive on the benefits of technology linking school and home. The trial suggests that, with thoughtful planning, the introduction of new technology can be of substantial benefit to both students and their parents.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Numeracy
Homework
Primary education
Technological literacy
Technology

The necessity of diversity

Volume 29 Number 1, Winter 2008; Pages 54–58
Tracy Crow

Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita at the University of Massachusetts, proposes ways to address educational inequality in the USA during an interview with the editor of JSD. She argues that the term ‘achievement gap’ should be abandoned in favour of the term ‘resource gap’ which calls attention to the underlying causes of inequalities in education. A second factor, the ‘caring gap’, describes the inequality of emotional resources available to students in different communities. Resource and caring gaps can both be addressed through genuinely multicultural education in which teachers are culturally informed about the communities they serve. Multicultural education must be pervasive, reflected not just in resources and materials but in pedagogy, teacher–student relationships, the languages spoken in class and curricula. Administrators and teachers must insist on confronting uncomfortable issues, and should address social justice by informing students of their responsibility in promoting a just society. Teacher education and professional development should prepare teachers to discuss concepts of race, class, linguistic difference, sexual orientation and gender. In incorporating concepts of social justice, multicultural education must be seen as inherently political. Teachers must utilise critical pedagogies in multicultural education, encouraging their students to seek opinions and perspectives from multiple sources. Students should learn to be creative and critical rather than ‘depositories of information’, an approach encouraged by the rigid accountability structures and standardised tests of contemporary US education. There are several levels of multicultural education. ‘Monocultural education’ is typified by the ‘master narrative’, and is followed by a level of ‘tolerance’ which implies that schools ‘simply put up with difference’. In the next level, ‘acceptance’, schools acknowledge linguistic difference but are more likely to provide an ESL program than bi-lingual classes. In the ‘respect’ level, teachers support students’ native languages by encouraging them to discuss work in their own language with peers. In the highest level, ‘affirmation’, cultural conflict is accepted as normal, so that differences between and within cultures and communities are embraced and understood.

KLA

Subject Headings

Multicultural education
Multiculturalism
Social life and customs
Social education
Social justice

Exploring diversity: teacher education policy and bilingualism

Volume 22 Number 4, December 2007; Pages 483–501
John Butcher, Indra Sinka, Geoff Troman

Researchers in England have examined Initial Teacher Training (ITT) programs at five secondary schools with different numbers of English as an Additional Language (EAL) students. The study explored the way schools adapted England's Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) standards. Standards relating to the inclusion of bilingual students were found to be vague, and as a result trainees’ experience with EAL students varied greatly between schools. Teachers in schools with fewer EAL students were generally less aware of any existing school policies relating to EAL, and their ITT programs did not specifically address bilingualism. Trainees in schools with high numbers of EAL students gained experience with bilingual teaching, but found that this experience was not reinforced with specific support or advice from mentors. These results supported an earlier survey which found that 95 per cent of teacher trainees were dissatisfied with how well ITT had prepared them for teaching EAL students. The second phase of the study sought to provide a model for the redesign of ITT in compliance with inclusive policies. Two schools with reputations for good EAL practice were taken as case studies. The two schools served high numbers of EAL students and both stressed inclusive practice. Both schools assessed students’ English proficiency on enrolment and provided ‘induction’ with specific support in English for bilingual students prior to students’ entry into mainstream classes. In their feedback to researchers, one school emphasised that ITT teachers needed to be aware of the theoretical background of language learning, the language demands of the curriculum, how to assess students’ language needs and how to include ethnic minority students in classes. The other stressed that knowledge of common word ambiguities and a school’s language background data were basic requirements. Teachers and trainees perceived the need for a specific course on EAL and bilingualism in addition to practical experience with EAL students.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teacher training
English as an additional language

Helping hand: why student mentoring helps everybody

December 2007; Pages 28–31
Anthony Hockey

Sacred Heart Primary School is a small Catholic school in Preston, in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. It attracts a diverse student population of many cultures and faiths, with most students coming from families that are new to Australia and from a low socioeconomic background. Following research that shows that students involved in mentoring are more likely to complete high school and attend university and less likely to develop behavioural problems, Sacred Heart developed a mentor program through collaboration with Volunteer Victoria, the police, the fire brigade, the local church parish and La Trobe University. Mentors drawn from these organisations went through a process of applying, being interviewed, completing a police check and attending two three-hour training sessions. The first training session was run by a commercial body, but since then Sacred Heart staff have taken over the role. The school formed a committee to identify those students most in need of a mentor, assessing students in terms of academic results, social skills and difficulty of home life. As there was a shortage of mentors, the school also determined that selected students should not be involved in any other supportive programs at school. Mentors were matched in terms of personality, interests, gender and, in some cases, cultural background. The school developed action plans for students that addressed the school vision and mission, bought and developed new resources, and trained staff in mentor support. The mentor sessions take place for at least two hours per week for six months and are fully supervised by school staff. Research has shown that very short relationships can exacerbate the at-risk behaviours of students. The school put considerable effort into welcoming mentors and providing them with appropriate support, feedback and ongoing training, as research has shown that mentors can leave a program if they feel ineffective, under-appreciated, or overwhelmed or burdened by the issues of the students. Younger mentors are also believed to commit to less time than older mentors. None of the mentors at Sacred Heart left the program for these reasons, and students demonstrated improvement in behaviour.

KLA

Subject Headings

Victoria
Mentors

SEN inclusion and pupil achievement in English schools

Volume 7 Number 3,  2007; Pages 172–178
Peter Farrell, Alan Dyson, Filiz Polat, et al.

The current British government has articulated a commitment to educating children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) in mainstream schools. A recent study has attempted to address the widespread anxiety that this inclusion may impact negatively on student achievement. The study looked at the relationship between SEN inclusion and student achievement in the England-wide National Pupil Database, which holds extensive information on all English school students. The proportion of SEN students was correlated with educational attainment at the regional (Local Educational Authority, LEA) and school level. No correlation was found at the level of the LEA. Results at the level of the individual school showed a slight negative correlation at each Key Stage (the end of years 2, 6, 9 and 11). Increased inclusion of SEN students resulted in a very small but statistically significant drop in the average performance of students at that school. This result was minor in comparison with other factors such as socioeconomic status, gender and ethnicity, and was only evident with very high numbers of SEN students. The study then looked specifically at 16 schools that were highly inclusive with regard to SEN students, selected as either high-performing (12 schools) or low-performing (four schools). Staff and students at these schools were interviewed, lesson observations were made, and questionnaires were administered. Those high-achieving schools that were also highly inclusive were found to manage their SEN provision in different ways, but there was a common underlying model. SEN provision in these schools tended to be flexible, customised to the individual student, and used a range of inclusion strategies. These schools also cultivated a positive and welcoming atmosphere and treated SEN students as part of a diverse student population. There was also a strong achievement orientation. Overall, the results of the study suggest that although SEN inclusion can impact slightly on student achievement, if schools are careful to manage and monitor this impact achievement need not be affected.

KLA

Subject Headings

Special education
Europe

Making networks work

December 2007; Pages 9–13
Susan Boucher, Chris Watt, Susan Craven, Cheryl O'Connor

This article consists of four short pieces written by representatives from four of Australia’s major professional associations. Susan Boucher is CEO of the Australian Principals Association Professional Development Council (APAPDC). This organisation was set up in 1993 by the major principals’ associations from each of the primary, secondary, Catholic and independent sectors. With a clear focus on professional development, the organisation helps to shape national agendas and aims to strengthen the network of connections between school leaders, as well as providing communication of high-quality, relevant information. Chris Watt, Assistant Federal Secretary of the Independent Education Union (IEU), describes the organisation’s commitment to the interests of its members, who include administrative and support staff as well as teachers and principals. Members are provided with information, advice and legal representation on matters including working conditions, salaries and general rights and responsibilities. The IEU is affiliated with state and territory branches of the Trades and Labor Council, the ACTU, and the Council of Pacific Education (COPE). The IEU also offers an international teacher exchange program and its journal Independent Education, published three times per year, examinines state, national and international trends in education. The Australian Principals Federation (APF) was the first association in Australia to represent state school principals and assistant principals. Industrial Officer Susan Craven writes that APF members report high levels of satisfaction with its services, which include help negotiating legislation and regulations, collegiate support, and access to up-to-date information. Australian College of Educators' (ACE) CEO, Cheryl O’Connor, points out the need for a big-picture view of all the interdependent elements of education. The ACE is heavily involved in the development of national professional standards as well as offering accredited teacher development programs. Members have the opportunity to publish their writing in several journals. The ACE also acknowledges excellence in teaching through a prominent award system.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teaching profession
Professional development
Australia

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