Teacher quality: it's not academic
Volume 7 Number 1, 16 April 2008; Pages 10–12
Academic achievement during teacher education courses is not the only important indication of future success as a teacher. Teachers must also have enthusiasm for the role, ‘a mind-set to encourage children’, a capacity for reflection and critical thinking, and wide general knowledge, if they are to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. In 2007 the University of Southern Queensland examined the academic results of student teachers who had left school the previous year, and found that their results after one year of their courses varied significantly from the secondary school final results used for their admission to tertiary courses. In their submission to the 2007 Top of the Class inquiry, a number of teacher educators called for broader measures of teacher quality that address these concerns. Most universities have not adopted such measures, citing the expense of alternative assessments such as portfolios and interviews. However, such assessments already operate in a number of other professional contexts. The legal and medical professions both use tests to identify a range of attributes considered necessary for their professional roles. Last year the Australian Technology Network group of universities introduced tests to identify suitable candidates for tertiary study among secondary students lacking standard academic credentials for application. A growing number of teacher education students are mature age entrants, and in most cases their selection is based partly on their prior experience, interviews and referee reports. Some universities are also broadening selection criteria for teaching courses as part of their equity and access policies. Given these trends, and moves towards national accreditation of teacher education courses, consideration should be given to a broad-based national system of admission to these courses. Currently students are selected through the ENTER system in Victoria, the UAI in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, the OP in Queensland, and the Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER) in the other Australian education systems.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
'It must be a two-way street': researching the process of internationalising the curriculum in Victorian schools
Volume 28 Number 1; Pages 35–44
A research project has explored issues raised by internationalising of the curriculum. At a forum on internationalisation the researchers sought the views of 32 educators including education sector executives, principals, senior teachers and curriculum coordinators. Case studies were then undertaken at three secondary schools – an Independent girls’ school, a multi-campus public school, and a Catholic boys’ college – having varying levels of experience with overseas students. Researchers interviewed school leaders, teachers and students. Overall results indicated that the schools had given only limited consideration to the impact of international students in terms of curriculum, pedagogy or social interaction. Attention to the issue had been constrained by limited resources and demanding requirements of senior courses. The meaning of internationalisation remained vague, being seen either as celebrating cultural diversity or as the assimilation of token international material. Due to this confusion, concepts of internationalisation have developed reactively in schools, with a focus on full-fee paying foreign students (FFPOS). The educators saw this group as struggling to move from a teacher-centred to learner-centred curriculum, and often reluctant to draw attention to their needs. Some respondents felt they lacked the skills to address these issues. Staff also commented on ethical issues raised by pressures to pass these students regardless of academic performance, particularly when staff numbers were partially funded by FFPOS. International students more generally were seen to evoke a degree of racism within some school communities, although such responses appeared to be declining. There were also concerns that language limitations were preventing overseas students from grasping complex concepts, and concern that local ESL students were being neglected as resources focused on overseas arrivals. In terms of curriculum, staff saw internationalisation as relevant for Asian Studies, business studies and English but less relevant for maths and science and ICT, and as raising cultural problems in some aspects of physical education. The prescriptive demands of the VCE made it difficult to adapt the curriculum. A clear common understanding of internationalisation needs to be established, embedded across the curriculum and applied by schools.
Social life and customs
Early childhood education: a national overview
Volume 33 Number 1, April 2008; Pages 6–8
In Australia, centres for the care of preschool-age children have evolved to meet the needs of their individual communities, making facilities and practices extremely variable. There are inconsistencies both between and within States in terms of funding, regulations and licensing. Large cities and wealthier communities are often well served, while rural, remote and disadvantaged communities are likely to be in urgent need of attention. Nationally, a rise in large private childcare corporations means that they now comprise 70 per cent of all child care centres in the country, and the recent troubles of one such company 'raise questions about the wisdom of our heavy reliance on corporate monopolies in such a socially critical area'. Child care prospered in the 1980s and 1990s, as more women with young children re-entered the workforce. Preschool is now administered and funded by the individual State and Territory education departments. The ACT provides free preschool hours for four-year-olds, while Victoria funds preschool education within childcare programs. Qualified teachers are often hired to manage childcare centres and at least one qualified educator per large centre is obligatory in NSW. In some non-government schools, such as in most Darwin Catholic primary schools, ‘early learning centres’ integrate preschool and childcare. These are usually open during business hours throughout the year. Families can apply for the means-tested Child Care Benefit subsidy, which is currently discontinued too early. Onsite preschool smooths the transition to school and means less travelling for families. Good early childhood education programs are child-centred and aim to build each individual’s social, physical and mental development. They provide enriched environments and experiences and prepare children for school commencement. At present, some remote areas urgently require funds to rebuild and to construct appropriate premises and staff accommodation. The incoming Australian Government’s commitment to 15 hours per week of preschool for four-year-olds and to high-quality services for disadvantaged children will require work to transform into reality. Policy and practice in early childhood education must address equity of outcomes, respect the wishes of families and communities, and incorporate evidence-based practice. There will be no single model that fits the needs of all communities.
Subject HeadingsEarly childhood education
Practice makes perfect: improving student research skills through evidence-based practice
March 2008; Pages 15–21
A new evidence-based program has been created in
Subject HeadingsInformation literacy
Project based learning
Historical writing on science education: a view of the landscape
Volume 44 Number 1, March 2008; Pages 63–82
Studying the history of science education is a valuable way to inform current practice, and educators interested in teaching inquiry-based learning strategies are encouraged to examine in-depth historical studies of science teaching. Historically, science education has played two roles: the training of future scientists and the presentation of science to the public. The latter role involves imparting to the public ‘what are perceived to be the portable assets of science – its methods, its basic concepts, sense of wonder, or foundational habits of mind’. This is currently seen in terms of scientific literacy, but has served other social purposes also. School science has been ‘deliberately and selectively constructed, subject to the interests and ideologies of its creators as well as the more pervasive influences of contemporary currents, industrial trends, prevailing politics and so on’. In
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Volume 6 Number 5, 20 May 2008
Biology teachers in the USA experience significant social pressure to downplay the teaching of Darwinian evolutionary theory, particularly in relation to human evolution, and to include the teaching of creationist views of humanity. A 2005 national opinion poll found that 38 per cent of respondents would prefer creationism to be taught instead of Darwinian evolutionary theory. The US President has supported the teaching of ‘both sides’ of the debate. Supporters of evolutionary theory have won a series of disputes in terms of legislation and court rulings, affirming the place of evolution in state standards for the school curricula. However, individual biology teachers often face opposition to evolution in the communities where they live and work. Teachers may acquiesce to pressure by downplaying discussion of evolution, eg by avoiding hands-on activity, by avoiding the illustration of the theory in real life situations, or by holding fewer classes on it. A survey of high school biology teachers in the USA was undertaken in 2007. While the National Science Education Standards (NSES) identify evolution as one of five ‘unifying concepts and processes’ that provide ‘the big picture of scientific ideas’, only 23 per cent of respondents strongly agreed that evolution served as a unifying theme for their biology or life science courses. On other questions, 17 per cent did not cover the topic of human evolution; 25 per cent covered creationism or intelligent design, and of this group nearly half saw these approaches as a ‘valid scientific alternative’; and 16 per cent of respondents believed human beings were all created by God at one time in the last 10,000 years. However, respondents who had undertaken high levels of tertiary coursework in biology, including a unit on evolutionary theory, allocated significantly more time to evolutionary theory as teachers. The results suggest that teachers’ willingness to cover evolution in classes depends on a combination of their personal beliefs, community pressures and their confidence in their level of academic knowledge needed to resist those pressures. Biology teachers' coverage of evolution in school classes is likely to be enhanced if they are required to complete a unit on evolutionary biology during their teacher education courses.
Key Learning AreasScience
Teaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
Getting real: we can, but should we?
Winter 2008; Pages 15–16
In many situations pictures, and particularly animations, provide a powerful way to convey information. Animations can be even more effective if the reader is able to slow down, pause or replay them via interactive software. However, animations need to be designed around educational goals rather than technical possibilities in order to enhance learning most effectively. Currently, most educational designers have little experience in developing pictorial learning resources, which have played a marginal role in traditional text-based educational material. They need to turn their attention to the wealth of images being developed through technology. However, the limitations and drawbacks of pictorial resources should also be noted. Learners may struggle to identify educationally relevant information within pictures, which tend to be rich in detail. The high level of detail in an image can hinder a student’s ability to generalise what they have learnt from it. Images may need to be adapted for educational purposes, to focus attention on relevant elements and encourage generalisation from them.
Subject HeadingsVisual literacy
Teaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Learning to read: teachers are learners too
May 2008; Pages 40–43
Lauriston Girls’ School’s Lauriston Institute was established in 2005 to provide teachers with continuous professional development. The Institute’s programs are centred around a K–12 plan that draws on current research in girls’ education. Professional learning teams have been recently introduced, and have been successful in fostering collaboration between teachers and encouraging them to take collective responsibility for improving students’ learning. Research into professional learning teams suggests that the most effective programs take a constructivist approach. They give teachers a reason for learning, sustain the learning over time, and are overseen by supportive and knowledgeable leaders. Once-off professional development programs are often disconnected from the fundamental goal of teaching: benefiting students and their learning. Useful reading about the constructivist approach can be found in the essay collection Constructivism: Theory, perspectives and practice. Adult learning principles are covered by The Adult Learner: A neglected species and Teaching Adults. Effective collaborative professional development involves making connections to the classroom context. Teachers should be 'action learning' as they work. Professionals should be put in control of their own learning and be given the time and space to plan collaboratively. Lauriston makes teacher collaboration a timetabling priority, setting aside 90 minutes per week for teachers to come together and discuss a real-life, relevant teaching and learning challenge. This team-based approach is effective for a number of reasons. It explicitly connects teacher and student learning, clearly identifies what learning needs are targeted, and is linked to the school’s strategic plan which highlights continuous improvement in teaching and learning. Scheduling of staff meetings for general business should ideally take place separately to professional development meetings. Critical reflection is central to the program as it stimulates teachers to go beneath surface assumptions and reconsider learning situations. Collaborative professional development promotes trust and openness through the sharing of reflections, questions and criticisms as well as resources and ideas.
Subject HeadingsGroup work in education
Teaching and learning
Engaging aliterate students: a literacy/theatre project helps students comprehend, visualise and enjoy literature
Volume 51 Number 6, March 2008; Pages 488–496
Reluctant readers at two schools in
Key Learning AreasEnglish
April 2008; Pages 8–13
The tendency for relatively poor academic performance by disadvantaged children is due to a number of factors. These include a lack of preventative health and dental care, leading to more absences for medical reasons; lack of reading materials in the home; family stress due to a high number of single-parent families; and frequent household mobility that causes school disruptions and discontinuities. Neither solely school-based nor solely community-based interventions will be sufficient to address this problem. Overemphasising the role of schools and teachers suppresses a broader awareness of the way social and economic disadvantage can obstruct children’s learning potential. Some teachers may avoid drawing attention to students' educational failure if they fear they will be held responsible. Too strong a focus on school-based measures also allows politicians and corporate figures to avoid intervening at a higher level. However, teachers and other educators do have a unique insight into exactly how much damage can be caused by deprivation. Measures taken to prevent school failure due to social and economic disadvantage must involve a combination of school reform and wider social and economic reform. For example, school-based clinics could be introduced so that all children have access to paediatric and dental care. Low-income housing subsidy programs should be extended and developed. An increase in the minimum wage, mixed-income housing developments and well-funded after-school programs are also promising suggestions. Outspoken contributors to the poverty debate may be accused of racism because the issues of poverty, disadvantage and ethnicity are often closely intertwined. However, in order to promote honest dialogue, people of all ethnicities should feel comfortable discussing these issues without fear of accusation. A real attempt to address disadvantage in education will move beyond the either/or of school and social reform and implement policy that incorporates both.
April 2008; Pages 80–86
School programs that aim to prepare students to bring about social change most often focus on community service or petitions to political leaders. Philanthropy is often overlooked, especially in poverty-stricken areas. To get students thinking about philanthropy and educate them about the work done by non-profit organisations, the director of youTHink developed a series of lessons called Pay It Forward. A funding grant provided $25 to students in years 9 and 10 at two disadvantaged Californian high schools. Most students involved were receiving free or subsidised lunches, and were more used to being charity recipients than benefactors. The program, implemented in 2007, consists of four class sessions. It begins with a discussion of students’ understandings about donations and non-profit organisations. Each student chose a cause they wanted to support and researched associated organisations, mission statements, budgets, employee and volunteer numbers and other relevant information. They compared organisations, weighing up the benefits and disadvantages of large and small non-profit agencies. Lessons included writing projects and the creation of a large illustrated map of the community. Classes then chose two local organisations to visit. They questioned workers on pressing needs, funding, future plans and organisational processes, viewed the facilities, participated in workshops and worked with preschool children at a facility for families living below the poverty line. Following the visits students decided which charity they wanted to donate to. The program culminated with a cheque presentation ceremony, in which representatives from the non-profit groups came to the school to receive donations and thank the students personally. Teachers judged the project as having strong and enduring effects on their students. Last year’s Pay It Forward students ran a canned food drive for charity earlier this year, and many commented that they now knew what to do to help their community – instead of being like so many people who ‘complain about things but … never do anything about it.’
Subject HeadingsCommunity service
Volume 29 Number 1, March 2008; Pages 29–47
A lack of communication education researchers and policymakers has made many commentators wish for a 'Fairy Godmother', who would wave her wand and magically open up cross-sector collaboration. Such a Fairy Godmother was recently introduced in the USA, with a Department of Education requirement obliging school districts to choose social education programs based on demonstrated success in research studies. In drug education, funding is now only given if the selected program is one prepared by the federal office. While the list releases school districts from the time-consuming trawl through published research, it also raises questions about how programs are chosen. The case of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program illustrates some inconsistencies in policy and program choice, revealing the Fairy Godmother to have ‘warts on her face’. DARE was created in 1983 by the Los Angeles Police Department and spread rapidly across the country, so that by 1995 between 60 and 80 per cent of all school districts used the program. Early evaluation studies were positive. Later studies had more mixed results, with improved attitudes towards the police and drugs but no difference in self-reported drug use. A review in the mid-1990s concluded that DARE had limited success; however school districts continued to use the program. Use of DARE only dropped after the list of recognised programs was introduced, which excluded DARE. A close inspection of the list shows that many ‘promising’ or ‘exemplary’ programs in fact have little research support, especially in the long term. Many findings resemble the evaluations of DARE when it was introduced; furthermore, studies were most often conducted by the program developer, who could ensure they were implemented with care and fidelity. Also ignored were other positive impacts of DARE, such as improved relationships between students and the police. As it is administered by police officers, the program showed police that not all school students were troublemakers. Local context, as well as research findings, must be considered in the choice of drug abuse prevention programs. On balance, a Fairy Godmother requirement for policymakers to attend to evaluation research has had a positive impact.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
There are no Conferences available in this issue.