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

Breaking the logjam on teacher 'value added'

Volume 27 Number 42, 16 June 2008
Douglas N Harris

The concept of ‘value added’ by teachers refers to their distinct contribution to student learning. There is growing interest in using a teacher’s value added as a basis for their pay or tenure, rather than using credentials such as experience, academic achievement or levels of certification. However, there is debate about the extent to which the value added by teachers can truly be identified and separated from contextual factors. Reflecting these concerns, the New York State legislature this year banned the use of student test scores as a basis for deciding individual teachers’ tenure. The article covers reports from a number of research studies on this issue at a recent conference in the USA. Some researchers supported the possibility of identifying value added. One study found that when teachers were randomly assigned to students the amount of value they added to student test scores was matched closely to the amount assigned to them from their teaching prior to the study. Another study found that teacher value added is reasonably consistent across different types of students taught. A third study found that scores for teachers’ value added were positively though modestly linked to principals’ assessments of the teachers. However, other researchers challenge the measureability of value added. For example, they query the assumption that a one-point increase in a student test score is of identical value for high and low achievers. They also note that measures of teachers’ value added often identify variations in a teacher’s performance from year to year that are higher than is likely in reality. They further suggest that different test scaling methods produce sharply differing scores of value added. Another problem is that individual value added can only be attributed to teachers when they have taught over several years in tested grades and subjects. An alternative approach is to calculate value added at the school level, which may create pressure for teachers who perform relatively poorly to improve to the levels of the school’s best teachers. Governments should fund further trials investigating ways to measure teacher value added. See also news item April 2008 from the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research, summarising the author's own research findings.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teacher evaluation
Teachers' employment
Teaching and learning

Is the crisis in science education continuing? Current senior secondary science enrolment and tertiary entrance trends in Western Australia

Volume 54 Number 1, June 2008; Pages 41–46
Grady Venville

The 2007 report Re-Imagining Science Education argued that Australian science education is in crisis. The report cited a decline in post-compulsory science enrolments, increasingly negative student attitudes towards science, and a lack of qualified professionals in both industry and teaching. Most student participation data in the report was drawn from the 1990s. The current article updates this information with data from 2002 to 2007 on senior science enrolments in Western Australia. The most popular subject was Human Biology, followed by Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Physical Science. There was a decline in Biology and a slight increase in Chemistry enrolments. No appreciable change in overall science enrolments was found, suggesting that the downward enrolment spiral has largely been arrested. At university level, tertiary entrance cut-offs for science courses at all four public universities have shown a substantial decline over the same time period, indicating that there are fewer applicants for these courses and that on average their school academic achievement is lower. This difficulty is not limited to science, since many arts-based courses show the same pattern. The high employment rate in Western Australia may contribute to general downward trends in tertiary enrolments. Senior school science subject enrolments may remain artificially high because students choose them to maximise their Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER). The importance of such practical considerations is also suggested by international PISA research that places 15-year-old Australian students 54 out of 57 countries in terms of their interest in learning science. Predicting future trends is difficult in Western Australia, given the upcoming addition of several new science subjects, which may result in fewer enrolments in traditional science courses. Course restructuring at university level may also have an impact on school subject choice. A suggested model for the University of Western Australia, based on the European Bologna Process, is similar to that implemented by the University of Melbourne in 2007. The reform would introduce generalist undergraduate courses with lower cut-off scores, potentially causing further movement away from science subjects as students choose subjects they enjoy. The ongoing mismatch between low supply of science graduates and high demand from industry is likely to widen in the near future.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teacher training
Motivation
Senior secondary education
Western Australia (WA)
Science teaching
Educational evaluation

Brainology: transforming students' motivation to learn

Winter 2008; Pages 110–119
Carol S. Dweck

Students’ beliefs about intelligence impact powerfully on their learning, motivation and school achievement. There are two main mindsets in relation to intelligence. Within a fixed mindset intelligence is seen as predetermined and stable, while a growth mindset involves the belief that intelligence can be enhanced through education and hard work. A US study examined the effect of these mind-sets on several hundred students during their transition into Year 7 and over the following two years. Results supported earlier studies conducted by the authors. The 'fixed-mindset' students cared more about looking smart in school than learning, and believed that only people who lacked ability needed to work hard. They often rejected challenging learning opportunities for fear that they might reveal limitations in their intelligence. 'Growth-mindset' students understood that hard work relates directly to achievement, and tended to enjoy challenges and temporary setbacks as opportunities for improvement. When mathematics performance was specifically examined, the study found that the two types of students initially displayed similar achievement levels but that growth mindset students quickly began to pull ahead in test scores. Children who are praised for their hard work, rather than their intelligence, tend to develop a growth mindset and show more robust motivation and confidence, leading to improved performance. Mindsets tend to derive from the messages students receive from parents and schools. During the 1990s it was common to praise students’ intelligence as a means to enhance their self esteem and therefore their performance, reinforcing unhelpful, fixed views of intelligence. The Brainology program has been developed by the authors to teach children a growth mindset. Participating students have demonstrated more motivation to learn than a similar group of students undertaking only learning study skills. Brainology lessons begin with an article about brain growth that fascinates students. Students are encouraged to see school as a place full of learning opportunities, rather than a place where they are judged. Their teachers, unaware that there were two different groups, noted motivational and achievement increases in the trained growth-mindset students. The researchers are currently developing a ‘Brainology’ software program so that the workshop can be distributed more widely.

KLA

Subject Headings

Brain
Psychology of learning
Motivation
Learning ability

What students notice as different between reform and traditional mathematics programs

Volume 39 Number 1,  2008; Pages 9–32
Jon R. Star, John P. Smith III, Amanda Jansen

Substantial research has addressed the effects of mathematics curriculum reform on achievement and student attitudes. In the USA, recent reform has often been based on the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, which focuses on conceptual understanding, real-world problems, use of technology, and the written expression of mathematical reasoning. A study has investigated how students experience transitions between different types of curriculum. Two key academic transition points at four sites were targeted: students entering high school from junior high school and students starting university. At High School 1 (HS1), students shifted from the reform CMP curriculum to a traditional one. HS2 students shifted from traditional to the reform CPMP, University 1 (U1) from CPMP to traditional, and U2 from traditional to the reform HCC. Ninety-three students in total were interviewed an average of five times each and their journal entries about their experiences were noted. Students' views of their curriculum transition varied widely across the different sites. Major differences in teacher–student relationships, for example, were mentioned by no students at HS2, 18% at U1, 30% at HS1, and 38% at U2. The traditional-to-reform students at HS2 saw relatively few differences. Those they mentioned were in content, with CPMP tasks usually being ‘story problems’ that required more thinking and writing. HS1 students saw many more differences. Most students felt that the new problems required more thinking than the CMP materials. This contrasts with claims made by some advocates of reform. Homework was cited as having increased in volume, and group work was also mentioned; however, unexpectedly, students were divided on whether the amount of group work had increased or decreased. U1 students related differences in content, pace, teaching style, group work and teacher–student relationships, while most U2 students mentioned an increase in story problems. Many felt this was tedious and unnecessary. Results suggest that students’ reactions vary, so it is problematic to generalise about their experiences of curriculum reform. Some, but not all, of the students’ comments aligned with the views of curriculum developers. Overall there was no clear preference for one type of program over the other.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Curriculum planning
Transitions in schooling

A comparison of performance and attitudes in mathematics amongst the 'gifted'. Are boys better at mathematics or do they just think they are?

Volume 15 Number 1, March 2008; Pages 19–38
Melanie Hargreaves, Matt Homer, Bronwen Swinnerton

A number of large-scale studies have reported gender differences in mathematics performance, with boys tending to outperform girls on average. Research suggests specifically that more girls reach the average or expected level of performance, while more boys perform at the highest levels. Across England and the USA, significantly more boys than girls choose to study mathematics at a post-compulsory level. This has been attributed to cognitive and social factors. While the argument citing innate gender differences in cognitive capacity is obsolete, boys and girls may solve mathematics problems slightly differently. There is also a widespread perception of mathematics as a masculine subject. This influences parents’, teachers’ and children’s own expectations of mathematics competence. Teachers have been found to attribute girls’ strong performances in mathematics to hard work, while high-performing boys are seen to have natural ability or talent. The current study investigated the attitudes of students selected as ‘gifted’ and their performance on the WCT, a test designed for high-achieving students. Participants were 77 pairs of 9-year-old boys and girls and 69 pairs of 13-year-old boys and girls, a total of 292 students. The pairs were matched for school, teacher-assessed ability level, and age to within four months. Students completed the test, a short survey about the test, and a survey on mathematics-related attitudes. No gender difference in performance was found. In the 9-year-old sample, most students of both genders found the test fun and believed that they had done well. In the 13-year-old sample, significantly more boys were positive about the test than girls. They were significantly more likely to believe they had done well, despite performing at the same level as the girls. The survey revealed no difference between genders on questions about the usefulness and enjoyableness of maths. The survey revealed that children in both age groups reproduced gender stereotypes to some degree, being more likely to say that boys are better at maths and girls are better at English. While the cluster of attitude-related factors did not directly influence performance for this sample, attitudes are crucial in students’ choice to continue with post-compulsory mathematics study.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Mathematics
Girls' education
Boys' education
Gifted children
Motivation
Emotions

Take a fresh look at the way we teach reading and spelling

 2007
Joy Allcock

Research in the 1970s and 1980s suggested a distinction between ‘Chinese’ readers, who use the visual images of words to access their meaning, and ‘Phoenician’ readers, who rely on sound–letter correspondences to ‘sound out’ words. Most readers lie between the two extremes. ‘Chinese’ readers may have an advantage when it comes to irregular spellings. ‘Phoenician’ readers often learn to read competently, but may continue to spell inaccurately due to incomplete knowledge of sound–letter relationships. Both types need to learn about the various relationships between sounds and letters if they are to succeed. Many struggling readers have been told, inaccurately, that each alphabet letter ‘makes’ a different sound. Under this misapprehension written English seems illogical and impossible to work out. Readers need to understand that the same sound can be written in different ways, and that the same letter or combination of letters can be pronounced in more than one way. Children come to the classroom with considerable prior knowledge about how words sound and what they mean. Building on this knowledge, children can be taught to hear the individual sounds that make up words. They can then be taught that letters and letter combinations can be spoken. Regardless of their age, struggling readers should be taught how written English works. The author’s position on literacy teaching is informed by fourteen years’ experience teaching children who struggle with reading. Her study of thirteen Year 9 students with high literacy needs (Burt Reading Age between 7 and 10.5 years) indicates that a twice-a-week intervention program over five terms can result in substantial improvement, with some students going on to pass enough credits to achieve NCEA Level 1. The author’s approach is also effective for students who are beginning to read. An observational study of six-year-olds at a decile 4 school in New Zealand has compared student results from the four years prior to implementing the author’s approach and the two years after implementation. Statistically significant differences were found in children’s concepts about print, dictation and writing vocabulary.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

Reading
Reading difficulties
New Zealand

I can do this: revelations on teaching with historical thinking

Volume 41 Number 1, November 2007; Pages 54–61
Brad Burenheide

The article describes issues raised at a social studies conference in the USA. Studies over the last century repeatedly report that history students struggle to learn and retain historical knowledge. This problem can be attributed to the dominant approach to history teaching, through which students are asked to learn from textbooks, ‘hopefully sprinkling in activities that somewhat engage students in active learning’. This approach often originates from a huge curriculum that prevents in-depth exploration of content. Instead, we should call on students to construct knowledge through deep explorations of history. When applying higher-order thinking skills through this approach, students also internalise historical facts as a by-product. This approach is further enhanced by the passion and sense of excitement the teacher can bring to the study. Students should be asked for opinions about the content as a way to create a sense of ownership of it. Assessment of history is often undertaken through a ‘wearisome’ process, with rubrics used to assess procedural or completed work. It is useful to approach history assessment through some of the criteria set by M Bevir for judging professional historians: whether the student’s work has an accurate, substantial and logical fit with the evidence, and how critically the evidence has been examined. Students’ work is not as closely bound up with written output as that of professional historians, so students should be assessed not only on writing but on test completion, observation of activities and verbal or written output.

Key Learning Areas

Studies of Society and Environment

Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
History
Thought and thinking

Pre-service teachers' engagement with student wellbeing

Volume 28 Number 1,  2008; Pages 21–34
Lyn Taylor, Vaughan Prain, Rosie Rosengren

Numerous research studies and reports have called for pre-service teaching programs to place greater emphasis on student wellbeing. In a recent study, ten Graduate Diploma of Education (Secondary) students were interviewed to gauge their developing ideas about wellbeing. The teaching students, five males and five females, were aged between early 20s and mid-40s. The interviews took place in July and November of the 2005 Graduate Diploma course. Unlike teacher preparation programs that compartmentalise wellbeing, the course wove wellbeing-related issues into the program structure. It also included a school-based orientation program one day a week for the first six weeks of the course. Initially, students had a broad idea of the meaning of ‘wellbeing’, recognising that it encompassed physical, emotional, psychological and social dimensions. However, their proposed indicators of students’ wellbeing tended to focus on negative behaviours or physical appearance. Participants also connected wellbeing to a safe and emotionally supportive school environment. In the November interview series, answers became more complex and incorporated factors such as school retention, prevention of teenage pregnancy and pre-emption of violent behaviour. The second interview round also revealed more attention to the teacher’s and school’s role in promoting wellbeing, and more concern about personal competence in dealing with these issues. Differences between schools’ approaches were noted by participants, with some having a systematic and caring process for monitoring students and some taking a less careful approach. Recognised procedures, communication between staff and contact with parents were identified as helpful wellbeing measures. Students’ engagement with the curriculum and the flow-on effect this has on wellbeing were reinforced. Participants’ comments underscored the importance of explicitly addressing the complexity of wellbeing-related issues in teacher preparation programs. Pre-service wellbeing education should be presented in a broad school context, rather than as narrowly relating to physical and psychological health. Reflective analysis to link theory and practice is also important. Another interview round was conducted six months after the students became practising teachers. Those findings will be published after data analysis has been completed.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teacher training
Emotions
Curriculum planning

Wellbeing: the way teachers' attitudes, values and beliefs affect children's social and emotional wellbeing

Volume 7 Number 2, June 2008; Pages 24–27
Shelley Thornton

Research has commenced at three northern New South Wales schools on how schools currently support children’s mental wellbeing, and on the changes that occur with an increased focus on social and emotional skills development. Preliminary results suggest that most teachers are concerned about issues such as anxiety, resilience, neglect and lack of motivation in their students. Teachers also identify the types of social and emotional skills they would like to see students develop: self-awareness and empathy, acceptance of positive feedback, and responsible and realistic decision making. Teachers’ attitudes and beliefs about positive behaviour tend to converge on factors such as social conscience, independent thought, a focus on self-acceptance over peer acceptance, and a healthy sense of self-worth. Mental wellbeing is understood as a dynamic reflection and development of children’s innate social competencies. Teachers realise that they have a key role in noticing when children may have mental wellbeing problems. It is helpful for them to model positive attitudes and relationships, with many teachers saying that explaining their feelings about classroom behaviour to children can help develop social understanding and a ‘language of expectations’. Participants also commented that students’ wellbeing can have an impact on the wellbeing of their teachers, and emphasised the importance of family, peer and administrative support for teachers in times of uncertainty. Time is often seen as the limiting resource in supporting student wellbeing. Another limiting factor is the change in professional expectations that has made teachers’ counselling role more ambiguous. The possible legal implications of teacher intervention are also a consideration. The research so far has shown that teachers are aware of individual differences in how children approach social situations. They believe that they can act to develop children’s empathy and other social skills, particularly if limitations of time and teacher confidence are managed effectively.

KLA

Subject Headings

Mental Health
Students
Teacher-student relationships
Teaching and learning
Emotions

The Link Program: investigating the relevance and implications of preschool theory and practice for primary school teacher professional development

Volume 14 Number 2,  2007; Pages 95–104
Robert Brown, Esther Care, Jan Deans

A cross-sector professional development program has given primary school teachers a useful grounding in early childhood education. The Link Program was instigated by the Directorate of Education and Training in Melbourne, Victoria. Eight primary school teachers participated, four of them early-career teachers with less than five years’ experience and four who had five or more years of teaching experience. They were drawn from schools in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs. The program involved two seminars and linked observations, occurring three weeks apart at The University of Melbourne’s Early Learning Centre (ELC). The first seminar addressed ‘Core PD’ and the second was customised according to the identified needs of participants. Data was gathered through a 15-minute written survey pre intervention, a self-assessment tool on philosophical orientation towards pedagogy and child development, and a semi-structured interview of 45–60 minutes post-intervention. The teachers also provided 20-minute written evaluations of the program following each seminar and participated in a recorded group reflection. Post-intervention, teachers were motivated to make a number of changes in their classroom environments and practice. The most common change was rearranging classroom space so it was less cluttered, more inviting and flexible enough for small-group work. Other changes included increased time for play-based learning, the use of 'curriculum webs' to organise children's ideas and different teacher–child questioning strategies. One teacher introduced an hour of ‘social play’ per week, while another introduced curriculum webs to tap deeply into students’ knowledge. Two mentioned their increased use of questioning techniques to extend and engage students. A common issue arising was the tension between a child-centred learning philosophy and the standardised benchmarks indicated in the prescribed curriculum. Another important concern was the lack of knowledge primary school teachers had about early childhood education. One teacher appreciated seeing ‘where the children’s learning had come from’, and another commented, ‘it became so clear to me the need to have contact with the pre-school directors throughout the year’. Potential challenges in implementing cross-sector collaboration include large group numbers, reviewing disciplinary and behaviour practices, a standardised curriculum, limitations of school design, and limited teacher knowledge of preschool learning experiences.

KLA

Subject Headings

Primary education
Early childhood education

The politics and ethics of Indigenous histories: how do historians negotiate racial and cultural sensitivities?

 2008; Pages 34–37
Richard Broome

An understanding of Aboriginal history is essential for a true and balanced understanding of Australian history. However, the ‘right to write’ Aboriginal history is often contested. 'Whitefellas' attempting to write Aboriginal histories, of which the author is one, may be seen as writing ‘the white history of Aboriginal people’. This springs largely from white accounts of Aboriginal history, many of which were poorly researched and written from a self-enhancing colonialist viewpoint. Henry Reynolds, author of The Other Side of the Frontier, is a notable exception. Historian Bain Attwood has adapted Edward Said’s term ‘Orientalism’ into ‘Aboriginalism’, referring to the deliberate political construction of particular images of Aboriginality. The best historical writing is aware of these constructions and the purposes they serve. It is also compassionate, seeking to understand others and their lives through imagination, curiosity and empathy. Finally, good historical writing does not accept prevailing discourses without critical examination: it involves both reading and writing ‘against the grain’ of the dominant discourse of the time. High-quality history writing requires receptivity to different historical voices and a deep awareness of the author, purpose and audience of each source. Historical figures are viewed as real people with basic human dignity, not as abstract collections of historical facts. All of this means that good historical writing is more dependent on training, compassion and skill than on the ethnicity or religion of the writer. The intertwined nature of white and Aboriginal Australian histories means that each forms an integral part of the other. Space must be left in the historical landscape for different perspectives to challenge, inform and converge with one another. This Enlightenment-style ‘free trade in thought’ moves us towards a shared writing of Australian history. The author’s attempts to include the voices of Victorian Aboriginal communities when researching his recent publication, Aboriginal Victorians, initially met with silence from potential participants. However, after efforts to explain the research purposes through telephone calls and personal visits, a number of communities responded. Deeper relationships and more shared and enjoyable historical work have been the result.

KLA

Subject Headings

History
Australia
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
Aboriginal peoples

A global village is a small world

Volume 30,  2008; Pages 39–44
Valerie Volk

The Future Problem Solving Program (FPSP) was established in 1974 by E Paul Torrance to develop gifted students’ interest in complex global issues. Highly able students are often deeply sensitive to social and environmental problems, but may lack the resources to cope with the emotions that these problems can provoke. As many of these students will be important problem solvers in the future, they should be provided with opportunities now to explore, develop and implement positive solutions. Training these high-ability students in moral responsibility and leadership matches both society’s needs and the students' own need to develop in these areas. The current internationalisation of schooling reflects an increasing need for global connectivity in problem solving, and the FPSP is being implemented in a broad range of countries around the world. Participation in FPSP involves explicit training in a six-step problem-solving methodology, followed by its application in a hypothetical future world scenario. Recent topics have included Nanotechnology, Environmental Law, Terrorism/Security, and World Population. Practical application is the cornerstone of the program, and projects over the last few years have assisted underprivileged schools in Africa, arranged textbook translation into Farsi and resourced a school in Afghanistan, assisted a school library in Fiji, and supported Russian immigrants in Israel through Internet collaboration with an Israeli class. Students in the program appreciate the opportunity to see where they fit into the bigger picture, as well as to develop their capacity and sense of efficacy in dealing with complex problems. Participation in the program counteracts the feeling of helplessness that is often experienced by gifted students when faced with overwhelming problems. It also substantially broadens the perspective of participating students, for example as with the Queensland student who commented that FPSP ‘contributed to my feeling that I must do something worthwhile to change the way we’re heading as a global society’. The FPSP now involves 250,000 students worldwide.

KLA

Subject Headings

Globalisation
Gifted children
Inquiry based learning

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