Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: rethinking content-area literacy
Volume 78 Number 1, Spring 2008; Pages 40–59
A recent project has examined ways to develop secondary school reading strategies that are effective and relevant to particular subject areas. Two literacy experts collaborated with teacher educators, secondary teachers and disciplinary experts who all worked in the fields of chemistry, theoretical mathematics, or history. The chemists were concerned with the need for students to move easily between different representations of information, eg as text or formulae, and that students focus on core chemical information rather than contextual material. They judged texts in terms of their thoroughness and precision in covering experimental processes. The chemists became sympathetic to the teaching of reading as a specific classroom activity only after the literacy experts prepared a chemistry-focused reading strategy, in which note taking and summarisation were structured around chemical substances, properties, processes and interactions. The mathematicians were concerned that students learn to establish very precise meanings to words and terms, and establish proofs correctly. These processes require close reading rather than skimming for the gist of a text, and memorisation of precise definitions of terms in the discipline’s vocabulary. The mathematicians responded well to a proposal for students to use a template when taking notes. The template’s structure directed students to name a ‘big idea’ or major mathematical concept being studied, followed by an explanation of the concept, an example, and expressions of the problem as a formula and another representation such as a graph. The history specialists wished to ensure that students read texts as interpretations influenced by the position and interests of writer and reader. Project members developed a ‘history events chart’ which focuses attention on causal links between events and helps to overcome the limitations of textbooks which omit or oversimplify causal explanations. The literacy experts developed a ‘multiple gist’ strategy for use in history classes, through which students summarise a text and then condense the summary further as descriptions of other texts are added to the abstract, within the same word limit. This device encourages students to compare and contrast different texts.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Studies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Adolescent literacy: putting the crisis in context
Volume 78 Number 1, Spring 2008; Pages 7–39
The article argues that the current ‘crisis in adolescent literacy’ can be traced back to students’ earlier learning experiences. Young children need a pre-reading environment which encourages positive attitudes and expectations about reading, and which helps them develop their vocabulary and conceptual knowledge. In the early primary years they need to acquire alphabetic and phonemic awareness. Without a solid background to this point, students will not be fluent and automatic readers by Grades 3–4 level, when they are expected to apply reading abilities to learn disciplinary content. If unaddressed, these problems are magnified in later years. The article then outlines changing historical views of teaching about reading and literacy. For most of the twentieth century, explicit teaching of reading at secondary school level was focused on specialist programs for struggling readers. By the 1970s there were increasing calls for students to learn how to read specific subject content. This drive was resisted by subject-area teachers concerned about covering core disciplinary content, and was hindered by textbooks focused on general reading strategies unrelated to subject matter. In the 1990s, however, content-related reading received new emphasis when English language instruction was reconceived to give more attention to the varied literacy skills required in vocational situations and other social contexts. The article concludes with recommendations for current teaching of reading at secondary level. It is an ‘open question’ whether discipline-based teachers should be responsible for reading instruction. If they are, these responsibilities should be clearly defined for each discipline and be supported by adequate resources, professional development and time to reflect on and articulate the ways that teachers currently support students’ subject-related reading. Another issue is that the roles of reading specialist and literacy coach remain blurred and need clarification.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
28 March 2008
The most common forms of teachers’ professional learning (PL) are not the forms that research identifies as most useful in improving student outcomes. Evidence indicates that PL should be sustained rather than ‘one off’. School-based PL is generally more useful than offsite talks by visiting experts, or even academic courses undertaken by individual teachers: external expertise should be something that teachers can draw on at need, and apply creatively to their own contexts. PL should more often be collegial than individual, with mechanisms established for assistance and feedback. PL in the school setting encourages collaboration, continuity and follow-up, relevance to specific classroom contexts and practical, detailed implementation. However, to achieve the potential benefits of school-based PL, unhelpful school traditions need to be discarded. The tradition of privatised teaching needs to give way to joint lesson planning, coaching and mentoring, workshops run by colleagues, and team teaching for a group of students. Opportunities for coordination can be created by suitable timetabling and elimination of inessential meetings. There should be an expectation that teachers with common PL goals will collaborate. Insights gained from individual or group PL should be disseminated through the school, and processes need to be established to ensure that this occurs. PL should be focused on attaining specific, concrete milestones rather than generic, long-term goals. Results should be monitored each semester rather than through an annual appraisal. Accomplishing these steps depends crucially on development of a school culture based on trust, sharing of experience, professional growth and accountability. PL is assisted by a well-resourced PL library, and various kinds of forums allowing questions to be asked and answered. School leaders should create an expectation that PL work is necessary rather than optional, and that PL will catalyse change.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
Submission to the Parliament of Victoria Education and Training Committee (Australian College of Educators)
16 June 2008
Good quality professional learning (PL) tends to be practical, directly relevant to current purposes of the teacher or school, ‘extended over a period but for less than a semester’, recognised by universities' teacher registration bodies conveniently located and organised around teaching teams. Increasingly, it also tends to have online components. Teachers have differing views on the value of school-based PL, which does have some drawbacks. It is often too generic and fails to build on prior learning, to differentiate between teachers at different stages of professional development, or to address the content needs of subject specialists, particularly when they are the only representatives of their discipline at the school. School-based PL offers useful and instructive collaboration with peers, but this is nevertheless limited by ‘the collective knowledge and wisdom that exists within the group’ or that can be ‘bought in’. Funding for individual PL is likely to be limited by the current policy orientation of the school and by the understanding and vision of the school leadership. When mandated, school-based PL may involve work alongside unmotivated colleagues. The ACE believes that teacher PL should be understood as a shared responsibility between teachers and employers. Employing authorities should provide further support for it, in a range of ways. For example, teachers who undertake PL and choose to remain in the classroom should be acknowledged and rewarded. Teachers need access to reasonable periods of paid study leave. Further PL should be provided to schools in regional and rural areas, in collaboration with regional universities. Teachers have demonstrated interest in high-quality voluntary PL programs, such as those offered by the Australian College of Educators (ACE). The ACE currently runs over 120 PL programs in collaboration with the University of Wollongong.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Critical thinking: why is it so hard to teach?
Volume 109 Number 4, March 2008; Pages 21–27
It is generally agreed that one of the most important goals of schooling is to develop students’ critical thinking ability. Critical thinking capabilities include seeing more than one side of an issue, being open to seemingly contradictory information, reasoning logically and forming conclusions from the available facts. Many programs encourage students to think critically, but most have been less effective than anticipated, particularly in helping students generalise domain-specific learning to problems in different areas. Contrary to popular belief, critical thinking is not simply a set of ‘skills’ to be learnt; instead, the processes of thought are dependent on the content of thought. Deeper knowledge of a subject domain enables critical thought in that domain by helping individuals see different perspectives, predict the likely effect of different variables, and invent new solutions. Rigorous thinking has a peculiar tendency to cling to a particular context or set of examples and resist transfer to other circumstances, obscuring the deep structure of problems in favour of irrelevant details. Students can only learn to sort out relevant from irrelevant details through repeated practice. Metacognitive cues and strategies, such as ‘look for a problem’s deep structure’ and ‘consider both sides of an issue’, are only useful if students already possess the necessary content knowledge. Science education experts in particular recommend that scientific reasoning be taught alongside detailed content, and students who begin scientific experiments with fuller subject knowledge have been found to interpret experimental outcomes better and learn more as a result. Incorporating unexpected or anomalous outcomes is key in developing scientific understanding, but substantial prior knowledge is needed to decide whether an outcome is unexpected. A great deal of practice is needed for students to fully develop both their content knowledge and the associated capacity for critical thought.
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
Teaching and learning
What is a 'Curriculum for Excellence'?
Number 226, February 2008; Page 20
The Scottish education system published a document titled A Curriculum for Excellence in 2004. Building on valued features of the pre-existing curriculum, the new document outlines the seven principles that underlie high-quality curriculum design. These are challenge and enjoyment; breadth of experience; a smooth progression through the education system (which had previously been a weakness in the Scottish system); depth; personalisation and choice in activities and educational pathways, including a blending of traditionally academic and vocational areas; coherence between learning experiences in the different subject areas; and relevance to young people’s lives. The curriculum has been updated to show students the relevance of subject content to their current and future lives. Writers of the new curriculum encountered several challenges, including balancing the reduced amount of content with an increased call for depth and progression, and ensuring that the new curriculum adequately addressed literacy, numeracy and academic skill development. The draft curriculum is currently undergoing a limited test release, with participating educators invited to offer feedback on various aspects of the program. Final drafts of the new curriculum, incorporating this feedback, will then be implemented in classrooms across
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Forty years on: poverty and inequality in Australia
March 2008; Pages 21–24
The recently published report Dropping off the Edge examines the disadvantage experienced by a wide range of communities across
Self-regulation strategies to improve mathematical problem solving for students with learning disabilities
Volume 31, Winter 2008; Pages 37–44
Students with learning disabilities have consistently been shown to have difficulty with self-regulation. A number of programs aiming to teach these students self-regulation strategies have been developed and evaluated for their effectiveness. Self-regulation strategies consist of techniques to help students keep their problem solving on track, and include self-questioning, self-instruction, self-monitoring, self-evaluation and self-reinforcement. Seven intervention studies based on self-regulation are reviewed, five that examined a single student and two measuring the performance of a group of children. All studies were based on the teaching of various structured cognitive routines for mathematical problem solving. Altogether 142 students, aged between 8 and 16, were involved. Self-regulation techniques such as self-questioning were embedded in the cognitive routines. For example, a seven-step problem-solving routine had students state what had to be done, and self question to make sure they understood what they were doing, and check their work at each step. Students were obliged to memorise the steps and their subcomponents and, then, after modelling by a teacher the students used them to think aloud through their individual problem-solving practice. The individual-based studies of this method showed significant improvement, and a group of 72 middle school students who learnt this strategy subsequently performed at the same level as a group of non-disabled students. Other studies used a similar methodology and also found substantial improvement. Successful strategy instruction includes teaching a small number of crucial strategies well, teaching students how to self-monitor for understanding and performance, helping students to generalise strategies across subject areas, and providing constant supervision and feedback. Some students may not be developmentally able to respond to strategy instruction, so there should be screening before interventions are commenced. Strategy instruction should ideally be provided by expert remedial teachers in small groups, and be intensive in nature and time-limited. Collaboration and support from area-level and school-level administrators is essential.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Looking for attributes of powerful teaching for numeracy in Tasmanian K-7 classrooms
Volume 20 Number 1, 2008; Pages 3–31
The Tasmanian curriculum reform implemented in 2002 placed increased emphasis on thinking skills and deep understanding. A study conducted in Tasmanian primary schools in 2003 and 2004 has evaluated classroom numeracy teaching immediately after the reform. Teaching was evaluated in terms of the Productive Pedagogies outlined by Mills and Goos, which consist of two cognitive aspects, ‘intellectual quality’ and ‘connectedness’, and two social aspects, ‘supportive classroom environment’ and ‘recognition of difference’. Classrooms in 20 schools were observed. Thirteen of them were government, three Catholic, and four independent, and they covered a range of geographical locations, school sizes, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The researchers used relevant education research to compile a detailed list of Attributes of Powerful Teaching (APTs), which were then standardised to create a Classroom Observation Reflection Chart. The chart consisted of questions starting with ‘Does the teacher …?’ and continuing, for example, ‘provide all students with challenging mathematics’ or ‘facilitate explicit discussion of what it means to think or work mathematically’. Instances of each APT were recorded as they occurred over a four-hour period, and then overall judgements of High (sustained or frequent) or Low (sporadic or not evident) were made. In six classrooms, 50% or more of the APTs were apparent at a High level. Apart from one Grade 5–6 class, the socially-oriented pedagogies were far more evident than the cognitively-oriented pedagogies. ‘Intellectual quality’ tended to be low and examples of ‘connectedness’ to other areas of numeracy, or to daily life, were especially infrequent. A map task that integrated numeracy and physical education was one activity that rated highly on intellectual quality and connectedness. Time spent on numeracy per day was around 47 minutes, considerably lower than the 65 minutes estimated by Tasmanian primary school principals in an earlier study. Numeracy classes were also observed to be more readily interrupted or sidelined than literacy-related classes. A clear focus on mathematical ideas was generally lacking, and many of the opportunities for deeper understanding that arose through mathematics-related activities were lost. In many of the classrooms, numeracy teaching was primarily focused on ‘smooth relationships, perhaps at the expense of learning’.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Teaching and learning
A lesson in cynicism
12 July 2008; Pages 5,8–10
Religion-based ideas of human origins should be open for discussion in school science classes alongside the Darwinian theory of evolution, according to influential groups in the USA. Courts have previously blocked the teaching of these approaches in science classes, since the US constitution requires the separation of church and state. However, opponents of Darwinian evolution continue to campaign and are now rallying around the slogan of 'academic freedom'. This 'corrosively cynical' approach confuses a commitment to the unrestricted pursuit of rational inquiry with promotion of 'a non-rational agenda'. This year the Louisiana legislature overwhelmingly approved a Science Education Act that permits religion-based content in science classrooms. Similar ‘academic freedom’ bills have been introduced in six other US states. The Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) is promoting the use of online add-ons that ‘put a creationist spin on the contents of various science texts’, and the Discovery Institute has recently published Explore Evolution, a text that offers the standard critiques of evolution advanced by supporters of Intelligent Design (ID), without using the term itself. The Louisiana law allows individual boards and teachers to add such content without clearance from a state education authority, so that challenges to it must be made at the local level and will apply only to specific local content. One means to resist this law is to collect religious material introduced into Louisiana science classes, and then challenge the law in court as permitting breaches of the separation of church and state. However, it is also important that scientists and teachers counter ID-related material in science classes at local level, by distinguishing between scientific method and scientific findings on the one hand and ‘religiously or politically inspired ideas’ on the other. The abstract covers the articles ‘A lesson in cynicism’, ‘Class conflict’ and ‘The evolution of creationist literature’, in the same edition of New Scientist.
Key Learning AreasScience
United States of America (USA)
Spring 2008; Pages 147–149
Even devoted teachers who make every effort to treat children equitably, fairly and considerately may come across children they do not like. Instead of ignoring the negative feelings these children provoke, it is important to acknowledge them honestly so they can be worked through. Feelings left unacknowledged may escape unintentionally as a damaging outburst, or be picked up and reflected by other children in the class. Young children in particular are extremely perceptive, and are sensitive to subtleties in facial expression and body language that adults may miss. The most important advice for teachers in managing personal feelings about a child is to be honest with yourself. There may be no need to tell others about the feeling, but it should at least be described and acknowledged internally. It is also important to own the feeling. Admitting that the feeling is not the child’s fault helps teachers to be conscious about treating the child fairly. Separating feelings from behaviour is crucial, since it is difficult to control feelings but far easier and more important to control actions. Teachers should remember that feelings can change as they get to know students better. Realising that feelings may not be shared can also help, since different teachers tend to respond favourably to different student personality types. Trying to identify the cause of the dislike can be instructive, since it may be based on appearance, a particular behaviour, a disability, something the teacher has heard about the student’s family or lifestyle, or resemblance to a past challenging student. Classroom strategies to address negative feelings include getting to know each child well, focusing on the child’s positive qualities, pairing the child with other children to help them find friends, and encouraging relationships between the child and other adults who may get along with the child more easily.
Teaching and learning
Improving children's physical activity in out-of-school hours care settings
Volume 19 Number 1, 2008; Pages 16–21
The period between 3.30 pm and 6 pm has been called the ‘critical window’ for children’s physical activity. This gives out-of-school-hours (OOSH) services a very important opportunity to replace sedentary behaviour patterns with healthy levels of physical activity. Forty-four OOSH services located in areas of south-eastern
Subject HeadingsPhysical Fitness
June 2008; Pages 20–22
Children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may fidget constantly, ignore adults trying to engage them, and be in danger of failing at school. The amphetamine-based medication that physicians increasingly prescribe usually has a calming effect on these children; however, some may resist medication because taking it makes them feel ‘zoned out’ or less alive. Parents worried about school performance may pressure children to take medication; however its effects on a child or adolescent’s developing identity should also be considered. The increasing rate of ADHD diagnosis and medication, sometimes for children as young as six, raises some serious ethical issues. Disagreement exists over whether it is a real disorder, and there are problems regarding the reliability and validity of the diagnosis. Some of the diagnostic criteria, such as failure to finish schoolwork, frequently leaving the seat in a classroom and answering questions ahead of turn, are based on current expectations of behaviour at school. There is also no formal distinction in cut-off scores between boys and girls, which may distort the gender proportions of diagnosed children, and many ADHD symptoms overlap with those of other disorders. Given these problems, medical treatment may be opinion-based rather than evidence-based. Treatment may also favour medication because it is the cheapest option, even though other strategies such as cognitive behaviour therapies, behaviour modification, family interventions, diet and neurotherapy have been shown to be effective. Children with ADHD, as well as their families and teachers, will benefit from a more consistent and considered approach to diagnosis and treatment.
June 2008; Pages 54–55
With Google’s rise in prominence as a Web search engine, it is increasingly important for schools to make their websites ‘Google-friendly’. Google has developed a set of free online tools, the Google Webmaster Central suite, to improve websites’ accessibility to the search engine. A 14-step plan is recommended to optimise websites’ searchability. Schools should first sign up for a Google Webmaster’s account (GWA). Then the site’s URL should be officially submitted to Google, which can have an immediate and dramatic impact on search results. Using the ‘Overview’ tool determines whether a home page has been indexed by Google, and shows if other pages have been successfully indexed or should be reworked. The GWA ‘Diagnostics’ tool should be run to reveal any problems Google has in indexing pages, as well as suggestions for how to fix them. The Diagnostics tool also covers problems with pages programmed for use on mobile telephones. Another tool, ‘Top Search Queries’, found in the Statistics toolkit, gives valuable information by ranking the popularity of keywords on a site. Also in the Statistics toolkit, ‘Crawl Stats’ shows the most popular page on the site every month. The ‘Index Stats’ feature gives a list of sites that link to a home page, as well as the other links on these sites. Similarly, the ‘Links’ tool verifies that internal and external links are working as they should. Searchability can also be boosted by adding a Google sitemap to the GWA. The ‘Tools’ page allows experienced Web designers to modify the labelling on images and inform Google of complex site details. It is important to avoid manipulating Google into returning more results, for example with irrelevant keywords or ‘cloak’ pages, since this can result in banishment from the site. Images should not be used in place of text, since Google searches do not recognise text contained in images. Multiple copies of the same page are frowned on, so printer-friendly versions of pages should be blocked with a Google robots.txt file. Finally, items such as images, video and news items on the site should be thoroughly and appropriately tagged for Google's unified search.
Back to the future: directions for research in teaching and teacher education
Volume 45 Number 1, March 2008; Pages 184–205
Research on teaching is a well-established field, but research on teacher education is still relatively new. The field of teacher education has developed largely in isolation from its two closest counterparts, mainstream teaching research and research into higher education and professional education. There needs to be an effort to discern an ‘underlying grammar of practice’ that will provide a universal framework for research into teaching and teacher education. Teaching research has undergone a shift in the past 50 years from a focus on teacher characteristics to forefronting teacher behaviours, knowledge and decision making. More recently a cognitive perspective has become dominant, providing useful information for teachers but neglecting the emotional and relational aspects of good teaching. Developing quality relationships with students should be taken more seriously, and needs to be a focus of teacher education programs and research. Another missing element in the research has been an organisational perspective that considers the varied contexts of teaching and learning at the school, area, state and national level. Much current teacher education research pays little attention to contextual elements, however. The interplay between state and national policy, higher education and other teacher training institutions, and local districts or labour markets is an important consideration in deciding where any proposed alterations will have the most effect. Local factors are also crucial because teacher education programs tend to address needs that are relevant to the communities in which they are based. An organisational perspective also highlights the importance of recognising and evaluating different teacher education pathways. This enables comparison across different states and regions. A broad perspective allows researchers to identify any gaps or unnecessary repetition in the material covered. Developing a precise language for teaching research will provide a framework that encourages productive connections between researchers across different grade levels and subject areas.
Subject HeadingsEducation research
Teaching and learning
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