Improving writing in secondary schools
Volume 3 Number 4, July 2008
The article reviews a range of research on ways to improve students’ writing skills. The Writing Next report describes findings of an analysis of 142 experimental studies on strategies to improve writing instruction. The most effective strategies were found to be teaching students how to plan, revise and edit their writing; summarise other texts; and write or revise texts collaboratively. Traditional grammar instruction was not found to improve students’ writing. As a result, the authors call for alternative ways for students to learn writing conventions, for example through exercises in combining sentences. (See also earlier CL article abstract covering the Writing Next report.) A 2003 report by the USA’s National Commission on Writing also offers a range of findings. One set of findings involves assessment of students’ writing, which should involve a number of different measures, should allow students adequate time to complete assessed writing tasks, and should be standardised between evaluators. More time should be allocated to writing instruction in classes. The National Commission on Writing report also calls for teachers to receive more pre-service and in-service training on writing instruction, a measure supported by the findings of the Cohort III phase of the National Writing Project (NWP). The National Commission on Writing report calls additionally for the incorporation of more ICT with writing instruction, which is supported by research from the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).
Key Learning AreasEnglish
United States of America (USA)
A ‘formidable challenge’: Australia’s quest for equity in Indigenous education
Volume 52 Number 2, August 2008; Pages 197–223
The harsh and inequitable treatment faced by generations of Aboriginal people has left a legacy that obstructs efforts to improve the learning outcomes of Indigenous students. The negative impact of this legacy has not been sufficiently recognised by government inquiries into Aboriginal education over the last 30 years. Indigenous people's dispossession from land and segregation from mainstream society and from each other, together with a policy of forced assimilation, have deeply embedded a range of severe social disadvantages. Generations of Indigenous people received little or no education, so now Aboriginal parents are often unable to develop their children’s academic knowledge, learning skills or aspirations for success. Intergenerational trauma has led to family violence, alcoholism and drug abuse, all with massively negative impacts on learning. The forcible separation of Indigenous caregivers and children, a policy operating until the 1970s, has been associated with high levels of absenteeism. Within the curriculum, Indigenous culture was ignored or trivialised. In the 1970s, deficit theories of Aboriginal people encouraged teachers to expect further failure, and Indigenous students to internalise such expectations, particularly in early adolescence as they became more aware of wider social attitudes. Indigenous students have often been placed in remedial classes. Indigenous students’ commitment to schooling has been further eroded by lack of future job opportunities. Amongst some Aboriginal youth, a defensive, oppositional social identity encourages academic failure through peer pressure. Indigenous students’ poor academic performance is publicly highlighted through performance benchmarking, without adequate contextual explanation. The juvenile justice system and behaviour management approaches to classroom discipline within schools also tend to disrupt Indigenous students' engagement with schooling. Government policy towards the Indigenous population tends to be fragmented and crisis-driven. Schools have struggled to maintain partnerships with welfare agencies and the police. The way forward involves openness about the impact of past policies, and funding to address them. It also involves partnerships between Indigenous communities, schools and government agencies; challenges to ongoing, embedded racism; close involvement of Indigenous professionals and advisors with government; and governance structures that combine centralised political authority with flexible local implementation in Indigenous communities.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
Social life and customs
'This is as good as it gets': classroom lessons and learning in challenging circumstances
Volume 31 Number 2, June 2008; Pages 109–127
Classrooms at disadvantaged schools typically work to particular ‘scripts’ which reduce stress for both students and teachers, but which also create serious obstacles to the improvement of student learning. The character of these classrooms is illustrated by the findings of the Changing Schools, Changing Times research project undertaken by the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Education. Between 2005 and 2007, the project investigated Year 8 classroom life at four NSW schools (three metropolitan and one rural) serving low-SES, culturally diverse communities. Events in a particular school day were documented in ‘Day Diaries’ by three observers: two university researchers and another teacher at the school. The records were later checked by the teacher taking the day’s classes. The four schools showed similar patterns: classroom discussions and interactions were more or less unvaried, and dominated by factual and procedural detail and undemanding, teacher-directed tasks. The students were generally compliant but disengaged. This pattern works very effectively to minimise emotional tensions for teacher and students and is part of a deeply entrenched culture. Efforts at reform tend to produce only superficial change. As Richard Elmore has said, ‘if you ask people to do high level work in the current culture, they will do low level work and call it high level work’ (see link to his podcast Resilence of teacher culture 2006). A radically new culture is needed, in which students make an informed contribution to their learning. The ‘curricula learning paradigm’ (reflecting industrial age work processes) must be replaced with an ‘interactive learning paradigm’ characteristically found in libraries and research centres and in the online environment, in which learners determine what they need to know case by case and learning institutions ‘provide learners with the technological tools and platforms to self-organise their own learning’. However, this learning paradigm is most easily adopted by privileged social layers already comfortable with individual empowerment and choice. Its adoption may simply reinforce existing social inequalities unless the difficult task of spreading it to disadvantaged social layers is accomplished.
Subject HeadingsNew South Wales (NSW)
Towards a constructivist pedagogy for Year 12 mathematics
Volume 22 Number 1, 2008; Pages 50–58
A constructivist Year 12 mathematics program has been found to improve students’ engagement and self-direction without impacting negatively on their university entrance scores. The program, implemented at the Australian Science and Mathematics School (ASMS) in South Australia, was trialled in 2004 with a cohort of students that had been exposed to constructivist and inquiry-based approaches in their Year 11 mathematics classes. As existing Year 12 textbooks tend to follow a very traditional teaching method, students made individual entries in their notebooks after each core investigation, effectively ‘creating their own textbook’. The classes focused on group work and effective oral communication of mathematics. Teachers spent very little time talking to the whole group, instead acting as facilitators in individual or small group work. A range of core and extension investigations were given to students. To share their group work, students presented impromptu ‘Unseen Orals’ to their peers using a whiteboard. ‘Public Presentation Pieces’ were also completed, which were more extended pieces of work that could be tackled individually or in groups. Rather than beginning with theory, the investigations presented contexts in which new mathematical ideas were implicit, causing students to develop the concepts and tools to solve them. The group work included time for students to discuss their ideas, conjectures, intuitions and ideas, and their animated discussions often spilled over into out-of-class hours. Students were strongly encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning throughout, and it sometimes proved challenging for teachers to avoid imposing their own thoughts and decisions. The syllabus was structured to include relatively few key ideas, so that instead of feeling rushed, teachers and students had time to focus on developing robust conceptual understandings. It was also designed to equip students with a feeling of competence and a positive attitude towards lifelong learning, instead of being purely exam-focused. Despite the explicit long-term focus, a preliminary analysis revealed students’ university entrance results to be equivalent, and probably increased, in relation to results obtained through the traditional approach.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Senior secondary education
From professional development to professional learning
June 2008; Pages 755–761
If teachers are to flexibly adapt to changing educational circumstances, a shift from professional development to professional learning is necessary. Professional development typically positions teachers as passive recipients of knowledge, often delivered by outside consultants in the form of motivational or informative talks or workshops. Professional learning positions teachers as active learners, collecting and analysing real data and coming up with ways to apply their findings. There are several implications for institutions that switch from professional development to professional learning. The first is a greater consideration of how time is used. Professional learning requires more time than professional development does, since repeated opportunities for coaching, mentoring, observing and data analysis are necessary. This means that professional learning often needs to be scheduled in a flexible manner. Appropriate learning activities are also crucial. The best professional learning activities are peer-to-peer and include action research, assessment design, critical friends groups, and lesson study. Space and location should also be considered, since professional learning activities must be primarily school-based. While professional development is often instigated by high-ranking administrators, professional learning must spring from a school’s actual needs, as identified by teachers and principals. The evaluation of professional learning needs to be based on results at three levels: teacher behaviour and changes to teaching practice; student behaviour; and student growth and achievement, as measured by a number of indicators. All involved must plan for role change, since professional learning often involves some fluidity in leadership and classroom teaching roles. Schools should also be ready for a culture change that values questioning and fosters a sense of continuous inquiry. Budgets can change significantly with a shift to professional learning. Instead of devoting funds towards bringing in outside speakers and consultants, the biggest expense becomes release time for teachers, including financial support for the days they spend following up on their learning, coaching and analysing their results.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Educational achievement in Maori: the roles of cultural identity and social disadvantage
Volume 52 Number 2, 2008; Pages 183–196
A recently published study has examined the relationship between Maori cultural identity, socioeconomic status and educational disadvantage. The data used came from 984 participants in the Christchurch Health and Development Study, a 25-year longitudinal study of one large cohort born in Christchurch in 1977. Participants were asked at age 21 about their family background, cultural identification, Maori language proficiency and participation in Maori cultural practices. Of the sample, 11.1 per cent self-identified as Maori, about half of whom had sole Maori ancestry. When educational outcomes at age 25 were analysed, participants with full or partial Maori ancestry showed significantly lower educational achievement than the New Zealand average. A higher percentage of Maori participants had no high school qualifications, and far fewer had attended university or gained a university degree. Those of mixed ancestry tended to perform better than those of sole Maori ethnic identity. The non-Maori participants had significantly better-educated parents and higher mean socioeconomic status at birth than both Maori groups. When the educational data was adjusted for socioeconomic factors, the differences between Maori and non-Maori groups disappeared on almost all measures. The only exception was the proportion obtaining university degrees, which remained significantly lower in the non-Maori groups even after controlling for socioeconomic factors. The results suggest that most Maori educational disadvantage is a consequence of socioeconomic disadvantage, rather than being due to the cultural marginalisation experienced by Maori groups. The study has significant implications for those designing programs to improve educational outcomes for Maori students. Many recently developed programs have focused on nurturing students’ Maori identity, but this may not be the best way to help children achieve at their best in school.
Equity in multicultural student assessment
Volume 42 Number 1, 2008; Pages 11–26
Recent reforms that favour large-scale, high-stakes testing as an assessment method in North America have been shown to disadvantage multicultural students. Black, Hispanic and First Nation students, togehter with other students from non-English-speaking backgrounds, have all been shown to perform more poorly on the tests. This achievement gap has continued to widen, with research suggesting that the large-scale tests are often culturally unfair and may exacerbate existing educational inequalities. Schools that serve multicultural students tend to perform less well on the tests, which leads them to narrow the curriculum around the test content. As the test items generally do not measure higher-order thinking skills, students at these schools become further disadvantaged. High-stakes testing has also been shown to be associated with decreased student retention rates, and may in fact push students to drop out of school. A number of educators and researchers have argued for changes in test content to make it ‘culture free’ or ‘culturally fair’, perhaps through the inclusion of performance-based assessment. However, factors other than content must also be addressed. The utilisation of test scores is also important. For example, the practice of using the tests to deny students a high school diploma or to place them in special education classes is inappropriate. Using test results to classify and rank schools is also inappropriate, and often causes skilled teachers to leave schools that have a high proportion of multicultural students. The reporting of test results may also portray multicultural students in a negative manner, for example through failing to consider that thresholds for ‘high’ and ‘low’ performance are often very close. Equality of educational opportunity must also be addressed, since multicultural student groups often attend schools with reduced funding, lower-quality teaching, a less rigorous curriculum, and less competent school management. Home-based factors such as family income and parent education levels act from the start to disadvantage many students from non-White backgrounds. A ‘value-added’ approach to assessment that considers student progress instead of set achievement levels would be challenging to implement, but would give a more accurate and unbiased picture of schools’ role in student assessment than the current model.
Outdoor education in senior schooling: clarifying the body of knowledge
Volume 12 Number 1, 2008; Pages 13–23
While core curriculum areas such as maths, science and languages are relatively standardised across Australia, outdoor education curricula vary substantially between states and territories. The body of knowledge and practice associated with formal outdoor education subjects has been influenced by state-specific contextual factors, ideologies and influential figures. Victoria was the first state to formally accredit a senior-level subject in the early 1980s. The subject was modified to incorporate a greater human development focus in the 1990s, and then expanded in 2001 to include more environmental science content. In Western Australia, a new syllabus is being implemented in 2008, while in Tasmania an outdoor leadership subject has also commenced in 2008. New South Wales currently has no formal Year 12 outdoor education course; however, outdoor recreation is available as an option in Year 11 personal development, health and physical education. Similarly, Queensland offers outdoor pursuits as optional inclusions in the physical education syllabus. Only two of six topics are common to all outdoor education programs. The two common categories are outdoor pursuit activities and journeys or expeditions. These core areas are extended by further topics that can be categorised as personal skills, place-based knowledge, environmental science and human/nature relationship critique. The development of personal skills such as self-awareness, self-esteem and ability to reflect is included in the official syllabus for several states. Place-based information specific to journeys and expeditions is evident in the South Australian and Victorian curricula, while environmental science content is most evident in the Victorian subject. Social and cultural critiques of human/nature relationships, for example considerations of Indigenous ways of knowing, are formally incorporated in the Victorian and new Western Australian curricula. Of the four above pathways that can be used to extend outdoor pursuit activities and journeys, the author favours a combination of place-based education and human/nature relationship critique. Outdoor education should be designed around the model of the ‘inquisitive naturalist’, positioned so that students can observe and critique purely scientific ways of knowing about nature.
Subject HeadingsEnvironmental Education
Longer learning periods for the secondary school day: what does research say?
Number 1, 2008; Pages 40–43
Recent trends in education emphasise greater student autonomy. Reformed curricula such as the New Zealand Curriculum aim to develop students’ skills in questioning, discussing peers’ work and reflecting on the learning process. These complex skills take time to develop, and extending class periods has been suggested to make lessons more compatible with the curriculum’s requirements. A 2006 review of research literature on extending class periods in US schools has yielded contradictory results. The most consistent positive finding is that both teachers and students like having longer periods, though the reasons for this are unclear. Teachers mentioned other benefits such as increased attendance rates, more time for student–teacher interactions, better discipline and more time to try new teaching strategies. Some teachers felt longer periods reduced pressure during the day and they enjoyed the longer time slots for preparation. Students also commented on the increase in student–teacher interactions, as well as having more time for in-depth study and a more relaxed school day. In many cases students commented that they were receiving better grades, and this was reflected in their internal assessment results but far less conclusively in external, standardised test results. Students at some schools liked the longer periods because they were often allowed to start their homework during class time, leaving less to be completed at home. Longer periods tend to require more interactive, less lecture-style teaching to keep students engaged, and teachers often find changing to this format difficult without support. Appropriate professional development would train teachers to plan and pace lessons appropriately, create learning environments that allow for flexibility and interaction, and find ways to share the ownership of learning with students. Deeper questions of the nature and ultimate goal of learning should also be addressed. Disadvantages of longer periods may include behaviour management problems, timetabling unevenness that creates ‘hard’ and ‘easy’ days, and student boredom if their teachers use an overly lecturing style.
Subject HeadingsClass periods
Art curriculum influences: a national survey
Volume 49 Number 4, 2008; Pages 358–370
Researchers in the USA have investigated the factors that most influence art teachers in selecting content for their classes. The study involved a survey of 437 K–12 art teachers with up to seven years of teaching experience. The surveyed group was 85 per cent female, aged between 22 and 57, and from a range of suburban, rural and urban areas. The teachers were asked about the teacher preparation programs they had undertaken and about the content used in their own art classrooms. The teacher preparation approaches cited most often were Discipline-Based Art Education and Studio Practice (involving art forms, media and materials). Multicultural and Child-Centred approaches were less popular. Five main curriculum themes emerged after analysis: Multicultural, Identity and Issues, Art Disciplines, Modern and Postmodern, and Graphics and Visual Culture. A range of more specific content areas, such as Western European Art, Modern Art, Aesthetics, Asian Art and African-American Art were used moderately, while World Politics, Ecological Issues, Latino Art and The Body were less frequently included. There was a direct correlation between exposure to content areas during teacher preparation and inclusion of those areas in the curriculum. Most teachers felt able to implement the art curriculum as they had been taught, though several identified lack of resources or insufficient professional development as reasons why this was not possible. Teachers were also influenced by personal interests, educational standards and student interests or needs. While the results highlight the effectiveness of current teacher preparation programs, it may also be beneficial for programs to address ways for teachers to adapt to personal and student interests.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsVisual arts
Teaching and learning
Podcasting and oral language
April 2008; Pages 11–18
Oral language development fosters skills in thinking, reading and writing, and is an important foundation for life skills and employability. The author undertook a study of how students’ oral language skills can be enhanced by the use of podcasting in the classroom. The study involved an initial survey of teachers in 37 classrooms across New Zealand. Teachers reported dissatisfaction with the quality and quantity of the oral language teaching they delivered. The research then focused on case studies of three girls and three boys of diverse ability levels who attend the same primary school. The students undertook a podcasting project one hour each day, two days a week over nine weeks. Their oracy skills were evaluated using the New Zealand Ministry of Education’s Interpersonal Speaking Matrix of Progress Indicators. The students were found to have developed skills in speaking and listening, and in the planning and preparation of the podcasts, where they took on different roles such as directing and editing. The feedback they gave each other during the project increased in quality over time, extending from practical issues to discussion of the content of each other’s podcasts. The students improved their vocabulary knowledge and their ability to write and redraft scripts. The article also reports on a further stage of the project that involved a survey of students and their teachers in a class covering Year 4, 5 and 6. Overall, one of the main benefits found for podcasting was that it encouraged formerly quiet students to speak more often in class, developing their literacy skills.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Young people and sun safety: the role of attitudes, norms and control factors
Volume 19 Number 1, 2008; Pages 45–51
Sun-protection behaviour tends to decline in adolescence, and understanding this decline is important for the design of sun protection awareness programs. Between March and May 2006, a group of researchers surveyed 858 Queenslanders aged between 12 and 20 about their attitudes and behaviours regarding sun protection. Participants included school, university and TAFE students, as well as young working people. Of those surveyed, 86.5 per cent were of Caucasian descent. The survey questions asked about sun-protection behaviours such as wearing a hat, sunglasses, SPF30+ sunscreen and a long-sleeved shirt. Participants were also asked about their attitudes towards the perceived costs (such as looking unfashionable or being uncomfortable) and benefits (such as avoiding skin cancer) of sun-protection behaviour. After a two-week interval they completed a follow-up questionnaire that asked about their behaviour in the intervening period. Statistical analysis divided participants into two groups, ‘protectors’ and ‘non-protectors’, based on their frequency of sun protection behaviour. Participants’ beliefs about whether family and peers thought they should sun-protect was a significant predictor of their behaviour. Their beliefs about motivating factors (for example being reminded of or meeting skin cancer sufferers) and barriers (for example laziness or expense) were also predictive of behaviour; however, beliefs about the advantages and disadvantages of sun protection did not significantly predict their behaviour. These results suggest that programs encouraging young people to sun-protect should not simply educate them about the costs and benefits of sun protection. Instead, they should emphasise the perceived approval of friends and family members, perhaps through slogans such as ‘friends don’t let their friends burn’. Strategies to compensate for laziness and forgetting should also be incorporated, perhaps through reminder bangles or notices and cultivating the attitude that sun protection is not effortful or time-consuming.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
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