Two roads to high performance
October 2008; Pages 26–30
The school systems of Singapore and Finland have both achieved excellence in terms of students’ academic results and retention rates. The systems have significant features in common beyond the fact that each country has between 560,000 and 580,000 students. In both systems the early primary years focus on literacy and numeracy and personal skills such as effective communication. Early primary students who show a need for additional instruction or other assistance receive it promptly, equipping them well for the start of the core curriculum in Grades 3–10. Both systems encourage active learning by students. Both systems cater to ‘21st century’ skills including language learning, problem solving, technology, learning how to learn and ‘taking responsibility for one’s actions’. Both systems also value and reward teachers, and teaching positions are highly sought after. Singapore teachers are selected from the top third of applicants and must display a passion for the job as well as academic aptitude. The Finnish education system accepts only 13 per cent of primary teacher applicants and 22 per cent of secondary teacher applicants, and fewer than half of maths teacher applicants. Significant differences exist alongside these commonalities. Teachers in Finland have considerable autonomy in the application of a municipal curriculum based on national standards. Finland has college entry exams but no national exam requirements, nor is there a formal national process for teacher evaluation. The article also describes the differing academic and vocational pathways at secondary level.
Teaching and learning
Vocational education and training
Volume 66 Number 1, September 2008; Pages 84–85
First-year principals face a number of challenges, many of which are specific to today’s educational climate: increased accountability, more inclusive special education policy and the need to cater to an increasingly broad range of student backgrounds. Most aspiring principals are highly motivated and intelligent, but many lack experience in dealing with these and related issues. Research has recently been conducted to inform a workshop for young aspiring principals. The research involved interviews with experienced principals and teachers, as well as principals who had recently completed their first year in the job. A number of common themes emerged. First, every one of those interviewed commented on the importance of building relationships. New principals should try to get to know as many people as they can in the school community, and on a first-name basis where possible. They are advised not to hide behind their desks but to show staff and parents who they are and what they believe in. It is important to come out of the office and be present in classrooms, staffrooms and on the school grounds; equally, face-to-face communication should be favoured over email. One respondent suggested principals should ‘banish laptops from staff meetings’. Second, it is important to listen closely. Teachers, parents and students have unique perspectives and expertise that are often extremely helpful in solving the problems that they describe. The secretary is also a valuable gateway to aspects of school culture. Third, it is important to stop and think before making decisions. Data from a range of sources should be considered, and it is completely acceptable to ask for a day to think about requests or suggestions. Finally, finding a mentor or critical friend is extremely helpful, either on an individual basis or through a group of principals created for this purpose. Notably, most of the suggestions do not match the lists of standards and objectives that tend to be the mainstay of principal preparation programs.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
Summer 2008; Pages 15–17
School education must try to ensure students’ successful transition from school, remove entrenched inequities, and prepare young people for the modern world of rapid information flows and global networks which are reshaping knowledge, social relationships and values. Leading education systems are responding to these challenges by offering personalised learning and diverse educational pathways, and by preparing students for lifelong learning. A range of initiatives in Victoria have demonstrated innovative ways to address some of these issues. The article describes three innovations that have informed Victoria’s new Blueprint for Education and Early Childhood Development, and which, from localised beginnings, are now being applied more widely. Firstly, new spaces and buildings have been built, designed to meet current educational challenges. Between 2004 and 2007 small capital works grants funded new facilities and additional teachers at 162 Victorian secondary schools. One example is a multipurpose learning facility at Ballarat High School which has played a role in turning around problems in Year 9 literacy and numeracy outcomes and engagement and retention levels. Another example is the new multimedia centre at Mt Beauty Secondary College. The centre has developed students’ skills in ICT, communication and problem solving, and promoted student engagement, attendance and community involvement. A second area of innovation has been new measures to assist teachers through coaching from experts and by setting up formal feedback mechanisms from peers. Long traditions of isolated individualised teaching are giving way to discussions of professional practice among teams of teachers. The Literacy Improvement Teams initiative has been popularising the use of coaches for teacher professional development, with improvements in literacy outcomes for primary students whose teachers are involved. A third area of innovation is in local regeneration projects in disadvantaged areas, such as the Broadmeadows Schools Regeneration Project. Besides offering material support to needy children, these projects are stimulating new ways of thinking about education provision, community links and student learning.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Teaching and learning
The problem with maths
Summer 2008; Page 37–39
Language skills are often deeply involved in the assessment of maths. Language may present barriers to understanding both in terms of student understanding of a written problem, and in whether a teacher is able to understand the student’s written response. It is possible to minimise language confusion by emphasising the use of formal symbols rather than words; however, this solution would limit the range of mathematical skills assessed, and is not appropriate in the assessment of applied numeracy skills. The written expression of maths problems should be as clear as possible. While some ‘math lingo’ or mathematically precise terms are needed, this terminology should be carefully explained and assessed separately from students’ mathematical skills. One complication is that some mathematical terminology is used inconsistently, for example in the differing meanings of ‘trapezium’ in British and American dictionaries. Written mathematical expressions should be as unambiguous as possible, even if this makes questions slightly more lengthy. In general, open tasks with few prior conditions can afford to emphasise clarity, but these tasks place greater demands on the written mathematical expression of students. Several strategies can be used to improve written communication of maths. The vocabulary of maths should be taught with technical terms identified explicitly in syllabus documents. Assessment tasks should vary in the language demands they impose. When preparing maths test questions, teachers might use people as examples to encourage use of active over passive voice. Short sentences are preferable, even if they require more words overall. The word ‘if’ tends to be overused at the start of sentences in mathematical problems, which may confuse younger students. All words that play a logical role, such as ‘and’, ‘or’ and ‘each’, should be used with care. Diagrams are excellent inclusions, but teachers should avoid re-explaining everything in the diagram. More generally, curriculum documents should include glossaries, and externally published tests should include lists of technical terms used and their definitions. Helpful websites include MathWorld, Cut the Knot and the ICAS-Maths Glossary Draft consultation version.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Volume 2 Number 1, September 2008
A co-teaching arrangement combining special education and mainstream Year 6 maths classes has led to substantial improvement in the results of the combined class. The two teachers involved worked in tandem to present the subject material and clarify it as needed. The idea came out of an informal partnership between the two teachers, who presented it to the principal and had it accepted as a pilot program. The classes were integrated as smoothly as possible, with an effort to seat children in small groups of heterogeneous ability. Time for co-planning was found to be essential, and was conducted via weekly in-person meetings as well as email and mobile telephone. The mainstream teacher did most of the presentation, with the special education teacher asking clarifying questions or offering alternative strategies and explanations as needed. Movement is incorporated into the lessons, and higher-achieving children have the opportunity to act as peer coaches for the special education students. The special education class had done considerable work on organisational skills, and was able to help the mainstream class to develop these skills. Test scores increased substantially, and the inclusive model will be implemented throughout the school in the coming year.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
United States of America (USA)
Co-constructing an understanding of creativity in drama education that draws on neuropsychological concepts
Volume 50 Number 2, June 2008; Pages 187–201
A training program has introduced second-year teaching students to concepts from neuropsychology. In contrast to a simple one-way transfer of information from neuroscientist to teacher, the program was designed around a process of ‘co-construction’, in which the 16 participants learnt about concepts and elaborated on them based on their own teaching experience. The topic covered was creativity, which prior to the workshops had been seen by most participants as a spontaneous, unteachable process. While there are many different definitions of creativity, it is commonly agreed to contrast with 'uncreative' qualities such as repetition, lack of innovation and originality, and the most obvious way of looking at a problem. In order to develop the student teachers’ understanding of how to foster creativity in the classroom, several workshops introduced and explored a simple cognitive model of creativity. The model includes two basic types of thought processes: analytical (A) and generative (G). Analytical thinking is used for critical evaluation, while generative thinking is associated with a less focused approach and a tendency to link previously unrelated concepts. Both are essential to the creative process: a generative state is desirable when thinking of divergent alternatives, and an analytical state is desirable when evaluating these alternatives for quality and potential usefulness. In this model, creativity can be seen as flexibility in switching between the two modes. Because the states are supported by different conditions (for example analytical thinking benefits from rewards or the minor stress of being assessed, while generative thinking benefits from context changes, curiosity or fascination, and relaxation), teachers can directly influence the creative process in their classrooms. Discussing brain imaging data in the workshops had the effect of concretising information for participants, but did provoke some oversimplification of the brain–behaviour relationship, which the trainers were careful to correct. Case studies of individuals who were ‘stuck’ in either analytical or generative mode were then examined. When asked about their own experience, the trainee teachers reflected on times when changing context or holding off on assessment had helped students move from an analytical to a generative thinking style.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Adolescents and alcohol abuse
Volume 33 Number 2, September 2008; Pages 62–66
Although recent results show a slight decline in the alcohol consumption of Australian teenagers, 28 per cent of Australia’s secondary students still engage in binge drinking. Such drinking presents significant short-term and long-term risks for their mental and physical health. Adolescent drinking must be viewed in the wider context of Australian alcohol culture, which is pervasive and tends to be associated with adulthood in the minds of adolescents. The rise of alcopops and ready-mixed drinks along with the formidable marketing power possessed by alcohol consortiums have also contributed to the drinking habits of young people. Though the problem is society-wide, school-based programs have been shown to help. The School Health and Alcohol Harm Reduction Project (SHAHRP) is run by the National Drug Research Centre at Curtin University of Technology. Rather than focusing on abstinence, the program advocates a harm minimisation approach. It is designed to reduce the level of alcohol-related harm in students who drink alcohol, as well as for those students who do not consume alcohol but socialise with others who do. An evaluation of the program using a sample of 2,300 students at 14 Perth schools found that nearly three years later, the alcohol consumption of those who had participated was 20 per cent lower than those who had not participated. Participants also experienced substantially less harm from their own and others’ alcohol use than non-participants. The CLIMATE Schools: Alcohol Module (CAM) is another program, using an initial computer-based component followed up by a classroom component. An evaluation of CAM found short-term reductions in alcohol-related harm for both males and females as a result of the program. Positive effects were sustained six months later for females, but not for males. The success of these programs suggests that school-based programs, if backed by legislative and political support, have the potential to reduce the harm suffered by young people as a result of alcohol.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
So much more than 'sex ed': teen sexuality as vehicle for improving academic success and democratic education for diverse youth
Volume 45 Number 3, September 2008; Pages 631–667
A sex education program using students as ‘peer educators’ has demonstrated positive effects on the confidence, academic achievement and civic engagement of young people from diverse backgrounds. Adolescent sexuality is often seen to be peripheral or even detrimental to school and learning. However, it can in fact be a powerful resource for engaging students and developing their critical thinking and reflective awareness. This program, described using the pseudonym ESPERANZA, included discussions of healthy and unhealthy relationships, romance, sexual orientation and gender, as well as the more traditional information on safe sex and biological processes involved in puberty and pregnancy. An emphasis was placed on the critical examination of the dominant discourses of sexuality and their flow-on social effects. ESPERANZA was created in 1987 as a community-based, non-profit organisation designed to inform teenagers about STDs, HIV/AIDS and contraception. The program employs teenagers as peer educators of different ethnic backgrounds, many of whom have had a chequered academic history. A number of the peer educators identified as gay. After approximately 20 hours’ training, the peer educators combine to deliver presentations, workshops and performances in local high schools. They are also given information to distribute to their peers at their own schools. Extensive observations of training sessions and interviews with the peer educators, conducted between 2001 and 2002, demonstrated their shift from typically ‘sex-crazed’ to ‘sex-smart’ and highlighted the potential for transformation that the program allows. As their involvement progressed, the peer educators became increasingly conscious of the trust put in them by other students and the importance of helping their peers through information. The peer educators became more politically active and aware based on their involvement. Those who had previously struggled academically became able to see themselves as capable of learning and achieving. The program also helped to develop creative writing, communication and literacy skills through the drafting and performance of dramatic scripts. The program’s success indicates that educators should consider using peer educators for issues surrounding sexuality, as well as incorporating wider information on relationships and gender discourses.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsSex education
The reading habits and literacy attitudes of inservice and prospective teachers: results of a questionnaire survey
Volume 59 Number 4, September 2008; Pages 313–321
Previous research has suggested that many pre-service teachers do not have well-developed personal reading habits. Despite having an acceptable level of reading ability, they are ‘aliterate’: lacking engagement with reading and the motivation to read in their leisure time. A survey completed by 747 students at a US graduate school of education has supported these concerns. Respondents were asked to report on the amount of reading they had done over the summer on a scale of 1 (no summer reading) to 5 (two or more books completed). Open-ended questions were asked to gauge respondents’ attitudes towards reading, and were coded according to the level of enthusiasm for reading they showed. Questions were also included on the emphasis of their own literacy instruction at school, early reading experiences and college-level reading experiences. Results showed that 15 per cent of participants had done no summer reading at all, while 25 per cent had read one book and 48 per cent two or more. In terms of attitude towards reading, 17 per cent found little or no pleasure in reading and 47 per cent reported being enthusiastic or highly enthusiastic readers. When respondents’ own instructional emphasis was considered, there was no significant difference in enthusiasm related to the degree to which reading for finding facts had been emphasised during their school years. The enthusiastic readers, however, noted a greater instructional emphasis on reading for aesthetics and textual interpretations in high school than did the unenthusiastic readers. Enthusiastic readers were also more likely to say that their early reading experiences were positive and to mention their parents as a strong influence. To address this important issue, teacher education courses should include explicit discussion of aliteracy and the importance of sharing one’s own passion for reading with students.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Teaching and learning
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