The revolving door doesn't work: poverty and effective schooling
Volume 30 Number 4, 2008; Pages 29–30
A recent study of Tasmanian government schools has examined the characteristics of high-performing schools in high-poverty communities. A preliminary research review indicated a number of the common characteristics of these schools, such as having clear expectations, supportive services, measurable and enforced school goals, teamwork, a positive school culture and successful principalship. The principals of all Tasmanian government schools were surveyed in relation to these characteristics, with 131 principals (67 per cent) returning their surveys. Twenty-five schools were identified as high-needs. They tended to be in urban or suburban areas, probably due to the pattern of welfare housing provision in Tasmania. Principals in high-needs schools had less experience on average than their low-needs counterparts, and were also less able to articulate their conceptions of a successful school. They spent less time away from their schools than low-needs principals, and dedicated more time to working directly with students. When student performance was analysed, lower performance was correlated with measures of poverty. While relatively few successful principals were identified, those who were successful were found to be more independent of the structures within which they worked, and were focused on student outcomes rather than the approval of those higher in the hierarchy. Taken together, the results suggest that poverty does indeed have a detrimental effect on student outcomes; however, successful principals can do much to neutralise this effect.
The role of families in preventing alcohol-related harm among young people
Research indicates that parents and carers retain a strong influence over the alcohol consumption of their teenage children. However, parents may struggle to help their children due to lack of knowledge, poor communication skills and an unhelpful approach to their role. Parents may also be reluctant to ask for help for fear that their parenting will be criticised or that they are poor role models. Professionals working with young people can offer parents knowledge, advice and reassurance to help overcome these obstacles. Parents should be made aware of evidence that teenagers generally look much more to their parents as role models than is commonly thought. It is important that parents do not ‘pathologise’ the challenging behaviour teenagers tend to display during normal adolescent development. It is also inadvisable for parents to ‘befriend’ their children in the sense of surrendering parental responsibilities, which exposes their children to negative peer pressures. Parents should not be disoriented by sensationalised media reports of teenage binge drinking and drug abuse. At the same time, they need to counteract the media’s promotion of alcohol consumption as ‘normal’ and as a sign of adult status. Parents should be made aware that their influence over their children’s drinking is greatest prior to the start of alcohol consumption, and that this influence includes setting clear rules for the consumption of alcohol and restricting the types of films children watch. Children’s consumption of alcohol in some European countries is frequently cited. However, such drinking has tended to be linked to eating and to close-knit community activity, and in any case drinking by European youth no longer reflects this traditional pattern. The second half of the article provides a substantial listing of online resources for professionals and parents.
Subject HeadingsHealth education
Social life and customs
How schools can support children who experience loss and death
Volume 36 Number 4, November 2008; Pages 411–424
The social taboos associated with death and bereavement make it challenging for schools to respond to students who have experienced a loss. Other circumstances may also prevent due attention being given to grieving children, such as the urge to protect them from strong emotions associated with bereavement, the belief that children cannot comprehend the meaning of death, and teachers’ lack of confidence and training in dealing with such matters. Between 4 and 7 per cent of children will experience the death of a parent before age 16, and figures for parental separation are far higher. Signs of bereavement in children may include a decline in academic performance, regressive behaviour, feelings of guilt and isolation, withdrawal or temper tantrums and other ways of expressing anger or seeking attention. Teenagers may become involved with substance abuse, petty crime and other self-destructive behaviour. Retaining bereaved teenagers at school appears to be crucial in helping them cope, and ensuring that school is a safe, positive, structured environment is very important. Ideally, initial teacher training should address loss in an introductory fashion, followed by additional in-service training. Helpful resources include the booklet Wise Before the Event, which contains advice for dealing with school-based crises, and the Lost for Words project resources, which are designed to prepare teachers in advance of any actual death. Returning to school after a death can be difficult for children, so teachers can help by preparing the rest of the class and by making themselves available to the student. Staying in contact with the family is strongly advised. While the structure of school life should be maintained, the student may need the freedom to leave a class temporarily if they are feeling overwhelmed, or to telephone home if they become anxious that the other parent might also die. Integrating loss and death into the curriculum can help students to see death as a part of life, and possible activities include commemorating anniversaries of death, closely observing the cycle of seasons or the life cycle of butterflies and frogs, and reading stories such as Charlotte’s Web.
Parent and child
Understanding curriculum through policy analysis: A study of the upper secondary history curriculum in Western Australia
Volume 28 Number 3, 2008; Pages 13–26
The authors report on a study of trends in curriculum planning for senior years’ history in Western Australia between 1980 and 2000, which are discussed in relation to wider social changes and theoretical frameworks relevant to curriculum development. For most of last century, Western Australia’s senior secondary history curriculum was in the hands of an autonomous university-based authority, effectively in coalition with elite private schools. Historical knowledge was chronologically organised and transmitted through didactic teaching and rote learning. Largely uncontested, knowledge was based around grand themes such as the ongoing conquest of the environment. According to MFD Young this approach to curriculum reflected a period when post-compulsory schooling was almost entirely concerned with preparation for university. After 1980 a number of social changes began to influence the curriculum. The proportion of students staying on for the post-compulsory years greatly increased, but university was no longer the most common destination for school leavers. Governments globally sought to bring education under closer political control in order to pursue their economic and social purposes. One of those purposes was to shift the emphasis in education from acquisition of academic content knowledge to broader skills and competencies, in response to economic changes. In school history teaching there was a new emphasis on analysis and interpretation of primary sources, and knowledge became understood as tentative. The authors studied the impact of these changes in Western Australia, interviewing participants in curriculum development and analysing policy documents. Major revisions to the Western Australian curriculum took place in 1983–84, between 1985 and 1990, and in 1996–97. Curriculum decision making became more centralised around the State Ministry of Education. The number of people actively involved in the production of syllabus statements was found to be very small. Centrally decided assessment policy was used as a means to influence teaching: the growing importance of the final year examination ‘meant that teachers taught principally to that’. The authors also draw on Anne Looney’s conception that curriculum has become a form of public policy, within a technical, managerialist paradigm, and apply theoretical frameworks developed by Lesley Vidovich and by Stephen Ball.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
Western Australia (WA)
What research says about ... balancing the concrete and the abstract
Volume 66 Number 3, November 2008; Pages 86–87
One of the most important decisions in teaching is whether to present new material in concrete form, such as with manipulatives or direct examples, or as abstract theoretical knowledge. Research suggests that a combination of the two approaches is most effective. This is particularly the case for science and maths. For example, the proven method of concreteness fading introduces a topic in concrete terms and progressively increases the level of abstraction. Concrete visual aids have also been shown to help primary school maths students learn the concept of estimation. Teachers can use this research information to plan their lessons. An initial focus on concrete examples is advisable, followed by a cycle of abstraction and the incorporation of more concrete examples. For instance, a science teacher teaching genetics might begin with Mendel’s pea plants, perhaps using real plants or pictures, and show how cross-fertilisation produces different patterns of observable characteristics in the plants. The teacher can then introduce more abstract concepts, being careful to link in the concrete representations. Students can then be encouraged to think about how what they have learnt might apply in other situations and to other species. It then becomes possible to loop back and cover the pea plants in more detail and at a higher level of abstraction, moving between concrete and abstract as students’ understanding deepens. The above studies, as well as a number of others, are described in the US Department of Education resource Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning.
Subject HeadingsEducation research
Teaching and learning
Formative assessment that empowers
Volume 66 Number 3, November 2008; Pages 52–57
Fundamentally, formative assessment is about sharing information between teacher and student. Encouraging a two-way flow of information empowers students, helps teachers target lessons more accurately, and brings out students’ natural desire to learn. Teachers in Armstrong School District in Pennsylvania, USA recently participated in a three-year program using the Teaching as Intentional Learning model, which has teachers investigate the questions that arise during their regular teaching practice. First-year teachers are required to participate in the program, which was designed to help teachers progressively integrate formative assessment into their teaching. Large gains were seen in students’ motivation, self-regulation and time on task. Performance on state-mandated standardised tests also improved considerably, with 7.4 per cent of students scoring at Below Basic level in 2008 as compared with 22.2 per cent in 2006. The teachers’ understandings of what constitutes formative assessment developed over time. Initially, many realised that many of their current practices could be considered formative assessment; however, they also tended to overestimate the degree to which they actually did explain learning goals or provide specific, useful feedback. As the program progressed, they collaboratively developed and then implemented formative assessment strategies in their classrooms, often changing their conceptions of appropriate feedback and information sharing. Many teachers found that improved record keeping was useful, and telling students what is being written about them is an excellent strategy. Descriptive feedback is the most effective type of feedback, particularly when explicitly linked to the learning target. Students should be given achievable steps to improving their work, clearly being shown the effects of specific strategies they have used.
Gender issues in young children's literature
Volume 26 Number 3, Autumn 2008; Pages 108–114
Despite gains in gender equality over the past decades, a significant amount of children’s literature still portrays stereotyped attitudes. The importance of literature in contributing to children’s developing sense of identity, and increasing awareness of the opportunities available to them, makes gender stereotyping a particular problem. Research has consistently found that male characters dominate in the majority of children’s books. Where female characters are present they tend to be represented as passive, domestic and concerned with their appearance, while male characters are portrayed as active and creative problem solvers. Illustrations show a similar ‘boys do, girls are’ pattern, depicting males as active adventurers and females as passive observers. Even recent books praised as non-sexist often show a girl or woman adopting only narrow aspects of traditional male gender roles, and these female characters are usually depicted as contrasting with a ‘normal’ pattern of female behaviour that is domestic, powerless and subordinate. Further, until recently there have been very few portrayals of male characters in typically feminine, nurturing or care-giving roles. When selecting books to read in the classroom, teachers should aim to choose gender-fair books, preferably with well-rounded male and female characters that have distinct individual personalities. Combining readings of traditional and non-traditional books is a useful practice to draw students’ attention to gender stereotypes and their effects.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Children's ideas about school history and why they matter
Volume 132, September 2008; Pages 40–48
Despite pressure in the British school system from condensed curriculums and the Opening Minds curriculum framework, recent research suggests that history is enjoyed by the majority of students. Pupils in Years 7 to 9 at twelve English schools were surveyed and interviewed, with results coming from around 1,700 questionnaires and 160 students’ participation in focus groups. History appears to have become more popular over time, with both boys and girls now rating it the fourth most popular subject and the most popular ‘academic’ subject. There were clear between-school differences in popularity, with students tending to enjoy history more when the teaching approach was an interactive one that included role play, debate and group work. However, this relationship was not straightforward: the school where history was rated as most enjoyable showed few examples of interactive approaches, while high interactiveness was not always associated with high enjoyment. Video material was rated highly by students, with the qualification that it should be used strategically and not as a ‘soft option’. The most popular activities were role play or drama and discussion or debate, while the least popular were written work and exercises from textbooks or worksheets. In relation to written work, students disliked writing essays but enjoyed creative writing such as a Black Death story. This does not mean that essay writing should be abandoned, but it is important to consider why essays are difficult for students and the kind of support that might make them easier. The topics studied had an impact on learning and engagement, with the most consistently positive comments coming from Year 9 students studying the First World War or the Holocaust. The majority of students said that history was a useful subject, but when asked to explain why, their responses were disappointingly vague. Some were able to articulate the relevance of learning about the past to understanding the present, but most responses were tautological (‘because people need to learn about it’) or referred to future employment as a history teacher, museum employee or archaeologist. This suggests teachers should be more explicit about the benefits of learning about history.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
The new constituency: welcoming LGBT-headed families into our schools
Volume 68 Number 1, Autumn 2008; Pages 95–99
An increasing number of children enrolling at school come from LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender)-headed households. To encourage parents from this group to actively participate in the school community, collaboration and sensitivity are needed. While the process will vary from school to school, it is possible to give some broad guidelines for supporting these parents and their children. First, administrators should honestly consider their own degree of comfort with the issue, as this will have a flow-on effect on the entire school’s approach. Administrators and teachers might consider finding out more about the topic, including subtleties in language distinction, important historical landmarks, and the wider social dynamics involved. US-based organisations such as the Gay Lesbian and Straight Educators’ Network (GLSEN) and Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE) and local centres can be extremely valuable. To ensure prospective parents feel welcome, documents should refer to ‘parents’ instead of ‘mothers and fathers’, and there should be open discussion of the school’s support for LGBT households. Once students are enrolled, administrators can develop personal connections with parents, asking them for any advice and suggestions they might have. Parent–teacher relationships should be fostered, and some LGBT parents may find guidance in establishing connections with other parents helpful. Events such as invited speakers, special assemblies or photo exhibits can provide all students with an opportunity to learn about diverse family structures and the meaning of the rainbow flag. Teachers can be supported by explicit discussions of the school’s expectations in relation to these parents and children, and by the opportunity to share their experiences and queries with other teachers in a safe environment. Adapting the curriculum to embrace these families should be done in as fluid a manner as possible, and it is important to note that discussing diverse family structures with young children does not mean that more adult issues such as sexuality should also be discussed at this level. Holding regular sessions in which participants consider practical scenarios, such as what to do if one child uses words such as ‘faggot’ or ‘so gay’ to insult another, can also be highly useful.
Parent and child
Parent and teacher
Educational aspirations in inner city schools
Volume 34 Number 4, October 2008; Pages 249–267
A 2005 study in England examined factors influencing the educational aspirations of different ethnic groups in very disadvantaged inner city schools. A questionnaire was completed by over 800 students aged 12–14. Focus groups were held with 48 of the students, selected by teachers to represent different ability levels and ethnic groups at each participating school. White students were found to have the lowest educational aspirations, and those from Caribbean backgrounds also had relatively low expectations. Aspirations were high among Black African, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and ‘Asian other’ groups. No significant variations in educational aspirations were detected by gender or year level. Aspirations were found to align closely with the students’ concept of themselves academically, with levels of peer support on academic matters, and with the educational expectations from the immediate and extended families. The families of white students usually anticipated few professional opportunities for students and wished them to take up trades, which were not seen to require high levels of education. There was evidence that students from immigrant communities were strongly influenced by the status of different types of jobs in their countries of origin, and were driven by these judgements to pursue higher levels of education. Despite high educational aspirations, Black African and Asian students had the lowest educational results for age 14. These students’ drive to remain in education may reflect anxiety that racial discrimination would affect them in workplaces and would increase their risk of unemployment after leaving school. To raise the educational aspirations of some groups of students, schools need to help them navigate career and life pathways, compensating where necessary for the lack of such support in the students’ own ethnic communities. As part of this process schools ‘will need to see themselves as cultural institutions’ able to connect with and influence the lives and values of their students.
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
Social life and customs
Parent and child
Volume 66 Number 3, November 2008; Pages 32–37
Independent classroom exercises such as completing workbook pages or reading comprehension exercises seldom require students to take real responsibility for their own learning. Students who can successfully complete these tasks are usually those who already understand the material. For true independent learning, students need more than such ‘busywork’. The transfer of responsibility from teacher to student should be gradual, with students receiving plenty of support at each stage. It is crucial that the purpose of learning be made clear early in the process, and that each task is clearly aligned with this goal. Teacher modelling is indispensable for cultivating independent learning. Humans are wired to imitate other humans, and seeing an adult complete a task gives students a concrete example to follow. Teachers can model their thought processes through thinking aloud or showing students their written notes, demonstrating how an expert goes about performing the task. For example, teachers can model aloud how they choose appropriate reading comprehension strategies, or how they might guess the meaning of an unfamiliar word, perhaps through context clues or by ‘looking inside the word’ at prefixes, suffixes or roots. Teachers can also model how and when to read text features such as tables, charts or figures, since students are often unclear about how to extract information from these features. After modelling, students should be given the opportunity to engage in collaborative work. This gives them more responsibility while retaining the support of their peers and the classroom environment. It is important to ensure that groups are given tasks that genuinely call for interdependence, along with time to interact and a clearly structured role for each group member. Teachers can provide guided instruction and scaffolding as further support when needed. It is important that students are not asked to take on full responsibility for their learning before they are ready to do so. Independent work at home should usually be designed to reinforce and deepen students’ understanding of the concepts covered in class.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
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