Productivity and participation: a national perspective
10 November 2008
The National Curriculum Board has set out a set of principles and specifications, outlined in the Shape of the National Curriculum document, for the new national curriculum. The national curriculum will above all be designed to clarify what students need to be taught, viewed in terms of students’ educational entitlements rather than as a detailed prescriptive checklist. It is also designed to set high standards for all students and to develop solid foundational skills as a base for higher-level expertise. The curriculum documents will be brief, reflective of local contexts and accessible electronically, with embedded links to resources, examples of good practice and samples of student work. The curriculum will be written with beginning teachers in mind and an effort has been made to make it of practical value for teachers in terms of time and resources. De-cluttering the curriculum has been a priority for its designers, resulting in strategic selections of content rather than exhaustive coverage of certain curriculum areas. There is also an emphasis on general capabilities. It is acknowledged, however, that capacities such as creativity and problem-solving, while often viewed to be general, are in fact domain-specific and need to be addressed separately in their respective subject areas. Genuinely general capacities such as working with others, managing one’s own learning and monitoring one’s own learning can be developed through pedagogical choices in any of the subject areas; however they must be specifically addressed within those subject areas or they will not be covered at all. There will also be a number of ‘general perspectives’ across the curriculum such as cultural sensitivity, engaged citizenship and commitment to sustainable patterns of living. In maths, there will be an effort to allocate time according to the significance of the subject matter and to extend students with more complex problems on current content rather than introductory problems on more difficult content. In history, content will be sequenced to avoid repetition and placed in a global context. Emphasis will be placed across the curriculum on the growing evidence base surrounding how students learn. While equity issues cannot be directly addressed by the curriculum, it is important that the documents set high expectations for all and manage curriculum differentiation in a way that does not exclude students from other learning opportunities. A video of the presentation is available.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Volume 20 Number 3, 2008; Pages 32–53
Ethnomathematical ideas can be defined as the different mathematical ways of thinking that characterise cultural groups. Three English-language texts from Australia, two from New Zealand and two from Papua New Guinea were selected for an analysis of the way in which different ethnomathematical ideas are represented in school textbooks. The analysis indicated that this ‘transformation’ of material from cultural practice to classroom activity can occur in a number of ways or modes. In the disjunction mode, students neither engage with the cultural practice nor think about different ways of approaching Western mathematics. As in a text that uses Maori weaving to introduce patterns and algebraic relations, in disjunction mode the cultural practice is simply there as another example of a Western mathematical idea. The translation mode requires students to look at aspects of the cultural practice, but only in isolation from its context and through the framework of Western mathematics. A New Zealand text that has students create their own Samoan art pattern using Western mathematical procedures is an example of translation. In the integration mode, students make theoretical comparisons between the practice and Western classroom mathematics, while in the correlation mode students are asked to make concrete comparisons with Western classroom mathematics. The union mode is characterised by engagement with the cultural practice, and engagement with Western mathematics through use of the practice. Only one text out of the seven, the Yolngu Kinship Relations text, asked students to engage with this mode. Another text, the Aboriginal Boomerang Dynamics series of classes, is multimodal, engaging students in three modes: translation, integration and correlation. Designed by the New South Wales Board of Studies and a group of Coonabarabran teachers, the unit is for use by Grades 6 to 8 at schools with a large Australian Aboriginal population. Students taking the unit make returning boomerangs and estimate angles, flight paths and trajectories. The five-mode model of transformation of ethnomathematical ideas could be useful to teachers when evaluating the appropriateness of curriculum materials, and also help curriculum writers and teachers design resources and activities that include cultural mathematical practices in a variety of ways.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsAboriginal students
Social life and customs
Intensive intervention for students with mathematics disabilities: seven principles of effective practice
Volume 31, Spring 2008; Pages 79–92
Mathematics disabilities tend to be given far less attention than reading disabilities, despite the long-term negative consequences if they are not remedied. A recent paper has described effective practice in intensive intervention programs for Grade 3 students with maths disabilities. Calculation problems and mathematical word problems use distinct cognitive skill sets, and students can be identified as having difficulty with either or both of these types. Intervention should be targeted to a student’s weaknesses in either or both areas. Two intervention programs are described. Math Flash is designed to improve calculation, specifically number combinations. Number combinations refer to simple problems using single-digit numbers, such as 2 + 3 = 5. Typically, developing children first learn to solve number combination problems by counting up from one number. Eventually the equation is memorised, so that solving the problem requires pure recall, with counting used only as a back-up strategy. Mathematically disabled students tend to show difficulties with counting and often rely on inappropriate backup strategies. Pirate Math is a program that teaches students to divide word-based problems into a number of categories to help in solving them. Seven principles should be considered when designing and implementing mathematical intervention programs. First, instruction should be explicit, since students with maths difficulties benefit more from direct explanation than from discovery-based or constructivist teaching methods. Second, the learning challenge should be minimised in order to allow the student to catch up as quickly as possible. Third, students should be taught a strong conceptual basis for the material. Fourth, practice is essential. Fifth, there should be regular cumulative review. The sixth principle is the incorporation of motivators to help students regulate their behaviour, since many have already experienced failure in the maths classroom. The final principle is frequent progress monitoring, which allows teachers to see how each individual student is responding to the intervention. Maths disabilities currently receive too little consideration, and remedial programs would benefit substantially from additional research attention and funding.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Identifying Fourth Graders' understanding of rational number representations: a mixed methods approach
Volume 108 Number 6, 2008; Pages 238–250
A recent study has identified a feature that distinguishes top-performing students from their high- and average-performing counterparts in an important domain of mathematics. Rational numbers (those that can be expressed as a fraction using two integers) can be represented in a variety of ways: as a part-whole relationship; a ratio; a quotient; a measure; and as an operator, or a factor that can be used to shrink or stretch other quantities. A class of top-performing Grade 4 students showed a greater ability to group similar representation types together than an average-performing group and a high-performing group. The study involved 91 students in a south-eastern region of the USA. All completed a written test and 52 also agreed to participate in an interview and a card-sorting task. In the card-sorting task, each type of representation (part-whole, ratio, etc) was associated with three cards. One card showed a written problem, one a visual representation such as a pie chart or bar graph, and one the corresponding numerical representation. Average performers and high performers tended to rely on surface features to categorise the cards, most often separating them into written problems, visual representations and numerical representations. Top performers showed a greater tendency to group the cards according to the underlying principles involved, identifying the type of relationship expressed and grouping cards on this basis. None of the students, however, showed grouping patterns that adhered entirely to the researchers' framework. Results may be due to a number of factors, most likely limited teacher content knowledge and the textbook used. The average and high performers had been exposed to a traditional textbook, which focused on part-whole representations, while top performers had used a reform textbook that emphasised links between different types of representations. In combination with other research, these results suggest that mathematics curricula and teachers should aim to give prominence to connecting different types of representations, rather than focusing on one or two types in greater depth.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
United States of America (USA)
Volume 23 Number 2, Winter 2009
Retaining teachers at high-need, disadvantaged schools is a significant challenge. A new strategy is currently being trialled in parts of the USA: urban teacher residencies. Separate residency initiatives exist in Chicago and Boston, and there is a small program in Denver. Under all the initiatives, participating teachers undertake coursework for a Master’s degree while also completing a year of classroom teaching at a disadvantaged urban school. Their teaching is tailored to that environment, and undertaken in collaboration with a mentor teacher. The teacher receives a stipend during the course plus healthcare benefits. They receive ongoing support for professional learning for a period of one or two years once they have obtained their Master’s degree and commenced teaching at the district that funded their residency. The mentor teacher receives additional pay for taking on the role. The trainee and mentor are both heavily engaged in teaching and the program structures in time for discussion between them, as well as personal reflection. The residencies also promote collaboration between participating trainees, and build awareness of many small yet concrete practices that contribute to effective teaching in the disadvanted environment. More than half the participants in both Chicago and Boston are non-white. The programs have been underway for five years. In Chicago, 95% of participants are still teaching after three years; in Boston, the figure is 90%. The Chicago program currently involves 79 residents at six public schools, with involvement from two universities. It was initiated by the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), however a separate program run by the AUSL proved controversial, which has indirectly raised concerns over the residency program. The Boston program involves 84 residents and one university, and is focused on middle and high school teachers in maths and science. Supporters of the schemes argue that their costs, while significant, are likely to be outweighed by savings from the reduction in teacher turnover at disadvantaged schools, which has been estimated by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future to cost the USA $7.3 billion each year.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
United States of America (USA)
Bridging the pedagogical gap: intersections between literary and reading theories in secondary and postsecondary literacy instruction
Volume 52 Number 2; Pages 110–118
The reading comprehension levels of school students can be enhanced through the application of skills and techniques that are usually associated with the study of literature. In fact, the skills required for reading comprehension and literary interpretation are substantially the same. To understand what they read, school students do not simply decode words, they interpret their meanings based on context and their own prior understandings. However, this underlying similarity between reading comprehension and literary studies is not brought out to students. Another problem is that the transition from the first approach to the second is very abrupt, with little or no scaffolding. An effective form of scaffolding would be to introduce critical theory much earlier to students. Critical theory would be particularly helpful for struggling readers, through the introduction of meaningful, complex writing tasks. Struggling readers would find this type of teaching more useful than a remedial approach to reading comprehension based on repetitive skills-based instruction. The article summarises the theoretical work in this field, which commenced in the 1970s with works such as The Critical Child by GD Sloan. These works show that children can readily grasp and apply critical concepts if they are suitably explained. The author then expands further on the rationale for applying critical theory to reading comprehension, discussing the underlying commonality in the work of two influential writers: literary theorist Wolfgang Iser and reading theorist Kenneth Goodman.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Words and their echoes
Volume 17 Number 4, October 2008; Pages 41–42
The Francisco Franco Secondary School on Funchal (Madeira Island, Portugal) has expanded a unit on literature in order to incorporate learning about various cultures, stimulate students’ artistic awareness, and ‘deepen their knowledge of life and themselves’. The course has covered a wide range of authors including Dickens, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl and Ray Bradbury. To create a sense of the time period and cultural context of the writer being studied, the program has drawn contributions from the school’s history and fine arts teachers as well as from students in extra-curricular clubs devoted to music and theatre. Students and staff have also created exhibitions and live performances as spin-offs from the program. A collection of students’ own stories has been published, supplemented by artwork from their peers. Students were initially reluctant to contribute their own material to these enterprises, partly due to doubts about their own personal capacities. The program leaders have gradually overcome this reluctance, for example by challenging students to submit English-language material to a literary contest at the school. The program leaders were willing to accept a slow start and small levels of initial participation by students.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Social life and customs
English language teaching
English as an additional language
Volume 43 Number 2, 2008; Pages 13–25
Teachers are able to initiate their own action research, trialling teaching ideas through reflective practice. The authors argue, however, that the Victorian education system has ‘appropriated’ concepts that describe independent teacher research and activity, such as reflective practice and peer observation, attaching these terms instead to policies and practices that deprive teachers of genuine agency. In support of this claim, the authors examine articles and news reports that appeared in the system publication, Education Times, between 2000 and 2003 and find that this material is permeated by ideological messages involving accountability and performance management. Teachers are expected to prepare their students for standardised testing of certain cognitive skills, and to implement standardised reform packages. Such measures do not allow for the social contexts and experiences of teachers’ particular student groups, but instead reduce students, particularly those seen as under-performing, to the ‘bare bones’ of statistics, like the ‘hunger artists’ described by Franz Kafka. Official rhetoric propounds the need for, and widespread acceptance of, system-driven reforms. Such rhetoric acts to disconnect teachers from their existing body of pedagogical knowledge, again discouraging independent teacher initiative. More generally, the ideology supporting accountability and performance management is made to seem natural and inevitable. These neo-liberal ideas are difficult to resist when presented in the form of 'good news stories' which 'invite teachers to imagine that they have agency, that they are in a position to make a difference to the lives of their students' under conditions when their work is strictly bound by performance appraisals and standards-based reforms. An alternative approach is to base curriculum development and teaching practices in students’ social contexts and experiences. This approach can energise both teachers and supposedly underperforming students, and is consistent with a community-based, social justice perspective.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Prompt attention: what I learned from the plagiarists
Volume 98 Number 2, November 2008; Pages 102–104
Most articles on plagiarism begin with disturbing statistics on the prevalence of cheating in schools, then go on to discuss students’ attitudes towards knowledge in the age of the internet, evaluate online cheat detection software such as that available on turnitin.com, and end with suggestions for preventing and handling cases of plagiarism. Common advice tends to favour making assignments so specific that students will be unable to find exact matches on the internet. In this approach, a prompt such as ‘compare and contrast Hamlet’s use of language with that used by Holden Caulfield’ is to be preferred to ‘write an essay about Hamlet’. However, this approach does not in fact deter plagiarism effectively since students are still able to locate web-based material for relatively narrow topics. The fundamental problem is not in the prompt itself, or in students’ lack of knowledge about the consequences of plagiarism. Instead it relates to the way prompts are viewed. Prompts that are too specific have the effect of narrowing, rather than broadening, students’ thinking about a text. A way to minimise plagiarism is to engage students from the start, through having them come up with topics themselves. A brainstorming session can produce a list of topics or areas. Then students can work in groups to find evidence from the text around their chosen topic. The teacher can select an option, perhaps one that has received little attention, and create an outline for the essay by asking questions and pointing out subtleties. Students can then work in pairs to construct an argument based on their examples. Finally, they can go home and write the essay, feeling that they truly own the topic and are presenting an argument of their own design. Educators’ time is better spent on thinking about how to engage students from the start than on detecting and punishing plagiarism.
New York state of mind
Number 60, Summer 2009; Pages 24–29
The education reforms led by Joel Klein, New York City’s Chancellor of Education, have been controversial in the USA. One contentious reform has been the introduction of an A-F grading for schools. Unlike students, schools receive only a single grade, covering all aspects of their role. Grades assigned to some schools have fluctuated widely between one year and the next, and sometimes also differed sharply from the evaluations the schools received on national accountability measures. In the first round of grading, 50 schools received an ‘F’, and 11 of these schools were closed. Closed public schools are often turned over to privately operated charter schools, which in disadvantaged areas may result in a loss of facilities for the community. The New York system has been hailed for the reporting it provides to parents, but in reality decision-making is centralised and opaque. The city’s schools are under the direct control of the Mayor since the closure of the Board of Education in 2002. Educational decisions are now made ‘by a cadre of lawyers, with no public discussion or public review’. New York City's United Federation of Teachers (UFT) has produced an alternative accountability system consisting of four elements. The first is academic achievement, embracing achievement and progress on standardised tests, as well as the richness of the curriculum. The other elements are school safety and order, teamwork and collaboration for achievement, and the system’s accountability for resourcing and oversight of the school.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
United States of America (USA)
Rethinking computers in the classroom
16 December 2008
Recent studies indicate that the growing presence of computers in classrooms has not yet led to generalised improvements in students’ academic results, nor has it improved the skills in conceptual thinking and communication that students will require in the modern workforce. For example, a four-year study covering 132 disadvantaged urban schools conducted by Mathematica Policy Research and SRI International found that students’ test scores in maths and reading were not improved by access to a range of new software products aimed at helping students in these subjects. US educators suggest a number of reasons for the lack of progress. They include continued use of lesson plans that don't incorporate learning through ICT; inadequate teacher training and technical support; and a preoccupation with preparing children for standardised national testing that allows little room for ‘creative extras’. Some school districts are experimenting with new approaches, such as the use of relatively cheap technology like smart phones, and the use of digital portfolios to showcase student work to real audiences. However, many educators and ICT advocates are calling for more broad-based change in the form of an updated curriculum that exploits the potential of computers and the internet to help students learn skills in critical thinking and communications. While calling for further ICT funding for school education, these commentators also argue that schools are likely to find more creative ways to use ICT if they face less pressure to raise students’ academic scores on standardised testing. At the same time, schools need to ensure that they have integrated ICT into their lessons and the professional learning of their teaching staff.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Thought and thinking
Computers in society
United States of America (USA)
Please do disturb: 3 ways to stir up groups and increase their effectiveness
Volume 30 Number 1, Winter 2009
Interaction patterns within teams of staff are so complex that even very small events can have large consequences. Three small interventions (or 'disturbances') that can have enormous positive effects are adopting certain norms of collaboration, broadening the perspectives of group members, and naming ‘the elephant in the boardroom’ - that is, explicitly addressing important but hitherto undiscussed issues that may be impeding the group's performance. Desirable norms of collaboration are pausing; paraphrasing; inquiring; encouraging new ideas; paying attention to oneself and others; and cultivating a positive approach. The difference these norms can make to team performance is significant. A study of 60 business teams revealed that high-performing teams favoured positive team communications to negative at a rate of 5.8 to 1, while in low-performing teams negative communications dominated at a rate of 1 to 20. High-performing teams addressed inquiry and advocacy equally, while low-performing teams favoured advocacy at a rate of 3 to 1. High-performing teams also balanced talking about self and talking about others equally, whereas in low-performing teams there was 30 times more talk about others than about self. To broaden group members’ perspectives, brainstorming is an effective technique. Members can select a group of stakeholders that may not have been previously considered and try to imagine how they might react to various planning initiatives. Talking about problematic issues, or naming the elephant in the boardroom, can increase productivity by allowing members to voice concerns they may have been keeping quiet. In an ‘elephant walk’, members can rise and ask others about any concerns they have about the group. There must be a safe way of reporting, such as writing out concerns in small groups and posting them on the wall. Problems might include intimidating team members, negative attitudes or inadequately performing staff. The group can then collaboratively find ways to solve or work around these problems. Ongoing tensions may also emerge, such as that between new and experienced staff members and between school-level and district-level policies. These tend to be more chronic and the two polarities must be openly discussed and integrated. Effective teams are aware of these tensions and able to harness them to increase performance.
Subject HeadingsGroup work in education
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