Australia's unrecognised resources boom - languages for Australia's future
Volume 12 Number 2, 2008; Pages 2–8
Plurilingualism, the ability to speak in more than one language, has significant benefits on both a national and an individual level. Monolingual English speakers will suffer economically in the future, since English is becoming a basic element in education around the world. The cognitive benefits of plurilingualism become apparent in early childhood. Because of their exposure to two or more independent sets of symbols, bilingual children are far better than monolingual children at distinguishing between the form and meaning of words. They become used to switching codes, making them better able to solve problems flexibly. The fear that bilingualism is detrimental for literacy development is not supported by research. In Finland, a country consistently at the top of academic rankings, all children are required to study three languages throughout their schooling. Many choose to take four or more. With 2008 designated as the International Year of Languages, countries around the world have been considering their language policies in the context of increased international mobility and global trade. In Australia an enduring monolingual mindset hinders such discussions. Australia’s history prior to European settlement was multilingual, with people needing several different languages. Monolingualism became normal only after the First Fleet, though a range of Asian and European community languages were also spoken. Today, nearly 400 languages are spoken in Australian homes. Census data indicates that an increasing percentage of Australian residents speak a LOTE at home. Numbers are considerably higher in Sydney, Melbourne and the Northern Territory outside Darwin, where most of the country’s Indigenous languages are spoken. Currently only a minority of Year 12 students study a LOTE. Research indicates that schools can increase this percentage by making language study compulsory in Year 9. Schools must also devote sufficient time to LOTE study. This needs to be considerably more than the 45 minutes or less that most Victorian primary schools currently allocate. The classification of community languages as ‘foreign’ languages also needs to be reconsidered, since they are an integral part of Australian society. Information and community language resources for teachers are available from RUMACCC at the University of Melbourne.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Languages other than English (LOTE)
Language and languages
Low academic competence in first grade as a risk factor for depressive cognitions and symptoms in middle school
Volume 55 Number 3, 2008; Pages 400–410
Recent research in the USA has suggested a strong link between academic competence in Grade 1, students' lack of perceived control over social and academic situations in Grade 6, and depressive symptoms in Year 7. The study drew on a sample of African American children (253 boys and 221 girls) from a longitudinal study at the Prevention Intervention Research Center (PIRC) at Johns Hopkins University. Measures included teacher observations, self-report questionnaires and peer ratings. Early competence in reading and maths was found to significantly reduce later depressive symptoms, an effect mediated by the student’s level of perceived control at Grade 6. This was the case even when the researchers controlled for other common predictors of depressive symptoms, such as attention problems, behavioural problems and peer social relations. While the model of early academic problems leading to less perceived control and more depressive symptoms held for both genders, there was a significantly stronger effect for girls. The researchers suggest that some of the effects may be due to the fact that reading and writing are ‘laced with social meaning’. The results strongly suggest that early academic interventions for weaker students may be instrumental in preventing later depressive symptoms. School counsellors and psychologists should stay informed about academic progress through regular contact with each child’s teacher. As well as early academic intervention, recognition of children’s successes in non-academic areas, such as sport, music or interpersonal skills, is another important way to prevent future depressive symptoms.
United States of America (USA)
Summing up a failure
23 February 2009; Page 14
There have recently been calls for an increased focus on ‘the basics’ in Australian school mathematics. While basic maths skills such as times tables do need to be covered more thoroughly, a more pervasive problem lies in the meaningfulness of what is taught. Too many Victorian textbooks have exercises that are contrived and lacking in relevance, glossing over beautiful and important connections between concepts. These texts do not introduce students to a mathematical culture. Other reasons for the poor coverage of mathematics in Australian schools include inadequate teacher training, an old-fashioned curriculum, and the ubiquity of calculators – ‘the cane toads of education’. Those in teacher education faculties lack contact with professional mathematicians, and as a result often have insufficient expertise for the task. This problem in turn is caused by a lack of funding at university level and a corresponding decrease in the quality of university mathematics teaching. Mathematics lecturers in education faculties often have other pressing interests and some are too preoccupied with technology to address the mathematical concepts themselves in depth. The framing paper for the new national curriculum raises some important issues but is over-reliant on technology for teaching. Calculators have been ‘an unmitigated disaster’ for students’ working knowledge of trigonometry and arithmetic, and to introduce CAS calculators across the country would see a further diminishment in algebraic skills. The framing paper strongly emphasises functional numeracy, or the arithmetical and statistical skills needed in daily life. While there is an obvious need for functional numeracy, too great a focus on practicality and immediate relevance will not stimulate students to continue their study. What is needed in the classroom is not more calculation. Instead, classrooms should be filled with beautiful and intriguing diagrams and discussions about why there are infinitely many prime numbers, or what the golden mean is and why it is fascinating. The curriculum should be able to encompass play and beauty as well as times tables. If the next generation is to avoid growing up as haters of maths, the curriculum must be written with the intrinsic beauty of mathematics firmly in mind.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Volume 30 Number 1, Winter 2009; Pages 28–32
Leadership development is becoming an increasingly important consideration for educational systems. Seminars, workshops and internships for leadership development aim to build leadership capacity in teaching and administrative staff by extending their skills in resource management, overseeing change, implementing interventions and analysing results. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, leadership development for individuals should have three key foci: assessment of strengths, weaknesses and needs; challenges and new experiences; and ample support. Teacher teams can be powerful forces for change, so schools and districts must strive to develop leadership capacity in groups as well as individuals. A number of conditions promote successful leadership development. In role-embedded learning, the individual takes responsibility for real-life situations in schools and has the opportunity to directly observe the consequences of their actions. The provision of mentors to coach performance is essential for cultivating new leaders’ positive beliefs about leadership and whole-school change. Research indicates that mentoring should be formal and systematic rather than administered in an ad hoc fashion. Focused learning experiences should be provided so that aspiring leaders can solve a range of self-contained problems, including team evaluations of interventions and collaboration with teachers on aspects of good teaching practice. There should also be competencies or standards to guide practice that address core school leadership skills, for example the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education. Finally, reflection on practice through journals or logs is important in developing the reflective attitude necessary for fine leadership. Teacher leaders can be encouraged through a whole-school focus on learning and inquiry; by receiving praise and recognition for taking initiative; by holding teamwork and shared decision-making as expectations, not extras; and through the presence of experienced practitioners and leaders who can act as role models for newer and less confident staff.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
All must have prizes: challenging the gifted and talented paradigm
Volume 24 Number 1, 2008; Pages 58–66
A recent project has been developed to provide extension and enrichment opportunities for disadvantaged students in East London. A funding grant for a gifted and talented program in 15 schools was initially seen as elitist by several staff members, who argued that it was inherently flawed to use a ‘gifted’ label for children. Despite initial concerns about diluting the quality of enrichment education and disadvantaging the most able students, a research-based, whole-school enrichment program was devised and implemented. Initiatives included a Drawing Project, with a visiting artist for students in Grades 1 to 3, a series of Philosophy for Children sessions, and a Balloon Buggy Design Project. The Philosophy for Children classes used a ‘community of enquiry’ approach based on story readings, and children’s responses and questions were not noticeably different from the responses in classes of students who had been selected as gifted. The design project took place in two Year 5 classrooms, with students challenged to design and make balloon-powered vehicles with wheels, wooden frames and supports. While it is difficult to quantify the results of such a project, feedback from headteachers and students suggests that it was a fair, inclusive way of redressing social disadvantage and increasing students’ self-esteem and enjoyment of school. Staff awareness of enrichment and extension activities also increased. The program’s success suggests that many students may benefit from a reconceptualisation of the nature of gifted education.
Subject HeadingsGifted children
Gifted and talented (GAT) children
Curriculum differentiation: an innovative Australian secondary school program to extend academic talent
Volume 17 Number 1, 2008; Pages 19–29
A program at Melbourne Girls’ Grammar School in Victoria has successfully implemented a differentiated curriculum for gifted students. The Extended Curriculum Program (ECP) was designed in line with current research in the field and aims to provide high-ability students with challenge, support and structure for their learning. Curriculum differentiation is often poorly understood and implemented, but studies have consistently shown that well-designed extension, acceleration and enrichment are excellent options for learners of high ability. It has been suggested that these options are underused in Australia because of a lack of awareness of the solid empirical support for these practices. Important considerations are these students’ greater need for speed and depth, as well as their need to be grouped together for at least part of the school day and to have access to programs throughout their schooling. The ECP included extension classes in English, maths and LOTE from Years 7 to 10, as well as advanced options at Year 11 and 12 level. Research on the ECP was conducted in 2005 and involved input from Heads of Department, teachers, students and parents. Sixteen Heads of Department and 39 teachers (12 directly involved in the ECP) completed surveys. Ninety per cent of teachers surveyed believed the ECP was an appropriate method for supporting high-ability students. There were no negative comments. When surveyed about their use of common differentiation techniques, ECP teachers were more confident that they could modify curriculum and assessment for high-ability students. They were also much more likely to utilise ability grouping, to assign higher-level work or readings, and to encourage active and open-ended questioning in their classes. They tended to teach higher-level thinking skills and encourage discussions on a daily basis, while non-ECP teachers did this less frequently. The ECP coordinator’s expertise and formal postgraduate qualification in gifted education were integral to the success of the program. The coordinator is currently advising both ECP and non-ECP teachers on curriculum differentiation, a practice that is ‘not an option but a necessity’ in meeting the needs of high-ability learners.
Subject HeadingsGifted children
Ability grouping in education
Teacher learning and mathematics manipulatives: a collective case study about teacher use of manipulatives in elementary and middle school mathematics lessons
Volume 108 Number 7, November 2008; Pages 313–340
A recent study has analysed the use of manipulatives in Illinois maths classrooms after a series of professional development sessions. Twenty-three teachers participated in a summer institute comprising 20 hours of professional development that was aimed primarily at developing teachers’ own learning of mathematics. Afterwards, teachers recorded their observations in Grade 2, 3 and 6 and Year 8 classes that used manipulatives. The results confirmed previous research findings that the mere use of manipulatives does not lead to student understanding; in fact, incorrect use of manipulatives can actually be a hindrance to learning. While the teachers reported an increase in their own mathematics knowledge after the professional development, they had difficulty applying this knowledge in the classroom. The Grade 6 lessons aimed to develop an understanding of the mathematical reasoning behind multiplication. In general, students tended to be disengaged and to use the manipulatives to confirm answers they had already calculated. Arrays were often incorrectly constructed and many did not correspond with the numerical answer students gave to accompany them. Students emphasised finding the right answer over exploring different types of representation. In the Grade 2 and 3 lessons, students were unclear about the purpose of the task and followed the examples given rather than trying to think of other alternatives. The Year 8 lesson was based around developing strategies to solve real-life problems. Year 8 teachers found that when manipulatives were not handed out immediately, students had the opportunity to engage mathematically with the problem before using the manipulatives, which was more effective in developing mathematical thinking than handing manipulatives out immediately. In general, manipulatives should be used as tools rather than as an end in themselves. They are more helpful in the exploration phase, when the answer to the problem being modelled is unknown. Teachers must be careful not to assume that students’ internal representations are automatically linked with the external manipulative-based representation, as this is not always the case. Professional development in this area should help teachers identify the type of student thinking that activities will elicit and clearly link this to lesson content.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
New teacher support
Volume 30 Number 1, Winter 2009; Pages 34–38
The Arizona K-12 Center has developed a Master Teacher Mentor Program designed to improve student and teacher performance and address the costly problem of new teacher attrition. New teachers are provided with a comprehensive two-year induction program, which includes mentoring, professional support and development, and formal assessment. The program is based on extensive research into the effectiveness of different aspects of induction programs, focusing in particular on the characteristics of effective mentoring. Strong support from the principal is necessary if mentoring programs are to retain their credibility. It is most advantageous to select mentors from within the new teachers’ school communities, especially in remote or low-SES areas. The content of mentoring sessions should usually remain focused on instruction rather than on providing a great deal of emotional support, though this is of course necessary at times. Because teachers are motivated by making a difference in their students’ lives, strong professional support is often the best kind of emotional support. There should also be rigorous mentor selection criteria and formally allocated time for mentor-teacher meetings. Ongoing support and professional development must be provided for mentors, and they should be encouraged to keep discussions as specific and data-focused as possible. Support and training for mentors is extremely helpful in preparing them for challenging or reluctant new teachers. New teachers’ induction experiences have been shown to impact greatly on their subsequent performance and on their retention in the profession. If at all possible, the induction program should be extended over two years for maximum benefit. Helpful resources for new teacher programs can be found online at the New Teacher Center, the Center for Teaching Quality and Teachers’ Network.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Working with students with autism
Three guests with various links to autism spectrum disorders in education answer readers’ questions in this text-based chat session. Many adaptations that help students with autism spectrum disorders, such as a comfortable classroom, a motivating and interesting curriculum, adequate channels for verbal and non-verbal communication, conveying information visually, and providing opportunities for breaks and movement, also serve to improve the learning experience of all children in the class. If a student is aggressive for no apparent reason, it is best to determine and eliminate the trigger, which may have been a sound undetectable by the teacher or a student’s unusual fear. Teachers can also talk to family, past teachers or therapists to find out about the child’s specific triggers and difficulties. Tools like the Strengths and Strategies worksheet are helpful in suggesting potentially effective means for teaching, and books such as Understanding Autism for Dummies and Beyond the Wall, both by panel guest Stephen Shore, broadly outline what does and does not work for these students. It should be stressed, however, that these children are individuals: generalisations are not always useful. Classroom teachers can be supported through background training, collaboration and ongoing assistance when implementing new strategies. It is generally best to start with changes that are small and will have definite positive results before tackling something larger. In school-home partnerships, both teachers and parents can be encouraged to share ‘what works’ at school and home. Videotaping successful strategies at school is a good idea, and parents and teachers can pass on helpful resources and even co-attend conferences. Children with communication difficulties can be assisted with alternative communication strategies such as gestures, voice output software, and abundant opportunities for communication with peers. Students who speak too loudly may have difficulty gauging the volume of their speech, so teachers might want to develop unobtrusive hand signals or audiotape the child and play this back to them. To develop peer relations, clubs based on student interests are often more effective than buddy programs. Strategies for keeping children relaxed and focused can be found in an article by one of the guests. Access to the transcript is free but registration is required.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Making inclusion work: Autism Spectrum Australia's satellite class project
Volume 41 Number 2, 2008; Pages 22–27
Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) offers satellite classes for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The classes are designed to prepare students for transition to general education or, in a few cases, more inclusive special education facilities. The program commenced as a pilot in 1992 and has grown to a current total of 57 classes. Aspect is based in New South Wales and is the largest service provider in Australia specific to ASD. Satellite classes take place at host schools, and are designed to integrate individualised education programs (IEPs) with curriculum material from the new school. Classes are small, comprising around five students of similar age and support needs. The staff-to-student ratio is 2:5, with one special education teacher and one teacher’s aide assigned to each class. Students are selected for a satellite class if they show potential for inclusion in broader educational environments than they are currently in. Satellite teachers receive support from their base school, but also become staff members at the host school. Aspect staff share examples of successful integration, provide host staff with training and information, and collaboratively plan inclusive activities. Because students with ASD often show significant learning advantages in some areas in comparison with other children, the program emphasises the strengths of students as well as their difficulties. Students are helped to develop self-regulatory abilities, flexibility and generic skills and to reduce their anxiety. Their inclusion into mainstream classes is gradual and always accompanied by techniques to increase responsiveness in the mainstream educational population, such as discussions about individual differences, direct guidance or Carol Gray’s Sixth Sense program. The majority of satellite students transition into general education classes, with some moving to larger support classes and around ten per cent to special schools. Preliminary data on long-term outcomes indicates that between seven and 12 years after transition, 95 per cent of students are in a placement similar to the one they entered after their satellite class. Of the first cohort of seven students, three are now at university, two in other tertiary education, and two in either open or supported employment.
New South Wales (NSW)
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