Welcome to our virtual worlds
Volume 66 Number 6, 11 March 2009; Pages 48–52
Schools should consider the value of digital resources in promoting both the development of literacy skills and student engagement with literacy. Sophisticated computer games require that their players demonstrate involved and sustained strategic thinking across diverse scenarios: simulations such as SimCity and The Sims entail creating and sustaining communities, while Civilization and Age of Mythology explore world history and mythology. In the digital environment, students engage with complex concepts, narratives and language not only through games, but through producing and interacting with other media such as fan fiction, blogs, forums, wikis and online communities. Online participation hones a variety of essential literacy skills such as critical thinking and collaborative problem solving. Technology can also be used to develop basic literacy skills: game playing requires contextualised action, and relevant vocabulary, such as the urban planning terms used in SimCity. ‘Web quests’, where students seek information online, often involve role-playing, requiring students to research and become different characters in a variety of novel situations. Game worlds such as Urban Science and Quest Atlantis see students redesigning cities and solving ecological problems. Students act as professionals in these online contexts, engaging with relevant terminology, developing arguments, proposing solutions, and presenting data in specific formats. Research has shown that participants in these games engage with both the science involved, and the linguistic means of conveying this scientific knowledge. In-game learning also transfers to assessment achievement. Teachers can act as mentors and guides for digital media use, providing feedback and facilitating student-centred learning. However, to transform their classrooms and teaching, teachers must familiarise themselves with new media in order to make effective use of them in teaching and learning. They should receive mentoring and professional development in technology use, and use the technology themselves. New research relating to technology developments should be shared with teachers so that they might include new media in their classrooms.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Number 182, February 2009
Corporate involvement with public schools in Australia is relatively new but rapidly developing. Its emergence has been encouraged by broad shifts in education policy which have been advanced as means to promote freedom of choice, accompanied by devolution of school management, and promotion of a wider community role for the private sector. These reforms redirect responsibility for educational access and equity to individual schools. The involvement of business in schools has been greatly facilitated by agencies such as the Education Foundation and the Foundation for Young Australians. Building on a model already well developed in the USA, these agencies have brokered relationships between schools and corporations, in the belief that business ‘could support needed innovations in schools without replicating government funding’. These agencies have been valued by corporations as means to ensure quality outcomes for their investment, and have helped to allay schools’ ethical concerns about business involvement. Companies’ motivations for involvement, while varied, have broadly moved from pursuit of core business interests toward service to the community and development of their current staff and future skills base. Programs include Step Up, the World of Work, Welcome to My World, Classroom to Boardroom, Workplace Breakfast, and Inspirational Speaker. There is concern that partnerships may perpetuate inequity, since the communities and regions around schools vary in the potential corporate resources they offer. Overt commercialism also needs to be avoided. Benefits advanced for partnerships include schools’ greater access to physical, human and knowledge resources, and stronger community ties; students’ access to wider curriculum opportunities, role models and career awareness; local communities’ improved skills base and interconnections; companies’ enhanced public image and the potential for improved productivity; and, for education systems, access to new resources, cost efficiencies and innovations.
School and community
Working within and against neoliberal accreditation agendas: opportunities for Professional Experience
Volume 37 Number 1, February 2009; Pages 27–44
The practicum, or professional experience for student teachers in schools, is frequently a point of tension between schools and tertiary teacher education faculties. Difficulties may arise through the time and resource pressures in both settings, the different roles of teachers and teacher educators, and the need for teacher educators to ensure adequate quantity and quality of practicum experiences for their students. Rising enrolments in teaching courses have increased these tensions. Partnerships between schools and universities are often advocated as a means to improve practicum quality. However, governments’ advocacy of such partnerships often passes over the practical difficulties involved, and can also be understood as a means to soften the presentation of competitive, market-oriented policies in education. The establishment of effective partnerships is hindered by accountability requirements on schools. Teachers need to comply with new, more exacting procedures for the demonstration of their professional competence; experienced teachers who help colleagues through this process have less time to supervise student teachers. The policy focus on parental choice translates into relentless pressure to deliver strong academic results, again diminishing the resources available for the supervision of pre-service teachers. Competitive pressure is very strong among high status public schools and independent schools, and the relative growth of the independent sector aggravates this problem. Disadvantaged public schools are a common starting point for new graduate teachers and hence are useful locations for practicum, but in current ‘neoliberal times’ their capacity to provide such professional experience is reduced by their need to cope with challenges such as students’ learning difficulties and high teacher turnover. The concept of the learning community offers a new and helpful model for the organisation of student teachers' professional experience. Within this model both the student teacher and the supervising teacher are seen as learners. Teacher educators explicitly contribute to the professional development needs of the supervising teacher, and in this way schools are compensated for the resources they allocate to the trainee. The teacher educator's role shifts from one-to-one supervision toward facilitating a group of student teachers based in the one school, providing resource efficiencies.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Teaching and learning
An exploration of issues in the attraction and retention of teachers to non-metropolitan schools in Western Australia
Volume 18 Number 1, 2008; Pages 43–55
Attracting teachers to rural and remote schools has long been a concern in Australia. It is widely believed that new graduates take up non-metropolitan positions as the most readily available means for them to obtain full-time, ongoing employment. However, this belief was not supported by the findings of a recent study in Western Australia. The study examined employment data covering 52 recent primary education graduates from a Perth university. The data showed that while more than a third of recent graduates were working in non-metropolitan schools, the majority (65%) were working in metropolitan schools. Graduates who had studied as mature-aged students were more likely than younger graduates to work at rural schools, challenging general perceptions about younger adults’ greater mobility. The majority of graduates had worked solely in metropolitan locations (52%), or in rural locations (27%), but some 21% of graduates had shifted from one to the other, with a greater percentage moving from non-metropolitan to metropolitan schools. Moreover, 65% of teachers had changed schools at least once since graduation. Many new graduates taught multi-grade classes, with more rural teachers doing so than metropolitan teachers. This is likely due to small class sizes necessitating mixed year-level classes. New teachers must be prepared for some degree of mobility and the challenges associated with it, but must also have the necessary skills to teach classes comprising a range of ages and achievement levels. In this context the study also sought to determine whether these teachers were adequately prepared for the demands of a range of teaching environments. The teachers identified professional development and resources as the main items needed to support and develop their teaching; non-metropolitan teachers also identified ‘time’ as a requirement. Teacher education programs should create links to rural schools to attract new teachers, and should promote a balanced understanding of the context and potential advantages of rural schools. The nature of professional development for rural teachers should be reconsidered, focusing on time-related opportunities for learning rather than more formal structures appropriate to metropolitan teachers.
Accelerating early academic oral English development in transitional bilingual and structured English immersion programs
Volume 45 Number 4, December 2008; Pages 1011–1044
An intervention program in the USA has been found to improve the English skills of K–1 English language learners (ELLs). The students were involved in either of two different forms of English language learning. One form was transitional bilingual education (TBE), in which both English and the students’ home language are employed for instruction and student participation. The other form was structured English immersion (SEI). The authors undertook a study of approximately 800 native Spanish-speaking students attending SEI or TBE programs in the USA to determine whether the addition of an intervention program could improve learning for students in these courses. The intervention, delivered daily for between 75 and 90 minutes, consisted of intensive language and literacy instruction, seeking to improve vocabulary, reading comprehension and reading fluency through techniques including language games, role-plays, and having students retell stories to the class. Students were separated into three tiers based on their English-language proficiency. Teachers were offered professional development to support their teaching of the program, and the quality of the intervention implementation was assessed and assured by trained observers. For both SEI and TBE courses, Oral English development was found to be greater for students in the intervention groups than the control groups. The significant gains in proficiency indicate that structured classroom instruction can be a key factor in ELLs’ learning. Moreover, the similarity in growth rates of the TBE and SEI intervention students indicates that use of students’ first language does not negatively affect gains in their second. Another finding was that even though the TBE control group students had the highest initial oral English skills, their gains were lowest, highlighting the fact that the quality and method of instruction can affect students’ rate of learning, and that disadvantages in initial language proficiency can be overcome. Instructional practices must be well planned, properly implemented, and effectively monitored to ensure best practice.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
United States of America (USA)
English language teaching
English as an additional language
Early childhood education
Proactive or reactive? A new and disturbing digital divide
Volume 31 Number 1, 2009; Pages 32–33
There is a growing digital divide between schools who in the 1990s created strategic, long-term plans to prepare for a digital future, and those that, due to a lack of such planning, are now forced to respond reactively to technological developments. Two stages in this divide can be pinpointed. Between 1995 and 2003, the ‘ramping up’ stage saw proactive schools and countries develop forward-thinking, comprehensive ICT plans, while others adopted more piecemeal approaches or failed to make sufficient financial commitment. The ‘digital take off’, from 2004 to the present day, saw the better prepared schools effectively capitalise on the ready availability and affordability of digital technologies such as interactive whiteboards and multimedia software. While Australia has many such innovative schools, the majority continue to lag behind as a result of past government inactivity. Despite recent initiatives of the Australian Government, there remains a widespread lack of basic infrastructure, inadequate ICT expertise, and a paucity of relevant research. Schools should ascertain whether they fall into the ‘proactive’ or ‘reactive’ side of the digital divide, and shape their approach accordingly. School leaders need to ensure that national ICT strategies are adequately communicated at school level, and should devise comprehensive, coherent plans for the introduction of new infrastructure and pedagogical approaches. Technologies should be considered in terms of educational efficacy rather than popular trends, and teachers should become confident, competent users of these technologies to improve student learning opportunities. While governments and educational authorities can provide some assistance, school and staff flexibility in integrating technology into classrooms and learning is essential if schools are to bridge the digital divide and provide students with improved education opportunities.
Subject HeadingsTechnological literacy
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Leading for improved performance: ‘turnaround pedagogy’
Volume 7 Number 1, April 2009; Pages 3–6
Student learning outcomes can be improved by teachers’ enhanced understanding of their own teaching practices. The author, the principal of a Northern Territory primary school, describes the impact of introducing the Teaching and Learning Framework (TaLF) to teaching staff at his school. A series of activities and action research projects were undertaken to build leadership and teacher capacity, and facilitate future growth. Based on responses to a survey conducted to ascertain teachers’ readiness to engage with the TaLF, and their perceptions of and concerns about it, the principal worked to scaffold learning strategies to motivate and inform teachers about the new pedagogical approaches. Teachers were asked to identify how social and technological developments might affect education, and the changes in teaching practices required to address these. Awareness of the necessity of pedagogical change helped teachers positively engage with the framework. The follow-up professional development made use of both theory and practical application, and involved staff working in teams over five weeks to apply the practices relating to the five TaLF principles. Highly competent teachers were targeted for leadership capacity building to assist their colleagues. Teaching and learning strategies were compiled for each learning unit area, classroom teaching was recorded and analysed, and teachers were interviewed about their best practice and successes. The recordings and materials were uploaded to the school intranet for teachers’ reference. The school's engagement with leadership strategies and ongoing improvement of pedagogical approaches has resulted in greatly increased student achievement and teacher development.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Minimum standards: a new challenge revolutionising schooling
Volume 7 Number 1, April 2009; Pages 20–22
The introduction of minimum standards of achievement has fundamentally changed the role of schools. Rather than ranking and sorting students according to performance, schools must now ensure that all students are educated to a certain standard. Educators must be aware of and willing to engage with the new challenges that will result from such a policy. They must provide all students with opportunities to reach minimum standards of learning, and move away from practices that can see students progress through year levels with little recognition given to the often significant differences in students’ learning and experiences. Curriculum mapping, which provides an ongoing, accurate record of classroom practices, should be implemented to ensure that potential gaps in a student’s learning are not overlooked. Mapping tools can be used to record material taught and assessed; teachers can draw on this information to ensure that gaps or repetitions within or between year levels are addressed. Students must be engaged in working toward the attainment of minimum standards: well-performing students benefit from the ‘positive assessment loops’, but other students can be trapped in a negative cycle that affects their engagement and approaches toward learning. Students can develop a sense of efficacy through assessment for learning, through which students are mentored through the learning process. Assessment is ongoing and measured against minimum standards, ensuring students are actively working toward improving their learning. As students become active agents in their learning, it is the effectiveness of the actions chosen by the student to improve learning and meet identified outcomes that is assessed, rather than the student’s perceived intelligence. Students can thus be engaged in a positive assessment cycle. In order to engage with these new teaching practices, traditional paradigms about perceived learning capacity must be challenged. Teachers must come to believe that their role is to tap into the unlimited learning potential of all students, and to act as a facilitator to student-oriented learning. Teacher performance frameworks should reflect similar principles, focusing on action rather than personal qualities, and be designed to foster ongoing improvement.
Teaching and learning
Education aims and objectives
Creating and sustaining successful mixed-income communities: conceptualizing the role of schools
2 March 2009
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
School and community
Toward a theory of generative change in a culturally and linguistically complex classroom
Volume 46 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 45–72
‘Generative’ approaches can help teachers of culturally and linguistically complex classrooms (CLCCs) improve teaching and learning outcomes. ‘Generativity’ refers to teachers’ ability to connect their professional knowledge with knowledge about their students to solve pedagogical problems. The author conducted a longitudinal study of the classroom practices of teachers who undertook a professional development course centred on personal narrative as a tool for reflection and critical thinking. The study tracked teachers’ development of skills throughout the course, and their subsequent application of these skills in their CLCCs. As part of the course, the teachers used narrative to reflect on their own learning experiences, and contrasted these with student learning biographies. These reflections, in conjunction with theoretical readings, enhanced their pedagogical awareness, encouraging them to question their personal views and apply new approaches and ideas to their teaching. Generative approaches were also used in the classroom context, with teachers having students write about their own interests and concerns for use in planning engaging and relevant lessons. Undertaking this sort of action research facilitated the teachers’ sense of efficacy and their confidence, and they found that their knowledge, and therefore classroom practice, was constantly developing as a result of reflecting on their own and their students’ experiences. Students were also encouraged to become generative thinkers through curricular innovations and an increased focus on narrative writing, which aimed to encourage student reflection and introspection as well as analytical and critical thought. Writing tasks often centred around the social issues affecting students in CLCCs. All of the teachers in the study organised extracurricular programs and tutoring programs, using knowledge about their socially diverse students drawn from these programs to encourage generative thinking and learning. As teachers developed awareness of their own and others’ narratives, their sense of efficacy and agency grew, allowing them to develop further their generative teaching skills for use in the challenging CLCC context.
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
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