'Multiliteracies': new literacies, new learning
Volume 4 Number 3, July 2009; Pages 164–195
The authors counterpose benign and critical judgements of current directions in the workplace, the community and individual life, and argue the continuing importance of multiliteracies learning under either interpretation of these trends. Workplaces in the knowledge economy display an informality, expressed, for example, in 'conversational meetings and chatty emails', in place of the traditional hierarchies of command. These new environments can be understood as 'a culture of flexibility, creativity, innovation and initiative' or as a form of co-option in which 'feigned egalitarianism' helps to cement loyalty to the organisation, conceals ongoing inequalities and excludes 'people who find their difference makes them an outsider', however subtly the process is managed. Multiliteracies learning will help working people to grasp the language and social behaviour used in these environments. Local, professional and business communities are changing under the impact of devolution. These changes offer opportunities for community empowerment, but the concurrent shrinking of public services threatens to give this trend the character of a 'dangerous fragmentation'. Multiliteracies can help to equip citizens to collaborate in ground-level self-government of the diverse communities that make up their lives, such as work teams, professions, neighbourhoods, and ethnic groupings, and to knit communities together. Increased agency is now offered to individuals, as 'users, players, creators and discerning consumers', but it is often used for escapist purposes and is coupled with new invasions of privacy, 'cynically targeted advertising' and an extreme centralisation of media, communications and software platforms. Multiliteracies learning can help individuals manage these resources and to negotiate their use with other individuals of different backgrounds. Learning of multiliteracies is held back, however, by 'a deadening institutional inertia in schools', including their disciplines, their physical architecture and also the education system administration. In terms of literacy, the 'fourth grade slump' exposes children's inadequate preparation for making meaning from text: their prior schooling has focused too much on skills in phonics, which in particular 'fails learners who do not come from cultures of writing'. Multiliteracies learning involves reflection, conceptualisation and analysis. Analysis can be understood both as a functional study of logical and textual connections, and as an 'evaluation of one's and other people's perspectives, interests and motives'. However, 'the critical literacy implied by analysing' in either of these ways has not been widely taught, 'perhaps because of its latent possibility of arousing controversies'. The article also covers the inception and early development of multiliteracies theory.
Social life and customs
Language and languages
Leading learning: principles for principals
Volume 29 Number 1, 2009; Pages 12–15
Major reports have called for principals to 'become leaders of learning in their schools'. One form of leadership for learning is to model good teaching practice in the classroom. A teaching role for principals sustains their awareness of teachers' everyday experiences, and allows rewarding contact with children. It also has the potential to 'de-privatise' classroom teaching and break down barriers with staff. Difficulties include the time needed for classroom work, including quality lesson preparation; disruption of teaching from sudden administrative demands; collaborating as a peer teacher for curriculum development and assessment, and exposure to potentially critical peer evaluation. Advice to teachers is another potentially valuable form of leadership, but assumes that teachers are willing to expose their vulnerabilities, and that the principal has deep knowledge of current teaching practices and is able to share them effectively. Principals need skills in the use of data to interpret it effectively at school, cohort and individual levels, and ensure that it is used appropriately and consistently. However, the publication of comparative 'league tables' based on assessment may demand strong skills in management of staff morale, particularly in low-performing disadvantaged schools 'that have been publicly humiliated': professional literature offers little direction in this area. Principals should also draw on alternative data sources, such as surveys of students, staff and parents, and other local measures of performance, and ensure that such measures are not abandoned in the climate of high-stakes testing and performance reporting. Principals should be involved in design and delivery of professional development (PD). A good way to start is by developing a learning model for the school, which may be introduced around the need to differentiate instruction, and should encourage teacher collaboration. Teachers can be exposed to these strategies and practices through various methods such as workshops, speakers, mentoring and personal research. To integrate these approaches into classroom practice teachers need opportunities to 'trial, refine, discuss and critique' them: this latter phase of learning is costly and frequently not provided, but leadership of learning 'is about ensuring that teachers get this opportunity'. Pursuit of these opportunities may involve supporting forms of professional learning that fall outside the framework of PD approved for government funding.
Teaching and learning
Leading staff development for school improvement
Volume 29 Number 1, February 2009; Pages 23–37
A study in England has examined the use of continuing professional development (CPD) in 13 secondary, 22 primary and three special schools. The research, conducted between January 2006 and August 2007, involved interviews with school leaders and participating staff, and highlighted a number of key factors in promoting school improvement through CPD. The research found that CPD should be delivered by knowledgeable and authoritative leaders, and is most effective when oriented to future practice. The focus of the CPD should align with the existing expertise and identified development needs of staff. Teachers could benefit from a learning-centred culture, which can be encouraged by providing appropriate space and facilities, and by access to well-organised online resources. Time could be made for CPD by scheduling fewer administrative meetings; self-learning tasks where the teacher's presence is not required could be set for students during CPD meeting times. CPD should be recognised by staffing structures: supervisory roles could be assigned to support staff who have successfully completed a particular CPD program; distributed leadership provides a way to enhance career progression, PD, and self-esteem. New knowledge and skills should be fed back into the school, and information from courses should be shared and stored using media such as blogs. Measures to retain key staff, such as pay incentives and support for further PD, help address the issue of the loss of professional knowledge through staff turnover. Support staff who display talents such as a caring attitude and easy engagement with children should be identified and nurtured, and directed toward the attainment of formal academic credentials. Staff should be offered choices in the types of CPD undertaken to ensure it is relevant and valuable. Performance management should be used to align individual CPD with school goals, and to encourage individual professional reflection. Interschool professional development and training where expert staff train others offers opportunities for further development and collaboration, such as during combined CPD days, or programs involving guest speakers or respected teachers. However, more accurate measurements are needed to establish the impact of CPD on school achievement.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
High-school students' informal reasoning and argumentation about biotechnology: an indicator of scientific literacy?
Volume 31 Number 11, July 2009; Pages 1421–1445
Scientific literacy, the ability to use science understanding to make informed personal and collective decisions about socio-scientific issues, is one of the essential outcomes of science curriculums worldwide. As socio-scientific issues tend to be open-ended, students need to be able to engage in 'informal reasoning', which involves generating, evaluating and justifying arguments. However, studies have indicated that adolescents' argumentation skills in science are typically emotive or intuitive, with little emphasis given to reasoning or evidence. To examine students' argumentation skills, and therefore their level of scientific literacy, semi-structured interviews around various biotechnology issues were conducted with 30 Year 8, Year 10, or Year 12 students in Australia. A prompting question was used to elicit students' opinions, but to keep responses naturalistic, the interviewer did not seek rationales or rebuttals from students. Rational informal reasoning was evident in only approximately a quarter of all students' responses; students mostly used intuitive or emotive arguments to justify their positions. Although older students had a substantially better knowledge of biological processes, there were no significant differences in their argumentation patterns when compared with those of younger students. The complexity of students' responses also tended to be fairly low, with most responses failing to draw connections between a claim and supporting evidence. While the majority of the students were able to engage to some extent with the questions asked, their argumentation skills lacked the sophistication to meet the definitions of functional scientific literacy outlined by scholars such as Bybee and Towbridge. Students would need scientific and conceptual knowledge, and to demonstrate rational informal reasoning in argumentation. By not providing a rational component in their informal reasoning, the students did not demonstrate the ability to make connections between their socio-scientific understandings and their scientific literacy skills. Schools must aim to provide students with opportunities to engage in sophisticated argumentation, and develop complex patterns of informal reasoning.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
The role of narrative in communicating science
Volume 31 Number 12, August 2009; Pages 1683–1707
Some scholars have argued that impersonal approaches to science education have encouraged a 'mystique of science' that has disconnected science from students' lives, and that complex, 'foreign' scientific language is one barrier to students' engagement with science. While narrative text is the most common type of text in everyday life, science textbooks instead most commonly rely on expository text. The authors argue that the 'privileged' status of narrative texts, used to communicate events and experiences, and therefore transmit knowledge, makes them a more appropriate means for conveying scientific concepts. Their typically sequential structure also enhances retention and comprehension, with studies indicating that students understand science concepts better when presented as a narrative. Students are also more likely to remember scientific information, particularly when it is central to the development of the story. Narrative practices such as journal-writing, role-playing, and storytelling may also improve interpretive competence, practical knowledge, and facilitate personal development. Narrative can also provide a way to help engage typically underrepresented groups in science. For example, narratives around origin stories and historical knowledge have been used in Maori world-view schools in New Zealand as a way to make science more inclusive. Narrative practices could be used to bridge the gap between everyday narrative speech and scientific explanation; they could form a basic component of curricula, enabling students to co-construct, explore, share, and reflect on learning. Narratives around particular topics could be identified and developed to introduce and extend units of learning; teachers should be able to approach these flexibly and adapt them as appropriate. They should also ensure that conceptual complexity is not lost when translated into 'everyday' language. The introduction of narrative into school science would require substantial rethinking of pedagogical approaches, curriculum design, and teacher education.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Taking a 'reality' check: expanding pre-service teachers' views on pedagogy and diversity
Volume 37 Number 2, May 2009; Pages 155–173
The divide between the social and cultural experiences of teachers and students means that new teachers must have opportunities to develop sophisticated critical and reflective skills. As part of a study to determine how 'real-world' learning contexts can challenge and expand pre-service teachers' (PSTs) conceptions of learning, pedagogy, and diversity, 22 PSTs in the first or final year of their Bachelor of Education degree participated in weekly in-service learning at various community sites. The final year students were encouraged to take a hands-on approach in the day-to-day operations of programs such as refugee homework centres and meal delivery services, whereas first-year students were encouraged to observe the teaching and learning behaviours and strategies used at their sites. Data were drawn from reflective journals and focus group interviews. PSTs commented that their involvement in the community program reinforced their learning about inclusive approaches; their conceptions of effective learners also developed, with PSTs emphasising active participation and knowledge generation as important traits. Their reflections revealed growing understanding and awareness of the diverse backgrounds and needs of different people, and how this knowledge might shape pedagogical approaches. For example, some PSTs commented that although teacher-centred, drill-based approaches are largely out of favour, they may be appropriate for non-English speaking learners. PSTs witnessed how certain groups or individuals might be discriminated against and marginalised within society, but had opportunities to examine how power inequalities could be mitigated by observing the inclusive approaches of their community organisations. They became more aware of the pedagogical complexity that arose when having to take into account issues of power, as well as social, cultural and economic factors. Finally, PSTs showed increased awareness of their own beliefs, identities and privilege, as well as the ambiguous and often intersecting roles of teacher and learner, and the way these roles could extend beyond the classroom context. Teacher education programs should ensure that PSTs have opportunities to engage in activities that encourage them to challenge traditional practices and assumptions. Critical engagement with issues of diversity can promote reflection and influence PSTs' approaches to pedagogy.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Teaching and learning
Academic self-concept, gender and single-sex schooling
Volume 35 Number 2, April 2009; Pages 259–288
Academic self-concept, or beliefs about one's own academic ability, is linked with learning outcomes, and varies across different academic subjects. Boys have typically been found to have higher academic self-concept in mathematics and science, and girls in English, which has implications for achievement for both boys and girls in these areas. A longitudinal study of 14,761 individuals born in Britain in 1958 examined gender differences in academic self-concept, as well as the effects of single-sex and selective schooling on self-concept. Test results, anonymous self-assessments, and teacher interviews were used to gather data. Respondents' academic self-concept was highly gender stereotyped: boys had a significantly higher estimation of their mathematics and science abilities than girls, with approximately a fifth considering themselves 'above average' compared with about a tenth of girls; twice as many boys as girls considered themselves 'below average' in English. Alternative explanations for differences in self-concept include the influence of parents, peers, the media, as well as gender biases in the curriculum: the data showed that girls were twice as likely as boys to have never studied science. Levels of parental education and social class affected students' self-concept across the three subject areas, as did prior academic attainment and the type of school students attended. Private and selective schooling was associated with lower self-concept in mathematics, English, and science. This aligns with Marsh and Hau's 'Big-Fish-Little-Pond' effect, where self-concept is determined in relation to the achievement of peers: students with high-achieving peers are more likely to see themselves as below average than if they are surrounded by lower-achieving peers. Girls at single-sex schools were less likely to see themselves as 'below average' in maths and science and 'above average' in English than those in co-educational schools; boys at single-sex schools tended to consider themselves 'above average' at English. Co-educational schooling therefore appears to exacerbate gendered perceptions of students' abilities: these perceptions should be challenged within schools. Despite girls' increased academic attainment, girls' academic self-concept remains low relative to boys', which has implications for their academic achievement and future directions, particularly in relation to mathematics and science.
English language teaching
A comparison of text structure and self-regulated writing strategies for composing from sources by middle school students
Volume 30 Number 3, May 2009; Pages 265–300
The ability to comprehend, synthesise and summarise information from multiple texts is an important but complex skill for middle years students. Research has indicated that an understanding of text structure supports both students' understanding of expository text and their summarising skills. To determine whether specific teaching strategies could improve students' skills in these areas, a study analysed the effectiveness of two intervention programs on the achievement of 121 Grade 7 students in Canada. For two and a half weeks, students were placed in one of three groups: a text structure instruction (TSI) group, a Plan & Write for Summarisation (PWS) group, or a control group. TSI students received explicit instruction in building text structure knowledge and developing summaries using multiple expository texts. PWS students received instruction in selecting and organising information from expository texts, and worked with their teacher to set personal goals based on their past performance on composition tasks. The control group students completed question-and-answer activities typical of those found in textbooks and undertook creative writing tasks. All groups worked with the same source materials, and teachers received coaching in implementing their assigned intervention type. Students' achievement was assessed in terms of their ability to identify main ideas, their writing quality, and their content knowledge. Students in the treatment groups outperformed the control group on all three measures. TSI students demonstrated greater longer-term gains in their identification of main ideas. It was hypothesised that the PWS intervention's emphasis on organisation and writing quality would lead to better outcomes in writing quality for this group, but although PWS students outperformed the control group, TSI students demonstrated greater writing quality gains on all post-instruction assessment. TSI's explicit approach to text structure appeared to have a greater impact on students' summary writing than the more general approach of PWS. Knowledge gains for both intervention groups were also substantially greater than the control group, indicating that these approaches also facilitated content learning. Instruction in text structure should be an integral part of teaching expository writing strategies.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
An investigation of teachers' concerns about vocabulary and the representation of these concerns in content literacy methodology textbooks
Volume 30 Number 4, July 2009; Pages 319–339
A study in the USA has sought to identify middle grades teachers' concerns about vocabulary instruction, and how they were being addressed in popular textbooks. The researchers surveyed 390 Grades 6–8 teachers for their opinons, and a detailed analysis was then undertaken of three best-selling content area literacy textbooks. Teachers were most concerned with motivating students to learn vocabulary, providing multiple exposures to new words, helping students understand the importance of wide reading, teaching context clues, and teaching students to self-select words to be learnt. Analysis of the textbooks found that these topics were typically addressed in an indirect manner, such as under subheadings or embedded in the body of the text; few explicit instructional examples were provided. The textbooks rarely drew on research studies. Motivation, the area of greatest concern for teachers, was covered only indirectly, and the strategies provided were largely targeted to second language learners. Context clues was the most thoroughly covered area; however, textbooks varied in the quality of their examples and explanations, and strategies were targeted only to culturally and linguistically diverse learners. The issue of multiple exposures was dealt with only in passing, with all mentions being embedded and indirect; no strategies were provided. While there were a few examples of and references to specific teaching strategies around teaching students self-selection of vocabulary, no specific content area examples were given. Wide reading received the least amount of attention, and no practical examples or suggestions were given to facilitate students' reading for pleasure to increase vocabulary. The scope of the textbooks, necessarily broad and all-encompassing, failed to address the needs of practising teachers looking to improve students' vocabulary. Textbooks should be developed in conjunction with teachers to ensure they cover teachers' concerns and provide explicit definitions, strategies and examples.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
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