Assistant Principal Teaching: a case study
Volume 31 Number 3, 2009; Pages 7–13
The quality of teaching is consistently identified by research as the key factor in lifting student performance. During 2008 Emmaus College in New South Wales sought ways to make further improvements to teaching at the school. Its leaders decided that a key step in this process was to alter the role of the Assistant Principal. Traditionally the AP role dealt with curriculum matters on one hand and student management and administration on the other. It was now decided to establish an Assistant Principal Teaching (APT) position dedicated entirely to developing teacher quality, identifying teacher leaders, and identifying how teachers could best learn from these leaders. A separate Assistant Principal School (APS) position focused on organisational, accountability and policy issues, with both APs reporting to and collaborating with the Principal. The APT led the implementation of several related reforms concerning teaching. In Term 1 the APT visited all classrooms as part of a move to deprivatise teaching and to change the purpose and image of classroom observations at the school. Where classroom visits had previously been associated with pre-service teacher education or observation of underperforming teachers, they were now to be used to illustrate excellent teaching practice and encourage teachers to learn from one another. For this reason the APT began with those teachers generally regarded as outstanding. In Term 2 the APT helped to implement new reporting systems and criteria frameworks for the grading of 'literacy, application and participation' for each key learning area. Term 3 saw the introduction of a major shift in approach toward classes taken by visiting or relief teachers; there were well over 5000 such classes across the school year. It was found that student behaviour and application was poor in these classes, and that this transferred over to other classes, eroding expectation and accountability. The APT administered a program to challenge and overcome poor student attitudes toward these classes. Term 4 brought a breakthrough on each of these fronts: staff surveys conducted at the end of the year demonstrated clear agreement across the school that the roles of APT and APS were contributing well to school improvement.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
Volume 79 Number 1, Spring 2009; Pages 464–490
School size debates have traditionally revolved around issues of perceived cost effectiveness, students' exposure to social and academic diversity, student–teacher connectedness, and structural flexibility. To examine effects of school size, the authors undertook a literature review of 57 empirical studies published between 1990 and 2007; the studies were also contextualised within a wider body of research. Smaller schools were found to improve academic outcomes for primary students, and in particular for lower SES students. While evidence for secondary schools was mixed, the authors suggest that data may have been skewed by significantly higher drop-out rates at larger schools, as low retention of struggling students would mitigate the effects of their poor achievement on their school's average. Still, the evidence suggested a non-linear relationship between achievement and school size, where achievement peaked at a certain point before declining; these data tended to favour small to mid-sized schools. Larger schools were associated with greater curriculum breadth, but the research also raised issues of lack of curriculum depth and reduced core academic outcomes. The communal environments more typically found in smaller schools were associated with better outcomes for disadvantaged students, and were not found to reduce outcomes for more advantaged students; they were also associated with lower levels of anti-social behaviour. Smaller schools also promoted significantly stronger school engagement, and generally allowed students a stronger sense of connection to the school. They usually offered more places than larger schools in extracurricular activities such as sports and drama in proportion to total student numbers. Evidence around cost efficiency and school size was mixed; smaller schools tended to have difficulty attracting and retaining staff. Principals avoided applying to very small schools due to issues around perceived funding and career advancement, and to large schools due to issues around organisational complexity and lack of support. Primary and secondary schools in disadvantaged areas should be limited to around 300 and 600 students respectively; those in more advantaged areas should not exceed about 500 and 100 students respectively. 'Schools within schools' approaches may offer a means to improve large school outcomes without expensive structural redesign.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
School enrolment levels
Reconciling the tensions of new teachers' socialisation into school culture: a review of the research
Volume 19 Number 2, July 2009; Pages 83–99
The article reviews a wide range of qualitative and quantitative studies published between 1969 and 2005 that cover new teachers' socialisation into school culture. The literature highlights different themes at different times. In the period from 1969–1980, the concerns of new teachers were framed mainly in terms of their perceptions of self; from the 1980s to the late 1990s in terms of professional sustainability; and from 2000–2005 in terms of new teachers' emerging identities. The early 1990s saw growing concerns around individualised learning, relationships with colleagues, and finding time for planning and professional reflection within a role described as chaotic and 'furiously rushed', and around this time the texts begin to refer to 'teacher burnout'. However, new teachers' main concerns, the trajectory of their development, and the contexts they face have all remained similar over the 35-year timespan, and some points raised within specific articles appear relevant to the whole period of the review. New teachers' persistent concerns include management of the classroom and individual student behaviour, maintaining student engagement, the quality of their classroom teaching and its impact on student achievement, and their assessment practice. New teachers commence with enthusiasm but are generally challenged by the realities of school and classroom life. Often this means abandoning the pedagogical practices that 'resonate with students' emotional, creative, and intellectual development' in favour of a scripted curriculum, particularly when the school is under pressure from standardised testing regimes. The new teachers describe a hierarchical 'pecking order' where colleagues observe whether they sink or swim rather than supporting them; similarly, social acceptance is determined by 'cultural gatekeepers' who model approved forms of teacher conduct. New teachers worry about ostracism from colleagues, and can struggle to sustain their sense of self-worth as their performance is judged by the school community. They also find themselves negotiating their understandings of the distinctive subcultures that collectively determine the overall dynamics of the school. Positioning himself from a post-industrial, postmodern perspective, the author calls for schools to attend more closely to the individual needs and capacities of new teachers.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Six steps to better vocabulary instruction
September 2009; Pages 83–84
While research is important for informing educational practices of systems, schools and individual teachers, its application is not as straightforward as sometimes suggested. One reason is that different studies around a particular research topic often vary in their findings and recommendations. Another reason is that even a strategy well-supported by research can fail if implemented poorly, for example by not accommodating contextual factors at a particular school. The author describes these issues in relation to a strategy he developed for vocabulary instruction, known as the 'Six-step process'. When a teacher introduces a new vocabulary term, it should be described and explained through an example or anecdote that brings out the term's meaning, not simply through a textbook definition. As a second step, students should be asked to relate the term to something from their own experience, and third, to draw an image, such as a symbolic representation, to illustrate the term's meaning. The last three steps, which can be implemented in any order, all involve review of the term a few days later: by comparing it to a similar term previously studied, by discussing the term with other students, and by playing games that show the term's meaning in a relaxed way. The author was involved in 50 studies of this process. The reviews confirmed its value as a general strategy, and found that it could work well at every K–12 level, and that it worked most effectively if all of the six steps were employed. However, its success was also found to depend on effective practical implementation, particularly at steps two and three. At step two, for example, students must not be allowed to fall back on transcription of the teacher's notes. Even instructional strategies of proven value are not foolproof; they must be adapted to local contexts and enacted in a way that reflects their overall approach.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEducation research
English language teaching
Volume 20 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 3–26
The principal's role in managing the primary school curriculum may be more direct than it is usually perceived to be. Using interviews, documents and surveys, the authors examined the influence of the principal on the curriculum, as well as on teaching and learning, in six primary schools undergoing curriculum reform in Hong Kong. The principals' approaches to leadership and management were also analysed. The school principals exerted strong influence on curriculum development, both directly and indirectly. Four dominant principal roles were identified by teachers at the schools: the resource winner, group leader, innovator and disturbance handler. Principals' roles in curriculum development tended to be at an organisationally high level, and included curriculum development director, curriculum leader, and curriculum development initiator and supporter. Principals were highly involved in school development planning, teacher recruitment, PR, legal matters and management. However, they were less involved in liaison and information provision, which tended to fall to assistant principals, department heads or senior teachers, who often acted as a 'bridge' between the principal and other staff. Principals tended to 'positively inspire' and 'actively encourage' high achievement in teaching and learning by promoting high levels of communication and consulting with, observing and supporting teachers. Degrees of direct involvement varied, however, with some principals providing hands-on support, and others acting more as facilitators. Leadership styles tended to follow a pattern of consulting, listening and then deciding. While collaborative approaches were encouraged, hierarchical relationships between the teachers and the principals were evident: for example, the principal took responsibility for setting the school's vision and goals, which teachers then worked toward. This approach may reflect the top-down leadership approaches typically found in Hong Kong schools. Key differences were found between the roles of these primary principals with those of secondary principals examined in earlier studies: primary principals were more directly involved and responsible for leading and managing the curriculum, and were able to launch school-wide and cross-curricular initiatives.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
A two-dimensional model of teacher retention and mobility: classroom teachers and their university partners take a closer look at a vexing problem
Volume 60 Number 2, April 2009; Pages 168–183
A collaborative professional development relationship between Georgia University and a primary school sought to examine reasons behind high teacher mobility at the school, as well as factors influencing teacher retention. Surveys, interviews and questionnaires were used to gather perspectives around reasons for retention or mobility from 134 teachers at the school, which serviced a highly diverse and low-SES population. Teachers identified five themes as essential to retention. Shared values, such as emphasis on academic outcomes, were perceived as particularly important. Teachers also valued the diverse student body, perceiving they could 'make a difference' and appreciating the high engagement and motivation of students and their families. Teachers appreciated having a supportive, open administration that valued their opinions and approaches. Day-to-day experiences of teaching, including grade-level assignments, provision of teaching resources, and availability of professional development, were also important, and the supportive, collaborative relationships between members of staff were a strong factor in influencing retention. In contrast, four key themes emerged as contributing to staff mobility or attrition. Mismatch between teachers' and administrators' views in both the personal and professional spheres, such as around teaching approaches, school policies, or expectations of staff, was a major factor. Issues of trust and control resulting in teachers feeling disempowered or restricted contributed to dissatisfaction; likewise, perceptions of inequitable treatment of teachers by administrators led to teacher discontent and departure. Leadership style was a considerable concern, with teachers identifying the school's outcomes-driven philosophy, communication issues, and opaque and undemocratic decision-making practices as sources of frustration. A two-dimensional model of retention and mobility was proposed, with dimensions comprising a) congruency between teacher and administrator beliefs and practices, and b) teachers' relational needs, and whether these were being met. Teachers with high relational needs but experiencing low congruence of beliefs and practices were most likely to leave; teachers falling into other quadrants were more likely to stay. The model could be used as an intervention at three stages: during an initial interview, when a teacher is showing signs of discontent, and when a teacher has already decided to leave.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Defending interpretations of literary texts: the effects of topoi instruction on the literary arguments of high school students
Volume 25 Number 4, September 2009; Pages 250–270
Research indicates that secondary students often experience difficulty in interpreting literary texts, in reading critically, and in writing in-depth interpretations. Scaffolding students' writing by providing explicit writing goals has been found to improve their analytical writing. The authors examined how direct instruction in 'topoi', frameworks for reading, analysing and evaluating texts, can be used to enhance students' deep understandings of literary texts. Five topoi were found to be frequently used in literature instruction in the classroom: of these, two were selected for the intervention. These were the ubiquity topos, involving the repetition of a certain form, and the paradox topos, involving the attempt to reconcile contradictions. Six low-achieving students in Grade 10 or 11 received explicit instruction in recognising figurative language to prepare them for understanding thematic patterns in literature, and were then given instruction in identifying instances of the ubiquity (repetition) or paradox (contradiction) topoi. Their instructor then modelled The Reader strategy, designed to help them look for general textual patterns, form a thesis, use textual citations, and link their citations to their thesis. While prior to the intervention, students had demonstrated very little knowledge of how to write analytical essays around the selected topoi, nearly all students' post-intervention essays successfully identified and included the particular topos of instruction. Textual citations also improved, as did students' ability to link these citations to their thesis; the overall quality of students' essays also showed significant improvement. Students also used aspects of The Reader strategy in passages that did not contain the target topoi patterns, indicating transfer of this knowledge. This was significant, as students had previously been unable to consistently employ these elements of analytical writing in their work. Low-achieving students or students with learning disabilities in particular may benefit from this sort of explicit instruction. Specially devised 'think sheets' used to support students' writing may be an effective tool to benefit whole-class instruction in analytical writing.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Volume 31 Number 2, January 2009; Pages 279–296
Scientific literacy requires the ability to consider and make decisions around complex socioscientific issues (SSI). One important element of functional scientific literacy is the ability to identify and reflect on moral considerations around socioscientific issues. Prior research has indicated that moral sensitivity can be improved by ethics education. Part of a larger research project of the influence of SSI on learning outcomes, this study examined the effects of an SSI-based science curriculum on Year 11 and Year 12 students' development of moral sensitivity, the ability to recognise when a situation contains a moral aspect, and how potential solutions may affect others. Participants were students in four anatomy and physiology classes in the USA. Two classes participated in a traditional content-based curriculum, and the remaining two were assigned to an SSI-based treatment group where there was explicit focus on the nature of science, argumentation, and on discourse. The activities undertaken by students in the treatment classes were designed to promote deeper understanding of scientific concepts and their application to SSI, and aimed to align their interests with course content, challenge core values and beliefs, and apply content knowledge to scientific contexts in a personally relevant and meaningful manner. Prior to and after the year-long class, students completed an adapted form of the Test for Ethical Sensitivity in Science (TESS), designed to assess their ability to identify moral aspects around scientific issues. Both groups demonstrated increases in moral sensitivity scores, but the SSI treatment group showed significantly higher scores than the control group. Increases in moral sensitivity scores were achieved by improved articulation of moral concerns, demonstration of a greater number of lower level moral concerns, or a combination of the two. Higher levels of moral sensitivity were found in scenarios involving human beings than non-human entities. Sustained opportunities to engage with SSI can promote moral sensitivity and development, and can be targeted to non-human contexts.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
'Nothing to do': the impact of poverty on pupils' learning identities within out-of-school activities
Volume 35 Number 2, April 2009; Pages 305–321
Low-SES children have significantly fewer opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities; this can affect their learning experiences and identities. The authors interviewed 55 Grade 6 or Grade 9 children in England, half of whom were from low-SES backgrounds, about their participation in extracurricular activities. All children reported participating in a variety of spontaneous activities in the home and with friends and families. There was little difference in the types of spontaneous activities reported by low-SES children and by other children: activities included shopping, reading, household activities, bike-riding and playing football. However, substantial differences were apparent in children's participation in organised activities. Low-SES children participated in a narrower range of activities, relying more heavily on school-based cricket, drama and football clubs, whereas other children were more likely to participate in externally operated sports, music and arts activities. Low-SES children tended to perceive a scarcity of available activities in their schools or neighbourhood; this perceived lack of opportunity and choice was compounded by issues of access and cost. Involvement in organised extracurricular activities helped children build wider social networks with peers and adults, and children's learning was evident in the specialised vocabulary they developed around these activities. The systems for assessing and rewarding achievement in formalised activities, such as gradings, prizes and performances, were considered significant, positive experiences by the children, and were often linked with future aspirations. Low-SES children had fewer opportunities for such involvement, and demonstrated lower engagement with and knowledge of these activities. They also had fewer opportunities to develop wider social networks. These children were generally frustrated and disappointed by their inability to participate in organised activities; older children tended to develop negative learning identities, and excluded themselves by positioning themselves as 'not that kind of person'. The research raises issues about the range and quality of extracurricular activities accessible by low-SES students, as well as the importance of preventing the development of negative, self-excluding learning identities.
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
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