Young people's geographies
Volume 34 Number 1, Spring 2009; Pages 32–34
The Young People's Geographies (YPG) project in England centres on the 'lived geographies' of students: their everyday experiences, interests, beliefs and concerns are examined through the study of the geographical spaces they frequent, how they interact, their cultures and identities. Supporting recent reforms to England's secondary geography curriculum, the YPG encourages collaboration between teacher and student; a creative but critical approach to academic knowledge, allowing for diversity of ideas and their refinement through practical application, community involvement in the building of knowledge; and assessment intertwined with the process of student enquiry. The YPG also continues a tradition expressed in publications such as Cool Places. This book examined topics such as young people's experience of nightclubs and pubs and their use of public spaces such as parks and shopping centres, while also considering alternative geographical experiences of groups such as traveller children, and more theoretical issues including the commercialisation of youth culture. Another significant forerunner of the YPG was Children’s Geographies: this publication examined children's experience of the home, public and commercial arenas, playgrounds and the natural world; considered how cyberspace affects their experience of time, interpersonal relations and the community; and covered contrasting international experiences such as those of children in Zimbabwe. The publication also highlighted a 'culture of non-participation by young people' in Britain. While the government supports student 'voice' in school life, critics complain that such support channels students' involvement too narrowly toward the priorities of market-based models of education. The YPG instead follows theorists who encourage students to remake the school community and wider community. An example of the program is the My Place, My City project, in which Year 9 students from three schools collaborated to capture images of their local city, adding commentary, and sharing results with Kenyan students undertaking parallel activities. The YPG needs to build on successes to date by increasing the level of independent action undertaken by students themselves. The authors also note that the thinking behind approaches like the YPG has been criticised in books including The Corruption of the Curriculum as 'fundamentally anti-intellectual', content-poor and ultimately even disengaging for students.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Project based learning
School and community
National league tables: how can we influence the debate?
Volume 4, 18 June 2009; Pages 6–9
It is inevitable that the Australian Government will demand greater accountability for outlays on education, but there is scope to influence the measures used for such accountability. Two common measures are currently used across jurisdictions: NAPLAN literacy and numeracy data for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, and the Year 12 data used for tertiary admissions, which is 'relatively nationally consistent'. However, neither of these types of tests allow for the variations in school context that place their students at different starting points from peers at other schools. Value-added measures, however, offer a way to compare school performance independently of school context. Two types of value-added measures are fairly easily available. One is a standardised test, designed to capture a student's entry-level ability. They are relatively easy to administer, and earlier concerns regarding gender and cultural bias have been substantially addressed. Another type of value-added measure is the socioeconomic indicator, which can provide information about different resource levels and motivational influences that create unequal opportunities. One such measure, used by government agencies, is the Index of Relative Socioeconomic Disadvantage (IRSED). Despite certain distortions in the measures, they provide 'a useful and generally reliable way' to compare individual schools or groupings of like schools. Western Australia's Catholic Education Office (CEOWA) has developed a version of this measure, in which a school's Year 12 performance is compared to nine schools above and nine schools below it in terms of socioeconomic status (SES). The measure produces rankings very different from crude rankings by academic score alone. However, SES-related rankings should exclude some schools, including those in which very small cohorts may create statistical anomalies, and those in which distinctive cohorts, such as Indigenous students, are likely to influence results or introduce distinctive priorities for the school. A separate objection to 'league tables' is that they do not capture the full range of learning opportunities offered by schools. There is no effective way to measure such learning, but employers and parents 'are well educated about holistic school outcomes' and may value certain schools because of them. The article includes lists of common arguments for and against the publication of national school achievement data.
Students' fraction comparison strategies as a window into robust understanding and possible pointers for instruction
Volume 72 Number 1, September 2009; Pages 127–138
While knowledge of fractions is important to the middle years curriculum, and for later topics of study, it is both difficult to teach and to learn. In order to examine how students compared fractions of different sizes, the authors asked 323 Grade 6 children in Victoria to nominate the largest fraction in a pair for eight pairs, and to give a reason for their choice. Overall, achievement was low, with less than 5% of students correctly choosing the larger number each time. Approximately one-third of students appeared not to have a basic, 'part-whole' understanding of fractions. Students displaying a more conceptual understanding of fraction sizes tended to make use of reasoning strategies such as benchmarking and residual thinking. Benchmarking involves a student comparing two fractions to a third fraction, such as 1/2 or 1, to gauge the relative size of the two. Residual thinking refers to the strategy of 'building up to the whole': for example, 5/6 requires 1/6 to build up to the whole, whereas 7/8 requires only 1/8 to make a whole, meaning the latter is larger. In contrast, less successful students erroneously applied strategies that reflected low conceptual knowledge of fractions, and were often tied to whole-number thinking. For example, a student might argue that both 5/6 and 7/8 only require one 'piece' to complete the whole, an approach known as 'gap thinking'. Students also struggled with pairs such as 2/4 and 4/2, which they tended to equate; some students also 'flipped' improper fractions in order to give them meaning. In teaching fractions, teachers should emphasise meaning and concepts over procedures. They should take particular care in defining the numerator and denominator, as well as ensuring that students use appropriate mathematical language, for example 2/3 rather than 'two out of three'. Whole-class discussion of residual thinking and benchmarking strategies, and improved opportunities for estimation and approximation will allow students to develop an improved feeling for rational numbers.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Bullying and the postgraduate trainee teacher: a comparative study
Volume 35 Number 1, February 2009; Pages 3–18
This study aimed to compare postgraduate trainee teachers' experiences of bullying with those experiences reported by Maguire (2001), who found a high incidence of trainee teachers, particularly young female trainees, having been bullied during their course. PGCE students in the UK, 137 of whom were primary trainees, and 249 secondary trainees, completed a questionnaire about bullying; 8 students were also interviewed. Responses indicated that 14% of primary and 12% of secondary trainees had been bullied. Male trainees reported lower levels of bullying, with 11% of secondary and no primary trainees having experienced bullying. However, the extremely low numbers of male primary trainees should be noted. Female trainees under the age of 25 were most likely to experience bullying. Although some bullying occurred on campus, the vast majority of bullying occurred at schools, such as during school placements or during placement preparation. Class teachers and mentors were usually the instigators of bullying, which tended to take the form of negative or belittling comments, negative comments during lessons, and ignoring behaviours. These findings were generally consistent with Maguire's, who argued that the greater imbalance of power between younger trainees and their mentors could affect relationships and communication. Trainees who experienced bullying behaviours were concerned that their classroom authority had been undermined, that their mentors had unrealistic expectations of them, and that they were not receiving clear and appropriate feedback and guidance. As a result, trainees felt anxious about their teaching abilities, distressed, and demotivated; some considered leaving the placement or the course, and some implied having reconsidered their decision to become a teacher. The findings support Maguire's assertion that trainees' perceptions and experiences should be monitored to ensure that the mentoring experience is effective and appropriate. In addition, the authors suggest a need for mentor training and the development of appropriate mentoring procedures and protocols.
Teaching and learning
The development of leadership capacity through collaboration in small schools
Volume 29 Number 2, April 2009; Pages 129–156
In the UK, shifts in conceptions of leadership have led to more socially collaborative models, with collaboration between schools being promoted as a means to lead educational reform. For small schools, collaboration often takes the form of clustering, in which schools in a region form an alliance beneath a single principal. These approaches seek to retain the flexibility and community links of small schools while offering the wider and more specialised resources of a larger school. The author interviewed 57 principals of schools involved in clustering to examine their perceptions around collaboration. Principals reported increased time pressures due to travelling between collaborating schools, as well as extra organisational and reporting requirements in addition to their classroom teaching roles. Issues of workload were also raised: although the range and complexity of skills required of principals had increased, principals of small schools had limited opportunities to delegate among few, and often junior, staff. Principals did, however, enjoy opportunities for shared planning, documentation and subject leadership, and reflected that the joint buying power afforded by clustering improved outcomes for small schools with otherwise inadequate budgets, allowing schools to make purchases, hire relief teachers and improve PD opportunities. However, principals were concerned that special cluster funding, while facilitating development, could often be short-term, making planning and long-term implementation difficult. Collaboration offered increased opportunities to expand children's social and educational horizons through specialist teaching or coaching offered by other schools, as well as access to more diverse communities. However, there were concerns about collaboration influencing small schools' ethos, or there being misalignment of perceptions around important issues and values. Effective collaboration required careful negotiation of communication, coordination and control. However, the interviews indicated that too great an emphasis was placed on the organisational aspects of running a school rather than on developing a strategic vision or staff capacity. Small schools need carefully targeted support to develop these critical aspects of leadership.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
Evaluation of three primary teachers' approaches to teaching scientific concepts in persuasive ways
Volume 31 Number 12, August 2009; Pages 1607–1629
Students' science learning can be improved by spending more time on exploration of conceptual understandings rather than on practical work. However, this approach requires teachers not just to inform students about scientific views, but to persuade them of their value. In order to develop a pedagogical model around these ideas, the author examined how three upper primary science teachers sought to persuade students of the relevance of selected scientific concepts. The teachers discussed approaches and ideas together and with the author, and developed lesson plans and adapted their teaching practices to an agreed upon persuasive science lesson framework. All teachers, however, took a 'techno-utilitarian' approach to the lessons, resulting in a focus on hands-on procedures to the detriment of conceptual examination. The teachers tended to provide predetermined solutions, and tried to impart conceptual knowledge using definitions and labels. These approaches gave students few opportunities to engage in conceptual problem-solving or dialogical exchanges around science concepts. Issues also arose when the context used for teaching an idea was too complex. In these situations, the teachers found they did not have the required content knowledge, resulting in omissions and incorrect explanations. The classroom analyses indicated that teachers need clear guidelines in how to emphasise the functionality and value of a particular concept. The author proposes a two-part theme-specific plot to help teachers develop valuable scientific learning experiences. The first part comprises a multi-stage re-describing phase. During the 'exposition' stage, teachers should arouse students' interest in the theme, and provide opportunities for student discussion. A 'complication', or puzzling event that creates conflict between students' observations and perceptions, should then be introduced. The 'climax' stage occurs when students are unable to resolve the problem, and require an explanation, resulting in a 'resolution' that rewards students' efforts with understanding and 'new scientific ways of seeing the world'. The second part, the application phase, allows students to apply their new knowledge in a novel context to develop appreciation of the value or functionality of the concept. The use of appropriate persuasive approaches and the identification of suitable contexts for teaching specific concepts will help students understand the value of particular scientific ways of thinking.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Thought and thinking
Approaches to the teaching of creative and non-creative mathematical problems
Volume 7 Number 1, February 2009; Pages 55–79
Current approaches to mathematics teaching tend to focus on problem solving, and emphasise real-life, creative, and higher order thinking problems. Such conceptually challenging problems are linked to reform-oriented curricula and pedagogy; in contrast, procedurally oriented problems are linked with traditional approaches. New curriculums therefore require teachers to accommodate creative approaches into their teaching. Using interviews and classroom observations, the author examined the use of creative and rote problems in mathematics classes, in particular how three Grade 5 teachers in Taiwan interpreted and taught four fractions problems, two of which were creative, and two procedural. The teachers' perceptions of the problems varied according to their personal mathematical constructs and pedagogical ideologies, which were reflected in their classroom teaching. The first teacher, who took a liberal approach to teaching, emphasised imagination and basic understanding, and preferred to work on ill-structured problems, stimulating and encouraging students to explore the creative problems and their diverse solutions. The second, who preferred a reasoning approach, focused on clear understanding, posing problems and scaffolding, and adapting the mathematical problems into 'how' or 'why' questions. In contrast, the third teacher was skills-focused, and emphasised correct solutions while paying little attention to mathematical concepts. The teachers' different approaches affected how the same material was taught: each of the teachers reworked the questions to be in line with their teaching preferences, for example by transforming the problems or creating supplementary problems. Given that students need to learn both creative and procedural aspects of mathematics, teachers need to be able to flexibly reframe their teaching to suit different problem types. This is particularly true in relation to working with creative or ill-structured problems, an approach that requires new and appropriate teaching approaches.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Inquiry based learning
Pride and prejudice . . . and other barriers to teaching for Asian New Zealanders
Volume 29 Number 2, June 2009; Pages 143–159
Despite having higher levels of academic achievement than the New Zealand national average, and despite comprising almost 10% of the population, Asian New Zealanders are significantly under-represented in the teaching profession. To examine potential barriers to pursuing a career in teaching, the author conducted interviews with nine Chinese- or Korean-born New Zealanders aged between sixteen and eighteen, as well as five of their parents. Six European-ancestry students and three European-ancestry parents were also interviewed. Low teaching salaries were a deterrent for all students, although the Asian students indicated they would reconsider teaching if remuneration improved, whereas European students would not, citing high workload and the negative public image of teachers as concerns. The profession's low status was a concern for Chinese-background students, but not for European New Zealanders, or students from Korea, where teachers are highly valued. Asian New Zealand students indicated that low entry requirements for teaching made it less desirable than other more prestigious careers: teaching was seen as a 'fall-back job' by students in all groups. Asian students were more likely to see teaching as lacking intellectual stimulation; in contrast, European students suggested it could be enjoyable. Lack of student respect, poor student behaviour, and low student achievement arose as issues, particularly for Asian students, who felt that they would regard such outcomes as a personal failure. Differences in teaching and disciplinary methods were seen as a barrier by Asian-background students, as was the absence of non-European teaching role models. Asian students were concerned about potential racism and cultural differences, as well as potential loss of face in front of students. While parental influence was a factor in career choice for Chinese-background students, parents were generally supportive of their children's career choices, and of teaching as a career. While overcoming the identified barriers requires significant financial and attitudinal changes toward minority students and the teaching profession, intensive recruitment campaigns featuring Asian teachers, as well as scholarships and mentoring program, could encourage Asian students to consider a career in teaching while longer term policy initiatives are considered.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Work-shadowing as a process for facilitating leadership succession in primary schools
Volume 29 Number 3, July 2009; Pages 239–251
Work-shadowing, where senior teachers or vice-principals work closely with a mentor principal at another school, provides an opportunity for potential principals to experience the reality of the principal's role firsthand. It can help those considering a principalship position 'think' themselves into the role, learn to conceive of themselves as capable leaders, and construct a leadership identity. To examine the effectiveness of a shadowing program, the authors interviewed nine teachers and vice-principals who shadowed principals, and five principals who were shadowed. Shadowers' reasons for participating in the shadowing activity included wanting to gain insights into management, to learn about practice that could inform their current role, to learn about principalship, and to test or confirm their career plans. Approaches to shadowing comprised both 'pure' shadowing and shadowing that involved complementary elements such as in-depth discussion of principalship, learning about the particular school context, and investigating a particular topic of interest. Shadowers considered it important that they were briefed on how the shadowing activities would be structured and on the form they would take, and that the agreed strategies were in line with their expertise and career outlook. In addition, it was felt that the value of the shadowing activity largely depended on how the principals helped shadowers interpret and reflect on their observations at both micro and macro levels. For example, one principal explained in advance the tactics he planned to use in meetings, as well as discussing how he changed roles depending on the context of interaction. Other principals helped contextualise events and actions in terms of underlying histories and culture, explaining how they modelled 'strategic behaviour' or used different leadership styles as appropriate. The shadowing process should also aim to focus on challenges and changes experienced during the transition to principalship, as well as identity concerns of prospective principals. Finally, consideration should be given to perceived power differences that may mean less experienced participants feeling inhibited in asking questions or participating fully.
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