Volume 45, September 2009
The author identifies three key phases in school education policy since World War Two, and relates them to his personal history in teaching and his educational research. The First Way lasted until the mid 1970s, during which many students left school early for non-professional occupations. Heterogeneity in education and substantial autonomy for schools and teachers allowed traditional teacher-directed instruction to co-exist with varied experimental and student-centred approaches. Teaching was characterised by ‘presentism’, a focus on the short term. The Second Way introduced a focus on markets and standardisation. Many teachers complained at the loss of scope for professional judgement, and teachers’ morale declined. From the early 2000s this broad approach was 'revamped' into a Third Way, ‘even tighter in its imposition of ends, yet considerably more flexible in its orchestration of means’. It has focused excessively on standardised testing, and is pre-occupied with data analysis at the expense of deeper engagement with teaching and learning. It also encourages an ‘adaptive’ or even ‘addictive’ presentism that acquiesces to, or hyperactively pursues, rapid superficial reform focused on narrowly defined targets. Current trends in school education are evident in four projects with which the author has been involved. The first project was a case study of school leadership in Finland. The second included the study of very successful inter-school collaboration in the disadvantaged, ethnically diverse Tower Hamlets borough in London. The third was the AISI study of school-initiated reforms in Alberta, and the last project an initiative combining special needs and general education reform in Ontario. The gathering strength of current trends suggest that a Fourth Way is now starting to emerge. In the Fourth Way, innovation and creativity will expand from current niche roles in education to overturn standardisation as the main driver of educational thinking. Current preoccupation with test result on 'basics' will give way to preparation for socially responsible community participation. Teachers and schools, across sectors, will assist one another more deeply. Government policy will increasingly promote student achievement and well-being by developing community and family capacity to assist them, rather than through the ‘lesser variable’ of school practices. School leadership will increasingly develop within the context of cross-school professional learning communities; leaders will support other, struggling schools ‘and start to “let go” of their own schools as they do so, building new leadership capacity behind them’. Generation Y leaders will use styles and technologies closer to those of students. Comprehensive standardised testing will be abandoned as too costly to support.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
United States of America (USA)
Volume 39 Number 3, 22 September 2009; Page 345–360
Two international assessments involving reading literacy, PIRLS 2006 and PISA 2006, are examined in terms of their value and limitations for informing educational practice and policy. PIRLS, conducted every five years, assesses the reading literacy of Grade 4 students in 40 countries. PISA assesses 15-year-old students in 57 countries every three years; PISA 2009 is currently being administered. A total of 28 countries take part in both assessments. Each study provides an overall report on reading performance as well as breakdowns by content, and by process. For example, PIRLS measures country performances regarding reading content through the subscales of informational text and literacy text, and reading process through the subscales of 'retrieve/straightforward inference' and 'interpret/integrate/evaluate'. Both studies also report performance against qualitatively measured benchmarks. Several factors are significantly linked to reading performance, including levels of reading engagement, SES, numbers of immigrant students, and gender. Females outperform males on all aspects of reading literacy. The gap is greater in PISA, suggesting either gender bias in measurement methods, or that the gap grows between primary and secondary school. The question of how best to teach reading is also considered. For example, the frequency with which particular teaching strategies are employed may be determined by different influences, eg curriculum mandates or teachers' perceptions of students' needs, which may explain the weak and sometimes counter-intuitive links found between this variable and student performance. PISA and PIRLS add value by identifying system-level variables that are open to reform. However, the accuracy of comparisons between the two assessments is restricted by differences in the type of participants and the nature of the questions asked. The two studies have produced distinctly different rankings of reading performance by country, eg the Russian Federation was the highest performer in PIRLS 2006 but performed below the average on PISA 2006. The comparison of results between developed countries and other countries is substantially hindered by different material and cultural contexts. An assessment targeted specifically to developed countries would avoid this problem.
Fathers' involvement in young children's literacy development: implications for family literacy programmes
Volume 35 Number 2, April 2009; Pages 167–185
The extent of fathers' involvement in literacy practices is suggested to be less than mothers', and fathers are often less visible in literacy programs. Using interviews and records from home visits, the authors examined the extent to which fathers participated in their children's early literacy development. Participants were 80 families taking part in a family early literacy program in Britain. While fathers' visible participation in the program was low, with many unable to attend program meetings due to work commitments, almost all fathers (93%) were reported to have engaged to some extent in literacy practices with their children. In addition, 29% of families reported that both mother and father were equally involved in their children's literacy practices, although in two-thirds of families the mother helped the most. Those fathers not involved in literacy practices were significantly more likely to be on a low income. Fathers participated in literacy activities with their children in several ways. They were frequently reported as showing recognition of their children's literacy achievements, for example by offering spoken encouragement, or displaying literacy-related work in the home. In addition, almost two-thirds of fathers read with their children, and almost half helped their children with writing, while others sang nursery rhymes or told stories to their children. Almost two-thirds of fathers modelled reading behaviours, while over half modelled writing practices. However, very few examples were given of fathers providing literacy opportunities and resources for their children. The results suggest two main implications for improving family literacy programs in order to better engage fathers. First, such programs should acknowledge that they are building on families' existing knowledge, skills and cultures. Fathers' contributions, which may not be highly visible, should also be acknowledged. Second, family literacy programs should ensure that their modes of delivery are both flexible and appealing. For example, activities should take account of the diversity of interests and abilities within families, and programs could offer home visits rather than centre-based meetings.
Subject HeadingsEducation - parent participation
Parent and child
Volume 35 Number 2, April 2009; Pages 187–204
A case is sometimes advanced to increase numbers of male teachers in order to provide 'role models' for boys. However, this argument makes assumptions about teachers' and students' shared roles and beliefs, and runs the risk of categorising students into homogenised and stereotyped gender groups. Using classroom observations and interviews, the authors examine whether the gender of a primary teacher mattered to primary students, and whether teachers' approaches and beliefs were affected by the gender of their students. The participants were 307 Grade 3 students and 51 of their teachers in Britain. The vast majority of students felt that their teacher's gender was unimportant; they were more concerned with teachers' professional abilities. Whether taught by males or females, the overwhelming majority of students reported that their teachers encouraged them, made them work hard, and treated all classmates fairly. However, while the gender of their teacher did not matter to students, students were strongly aware of their own gendered identities. When asked to describe positive characteristics of their male and female teachers, the students nominated similar traits for both sexes, but when asked in what ways they wanted to 'be like' their teachers, students listed skills and characteristics that were stereotypically gender appropriate. Boys drew on constructions of masculinity involving authority and knowledge, whereas girls drew on traits such as being caring and kind. Teachers were strongly aware of students' gender, and consciously varied their teaching or classroom management styles accordingly. One reason they did so was to address a perceived need to cater to boys' interests in order to counteract their underachievement. As a result, however, teachers drew on stereotypes around boys' and girls' interests and learning behaviours as well as simplified conceptions of student identities that failed to acknowledge other influencing factors such as class, race and individual interests. Other teachers held 'taken for granted' conceptions around gender. Students' focus on constructing a 'gender appropriate' identity, and teachers' gender-oriented teaching practices, suggest that the complexity of gender issues in primary schools needs to be acknowledged and addressed in policy.
Subject HeadingsBoys' education
Volume 30 Number 2, March 2009; Pages 119–147
Using classroom observations and reading assessments, the authors examined the relationships between particular approaches to reading lesson instruction and students' end-of-year reading achievement. The participants were 16 Grade 1 and Grade 2 teachers in the USA and 166 of their students. The results suggested a complex relationship between the characteristics of reading instruction and students' reading level. Surprisingly, no significant correlations were found between student achievement and the use of instructional materials, provision of active learning, or teachers' preferred literacy focus. However, reading level was significantly correlated with the size of instructional groupings; coaching; and teachers' use of telling, a form of explicit instruction in the social setting of the reading lesson. The teachers of higher achieving Grade 1 students made moderate use of telling, coaching, small-group and whole-class instruction. Higher performing Grade 2 students' teachers were somewhat similar: they balanced coaching and telling, and used little small group instruction. In contrast, the Grade 1 and Grade 2 teachers of lower performing students both used relatively high levels of small group instruction, and either very little or extensive coaching. Two interpretations of the data are possible. The first is that the increased student achievement was the result of teacher influence, which suggests that learning may be enhanced by moderate amounts of telling and coaching, moderate amounts of small- and whole-group instruction of Grade 1 students, and a more individualised approach for Grade 2 students. The second interpretation is that the teachers adapted their teaching styles according to their students' grade level and reading needs. This interpretation would suggest a need for teachers to ensure that their teaching style is sufficiently flexible to support diverse learners.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsChild development
Teaching and learning
Volume 13 Number 1 & 2, 2009; Pages 81–101
Families play an important role in children's early literacy development, which is linked with later educational achievement. Recognising this, early literacy programs such as Reach Out and Read (ROR) in the USA are designed to promote parental engagement in children's reading. Based in family medical clinics, the program provides free books to families, as well as a 'prescription' for parents to read with their children for 10 minutes each day. Using interviews, the author examined the impact of ROR on the frequency and quality of literacy activities among low-SES minority families in the USA. The participants were 22 parents attending a ROR clinic, and 15 non-ROR parents; five ROR and two non-ROR doctors were also interviewed. While most families had some literacy materials at home, ROR parents were more likely than non-ROR families to own children's books. For 16% of ROR parents, the free ROR books were the only reading materials in their homes; many families also shared the ROR books with other family members or friends. The majority of parents from both groups reported that someone in their household read with their child at least once a week. However, non-ROR parents were more likely to read with their children every day than ROR parents. This may have been in part due to language issues, as non-ROR adults reading with children included grandparents and other relatives who usually spoke a different first language. It may also have been related to the fact that the families' cultural heritage traditionally privileged oral storytelling over written storytelling. Parents' literacy practices and beliefs were influenced by the ROR program: they mentioned using new approaches such as making up stories to go with a picture book text, and were more aware of the importance of early literacy on later development. However, parents, while supportive of the program, suggested that they would benefit from greater explanation of appropriate literacy techniques, receiving more information about literacy development, and having access to a greater variety of books, including bilingual books. Doctors, similarly, desired more information about child language development and appropriate approaches.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsChild development
United States of America (USA)
Better managing homophobia
October 2009; Pages 62–63
Bullying of same-sex attracted students remains an issue in Australian schools, with 38% of such students reporting being bullied or discriminated against based on their sexuality. A 2005 survey indicated that 44% of same-sex attracted youth experienced verbal abuse, and 16% experienced physical abuse, with male youth particularly vulnerable. Bullied students reported abuse from family members, fellow students and strangers, and that the bullying and discrimination they experienced was often ongoing. While the investment of resources, targeted professional development, and community development programs have helped teachers and schools promote acceptance and discourage homophobia, there is a need for greater intervention and awareness in schools. However, a more systemic approach to promoting acceptance appears underway. For example, the new national goals for education, recently released by MCEEDYA, outline a commitment to an education free from discrimination based, among other traits, on sexual orientation, and state-level policies around sexual diversity are emerging. One exemplar is the Supporting Sexual Diversity in Schools policy in Victoria. This policy promotes an inclusive approach to supporting same-sex attracted students, and aims to actively discourage homophobia. Its recommendations include that: schools model exemplary behaviour to students; diversity and openness be celebrated and accepted; issues around bullying and discrimination be immediately addressed; existing DEECD policies and materials on bullying and discrimination be applied, and students, including those who choose not to be identified, have access to information and support. Such goals and policies both emphasise the need for acceptance of diversity, and offer a means for teachers to more actively deal with issues of homophobia in classrooms and the school generally.
Subject HeadingsInclusive education
Gay and lesbian issues
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Volume 39 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 119–140
Despite the fact that group work can promote academic, social and attitudinal improvement, and is often preferred by students, time pressures and curricular demands mean that learners in Britain often lack opportunities for appropriate and structured small-group participation. Using lesson observations and assessment data, the authors examined whether collaborative group work resulted in greater achievement than whole-class instruction. Participants were 14 English, 16 science, and 15 mathematics teachers and their 11- to 14-year-old pupils, randomly assigned to 'whole-class' or 'group-work' conditions. Teachers in the group-work condition received training in improving group cohesion and communication. Students in the group-work condition generally achieved more highly on tests than those in the whole-class condition. In English, students in the group-work condition outperformed their whole-class peers for both creative and discursive writing, with boys in particular showing increased improvement, although not enough to close the gender gap. Similar achievement was found for students in mathematics classes, with group-work students achieving better results than whole-class students. However, while boys did better when taught in groups, girls performed better in whole-class teaching approaches. The results for the science classes were more complex, with achievement being somewhat topic-dependent. Boys did equally well when taught using either group-work or whole-class methods, whereas girls' performance was better when working in groups. While initially greater engagement was seen in whole-class instruction groups, this shifted somewhat to favour group-work conditions in both science and mathematics; English engagement was similar for both conditions. The quality and depth of students' interactions also improved in group-work conditions. While group work should not supplant whole-class teaching, it can be an effective complementary organisational strategy to promote both academic learning and peer relationships. Outcomes can be improved by ensuring that pupils are trained to work effectively in groups. In addition, teachers should also brief and debrief the class, provide opportunities for students to 'report back' to the class, effectively scaffold group learning, and ensure that the use of groups is purposeful rather than arbitrary.
Group work in education
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