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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Abstracts

Orchestrating 'the end' of mathematics lessons

Volume 24 Number 2,  2009; Pages 3–6
Jill Cheeseman

Changes in the nature of school mathematics should be reflected in a new approach to the concluding stages of primary maths classes. In the past, maths classes were characterised by the exposition of a topic by the teacher, who then demonstrated a particular technique which students could use to complete exercises in class and further exercises set as homework. Today teachers tend to create learning opportunities through 'rich tasks' that call for mathematical thinking; teachers encourage varied problem solving, and often question individuals or groups about the approaches they use. Teachers are usually skilled at this work of introducing and explaining topics, and questioning students and monitoring their performance throughout lessons. However teachers tend to be less confident in their use of the closing stages of a class. At this time children should be called on to explain and reflect on the strategic thinking they have used during the class. Simple descriptions of what students 'did' should be avoided. Reports should be limited to only a few students selected for their ability to illustrate different strategies. Description of this activity as 'sharing time' should be avoided, as it underplays the complexity of the descriptions that should be expected. The end of class may be used to reiterate the purpose of the lesson, and make the 'big idea' explicit; address the varying mathematical learning needs of different students; draw together students' different perspectives; relate the mathematical ideas to the natural language used by children; provide a sense of completion; provide positive feedback for good ideas; and set new challenges. The full article is available online on the website of the Mathematics Association of Victoria.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Mathematics teaching
Primary education
Inquiry based learning
Questioning

A case-study of one teacher's use of an interactive whiteboard system to support knowledge co-construction in the history classroom

Volume 20 Number 4, December 2009; Pages 365–387
Rosemary Deaney, Arthur Chapman, Sara Hennessy

Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) allow for a range of digital resources to be accessed and integrated. They permit multimodal presentations, adaption and dynamic manipulation of resources, and also allow for immediate feedback. Using interviews and classroom observations, the authors examine the ways in which one secondary history teacher in Britain made exemplary use of an IWB to develop his Year 8 students' content and disciplinary knowledge over six lessons. The research was part of the larger T-MEDIA study. The authors describe the teacher's approach within a wider discussion of the demands of the history discipline. The teacher believed firmly in highly collaborative approaches to learning that encouraged students to express their ideas and engage critically with historical concepts, and used the IWB to support this pedagogy. The teacher provided a variety of multimedia resources that students could interact with, such as simulations and audio clips. Scaffolding, modelling, and processes of whole-class co-construction were used to develop students' historical and disciplinary knowledge, and the IWB was used to support these processes by making them explicit. The students were encouraged to use the IWB, which frequently functioned as a 'collective notepad'. The IWB's drag and drop function, for example, was used by students to categorise certain elements into lists, while the draw function was used to annotate maps to explain certain historical narratives. Students worked in pairs, groups, or as a whole class to speculate, discuss ideas and justify their reasoning before being invited to add their contributions in the form of textual or graphical annotation on the IWB. This approach encouraged student participation, and made visible their responses and ideas: the students felt that this approach made learning 'more social'. The teacher elicited students' existing understandings in order to build on their knowledge or disabuse them of misconceptions, using a combination of IWB resources and targeted questioning. In addition to being used to develop students' knowledge, the IWB was used to test and consolidate students' understandings of key concepts in the discipline. For example, particular resources, such as those used in source interpretation exercises, were 'archived' for later reference, while others were used for purposes of contrast and to disrupt students' thinking. The IWB facilitated interactive and cooperative learning, supporting the teacher's participative approach, which focused on collaboration and the sharing of ideas.

Key Learning Areas

Studies of Society and Environment

Subject Headings

Secondary education
History
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Great Britain

The biggest hurdle: how to keep the best teachers in the classroom

November 2009; Pages 6–8
Melissa Cranwell

Once teachers have advanced to the top of the salary structure, an administrative role is often their only avenue for further career progression. As a result, high-quality teachers are lost from the classroom. To address this problem Toorak College, an independent school in Melbourne, has introduced an alternative career pathway called the Master Teacher and Mentor program. Aimed at exemplary teachers, the program offers financial incentives as well as opportunities for teachers to continue to develop their skills. Master teachers are identified after having met particular selection criteria. To participate in the program, teachers must have reached the highest level of the payscale, and demonstrated continued pedagogical excellence and expert knowledge, as well as having made a significant contribution to the development of the school culture. As a master teacher, teachers must, among other achievements, demonstrate best practice in the classroom and identify strategies to increase student outcomes and school improvement, mentor and lead the professional development of colleagues, establish and maintain links with the community and outside organisations, and identify areas for change and improvement. Master teachers progress through three tiers of ability where they are expected to demonstrate expertise in areas such as subject knowledge, knowledge of assessment and data, professional development and leadership skills, and work outside the classroom. After three years, master teachers can apply to move up to the next tier; alternatively, they can change to a teacher-manager career path. The school leadership expects that a second group of teachers will apply for the Master Teacher and Mentor program in following years.

KLA

Subject Headings

Professional development
Teaching profession
Teaching and learning

School libraries: making a difference

 2009; Pages 35–38
Kerry Neary

Books, school libraries and qualified teacher librarians continue to play an important role in student learning. Printed non-fiction books, for example, can lead the learner in a sequence from data to information to knowledge, as the learner uses the index at the back of a book to situate an unfamiliar term within a conceptual hierarchy of headings and subheadings available in the main body of a text. By contrast, key words attached to internet documents ‘imply some prior knowledge of the context of the information being sought’, disadvantaging less advanced learners. As the information hub of the school, the library is the appropriate focus a school’s information literacy program. They should be staffed by qualified teacher librarians, who have specialist knowledge of the schools’ information resources, and teacher librarians should be included in curriculum planning. There is extensive evidence that student learning outcomes are improved by the availability of school libraries with well qualified staff. A key component of this research is a US study of the role of school libraries undertaken by Keith Curry Lance in 1993; its findings have now been replicated by research across 19 US states. The strength of this evidence generated bipartisan political support for the SKILLs Act in 2007. However, ‘Australia is generally falling into habits of “worst practice” in relation to these research findings’. A 2003 report by Michelle Lonsdale presents evidence of a shortage of teacher librarians, with many libraries run by less qualified staff; and of teacher librarians being used as subject teachers to fill staff gaps in classrooms, or in IT support roles. It found that the profession is ageing, with many retiring staff not being replaced. It also noted that the hiring of qualified library staff may become de-prioritised when financial management has been devolved to the school level. Independent schools invest far more heavily than government schools in qualified teacher librarians. Educations systems in Australia should offer more professional development for school leaders in the roles that teacher librarians can play in the current information environment, and in ways that flexible staffing arrangements can be used to maximise the use of teacher librarians’ time.

KLA

Subject Headings

Educational planning
Schools finance
School libraries
Information services
Information management
Information literacy

Talking science: the research evidence on the use of small group discussions in science teaching

Volume 32 Number 1, January 2010; Pages 69–95
Judith Bennett, Sylvia Hogarth, Fred Lubben, Bob Campbell, Alison Robinson

Small group discussions have been used as a way to motivate students and improve their learning. It has been suggested that these discussions offer active learning opportunities, as well as increased student autonomy, and can help improve students' oral communication skills. The authors undertook a literature review of material published between 1980 and 2005 to examine the ways in which group discussions are used in science classes, and their effects on learners' understandings of and attitudes toward science. The initial review comprised 94 studies, 19 of which were examined in greater depth. The majority of the studies were undertaken in the USA, Britain and Canada, and focused largely on students' science understandings as a result of participating in discussions in groups involving three to four members. Across the studies, effective group leadership was crucial to effective discussion: inclusive leadership and the equitable sharing of tasks promoted group engagement and higher quality discussion. Allocating roles to group members was effective when tasks were well-defined, but not when tasks were not structured. Students showed evidence of improved understanding in situations where group members' initial predictions and explanations were dissimilar, perhaps due to students' increased engagement. However, in many cases students would simply search for a solution agreed upon to some degree by all members; in other cases, agreements were reached upon 'majority rule' or by the influence of certain members rather than by actual shared understanding. The students generally demonstrated low levels of engagement, although single-sex groups tended to function more effectively than mixed-sex groups, and specific, inquiry-focused tasks tended to result in improved engagement. In addition, the students often had difficulty formulating and expressing coherent views, an area that could be improved by coaching in argumentation skills, explicit instruction, and ensuring that opportunities are provided for all group members to participate in group discussions. Few data were collected about the impact of group work on students' attitudes toward science.

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Science
Science teaching
Group work in education

Five myths about paying good teachers more

11 October 2009
Thomas Toch

Efforts to introduce performance pay into the USA's public school system need to let go of five 'myths' that are commonly used to support such methods of remuneration. The first myth is that merit pay has a strong track record. In fact there have been few long-term trials of teacher performance pay systems. A recent review of the research, funded by the US Government, found that evidence was inconclusive. It also found a lack of evidence about the impact of group awards on individual teacher performance, and about the 'preferable mix of financial and non-pecuniary rewards'. The second myth is that US teacher unions have been the biggest barrier to performance pay. While unions have fought against it, considering it a violation of their collectivist principles, its implementation has often been weakened by the nature of the financial rewards offered: not enough to provide a meaningful benefit to recipients, but enough to antagonise non-beneficiaries. The third myth is that principals 'are good judges of teacher talent'. Evaluations of teachers by their 'harried' principals are often impressionistic and unduly emphasise control of classroom behaviour over quality of instruction. A review of teacher ratings in Chicago found that no 'unsatisfactory' ratings were assigned in 2003–2006. The difficulty of rating teachers is a major obstacle to implementation of performance pay. A fourth myth is that standardised student test scores 'offer a simple solution' to evaluation. Standardised tests tend to focus on low-level skills, and thus privilege low-level pedagogy over high-quality teaching practices. The final myth is to exaggerate the impact of financial reward on teacher performance. Teachers tend to attach greater importance to a work environment that offers them respect and support for their teaching.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teacher evaluation
Teaching and learning
Teachers' employment
Teaching profession
United States of America (USA)

Does practical work really motivate? A study of the affective value of practical work in secondary school science

Volume 31 Number 17, November 2009; Pages 2335–2353
Ian Abrahams

Practical work is seen as central to the appeal of school science, and is often used as a way to engage students with the subject. However, despite an increased emphasis on practical work in recent years, student enrolment in post-compulsory science subjects in England has continued to decline. To assess the effects of science practicals on student interest in science, the author undertook a study using classroom observations, field notes and interviews with teachers and students. The study involved 25 classes of students between the age of 11–14 and 15–16, and their science teachers. While almost all of the students stated that they liked science practicals, further questioning revealed that they did not see practicals as a better way of learning about scientific concepts, nor did practicals motivate them to continue their study of science. Rather, they preferred practicals because they were 'less boring' and demanded less writing than, for example, workbook exercises. Younger pupils had a relatively strong regard for science practicals, perhaps due to the novelty associated with conducting experiments and working with scientific equipment, but their interest in practicals gradually declined over time. The teachers were aware of students' generally low motivation toward science, particularly among lower achieving students, and that practicals did not necessarily improve learning. They interspersed practicals into teaching sequences as a way to help manage students' behaviour, to attempt to improve students' perceptions of scientific disciplines, and as a 'coping' strategy for dealing with students who had 'switched off' from science. Educators need to be aware of the limitations of practicals as a means to engage students in science learning.

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Behaviour management
Secondary education
Science teaching
Middle schooling
Great Britain

An Education Action Zone at work: primary teacher perceptions of the efficacy of a creative learning and collaborative leadership project

Volume 37 Number 2, May 2009; Pages 131–144
Chrysanthi Gkolia, Mark Brundrett, Jackie Switzer

Education Action Zones (EAZs) in England are a government initiative designed to improve school outcomes through school partnerships. Drawing on achievement data, questionnaires, and interviews with school personnel, the authors examined the impact of one EAZ on the three secondary and 12 primary schools involved in it. The positive impact of the EAZ was confirmed by the respondents, who felt that the EAZ activities provided opportunities for professional development in leadership, improved opportunities to disseminate personal learning to other teachers, and offered valuable time for reflection. The teachers reported that they now collaborated more effectively to promote change, that communication had improved and that they had more opportunities to participate in leadership and develop their skills in this area. In addition, the respondents noticed a significant impact on their approaches to teaching and lesson planning, and felt that the use of creative learning techniques had improved students' motivation and behaviour; some schools reported improved attendance. The achievement data demonstrated increased attainment since the implementation of the EAZ, with English and mathematics results rising to above the national average. The school culture was also found to have improved, partly due to the schools within the EAZ having received access to funding that allowed them to acquire key resources, such as ICT equipment, and to develop networks and relationships with local businesses, and sporting and arts organisations. The success of the EAZ related in part to its emphasis on adaptive leadership, to its ability to challenge boundaries within and between schools and the wider community, and to the fact that schools within the zone could work to pursue long-term, innovative strategies for school improvement.

KLA

Subject Headings

Socially disadvantaged
School leadership
School culture
Co-operation
Great Britain

'Explain to your partner': teachers' instructional practices and students' dialogue in small groups

Volume 39 Number 1, March 2009; Pages 49–70
Noreen M. Webb, Megan L. Franke, Tondra De, Angela G. Chan, et al.

Collaborative group work is seen as an effective means to promote students' learning, especially when quality discussion and interaction takes place. Using classroom observations, the authors undertook a study in the USA examining the extent to which teachers' intervention in students' small-group discussions affected discussions and learning. The participants were four primary teachers and students from their mathematics classes. All of the teachers had participated in a professional development program designed to develop students' reasoning skills in order to support their mathematics understanding, and had received training in how to encourage students to explain their thinking. During the observed lessons, the teachers intervened in about one fifth of the group conversations. In approximately half of the interventions, teachers probed students' explanations for additional information about their thinking or problem-solving strategies; the remaining interventions tended to be around behavioural or management issues, such as reminding students to work together. The teachers who probed in small-group situations were also more likely to probe in whole-class situations. Teachers' probing was most effective when it took the form of a series of questions that derived directly from the students' responses, and which encouraged students to explain particular aspects of their strategies. At times, however, teachers interjected with their own interpretations of students' thinking, or appeared satisfied with incomplete or incorrect elaborations from their students. Less probing interventions were less likely to elicit substantial explanations from the students. Teachers sometimes simply repeated students' explanations, which could confuse students in situations where their responses were not in fact correct. While probing students' explanations was more important than simply asking them to provide explanations, it was also important that teachers guided students to provide expanded explanations that were accurate and complete.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Primary education
Mathematics teaching
Pedagogy
Group work in education

'I think it's about the teacher feeding off our minds, instead of us learning off them, sort of like switching the process around': pupils' perspectives on being consulted about classroom teaching and learning

Volume 20 Number 4, December 2009; Pages 389–407
Bethan Morgan

Consultation with pupils can result in valuable feedback that can improve teaching and learning processes. The author interviewed 75 Year 8 pupils from a school in England, along with four of their teachers, to examine their attitudes towards completing student feedback questionnaires for their classes. While the school had a history of consulting pupils at the whole-school level, the students had not previously been asked to provide feedback directly to their classroom teachers. The students appreciated the consultation process, as they felt that they had valuable ideas about learning that could be drawn upon. The process was perceived to be beneficial both to themselves and to their teachers: it was felt that the consultations could improve the teachers' knowledge of their students, and that they could therefore ultimately result in increased motivation and classroom success through improved classroom approaches that were tailored to the students' preferences. The consultation process also offered students an opportunity to reflect on their learning. Questionnaires were the most preferred consultation method, with students preferring to be able to write substantial answers, rather than simply tick a box. Students raised some general concerns about the process, including issues of anonymity, not wanting to offend teachers, and fearing that teachers might act in retribution to students' responses. The students also suggested that the value of the consultation process rested on whether teachers acknowledged and addressed the students' suggestions. The degree to which students felt that changes had been made to classroom practices depended on how explicitly the teacher addressed the concerns they had raised. If the teacher did not provide explicit feedback, the students felt that their opinions were not valued, and that their time spent on the questionnaire had been for little purpose.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teacher-student relationships
Classroom management
Middle schooling
Great Britain

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