Evolution or revolution?
Summer 2010; Pages 15–17
Major shifts are occurring in the roles that the Australian, State and Territory governments play in school education. While federal–state cooperation is not new, the current period is distinguished by the extent of the accord between levels of government. One aspect of this 'cooperative federalism' is intergovernmental support for a more unified approach to preschool, school and tertiary education. It is increasingly common for schools to offer early learning facilities, VET courses and school-based apprenticeships, and extension studies that incorporate tertiary-level coursework through partnerships with a university. Governments have previously accommodated these trends through piecemeal modifications to their regulation and funding mechanisms, but now there is 'a new and overarching national vision encompassing education and training from 0 to 25 years'. This intergovernmental cooperation around education is itself part of a nationwide 'participation and productivity' agenda. Another feature of the new approach to educational governance is support for stakeholder participation in governance arrangements, and support for community input in forms such as the Deputy Prime Minister's forum with principals late last year. However, while there is wide support for more diversity and flexibility in schooling, the emerging national structures for curriculum assessment and reporting could potentially exercise a 'conforming influence on education'. Other issues to consider include the relative roles of public and private schooling and the respective roles of Commonwealth, State and Territory governments in education. The governance landscape in school education continues to evolve.
Subject HeadingsFederal-state relations
Volume 2 Number 1, February 2010; Pages 18–21
Research in the USA has found that students' reading patterns during the summer holidays vary widely between SES groups, with marked effects on academic performance. A longitudinal study by Alexander, Entwisle and Olson examined the results of standardised reading tests on 790 primary school students in Baltimore over several years. It found that within each school year children from different SES backgrounds made similar gains in reading achievement, and that in Grade 2 low-SES children advanced more rapidly than high-SES peers. However, during their summer vacations, which are three months long in the USA, low-SES children either made only modest gains or fell back in reading skills, while high-SES children 'bounded ahead' each time. The study concluded that by Year 9, summer holiday reading patterns accounted for approximately 80% of the reading achievement gap between SES levels. Neuman and Celano have examined how children's SES background influences levels of access to printed and online sources of information. They found that poorer children had much lower levels of access to these resources, but add that these discrepancies are themselves magnified by different use patterns for different SES groups: poor children tend to read books with less print than high-SES children, and are much more likely to use computer applications for entertainment than information. The reading achievement gap can be addressed in a number of ways. They include preschool programs to minimise inequities at the point of school entry; home–school partnerships that continue when schools are closed; providing low-SES students with ongoing access to rich learning resources; and a multi-disciplinary approach in the early years, as exists in the DEECD Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework.
United States of America (USA)
Volume 13 Number 9, October 2009; Pages 1–4
Current approaches to teaching and learning frequently call for students to be grouped into smaller units than was typical in the past. Schools are catering to this changed approach through the construction of learning spaces which are smaller than before or which can be adapted to cater for varying class sizes. However, many of the school learning spaces that were constructed in previous years, have a 'design capacity' targeted to relatively large groups of students. This excess space can be used more efficiently if floor area is reconfigured to cater to more groups of students, undertaking different activities, perhaps in quite separate areas of the curriculum. Reconfiguring space in this way is a much cheaper way to increase capacity than new construction. Opportunities for reconfiguring space are greatest in learning areas where the rate of use is consistently well under design capacity. Identifying such areas requires a close study of timetable information, the purposes for which spaces are being used (for example, whether a science lab is being used as a general learning area), and the number of students present in each class. Currently, most studies of the utilisation rates of school facilities were undertaken before current approaches to teaching and learning were introduced. More up-to-date studies are need to establish benchmarks against which a school can measure the effectiveness of its use of learning spaces.
Subject HeadingsSchool buildings
Volume 50 Number 1, February 2010; Pages 37–50
Market-driven education policies emphasising 'school effectiveness' have reduced policy emphasis on issues around the interplay between schools, their communities and students' lives. These policies, which see teachers and schools as responsible for students' achievement, rather than attempting to address underlying social and personal issues, have consequences for disadvantaged students in particular. The author argues that policy should encourage schools to form meaningful connections with their communities. In addition, personalised, community-oriented approaches to teaching students from disadvantaged backgrounds should be encouraged as a way of mitigating the issues raised by current norms of schooling that privilege middle-class codes, behaviour and values while failing to value the experiences of disadvantaged students. Neighbourhood renewal programs are one means of encouraging linkages between schools and the community. One such program has been established in the highly disadvantaged area of 'Wirra Wagga'. After conducting a variety of public forums and focus groups, educators in Wirra Wagga found that the extremely low rates of school retention in the area were partly due to the fact that primary students felt uncomfortable transitioning to the 'scary' local secondary school. A proposal was made that students be allowed to stay on at their current primary school for two additional years after completing Grade 6, allowing them to commence their secondary schooling in the more familiar primary setting. In addition, a second-chance program called Connexions was developed. This program offered a flexible, personalised learning experience to students wanting to re-engage with formal learning. The program's popularity was in part due to the fact that it offered a change from students', and often their parents', experiences of schooling as punitive and 'toxic'. Other outcomes of the community renewal program included schools' efforts to engage parents by establishing trust and quality relationships, for example, by formally inviting parents to parent–teacher interviews, or having volunteer community members come into the classroom as tutors. In order to re-engage families in education, education in disadvantaged communities must offer both formal and informal pathways to learning, and must accommodate and respect the needs, both educational and personal, of diverse young people.
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
Transitions in schooling
Volume 13, 2009
While bullying between boys tends to involve physical acts, girl-to-girl bullying typicially takes psychological and emotional forms, including 'name-calling, gossiping, character assassination and banishment from social circles or activities'. Victims of girl-to-girl psychological bullying report that the effects of such attacks are often worse than physical abuse. However research has found that teachers are less likely to act against psychological bullying between girls than physical bullying between boys. The discrepancy occurs for a range of reasons. Psychological and emotional bullying is less visible than physical attacks; it is less clearly defined and is hard to distinguish from mere teasing. Bullying often occurs at times of turbulence and confusion, for example when students are moving between classrooms, and in places such as hallways and locker rooms, where supervisory responsibilities are unclear; these contexts make psychological bullying particularly hard to detect. While the impact of psychological bullying on victims is less obvious than physical harm, the means to treat its effects are also less obvious, and less easily captured in a set of official procedures. An underlying problem is that 'the social and cultural forces that influence and maintain the phenomenon' of girl-to-girl bullying 'are often outside our awareness'. Teachers can address girl-to-girl psychological bullying by being mindful of its distinctive features, for example by paying attention to the places where it is most likely to occur; by making themselves available to students outside lesson time, when students can more easily raise delicate or ill-defined problems; and through the use of anti-bullying resources, including fiction and non-fiction books, hiring speakers, and organising workshops. On the other hand, the treatment of bullying is held back if teachers dismiss it as a 'rite of passage', inevitable during the process of growing up; and if teachers limit their supervision to the formal requirements imposed by rosters and classroom boundaries. Teachers are more likely to limit their actions in these ways if they face the pressure of standardised accountability mechanisms. These mechanisms encourage teachers to concentrate only on improving academic scores, and discourage them from taking the independent initiatives needed to address girl-to-girl bullying.
'I tried to make it not confusing by fixing it': describing six first graders' use of strategies to understand text
Volume 30 Number 6, November 2009; Pages 512–538
Research has suggested that children in the early primary years begin to use strategies to improve their understanding of a text. To examine the types of reading strategies that young children use and report using while reading, the authors analysed the reading approaches of six Grade 1 students in the USA. Interviews and recordings of students' reading were used to assess differences in the approaches of low-achieving, average-achieving, and high-achieving readers. A number of strategies were used by the children, including focusing on and sounding out words, using pictures, skipping difficult sections or words, re-reading, and asking for help. Visual cues and sounding out words were the most frequently used strategies, with the latter frequently mentioned by the high-achieving readers. Five of the children also mentioned using pre-reading strategies, but these were usually simple routines such as reading a text's title and 'walking' through the text, and were rarely connected with strategies such as predicting what would happen in the text. The children's use of these particular strategies may have been due to modelling by teachers or parents. Overall, the above-average readers were the least likely to describe using strategies, but this may be due to the fact that they needed to resort to strategies less frequently than other readers, or because they were using strategies more automatically. When asked to retell the texts they had read, the students were more proficient at retelling fiction texts than non-fiction texts, although their ability to do so varied with their reading level. The students indicated that they were focused on the content and the events of the text; some of the more advanced readers were making personal connections or evaluative judgements. The students monitored their reading skills in terms of whether particular words in a text were difficult or easy to read, but did not describe reading itself as easy or difficult. They were generally unlikely to self-correct upon making an error. To improve their self-regulating practices, students need to observe modelling of reading behaviour, including reading strategies. They also need exposure to strategies to use when confronted with difficult or confusing texts.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsChild development
Volume 31 Number 14, September 2009; Pages 1953–1974
Children's prior knowledge about health should be taken into consideration when designing health-related curriculums. The authors examined children's conceptions of what is 'healthy' and 'unhealthy'. The participants were 13 children aged 9–11 in the USA who were of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The participants were given digital cameras and notepads, and were asked to document 'healthy' and 'unhealthy' items. Their perspectives were then further examined through interviews. The children labelled a total of 269 items as either 'healthy', 'unhealthy' or both. In the both category the healthiness or unhealthiness of items was seen to depend on context, or the items were considered part healthy and part unhealthy. Most of the identified items were foods or beverages, but other items included plants and trees, medications and activities such as exercise and watching television. The children most frequently discussed the healthiness of the selected items in terms of their effects on human health; some children also discussed them in terms of the effects on the environment, or of being in a state of health. They drew on a number of aspects of health in explaining their choices. These most frequently involved a specific outcome, such as an item causing illness or damaging the body; weight gain or loss was also commonly mentioned. In general, health was seen as the ability to perform desired activities, and the absence of illness. Children's conceptions stemmed from a variety of sources, the most common of which were school and their parents. Media, product labelling and books were also identified as sources of knowledge. The complexity of the children's conceptions indicates a need for school curriculums to assign a wider variety of meanings to the term 'health', and to engage students actively in examining and building upon their notions of health.
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Conceptions of effective mathematics teaching within a cultural context: perspectives of teachers from China and the United States
Key Learning AreasMathematics
United States of America (USA)
Volume 4 Number 3, July 2009; Pages 213–225
The implementation of multiliteracies initiatives can be undermined when multiliteracies are seen as simply an optional addition to traditional print literacies, or as a skill that can only be learnt after traditional literacies have been mastered. The authors describe the attempts of two secondary schools in Brisbane to implement digital learning initiatives. The first school was an elite, traditionally high-achieving school serving a mainstream student population. Its multiliteracies program was pitched as an extension program for high-achieving students, and comprised a student media centre designed to engage senior-school students and encourage autonomous and creative learning. However, after a year, it was found that students were largely ambivalent toward the program. This was mostly because while students acknowledged the value of the program in terms of their learning, they felt the initiative was irrelevant to their performance on the high-stakes assessments that would determine their future study and career paths. These types of assessments tend to involve traditional print-based forms of literacy that emphasise memorisation, and the students' perceptions highlight a tension between prevailing pedagogical norms and the transition to new literacies. The second school was an English for Speakers of Other Languages school that aimed to improve students' English so that they could be integrated into mainstream schools. This school served a very disadvantaged population largely comprising refugees from the Horn of Africa. The school also encountered difficulties in attempting to implement their multiliteracies program, which involved multiple learning pathways using digital literacies. However, these problems tended to lie more with the pedagogical beliefs of the staff. The staff felt that the acquisition of literacies was hierarchical and required a step-by-step approach, with particular skills needing to be in place before other literacies could then be developed. They feared that focusing on digital literacies would result in a deficiency of basic literacy skills. The authors argue that in order to ensure that multiliteracies do not remain at the periphery of literacy instruction, educators must come to see multiliteracies as something more than an optional extension or a fun intervention.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
English language teaching
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