Attendance, achievement and participation: young carers' experiences of school in Australia
Volume 53 Number 1, 2009; Pages 5–18
Some students are responsible for the care of family members or friends who have a disability, a physical or mental health condition, or problems with alcohol or other drugs. Studies in Australia, Britain and Canada have found that between 4 and 10 per cent of young people have primary responsibility for tasks such as housework, personal care and emotional support for the person in need, and the supervision of younger siblings. They may also play an advocacy role when dealing with social service agencies, which can sometimes be rigid and restrictive. In Australia the average age of young carers is 10 to 13 years, with some much younger. On average they commit six hours a day to caring. The role often lasts many years. Australian research in 2006 examined young carers' experiences at school and with peers. Researchers interviewed 51 young carers aged 12–21. The respondents reported that time spent at school or on homework offered respite from home life and connected them with peers. Over 60 per cent of respondents believed that they were the only carers at their school, which had implications for developing valuable connections with other young carers. Half said that caring duties restricted school attendance. At school they suffered from lack of money for educational needs, impediments to extra-curricular activities, restricted time for socialising, and peers' lack of understanding. Over half found it hard to make and keep friends. Some were bullied because of the cared-for person's condition, or found that their peers, and sometimes teachers, expressed negative and hurtful attitudes toward cared-for people such as drug users. Their stresses sometimes led to fights at school. Many missed meals and lacked sleep. Young carers need more in-home support and opportunities for respite, and funding to broaden their educational experience. Schools can assist young carers by loosening certain school procedures to help them cope with their home situation; providing access to skilled and empathetic staff who can help build networks between young carers; and creating an atmosphere that allows carers to admit their situation without risk of ridicule. Schools should also recognise the skills that young carers have developed in their roles, in areas such as budgeting and cooking as well as personal care.
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
Self-reliance in children
School and community
Parent and child
Developing students' ability to engage critically with science in the news: identifying elements of the 'media awareness' dimension
Volume 21 Number 1, March 2010; Pages 47–64
Science education reform movements worldwide have emphasised the need to promote scientific literacy among students. Part of scientific literacy is the ability to critically engage with science in the media. Drawing on interviews with 26 individuals working in the science media, and 18 teachers of English or science in Britain, the authors sought to identify the particular knowledge, skills and habits of mind needed to foster students' effective critical engagement with science. Four important domains were described by the respondents. The first was to do with media awareness. The science communication experts stressed the generally high standard of science journalism, but noted that journalists, because of their imperative to 'spark interest', usually emphasise the 'big picture'. Students therefore need to know to supplement the reading of science articles with further research. The second domain was awareness of the working practices of journalists. Students need to be aware of journalistic specialism, codes, conventions and constraints. For example, not all science stories are written by science journalists, and journalists also work within tight space and time constraints. Work tends not to be peer reviewed, and research is not as meticulous as working scientists'. Students need to learn how articles differ from formal scientific research. For example, topics tend to be those with popular appeal, and are usually presented as an 'inverted pyramid', with key concepts presented first. Experts noted that students need the capacity to judge the credibility of sources consulted in a journalistic piece, and to weigh the arguments presented. The third domain was the embedded values in news reporting. The media experts highlighted the fact that many newspapers take particular editorial standpoints, and that their reporting may be influenced by advertising interests or by the interests of their parent company. The fourth domain was the role of the reader in interpreting science news. Students must learn that all readers will bring prior knowledge and pre-conceptions to their reading of news, and that they need to critically assess the influence of these on how science media is understood. The results emphasised the need for an interdisciplinary, cross-curricular approach to improve the teaching and learning of science media awareness.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsMass media study and teaching
For love of language and literature
March 2010; Page 13
The article covers several experts' comments on the new national English curriculum. They note a number of strengths in the curriculum. It acknowledges multicultural sources of literature, Indigenous perspectives, and 'the diversity of Australians and the influence of the Asian region'. It attends to new literacies and is linked to achievement standards that are 'clear and reasonable', although not always introduced in a way that engages teachers. Common among the concerns in the experts' observations is the need to make more allowance for 'the contextual influences on language, literature and literacy'. One important area to contextualise is the teaching of grammar, which is now mandated at every year level. Separated from context, there is a danger that grammar will be covered as 'filling in blanks on a worksheet'. In such forms the subject content of grammar is dull, easily forgotten and disconnected from the more general study of language and literature. The purpose of learning grammar is to improve the communication of meaning and students' ability to understand the language they encounter. It is best grasped as part of the creative process of making meaning. This process depends on context and is also connected to students' experiences, interests and personal identities. There is thus no single, definitive form of grammar. English grammar is applied in varying ways by people of non-English-speaking backgrounds. These people's backgrounds provide their own knowledge of reading and language, which should be drawn upon; they should not be treated as 'blank sheets'. The application of a single, prescriptive set of standard grammatical rules threatens to hold back these students, and create difficulties that accumulate over successive year levels. It also hinders the development of responses to individual student needs. Critical literacy is introduced only in Year 9, despite its potential to contribute to higher order literacy and language skills at all levels, including kindergarten. Another concern it that the study of literature occupies 'less than 20 per cent of the total described content in Year 7 to 10'.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
Language and languages
Back to the future
17 March 2010; Page 10
The article reports on comments from several experts on the new national history curriculum. Marnie Hughes-Warrington of Monash University has supported the way that the curriculum covers Australian history from a range of viewpoints, and the fact that it acknowledges that historical events are understood differently by different groups of people involved in them. She believes that the curriculum strikes a good balance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives. The key issue, she suggests, is to allow students to develop the capacity to make discerning judgements between different points of view. She also supports the fact that Australian history is contextualised within world history: one of the benefits of this approach is that it encourages global engagement. However other experts, such as Lindsay Parry of James Cook University, have called for global perspectives to be extended to the early years history curriculum, which focuses on local history. These commentators note the extent to which today's children are exposed to world events through various media, and argue that young children are able to deal with historical concepts beyond the immediate and concrete. Rob Gilbert from the University of Queensland has raised concerns that the large amount of content to be covered in the curriculum may lead to 'an aimless canter through the ages [that is] reminiscent of the bad old days' that may obstruct the acquisition of key understandings relevant to the present. He argues that this problem is aggravated by a strong emphasis on ancient and medieval history. The History Teachers Association has voiced concerns that educators in some states will be required to cover unfamiliar topics, and has called for more professional support for them. In this context Marnie Hughes-Warrington notes a shortage of academics trained to teach history education methodology to pre-service teachers.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
An early primary teacher in Tasmania describes the initial stages of her work in bringing forward the literacy learning of five young boys in her classroom. The boys were all in the same combined-year class, three officially in Grade 1 and two in Grade 2. All five boys had been receiving help under the Flying Start program, which involved periods of separate instruction as a group. Within the main class the teacher had given each boy explicit, individualised instruction in reading, writing and spelling. Nevertheless, all five boys were still struggling and at risk of failure, so the teacher decided on action research to determine the specific gaps in their learning and to adjust her literacy learning program to overcome them. This work took place over 12 weeks in 2008. In terms of spelling, she identified gaps in varied areas such as sound/letter relationships, phonemic awareness, writing words in whole sentences and independent use of a dictionary. In terms of reading, all five boys had fluency problems and most were unable to integrate meaning, syntax and visual cues when seeking information. At least two had difficulty with short-term memory. The teacher developed a revised literacy program designed to allow for different ability levels in the class. Elements of the new model included grouping students by ability level, using the same routine every day, using visual timetables and task boards to allow work with minimum supervision, and using modelled, shared, interactive and guided reading and writing. She believed that the model required direct, explicit teaching. Her teaching included clear modelling and 'think aloud', regular assessment and feedback, and an atmosphere of warmth and respect in the classroom. It also allowed room for students 'to take ownership of and to socially construct their learning'. The article lists key resources used for the program.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Teaching and learning
English language teaching
It's a wrap
1st Quarter 2010; Pages 40–43
The Kids Witness News (KWN) program provides high-quality, current video equipment to schools, allowing students to create films that are then included in an annual KWN awards contest. KWN is a philanthropic program funded by Panasonic. Initiated in North America, KWN is now international, and operates at schools in each Australian state and territory, with the support of education departments. The author describes how his Year 7 class at Mundingburra State School, Townsville, created one of these films, on the topic of global warming. The students' involvement covered development of a storyline, filming, editing, make-up and costume production, props, management of a soundtrack, performance of a rap song, and special effects. The work was sustained and demanding: the filming required many takes and the editing involved 'masking' work on about 1,650 frames of film. The storyline and song involved three month's work. Despite these demands, the work was outstandingly successful in its ability to secure intense, ongoing engagement from a very wide range of students. The school's production won several KWN awards. The school has previously won other awards for its students' audiovisual productions.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsAudiovisual education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
The translation of teachers' understanding of gifted students into instructional strategies for teaching science
Volume 20 Number 4, August 2010; Pages 333–351
Teaching gifted students can raise particular challenges for teachers in terms of those students' personal characteristics and their instructional needs, which vary significantly from their peers'. The authors examined how three experienced high school chemistry teachers in Atlanta, Georgia understood and accommodated their gifted students' personal and instructional needs. Data were drawn from classroom observations, interviews and work samples. The teachers encountered a variety of challenges when teaching gifted students. The students frequently asked challenging questions that sometimes tested the teachers' content knowledge. They were also easily bored, and became frustrated with the pace of learning and with having to complete revision work and drills, which they saw as 'busy work'. They could be critical of other students and of their teachers, but also tended to suffer from a fear of failure and an awareness of 'being different'. In response, the teachers developed thematic units that allowed students to work at their own pace, and offered challenging scenarios that teachers could tailor depending on students' needs, and that therefore helped maintain gifted students' engagement. Assessments included 'bonus' questions that challenged and extended the students; tasks were designed to be submitted in formats that suited students' interests and strengths. The teachers developed ways of dealing with the students' challenging questions by consolidating their own content knowledge and by encouraging the students to use their own understandings to try to find the answer. The teachers also sought to manage the gifted students' perfectionist tendencies, and to create safe classroom environments where students felt valued rather than 'different'. The teachers also made use of grouping strategies, such as grouping gifted students together to challenge and support each other, or grouping them with other peers to develop social skills and promote understanding of each other.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
26 March 2010
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Volume 9 Number 2, April 2010; Pages 131–160
Research has indicated that parental involvement in schools can influence students' achievement. The authors interviewed 20 parents at a primary school in the USA to examine the ways in which they sought to develop relationships, dealt with change, sought decision-making input, and communicated with school leaders. Ten of the parents were involved in the school's parent-teacher group (PTG), and the other ten were not PTG members, but worked together in an informal group. Group composition was strongly influenced by parents' backgrounds: that is, whether they had grown up in the area and attended the school themselves, or whether they were new residents. Group acceptance could be facilitated by participation in shared activities and interests, such as volunteering and sporting events. However, newcomer parents often struggled to be accepted by the PTG due to a lack of shared history or understanding of group norms, and conflicting ideas about agenda items and approaches. While the groups shared some similarities, they differed in notable ways. Both groups struggled to deal with changes taking place in the school environment. They were concerned with the impact of the significant levels of population growth in the area, raising concerns in relation to losing connections with friends and changes taking place at the school. These concerns led to the newcomer parents turning away from the PTG and establishing their own network where they could provide input on policy and curriculum decisions. While both groups believed they should have a voice in school policies, the PTG followed established procedures, while the newcomers sought alternative approaches. They wanted to be properly informed about new policies, and to know why particular policies had been implemented, and were willing to conduct and present research challenging policies they disagreed with. However, newcomers often struggled to gain access to school personnel and leaders. PTG members had better access, but also felt that communication from the school leaders was inadequate. Both groups were frustrated by a lack of prompt or in-depth communication, and often received conflicting information. Schools should work to include parent groups and establish processes for sharing and gathering information. They can work with nominated parent liaisons to help disseminate information and draw on the social capital of these individuals when considering policy and curricular changes.
School and community
Parents' and teachers' associations
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