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

School improvement and reform: the holy trinity of consistency, innovation and capacity

Number 111, July 2009
Vic Zbar

There is now a wealth of research on 'what works' to improve education at classroom, school and system levels, yet it has proved difficult to lift under-performing schools. The author draws conclusions from a study in which he was involved, that focused on eight disadvantaged schools which were successful at improving their performances. One key difficulty for school leaders is in knowing where to start in the reform process. As a first step, it is important to establish a consistent approach to school issues across the staff. Such consistency is usually lacking at under-performing schools. In its absence, reform efforts are also disparate. Initiatives may be implemented haphazardly and thus ineffectively, draining energy rather than taking the school forward. Initiatives may also be undertaken in relative isolation by individual staff members sometimes forming the basis for conference presentations or journal articles, but rarely receiving careful evaluation within the school. A consistent school-wide approach provides a much stronger foundation for reform. The eight schools in the study all commenced the improvement process by establishing a consistent approach among staff on the key issue of maintaining an orderly learning environment. It needs to be recognised, however, that consistency without the drive for innovations represents complacency and suggests limited awareness of research and developments in the field of school education. Innovation Unit in Britain captures the need to combine reform and consistency in the concept of 'disciplined innovation'.

KLA

Subject Headings

Educational planning
School culture
Schools

Building school science curricula and courses based on national and state documents

Volume 30 Number 1,  2010; Pages 71–74
Michael McGarry

The author is a science head of department at a Western Australian secondary school, and has long experience as a school-level leader of science education. He describes issues raised for him by the forthcoming national science curriculum. One issue is the disruption caused by repeated, significant changes to the curriculum framework. In Western Australia the science courses of study for Year 11 and Year 12 were revised in 2005 to include the expectation that students would learn about science as a human activity. This expectation was withdrawn in 2008 but is to be reinstated in the new national curriculum. A second issue is the need for the new curriculum to provide continuity in the treatment of key science concepts – described as 'unifying ideas' in the new curriculum – over successive year levels. Students need to be given the chance to learn concepts such as solubility or gravity at progressively deeper levels as they move through school. In his own classes the author uses explicit 'forward and backward referencing' to connect students' current learning to what they have covered or will cover at other year levels. A third issue is the need for constructivist and inquiry-based approaches to teaching and learning. Distinct from unstructured discovery learning, these approaches lead students to undertake 'open guided inquiry' through which a problem is initially posed by a teacher and students progressively learn, with the help of gradually withdrawn scaffolding, to develop their own investigative questions and experimental procedures. To facilitate constructivist learning the curriculum should allow for a degree of 'uncertainty and ambiguity' about what students will learn, and the learning environment needs to encourage risk-taking by students. ICT should be applied to offer students interactive, self-paced learning. Substantial opportunities for professional learning will be needed to help teachers make the transition to the demands of the new curriculum particularly given the fact that the 'transmission model of pedagogy' is still promoted through most commercially available textbooks.

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Curriculum planning
Science teaching
Secondary education
Education policy

Teaching refugee learners with interrupted education in science: vocabulary, literacy and pedagogy

Volume 31 Number 4, March 2010; Pages 571–592
Jennifer Miller

Refugee learners, who often have limited English skills, interrupted education, and low literacy in their native languages, may encounter considerable difficulties when faced with the complex terminology of science. In addition, science teachers are often not equipped with the knowledge of how to scaffold such students' learning of science vocabulary. The authors worked with a Year 8 science teacher and two ESL teachers in a school in Melbourne serving a large refugee population to develop science vocabulary support materials designed to assist students' learning. An analysis of a unit from the class textbook was undertaken, and common and essential content vocabulary were identified. A dictionary involving simple definitions, a pronunciation guide, contextualised word use, and images was then developed; other vocabulary-related activities were also designed. The supports were used over five weeks in two science classes, one of which largely comprised ESL students, and the other largely low-achieving native English speakers. Interviews with the teacher and the students suggested that the materials were highly beneficial. The teacher noted that many of the students demonstrated improved achievement, and that they had been positive about the use of the supports. In addition, he became more aware of his students' needs, noting that he had previously assumed a great deal of prior knowledge in his classes. The students found the items useful to their learning, with many requesting more, similar material, or an expanded version of the same material. In particular, they highlighted the pictorial and pronunciation elements as useful in scaffolding their vocabulary learning. However, one major barrier to integrating such material into the classroom was time constraints: developing the dictionary and materials, which covered only one unit, had taken several weeks and had involved the assistance of the authors and of ESL teachers. The research indicates the need for teachers to have an awareness of the language demands of their particular content areas, and for improved collaboration between classroom teachers and literacy or ESL practitioners to help scaffold students' learning.

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

English as an additional language
Middle schooling
Science teaching
Science literacy
Refugees

Complexity of secondary scientific data sources and students' argumentative discourse

Volume 32 Number 9, June 2010; Pages 1207–1225
Steven C. Kerlin, Scott P. McDonald, Gregory J. Kelly

Exposure to scientific data of varying complexity can help students develop a deeper understanding of science topics, and influence the ways in which they analyse and present arguments about particular scientific data. Using classroom observations, the authors examined whether students' argumentation varied depending on whether they were working with textbook data or data from the US Geological Survey (USGS). The participants were a Year 9 science class in Canada undertaking a five-day unit on seismology. The textbook data, while drawn from actual scientific data, had been simplified in order to allow for easy interpretation; information had been selected and modified to illustrate particular concepts and to help students identify patterns. In contrast, the USGS data were more detailed and precise, but included extraneous information and 'noise' that posed a greater analytical and interpretive challenge for students. Analysis indicated that the sophistication of students' classroom argumentation varied depending on the data source being used. Students' argumentation when drawing on the textbook data tended to be more sophisticated, with students more easily drawing inferences and coming to the required conclusions. In contrast, the students tended to be more challenged when drawing on the USGS data, which required them to develop more thorough scientific understandings in order to be able to pose similarly abstract or complex arguments. Students' reasoning processes were more in-depth when working with the USGS data, and closer to the scientific reasoning required of working scientists. The provision of data sources of varying complexity requires of students different levels of argumentation and analysis, and provides opportunities for wider engagement in the scientific process.

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Middle schooling
Science literacy
Science teaching

Generalization of sight word accuracy using a common stimulus procedure: a preliminary investigation

Volume 19 Number 1, 17 March 2010; Pages 47–61
Eric M. Mesmer, Gary J. Duhon, Karen Hogan, et al.

Strategies involving orthographic analogy may help promote the generalisation of reading skills among struggling readers. Research has shown that, typically, developing readers recognise certain similarities in words, such as the –at in 'hat' and 'mat', to decode unfamiliar words. Four struggling readers, three of whom had a learning disability, aged between 7 and 8 in the USA participated in an intervention designed to improve their reading skills by encouraging analogy. The students were tested using flash cards on which were written a total of 35 words from four different word families ending with –en, –et, –ell, or –end. Two sets of flash cards were used: one set was typeset in black, while each group of words in the second set had its ending highlighted in a different colour to indicate their similarity. Using the coloured set of cards, students were explicitly taught several of the words from each word group, comprising 11 words in total, with the ending of each emphasised by the instructor. After the training, the black version of the cards was then used to test how well students could read the remaining words in the set of 35. Following this, the coloured set was then used to test students' ability to generalise, using visual analogy as a cue, across the different word groups. Students' performance improved slightly after the intervention, demonstrating marginally improved accuracy in reading the non-taught words on the black set of cards. However, when the coloured set of cards was used, students' accuracy increased further, indicating that explicit cues play a role in facilitating generalisation. However, when undertaking a longer term intervention, it is important that cues be slowly faded or removed over time to ensure accuracy across a range of authentic reading texts.

Key Learning Areas

English

Subject Headings

Literacy
Learning problems
Child development
Spelling
Primary education

Big tests: what ends do they serve?

November 2009; Pages 32–37
Gerald Bracey

The effectiveness of school performance is best measured by assessments closely linked to the instruction taking place, rather than by the results of large-scale national or international tests. The article outlines arguments why international tests such as PISA, and the USA's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), are ineffective at measuring students' academic progress within a country. The NAEP divides student achievement into Basic, Proficient and Advanced levels, but the tests are unduly difficult compared to tests applied in other countries, and the results are 'not corroborated by other measures'. Not all students at a school take part in the NAEP, which also distorts the meaning of results. NAEP is not high stakes, as results are not reported at the levels of individual students, schools or districts, but this also means it is not likely to be taken as seriously as other such tests, creating another distortion. PISA tests 15-year-olds across 30 countries in reading, maths and science every three years. However, participating countries vary widely in terms of the level of demographic diversity, income and public attitude to the tests, undermining the value of comparisons between nations' test results. The tests aim to measure the abilities of students to incorporate knowledge acquired outside of school, and for this reason PISA results are likely to privilege students from more resource-rich homes. Another problem in using PISA to measure student performance is the significant difficulty of translating test questions between languages. In general, nations scoring moderately on international tests have little to learn from top performers. The educational achievements of Finland, for example, could not be replicated 'without also adopting other large segments of the Finnish social system'. It would be of far greater value to replace 'measurement-driven instruction' with 'instruction-driven measurement' of the kind embodied in Nebraska's STARS system. The article also criticises claims made by the creators of another international assessment system, TIMSS, that there is 'a causal connection between high scores and a country's economic health'. The economic health of Japan, for example, varied widely from the academic performance of its students during the 1990s, and the global economic downturn underlines the economy's substantial autonomy from national educational systems.

KLA

Subject Headings

Assessment
Educational evaluation
United States of America (USA)

Developing teachers' knowledge of students as learners of mathematics through structured interviews

Volume 13 Number 2, April 2010; Pages 141–154
Oliver F. Jenkins

Effective mathematics teachers have a knowledge of students' mathematical reasoning, and of ways to use this reasoning when making instructional decisions or developing interventions. Interviews with students can help new teachers to develop a better understanding of students' mathematical thinking. Six pre-service mathematics teachers in the USA prepared simple geometry tasks for middle years students to complete, developed hypotheses about likely levels of student knowledge and possibly misconceptions that would arise, and then conducted interviews with the students about their problem-solving approaches. In pairs, the pre-service teachers each interviewed three students. Most of the pre-service teachers were able to access the students' mathematical thinking. The teachers were able to describe the difficulties that students seemed to have in terms of differentiating area and perimeter, and how students, despite knowing the appropriate formulae, struggled with basic conceptual knowledge. They found that students struggled to explain their thinking, and found it difficult to convey their understanding of concepts, particularly when it came to linking them to real-world situations, or when they were required to develop text-based equations. The teachers were also able to identify different misconceptions held by the students, as well as differences between the students in terms of their levels of understanding and their stages of mathematical development. Some of the teachers were able to propose suitable interventions. However, some pre-service teachers tended to simply assess the students' knowledge rather than attempt to interpret their thinking. Although explicitly seeking evidence of students' reasoning through interviews was generally beneficial, one limitation was some students' reluctance to think aloud when solving problems.

Key Learning Areas

Mathematics

Subject Headings

Teacher training
Middle schooling
Mathematics teaching
Mathematics

The origin of universal shadow education: what the supplemental education phenomenon tells us about the postmodern institution of education

Volume 11 Number 1, March 2010; Pages 36–48
Izumi Mori, David Baker

The substantial recent growth in shadow education, extra-curricular private educational activities designed to supplement classroom schooling, is the result of a worldwide shift towards a 'global culture of education'. Trends towards mass education have transformed the relationship between education and society, with education now essential for participation in a 'schooled society'. The role of shadow education has expanded to help increase chances of being able to participate in such an arena, and is now being used to complement and support formal education. In Japan, for example, 'cramming' programs have given way to more well-rounded programs that include wider course offerings and careers counselling. Recent shadow education trends include programs that emphasise lifelong and individualised learning, both of which are a response to formal education policy. These sorts of trends are evident worldwide, with shadow education slowly becoming legitimated through wider societal acceptance and by being acknowledged, or in some cases picked up, as part of wider public policy. Rather than attempting to address issues of equity by eliminating shadow education, governments are more likely to provide other opportunities for out-of-school learning, or to collaborate with shadow education providers. Such responses have already been seen in cases such as No Child Left Behind in the USA, which offers subsidised tutoring for struggling students. With the new global model of education, and the resulting homogenisation of education worldwide, it is likely that shadow education will eventually become a part of the wider educational culture.

KLA

Subject Headings

Japan
Thought and thinking
Education policy
Education aims and objectives

Peer mediation services for conflict resolution in schools: what transformations in activity characterise successful implementation?

14 December 2009
Edward Sellman

Prepublished article.
Peer mediation programs call on students to resolve minor conflicts among themselves rather than immediately escalate the issue to a teacher. Research undertaken at seven primary and two secondary schools in England found that peer mediation could be successfully integrated if particular organisational and cultural factors were in evidence. Changes in students' authority and autonomy had to be supported, with school-wide acknowledgement of and trust in students' increased role in conflict management. However, staff had to be prepared to help mediate more serious issues that had been referred by students. Both the leadership and other staff needed to commit to supporting peer mediation processes, and to ensure that peer mediation was integrated rather than approached in isolation. There also needed to be consistency in terms of how behaviour was managed throughout the school. For example, teachers in schools where peer mediation had been successfully implemented often used the scripts and approaches associated with mediation when addressing disciplinary issues in class or otherwise. The widespread use of these tools and processes and the fact that they were valued by staff as well as students helped cement the use of peer mediation techniques. Encouraging students to be involved in mediation motivated greater involvement in and ownership of their behaviour, and helped them acquire the skills to constructively resolve interpersonal issues. It also helped to develop the expectation that they should be involved in such issues.

KLA

Subject Headings

Self-reliance in children
School culture
Bullying
Great Britain

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