Look both ways: working to develop a professional learning culture
The author reflects on her extensive teaching experience in both school and university settings, and suggests nine ways to bridge the divide between them. Firstly, university researchers in schools need to develop trusting relationships with school participants, based on recognised benefits to both parties. Secondly, professional learning communities should be aware of the way that the internet influences research. It facilitates the 'just in time' learning that is well suited to teachers' busy working lives, and helps identify other educators with similar interests. It also erodes the distinctive position of academic research by offering diverse channels for obtaining and disseminating evidence. Thirdly, more diverse and flexible forms of mentoring should be considered, including more extensive use of virtual mentoring and more mentoring by the growing number of retired teachers. A fourth suggestion is to adapt school–university partnerships, in such a way that they retain their value while diminishing the burden of time and resources they impose on both parties. Options include linking particular academics to specific groups of schools, drawing more extensively on the relationships built up during previous school–university partnerships to inform new projects, co-research between teachers and academics, and 'opening classrooms to each other'. This last suggestion leads to a fifth possibility: 'embedding' academics in classroom teaching roles within schools, and giving teachers roles in helping to develop teacher education programs in universities. Sixthly and related to the above point, research leadership positions could be established within schools. Teachers who have recent academic experience may be attracted to such positions, as an alternative to senior school leadership roles that would end their direct links to the classroom. The seventh suggestion is to foster 'reading cultures' in schools, examining printed or online texts as part of a wider learning culture that promotes deep discussion. The final two issues are to 'insist on ways of making knowledge transferrable and usable' and to base post-graduate study programs in schools. Together these measures can address several powerful barriers to professional learning, which include the limited dissemination of academic research, the opaque language sometimes used in academia, and the culture of 'non-interference' between school staff, which discourages critical evaluation of each other's work.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
Schools and the city: engaging middle years students in learning
Volume 30 Number 3, 2010; Pages 28–36
Student-centred learning can help to overcome disengagement amongst middle years students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. While student disengagement is very common in the middle years, it tends to set in earlier in disadvantaged schools, and 'can be almost intractable' by Year 7. The Cityscape program takes up these issues. It was set up by the Education Foundation, now part of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA). Recently renamed the Classroom to Community program, it draws on the urban environment to provide 'meaningfully interactive, real world experiences' for Year 9 and Year 10 students in Victoria. Each year it involves over 3500 students from over 50 public secondary schools. During the program students form teams to conduct research. They develop hypotheses such as 'Melbourne has a bad graffiti problem', which are then tested through interviews, observation, internet searches, and personal and group reflection. The teams improve their media skills and social awareness during workshops run by organisations such as ACMI and the Student Youth Network (SYN). In 2008 the Education Foundation commissioned the Australian Youth Research Centre to evaluate Cityscape's impact. The evaluation involved three large schools: two outer suburban and one in regional Victoria. The evaluation found that the program has been broadly effective in increasing student engagement at all three case study schools. However, it also identified barriers to participation in terms of cost, and also parental anxiety if students were unsupervised beyond the school grounds. Parents' worries usually eased during the course of the project. The authors also note that the program can encounter significant levels of resistance from teachers unready to 'take on new practice'. There is also an unhelpful tendency to see the program as an 'add-on' rather than as part of a wholesale review of practices to engage middle years' students. When used in isolation, Cityscape has only a minor impact in schools. However, repeated involvement in the program helped significantly to deepen its impact on the school. Other obstacles include time pressure on teachers and, in the case of rural schools, the organisational difficulty of spending a week in Melbourne.
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
The co-construction of opposition in a low-track mathematics classroom
Volume 47 Number 1, March 2010; Pages 97–132
Student opposition, where students covertly resist or overtly defy classroom norms, can have a significant effect on the classroom environment and on students' learning. Drawing on classroom observations, the author examines the factors that encouraged opposition from students in a low-track secondary mathematics classroom in a disadvantaged school in the USA. One factor was the material being taught, which was a less challenging version of the mainstream curriculum, and which encouraged only low-level engagement with mathematics. A second factor was the way in which this material was taught. The teacher tended to take a teacher-oriented, step-by-step approach that allowed only minimal participation from the students, a teaching style that is often found in challenging schools. Where student participation was invited, the teacher controlled the student responses, choosing which students could respond, and vetting their responses for accuracy. A third factor was the low engagement of a group of students who held considerable social sway amongst their peers, and whose poor behaviour influenced or distracted other students. These factors combined to result in an increasingly resistant classroom environment. While the relationship between the teacher and the students was initially fairly positive, with the students responding to the teacher's attempts to encourage participation within what was a narrow and unchallenging curriculum, over time the students became increasingly oppositional. Incidents of off-task behaviour such as quiet chatting or note writing gradually turned into acts of open defiance, with some students talking back to the teacher or leaving the classroom altogether. In response, the teacher took an increasingly authoritarian approach to classroom management, reducing opportunities for the students to engage in rich mathematical tasks, and issuing frequent reprimands. This only led to the further marginalisation of disengaged students: having been characterised as non-productive classroom members, they continued to fulfil this role. The challenges experienced in this classroom may be ameliorated by more flexible, participative approaches to learning where learners' input is encouraged and where differences in the classroom roles of the teacher and students are not so pronounced. Respectful and participative classrooms can also be developed by fostering students' mathematical identities, and by attempting to link students' classroom and home identities.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsTeacher-student relationships
Using action research to challenge stereotypes: a case study of boys' education work in Australia
Volume 8 Number 3, September 2010; Pages 333–356
Action research provides teachers with opportunities to challenge stereotypes and one-size-fits-all solutions by encouraging them to use empirical evidence from their own classroom context to guide their approaches to teaching and learning. The author reports on a three week long action research project designed to examine boys' writing and their attitudes towards writing. The participants were 14 teachers from a cluster of seven schools in northern Australia. The teachers participated in a half-day workshop on action research processes, where they were also encouraged to take evidence-based approaches towards the topic, and participated in hands-on workshops with literacy specialists and authors of popular fiction. Using various methods, such as student questioning, formal questionnaires or examination of assessment data, the teachers then conducted action research in their classrooms to identify how to engage boys in writing. Many of the teachers were surprised to find that boys were generally performing well at writing, and had a positive attitude towards it. One teacher found that achievement data varied depending on individual and background factors rather than by gender, while another found that boys who were perceived to be 'reluctant writers' often valued writing and saw it as being an important skill needed for future success. Most boys were found to have strong male literacy models at home. Boys' relationship with writing, however, was complex: they tended to avoid praise for their writing, but were happy to praise their friends on their writing achievement. One surprising finding was that many boys tended to equate good writing with good handwriting rather than the quality of their ideas. The action research project highlighted that despite recent concerns about boys' literacy, many boys are achieving at expected levels, and additionally have positive attitudes towards writing. The teachers' efforts to empirically examine the issue using their own students gave them greater insight into students' attitudes and perspectives, and helped them to direct their pedagogy more appropriately in ways that better met their students' needs.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
Motives of cheating among secondary students: the role of self-efficacy and peer influence
Cheating and other forms of academic dishonesty are less likely to occur when condemned by peers, but students are often reluctant to report or speak out against cheating. This has implications for learning, as cheating undermines the validity of assessment data and affects teachers' ability to accurately judge student learning. Drawing on survey data from 92 high-achieving senior secondary students in Hong Kong, the authors examined student attitudes towards cheating. Over 90% of the students admitted to having cheated at least once; only 6% claimed never to have cheated. Cheating was most prevalent on take-home assignments and classroom tests, but was less common in high-stakes exams. Students' self-efficacy was linked with the likelihood that they would cheat, with students with lower academic self-concept being more likely to cheat than more confident students. Students were less likely to cheat on tests or assignments where they were confident that they could do well without cheating. For some students, the emphasis on results over actual learning was an incentive to cheat. While almost all of the students had witnessed cheating, almost 80% had made no effort to prevent it. This was due to a prevailing 'norm of nondisclosure' and students' concerns about making enemies or straining friendships. If students did intervene, it was usually to ask the cheater to stop, rather than reporting them to a teacher. While some students reported that they might be swayed to cheat by the knowledge that others were cheating, others noted that they were unlikely to do so due to the low reward for doing so, particularly when compared with the risks of cheating. In order to reduce incidences of cheating, educators need to employ strategies to improve student self-efficacy and to create norms that encourage peer reporting of cheating.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Career decision making among gifted students: the mediation of teachers
Volume 54 Number 3, July 2010; Pages 222–238
While personal and contextual factors are highly influential in guiding students towards particular career paths, teacher-related factors also play a role. Using surveys and interviews, key characteristics of teachers that helped influence students to pursue a particular degree course were examined. The survey respondents were 125 high-achieving first-year university students in Australia, 20 of whom were also interviewed. Although most of the students had already made decisions about the area of study they wished to pursue at tertiary level, teachers played an important reinforcing role. Several elements were identified as key to supporting students' interest in a particular subject area. Teachers' ability to connect with students, such as by acknowledging their interests and linking them with learning, or by taking on a co-learner role, was a key influencing factor that helped foster a sense of commitment from students. Similarly, teachers' evident passion for their subject was also an influencing factor, with many students highlighting how a teacher's enthusiasm and commitment fostered their enjoyment of a subject or, conversely, how a dispassionate teacher detracted from their learning. Teachers' pedagogical content knowledge was another important factor, as was their ability to communicate this knowledge and link it with real-world applications. Students valued teachers who were able to draw on excellent content knowledge or rich personal experience, and felt that this knowledge afforded them extra credibility. The students also appreciated teachers who were able to demonstrate the relevance of the material or skills being taught. The respondents also described their teachers' high expectations as encouraging them in their learning and helping to ensure that they were appropriately challenged. Another element that students saw as beneficial to their learning was the fun and caring learning environments provided by their teachers.
Transitions in schooling
What is the future for primary school history in England?
Volume 38 Number 3, August 2010; Pages 233–241
The introduction of a new Primary Curriculum in England in 2011 will have implications for the teaching of history. Using surveys and interviews, the author examined how local schools were currently teaching history, its role in the curriculum, and the type of support and continuing professional development available to teachers. The survey respondents were 22 primary teachers, two of whom were also interviewed. All of the teachers reported enjoying teaching history and reflected that it remained a meaningful part of the curriculum. All but two of the respondents taught in schools where there was a designated teacher responsible for the teaching of history, and many pointed out the value of their history coordinator in terms of receiving help and support. While two of the teachers were history specialists, most had received minimal amounts of formal history training as part of their teacher preparation courses. Very little was available in the way of professional development opportunities and teachers tended not to have access to key publications such as the journal of the Historical Association. Many of the teachers taught at least some of their history through cross-curricular themes, and history was often taught in conjunction with literacy, art, and ICT. However, few teachers incorporated themes such as citizenship into their teaching, and fewer still sought to address ethnic minorities in their history teaching, in part due to lack of knowledge, and also due to risk management concerns. Many teachers drew heavily on the suggested schemes of the curriculum authority rather than adapting them or developing their own schemes. While history remains an important element of the primary curriculum in England, there is a need for more training of teachers, and greater support from local and formal organisations in order to help teachers develop more sophisticated and diverse approaches to the themes and topics covered in their teaching.
Subject HeadingsGreat Britain
Identifying the issues of early career science and mathematics teachers
Given the shortage of teachers qualified in maths or science, it is important that new graduates in these areas are well prepared and well supported within schools. A small scale project in South Australia has investigated these issues. Researchers sent a questionnaire to new graduates who were trained in, or were asked to teach in, either of these subject areas. They received 25 responses, 10 from teachers in rural or remote areas and 15 from metropolitan schools. The interviews were supplemented by four focus group discussions involving 19 participants. Almost all the participants indicated that they saw teaching as a long term or lifetime career. Most of them felt well prepared for teaching, except around the issues of student discipline, management of their administrative load and, in the case of the science teachers, the conduct of practical activities, especially those involving chemicals. They were also concerned about their ability to teach immigrant children with low literacy levels. Participants in country areas were concerned about access to professional development opportunities and wanted more opportunities to use ICT for professional learning; they were already making extensive use of email and the video conferencing arranged by DECS. The participants generally felt well supported within their schools, especially senior staff and especially on the question of student discipline. They did not feel well supported by the government or the wider community. Most believed their workload was too high and interfered with personal life, and was not adequately remunerated.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Making online learning accessible: using technology to declutter the web
Volume 45 Number 5, May 2010; Pages 304–311
While the internet provides numerous opportunities for learning, some students may need additional guidance to help direct their attention and minimise distractions. The author describes a number of free online resources designed to help streamline the learning process. Google Custom Search allows teachers to narrow down search engine results to content from a preselected a group of websites, allowing teachers to ensure that students are directed to material that is relevant, accurate and age-appropriate. Multiple custom searches can be set up to meet the needs of students of different abilities. ShareTabs allows teachers to create a list of websites that will display as tabs across a single page. This tool reduces time lost to web searching and ensures that students are all working from the same material. TrackStar is a tool where teachers can create a trail of websites that display as links down the left-hand side of a browser, allowing students to browse through the sites in a particular order. Awesome Highlighter is a tool that allows teachers and students to highlight and annotate a webpage and share their results. Some similar mark-up tools, such as Wizlite and SharedCopy are designed for collaborative mark-up approaches. Other useful tools include those designed to enhance readability, such as TidyRead and Readability, both of which remove distractions such as ads and moving images from a webpage, leaving only the text content. TidyRead can also be used to manipulate text sizes and fonts depending on a student's reading preferences. These tools can also be combined to further increase accessibility: for example, a Google Custom Search can be displayed as a tab on ShareTabs or TrackStar, and annotation and readability tools could be used by students as they move through the content.
Subject HeadingsClassroom activities
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
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