Developing reading comprehension: combining visual and verbal cognitive processes
Volume 33 Number 2, June 2010; Pages 108–125
Struggling readers often lack the ability to use working memory efficiently as they try to grasp and organise the information in a text. Teachers can help students use their cognitive resources more effectively through a range of visual and verbal instructional strategies. One is to focus students' attention on illustrations accompanying the texts: well-designed illustrations will help young or inexperienced readers to connect their existing knowledge to the new information they are receiving. The work of forging these connections is intensified when students are involved in drawing their own images derived from the text. Students' drawing activity can be helped by selecting texts that are richly descriptive. The teacher can also set directions for the drawing activity that focus it on connections within the text. Instructors can also call on students to create mental visualisations of what they are reading. Students' manipulation of physical objects, for example, to represent characters and their actions, has been found to deepen their recall and inferential skills. Focusing on a particular character and their actions in the story can give students a point from which to grasp the overall plot and theme: for young readers this focus tends to be on characters' actions and cause and effect, for older readers, it is characters' mental states. Text structure and organisation is also important. Struggling readers benefit from texts with a clear logical structure and time sequence, and devices such as informative introductory paragraphs. Graphic organisers can help students connect related ideas, especially in the context of group discussions. These strategies should be used in combination. The linking of visual and verbal strategies is important, for example, through the use of a concept map to focus students on semantic connections between certain words. Initially, the activity of learning these strategies is likely to demand a great deal of attention from struggling readers but, over time, it can become automatic and thus equip them for independent reading.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Volume 16 Number 1, January 2011
The new media has serious limitations as a tool for professional and academic purposes, but these shortcomings have been neglected in most of the literature about it. The interactive web does not encourage quality, high aesthetic standards or discernment in the selection and evaluation of content. On the contrary, users are encouraged 'to produce anything', subject to little or no gate-keeping and quality control. Electronic documents are easily altered in content or form. A professional look is easily created for low-quality content. The 'wisdom of the crowd' ranks content by popularity, a criteria unsuitable for academic purposes. There is no guarantee that the crowd will filter out erroneous information. The new media has been advanced as a 'disruptive' force in scholarly work, but its value in this context has been exaggerated: like the concept of 'digital natives' it is based on 'informal observation and anecdote'. The uncertain quality of content in the new media calls for the development of strong literacy skills among users who have professional or academic purposes, including students, who have to determine the reliability, accuracy and validity of online information. Relevant literacy takes various forms. Information literacy emphasises critical thinking in the selection and evaluation of sources, careful management of information, as well as metacognition and attention to the quality, authenticity and credibility of communications. Digital literacy adds to this an awareness of how digital communication tools contribute to and influence the identification, management and evaluation of knowledge. Media literacy refers to the capacity to 'decode, evaluate, analyse and produce both print and electronic media'. It attends to the political and commercial influences on how reality is constructed and portrayed in the media, the distinctive qualities of each media type and the role of the receiver in making meaning. The new media as a tool for amateur use may be compared to the recreational role played by public libraries, which complement but do not replace academic libraries.
Subject HeadingsInformation management
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
The relationship between severe oral language impairment and progress with reading intervention
Volume 33 Number 2, June 2010; Pages 126–133
Children placed in reading intervention programs who have severe receptive languages impairment (SRLI), are not benefiting from these programs as much as other students. A child with SRLI lacks the oral language skills required for successfully learning to read. These students are not just learning the task of code-breaking; they are also struggling with the language of instruction to an extent not found among other students with reading difficulties. Terms such as 'beginning', 'sound' and 'sentence' may not be understood by the student, and questions beginning with 'Why did …?' or 'What do you expect …?', typically raised in classroom discussions of texts, may be at a level of abstraction too high for them. A study was conducted on six students participating in the Reading Recovery Program, who had been identified as having SRLI. The study recorded the number of weeks the students attended the program and book level on exit. The results showed that these children, when compared with the average time in the program and average book level on exit, demonstrated significantly less progress than children without SRLI. The article sets out a number of considerations that may help reading instructors to plan interventions for students with SRLI. For example, if the student is not at a stage of understanding word boundaries or syllables, it is unlikely they will be ready for instruction in the later developing skill of phoneme recognition.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsReading difficulties
English language teaching
Number 116, July 2010; Pages 1–11
Schools have been described by students as a key setting for racism as it affects youth in Australia. The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) commissioned Deakin University's Institute for Leadership to conduct a national study into the impact of racism on young Australians' health and wellbeing. Eighteen Australian government and Catholic secondary schools in Victoria, New South Wales, the Northern Territory and Queensland participated in the study, involving 823 students between the ages of 15 and 18 years. The research found that more than 70 per cent of the students surveyed had experienced racism, and that those most at risk were migrants who have been in Australia for less than five years. Forms of racism included name-calling and verbal abuse, social exclusion, and being treated with suspicion. It also found instances where 'teachers or school administrative staff are in fact the perpetrators of racist behaviors'. Victims exhibited a range of physical symptoms, such as headaches, racing heart and sweaty palms, and emotional effects, such as fear of being attacked, sadness and a sense of exclusion. These students' educational achievement was also affected. They struggled to concentrate and to complete work in class and at home. Many became afraid to attend school. Schools can play a key role in combating racism. Classroom-based programs can increase student awareness of racism and issues surrounding ethnicity and culture. Education systems need to provide professional learning for teachers to help them deal with these issues more effectively. Schools can break down cultural barriers by supporting parents through the provision of interpreting services and educational information in languages other than English, and also by encouraging community involvement in classroom presentations. Students, as the victims and perpetrators of racism, are in a position to lead the way in changing attitudes toward cultural diversity. A number of programs have been developed to enable students to participate in addressing the issues, for example, the ruMAD? (are you Making a Difference?) program.
11 November 2010
The US documentary Waiting for 'Superman' contains social and political messages hostile to the country's public education system. It attributes academic failure by public school students to poor-quality teachers, and suggests that unions are currently obstructing remedial actions such as dismissals and salary incentive schemes. It argues further that a social and economic malaise in the USA can be attributed to the weaknesses of public education, rather than to 'deindustrialization or poverty or our coarse popular culture or predatory financial practices'. The film is based around five children entered in a lottery to be selected to attend charter schools, understood as a solution to their families' longing to see them have a better life. Charter schools are privately run while funded mainly by the government. The documentary has been enormously influential as an intervention into political debate over education in the USA. However, the film is propagandistic and misleading in significant ways. It touches only momentarily on the CREDO study which examined maths performances of students at half the country's 3,000 charter schools. The study found that 17% of the schools performed better than matched public schools, and 37% performed less well. Only a small proportion of the 17% produced the 'amazing results' that the film suggested to be characteristic of charter schools. The film does not refer to controversies that have arisen around some charter schools involving embezzlement, blurring of the line between church and state, and huge salaries for school leaders. Research demonstrates that non-school factors are responsible for 60% of student achievement levels. While teachers are the single most important contributor to student performance within a school, teachers cannot by themselves overcome obstacles caused by educational disadvantage in students' communities.
Education aims and objectives
Education and state
United States of America (USA)
Going the distance for rural science teachers
Volume 31 Number 5, 13 October 2010; Pages 44–47
The Science STARTS program in California provides professional development for rural science teachers taking Years 4 to 8. The project, covering 44 schools, is designed to address the learning needs of teachers disadvantaged by their remote and disparate locations. The schools tend to lack curriculum leadership at the local level. Science STARTS involves 30 teachers in a three-year program for 80 hours per year. In an initial survey about their learning needs, the participants expressed a preference for face-to-face communications, despite the organisational pressures this raised, so that they could maximise the chance for developing professional networks for future collaboration. The program has involved annual summer schools at which participants were clustered into teams of three or four, based on their geographical proximity, in a measure designed to serve as the basis for later independent collaboration. Each team chose a project from a wide range of options, such as selecting and purchasing new science materials or setting up a science lab. Within each team a coordinator was appointed, to play an ongoing role in calling and organising cluster meetings, and monitoring other team members' progress. Teachers in rural schools experience particular advantages and disadvantages that impact on their professional learning. To attend summer schools or other professional learning events the teachers often need to drive long distances after finishing work, or pay for their own accommodation in a city-based venue. They usually have limited opportunities to collaborate with science teachers at their own grade levels. On the other hand, rural schools benefit from smaller, more personalised environments, lower than average student-to-teacher ratios, fewer disciplinary problems, strong ties to the local community and easier access to natural settings for science classes.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
United States of America (USA)
Information technology and effective schools
November 2010; Pages 24–27
Vendors of ICT promote technology as a key driver of best-practice pedagogy to a receptive audience of schools. However, ICT vendors are not educationalists and are not always in touch with the issues faced in schools. Some of these challenges include: how ICT can be embedded effectively in a program; how it can lead to deep rather than superficial learning; how assessment practices can change to address new skills and types of learning; and how teachers can be brought on board. The image presented by ICT vendors does not reflect the experiences of teachers and students in the classroom. Educators encounter problems such as unreliable technology, students' misuse of ICT in class time, and laptops rendered dysfunctional by the addition of games, movies and other excess data. Teachers sometimes abandon the use of particular products due to a lack of technical support. Some programs engage students well but have no real educational value. The end product may look impressive, but the software does the thinking for the student. Blogs may not generate much true interactivity. Making a podcast may do little for the student's development if they have not done much work on the content. An attractive application may distract students from the content and skills they are expected to develop by using it. Teaching and learning needs should drive the decisions about ICT, and teachers need to be involved in the process of choosing resources, while questioning the value-add of the product. Creating a framework of explicit and sound pedagogy for teaching and learning programs that use ICT increases their chance of success.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Volume 68 Number 3, November 2010; Pages 81–82
The practising of skills is an important and valuable activity for students, but has received some 'bad press', often based on misunderstandings about the nature of constructivism. Constructivism, the theory that learning is an active constructive process, allows students to generate their own understanding of content. Structured practice by students is not in conflict with this principle. An expected outcome of a student's schooling is mastering procedural knowledge. Procedural knowledge involves knowledge about particular skills, strategies and processes, all of which require practice. Skills are specific, for example, being able to correctly punctuate a sentence, while strategies are broader, such as knowing how to edit a piece of work using transitions. Processes are broader still and encompass both skills and strategies. Another misconception about practice is that it consists simply of completing a series of tasks requiring the same skill, strategy or process, to reinforce what has been learnt. In reality, a number of factors are involved in effective practice. One is to consider the stage of learning required. Procedural knowledge comes through stages: from the student knowing how the skill, strategy or process works but being unable to do it, to them mastering the task without assistance, called the autonomous stage. The level of practice required will depend on the outcome expected. A student who is expected to achieve the final stage will need to practise frequently. A second factor is the need to use varied examples. Teachers may provide combinations of solved and unsolved problems, or set tasks that have different versions of the problem. These methods for practising have shown positive results for students. Thirdly, the teacher should ask students to think aloud. Students may be asked to explain the thought processes of solving a problem, or the relationships between different skills, strategies or processes. Lastly, space practice sessions appropriately. Research shows that students benefit from practice sessions that begin closely spaced then increase in the time between sessions.
Subject HeadingsStudy methods
Teaching and learning
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