Number 194, May 2010
A range of policy statements and curriculum documents call for students to possess strong cultural awareness, a firm grounding in scientific and mathematical concepts and knowledge of major political and economic theories. At present, such core learning is covered mainly in the compulsory years of schooling up until the end of Year 10. It is questionable whether most students of this age are able to absorb this learning in more than ‘a relatively superficial way’. Therefore the senior secondary curriculum should cover this core learning. At present this is not the case. In the senior secondary years relatively small numbers of students pursue subjects such as economics and international studies that could impart the understandings demanded by public policy. This situation results from a range of factors. In the senior secondary years subject choice becomes wider, with between 50 and 200 subjects offered in different Australian education systems. Schools decide independently what subjects they will offer. Subjects are timetabled on the presumption that students have decided on a particular learning stream such as science or the humanities, and while this arrangement caters for students’ interests and academic strengths it also closes the door on other subjects, even if they are deemed important in the wider community. Students’ selection of subjects is also governed by incidental factors such as the availability of teachers for a subject, facilities, tertiary entrance and certification requirements and students’ knowledge of these requirements. A further problem is the inadequate provision for the kind of interdisciplinary learning now needed in the workforce. To align the curriculum more closely with public priorities, 50 to 60 per cent of the senior curriculum should ‘contain a common core component of “hybrid” and other studies in a few broad areas’. The senior curriculum should be extended to include Year 10, to enable more flexible delivery. One possibility would be to cover most of the core content in Year 10 and Year 11, with the final year freed up for personalised studies. These proposals have implications for the content of subject areas, assessment regimes, staffing allocations within schools, timetabling and teacher education. The paper includes a two-page Appendix setting out more detailed proposals for the curriculum.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Volume 22 Number 2, 2010; Pages 24–47
Findings from a study in Queensland suggest that early primary students should be offered opportunities to work with challenging statistical concepts. The participating children showed that they were able to categorise and recategorise physical items by various common properties at a level of conceptual complexity beyond that typically demanded of students in the early primary years. The children were in three Grade 1 classes at an inner-Brisbane primary school, serving a population of mid-level socioeconomic status. The students’ previous work with data had involved only basic tasks, such as sorting items by colour. In small groups they now took part in three problem-based activities. The researchers and teachers facilitated the sessions but offered no direct instruction. The activities’ starting point was a purposefully created story book, Baxter Brown’s Messy Room. The children were asked to categorise items such as shoes and dog bones in Baxter’s untidy bedroom, initially by whether they should be recycled, reused or disposed of. In later activities the children were called on to determine other criteria by which the bedroom items could be grouped. The items were not readily classifiable by simple criteria such as colour or shape. Two of the children’s small groups were videotaped and audiotaped, and the resulting data was coded to identify patterns in the participants’ interactions and thinking. Children were found to identify items by relatively subtle criteria such as whether they had writing on them or by their function. They were also able to shift between consideration of different qualities in the items, and between specific qualities and the items as a whole. The article reports results from the first year of the study, which will cover three years in all. The activities successfully completed by the children demonstrate an ability to manage important elements of statistical thinking. This thinking represents a form of modelling, that is, the representation of a real-world situation through a mathematical system. When teachers set such classifying activities for young children, it is important that they leave their students with the most stimulating tasks, such as deciding which qualities to consider and how many qualities should be identified.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Developing comprehension: learning to make meaning
Number 13, 2010
The article offers seven principles that help to build a child’s comprehension after they commence school. The principles all reflect the fact that reading comprehension draws on wider understandings developed from previous texts and experiences. The first is to use integrated approaches that focus on learning, which link activities to the student’s wider learning environment. One form of such integration is the ‘text set’: a set of resources on a given topic which spans different media such as print, image and video, and different forms of knowledge, such as literature, non-fiction books, music and Web resources. The resources are intended as a starting point from which students can develop comprehension of a topic and ways to research it further. Use of the text set encourages the student to integrate information across genres. The second principle is to provide varied exposures to text and image covering different authors, genres and cultures. This variation avoids compartmentalising particular activities with specific purposes, for example reading literature only for personal enjoyment. Varied exposure stimulates the re-evaluation, elaboration of meaning, moral considerations, emotion and imagination. The third is to offer students varied ways to respond to texts, for example through discussion, answering questions and physical movement, or by writing to communicate or for personal reflection. A varied response helps students to engage, and to reflect on and share their understandings, and also helps the teacher to assess students’ learning. Fourthly, students should be offered the chance to build skills and strategies that may be reapplied in new contexts, such as creating overviews or diagrams. Fifthly, good quality questioning should be applied, which moves beyond basic recall of knowledge to cover interpretation, problem solving, analysis and synthesis of knowledge. Children’s questions should be welcomed and answered, and sometimes used as a point of departure to explore an issue. A sixth principle is to offer students varied social groupings – regular or spontaneous, small or large, structured or informal. A final goal is to establish ‘an active community of meaning makers in the classroom’.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsMultimedia systems
Volume 68 Number 4, December 2010; Pages 79–80
This article details research that shows which teacher attributes contribute to student achievement. Some of the attributes of a good teacher are quantifiable. A teacher with strong verbal and cognitive ability will achieve greater success in the classroom. Good teachers also possess ‘pedagogical content knowledge’, knowing their content areas and how to teach them. On the other hand, research suggests that teachers’ qualifications and advanced degrees do not have a major effect on student achievement. Experience exceeding a few years in the classroom does not improve a teacher’s effectiveness. Many attributes cannot be measured. A teacher who has a belief that their students can succeed and also believes in their own ability can have a positive effect on how well the children learn. An improvement in student participation, motivation and achievement can result from teachers who possess empathy and convey warmth. Given that a potential employee is unlikely to possess all of these attributes schools must consider which qualities they can supplement. They may also need to rethink the measures used when recruiting and rewarding teachers. Although the more intangible attributes, such as a teacher’s dispositions and attitudes might not be gathered from a resume, they can still be teased out through an interview or observed in the delivery of a sample lesson.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Research evidence confirms that the quality of teachers is the greatest single in-school variable in determining students’ academic performance. Children who have had three effective teachers in succession ‘soar academically’ compared to peers with less effective teachers, particularly in the field of mathematics. However, in the USA, core academic classes in disadvantaged secondary schools are almost twice as likely as classes in ‘low-poverty’ schools to be taken by teachers who are not qualified in the subject area. The figures emerge from the US Department of Education’s Schools and Staffing Survey. The inequalities are especially pronounced in the field of mathematics: one in four maths classes in poor schools are taken by teachers without qualifications in the subject. First year teachers are also disproportionately likely to teach in poor schools. The report offers a range of suggestions to overcome these problems. For example, education systems should collect and publicise data on teacher quality. They should also prohibit disproportionate assignment of strongly or weakly performing teachers to particular socio-economic categories of schools.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
United States of America (USA)
Connecting to the worlds of work
Volume 8 Number 3, October 2010; Pages 23–28
School-community partnerships benefit students, teachers, schools and local communities. They provide better educational outcomes through greater student engagement in school, introduce young people to potential mentors and role models, and expand post-school pathways and opportunities. Teachers are given the chance to embed learning within their students’ communities. Schools become more dynamic and open in their culture, and they gain new knowledge and capital resources that build capacity for the future. Partnerships connect the school to the community, which brings people together to create fresh solutions to local challenges. When schools and communities work together, they can help prepare students for their professional life. School-community partnerships are a way of linking students with contacts and networks which offer them opportunities for the future. Prospects are greatly influenced by a student’s social background and geographical location. Students who have little connection with people beyond their local communities have fewer networking opportunities. The Worlds of Work (WOW) program is an initiative of Education Foundation, a division of The Foundation for Young Australians. It was introduced to assist students cultivate their own opportunities. Aimed at Year 10 students, the program conducts a series of workplace visits where they participate in various workshops. The WOW program is based on five educational principles: positive psychology, student-centred learning, inquiry-based learning, authentic learning, and community-based learning. Fitzroy Secondary College and the Outer Eastern Local Learning and Employment Network (OELLEN) are two agencies who have taken up the program. Both have reported positive responses. Students experienced an increase in confidence and improvement in their communication skills, while teachers described a sense of enriched teaching as a result of being part of the program. The workplace employees taking part found that working with these young people has improved team cohesion.
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
ICT literacy on target
December 2010; Pages 32–36
The National Assessment Program – ICT Literacy helps identify what Australian students can do using ICT and how they use it at school and for leisure. It gives an indication of how Australia is progressing towards meeting the objective set out in the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. For the purpose of this assessment, ICT literacy is defined as a student’s ability to use information technology to access, manage, integrate and evaluate information, develop new understandings and communicate with others so they can participate effectively in society. The results of the program – which tests a sample of Years 6 and 10 students every three years – show that 57 per cent of Year 6 students and 66 per cent of Year 10 students reached or exceeded the proficient standard set for their year level. Although the study found that many of the students are able to use the basic elements of ICT, they may need to develop their skills in using applications to create, analyse or transform information. Year 10 students who achieve the proficient standard for their age group are working at Proficiency Level 4 or above. These students are able to carry out such tasks as using an internet search to identify relevant and reliable information. Students performing at a lower level of achievement are still capable of performing routine ICT tasks such as creating a PowerPoint presentation, however they may require assistance in finding relevant information sources, or may need to follow a set structure. A comparison between the ICT assessments conducted in 2005 and the 2008 study showed considerable improvement in Year 6 students and a small increase in Year 10 students who achieved or exceeded the proficiency standard. The results also highlighted that students achieving at the lowest level of proficiency virtually remained the same since 2005. This group’s performance was affected by lower socioeconomic background, Australian Indigenous heritage and location in rural areas.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Tensions in 21st century learning communities
Volume 33 Number 2, December 2010; Pages 13–15
Tensions are appearing in the application of network technology within learning communities. One tension concerns the model of a teaching and learning community. Communities of practice have three dimensions: a domain, consisting of a ‘shared interest, commitment and competence’; a community; and the practice through which the community shares knowledge. It is important that the jargon of ‘learning community’ is not applied to a cohort of students which do not genuinely contain all these elements. It is also important to recognise and address the negative aspects of community such as undue efforts to control discussion or exclude individuals. Marginal students may be left behind, and the digital divide within a group of students may widen. The learning management systems used in networked learning communities need to be easy for teachers to use. A further tension arises from the need to find time and space for personal reflection and for communication among members of the community, given the intrusiveness of the digital media and communication environment.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Flexible and aligned: postgraduate study for professional learning
November 2010; Pages 38–41
Postgraduate study for teachers can provide meaningful professional development if it aligns to the job and the issues and challenges faced by the school. Alignment of postgraduate course content is a vastly different approach to the current ‘short-sighted, transactional and compliance-focused professional development’. Rather than simply adjusting performance in reaction to a range of imposed indicators, it is worth developing individual expertise and school capacity. The author is Course Coordinator for the Queensland University of Technology Master of Education program. Most students enrolled in the course are ‘busy mid-career professionals’ juggling part-time study with full-time careers. The fact that they can do this reflects the fact that universities are finding new ways to support teachers in further study. Universities now offer more flexible learning options through a variety of online platforms and, more importantly, are presenting these students with the opportunity to align the course to their own work situations. A recent study by the University of Melbourne highlighted the major influence principals have on the postgraduate study undertaken by teachers. While some principals were found to encourage further study, others held the view that it would detract from the main business of the school. However, the undertaking of well-designed postgraduate study can benefit students and schools alike. Participants have an opportunity to develop their own area of expertise, while also considering the school’s strategic focus. Teachers identify the barriers to postgraduate study as time, lack of financial recognition at completion and cost. A postgraduate course, if approached with a long-term view and aligned to the day job, will make it more manageable to undertake. Further study also builds opportunities, which can make the work more rewarding, both intrinsically and financially. Commonwealth-supported places are available for teachers enrolling in postgraduate study, significantly reducing the cost of courses.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
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