Enhancing students literacy comprehension using NAPLAN data
Number 200, November 2010
The article describes how NAPLAN reading tasks can be applied to teaching in primary and secondary level and across subject areas. It examines how NAPLAN data can be mapped against explicit measures of students’ reading comprehension, using the example of the VELS English framework. VELS: English is discussed in relation to five competencies, at the levels of the word; the sentence; the paragraph, a level which covers how to link and summarise information; the topic or theme; and disposition, which includes the purpose of the text, the author’s disposition and the reader’s own attitude. Students’ progress in these competencies can be specified in terms of nine reading behaviours, or comprehension strategies. For example, one can examine how well students ‘work out the topic of a text and use this to organise their understanding as they read’. Comprehension may also be measured in terms of outcomes, which show students’ literal understandings of, inferences from, or evaluations of a text. When students carry out NAPLAN reading tasks, their work can be broken down into eight actions. Teachers can look at the answers to each test question given by individual students to see how the student has managed each of these actions. Teachers can also see how a whole cohort at the school compares to the state-wide average. When deciding on the order in which to teach comprehension strategies, teachers are likely to rank them in order of difficulty. This ranking can be decided by looking at actual test results for the cohort and the state, or by using a developmental continuum, such as the one available for VELS. This information can then inform teaching strategies, for example when to apply scaffolding or direct instruction, and whether to apply separate approaches to different groups within their class. The longer-term goal is to imbue each student to understand each comprehension strategy and apply it themselves.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
The effectiveness and ease of implementation of an academic vocabulary intervention for linguistically diverse students in urban middle schools
Volume 45 Number 2, April 2010; Pages 196–226
A study has examined an 18-week program titled Academic Language Instruction for All Students (ALIAS), designed to enhance students’ knowledge of words most important for their academic learning. The research included 13 treatment and eight control classes, taking place at seven middle schools in the USA. It included 476 Grade 6 students, 346 of them language-minority learners. Evidence was obtained from classroom observations and teacher logs. As one of the elements of the program, teachers highlighted academically important words within a grade-level text. The texts were selected to minimise distractions usually found in classroom texts, such as syntax and voice, while also containing accessible content relevant to young readers. The teachers sought to imbue deep knowledge of the targeted words, considering multiple meanings and semantically related words, as well as their presentation in different morphological forms. This approach is distinctly different from the common practices of memorising the definitions of words and using them in disconnected sentences. The selected texts were rich in the type of words frequently found in textbooks. In this sense the program’s approach differed from the practice of using lists of words supplied by publishers for vocabulary learning: these words are not selected for their value in academic contexts. Findings suggest that struggling older readers can benefit from the program’s approach. The study found that the program produced significant gains in some aspects of students’ vocabulary knowledge, including word meanings of taught words, word meanings in expository text, and morphological awareness. The language-minority students gained at the same rate as other students.
United States of America (USA)
Capabilities for the 21st century
Volume 33 Number 2, December 2010; Pages 4–7
The author, ICT Curriculum Manager at the VCAA, reports on the 2009 New Millenium Learners International Conference. She highlights some presentations, noting their relevance to Victorian and Australian education. Barbara Ischinger, OECD Director for Education, discussed the digital divide in education. This divide is not determined so much by access to computers as by the nature of students’ ICT skills. Some students, while ‘ICT savvy’, possess ‘a depth of functionality but often not a breadth’. By contrast, other students are able to integrate the use of ICT with knowledge management and critical thinking skills. In Victoria, the author notes, students in Grade 6 and Year 10 perform well on NAPLAN ICT literacy tests, but they need to develop their skills in navigation and in locating and evaluating information. Andreas Schleicher, also from the OECD, described the growing need for non-routine skills in analysis and in social interaction. In the work force students need to be able to collaborate and to orchestrate work, sometimes across cultural boundaries. They will need to synthesise disparate information, and to sort, sift, store, retrieve, distil and explain information. They will need to be versatile, able to adapt to new contexts and learn new competencies. They will need to apply broad knowledge to local contexts. However, it is difficult for schools and systems to measure and assess such skills. One important attempt to meet this need is the Assessment of 21st Century Skills project. Authors Magdalena Claro and Katerina Ananiadou discussed ICT functional skills, ICT skills for learning, and 21st-century skills more generally. Heeok Heo, of SunChon National University, described the way that 21st-century skills were categorised in Korea. In terms of curriculum planning, the author discusses the balance of procedural and declarative knowledge within key competencies, the issue of whether they should stand alone or be embedded in learning areas, and the generally acknowledged need to make competencies explicit.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
The myth of pink and blue brains
November 2010; Pages 32–36
The commonly asserted differences between female and male brains are minor or non-existent. In children differences are often temporary, while in the adult brain there is more variation within each gender than between them. These facts have been established by large-scale, authoritative studies, in contrast to the small single studies ‘cherry-picked’ for public attention. Gender gaps in academic performance are much more substantial, but they vary significantly by ethnicity and nationality, attesting to environmental influences. For example, high maths performance by girls is correlated with national environments that promote gender equity. Adults’ behaviour towards children greatly magnifies minor, innate differences, and this has ‘deep consequences’ for later cognitive and emotional function. Girls receive more encouragement to talk and interact, developing a phonological awareness that prepares them for reading. Boys’ encouragement to throw and catch and build things develops their understanding of distance, orientation and space, important later on for maths and mechanics. However, in some ways boys are more restricted than girls. Young boys are more strongly discouraged from ‘gender-inappropriate’ behaviour, such as playing with dolls. While girls’ progress in maths and athletics is now being helped by messages of female empowerment, there is no equivalent push for boys to develop verbal and relational skills. Girls at an early age are more encouraged to draw, and throughout the school years art tends to be seen as feminine or gay. Boys are also ‘boxed in’ by school rules against physically active or assertive behaviour. Efforts to address all these gender biases have been set back by myths of ‘hard-wired’ differences. Instead, efforts should be made to avoid gender stereotyping. Parents and educators should be made aware of the subtle and pervasive nature of gender bias in the treatment of boys and girls. All children should be encouraged to develop their cognitive and emotional capacities in a rounded way. Spatial and mechanical skills should be taught explicitly from preschool, for example through puzzles and map reading. Boys should be encouraged to read. Boys should also be encouraged to take part in school activities such as the school newspaper, which have tended to become ‘all-female’.
Subject HeadingsGirls' education
Social life and customs
TERRAnova: Renewing teacher education for rural and regional Australia
Volume 10 Number 1, February 2011; Pages 26–27
The TERRAnova project aims to identify ways in which teacher education can contribute to the attraction and retention of teachers in rural communities. This longitudinal study has involved three online annual surveys of final-year student teachers at all Australian universities. It has also involved ethnographic studies of 20 rural schools that have enjoyed unusually high rates of teacher retention. At these schools the researchers interviewed school leaders, new and experienced teachers and members of the local communities. Based on this research and on literature about rural disadvantage, the study has emphasised the importance of giving potential teachers a sound understanding of the particularities of the local community where they may take up a teaching post. While principals can take a leading role in this work it should also be undertaken by existing teachers and by community members. Teacher education courses should cover ‘place consciousness’: an awareness of the concept of ‘rural social space’ that emerges from a locality’s economic, demographic and geographic character.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Leaving nothing to chance
November 2010; Pages 16–21
Some disadvantaged schools in the USA excel at helping their students achieve, contrary to the belief that ‘high-poverty plus high minority equals low results’. Their success offers insights on how schools can achieve against the odds. Principals should be freed from dealing with any day-to-day crises to allow them to focus on student achievement. It is the principal’s job to ensure there are competent people to deal with the daily issues. This in turn requires an appropriate hiring regime. Principals who set an expectation of successful student outcomes should be following up with all teachers to ensure that goals are being met. School leaders must monitor student results and, where achievement is low, ask the teacher what intervention they intend to introduce. If this low achievement continues, it is up to the principal to support the teacher, for example by suggesting training that could assist them to improve their performance. The leaders of these schools all advocate respect for others, and expect that this should be demonstrated by teachers towards students and by principals towards teachers. Successful schools use student achievement data to inform decisions. The data can provide insight into the need for additional resources or which teachers have the most classroom success and can then enable them to share their knowledge and methods. Principals can assist teachers in this process of assessing data and the need to alleviate any feelings of being criticised. Successful school leaders are prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure students learn, which means stepping in when required.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
United States of America (USA)
Getting students moving
Volume 24 Number 24, February 2011; Pages 13–15
The Streets Ahead program aims to increase the physical activity of children aged four to 12 years and improve children’s ability to move through public spaces without adult supervision, referred to as ‘independent mobility’. It is being implemented in three metropolitan and three regional municipalities. The ACER is conducting a three-year study to evaluate if a new VicHealth initiative called Streets Ahead is meeting its goals. The study uses the drawings of 600 Victorian students in Years 3 to 6, combined with survey results, to identify the children’s awareness of their neighbourhood and how they travel to school. Drawings were used to obtain the information because they are a communication channel open to children of all ages, languages and educational abilities. The children were asked to draw a map of their neighbourhood, and how they travelled to school and what they saw on the way. The pictures revealed that only one in four children walks to school each day. Those who walked displayed greater detail in their drawings, such as street names and familiar houses with occupants they knew. The students who travelled in cars drew images relating more to the vehicle and roads, such as traffic lights, road signs and shops. The survey results indicated that children who walked to school are more independently mobile than those who are driven. They often know how to find their way to the park, a friend’s house or shops without the aid of an adult. It was found that the level of concern about strangers by parents of the two different groups was about the same. The children were less concerned than the parents; however, girls indicated they worried a lot more about strangers than boys. (Readers may also be interested in the Curriculum Leadership article ‘Children's unsupervised outdoor activity: managing risk and encouraging independence’ – CL.)
iPad trial at Epsom Primary School
Number 4, October 2010; Pages 1–3
Epsom Primary School is one of 10 schools involved in the DEECD iPad Trial. A total of twenty-five Grade 5 and 6 students each received an iPad, which came with a suite of applications such as mail, photo gallery and YouTube. Each student also received a $100 iTunes voucher to download prescribed apps at home. Although the iPads were received with excitement, the school had to manage a number of procedural problems. Downloading the apps was a lengthy process for some students who did not have fast broadband. Applications could only be downloaded one by one as Apple volume licensing has not reached Australia yet. Students without Internet access at home were given a user account on the school computer and then downloaded their apps during lunchtimes, which took a number of weeks. The school obtained parental permission to set up iTunes accounts for those students who did not have them. Some students have direct access to the iTunes account so are able to download apps when needed. The activity of finding and recommending apps is valuable for learning and keeps students engaged. As this access is unsupervised, a message is sent to the parents’ email account each time an app is purchased to serve as a safeguard. However, some homes were without email, so the school created gmail accounts for those parents. Other students’ parents controlled the iTunes account with a password to prevent unsuitable apps being downloaded by students. However, busy parents may affect the timeliness of purchasing. Even with some parent supervision in place, the school was required to monitor the apps the students had downloaded. All the trial schools reported that students engaged well with the iPads, and the creativity the iPads allowed was well noted. The students in the study stated a preference for using iPads over netbooks. It was found that struggling students particularly benefited from the iPad program.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Engaging veteran and graduate teachers
Volume 32 Number 4, November 2010; Pages 21–24
Schools are more likely to retain newly graduated teachers if they understand what teachers want from their careers. Research shows that a key factor inducing teachers to leave their profession is ‘burn-out’ as shown, for example, in the 2007 Western Australian Goldfields school study. Many of this school’s graduate teachers felt pressure from understaffing, which resulted in additional class time and reduced marking and preparation time. They also were aware of public expectations to produce high-level outcomes by working with students on a one-on-one basis. This study also found that the graduates expressed a need to feel respected and be included in school decision making. The author describes the strategies he used to retain teachers at a school where he was principal. The school, considered difficult to staff, predominantly had newly graduated teachers. An induction course was run that allowed the graduates to table any ‘real-life’ teaching issues that would not have been covered during their university training. The school provided teachers with support through learning teams led by a nominated experienced teacher. The graduates’ leadership aspirations were encouraged by the leadership group, which provided the opportunity for newly acquired skills to be practised immediately. Leadership meetings also served as an ‘early warning system’ of teacher dissatisfaction, which allowed school priorities to be adjusted. Even when graduate initiatives weren’t successful, the school gave a clear message that it valued the teachers’ contributions. The author contrasts this ‘graduate’ school with a second school he was principal of, which was dominated by veteran staff. The article cites a range of research papers on teacher attrition.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
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