The interactive whiteboard: tool and/or agent of semiotic mediation
Volume 34 Number 1, February 2011; Pages 38–60
The interactive whiteboard (IWB) consists of a data projector, computer, touchscreen and peripherals, and offers a range of computer functions. Internationally a number of education systems plan to invest heavily in IWBs as an aid to learning, and producers and distributors of these devices promote them extensively as a means to engage students. The role of the IWB has recently been explored as part of a research project at a large non-government school in southwestern Sydney. The school, recently renovated, aimed to create a high-tech, collaborative learning environment. The three researchers interviewed the school executive and teachers, and observed classes. The article describes one lesson in a year 3 classroom, conducted by an experienced teacher. A game on the IWB engaged children intensely in the construction of 'silly sentences', with arbitrary juxtaposition of nouns, verbs and other words, vividly depicted by images on the board. The IWB activity was non-linear, allowing many options for sentence construction, which probably added to its appeal. The class then turned from the IWB, as the teacher asked students to make meaningful sentences from words on cards, which were colour-coded according to their grammatical role. This activity was accompanied by class discussion about grammar. This work was the core learning component of the lesson, but children grew restless and wished to refocus on the IWB. In the next part of the lesson they did so, but their participation was 'overwhelmingly action-oriented'. The researchers concluded that the IWB, while intensely engaging, distorted the pacing of the lesson and the relative importance of its components. In this sense it 'encroached upon' aspects of pedagogy that are normally the province of the teacher. Designed for the US education environment, in which grammar tends to be taught in isolation rather than in relation to whole texts, the IWB lends itself to a curriculum that focuses on 'discrete skills and "bite-sized" knowledge'. In this sense it is similar to a range of commercial texts, worksheets and drill and practice games. Further research should explore how best to align the use of the IWB with core learning goals in the literacy lesson.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Teaching and learning
Supporting young children's vocabulary growth: the challenges, the benefits, and evidence-based strategies
Volume 38, March 2011; Pages 421–429
The development of young children's vocabulary and reading comprehension are closely related. Wide reading is an effective way to extend the vocabularies of children with good comprehension, but is much less effective for peers with poor comprehension, who are likely to fall further behind. There are a number of more effective strategies to develop the vocabulary of struggling young readers. Instruction should focus on what Beck et al call 'tier 2 words', words that cannot be understood readily through pictures or demonstration. Children need to be exposed to them in several contexts, preferably with a period of rest in between. Audio books offer children a chance to engage with texts above their current reading level. They can be read in tandem with printed books, and are particularly helpful for ESL children and those with disabilities. Children should control the pace of narration. The symbolic mode of learning, for example, when a word is learned about through other words, should be combined with iconic learning through images, and enactive learning through the learner's own activity. For example, children may be asked to draw a picture of something that is to be featured in a book that is to be read to them, and to apply their vocabulary to add labels to the picture; after their knowledge has been enriched by the reading, the children may be asked to redraw the picture and relabel it in more detail. Teachers can also build children's vocabulary by reading to them from picture books, discussing and elaborating on significant words. The reading should be dialogic-style, with children as active participants. Toys and other objects can be used as props. For example, children can use a toy to act out or embellish scenes from the story. Schwanenflugel et al suggest several other methods. Teachers can introduce new words in a picture book before it is read aloud, hold more one-to-one conversations with each child, and allow the child to diverge from the instructional topic during conversation. Together, all these strategies can address the disturbing gap between high and low-SES children's learning opportunities, as described, for example, by Juel et al and by Hart and Risley.
Early childhood education
Grading the teacher
Volume 10 Number 2, 16 March 2011; Pages 21–23
The author reviews experts' comments on the use of value-added measures (VAM) of students' results on standardised test scores as a means to evaluate teacher performance. Kevin Carey supports VAM, arguing that measurement of gains over time, irrespective of absolute scores, 'levels the playing field' for teachers serving different types of student. VAM avoid favouritism and offer a chance to vindicate unorthodox teaching methods. In any case, VAM are 'here to stay', so the issue is how to use them most effectively. Linda Darling-Hammond believes VAM are valid only for large-scale research. Studies 'repeatedly show' that VAM of individual teachers' performance are 'highly unstable'. The reason is that students' results are influenced by diverse, shifting variables, such as the impact of other current teachers, past teachers, and home life. One major influence is 'summer learning loss', which disproportionately affects low-SES students: VAM create an incentive for teachers to work within prosperous communities where students' learning flourishes over holiday periods. Better alternatives to VAM include the TAP program and NBPTS measures. Diane Ravitch refers to US Department of Education research which found that VAM produced an error rate of 25 per cent when used to evaluate individual teachers' performances over three years. Marcus Winters supports the use of VAM. On current measures, almost all teachers are currently rated satisfactory or better, in the face of research evidence to the contrary. VAM of a teachers' past performance are better predictors of her students' future results than credentials or teaching experience. These experts broadly agree, however, on the need to include measures beyond VAM, such as peer evaluation and more rigorous classroom observations. Australian expert Ben Jensen strongly supports VAM, but at the level of the school rather than the individual teacher. Geoff Masters, however, opposes the use of VAM at this level also, although he notes that it is supported by the OECD. One problem is how to allow adequately for influences beyond the school. Focus on VAM may distract attention from low absolute levels of student performance, or allow them to be implicitly accepted as the inevitable result of social disadvantage.
Subject HeadingsTeacher evaluation
Beyond literacy: building an integrated pedagogic genre
Volume 34 Number 1, 8 February 2011; Pages 81–97
Reading to Learn is a method for integrating literacy learning into all subject areas and year levels. By helping students to read subject-area texts, it addresses one of the main reasons why some students fall behind academically. The Reading to Learn method rests on a functional view of language that emphasises the social context in which language is used. School is one of these contexts, with its own 'pedagogic genre'. The method calls on teachers to provide three tiers, or levels, of scaffolding support for students. At the first level teachers prepare students to undertake reading tasks. The teacher provides background knowledge about a text and explains its genre, including its purpose, 'the stages identified in the genre approach', and the phases within each stage. The teacher also reads the text aloud so that struggling readers will not have the added burden of decoding unfamiliar words as they read for meaning. At the second level the teacher looks more closely at 'patterns of language within and between sentences'. Through detailed reading, the meanings of words are explored, for example, by comparing them to related words. The students then write a new text applying the same language patterns as the text just read. The third level of support involves more intensive work around sentence construction and spelling, relevant to the subject area being taught. When students struggle to read content-related texts they not only fall behind in content knowledge but miss many subtle forms of affirmation in the classroom, lowering their self-confidence and eagerness to learn. For this reason, Reading to Learn places more stress on the initial knowledge-building steps in reading than on classroom discussion, which is a time in which struggling learners receive less affirmation.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Why bother blogging?
Number 15, 2010; Pages 1–8
Blogging can be a useful tool to encourage students to write, collaborate with each other and express themselves creatively. Students are motivated to write when they have a real audience and can see the purpose in writing. The use of blogs serves this purpose, expanding the audience beyond the teacher or parent, potentially to a worldwide audience. Students can feel validated when complete strangers are interested in reading their blogs and providing feedback through comments. Collaboration and communication between students improves students' literacy. Blogging creates a forum for students to comment on and discuss each others' knowledge and ideas. The real audience of peers and a wider readership creates an incentive for students to improve their literary skills. Blogs enable the students to understand what writing techniques have worked with the audience and they will be more conscious of the quality of their writing. Blogging allows children to express themselves and explore language through telling stories. A student who lacks confidence expressing themselves in a classroom situation, can 'find their voice' through the use of blogs. They may use podcasts or a video post to enhance their stories. Blogs can also extend students' visual literacy, as they integrate text with video and graphics. When deciding what to blog the teacher should consider the learning outcome. A discussion blog is initiated by the teacher's posts and students are then encouraged to give their opinion. This can be aligned to the literacy outcome 'reading and writing persuasive texts'. A class blog captures what is happening in the classroom through text, photos or videos. This type of blog encourages community within the classroom and is a way of celebrating student achievements. This can be aligned to the literacy outcome 'recount events using a range of multimodal texts'. There are a number of other considerations when deciding to blog, such as hosting, moderation and whether the blog is public or private.
Do increased resources increase educational attainment during a period of rising expenditure? Evidence from English secondary schools using a dynamic panel analysis
Volume 37 Number 1, February 2011; Pages 163–189
A group of researchers have estimated the impact of school spending on students' academic results in England at Key State 4, which covers ages 14–16. The impact was measured for the years 2003–2007. This was a time of considerable and sustained increase in educational spending, with most of the added funding used to increase the number and the pay of teachers. This period was also a time when many schools moved to specialist status – from 32 per cent in 2003 to 84 per cent in 2007. Schools that remained non-specialist over the period of the study were considered to be, on average, increasingly disadvantaged. The study found that the impact of additional spending was greatest at non-specialist schools. Overall, the study found that the extra spending had a significant but small effect on student performance levels. This finding is in line with other recent research. However, there are difficulties in interpreting the study's findings. One problem is that the impact of increased pay on recruitment, retention and motivation are likely to emerge only over a long timeframe, beyond the years of the study. Another problem is that resources that are readily measured, such as buildings, equipment and books, and student-teacher ratios, are secondary contributors to results. As Grubb points out, the resources that matter most in lifting results are 'compound, complex and abstract', such as school climate. They are 'embedded within a web of expectations and personal relations within schools', influenced by 'a complicated mixture of self-selection, curricular and pedagogical practices, and teacher demands'. The researchers concluded that allocating more funds to education is a necessary but not sufficient condition to raise academic performance.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Teaching and learning
Enhancing pre-service elementary school teachers' understanding of essential science concepts through a reflective conceptual change model
Volume 2 Number 2, March 2010; Pages 305–326
A study conducted on 40 pre-service primary school teachers enrolled in a science methods course highlighted the need to address misconceptions about science concepts during teacher education. The study explored the teachers’ understanding of three science concepts: electricity, seasonal changes and lunar phases. The research applied a theory of learning known as conceptual change, which highlights the need to address learners’ existing understandings when attempting to introduce new ideas. To enable conceptual change to occur, a number of conditions are required: the learner must experience dissatisfaction with an existing conception, and the new conception must be clear, plausible and fruitful to the student. A pre-test was conducted to ascertain the participants’ prior knowledge of lunar phases, seasonal changes and simple electric circuits. The pre-test results showed that only 27 per cent of the participants’ conceptions of lunar phases aligned with scientifically correct ones. Two common misconceptions about lunar phases emerged. The participants failed to accurately locate the Sun, the Moon and the Earth relative to one another; and failed to accurately show how sunlight reached the surface of the Moon in each phase. The participants then took part in a number of learning activities on the three science concepts, using reflective learning. A post-test was conducted and comparisons were made against the pre-test data. The participants’ conceptual understanding increased dramatically between the pre-test and post-test. Post-test results showed 95 per cent answered the lunar phases question correctly. The study shows that assessment methods that use open-ended questions rather than multiple choice activities can highlight misconceptions. It also demonstrates that reflective learning activities informed by the situated learning model can help elementary teachers experience conceptual change. This report suggests two reasons for the participants’ misconceptions: the concepts were not covered in the teachers’ science content courses; and the use of an authoritarian, rather than a constructivist, learning method caused a failure to develop conceptual understanding.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Information skills and critical literacy: where are our digikids at with online searching and are their teachers helping?
Volume 27 Number 1, 2011; Pages 105–121
A study in New Zealand has examined online information literacy in the year 10 classroom. The research covered students' skills, as well as teachers' awareness of students' needs and their capacity to meet them. Information literacy refers broadly to the ability to recognise when information is needed, and to find, evaluate and apply it effectively. Online, it involves the ability to locate, interpret, synthesise and communicate information, as well as the capacity 'to generate a problem or question from one's social context' online. International research suggests information literacy is often left untaught, and that teachers often lack strategies to cover it. Research also suggests that teachers overestimate students' online information literacy, based on an undue generalisation from students' competent use of ICT for entertainment and social communications. The current study involved three large Auckland secondary schools, serving communities of medium to high SES. The researchers surveyed 188 year 10 students, then selected 22 students deemed to be most active, experienced and skilled at using ICT and at seeking information line. Over 14 days the 22 students took part in online and offline reading activities, kept diaries and attended focus groups. The researchers also surveyed the schools' 33 year 10 English teachers, 24 of whom responded. Most of the participating teachers were academically well-qualified and were aged under 46 years. The teachers believed that the students knew more than them about navigating the online environment and how to locate information online. However, the teachers believed that students lacked more advanced information literacy skills, including critical literacy. The teachers were held back from addressing these perceived shortfalls by their lack of confidence in dealing with the online environment, and by limited access to ICT in the classroom. The researchers recommend that teachers conduct diagnostic assessments of their students' online information literacy. They also recommend professional learning in online information literacy for teachers, and training in the conduct of diagnostic tests.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Study skills in the 21st century
Volume 2011 Number 220, April 2011; Pages 52–55
Many secondary students lack sufficient study skills. Some schools try to incorporate study skills in the classroom in context with the learning. Often, though, teachers are too consumed with delivering the curriculum to cover study skills as well. Technology provides alternate ways of delivering study skills. An online environment allows teachers to keep content up-to-date simply and instantly. Students can collaborate by contributing to joint class notes online. Teacher response to student needs can be immediate. Web videos, which are easier to make than DVDs, can be used to produce informal interviews and discussions. Multimedia provides a more interesting way for students to learn study skills. Technology is also influencing the way students study. Filing no longer only refers to paper; it includes electronic files as well. File names need to be descriptive so that retrieving information can be done efficiently. Electronic calendars, such as Microsoft Outlook, can help students to manage their time and workload. Students need the skills to search online as this is now the primary way of conducting research. They should be informed about cybersafety, and instructed on assessing the credibility of a website. A student may prefer to type out their study notes rather than handwrite them, particularly if there is a large amount of content. Some new study techniques inspired by technology include creating a podcast or mp3 recording to listen and learn to subject matter; and using an online video hookup to test each other. For many students technology is a distraction. Social networking sites such as Facebook, and the internet can divert students from study. Some students find it difficult to self-regulate their use of these sites, particularly when access is so easy through internet-capable devices such as iPhones. Parents may need to manage internet use through the installation of a hard-wired hub, which allows them to switch off internet access to a chosen computer at a particular time. Alternatively, the computer with internet could be located where its use can be supervised.
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