Shifting perspectives about grammar: changing what and how we teach
Volume 100 Number 4, March 2011; Pages 20–26
The author describes changing approaches to grammar instruction, drawing on her own extensive teaching experience. In the past, students' grammar exercises allowed only 'right and wrong' answers. When computers were first introduced this teaching pattern was simply replicated electronically. However, education policy then shifted to encourage students to learn grammar in the context of writing tasks. Students also learned to imitate the styles of experienced writers, and to combine sentences, as further ways to learn grammar in context. Grammar instruction became less formalised, and the concept of options rather than right or wrong answers was introduced, which in turn generated the need for more class discussion. However, the writing exercises designed to teach grammar remained contrived and distant from students' own writing. This problem was overcome when teaching practice subsequently shifted towards the promotion of genre-based writing, and 'code-switching' of writing style, adapted to particular social contexts. While a great advance, the genre-based approach carries its own risks. The literary devices that students apply to particular genres should not become formulaic, nor should they necessarily be limited to one genre only. Genre-based writing still demands the understanding and correct use of 'subject, verb, clause, phrase, modifier and completer': students need such knowledge to discuss grammar effectively with others and to have their personal writing taken seriously in the wider social environment. To develop their skills in genre-based writing, students need to be immersed in many text types, and discuss them with others. While time consuming, this work can equip students to learn independently at a later stage, when they encounter new genres and adapt their writing to unfamiliar contexts. Grammar and general writing instruction now need to adapt to the online environment. Students need to 'see through the similarity of tool (keyboard) to the variety of genre' found in blogs, texting and formal websites, which themselves differ widely in content. The extreme brevity of many online communications, the rapid to-and-fro between writer and reader, and the tendency for readers to scan rather than study text in depth, all require students to be very succinct, and to write engagingly and persuasively at the sentence level.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
Implementing a new science National Curriculum for England: how trainee teachers see the How Science Works strand in schools
Volume 21 Number 1, March 2010; Pages 65–76
England introduced a new National Curriculum in 2004. The new science curriculum was intended to make science more relevant to students as future citizens. It was also intended to reduce the amount of mandatory content, create more opportunity for students to consider scientific concepts, and develop their higher order thinking skills. One of the strands in the science curriculum is How Science Works, introduced to students aged 14-16 in 2006. A study in 2008-09 evaluated the implementation of the strand for this age group. Three teacher educators asked 70 pre-service teachers in London about their experiences with the How Science Works curriculum strand, based on their classroom observations, staff meetings, and feedback from supervising teachers during practicum experiences. Researchers recorded the participants' answers to a series of written questions before they completed their final period of school experience, and recorded the comments they offered during discussion groups held in the final weeks of their course. The participants described changes in schools' approaches to How Science Works over the two years of the study. They noted a trend toward more attention to the historical development of science, and more emphasis on developing students' skills in communication and higher order thinking. However, a key issue was the need to differentiate content for advanced and struggling students. The responses of both groups of school students were closely related to how well the coursework was tailored to their needs. Advanced students found How Science Works stimulating when it challenged them, but reacted negatively when it did not. Their less advanced peers generally found How Science Works difficult due to their lack of foundation knowledge and skills in science, including vocabulary, literacy (including summarising skills), research method, and numeracy. They also had a weak grasp of current social issues. Many expected to be 'fed facts' from textbooks and doubted the validity of the new approach. Students' reactions were more positive when the approach used in How Science Works had already been made familiar to them. The pre-service teachers also reported organisational and resource problems. They lacked time to develop their own teaching materials and had to fall back on published resources. They felt the curriculum remained content-heavy, demanding that teachers 'get through the science'. The findings suggest the need to include more detail about the How Science Works strand during teacher training, as they may not receive a 'full and engaging introduction' to it during their placements.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Assessing teachers for professional certification: achieving national consistency
Volume 10 Number 2, 23 March 2011; Pages 10–15
In February this year new national professional standards for teachers were released. AITSL will now be working with regulatory authorities, teacher unions and all school sectors to implement the standards. This work will include explaining and developing the standards and providing resources and processes for their implementation. A system of valid, fair and reliable assessments needs to be created, elaborating what teachers in various fields may be expected to know about subject content and what their students are expected to learn. They should draw on multiple, independent sources of evidence, and involve multiple, independent assessors. While curriculum documents offer some guidance, there is also an important role for teacher associations, 20 of which have developed standards applicable for certification purposes. The article includes a table listing the national professional standards and suggesting methods for assessing performance against each standard. For example, professional knowledge of content, and of how to teach that content, ‘can be assessed directly and reliably by written assessments’, with some additional role for structured portfolio tasks, classroom observations and student questionnaires. Standards-based methods for assessing teacher performance that engage teachers in reflection on their won practice are likely to contribute significantly to teachers’ own professional development. Value-added approaches, based on gains in students’ scores on standardised tests such as NAPLAN, are not suitable as evidence for individual teachers’ performance. One reason is the impracticality of extending current national tests in Australia to cover all necessary year levels. Other reasons relate to concerns about the reliability and validity of value-added measures for decision on individual teacher performance. The article also discusses the respective merits of a single national system of professional certification, and delegating operation of the system to individual jurisdictions or sectors.
Subject HeadingsTeacher evaluation
Teaching and learning
FIT Choice: attracting and sustaining 'fit' teachers in the profession
Volume 10 Number 2, March 2011; Pages 28–29
The Factors Influencing Teacher Choice (FIT Choice) project is a longitudinal study tracking the pre-service and in-service careers of teachers in Australia, the USA and a number of other countries. It aims to shed more light on the factors that attract candidates to teaching and retain them in the profession, by investigating their 'motivations, aspirations and "fit" with their school environments'. The project commenced in 2002, involving 1652 participants as they commenced their teaching courses. Evidence was obtained through surveys of participants, interviews and classroom observations. The participants enjoyed developing and delivering the curriculum, and wanted to motivate their students and stimulate a love of learning so that students could reach their full potential. However, they were concerned that work pressures were intense and intruded into personal time, leading to stress and exhaustion. Other major concerns focused on the need for support from the school leadership and for adequate professional autonomy. They also valued collegiality and a strong sense of community, noting, however, that these conditions did not always obtain. They were concerned that their work was undervalued or misrepresented in the media and wider society. The project has received funding from the Australian Research Council.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
The way up, down under: innovations shape learning at science and math school
Volume 32 Number 2, April 2011; Pages 32–36
The Australian Science and Mathematics School (ASMS) is a specialist school in Adelaide providing student-directed learning in the disciplines of science and mathematics to year 10 to 12 students. The school’s development was a response to a number of issues: a shortage of qualified teachers in science and mathematics, negative student attitudes and curricula not being aligned with current science and mathematics. In 2002 the South Australian Department of Education and Flinders University in Adelaide formed a partnership and built the ASMS on the university's grounds. A professional learning strategy for teachers was created. It incorporated professional partnerships, interdisciplinary teams of teachers, multidimensional leadership, and a focus on learning in the 21st century. A major outcome of the strategy was the acknowledgment that teachers need learning opportunities aligned with their individual teacher needs. Partnering teachers with scientists from the university provided opportunities for teachers to develop new content knowledge and insight into the changing ways scientists work. The development of new cross-discipline areas, such as nanoscience, involves teams with discipline expertise. The school used cross-discipline teaching teams to reflect this model. The teachers found this beneficial as they were able to see the connections between disciplines and how that created learning opportunities for students. University academics designed and delivered modules in areas such as cryptography and robotics. Both the teachers and the students participated. This gave students direct access to university scientists and mathematicians and provided teachers with rich professional learning. Action research teams supported teachers' examination and reflection on practice. Teachers reflecting on what helps students learn opened up discussion between student and teacher. One outcome was a shift from teacher-directed to student-directed pedagogy. The school used an open space learning common that also accommodated the teachers' workstations. The design enabled teachers to observe other teaching practices and provide feedback to colleagues. This environment enhanced their teacher relationships and provided the opportunity for incidental teacher learning. Defining and shaping leadership was a significant aspect of the school's professional learning journey. The school's leadership team created circumstances where all teachers accepted responsibility to contribute as leaders through their ideas and contribution to others' learning.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Instead of guns I see smiles: integrating refugee and asylum seeking children into our schools
Volume 33 Number 1, March 2011; Pages 29–31
Asylum seeker and refugee children coming to Australia bring with them the experiences of war, violence, poverty and the loss of family members. Integrating these children in schools can be challenging. There are a number of ways that teachers can help facilitate the learning of these students. Firstly, it is important that the children's names are correctly pronounced and spelt by all staff. Language difficulties could inhibit learning, so teachers may use other methods of communication, such as body language, facial expressions and videos. Using art, music, drama, puppets, mime and picture-based tasks, including photographs and diagrams, may also be helpful. Teachers should acknowledge achievements in subjects that are less language-based, for example sport and mathematics. Pupils can be encouraged to share stories by bringing in personal items, such as toys and photos. In these tasks, teachers should be supported by the school community. A senior staff member might be assigned as a coordinator responsible for asylum seeker and refugee students. They may wish to liaise with support agencies outside the school. The school can provide awareness training which may include: discussion on the school’s policies in relation to anti-racism and multicultural education; non-verbal communication skills and working with an interpreter; and understanding cultural differences. Schools should ensure resources are easily accessible for teachers. These may include sourcing interpreters outside of the school, and having a school procedure in place to respond to absenteeism. Teaching materials need to be assessed as to their suitability for refugee students and, if necessary, the school should develop new classroom resources. Other students can play a key role in helping asylum seeker and refugee children adjust; for example, through a 'buddy' system where a student is carefully selected to team up with a newcomer. They can act as a positive role model for behaviour and help with their language skills.
The power of connectivity
Volume 32 Number 2, April 2011; Pages 50–53
The Advanced Leadership Program for Assistant Principals in New York provides leadership development for assistant principals with two or more years of experience. It was created in response to increased demand for principals because of retirements and small schools initiatives, and a need to build capacity within the existing pool of assistant principals The leadership program runs over 12 months. Leadership seminars include topics on building effective leadership skills in communication, adult learning and change leadership. In the first seminar participants conduct a competency-based self-assessment and write two 'SMART' goals related to growing their school leadership competencies during the year. A post-assessment is completed in the last seminar as part of a reflective process. Mentors for the leadership program are chosen by the Department of Education and Council of Supervisors and Administrators, and must have outstanding records of service. Each mentor works with a small group of assistant principals and discusses themes such as their hopes for the mentoring relationship in the leadership program. They also perform one-on-one workplace visits to observe the mentee performing routine duties and interacting with the principal and staff. Networking is encouraged through the teaming of mentors and mentees from schools facing similar challenges. Seminars can also provide an opportunity for networking. Seating arrangements are carefully assessed, sometimes grouping in alignment with the mentor/mentee cohort and other times seating participants with those from different school levels, offering them the chance to hear other perspectives. Optional after-school sessions are offered by the program in the form of workshops and informal networking sessions. The workshops instruct participants how to apply to the principal candidate pool. The networking sessions provide another opportunity for participants to meet and hold discussions with colleagues, and are facilitated by the program coordinator, leadership coach, or a mentor.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Think outside the clock
Volume 32 Number 2, April 2011; Pages 46–49
Out-of-hours school programs have become a focus of interest to educators and government officials in the USA. Many children, particularly those from poor families, are left to their own devices after school. As a result these children often become idle and bored, and potentially participate in risky behaviour. Educators are seeing that quality out-of-hours time is beneficial to children. After-school programs can assist children with developing new skills, reinforce what they have learnt in class, and help with emotional development. A program that is stimulating and vastly different from classroom learning can reinvigorate students who are at risk of dropping out of school. Support from schools is needed for a programs' success, particularly from public schools where the majority of out-of-hours programming occurs. Schools can provide the facilities, such as the school gym and cafeteria, and also take the responsibility for heating and insurance. Out-of-hours programs that employ teachers are found to have a higher attendance rate than those staffed only by other workers. Parents express a desire for after-school programs to incorporate time for study, and teachers can provide assistance with homework. Teachers not only provide help with student academic skills, but can also become involved in other activities that they may have personal interests or skills in; for example, chess or horse riding. Some schools are using after-school activities to promote literacy and develop math and science skills. One out-of-school program is working with community organisations to provide activities, including a tennis association and a local theatre group.
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
After school services
The nature of pedagogic teacher-student interactions: a phenomenographic study
Volume 37 Number 2, August 2010; Pages 77–91
A recent study has identified different forms of pedagogic engagement between teachers and students. The study involved 20 teachers from a lower secondary school in Brisbane, selected to cover female and male teachers as well as different subject areas, year levels, years of teaching experience, and levels of contact time with students. The teachers were interviewed for 45 minutes individually using the same set of open-ended questions. The study used the research method known as phenomenography, which focuses on experiences as perceived by the participants and on group rather than individual experiences. It identified five categories of teachers' pedagogic interaction with students. The first is information providing. This interaction is impersonal, with the teacher's focus on delivering content rather than interacting with the student. The second category is instructing, where the main focus is helping students to acquire and apply skills. In this category a range of teacher-directed activities are used. Facilitating is the third category of pedagogic interaction. The focus is on teaching students rather than on teaching a subject, so teachers are more closely engaged with the students. The fourth category is guided participation. Unlike the previous categories, guided participation helps students take responsibility for their own learning. There is a clear shift from teacher-centred work to student-directed activities. Mentoring is the fifth and most complex category. It focuses on the partnership between teacher and student and is viewed as a long-term relationship. Teachers in the study state that students see a mentor as a person who will go out of their way to spend time with them. In this category teachers express their passion for teaching and learning. The article also describes how each category affects students' academic and personal development, and motivation, as well as how they affect teaching methods and the focus of teaching and learning.
Subject HeadingsTeacher-student relationships
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