Messages about progress to date on the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics
Volume 31 Number 1, April 2011; Pages 62–65
The author discusses the implementation of the proposed new Australian Curriculum: Mathematics, drawing on his role as CEO of the AAMT and as a contributor to the development of the new curriculum. There were previous moves towards a national curriculum during the 1980s and early 1990s. They resulted in a set of Statements and Profiles agreed between Australian education systems, 'to be used by the jurisdictions in reviewing and revising their curriculums'. They incorporated a new emphasis on mental computation and chance and data, now embedded in state and territory curriculums. More recently, there have been two key challenges in the development of the new Australian mathematics curriculum. One challenge has been how best to incorporate mathematical processes, sometimes referred to as 'thinking mathematically', into the curriculum. These processes have typically been adopted by education systems as a distinct curriculum strand. However, in the current mathematics 'shape' paper they appear as four proficiencies – reasoning, problem solving, fluency and understanding – which are integrated into different content areas. The other key challenge has been how best to summarise unduly long curriculum documentation. Information in the new curriculum documentation is layered: Elaborations expand on particular Content Descriptors, and Achievement Standards are accompanied by illustrative Work Samples. The Australian Curriculum Connect project will offer online access to teaching and learning resources linked to Content Descriptors. Content that prepares students for senior secondary calculus has retained a hegemonic position in the proposed new curriculum, without challenge. However, the subject containing this content, Year 10A Mathematics, is not a prerequisite for students undertaking maths in the senior secondary years. Offering 10A may prove difficult for small schools, raising equity issues. Further challenges exist. One is to adapt maths content in schools to cover 21st century skills such as codes and encryption, iterative processes, and the manipulation of complex data. Other issues cover the use of technology, the implementation of cross-curricular perspectives, connecting the compulsory and post-compulsory curriculum documents, and the 'conceptualisation and place of numeracy'. The effective enactment of the new curriculum will also require measures to attract and retain maths teachers, further professional learning, as well as further resourcing and equity measures. The author introduces a collection of related articles in the same edition of Curriculum Perspectives.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Realising the big ideas in Number – vision impossible?
Volume 31 Number 1, April 2011; Pages 66–69
A 'big idea' in maths is a concept, strategy or approach which is important for students' progress, helping to deepen and organise their mathematical understanding, and make connections between different concepts and strategies. A focus on big ideas also helps to resolve overcrowding in the curriculum. Victorian teachers reported significant gains in students' academic results and engagement following the use of Assessment for Common Misunderstandings materials, which focused on the big idea of Number. Early documentation for the planned Australian Curriculum: Mathematics curriculum emphasised the importance of key ideas and in-depth learning for all students. For example, the National Curriculum Initial Advice Paper called for the curriculum to indicate the sequential progression of the 'key ideas' and 'the connection between those ideas'. However, later documentation has retreated from this initial emphasis, with curriculum developers 'mapping back to the known', to the current situation, characterised by 'familiar but disconnected topics'. The article provides examples of the shift in emphasis and also discusses the processes used in developing the new mathematics curriculum.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Teacher dis/appointments? Transitions in and out of teaching
Volume 31 Number 1, April 2011; Pages 12–23
Reasons for teacher attrition have been examined through a recent NSW research project based on interviews with 22 ex-teachers, 15 female and 7 male, who reflected on their experiences in schools and their transitions into and out of the profession. The participants, with widely varying levels of teaching experience, had all left the profession by the middle of their working careers. Their comments highlight three issues. The first covers the 'culture shock' of the transition from university to school practice, which offers less scope for higher-order thinking and less behavioural and intellectual autonomy. Their aspiration to teach creatively must come to terms with the demands to follow school procedure, oversee a certain amount of rote learning, and manage large volumes of work. New teachers can easily feel isolated from peers and school leaders, and from misbehaving or unmotivated students. If based in small communities, anonymity is suddenly impossible. These changes are intensified for young teachers living away from home for the first time. Schools with high staff turnover tend to generate cynicism among students and the school community, diminishing a new teacher's welcome. The second issue concerns processes for recruitment of teachers. Independent schools are more likely to offer places throughout the year, and have more flexible recruitment procedures than the government system, which is burdened by the logistical demands of a very large workforce. Candidates who face a long wait for a position may be attracted by other options, such as travel, alternative employment, or having a child. The third issue is the impact of casual, fractional and supply teaching. For new teachers, still developing their general skills, casual work imposes the added burdens of learning the processes, policies, and names at each new school. Oppositional students may also sense a 'home-ground advantage' against a casual teacher. The lack of financial security offered by casual teaching had discouraged some respondents from returning to the profession after they had had children. It is also harder for casuals to build up the expected number of hours of in-service professional learning. To ease the transition into teaching there should be greater 'sandwiching' between pre- to in-service teaching, with more elaborate partnerships between universities and schools. New teachers going to rural schools should be offered less face-to-face teaching time. Instead of current casual employment, teachers could be employed in a 'roving' capacity within one or two schools, with a guaranteed minimum of working days per week.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Teaching and learning
Choosing the wrong drivers for whole-system reform
Number 204, April 2011
The author identifies and examines four key strategies driving education reform in Australia and the USA, and argues that they should be subordinated to alternative strategies that promise to be more effective. The first driver, accountability, should be subordinated to capacity building. Current policies for accountability assume that teachers will respond to rewards such as merit pay, or to 'punishments'. However, the 20 most improving education systems identified by the 2010 McKinsey study have taken a different approach, giving professional learning far more emphasis than these sort of accountability measures. The standards and assessments regimes now being established are likely to become a considerable burden on educators. Standardised assessments are also unsuitable to measure the higher-order thinking skills crucial in the 21st century. A more genuine form of accountability will be achieved when accountability is seen as a goal rather than a strategy. Showing trust to educators will soon generate effective, 'lateral' accountability between peers. The second driver, pursuit of individual teacher quality, should give way to pursuit of collective quality and the development of a mutually supportive culture. A system of teacher appraisal will work within a culture where teachers 'are motivated to learn from feedback', but will otherwise alienate teachers. The 20 most improved education systems focused on professional learning for all teachers, not individual teacher performances. The need for a collective approach is also supported by a recent US study of maths instruction in grades 4 and 5. This research highlighted the value of social capital, in forms such as informal peer discussion around instructional methods, as distinct from individual 'human capital'. The same logic applies to school leadership. Individual school leaders, however talented, are likely to fail within a demoralised school culture. The third driver, technology, needs to be built around good-quality teaching. The fourth strategic approach that needs correction is the tendency for piecemeal, fragmented reform. It needs to give way to a holistic approach, the elements of which are 'mutually supportive and interactively corrective', not just in theory but on the ground.
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
United States of America (USA)
20 June 2011
The Northern Metropolitan Region of Victoria's public education system has substantially improved its performance over the last six years, after the introduction of a range of reforms. The region covers 195 schools, the great majority based in low-SES areas. In 2006 a new regional leadership team, led by manager Wayne Craig, identified a range of problems, including poor academic performances by students, low staff morale, falling enrolments, and ineffective financial management at the school level. This environment tended to undermine the strong individual performances of some individual staff. The regional leadership team implementing the reforms included Professor Hopkins, previously a leading advisor to the British Government, and John Munro from the University of Melbourne. The team were aware that the concept of school improvement was discredited among staff, and wished to avoid 'the mistakes of big reforms in Britain and the US, which relied too heavily on a top-down approach' to the enhancement of student learning. Staff at each school were given a significant degree of responsibility for implementing changes. Each school established teams representing a cross-section of staff, including experienced and early career teachers. Particular teachers were selected as 'learning leaders'. They received specialist coaching on literacy, numeracy, data evaluation and student behaviour management. The coaches also taught some classes. A major barrier to change was the tradition of individualism in teaching, and the related tendency to interpret professional critique as personal criticism. Partly to address this problem, teachers were organised into three-person teams, taking turns to observe each other's classroom practice, with two observing at any one time. Teachers have reported that students are now considerably more motivated to learn. Students' literacy and numeracy results have also improved steadily. The region is currently at or above the state average for reading, writing and numeracy for years 3, 5 and 7. Results remain uneven. Year 9 remains slightly below the state mean for literacy and numeracy. Some schools, particularly at primary level, have not improved, and improvement within secondary schools has not been uniform. However, the reforms have brought a 'massive cultural shift', improving the morale of principals and teachers.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
'Now I know their secrets': kineikonic texts in the literacy classroom
Volume 34 Number 1, February 2011; Pages 24–37
The importance of the moving image as a form of media continues to grow, and they are studied increasingly within the literacy curriculum. They are sometimes known as 'kineikonic' texts. The article explores the nature of these texts, and the educational issues related to them, through the example of a 'claymation' film created by year 6 students. To investigate these issues the author applies multiliteracies theory and concepts derived from Halliday's concept of functional grammar. Functional grammar brings out the ways in which different genres can be used to convey meaning. However, genres themselves do not exist in static form: they change in response to social contexts and technologies. Halliday's functional grammar uses three categories of text organisation. The representational category refers to the way in which a text presents the external world. The interactive category refers to the way in which the text positions the viewer or reader in relation to what is being presented. One example, in relation to film, is the use of camera angle. The compositional category refers to the relative emphasis of each element of the text; for example, the relative importance of actors' gestures and musical accompaniment in a silent film. In some respects, the conventions of kineikonic texts parallel written ones; for example, in the way that an article or a film might both convey cooking instructions. However, other aspects of kineikonic texts refer specifically to film. They include sets and props, characters' costumes, screen layout, animation techniques and lighting. The article describes film-specific techniques, considerations and issues related to meaning-making, as they emerged in the students' creation of a claymation film.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
April 2011; Pages 160–169
The paper reviews recent research on factors influencing the teaching of physical education (PE) at primary level, and also reports findings from a recent study, which examined the teaching of PE by generalist primary teachers within the NSW public system. The Future of Sport in Australia, a 2009 Australian Government report, identified a range of problems facing PE teaching. To a large extent they replicate problems identified in a 1993 report. The challenges include a crowded curriculum, falling numbers of specialist primary PE teachers, poorly designed lessons, ad hoc delivery, and a reduction in support services and professional development opportunities. For the current study, researchers approached 42 NSW state schools, from which five generalist teachers agreed to be interviewed. The interviews raised a range of issues impacting on the standard of PE at their schools. One problem was lack of equipment, space and good-quality facilities. A second issue was the varying levels of support from their principal and teaching colleagues. Respondents saw their own levels of knowledge, confidence and training in PE as a third issue. A fourth consideration was the social environment: the teachers saw children as less physically active than in the past, which they attributed in part to children's more sedentary forms of recreation. The teachers also saw parents as less willing or able to let their children play outdoors, due to their own longer working hours or to concerns regarding their children's safety in public places. Fifthly, the teachers' own conceptions of the purpose of PE affected how they taught it. Several respondents identified PE with competitive inter-school sports and fitness activities; however, sport and PE play different roles in child development. The respondents used and supported a multi-class, 'rotational' structure to conduct PE, but such sessions tend towards supervised play rather than education. A sixth issue was that PE received less attention from parents and government agencies than other subjects. (The paper appears in a 3MB pdf document of conference proceedings – CL.)
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsPhysical education
Teaching and learning
April 2011; Pages 273–281
Physical education (PE) in boys' schools is sometimes associated with bullying and the assertion of a particular form of masculine identity, at the expense of alternatives. Some boys' schools have employed female PE teachers as one means to disrupt this tendency. The article examines the role, impact and experiences of one such teacher, who takes a year 8 class at a Catholic all-boys school in NSW. Evidence was collected by an interview with the teacher, interviews with six of her students, and field observations. The teacher expressed concern that a number of accepted practices, such as 'sledging' during cricket, worked to normalise bullying. The experiences of one student, Sebastian, illustrate some of the authors' concerns. He received an aggressive response from other boys, verbally and, within sporting activities, physically. Other boys were comfortable in describing their aggressive response to him during the interviews. He liked acting, dancing and singing, and chose netball for inter-school competition, all of which was at odds with the 'stoicism, competitiveness and aggressiveness' valued by other boys. The teacher took measures to minimise other boys' aggressive focus on Sebastian during games. He valued her support and personal encouragement. However, the teacher adhered to the prevailing teaching model, which is based around games that privilege highly skilled participants and which focus on 'management, control and order'. Her commitment to inclusive pedagogies was constrained by an awareness that this approach was not the norm in other classes. The authors suggest that teacher education courses do more to highlight the way that current competitive sports reinforce 'hyper-masculine identities'. The authors' analyses employ 'the principle of feminist post-structuralism'. (The paper appears in a 3MB pdf document of conference proceedings – CL.)
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsPhysical education
Researchers think big during early years study
May 2011; Pages 28–29
A Victorian Government advisory group is now completing a two-year study into the needs of children in the early years. The Blue Sky Project: Shifting Children’s Developmental Trajectories is a research project involving the Western Metropolitan Region of DEECD. It has examined the local area of Melton South as a case study. The researchers examined statistics such as birth figures, hospital admissions, and participation in day care and kindergarten. A major theme of their findings has been the local community's desire for more integrated services for young children and families. Families of children requiring additional support were sometimes obliged to go through a chain of referrals before receiving assistance. General Practitioners indicated the need for more information about early childhood services. One suggested solution is the creation of a one-step website and telephone contact point for all early childhood services.
Subject HeadingsChild care centres
Early childhood education
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