Ensuring a more personalised approach: a strategy for differentiated teaching in schools
Number 121, July 2011
Personalised learning has been widely advanced as a means to improve students' educational achievement. Personalised learning involves teaching and learning tailored to students' personal needs. It 'does not imply individualised learning, or depend on individual learning programs', but rather 'requires effective whole-class inclusive teaching'. It is also distinct from the concept of catering to individual learning styles. While the concept of learning styles helps to remind teachers of the value of offering learning experiences in a range of forms, educators should not 'pigeon-hole students into a particular style'. Personalised learning involves two key learning strategies. One is classroom grouping. Students within a class may be grouped in a range of ways to cater for their learning needs. For example, students may be grouped by specific needs or knowledge level, or for the purposes of peer tutoring, or grouped and regrouped randomly to expose students to fresh perspectives. The second strategy is guided learning, which targets the work of small groups of students to their group's particular learning needs. One recommended approach follows several stages, in which the teacher explains and clarifies teaching objectives, sets tasks for students to accomplish individually or in pairs, followed by group review and reflection. Both strategies involve the application of three key elements. The first is assessment for learning. The author recommends the use of a commercial software tool to analyse student performance. Assessment for learning feeds into the second element, differentiated teaching. The article includes a table setting out a proposed model. The differentiated classroom is characterised by flexibility, and periodic review of processes and activities. It is important that differentiated instruction is grounded in evidence and 'does not become individual experimentation'. Differentiation also respects students' readiness levels, and relevant cultural factors. The third element is collaborative coaching between triads of teachers who support each other in the application of data to inform student learning.
Subject HeadingsPersonalised learning
Teaching and learning
Group work in education
Assessment for learning (formative assessment)
The 'accountability bus': dead ends, muddled maps and road kill
Number 205, July 2011
While new school reform strategies have kept on arriving, like buses, the 'accountability bus' is currently entrenched in policy and public thinking. It applies a business model to schooling. Businesses have a long record of healthy collaboration with schools, developing students' work and life skills, but today's accountability drive has 'different origins, purposes, ideology, practices and results for students'. It is shaped by Milton Friedman's 'efficient market hypothesis' and 'rational-expectations theory': both theories were decisively disproved by the recent recession, but the approach underlying them continues to shape policy. It calls for most aspects of society to be commodified and opened to unrestricted market competition. Personal life and social relationships are understood in terms of 'privatised interests and desires' rather than 'social roles and obligations'. With this goes the belief that 'one must always be positive and promoting oneself (presumably to the disadvantage of others)', generating an industry of promotional speakers and literature, while failures or negative feelings are one's own fault. In US schooling this neo-liberalism dovetails with neo-conservative nostalgia for times when 'students worked hard, and dedicated teachers toiled dutifully for the love of teaching and meagre remuneration'. In policy terms it has led to initiatives such as the USA's charter schools, Britain's academies and the 'free schools' trend originating in Sweden. While failing schools are almost always in low-SES areas, neo-liberal thinkers scorn those who attribute low performance to poverty or poor resourcing. Applying this business model to schooling has several unfortunate consequences. Firstly, the numerical indicators that accurately measure business performance, and which policy makers apply to schooling, fail to capture school performance, especially with regard to students' learning of life, work and thinking skills. Secondly, business transactions between buyer and seller are inherently adversarial. The positioning of parents as consumers who choose between schools pits schools against parents, and individual schools against each other. These tendencies are reinforced when socially-minded motives of educators are obscured by a different, prevailing mindset in which everyone is seen as self-interested. Thirdly, the business concept of 'inputs' is inappropriate and harmful in the school context. Successful businesses select high-quality raw materials as inputs, while parents can only send schools 'the best children they have'. The business orientation drives schools toward selective entry, which is either explicitly based on academic performance, religion or ethnicity, or hidden within programs that effectively eliminate struggling students, attract existing high-achievers, exclude nonconforming students, or, at a wider level, gentrify the schools' catchment areas. Fourthly, the business model of schooling surrenders the role of the school, along with other civic institutions, in shaping students' lives. This role is given over to corporations, who offer narrow market-defined concepts of self and self-worth. The alternative is a genuinely learning-oriented approach to schooling, exemplified in Finland and Canada, based on highly trained teachers with good working conditions, supported by strong social infrastructure.
School and community
Commercialization of education
United States of America (USA)
What is Web 3.0?: the next generation semantic web. Part 1
Volume 30 Number 3, August 2011; Pages 35–37
In the shift to the 'Web 2.0' environment, websites acquired interactive features and were enriched by the addition of many new tools and online media through which users may add and share content. A new shift in the web, sometimes called Web 3.0, is now predicted: it is the move to a 'semantic web', in which ICT will be able to make links between different sources of content based on the meanings that the content holds for human beings. For example, within this environment a search on 'jaguar' would distinguish between the car and the animal of that name. These connections will be enabled by the embedding of a new, semantic layer of metadata into online content. For librarians the move is accompanied by the shift of cataloguing standards from the AACR2 to Resource Description and Access (RDA), which spans print and digital media. The metadata will be recorded in a language, or ontology, that allows a machine to 'understand' semantic distinctions. The widespread use of such metadata and supporting technology will permit interoperability between resources. The move to 3.0 has been forshadowed by the current adoption of personal learning environments, networks and web tools. This functionality allows people to learn via social connections mediated through tools such as Twitter and Yammer; to share images through Facebook or Flickr; to work across cloud computing environments through services such as Evernote, Diigo and Edmodo; and to work with augmented reality and 'mixed reality' services. The emerging Web 3.0 environment may be understood as 'the portable, personal web, focused on the individual, on a lifestream, on consolidating content, and which is powered by widgets, drag and drop, and mashups of user engagement'. The article includes a glossary of Web 3.0 terms. A future Scan article by the author will examine implications of Web 3.0 for educators.
Subject HeadingsInformation management
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
The possibility of place: one teacher's use of place-based instruction for English students in a rural high school
Volume 26 Number 10; Pages 1–12
Place based education refers to practices that 'tie the realities of place to instruction', connecting the curriculum to students' experiences, interests and competencies. It has been advanced as a means to engage rural students and promote their learning, offsetting limited resources and rural poverty, which in turn discourage school attendance. By affirming the value of local settings, place-based education has also been seen as a means to offset the tendency for academic learning to remove young people from their rural communities. The author conducted a study of the use of place-based education by a year 8 English teacher in rural Canada, working at 'Blue Vale High School'. This 8–12 school 'sits off a two-lane road, flanked by expansive fields dotted with churches, barns and cattle'. It has about 750 students, almost entirely Anglo-Saxon, many living in poverty. Evidence was obtained from classroom observations, interviews with the teacher and five students' interviews, as well as from documentation in the form of excerpts from place-based novels used in the class; year 8 standards; and two pages of reflective notes written by the teacher. The teacher made extensive use of local places contexts, pastimes and individuals to concretise aspects of the curriculum which would otherwise have been unfamiliar to the students. A 'self-described "education redneck"', he emphasised the values of family, faith and localism. He affirmed girls' hands-on role in common local practices such as hunting and fishing, while also using 'gay' as a broad-purpose pejorative term. The author's notes 'missed opportunities' – activities which might have deepened students' awareness of their community, and cultivated a more critical approach to it. For example, students might have been asked to interview local people about their experiences and views. The teacher avoided negative aspects of rural life such as poverty or community tensions. However, local changes could have been more deeply understood if set in wider social contexts, eg the increasing number of local fires could have been linked to global warming, and the new Wal-Mart to urbanisation. The researcher's study drew on the theories of Paulo Freire and other critical theorists.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
Social life and customs
School and community
The seven sins of sabbatical
Volume 36 Number 1, May 2011; Pages 28–32
Sabbatical leave for principals offers an opportunity for rest from routine work, for rejuvenation and for professional reflection. However, its benefits can be undermined if principals fall into any of the 'seven deadly sins of sabbatical', a range of misconceptions about and mistakes involving this type of leave. The first 'sin' is for principals to imagine that they are irreplaceable. Schools are generally very resilient and have survived before the incumbency of their current leaders. A second, related anxiety is for heads to worry about who will lead the school in their absence. In fact, their temporary departure is an opportunity for other leaders to extend their own skills, and in the process, perhaps, develop a deeper appreciation of their existing principal's work and accomplishments. The third sin is to worry unduly about the financial cost of the sabbatical. The cost is very low when seen as a fraction of the total school budget over several years, and can be budgeted for in advance. The article discusses which items of a principal's travel expenses should be funded by a school. A fourth related concern is that 'I am not worth it'. Principals should reflect on the intensity of their workload, the benefits of their work to the school, and the value contributed when they can return to work refreshed. Fifthly, schools tend to focus excessively on the present at the expense of future planning: the sabbatical offers a chance for the principal to move beyond this limitation and pursue uninterrupted reflection, research and planning. The sixth sin is for principals to rely too heavily on their families' forbearance regarding the heads' limited time at home. The sabbatical is a chance to recoup some of that lost family time, and to model care for family, and self-care, to others at the school. Finally, it is an error to imagine that schools need a detailed account of how the sabbatical was spent. The head's sabbatical report to the school should focus on key aspects of learning, and schools should also expect that the principal returns refreshed and ready to resume. The article is accompanied by five short commentaries by independent school principals.
Subject HeadingsStaff leave
What works?: a program of best practice for supporting the literacy needs of refugee high school students
Volume 19 Number 1, 18 February 2011; Pages 29–38
The Refugee Action Support (RAS) program provides literacy and numeracy support to refugees in years 7–11 within mainstream schools. The RAS allocates tutors to schools one day a week for 12 weeks. The tutors assist students in class, create teaching and learning resources, and assist students after school. The RAS began in 2007 as a collaboration between the UWS, DEC NSW and the ALNF. It follows from policy makers' recognition of the value of after-school tutoring for disadvantaged students, which have been articulated by the USA's Afterschool Alliance, and which have generated a range of university-based tutoring programs for school students. In a survey of the RAS program at nine high schools in western Sydney, teachers reported that more than half the students had made 'substantial' to 'outstanding' improvements during the course of the program. The article reports on a case study that examined one of these schools more closely. The researchers interviewed school leaders, teachers, pre-service teachers and refugee students to examine ways in which the tutors helped the refugee students to learn. The tutors, applying their ANLF training, helped students structure essays and break down tasks into manageable steps. They helped students manage their learning time. The tutors scaffolded and modeled tasks for the students, drawing on material that connected to the students' experiences and interests. In response to students' requests, the tutors also read from newspapers' articles about current affairs, explored potential TAFE pathways, and helped the students understand job advertisements, write and send letters, and use computer hardware and software. The refugee students developed new interests during the program, eg some joined the school's history club. Students other than the refugees were also invited to take part in the after-school program, which helped in the acculturation of the refugee students. By drawing in students from a wide range of backgrounds the program also helped to connect certain communities that are 'very closed to bureaucracy', due to past experiences. The school altered its timetable to provide longer blocks of learning to assist students in the program. The RAS program also overlapped with other programs at the school, including one for gifted and talented students. (See also earlier article on the RAS in Curriculum Leadership.)
After school services
New South Wales (NSW)
When traditional won’t do: experiences from a 'lower-level' mathematics classroom
Volume 83 Number 6, 2010; Pages 239–243
While mathematics is a 'gatekeeper' for tertiary study and many careers, disadvantaged students often lack access to academically challenging maths. While working as a secondary maths teacher with such students, the author successfully implemented a more intellectually demanding approach to learning. More than half of the 14 students in the class faced 'mental, behavioural and/or emotional challenges'. Some had limited English language skills, and some lacked basic mathematical skills and knowledge, eg knowledge of the times tables. The teacher addressed these problems in a variety of ways. She incorporated manipulatives, verbal cueing, physical activity and collaboration between students. For example, at the start of lessons students added integers using algebra tiles, then outside the school building created 'human number lines' and continued learning addition and subtraction through the use of these lines. For the final section of the lesson the students applied what they had learned to a football game, working out calculations on a map of the sports field. Students in the class 'walked away with a greater understanding and appreciation of mathematics'.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Persuasion: multimodal teaching and learning with year 5
Volume 30 Number 3, August 2011; Pages 10–13
The author collaborated with other teachers and a teacher librarian to examine the teaching of persuasive texts. They designed lessons to establish students' prior knowledge of persuasive texts, teach the logical sequencing of discussion and exposition, and assess their resultant learning. The lessons involved a range of technologies and media, including internet texts. Preliminary assessment revealed that most of the students could identify discussion and exposition but few could identify specific features of persuasive texts, and struggled to articulate the social purposes of these texts. After reading and analysing further persuasive texts, the students jointly constructed an exposition and then began writing their own individual persuasive texts. Three teaching strategies were applied at different stages of the teaching cycle. The VCOP strategy (focusing on vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation) was used to make the features of persuasive writing more explicit. It provided an effective scaffold for peer and self- editing. Secondly, the teacher used Webspiration on the class IWB to help students plan their writing, by modelling its use in creating digital mind maps. Webspiration was then used to illustrate the distinctions and commonalities between exposition and discussion. Thirdly, Glogster EDU was used as a publishing tool, allowing students to refine and extend their writing. Student feedback indicated that they had found the VCOP strategy the most useful of the strategies.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
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