Let's get serious about teacher quality: the need for a new career architecture for Australia's teachers
An effective, overarching system is needed for ‘attracting, preparing, developing, recognising and rewarding’ teachers in Australia, and the management of these processes needs to be integrated with the procedures governing teachers’ salary and career structures. These structures in turn need to be integrated with Australia’s national teaching standards. he standards operate at four levels: the Graduate and Proficient levels are mandatory, while the Highly Accomplished and Lead levels are optional. One way in which such standards could align to career and pay was set out in a 2008 report produced by the current author and others. However, such proposals raise a range of issues. Effective performance indicators need to be established for each standard. The teaching profession needs involvement, and a sense of ownership, over these processes. Teachers need adequately resourced opportunities for professional learning in pursuit of each standard, and such professional learning needs to be aligned with the Australian Curriculum. Employers need to accommodate the measures for assessment and accreditation of teachers set out in the national standards, in employers’ own processes for ‘appointment, induction, supervision, professional development, appraisal and promotion’. Other issues include ‘portability, currency and maintenance of certification’. It is particularly important that the higher, optional levels of the standards are to be integrated into career and pay structures, if these standards are to be efffective. Assessment processes used for certification need to be ‘valid, reliable and credible’, combining school visits and classroom observation with ‘validation across schools and systems’. The Lead level, and ideally the Highly Accomplished level also, should be conducted nationally for reasons of consistency and credibility. Assessment at each level should be linked to student learning, established through varied measures including class, year and school-based assessments, and teacher portfolios. Protocols and frameworks need to be established for each step of these processes. Research and evaluation also need to be built into these processes. Assessment should be conducted by teachers certified at Highly Accomplished or Lead levels, for their expertise and in recognition of the professions’ empowerment. Pay schemes based on merit or results are doomed to fail, as are ‘one shot’ strategies that focus only on criteria such as entry scores or pre-service exit testing. However, the current differential between teaching salaries and top salaries is too small, and is smaller than that in comparable countries. The low differential is associated with a ‘hidden resignation spike’ amongst teachers reaching salary ceilings: this occurs after 8-10 years’ teaching, a time when salaries in most professions continue to rise. It is vital to deal with these issues: the current decline in enrolments for teacher education courses suggests 'we may have reached a tipping point in the attraction of teachers as a career'.
Subject HeadingsTeachers' employment
Teaching and learning
Support for professional collaboration in middle school mathematics: a complex web
Volume 38 Number 3, Summer 2011; Pages 113–131
A study has monitored changes in the practices of five middle school maths teachers over five years, looking at their approach to teaching and the nature of their collaboration around professional learning. During the first three years the teachers collaborated with four science teachers in the PRISSM PD program. The nine teachers focused on developing their skills in collaborative inquiry, including the use of student data to inform teaching practice. The program focused attention on student learning, but this attention was limited to general processes, such as communication. Over the following two years the five maths teachers took part in a curriculum mapping project focused on mathematics, allowing for a deeper subject focus. Their involvement over both projects was studied by a research team. The researchers collected evidence via audiotapes and videotapes of teachers' meetings, descriptive notes, and examples of student work, applying a grounded theory methodology. The researchers identified four forces that supported changes both to teachers' instructional practice and to their collaborative professional learning. The forces were need-focused PD; program-focused PD 'involving solutions to perceived student and teacher needs'; system-level support from administrators; and student and learning assessments. The teachers' learning progressed in a series of phases. In year one, the first phase, the teachers were 'learning to talk to each other'. They shared their instructional and assessment practices, defining student progress in terms of grade levels and incidental anecdotes or very general observations about their classes. Deep probing of subject content was held back by the cross-disciplinary focus then obtained in the group, and they did not clarify their different perspectives about student learning. During the second year, conversations remained relatively unproductive: disagreements were not brought out due to a desire for consensus and a congenial atmosphere. At this stage the teachers' access to student learning data remained limited. Teachers' discussions with each other were unconnected from each other and from the group's focus. In the following two years the maths teachers turned to a sharper, subject-specific focus; gained access to more detailed student assessment data, and developed their ability to interpret it; and internalised a commitment to meeting the needs of all learners in an equitable manner.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Top leadership teams and how to build them
Leadership teams often struggle to be effective. Wagerman and Hackman discuss four aspects of such failure. Firstly, despite the power and status of these teams, they often lack clearly defined purposes, and tend to be less well supplied than lower-level teams with information, material resources and training in collaborative work. Secondly, leadership teams tend to be too large, with membership based on roles and status within the wider organisation rather than on capacity to further the leadership team's work. As a result of these problems, attendance and participation may drop off, and decision-making may devolve to informal subgroups. Thirdly, leadership teams waste large amounts of meeting time on trivia or irresolvable conflicts. Finally, leadership team members tend to defer decisions to the team's central leader. These CEOs themselves may resist surrendering decisions to other leadership team members, who therefore feel less responsible for group decisions. To address these tendencies leadership teams should be adequately resourced, membership should be based on capacity to contribute, meetings should focus on a short list of key decisions or actions, and the CEO should ensure that team members feel accountable for their collective as well as their individual responsibilities. In a separate account of teadership teams Lencioni identifies further issues. The first is to build mutual trust, initially perhaps by developing members' understanding of each others' skills and capacities, and by sharing some personal history. The second issue is to encourage constructive conflict, uncovering buried disagreements and sensitivities, explicitly noting the need for such respectful engagement on such topics, and resisting premature closure of these difficult discussions. Thirdly, teams need clear and timely decisions, accepting that consensus may not be possible and ensuring explicit commitment to decisions, even among those who disagreed with them. Finally, leadership teams need to ensure accountability, and attention to results of their decisions, through clear, public statements of goals, regular reviews of progress, and by rewarding leaders' achievements at the team as well as individual levels.
Electronic education: flipping the classroom
17 September 2011; Pages 34–35
'Flipping' is the practice of swapping the type of learning activities normally assigned to classroom and the home: students listen to instructors online in the home environment, freeing up class time for activities such as individualised tutoring by the teacher. KhanAcademy is a very popular service that provides for flipped learning. Its founder, Salman Khan, delivers free online lectures on mathematics and science, which students are able to watch and listen to at home, reviewing and repeating different sections of the talk according to their individual learning needs. Increasingly, educational lectures are available online, from services such as the free AcademicEarth website, and from individual academics. However, KhanAcademy extends this type of service by providing exercises for students to undertake, and software that allows teachers to monitor each student's progress. When students work on these activities during class time the teacher is therefore able to pick up on individual students' problems almost at once, and intervene at a student's point of need. However, critics raise concerns about the KhanAcademy form of learning: it may be used to teach to the test, and by giving students 'badges' as token rewards for completing activities successfully, it may encourage a focus on undemanding exercises. These concerns raise the issue of teacher quality. The KhanAcademy service may 'liberate a good teacher to become even better': its lectures are intended to complement other forms of active learning, including cognitively demanding problem-solving activities. Yet the service may also 'make it easy for a bad teacher to cop out'. To be effective, therefore, the flipped classroom must be accompanied by effective measures to ensure teacher quality, including measures for teachers' evaluation, appointment, dismissal and promotion. Standardised test results are unsuitable as measures of teacher performance, due to their 'dumbing down' effect on students; to the influence of social background on students' test results; to the risk that standards may be low, or lowered over time; and to the infrequency of the tests. By contrast, the type of data collected by services such as KhanAcademy allows for teachers to be judged effectively, by close monitoring of their students' progress. Unions object that such quantitative measures of teacher performance 'introduce destructive competition into a culture that should be collaborative', but collection of such data is likely to be considered 'fair game' by education authorities. KhanAcademy has received strong financial support from philanthropists such as Bill Gates.
Teaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
The great schools revolution
17 September 2011
Many countries are 'desperate to improve their national performance' in schooling, driven by disturbing performance data, by reforms elsewhere, and by hopes in the potential of ICT to improve learning. However, the effectiveness of schooling does not align with the amount of money allocated to it. For example, the USA lags behind other developed nations despite heavy spending on education. Research studies by Oxford University and the University of Washington have confirmed the influence of social class on school performance, although its links to outcomes vary between different countries. Culture also contributes, and may explain the very strong performance of a number of Asian countries. In Western countries, successful education reform has had four main elements. The first, decentralisation, has been important in both Ontario and in Poland. Ontario in 2003 allowed schools to set their own improvement goals, and then provided experienced teams to support schools during their reform processes. While successful, there have been concerns at the reforms' high cost, and some critics allege that after early improvements some intractable problems are starting to emerge in socially deprived areas. Poland has allowed principals freedom to hire teachers and to select their curriculum from a range of private providers, but concerns have grown over students' rising levels of stress. A focus on underachieving students has brought success to Saxony. Secondary school students were streamed into three tiers based on academic performance at age 10. The lowest tier has been abolished, and students are now streamed at age 13. School choice has been an important element of reform efforts in New York, Shanghai and Denmark. Government policy support for independent schools has seen the development of charter schools in the USA, academies in England, and 'free schools' in Sweden and now also in England. This choice has 'added quality to the mix' of schooling. A focus on developing high standards of teacher quality has characterised each of the most successful education systems. This change takes much longer to implement than introducing new types of schools; it should now be the priority.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Laptop classes in some Australian primary schools
Volume 26 Number 1, July 2011; Pages 10–15
Australia was an earlier leader in the introduction of laptops into classrooms, but the push seems to have lost momentum. To explore this issue the author investigated the use of laptops for learning in classrooms at six primary schools. Each school had at least one class in which all students used laptops. The classes were for students in years 5, 6 or 7. The schools' use of laptops was unconnected to the Australian Government's program to supply ICT to students in years 9–12. The six schools were located in New South Wales, Victoria or Queensland, four of them metropolitan and two regional. The research, undertaken in 2009, involved classroom observations and interviews with the class teacher. The schools adopted the laptops in diverse ways. They varied widely in funding arrangements, including the extent of parents' financial contribution towards them. The schools also differed in students' level of control over the laptops, eg in whether the students were permitted to take them home or to personalise them for their own learning. The teachers had a range of views on the potential impact of laptops on students' NAPLAN results. Teachers' planning for students' use of the laptops also varied. Learning activities sometimes supported parts of the existing curriculum, eg by facilitating inter-school competitive academic games or web conferencing with remotely-based subject experts. At other times the use of laptops extended the curriculum through the introduction of new topics, such as the ethical use of ICT. The work that teachers asked students to undertake on the laptops also varied considerably in its level of cognitive challenge. The need for students using laptops to spend time learning their technical features left them with less time for learning in other areas. This raised equity considerations, since the schools were committed to using the same curriculum for all students. A further issue is the challenge which schools pose for wireless networking installations. Schools have a high density of computers, and usage tends to peak at key times, eg during particular lessons and particularly when students log on or have to save work at the end of a lesson. The schools differed in their technological provision for these challenges.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Teaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Mobile learning devices: changing pedagogy
Volume 10 Number 5, August 2011; Pages 28–30
The author reports on how the introduction of ipads influenced students' learning in four classrooms. For the study, ipads were made available to students in two year 3 and two year 6 classes. In one year 3 class and one year 6 class students used ipads to complete a set task, while students in other year 3 and year 6 classes undertook the same task using traditional tools. At each year level the two classes then swapped roles for a subsequent task. Teachers applied the same curriculum content, vocabulary and methodology to ipad classes and traditional classes. Over the following six weeks, classes were observed through the use of two fixed cameras, to capture the influence of the ipads on teacher talk and student engagement. The year 6 students worked on reading and comprehension tasks. Their work involved reading a selected book, either in print or electronic format, and then completing a range of active and passive tasks such as directed reading, note-taking and annotation. The year 3 classes worked on maths tasks involving fractions, one class using a standard textbook in tandem with a series of practical activities, and the other using ipads to cover the same content. Observations indicate that the introduction of ipads made little change to the total amount of time that teachers devoted to meaningful classroom talk in any given class. However, the amount of this time spent on core teaching and learning foci decreased during the ipad classes, as the teacher allocated more time to discussion of technical issues concerned with the ipads' operation, and to regulation of students' behaviour. During passive tasks, students became easily distracted by the kinesthetic aspects of the ipads, preoccupied by its functionality rather than learning goals. At year 6 level, students' off-task behaviour decreased when they used the ipads for active tasks. At year 3, however, off-task behaviour increased during active tasks with the ipads. The difference was apparently due to the nature of the active task: the year 6 students' work involved closer direction by the teacher, while the year 3 task allowed students more autonomy. The study suggests that existing teaching and learning frameworks need to be re-examined when applied to emerging technologies.
Teaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Teaching writing in rural Canadian classrooms
Volume 19 Number 1, February 2011; Pages 40–48
A researcher has investigated the approach to writing instruction taken by 50 teachers in rural Canada. The teachers, randomly selected for participation in the study, took grades 4–8. Their schools were distributed through Canada's western, central and eastern provinces. The research examined the teachers' perceptions of the role of writing with the local communities, and the ways in which the teachers drew on the resources offered by the local communities to advance their goals for students as writers. Evidence was obtained by telephone interview and subsequent analysis of the interview transcripts. About 30 per cent of the participants described examples of community partnerships to support students' writing. They included cultural projects, including locally based stories and poetry, a cookbook, and a contribution to a town history book. Respondents indicated that writing 'did not play a significant role' in the lives of most community members, with farming and fishing the main occupations. Approximately half the participants believed that parents and other community members valued writing but lacked the skills to support their children's writing development. Nevertheless, these forms of interaction with community members develop students' awareness of the roles that writing plays in the lives of adults they know, and may challenge students' stereotypic conceptions about them. The teachers' two most common instructional practices were direct instruction and the creation of opportunities to take part in writers' workshops. Direct instruction most commonly focused on genre, including models and characteristics of various genre, addressed to assessment requirements. Direct instruction sometimes also covered grammar. Within the writer's workshop approach students have greater scope in their writing, as they themselves choose the topic and audience. Redrafting of texts and peer editing and discussion are important features of this approach. Teachers generally required students to write drafts by hand before entering them on computer, for a range of reasons including improvement of spelling, equity concerns over computer access, and the belief that handwriting 'brought students closer to their writing'.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Expectation versus reality of the transition from primary to secondary school
Volume 33 Number 3, 2011; Pages 34–37
When they move from primary to secondary level, students must cope with a number of changes: specialist subject areas, more demanding timetables, a less integrated curriculum, a larger social environment, and often a longer transit between home and school. In making the move, students typically experience a mix of excitement and anxiety. However, it varies between individuals, and research indicates that it is influenced by factors including 'gender, rurality, culture, location, previous experiences, past stories, and myths'. Programs to manage this period of transition have changed their focus from organisational issues towards measures to develop students' sense of belonging in the secondary environment. Academic aspects of the transition, such as the greater amount and complexity of workload, often take time to overcome. Research indicates that a successful academic transition is much more likely when students develop a sense of belonging in the new secondary environment. A sense of belonging is itself influenced by the physical environment, the interpersonal environment of family, friends and teachers, and the socio-cultural environment of language and customs. Students can be provided with 'anchor points' to improve their sense of belonging, such as enlisting older siblings to assist the student in transition.
Subject HeadingsTransitions in schooling
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