Informal reading inventories: creating teacher-designed literature-based assessments
Volume 45 Number 4, 2010; Pages 211–220
Informal reading inventories (IRIs) are word lists and reading selections used to inform teachers about their students' current reading levels. They are relevant to years K–12. While good-quality IRIs are available commercially, those designed by classroom teachers have a range of advantages. They can be aligned to the curriculum used in the classroom and facilitate differentiated instruction. They also empower the teacher and reduce costs. While IRIs may be prepared using basal reading series, there are advantages in using quality children's literature: titles can be selected on the basis of the student's interests and age level. The article suggests several resources for determining a book's readability, and the amount of text suitable for IRIs at lower primary, upper primary and secondary levels. It also includes a checklist of steps in the preparation of the IRI. To assess fluency through the IRI, students may be asked to read aloud for one minute while the teacher records 'decoding errors, miscues, hesitations, or self-corrections'. They can also be used to assess the student's prosody, ie the appropriateness of pitch, intonation, volume, stress and timing. The results can be analysed to ensure that the text read is at a suitable instructional level for the students. Silent reading fluency may also be assessed using an IRI. Fluency checks should be undertaken at least three times during a nine-week grading period. Students' vocabulary knowledge should be measured independently to distinguish it from students' fluency. Vocabulary can be assessed using lists of sight words contained in the selected passages, perhaps supplemented by other word lists. Teachers can also analyse IRI results to identify students' phonological and phonemic awareness, with miscues revealing difficulties in phonic rules, syllabication and blending. Teachers should allow for the impact of dialect and vernacular influences on students' language. When analysing miscues, teachers should distinguish errors based on syntactic cues, on semantic cues, and on graphic similarity or use of graphophonic system, to guide future interventions. Reading comprehension can be measured through oral or written responses. Verbal responses may be more appropriate for struggling writers. Comprehension of younger students is likely to focus on facts, sequencing, and reasoning; older students can be assessed for literal and inferential comprehension and for their metacognition. It is important to use open-ended questions to measure comprehension. The article includes examples of the processes by which a year 3 teacher develops and uses several IRIs.
Teaching and learning
Assessment for learning (formative assessment)
Worth waiting for? The Australian Curriculum: History F–10
Volume 9 Number 2, 2011; Pages 19–27
The Australian Curriculum: History F-10 refers to three types of knowledge. One type covers substantive historical concepts, such as colonisation or conflict. Another type is topic knowledge, eg the composition of the First Fleet. The third is the 'second order' historical concept, such as evidence, continuity and change, or cause and effect. These concepts are of central importance in the curriculum. By implication, teachers and students will be expected to understand, articulate and apply them: a move that challenges teachers to 'think differently' as they devise ways to cover these concepts for students at different levels of age and ability. For example, the concept of 'evidence' for the young student may simply involve distinguishing a document as a primary source, and deriving key facts from it, while a year 10 student might consider an historical account in terms of its social context, the writer's motives, and the document's representativeness. The curriculum would have benefited from more detail on how the concepts could be explored within particular historical contexts. There is little detail on the concepts of empathy and contestability, the concepts which teachers might find most unfamiliar and challenging. The topic content in the 'historical knowledge and understanding' strand is likely to be familiar to teachers of years 1–3, focusing on social life, culture and environment. However, topics in years 4–6 are now specified in more detail than before, and coverage of Australian history is more pervasive. The curriculum in years 7–10, covering world history, specifies topics even more precisely. Over each of these four year levels students undertake three inquiry-based depth studies, selected from a set list of 21 topics. This high degree of specification will require some teachers to abandon some topics which they are interested in and well-equipped to teach. The historical skills strand promotes skills in historical inquiry, such as the analysis and use of sources. While this is likely to be familiar ground to teachers, the strand is also likely to encourage students and teachers to make more explicit reference to and use of historical skills. The history curriculum lends itself to the treatment of the Australian Curriculum's three cross-curriculum priorities. However, the 'Asia' priority is covered only weakly in years 9–10, which would have been suitable for studying the current rise of India and China. The article also discusses the relationship of the history curriculum to the Australian Curriculum's general capabilities and links to other learning areas.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
The Australian Science Curriculum
Volume 9 Number 2, 2011; Pages 3–10
The article considers how well the Australian Science Curriculum meets the needs of science educators and students. The document's framing statements 'provide useful frameworks for teachers to build science programs', and the three strands of the curriculum – Science Understanding, Science Inquiry Skills, and Science as a Human Endeavour – offer a strong basis 'for enlivening science pedagogy and engaging students in meaningful learning'. However, there are several concerns regarding the Science Understanding strand. The content descriptions vary in depth. The topics are more tightly prescribed than in the framework documents currently used in several states. The topics are set at yearly intervals, which will require systems and teachers to rework standards that are currently set over two-year intervals. The Science Inquiry Skills strand's division into sub-strands is readily grasped and helpful in the way that it identifies the phases of scientific knowledge-building. The year level descriptions are clearly and generally well-pitched, although they may underplay the capacity of younger primary students to conduct investigations and evaluate evidence. The Human Endeavour strand is welcome as a means to promote engagement with science. The strand covers the nature and development of science, the processes by which scientists develop and validate knowledge, scientific use of evidence, and the operation of models and theories. It also covers the use and social influence of science. The strand is therefore relevant, for example, to the 'culture war' debates and socio-scientific and ethical issues such as sustainability. However, there are several concerns about this strand. It is unclear how it interweaves with the other strands of the curriculum. The organisation of the curriculum implies that issues of social context are subordinate to the Science Understanding strand, rather than allowing 'full play' for the influence of values, technology and other social forces. The issue of values is barely referred to in the strand, which works against its humanistic potential and its capacity to interest students, particularly girls. A further concern with the strand is the limited development of a sequence of content descriptions: the sequencing of the sub-strands does not always seem logical. In terms of pedagogical implications, the document emphasises an inquiry-based approach, constructivist teaching principles and contextualisation of content. It also emphasises the roles of diagnostic, formative and summative assessment. Future progress will rely on imaginative curriculum design, on the resources and professional learning that supports the curriculum's innovative features, and the extent to which assessment approaches capture high-order knowledge in the three strands.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
How to make science inquiry happen in your classroom
Volume 9 Number 2, 2011; Pages 11–18
Primary Connections is an initiative of the Australian Academy of Science. It commenced in 2004 and is now used in over half of Australia's primary schools. The article describes a DVD covering The Primary Connections 5Es teaching and learning model, which presents the inquiry approach used within the Primary Connections program. The inquiry approach calls for students to develop the abilities to evaluate and question evidence, draw valid conclusions, develop alternative explanations of data, including evidence-based arguments, and communicate findings. The inquiry approach is presented in Primary Connections through five phases. Each phase is linked to a particular form of assessment. The first phase engages students. Diagnostic assessment elicits their prior knowledge. In the next phases students explore phenomena, then develop explanations drawn from observations and current scientific explanations. Formative assessment is used in these phases. At the 'elaborate' phase students extend their understanding to new contexts, or connect to related concepts, through student-planned investigations. At the final phase students reflect on their learning. These phases are assessed summatively. The inquiry approach involves many learning areas and this presents an enormous challenge to schools, requiring support at the in-service but also the pre-service levels of teaching. The DVD helps to meet these needs. It presents classroom teaching scenarios. One scenario, for example, shows a dialogue between a teacher and a student: a voice-over refers to some of the key pedagogical issues raised, eg when the teacher deals with a non-scientific idea from the student, not by correcting it but by referring it to the class for discussion. Another section of the DVD shows students discussing the way that they respond to one another's ideas. The units in Primary Connections provide a particular way for teachers to implement a teaching and learning sequence, while also suggesting further options to give students more control or extend the level of challenge. The units always use everyday materials rather than specialised equipment.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsInquiry based learning
Weighing and distributing the good of schooling
Volume 10 Number 5, August 2011; Pages 7–11
Teachers' heartfelt desire to 'make a difference' connects with a longstanding commitment to equity within the education community. At the same time, policy makers, informed by economists, strive to improve the educational performances of low-achievers as a means to lift national productivity and generate 'human capital'. Both groups desire to overcome the obstacles to learning imposed by social disadvantage. However, educators tend to be wary of economic rationales for improving student performance, and with them any conception of learning as a commodity. Such beliefs are seen to distort education, by pitting schools against one another and also by narrowing the scope of educational assessment and reporting through excessive emphasis on standardised test scores. Teachers' wariness of these approaches is reinforced by an 'inherent conservatism' that works in positive ways to protect schooling from fads. At the same time, however, many schools and individual teachers are now analysing and comparing student data as a constructive means to improve student learning. Diagnostic assessments, 'both internal and external to an individual class or school', have now been widely accepted, despite earlier suspicions. Education theorists have clearly articulated the dangers of misusing student data, but not the benefits to be derived from its constructive applications. These benefits need to be articulated. The constructive use of data for learning, needs to be extended into teacher education courses, and into school-based teacher induction processes. Education research is overbalanced towards qualitative studies, and for this reason too educators should embrace the use of quantitative studies to inform instruction. Educators should 'discuss, design and lead the development' of tools for assessment and reporting. This includes determining the purposes to which data can be validly applied. The profession should continue to pursue the development of the learner as 'a whole well-educated person', not 'an aggregation of tested parts', without, however, using these concerns as a reason for wholesale rejection of quantitative assessments. The full text of this article is available online.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
The influence of literacy-based science instruction on adolescents' interest, participation, and achievement in science
Volume 50 Number 1, 11 August 2010; Pages 44–67
Educational theorists increasingly emphasise the importance of science literacy, which incorporates skills in comprehension, metacognition, writing, listening and inquiry. The emphasis on literacy skills within science helps to personalise it for adolescents, and therefore to make it seem more interesting and relevant to them. This applies particularly to girls, who have often been marginalised from science. At primary school level, a number of studies have shown the value of introducing writing opportunities for students, and introducing 'concept-oriented reading instruction' into science. However, literacy-based approaches at secondary level, and opportunities to draw on popular culture to teach science, have rarely been taken up. A study has examined the value of introducing a literacy-based forensics unit in a year 11 chemistry class in south-western USA. The study was informed by social constructivist theory and 'a hybrid theory of content literacy' using a range of print and electronic texts with which adolescents engaged outside of school. The unit involved three 90 minute periods over three weeks, and 15 lesson plans developed by the teacher, addressed to state standards. Reading activities drew on a wide range of academic and everyday texts. The students were permitted to write their own texts, such as science fiction stories, or reflective journals. They also examined mystery and crime texts, identifying clues and predicting outcomes. The teacher supplemented these activities with activities such as fingerprinting, lip prints and handwriting analyses sourced from other teachers. The participating students and a control group were tested at the start and end of the unit to identify changes to their attitudes towards science and their scientific inquiry skills. Further evidence was obtained from a student survey, and from one of the author's observations of lessons in the experimental classroom. The results reveal 'statistically significant as well as practically significant gains in students' inquiry skills'. Results indicate that female students' attitude to science became more positive; however, the change was not statistically significant.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Science textbooks' use of graphical representation: a descriptive analysis of four sixth grade science texts
Volume 31 Number 3, 2010; Pages 301–325
The article describes research into the type and quality of graphical representations used in four middle years' science textbooks. The four texts, from different publishers, were all in use at year 6 level in the State of Texas. The article includes a substantial section covering guidelines for evaluating the graphics in science texts. The graphics in the texts are then considered in terms of form and function, their capacity to assist the viewer in building a mental model of a system, and their physical and semantic integration with the text. The textbooks are examined in relation to science and scientific method, life science, physical science and earth science. More than three fifths of the graphics were found to be 'well connected to the referent text' and a similar number were explicitly referred to in the text. Just over two fifths of the graphics 'provided a description or engaged the reader'. Graphics consisted mainly of photographs and drawings. In the life and earth sciences, graphics consisted mainly of photographs and drawings: they were mainly 'decorative' and unrelated to text, with a 'conspicuous absence' of maps and scale diagrams, and, in earth science, few graphics representing change over time.
Key Learning AreasScience
All students means ALL students
Volume 10 Number 6, October 2011; Pages 28–29
Research has found that between 7 and 11 per cent of young people in Australia are attracted to peers of the same sex, or are unsure of their sexual identity. Research also identifies this group as highly vulnerable. A national report published in 2010 found that three in four of such people, aged 14–21, had experienced 'some form of homophobia'. School was the most commonly reported venue for homophobic bullying: 80 per cent of survey respondents reported being bullied at school. The Safe Schools Coalition Victoria has developed audits, for staff and for students respectively, to measure how well the school environment supports same-sex attracted students. A number of issues are raised in the audit. One is the presence of visible displays of support, such as posters or fliers, including the extent to which they are distributed and how often they are defaced. A second, related issue is the availability of information resources, including professional development for teachers and specialist welfare staff, including its frequency, and the extent to which they allow staff to advise students of further, external sources of support. The audit also asks staff how confident they are in challenging homophobia. A further issue is the extent to which gender diversity is covered in the curriculum.
Subject HeadingsSexual harassment
Gay and lesbian issues
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