Volume 48 Number 3, June 2011; Pages 794–831
Teachers' value-added scores offer a way to measure their professional performance. They are now widely used in the USA, but their effectiveness is contested. For example, some researchers cite evidence that teachers of accelerated classes demonstrate significantly above-average value-added, with the reverse true for teachers of special education classes, suggesting that student characteristics are not controlled for adequately through these measures. Another concern is the difficulty of separating the contributions of schools as a whole from individual teacher performance. A 2008 study examined the degree to which value-added scores based on student performance match other indicators of teacher quality. The value-added scores of 24 middle years' mathematics teachers were compared against alternative measures of their performance. The participants taught at four schools within the same district, serving mid-range SES, ethnically varied communities. The participants were close to the national average for middle year mathematics teachers in terms of experience and qualifications. Evidence was collected via interview, videotapes of classroom lessons, and a survey. Participants also completed a test of their pedagogical content knowledge, or 'mathematical knowledge of teaching' (MKT). Lessons were coded for the mathematical quality of instruction (MQI) of the overall lesson, and also for evidence of MKT, which might, for example, capture glimpses of expertise on topics marginal to the current lesson. Teachers' value-added scores correlated highly to lesson-based estimates of their MKT. However, as with some earlier studies, teachers of more able students scored significantly better than others on value-added measures. This result may indicate that more able students were matched to more able teachers. It may also indicate that value-added did not control adequately for student characteristics, and that more able students were learning more than peers from the same quality of teaching. While all teachers that scored highly on MQI also scored highly on value-added measures, 5 of the 24 teachers scored well on value-added measures but modestly on MQI. The article describes detailed case studies of two of these teachers, who scored particularly poorly on MQI. Careful analysis discounted the possibility that non-mathematical aspects of the two teachers' practice, not captured by the MQI measure, could explain the discrepancies. The discrepancies are more likely to be caused by external supports available to the two teachers' students, such as private tutoring or other home assistance, or by teachers' focus on test preparation rather than teaching for overall understanding. The results of the study suggest that value-added scores are best used 'in combination with high-quality, discriminating observational systems or as a trigger for such observational systems' use'.
Subject HeadingsTeacher evaluation
Using encoding instruction to improve the reading and spelling performances of elementary students at risk for literacy difficulties: a best-evidence synthesis
Volume 81 Number 2, June 2011; Pages 170–200
Encoding instruction refers to the teaching of spelling patterns and memorisation skills, and also to ways of teaching young children to write words according to their sound-letter correspondences. Many researchers have found 'strong, significant correlations between spelling ability and reading performance', lending support for 'connectionist' models that integrate the teaching of these areas of study. However, the contribution made by good-quality spelling and encoding instruction is not drawn upon extensively in most reading curriculums. Spelling is usually taught separately, and most often through memorisation of common patterns in word lists. A best-evidence synthesis was used to examine the extent to which the provision of additional encoding instruction develops students' understanding of the alphabetic principle, decoding skills, fluency, comprehension and spelling. The most effective interventions were found to share several characteristics. They include word study; early identification of students in need of added support; and explicit and direct instruction in phoneme-grapheme relationships through the use of physical manipulatives. Additionally, it is important that all these forms of awareness are developed 'in connection with experiences that give meaning to print'. Several studies revealed long-term impacts from early encoding instruction and practice with manipulating or writing of grapheme-phoneme correspondences. Long-term effects were greatest in relation to reading fluency and comprehension. The findings support the integration of encoding instruction into early primary reading instruction.
Volume 43 Number 2, June 2011; Pages 103–129
It has been estimated that children from prosperous families enter grade 1 with an average of 15,000 words, against 5,000 for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Evidence suggests that the strategy of reading aloud to children in the early primary years is inadequate to overcome this gap in vocabulary. Evidence also suggests that current instructional materials offer teachers little guidance on how to deal with the achievement gap. A design experiment has been used to establish principles of word learning and word organisation applicable to the study of vocabulary development among low-SES preschoolers. The study looked at ways to address the 'vocabulary gap' among children entering grade 1. The experiment took place in two phases over 16 weeks. It used a multimedia vocabulary curriculum, intended as a supplement to the Head Start curriculum used among disadvantaged US children. The curriculum, known as World of Words, consisted of two science-based units covering four topics, eg 'insects'. Each topic ran over eight days. Students were initially engaged with the topic through singing or other activities, and by call-and-response interactions. A video was then shown defining the conceptual boundaries of the topic, followed by questions to the class and discussion connecting what they had just learnt to their prior knowledge. After that point students received an informational booklet reviewing the words just learnt. On subsequent days further videos deepened students' concept of the topic, eg by describing additional properties of insects. After these videos the students engaged in sorting tasks, placing picture cards within or outside the category they were discussing. This was followed by problem-solving tasks, journal entries using phonemic spelling, and open-ended discussion, ending with a take-home version of the information booklet. Participating students were tested before and after the unit on expressive language gains, ability to categorise words, and ability to draw inferences from what they had learnt. The results support the benefits of teaching 'hard words' used in content areas, with sufficient time for their practice and review. The study also identified benefits from the use of taxonomies to guide students' word learning and conceptual development. Further research is needed on the value of multimedia for word learning: it is supported by earlier research from one of the authors, but contested elsewhere.
Subject HeadingsThought and thinking
Early childhood education
Volume 50 Number 3, 2011; Pages 247–253
Middle school students' motivation and engagement in English literature classes is strongly affected by the way their novels are selected for study, and also by their teacher's approach to instruction. When drawing up reading lists for their students, teachers are guided by two broad concepts. The first concept is the readability of texts. Readability is determined by quantitative measures of syntactic difficulty, or the complexity of sentences, and semantic difficulty at the level of individual words. The second concept is text levelling: a set of qualitative criteria may be used to match a novel to students according to their learning level. One criterion is the suitability of the content; for example, how familiar it is to the student and how well their backgrounds allow them to understand the topics it raises. Other characteristics that determine the level of a novel for students include length; language structure and flow; supports offered by illustrations; and the accessibility of the format. The levelling of texts is usually associated with primary students, but the issues involved are also relevant to middle school students, for they too tend to encounter unfamiliar structures and features of text, and must digest a great deal of new vocabulary. Their level of readiness for particular novels varies considerably, so middle school teachers like their primary counterparts need to decide students' reading levels individually. Another important factor in motivation and engagement is to allow students themselves to make the final choice of which novels to study. A 2004 meta-analysis found student choice to be one of the strongest determinants of students' reading motivation. Other research, with grade 6 children, found that the genres that appealed most to them, such as magazines and 'scary stories', are under-represented in school curricula, suggesting that the award-winning fiction teachers tend to select may be unduly emphasised in schools. Aside from book selection, middle school students' reading motivation is affected by instructional approach. Students tend to be motivated by discussion that 'mirrors authentic conversation' and which address the issues in the text that are of most interest to them. Students tend to be de-motivated by 'over-teaching' and 'over-analysing' that destroys their interest in the text, but also by 'under-teaching' where they are offered too little guidance. Re-reading a text is valuable for students when it offers them a chance for reflection, conjecture and discussion.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Volume 50 Number 3, 2011; Pages 231–238
Young adult literature forms an increasingly important part of the middle years' English curriculum. However, students' ability to understand these novels is sometimes held back by their limited mastery of comprehension strategies. One of the most promising ways to develop students' knowledge of comprehension strategies is to have teachers model the strategies they themselves use, individually or collaboratively, to understand novels. To explore this issue the authors examined transcripts from an electronic discussion board which captured teachers' conversations with each other about the young adult literature they were reading. The discussions record their conjectures, inferences and emotional reactions to the characters and story lines, speculations on how the plot might develop, the ways in which the stories evoked experiences from their own lives, and the connections they made to other novels. It showed how the teachers monitored their own understanding by setting questions to themselves on details about the texts they read. They combined these strategies fluidly as they read and conversed with peers. However, teachers do not always impart the same rich range of comprehension techniques to their students. Instead they tend to teach comprehension strategies separately, taking their students through strategies such as visualisation and summarising in isolation from other techniques. Teachers may wish to reflect more consciously on the techniques they themselves use, and with a view to applying them in class. One way to track their own strategic thinking more carefully is to conduct their professional discussions in an electronic format, which they can review later.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Multiple selves and multiple sites of influence: perceptions of young adult literature in the classroom
Volume 50 Number 3, 2011; Pages 215–222
Young adult literature (YAL) may be defined as any literature written 'specifically for a young adult audience', in contrast, for example, to stories about adolescent experiences per se, or to classics of children's literature. YAL has the potential to inspire lifelong interest and enjoyment in reading among today's teens. Schools can best engage students in YAL by treating it mainly in aesthetic terms, as a source of enjoyment, in which the reader is 'completely involved in the literary event'. However, schools often emphasise an 'efferent' approach to coursework, in which texts are studied to obtain information or knowledge for later use. This approach is less likely to engage students in YAL. The extent to which new teachers adopt an aesthetic approach to the study of YAL will be shaped by two main influences: their sense of themselves as readers, and the sites in which they teach. The author has taught a unit on YAL to pre-service teachers, and describes the impact of the course in developing her students' awareness and appreciation of an aesthetic approach to the study of YAL.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Volume 95 Number 2, June 2011; Pages 141–160
Teacher leadership is a component of school leadership. A 2002 study of 10 improving schools found that teacher leadership was evident in all of them. Teacher leaders possess the ability to engage colleagues in their vision and purposes, and to cultivate and maintain positive relationships, overcoming barriers. They also have expertise and credibility as educators. A 2006 study identified five forms of teacher leader: the role model who is expert, dedicated and inspiring; the decision-maker, part of a school's distributed leadership; the visionary; the 'supra-practitioner' coping with higher than normal workload; and finally, the teacher who holds a formal leadership position. However, teacher leadership cannot be fully defined through a set of general qualities, but rather takes full form only in particular contexts. The segmented and hierarchical nature of the traditional school structure works against teacher leadership, which flourishes only when there are opportunities for teacher collaboration. It is therefore important to reduce hierarchy and formality to realise the benefits of teacher leadership for school improvement. Teacher leadership prospers only when supported by school leaders who are willing to surrender a degree of power to these leaders in the field and who are willing to assign authority to any suitable teachers, including those beyond the 'in-group'. Teacher leadership is perceived differently by different types of educators. To explore this idea, the authors conducted a survey of teachers in 43 US schools spanning seven states. They present evidence from 672 teachers who completed the survey, 84 per cent of whom were women and 43 per cent of whom held formal leadership roles. Primary teachers and teachers with bachelor degrees were more likely than middle or high school teachers, or teachers with higher degrees, to define teacher leadership in terms of the 'supra-practitioner', and in terms of the teacher's role in the classroom rather than the school as a whole. The primary and bachelor-degree teachers were also more likely to identify teacher leadership with the sharing of teaching expertise.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
United States of America (USA)
Volume 95 Number 2, June 2012; Pages 85–98
The grades that teachers assign to students' performance can be seen as unreliable, subjective indicators of academic progress, yet they have a powerful influence over students' attitudes, behaviour, motivation and decisions about their future choice of courses and sometimes their retention at school. Evidence suggests that the grades students receive at the start of the school year are particularly influential in shaping views about their academic aptitude held by their teachers, their peers and the students themselves. To explore this issue further a study has compared the initial and final grades received by students in middle and senior classes. The students, in years 9 to 12, were drawn from six large secondary schools in one school district in the USA, during the 2007–08 school year. Grades remained 'remarkably stable' over the year, with average change 'virtually zero'. This result comes despite the fact that initial grades were based on relatively brief measures, such as quizzes, while final grades were likely to be based on deeper academic assessements and also non-academic indicators. Average grades declined year by year, possibly due to the higher rates of attrition among poorly-performing students. Achievement gaps between different ethnic groups grew slightly over the course of each school year. Across all year levels the average grades of male students declined slightly, while girls' grades remained stable. While this result may reflect weaker academic progress among boys, it may also be influenced by teachers' more critical opinion of boys' classroom behaviour. However, the effect sizes for poverty are twice those for gender or ethnicity. The results indicate the need for further research into the causes for such strong stability in gradings, to identify the contributions made by students' self-perception, classroom contexts and by the more general 'sociology of the classroom'.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
United States of America (USA)
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