Formative assessment tools for inquiry mathematics
2011; Pages 270–278
An inquiry-based approach to learning shows promise as a way to develop students' mathematical achievement. It offers a way to integrate students' skills, factual content, procedural knowledge and conceptual thinking. The ill-structured problems that it often presents can equip students for new situations and open-ended, complex, everyday problems. However, it poses challenges for assessment. The author's mathematics class trialled the use of a formative assessment method designed to capture students' inquiry learning. The year 6 class consisted of 28 students 'from a middle class suburban primary school'. The students were engaged in an inquiry addressed to the question 'how much is one cubic metre?' They were asked to record timed, two-minute reflections in an electronic journal. The journal allowed them to correct text at once, use an online dictionary and other forms of help, including image databases for use in conveying their thoughts. This individual work was supplemented by group work which was recorded on paper posters, and peer analysis of each other's work. The teacher used an electronic research journal to record discussions with students and notes from observations of student work. The teacher's analysis of student work drew on the PISA framework for mathematics assessment. This framework sets out eight mathematical competencies, organised into three clusters of concepts. The reproduction cluster covers basic mathematical processes, knowledge and skills; the connections cluster covers the integration and extension of coursework, while the reflection cluster covers the insights that students bring to bear in solving unfamiliar problems. The framework provided valuable feedback for the teacher and students, and offers a useful starting point when considering formative assessment of mathematical inquiry tasks.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsInquiry based learning
Understanding school responses to students' challenging behaviour: a review of literature
Volume 14 Number 2, July 2011; Pages 156–171
Within Australia and internationally there is evidence that growing numbers of students are being suspended from school. The middle years are the time when suspensions increase and also when disengagement from school rises as students encounter the pressures of adolescence. It is also a time when students are expected to make the transition to a form of school that is more disciplined and tested, and has a more narrow curriculum. Challenging behaviour takes forms such as self-harm, aggression to others, abuse of property or sexualised behaviour. While exclusion is widely accepted as a response to behaviour deemed to put the school community at risk, it is now also being used to respond to less severe behavioural issues such as lateness, or vaguely defined problems such as 'disrespect'. There are several concerns about its use. It may take students out of school at a time when they need to consolidate and build on their learning to cope with the transition to secondary school. Suspensions may be applied to behaviour that does not impede learning conditions but simply challenges the 'status quo' at the school: behaviour of this kind may indicate resilience rather than risk-taking. Out-of-school suspensions increase opportunities for students to become involved in harmful activities; they also impact adversely on the community as a whole. High rates of suspension are associated with low-SES communities. It is commonly perceived that these communities impose more punitive and less professional forms of discipline. However, there may be other links between SES and suspensions, such as level of parental and community involvement in the school, resourcing, and the quality of teaching and school leadership. Schools commonly respond to challenging student behaviour in one of four ways. Punitive approaches involve blanket rules, an assumption of deliberate intent to disrupt and the capacity of punishment to correct misbehaviour. They are reflected in 'zero-tolerance' policies in the USA. In Australia some elements of this approach are evident in the use of detentions and the withdrawal of certain privileges. Academic approaches, such as the Engaging Again program, provide additional instructional support to address learning-related frustrations as a source of misbehaviour. Therapeutic approaches seek to identify and address personal problems that generate inappropriate behaviour among individual students. Examples include Think First and the On-Campus Interview Program described by Massey 2007. While looking at the student's life as a whole this approach has been criticised for ignoring students' social context. This context is factored into the tailored approach, which also includes academic and therapeutic components. However, the tailored approach requires substantial investment of time and resources and collaboration of school staff in helping students outside of school hours. When deciding on an appropriate response it is important to examine the social constructions of childhood held by teachers and other adults, which underlie the approaches currently used; for example, a tendency to see misbehaviour as motivated by 'evil', or the 'new sociology of childhood paradigm' that underplays the knowledge and skills children have developed through their own life experiences. Evidence suggests that the most effective programs are multi-tiered, able to operate at whole-school, group or individual levels; build links between school, community and family; and cultivate strong relationships between individual students and adults. Evidence also highlights the value of basing social workers within schools.
Measuring teaching using value-added modelling: the imperfect panacea
Volume 95 Number 2, June 2011; Pages 122–140
Value-added modelling (VAM) has been advanced as a way to control for the influence of children's family background and SES when measuring teachers' contribution to student learning. The various forms of VAM have key features in common. After taking account of children's backgrounds, they examine the academic performance of students taught by a particular teacher. Students' academic growth is measured at the start and end of each school year, usually over several years. However, there are several objections to using VAM as the sole measure of teacher performance. Individual teacher performance within a school is influenced over the course of each year by school leaders, through their instructional leadership, their responsiveness to staff needs, and the degree to which they facilitate collaboration and inquiry among their teachers. A student's performance over the year will be strongly influenced by the quality of teaching they received in previous years. A student prepared only through the low-level, easily-forgotten procedural skills may have performed well on last year's final test but will probably perform less well in the current year than a peer prepared through a strong conceptual grounding in course content. Efforts to control for family and SES are necessarily limited and may not capture all the contributions of these factors, in terms for example of recreational reading over summer, family visits to museums, and the prevailing types of peers in their neighbourhoods. Existing evidence suggests that teachers are not randomly assigned to students, but that particular types of teachers are assigned to gifted, NESB, or disruptive students, and that these differences are not always explicitly recognised. In any case, a particular teacher may assist the learning of some types of students more than others. Statistics may conceal qualitative differences. For example, the significance of a 10 per cent rise in test scores may vary according to subject area or year level, and the previous status of the student as struggling or already successful. Teacher performance measured by VAM has been found to be unreliable: eg studies have found that most top-performing teachers in one year do not achieve the same high rating the following year. The conclusions that may be validly drawn from it are also more limited than is often supposed, leading Lauren Resnick to refer to them as 'fool's gold'. Reliance on VAM creates an incentive for 'rational' teachers to restrict teaching in order to achieve results of direct benefit to them in terms of their students' immediate test scores. It discourages them from teaching subjects considered non-core; teaching for conceptual thinking; helping other teachers' students; contributing to discretionary school activities; or helping students whose results are not measured, eg mobile students. VAM also distributes teachers on a normative scale rather than against criteria, setting them in competition with each other.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
United States of America (USA)
Contested communities in a debate over dual-language education: the import of 'public' values on public policies
Volume 25 Number 4, July 2011; Pages 577–613
A study in the USA examines issues surrounding the introduction of a bilingual immersion program within a school district. The focus site, 'Jefferson High School', had a well established transitional bilingual education (TBE) program, in which native-speaking English Language Learners (ELLs) gradually moved from Spanish-language to English-only classes. The new program was based on a two-way immersion (TWI) model, in which more or less equal numbers of native Spanish and English speakers moved together towards bilingualism and biculturalism. The study found that the proposed new program generated several groupings within the school community and the wider local community. One group, consisting mainly of 'white' and African-American residents, opposed the establishment of the program within one particular school. They raised several concerns coalescing around the concept of neighbourhood. They suggested that the program would undermine the neighbourhood character of the school, by attracting students from elsewhere; and reduce diversity of the school population by attracting predominantly Hispanic newcomers. They argued further that these moves were likely to lower property values, so they thought it reasonable to include local residents without children at the school as stakeholders in the issue. This group was highly vocal and their contributions were concentrated around the key decision-making period of the program. A second group consisted mainly of white parents keen for their children to enjoy the benefits of multi-lingualism. They too defended the concept of diversity, but represented the issue in terms not of neighbourhood but of community, arguing that the school constituted its own, distinctive community. They argued that the school had long included 'a great number' of Hispanic ELL students dwelling beyond the neighbourhood. They represented the TWI program in terms of its benefits for Hispanics rather than for themselves. A third, much smaller group rallied around the concept of culture. Hispanic families throughout the wider education district identified with the school due to its long tradition of bilingual education; despite their geographical dispersion they were united into a community by their common background as Mexican immigrants, often from the same area of Mexico, and the school was a focus for this community. This group consisted mainly of bilingual/bicultural advocates, most from Central and South American families. It also drew in a few low-income Mexican immigrants; however, this latter group was largely absent from the debate, despite its stake in the outcome. Current policy statements often call for evidence-based decisions, and research evidence supports the value of hosting TWI at a single site. However, this study highlights the important role played by local citizens as agents in the implementation of policy at ground level, and authentic research to inform policy implementation needs to allow for the impact of their viewpoints and values.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
Language and languages
Social life and customs
United States of America (USA)
Educating for informed and active citizenship
Number 27, Winter 2012; Pages 6–9
Civic education deals with knowledge of the formal processes governing civic life, such as voting; citizenship education is concerned with 'participation and engagement in both civic and civil society'. In this country the purpose of civic and citizenship education was set out in the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. Sample assessments of civic and citizenship are undertaken every three years as part of the National Assessment Program. Last year ACARA published the results of the 2010 assessment. The survey found that 52 per cent of year 6 students in the surveyed sample reached 'proficient' standard in the test, while in year 10 the figure was 49 per cent. Students in year 10 were also less likely than those in year 6 to be engaged at school in activities such as voting for class representatives or participating in student parliaments. Students' trust in police, parliaments and political parties and media declined between years 6 and 10 – from a high level in the case of police, and from progressively lower levels of trust for the other institutions. Girls were more likely than boys to trust institutions, and to participate in school activities of these kinds. Only about one third of students at each year level expressed interest in Australian politics, while two thirds expressed interest in global issues and even higher levels were interested in environmental issues. Attitudes to diversity were mixed: when presented in general terms, 80 per cent of students agreed that Australia benefits from a diverse population but almost half believed the country would become less peaceful with rising levels of immigration of people from other backgrounds. The next cycle of the NAP will incorporate the learning outcomes from the civics and citizenship component of the Australian Curriculum.
Subject HeadingsCivics education
Teaching and learning
Encouraging children to walk and ride
Number 27, Winter 2012; Pages 15–17
Surveys undertaken within six Victoria municipalities in 2010 provide evidence on how many children walk or ride to school, and on children's and parents' attitudes towards children's independent mobility outside the home. The surveys involved 800 children and 500 parents in the municipalities. The surveys found that more than half the children were driven to and from school, although more than half the children lived within 20 minutes' walking distance of their school. Only 40 per cent of metropolitan parents and 36 of parents in regional areas considered it safe for children to walk or ride to school independently. The greatest threat they perceived was 'stranger danger'. Older residents were much less likely than parents to fear threats from strangers to children. Fewer children than parents were concerned about stranger danger. The second greatest barrier to children's independent mobility related to road safety, and this problem was rated equally by parents and older residents. The great majority of children who rode to school were aware of road safety rules. Girls were more likely than boys to adhere to the rules, while boys were more likely to take risks while riding. Children were more likely to be independently active outside the home when they possessed their own mobile phones and/or when they owned dogs.
Subject HeadingsPhysical Fitness
School and community
How to teach science and computing in the age of big data
14 June 2012
The forthcoming National Science Challenge aims to engage students and members of the public in the analysis of real scientific data through 'fun, online experiments'. The experiments will be developed from authentic scientific issues, such as calculations of the capacity of dams holding city drinking water, and how to predict the danger of overflow. A topic of particular interest is the advent of the Square Kilometre Array: it will be used to explore distant parts of the universe, and to do so will gather as much data as is currently held in all the world's libraries. It reflects the data deluge now being faced across the modern world. The National Science Challenge more generally reflects the close interconnections between science and ICT. This interconnection has always existed for the specialist scientific community, but in today's world advanced computational skills are needed in all aspects of scientific work. As a result it is critically important that the school curriculum equips students with the technological skills they will need to solve scientific, financial and technical problems. It is also important to address barriers to the learning of ICT in Australian secondary schools. One obstacle is that most current science teachers did not undertake formal training in ICT during their own academic training. Another problem is to engage students in the study of ICT for purposes of academic learning. The Australian Government's heavy investment in ICT hardware for schools will achieve greatest impact if it is now accompanied by support for teacher professional learning in technology.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Teaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Adolescent bullies on cyber island
Volume 95 Number 3, September 2011; Pages 195–211
Adolescents' proficiency with ICT tends to isolate them from adults, placing them on an unsupervised, virtual 'cyber island'. Bullying in this environment is hard to track due to online privacy provisions. A research project in the USA set up an online poll for 229 junior secondary students to obtain their opinions on cyberbullying. The students indicated that the most common reasons for cyberbullying were jealousy or bitterness after the break-up of a relationship; this motive increased sharply from year 7 to year 8 levels. They thought that cyberbullying also occurred as revenge for other grievances, or to victimise students with unusual appearance or behaviour. Girls were more likely than boys to see cyberbullying as a serious concern. The bullying took forms such as lying about the victim, disclosure of embarrassing secrets, and threats of harm. Students indicated that 93 per cent of parents and 79 per cent of teachers 'seldom or never talked to them' about cyberbullying. To deal with cyberbullying, 6 out of 10 participants supported different strategies than those that had been advanced to them by adults. The students tended to support non-confrontational solutions such as changing their online accounts, rather than informing a parent or teacher. However, two thirds of participants recommended that schools send parents information about cyberbullying. The authors recommend that schools undertake online polls of their own students about cyberbullying. Online polls offer a way to overcome the isolation of the online experience; to preserve the anonymity of contributors, and therefore encourage responses; and, for research purposes, to provide valid and reliable evidence. They also have wider applications as a way to encourage students' 'voice' and democratic participation in society. Principals and APs should lead the polling process, explaining its rationale to staff and ensuring it is well organised. Students should be encouraged to report online bullying. Teachers should explain to them how it differs from the 'tattling' designed to get someone into trouble. Teachers should also be made aware of research evidence that middle years' students who witness bullying tend to be demoralised by it. Campaigns against online bullying are best undertaken as part of a wider effort to build positive bridges between adolescents, parents and teachers, rather than as a fearful reaction to bad behaviour.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
United States of America (USA)
Imaging the frame: media representations of teachers, their unions, NCLB and education reform
Volume 25 Number 4, July 2011; Pages 543–576
In the USA, popular perceptions of state school teachers and their trade unions are heavily influenced by the way they are represented, or 'framed', by the mass media and the US Government. Framing involves the careful selection of words and images to shape the way that an audience understands a fact or issue. The author describes the results of a study into media coverage of the US Government's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy. The study examined articles and other material on this issue published in Time magazine and The New York Times newspaper 2001–2008, excluding opinion pieces and other explicitly partisan material. The 66 articles located were coded according to their attitude toward teacher unions. It found that 54.4 per cent of articles were negative, 22.7 per cent neutral, 18.2 per cent mixed and 4.5 per cent positive toward unions. In Time 82.6 per cent were negative, and none positive; in The New York Times 39.4 per cent were negative and seven per cent were positive; the positive coverage referred to teachers as collectively or individually open to the government's proposed policy changes. The article provides a range of examples of how government or mass media sources have framed issues surrounding the NCLB to the disadvantage of the program's critics, and to the detriment of public school teachers and their unions. The US Education Department associated the NCLB with the iconic image of a single-room rural school, evoking the sense of 'a simpler, less violent, more stable time'. The mass media often presented the typical teacher as 'prim and proper' while in one prominent article a teacher supporting reform was presented as a more casual yet also more authoritative. Both publications presented new, young and 'fresh' teacher graduates as supporters of the NCLB, and as 'presumably better than current teachers who are more experienced, older, resistant to NCLB, and probably part of the union'. The media carried advertisements by groups such as The Center for Union Facts representing teacher unions as bullies. In a large New York Times advertisement, reproduced on billboards, the image of a wormy apple was used to evoke disgust at teacher unions. Despite high-level corporate and government support, the NCLB was positioned as being opposed to the existing education 'establishment'. The author argues that US mass media outlets' representation of public education is shaped not by high-quality research but, ultimately, by their position as big businesses pursuing corporate interests. Education researchers critical of government reforms need to disseminate their evidence beyond academic journals and conferences, to avenues more easily available to the public, so as to provide 'multiple and alternative frames' for the interpretation of education reform.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
United States of America (USA)
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