Supporting beginning male teachers as they transform to skilled professionals
Volume 15 Number 1, March 2012; Pages 61–72
Researchers have conducted a survey of male teachers in the first two years of their careers. Respondents were based in public or Catholic schools across Queensland, teaching at primary or secondary levels. The article considers findings from the survey, alongside evidence from earlier research literature. The position of early career male teachers is shaped by several factors. One is the growing complexity of teaching in general, as the profession's knowledge base extends and the student population becomes more diverse. Age and generational issues also influence teaching. Many beginning teachers regard the profession as a career phase rather than a lifelong vocation. New teachers themselves are now more diverse in age. Some are in 'Generation Y', coming straight from school and university, and have experience of more or less current school environments, while many other new teachers come from 'Generation X' (born 1961-81), and bring a different mix of skills and experience to teaching. In some respects, the survey demonstrated continuity between the concerns of new and older teachers. Respondents' reasons for entering the profession reflect traditional concerns: the wish to help and to guide children, to apply their knowledge, and to possess the job security and holidays traditionally associated with teaching. But many respondents were also attracted by the characteristically 'Generation X' goal of achieving a work/life balance. Some respondents also described a sense of distance from older staff at their schools, who were seen to have different views and expectations. Gender also emerged as an issue. Respondents noted, for example, a widespread, stereotypical expectation that male teachers should run or monitor sporting events and act as sports coaches, which some felt to be too burdensome at this early phase of their teaching. A number of respondents also stressed that male teachers often have both the interest and the ability to teach young children. Some expressed uneasiness at the image of the male teacher as a potential sexual predator, evident at times amongst parents and in the media, and they wanted assurances of support from their school if they were to become the victim of accusations along these lines. Some also indicated that having more men in the profession would help with induction and mentoring of new male teachers. On other matters, the survey results suggested that induction programs for new teachers are sometimes too limited and piecemeal, or too general for a particular school context. Respondents recommended more practical material in teacher education courses. However, many practical aspects of teaching can only be learned at school level, and within the context of a particular school.
Subject HeadingsGeneration X
Primary-secondary transition: differences between teachers' and children's perceptions
Volume 14 Number 3, November 2011; Pages 268–285
The author reviews 88 studies covering the transition from primary to secondary schooling, and considers the results from the perspectives of both children and teachers. Peer relationships and social networks were a persistent theme in children's comments about the transition. Children looked forward to making new friends, but were often anxious about the prospect of bullying or teasing, and managing an unfamiliar environment. At this age peer relationships become more important but are also in flux, and tend to be disrupted by the transition experience. Problems tend to be sharper among children from disadvantaged or ethnic minority backgrounds, although experiences vary between different ethnic groups. Students' transition to secondary school may benefit from programs that set up structured interactions with other new starters, such as a Transition Club, or special times for all new students to meet. Mechanisms that build social links with same-age peers reduce the risk of bullying. Peer mentoring has been found to improve confidence and self-esteem for both parties, when students are matched by personality and interests, but is less help for academic achievement or bullying. Transition affects children's self-image and self-esteem, which in turn interacts with academic achievement. The secondary environment can highlight a student's poor achievement to themselves and to their peers; at the same time, work that is too easy can diminish students' belief in their academic potential. To sustain academic attainment, goals and self-belief, students should be urged to set academic targets for themselves. Early secondary students often underrate the contribution that their current learning makes to later academic achievement. Students, particularly high-achieving ones, should also be encouraged to sustain their metacognitive competencies in maths and science. Formative assessment can be effective as a way to build students' self-esteem. Primary and secondary schools should exchange information on students' individual learning abilities and learning plans, with secondary schools taking care not to re-teach content students have already covered at primary level. Secondaries should also seek the views of parents, siblings and neighbours, as helpful sources of knowledge about new starters.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Transitions in schooling
I know it is important but is it my responsibility? Embedding literacy strategies across the middle school curriculum
Volume 40 Number 1, February 2012; Pages 35–47
Many middle years students struggle with the literacy required in particular subject areas, as they encounter more complex texts. Internationally there is a wealth of resources on how to cover these requirements. However, the compartmentalised nature of secondary education makes it difficult to coordinate literacy instruction across subject areas, as does the widely held, traditional assumption that literacy instruction pertains only to the early primary years. Middle years students need to be taught explicitly how texts work, at the levels of word, sentence and the whole text. At word level, students need to be taught vocabulary and spelling in a systematic way, which includes the meanings and origins of words. At sentence level, students need to understand how the different functions of sentences, eg declarative or interrogative, are applied within each subject area, and similarly, how each subject area uses particular genres and text types at the whole text level. One study aiming to address this need was the Making the Links project, a one-year professional learning experience involving 49 middle years teachers and approximately 300 students in Western Australia. Participants initially completed a questionnaire to record their ideas about the role of literacy within their subject areas. This served as a starting point for discussion among the teachers. The discussion reflected the findings of earlier studies, that teachers struggle to balance content and literacy instruction in their subjects. The participating teachers were then exposed to a range of strategies for teaching literacy in their subject areas, such as how to interrogate text, summarise, and activate and link relevant prior knowledge. As the project continued, participants reported that they were including more literacy-focused components in their lessons, and they increasingly viewed literacy teaching as complementary to content instruction.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Western Australia (WA)
Leading a small remote school: in the face of a culture of acceptance
Volume 40 Number 1, February 2012; Pages 63–74
The article reports on a case study of a small remote school in Western Australia. The study is part of a wider program, the International Study of Principal Preparation (ISPP), examining issues that confront principals during their first three years in the role. The case study school catered to students within an Indigenous community, in their first seven years of schooling. The schools had 61 enrolled students. Along with the principal there were four teachers, four assistant teachers and two support staff. Evidence was obtained from case notes based on field observations and formal and informal discussions with staff, during a two-day visit. The article examines how students' learning was hindered by three aspects of the school culture and school community. The authors consider the extent to which the principal accepted or challenged each of these influences. Firstly, the principal accepted traditions of itinerancy and cultural practices that led to high levels of student absenteeism. This acceptance related to the high value that the principal placed on maintaining harmony with local community members, following a period of disharmony. Secondly, he accepted significant limitations on teaching and learning at the school. For example, mathematics was generally taught within the framework of the visual arts. All the teachers were new to the profession, albeit with experience from earlier careers. The third factor related to resources, and to living conditions in the community. The principal organised the supply of free fruit to students, but accepted that the community as a whole was chronically short of food. Community life was also subjected to other disruptions, and could, for example, be permeated by music from 'drinking parties' over several days. Leaders at such schools need support and guidance to help them undertake three key tasks: to 'make explicit the values and beliefs that underpin the existing culture', to 'ascertain whether the existing culture is to be changed or retained', and to begin reshaping elements of the culture.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
School and community
Western Australia (WA)
Rote is an essential feature of teaching and learning
Volume 11 Number 4, June 2012; Pages 6–8
Rote learning is very often seen as 'an historical hangover' no longer helpful in the era of digital information processing. In fact, learning by rote provides a foundation for learning in some subject areas. These subjects are generally seen as 'hard', precisely because they rely on prior knowledge having been absorbed in a linear, sequential manner. These subjects include mathematics and the physical sciences, but also languages, which demand steady expansion of vocabulary; physical education; and the fields of music and dance, where rote learning takes the form of steady skills practice interwoven with the development of intellectual understanding. At a policy level there is now a commitment to mastery of literacy and numeracy at primary level, but 'apparent bewilderment' about the goals that should apply at lower secondary level. During these years many students are taught the hard subjects by ill-equipped teachers. As a result, the students themselves are often ill-prepared to pursue these subjects at upper secondary level, generating complaints from universities and employers about the quality of student learning. The students who have been well prepared for senior secondary schooling have often benefited from a very supportive home environment. A further problem is the entry system for universities, which encourages students to boost their entrance scores by taking 'soft' subjects. Underachievement in hard subjects is to some extent concealed by the assessment system, which is 'almost entirely based' on comparison with peers rather than on measurement of absolute achievement. It is also concealed by a reluctance to assign a fail mark. However, telling students they have failed can spur greater effort, if accompanied by adequate supports.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Policy development and curriculum reform in music and arts education: will we ever learn?
Volume 11 Number 4, June 2012; Pages 26–28
Australian governments have launched many reviews into the school and arts curriculums. These reviews have, however, substantially replicated one another in their insights and recommendations. The issues they have raised include inadequate training of primary teachers in arts and music, and the vicious circle thus created as primary students grow up with limited knowledge of or commitment to music. Another persistent issue is the division between general music education and teaching of instrumental music, with its separate, external system of assessment. Various factors impede the implementation of reports' recommendations. One is the misalignment in the cycles of the reviews and governments: new governments do not necessarily endorse the approaches taken by their predecessors. Another issue is the need to align the approaches of the Australian Government and those of states and territories. A further obstacle is the difference of language and terminology between policy makers and government officials on one hand, and arts educators on the other. The delicacy involved in resolving some of these issues creates the temptation of referring their resolution to a fresh policy review.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Subject HeadingsArts in education
Building a school-based professional learning network
Volume 31 Number 2, May 2012; Pages 24–34
The article reports on a pilot project to create an online professional learning network at a K–12 school in NSW. The initiative was led by a teacher librarian at the school. The participants included one member of the school's senior leadership, two library staff, and teachers spanning a wide range of subject areas and years of teaching experience. The pilot was designed to allow school staff to share information outside the constraints of physical meetings, communicating at different times, as opportunity permitted. The teacher librarian also saw the pilot as an opportunity to move towards 'a more transformational learning paradigm'. The design of the pilot also allowed for the school context: significant recent change at executive level and in heads of faculty; pending implementation of iPads and other new technology; and a broad range of technological knowledge among schools staff. Facebook was selected as the platform for communication, based on its familiarity to participants, its features and functionality, the privacy available in the facebook group application, and popularity of facebook in the wider community. Planning for the pilot involved close contact with the head of the secondary school and the school's IT manager. The teacher librarian monitored the group's membership and posts, and facilitated discussion, taking care not to dominate it. The success of the group drew on some participants' existing professional and personal connections to each other, and functions such as the facebook 'Like' button. Five teachers were not active in the group, most having their own professional learning networks outside facebook. The success of the pilot has been affirmed by the principal and other school leaders, and illustrates the role that a teacher-librarian can play in 'leading from the middle'.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
eBooks and literacy in K–12 schools
Volume 29 Number 1, April 2012; Pages 40–52
Electronic books, or ebooks, are becoming more widespread and are attracting growing interest in schools. For example, budgets for boards of education in the USA are now allowing for the purchase of textbooks as e-files. While there are many forms of electronic text, the article defines ebooks as 'self-contained digital texts whose basic structure mimics traditional books' and 'are viewed on an electronic display'. They thus incorporate texts in digital form and the software and hardware used to read them. Ebooks reflect the wider rise of new technologies that impact on the nature of reading literacy, by requiring new skills such as the ability to navigate screen-based texts. The article reviews literature and the use of ebooks in the classroom, published 1990–2010. A range of issues emerge in these writings. Ebook readers often provide features with the potential to develop students' comprehension, reading fluency, vocabulary and engagement with texts. These features include options for multimodal supplements to written texts such as audio narration, animation and interactive features. They also offer pop-up word definitions, search functions, and options to alter text size. However, educators have also raised concerns over the education use of these devices. Students need to understand the technical operation of e-devices, but are hindered by the lack of a standard format and by limited inter-operability between devices. Some devices need adjustments in order to be used by students with disabilities. Over-reliance on embedded technological supports may render students passive readers, over-reliant on the support features. The absence of pagination in some ebook formats creates a challenge to citation. Students have varied preferences for print or e-text, and these differences should be allowed for. Educational sites need to establish which staff are responsible for the teaching of 'new literacies' associated with e-texts. A further issue is the continuing digital divide between access to the new technologies in the school and home environments.
Teaching and learning
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