Promoting student interest in science: the perspectives of exemplary African American teachers
Volume 49 Number 1, February 2012; Pages 124–154
Three US academics report on a small-scale project in the USA, which examined ways to encourage interest in the study of science among disadvantaged, predominantly African American primary students. The study involved eight African American science teachers taking years 3 to 6. The six female and two male teachers were all considered exemplary but varied widely in years of experience. Evidence was obtained from individual and group interviews with the teachers, and from documents, artefacts and observation of classes. The teachers were found to employ a range of strategies to cultivate students' interest in science. One was to learn about students' life outside of the classroom, to help them connect classroom activities to students' experiences. As a result they were able to make use of students' favourite games or songs, and could refer to diseases familiar to the students, such as diabetes, and treatments such as dialysis. The teachers sought out students' own ideas for classroom topics. They flagged forthcoming topics, asking but not answering questions such as how fish survive in water. Of critical importance, they took a personal interest in each student, developing their trust and self-esteem. They exposed students to fresh experiences, such as building and programming a robot. These experiences were conveyed through hands-on activities, physical or virtual trips, guest speakers, or popular magazines. They explained scientific terms such as hypothesis and conclusion, moving between formal and 'kid-friendly' language and encouraging students to do the same. When students' attention flagged they sometimes assigned them tasks or responsibilities to keep them involved. In addition to these techniques the teachers also offered students options in how to learn and be involved. One option was to introduce a science topic through songs on CDs, later supplemented with texts. Another option was hands-on activities such as assembling a model skeleton. Hands-on activity benefited students with poor reading skills and gave students a sense of autonomy and independent discovery. One teacher used a software application to generate quizzes from science content in textbooks, with students voting for the correct answer and then discussing the result. However, teachers also raised potential misunderstanding introduced by popular technology, eg the misleading nature of video games in which people are undamaged by violence. Other strategies involved group interaction with peers, involvement of the larger science community, and information about African American scientists such as Phillip Emeagwali.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
United States of America (USA)
Teaching and learning
The state of wiki usage in US K–12 schools: leveraging web 2.0 data warehouses to assess quality and equity in online learning environments
Volume 41 Number 1, January 2012; Pages 7–15
Wikis are collaborative multimedia spaces in which content can be edited by any participant. As such they are 'emblematic of web 2.0'. The authors have examined the wikis in K–12 classrooms across the USA, selecting a representative sample from a population of almost 180,000 school wikis. The researchers measured quality by tracking the 'edit histories' of each wiki, and matched variations of quality to the socio-economic variations between school populations. They found that school wikis were being used for a wide range of purposes, including homework assignments, peer review of writing, artwork, and music related to school performances. They grouped the quality of wikis into four broad categories. About 40 per cent of wikis, and 50 per cent of wikis in high-poverty schools, were 'failed': they lacked any significant student input. The only content on the sites had been generated automatically, or had been created by teachers for use by other teachers. Approximately one third of wikis were 'teacher-centred delivery devices': teachers used them to disseminate homework, resources, policy information, or teacher contact details. The proportion of wikis in this category was stable across schools' SES levels. A third group of wikis housed student portfolios or other student work. A minority of these wikis contained evidence of modest collaboration, eg students writing text comments on each other's work, or submitting separate components to a group assignment. Only one per cent of wikis were used to full web 2.0 potential as spaces for students to collaborate in depth around multimedia assignments. Schools serving higher SES communities were significantly more likely to use wikis to cultivate 21st century learning skills of complex communication and the solution of ill-structured problems. There was also some evidence of the same digital divide appearing within schools: some teachers commented to the researchers that they tended to use high-quality wikis disproportionately among high-tracked students, who tend to come from high-SES backgrounds. The authors include suggestions for further research.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
Teacher perceptions of teacher bullying
Volume 14 Number 3, November 2011; Pages 239–257
While peer bullying amongst school students has been extensively studied, less research has been undertaken on the bullying of students by teachers. A recent study investigated this topic, through a survey of 189 primary school staff in the USA. The staff were drawn from four schools within one school district, which had actively carried out anti-bullying programs over the last decade. Almost six in ten participants were general classroom teachers. The rest were a mix of subject specialist teachers, special education teachers, 'support service' teachers and psychologists. Almost nine in ten respondents were women. Almost two thirds of participants had taken part in anti-bullying programs. The participants were shown varied vignettes about the bullying of students, then surveyed on their opinions about them. Ten of the participants also took part in follow-up focus group discussions. In their responses, participants described two types of bullying perpetrated by teachers: belittling a student, and denying a student access to help or to facilities. They also described three types of peer bullying amongst students: physical attack or threat, social exclusion, and general intimidation. Participants felt significantly more accountable to address peer bullying among students than bullying of students by another teacher. In terms of teacher bullying, they treated denial-of-access bullying by a fellow teacher as significantly more serious than a teacher belittling a student. They felt significantly more accountable to deal with peers' physical attacks and threats than with peers' social exclusion of a student. Participants who felt strongly accountable to address teacher bullying were concerned that it highlighted the bullied student as different from peers, signalled acceptance of peer bullying, and might lead to longer term harm to the victim in education and personal life. A minority of participants believed that certain behaviours that constituted bullying by teachers could nevertheless be justified as a means of classroom management, or as punishment for misbehaviour. To address this type of response, the codes of conducts covering schools should explicitly deal with teacher bullying, defining inappropropriate behaviours. Participants with 11 or more years of teaching experience indicated a significantly higher sense of accountability for teacher-initiated bullying than other participants. However, no relationship was found between respondents' sense of accountability and their involvement in anti-bullying programs. Such programs tend to focus on peer bullying between students. These programs need to attend more to the nature and harmful consequences of bullying by teachers, within a whole-school approach to the prevention of bullying. Bullying by teachers may also be reduced by developing the effectiveness of teachers' classroom management.
U-Can Write: working with struggling writers
Volume 20 Number 2, June 2012; Pages 22–28
U-Can Read (UCR) is a literacy intervention program for struggling readers in years 3–10, which also aims to help students develop as writers. Three full-time literacy advisors support 120 families each year. Parents attend a 10-session course over five weeks, after which students work with their parents and a UCR staff member for up to 12 weeks to develop their reading and writing. To get started, students are encouraged to write about what is important to them, drawing on their own experiences, rather than from predetermined props. They are urged not to be held back by concerns such as spelling or the quality of their handwriting. The students meet with parents and a project staff member who each write for brief, timed intervals, then share what they have written. Students are asked to read from their work, rather than talk about or paraphrase it, to develop the belief that their writing as 'powerful enough to stand alone'. The students are also asked to enter informal freehand jottings into a private notebook. Attention to grammar, spelling and punctuation occurs only at a later stage, if the student pursues a piece of writing over an extended time: at this stage the advisers ask the student themselves to identify mistakes, as a way to make them more 'word conscious'. The students are offered techniques and ways to check their own spelling. The UCR literacy advisers also engage in 'dialogue journals' with each student, exchanging pieces of writing about the activities, books or information discussed during their meetings. UCR is jointly funded by the ACT Education and Training Directorate and the University of Canberra.
Teaching and learning
Teaching vocabulary in storybooks
Volume 15 Number 1, March 2012; Pages 18–32
Language impairment in young children often leads to reading difficulties. Educators can reduce this risk by providing these children with strong vocabulary instruction. The article considers one form of such instruction: the explicit teaching of vocabulary within storybooks, and suggests a number of strategies. One is to teach selected words explicitly: while children may learn words incidentally as a story is read, they are more likely to do if the teacher stops reading at key points to define target words. The careful selection of these words constitutes a second instructional strategy. A model developed by Beck et al recommends the selection of ‘Tier 2’ words: words often used by adults, found in stories, but probably unfamiliar to a young child. While this model offers a broad guide, teachers need to select words carefully within this category. The meaning of the words should be suggested by the story context. The words might be chosen to fit with the content of other lessons, or the curriculum more generally. Nouns might be chosen that can be illustrated by objects in the classroom, verbs that can enacted by the teacher or the students. For young children with language impairment it may be necessary to select some words already familiar to most of their peers. Only two to three words should be selected per lesson, to limit interruptions to the reading. Educators should also teach for depth of understanding: children should learn to articulate the target word, and connect it to multiple contexts outside the story, some of them in the child’s own life. The children should be actively engaged in the learning process, eg by repeating the word back to the teachers, or responding non-verbally, eg via gestures or cards. Children with language impairment may take part in choral responses to the teacher, along with mainstream peers. Extensive practice is also needed: the story should be read two to four times to the class. Additional vocabulary targets might be selected for individual children or small groups of students in the class.
Early childhood education
Issues in the assessment of spelling
Volume 20 Number 2, June 2012; Pages 29–33
The author considers the drawbacks found in common forms of spelling assessment, and then examines ways in which students learn from the results of spelling tests. Common ways to assess spelling have a number of limitations. In effect, the dictated word list tests working memory and words that can be learnt by rote. Spelling learnt in this way tends not to be recalled later, or transferred to general reading. Marking spelling of a word simply as right or wrong does not allow for gradations of learning – for example, a misspelt word may be correct in terms of phonetics, or in terms of the base version of the word – and does not help to diagnose different types of mistakes. Lists that are not based on a rule or pattern may overwhelm students cognitively. Lists based on infrequently used words require additional instruction about their orthographical patterns. Dictated words may be misheard or mispronounced. Undifferentiated instruction may frustrate the lowest and highest achievers. Common alternatives to the dictated word list also present problems. For example, if students have to read supporting sentences, they may struggle with the cognitive load, and, if they are slow readers, they may not complete the test. They may also misread supporting text and therefore supply the wrong target word. Students' test results may be used to help students develop their spelling knowledge, although again there are pitfalls to be avoided. Summative tests need to pitched to students' age and ability levels. To allow for gradations of accuracy in students' responses, each item should be graded. Summative assessments should take place after a suitable time interval from the initial learning, so that students cannot rely on working memory for their answers. Formative assessment works well when tested words are grouped according to particular spelling rules, letter patterns or skills. Students should be encouraged to correct their own spelling, using further resources such as dictionaries. Students should also be shown ways to monitor their own spelling.
Assessment for learning (formative assessment)
Toward a more nuanced understanding of new teacher attrition
Volume 43 Number 5, September 2011; Pages 598–626
Researchers in the USA have examined beginning teacher attrition from the profession and from individual schools. A review of existing research literature shows that new teachers who enter the profession while young are more likely to depart than older peers. However, several studies have found that this pattern holds only for young female teachers, and that young males are in fact slightly more likely to remain than older teachers. Female teachers in general are more likely to leave than males, although this gap has narrowed over the last few decades. No clear pattern emerged to differentiate teachers with and without advanced degrees. Attrition tends to be higher among teachers who begin their careers teaching low-SES, ethnic minority or low-performing students. Attrition rates from the profession are also affected by working conditions, including administrative support, the degree of influence teachers have over their environments, relations with other teachers, and student behaviour. At the level of the individual school, attrition rates for males are slightly higher than those for females. Teachers with higher-than-average value-added scores are less likely than others to leave individual schools, or the profession. Following their literature review, the authors report on a study tracking cohorts of new teachers in Illinois public schools, 1971 to 2006. They found that attrition rates have declined markedly between the 1970s and recent years. During the 1970s about 40 per cent of teachers left the profession and have not returned; for the period 1987–2001 the figure is only 28 per cent. In terms of school-level results, Illinois teachers from low-SES schools were only slightly more likely to leave than those in wealthy areas. Attrition rates among teachers in rural schools were significantly higher than among teachers in low-SES schools. However, the variation in the attrition rate between different types of school was not as significant as the variation in the rate of attrition within each type of school. In each category, at least 10 per cent of schools retained half or more of their beginning teachers, and another 10 per cent in each category retained 'very few, if any' of their new teachers. The findings suggest that policymakers and education system leaders should treat attrition of new teachers from schools as primarily a school-level problem.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
United States of America (USA)
Children's play: where we have been and where we could go
Volume 33 Number 4, December 2011; Pages 281–297
The article describes issues surrounding research into children's play, and ways to measure the success of play-related interventions for children with disabilities. Research into play has fallen into two categories. The behavioural perspective focuses on what children do, and how to change it in productive, functional ways. The constructivist perspective attempts to analyse and understand the nature of play, including its cognitive features and developmental stages. The focus of the article is on children's play with objects, and their spontaneous activities involving these objects. This focus excludes elements commonly associated with play, such as pretence, emotional impact and the involvement of caregivers. For children with disabilities, play supports the acquisition of new skills. Play helps children with disabilities to maintain and generalise new skills, given that it is inherently flexible and takes place in varied settings. Play helps to develop empathy and social communication; for example, by helping children learn to resolve conflicts. Play increases the likelihood of social inclusion, and therefore facilitates the inclusion of these children in mainstream preschools and early primary classrooms. Recent research also links play to the development of reading skills and self-regulation. However, research also suggests the need for systematic interventions to develop the play-related skills of children with disabilities. Interventions may involve modelling and prompting via teachers or video. The article also considers future directions in play-based research.
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