Enhancing educational performance for remote Aboriginal Australians: what is the impact of attendance on performance?
Volume 40 Number 1, February 2012; Pages 19–34
The author discusses a range of factors blocking improvement to the learning of Australian Aboriginal students, based on her experiences in two remote areas: the Kimberley region in the north of Western Australia, and the Central Desert area of the Northern Territory. One obstacle is teacher turnover and the effect of stressful conditions on both teachers and principals. Most teachers in these locations are beginning their careers and many leave their remote school in three to six months. Problems include isolation, loneliness and lack of social activities, particularly for women. Research suggests that they work there to secure teaching work and leave as soon as possible. Principals are usually also inexperienced but burdened with a range of social and practical responsibilities for the community, and with the need to manage relations between school staff and the local community. Another key issue is attendance, which not only affects student learning but also school funding. Low attendance is a severe problem; some of the attendance is of limited duration and some students have a very limited commitment to school activities. The issue of school attendance does not attract the same sense of obligation as it does in mainstream culture, despite support for the concept from many elders. Attendance declines in later years of schooling. There may be times when the entire student cohort is absent. Low and fluctuating attendance is often deeply demoralising to teachers. Low attendance intersects with another problem, the disjuncture between Aboriginal culture and standard cultural practices of Western schooling. Students, sometimes in large groups, are away for extended periods due to obligations around funerals for extended family members, which may be at distant locations. Sporting events may also take students and their families away for extended periods. Cultural tradition encourages independence at any early age, so the community may deem teenage boys able to decide on attendance for themselves. Culture also separates males and females so that students will only accept a teacher of their own gender. A lack of knowledge or skills can produce feelings of shame in the student, leading them to exit the classroom at once. Tradition has it that as long as one person in the group knows a particular fact or skill, others in the group do not need to. In relation to the curriculum, there is a tension between the goal of making the curriculum relevant to the lives of Aboriginal students, and the goal of promoting school learning for employment and mainstream social participation. A number of Aboriginal activists argue that school attendance is the central issue. One approach to raising attendance has been to collect students before school, provide meals, or tie attendance to valued activities such as sports events. However, many Aboriginal activists argue that such measures encourage a dependency mentality and do not encourage families and communities to take responsibility for the issue. They call instead for local Aboriginal communities themselves to play the central role in ensuring school attendance.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Social life and customs
Volume 49 Number 6, December 2012; Pages 1008–1047
A study in New York City has investigated the effectiveness of different pathways for preparing mathematics teachers. The study focused in particular on the effectiveness of an alternative certification program that had a maths immersion (MI) component, contrasting it to both traditional teacher education and the Teach for America (TFA) program. The alternative certification was part of the New York City Teaching Fellows (NYCTF) program which began in the early 2000s. The program admitted candidates who had not completed a mathematics major in their tertiary studies, if they could demonstrate proficiency in a maths-related course such as science or economics, or had maths-related work experience. The NYCTF-MI was, like the TFA, an intensive preparation program running over six to eight weeks. The study compared the NYCTF-MI teachers to other maths teachers, in terms of their qualifications, the academic success of their students, and their retention rates in the profession. Evidence was obtained from administrative data; from information about the teacher preparation programs, obtained from relevant documents and from interviews with teacher education administrators; and from a survey of first-year New York City teachers. The survey covered preparation experiences, mentoring, and teacher's own teaching methods and aims. There was a separate section for maths teachers. Completed responses were received from 603 maths teachers. Results were controlled for school context and personal characteristics. Overall, the academic qualifications of MI teachers were found to be stronger than those of traditional graduates but weaker than those of the TFA teachers. In terms of students' academic results, the MI teachers produced slightly smaller gains than those achieved by traditionally qualified teachers, although the difference was not statistically significant. The gains MI teachers produced were significantly below those of TFA teachers. However, the strong performance of TFA teachers reflects the care with which teacher candidates in that program are initially selected: the program has 'invested heavily in the recruitment and selection of its Corp members'. The retention rates of MI teachers were lower than those of traditionally qualified teachers but well above those of TFA teachers. Allowing for the impact of attrition, the traditional pathway 'develops a small advantage' relative to MI and is more or less equivalent to TFA. However, there were notable variations in the effectiveness of teachers produced by each of these pathways, so policy makers are well advised to focus not on the pathways themselves, but rather on the ways that each pathway is most successfully implemented in particular settings.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
United States of America (USA)
What counts as comprehension in teacher practice
Volume 20 Number 3, October 2012; Pages 18–27
An action research project in south-west Sydney has investigated ways to improve student comprehension at middle school level. The project examined what teachers and students understand by comprehension within specific disciplinary areas, and what teachers need to learn to improve student comprehension. The project was based at an independent school, covering students from Transition (pre kindergarten) to year 12. At the school, subject specialists take years 5 and 6, and during the middle school years students keep the same teachers for core subjects. The study involved students and teachers at years 5, 7 and 9. The teachers regularly met with members of the research team to 'reflect on unfolding experiences' and analyse student work samples, seminars and teachers' own reflections. The researchers led professional learning sessions on comprehension for teacher participants. Teachers raised several issues with regard to the nature of comprehension, particularly outside of the English subject area. Many teachers were concerned that the incorporation of literacy work in classes would be at the expense of content-related teaching; future professional learning will attempt to address this issue. Teachers also wanted to be clearer about the levels of language and literacy that their students were expected to reach. There was some confusion about the difference between skills and strategies. Skills are not dependent on any particular context, can be acquired through clearly defined steps and standard procedures, and then applied to varied contexts. Strategies, on the other hand, depend heavily on context at all stages. Professional learning for the teachers covered various strategies, adapted by subject area, to promote students' use of inference, activation of their prior knowledge, vocabulary development, and questioning. Future work will consider comprehension as it relates to the literacy elements of the general capabilities within the Australian Curriculum.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
Challenges to establishing school-scientist partnerships in the 21st century: case studies from New Zealand
May 2012; Pages 135–149 Conference Proceedings (A)
In school-scientist partnerships (SSPs), scientists help students to learn the content and processes of science, usually through hands-on, community-based projects, in collaboration with classroom teachers. Successful examples include Global Forest Watch and the US-based Project GREEN. The article discusses findings from partnerships between the Scion science research institute and two primary schools in New Zealand: one semi-rural with 128 students, the other urban with 650 students. The partnerships ran over 12 weeks in 2009, each involving an upper primary class. Both focused on environmental sustainability and involved care of unused or neglected land. In each case two or three scientists worked in classrooms for up to four hours a week. Evidence was obtained from analysis of documents; interviews with teachers, principals, school management, and scientists; field notes; and audio records of planning meetings. Various issues emerged. The projects confirmed the value of partnerships that integrate seamlessly into schools' curriculum arrangements. The school principal needs to be supportive, but should give project leaders enough leeway on planning and implementation to keep the project work flowing. Scientists need to provide clear indications about the nature of the support they can provide. Equipment provided to schools should be in working condition, in a form compatible with school technological infrastructure. Scientists should be aware of the limits to teachers' scientific knowledge and confidence to teach science. Scientists need to help teachers deepen their basic scientific knowledge to the points where they can teach the content independently of the scientists. Given the potential for confusion and uncertainty about each partner's roles and responsibilities, it may be useful to introduce partnerships in formal, structured stages. More generally, the notion of a mutually beneficial partnership is problematic, since there is little that school students can do to assist scientists in their work. The most effective form of SSP is likely to be a long term one, sustained by support from a large corporation or a government.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
16 December 2012
It is widely assumed that extending the years of compulsory schooling 'must be good for everyone' since it is advocated as a means to reduce poverty and economic inequality. This thinking has underpinned moves to raise the school leaving age in NSW, where it is accompanied by a demand that students who leave school before the age of 17 undertake more than 25 hours of work or training each week. The author has been researching the impact of these measures for schools, teachers, parents and students in south-western Sydney, a low-SES region, with high ethnic diversity. However, evidence from the research has led her to a number of 'heretical' conclusions. The first is that staying on longer 'is not necessarily better for students'. The aims of providing more diverse curriculums and pathways are held back by low student numbers at many schools, which affect the subject range a school can offer, while low levels of social and cultural capital limit work experience options and career pathways. More generally the quality of what schools can offer in the senior secondary years is reduced by 'policies such as school choice, funding disparities and league tables'. The author's second heresy is to challenge the inherent value of parental choice. In reality, many parents lack the backgrounds or social networks to make sense of labour market trends, and thus determine what they should look for in a school. The policy of raising the compulsory school leaving age is informed by a conception that schools can work with local communities and organisations to provide 'ladders of opportunity' for students – the third heresy is to challenge this belief: in fact, communities only provide limited openings for work experience, while poor public transport infrastructure limits students' ability to attend alternative education, training or work experience. Also, if a student attends TAFE their school loses funding. The fourth and fifth heresies are to draw attention to the politics surrounding issues such as specialist schools and selective streams within schools, and to the ongoing influence of class inequality in education. Better infrastructure is required to provide 'conduits between schools, case workers, businesses and TAFE'. It should include flexible forms of transport such as minibuses to make up for limited public transport. Schools should not be financially penalised when a student takes up a TAFE subject.
Subject HeadingsTransitions in schooling
New South Wales (NSW)
Reclaiming the territory: understanding the specialist knowledge of ESL education for literacy, curriculum, and multilingual learners
Volume 22 Number 1, June 2012; Pages 4–17
Students from non-English language backgrounds learn English and their first language simultaneously, through intimately connected processes. Their first language is a rich resource, and it is useful for students' overall language development to draw upon it during their schooling. There are various ways to do so. They could be asked to write stories in their first language and then discuss it with peers in English; they might be paired with students who have the same language background but who differ in their English fluency. They could be set carefully designed pedagogic tasks that require them to use bilingual dictionaries or get help from other family members. They might be offered novels or content-area texts in their first language. They might also be called on to translate at school, as a way to both improve their language learning and build pride in their multilingualism. However, current policy does not encourage such measures. It tends to conflate the English language learning needs of these bilingual students with the quite distinct needs of struggling native English language learners. A non-English language background is, by implication, presented as a problem, alongside problems such as disability or socio-economic disadvantage. They are all assessed under the same type of learning benchmarks. This conflation is associated with the shift in policy focus from language to literacy, which is understood only as English literacy. Literacy itself 'has been operationalised in a way that allows it to be easily tested and measured' as an inventory of skills. Teachers of English as a Second Language need to reclaim lost territory, asserting the distinct identity and needs of their learning area. This also means intervening in debates within mainstream English language teaching. The article includes a review of policies affecting literacy education in Australia over the last 15 years.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsEnglish as an additional language
English language teaching
Language and languages
Languages other than English (LOTE)
Intergenerational and intercultural language encounters
Volume 16 Number 1, July 2012; Pages 32–33
A Monash University program is linking school students with senior citizens from diverse cultural and language backgrounds. The program provides a way to develop the students' language learning and intercultural understanding while also fostering active and positive roles for older people from ethnic-minority backgrounds. It challenges stereotypes and helps bridge gaps between age groups. Participants meet fortnightly for one-hour conversations, covering cultural topics such as family life and food, past and present. The program is managed by a cross-disciplinary team. The framework for the program was established by principals and language teachers from three schools, covering two school sectors and three language groups. The team administering the program observed significant improvements in the enthusiasm, conversational skills and language proficiency of participating students. Some students chose to make the project part of their formal VCE assessment and achieved excellent academic grades in 2011. There are a growing number of Chinese participants, who have set up an independent association, catering to approximately 100 student-senior pairs in 2012. The research team encourages similar initiatives elsewhere, offering a kit with suggested guidelines, and invites expressions of interest.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsEthnic groups
Difference Differently – a free online diversity education resource aligned with the Australian Curriculum
Volume 10 Number 3, 2012; Pages 3–10
Difference Differently is a free online resource for schools, designed to promote 'diversity competence'. It offers teachers and students a thoughtful and flexible way to manage their relationships with people from different cultural backgrounds. Aligned to the Australian Curriculum, Difference Differently provides 14 online modules in English, history, geography and civics and citizenship for years 3–10, includes 'videos, online forums, quizzes and interactive learning activities', and offers three professional learning modules for teachers. Students learn to see the world from others' point of view through personal stories or through creative tasks. The program encourages the notions that there are 'multiple ways of seeing' and that all viewpoints, even the most familiar and unquestioned, are culturally constructed. Students consider the physical stress when someone is immersed in an unfamiliar cultural environment or has to deal closely with someone of a different background, and consider how such stresses would affect their own behaviour, and the signals they send out to others. Students also consider the value of suspending judgments of others; accepting that there is much they don't know of other cultures; accepting that qualities such as respect may take unfamiliar forms in other cultures; and accepting a certain level of confusion about all these things when they are dealing with people from other cultures. Diversity presents a number of challenges. For example, people can develop negative impressions of a particular community, based on media reports or anecdote, if the antisocial behaviour of a small minority is generalised to all members of that community. Some people believe that the policy of multiculturalism has held back social integration by working to preserve subcultures. At the level of schooling, discussion of diversity may be seen as 'opening a can of worms', particularly in monocultural communities where the relevance of diversity learning may not be immediately apparent. However, while such programs may create tensions within the school staff, or between staff, parents and students, today's students need to be prepared for a world in which they will live and work with people of many cultural backgrounds.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
Social life and customs
Dealing with ebooks
Spring 2012; Pages 4–7
The author offers recommendations for the management of ebooks in the school library, based on his experiences at the library at Bialik College. A library should be able to offer users a single search across its print and e-resources, and the capacity to 'click straight through to the content' whether they are based onsite or at home and whether they are using a PC, tablet or smart phone. The library should draw on more than one publisher and supplier of ebooks, which raises the need for interoperability. The best way to ensure interoperability is to work within international standards and link all ebooks to the school catalogue. The ebook publishers and aggregators should be able to supply the library with free MARC records for their ebooks, 'with the 856 field prepopulated with a direct and persistent URL to the actual content'. Large vendors may use the DOI (Digital Object Identifier system) which can be used to create 'persistent stable links to chapters and sections'. Vendors should be able to offer persistent URLs. Vendors should also offer the ability 'to export citations (with stable links)' via commercial providers of reference management software. Users should be able to discover ebooks not only from their titles but also from an ebook's internal content. Library staff may wish to ask vendors whether the text is fully searchable by key word, and whether non-text elements are also searchable. Vendors should also be asked whether author subject and citation details are hyperlinked within the text. Ebooks should be 'platform neutral', accessible via a range of devices and operating systems, consistent with global trends. The article discusses the impact of HTML5 in this context. To record and report on usage, librarians may wish to work within the internationally recognised standards Project Counter and SUSHI. Librarians need to understand purchase models, including the licence terms and conditions that govern borrowing. The article also discusses cloud-based solutions to ebook collections, terminology and developing a selection methodology, and notes that the Library Journal conducts an annual survey of ebooks.
Subject HeadingsInformation services
There are no Conferences available in this issue.