Getting lost in translation? An analysis of the international engagement of practitioners and policymakers with the educational effectiveness research base
Volume 33 Number 1, February 2013; Pages 3–19
Educational effectiveness research (EER) has provided reliable evidence about the qualities of effective schools and teaching practices. It has also provided robust evidence as to how educational outcomes improve at school and teacher level. However, many schools and systems do not yet use this knowledge base and some persist with approaches revealed as unsuitable by research evidence. School effectiveness research (SER), a form of EER, has distinctive features that have impeded practitioner take-up. One is that teachers are less likely to respond to evidence focused on the school level, rather than on teaching methods and classroom practices. Another obstacle is the lack of 'over-arching theories' that draw together diverse findings of individual studies. Evidence also tends to be presented as reviews of past practices rather than forward-looking statements of the kind being produced by commercial reports from companies such as McKinsey. The credibility of school effectiveness research has been further eroded by marketers who have 'sold substandard and ineffectual' reform packages via one-day workshops. Teacher effectiveness research (TER) has generated other issues, in relation to either initial teacher education or continuing professional development (CPD). One issue is the widespread perception that research focuses on basic skills rather than higher-order thinking. Another is the heavily statistical nature of the research, which is challenging to use. Once again, its impact has been held back by the lack of accessible research summaries. There are, however, examples of successful programs that have drawn on TER, such as the Teacher Effectiveness Enhancement Programme (TEEP). Teachers are more likely to engage with research evidence if it offers them opportunities to extend their professional learning and expertise, eg through higher-degree programs and formal CPD. School/system improvement research (SSIR) has evolved through several overlapping phases. From an initial focus on specific school interventions and a focus on school culture, it proceeded to focus on teacher action research, school self-review, a focus on disadvantaged students, supported, in Australia and the USA, by government funding. From there it embraced the themes of leadership to develop organisational capacity, and went on to explore the cultivation of relationships between schools, and wider organisational capacity building. The engagement of policymakers with education research is held back by different contexts of the two communities. In contrast to the research community, policymakers are primarily concerned with short-term time frames and quick solutions; popular solutions; and generic rather than contextualised solutions. The gap between policymakers and researchers is increasingly being bridged by intermediaries such as think tanks and research clearing houses, but this raises the danger that 'findings may get distorted in the process or filtered in ways that do not reflect the original findings'. To encourage the take-up of research by practitioners and policymakers it is important to generate research that simultaneously covers the system, school and classroom levels and is relevant to the multiple goals of both parties. It is also important to distil results into 'more digestible form', with clear, compelling, forward-looking summaries.
Subject HeadingsTeacher evaluation
Revisiting historical literacy: towards a disciplinary pedagogy
Volume 21 Number 1, February 2013; Pages 15–24
School history is stereotyped as a boring, dry subject. Yet it has also been the topic of intense public debate, given its perceived role in shaping the values and beliefs of future adult citizens. The tendency toward tedium in school history results from the inappropriate use of textbooks, factual monologues and repetition of topics. These problems are 'symptomatic of content-oriented approaches to the school subject'. The content of the subject is also the focus of the political debates surrounding it; these debates fuel the tendency to expect teachers to cover more content than can be taught well, which in turn exacerbates the tendency toward student boredom and disengagement. An alternative is to return to the foundations of the discipline, such as investigation, contested interpretation and the drawing of connections between the past and present. However, the Australian Curriculum: History (ACH) guides teachers towards coverage of content rather than inquiry. While the rationale for the subject notes the distinctive methodologies of the discipline, the progression of learning specified in the ACH is content-focused. The author offers an alternative approach that integrates inquiry and historical knowledge. It is advanced through a focus on historical literacy, on historical consciousness and on thinking historically. Historical literacy is one of a set of literacies specific to particular subject areas, but it aligns well with more general critical literacy perspectives, with its recognition of multiple interpretations of events and the importance it attaches to culture and context. To think historically, students require a set of abilities that include the capacity to establish historical significance, use primary source material, analyse cause and effect, and adopt historical perspectives. Historical thinking is discussed in terms of the special and generic forms of procedural and substantive knowledge. The author offers two examples of how this approach may be adopted in the classroom. The first relates to the use of technology. ICT gives teachers alternatives to the textbook, facilitating access to primary source material online. The article refers to a conceptual model for analysing internet material. The second example refers to a sequence of lessons developed by researchers, designed to help students to 'read like a historian', including sources of background knowledge, with the language modified to make them more accessible to students.
Teaching and learning
Inquiry based learning
The shaping and reshaping of citizenship education in Australia
Volume 33 Number 1, 2013; Pages 79–82
The draft Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship paper has 'done a brilliant job' in putting forward directions for the Civics and Citizenship curriculum. The paper captures current social, ethnic and political concerns in Australia. It also reflects the goal of developing citizens able to make informed, active contributions to society. In addition it acknowledges the fact that citizenship is a fluid concept, which must be contextualised for particular times and places and for personal and social factors. The paper recognises not only local, national and global contexts, but also Australia's regional context: the Rationale section mentions Asia explicitly, and calls for students to be able to 'explore and appreciate different approaches to civics and citizenship' in Asian nations. The section Learners and Learning F–12 sets out a comprehensive picture of the learning stages of citizenship. Describing the school years as 'a period of empowerment for, and transition to, adult citizenship', it sets out expectations that students will apply independent judgement, critical thinking, and skills in collaboration, and will have an understanding of democratic institutions. While these qualities of the paper are significant achievements, some issues require additional development in the Civics and Citizenship curriculum. The definitions of civics and citizenship require further elaboration. The curriculum should include or extend reference to the values of 'doing your best', 'trustworthiness', 'integrity' and 'responsibility', in line with earlier documentation. The paper's coverage of individual citizenship should be complemented by more extensive coverage of societal citizenship, mentioning the concept of civil society and the civic experience of students in the classroom, including the ability of students to establish their own bodies and organise their own activities. While the paper recognises the need for students to develop critical skills, the curriculum should also point to how students can apply these skills to actions designed to improve society.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
The link between preschoolers' phonological awareness and book-reading and reminiscing practices in low-income families
Volume 44 Number 4, December 2012; Pages 426–447
Phonological awareness refers to 'the ability to recognize and manipulate discrete sound units from which words are constructed'. It develops in stages during the preschool years and is a condition for the ability to read in the school years. A US study has investigated the extent to which phonological awareness is linked to two practices: mothers reading to their children, and mothers asking their children to reminisce about past events. Both practices were deemed likely to encourage 'quality conversations' involving complex sentences, frequent questions, and talk about language itself, all of which are characteristic of school literacy. The study involved 54 mother-child pairs (26 girls and 28 boys) in a socially disadvantaged and ethnically diverse area of central Massachusetts. All of the participating mothers felt comfortable talking to their children in English. The study controlled for children's vocabulary knowledge. The book read to children was Just Shopping With Mom, which was not a rhyming book or one that encouraged extensive play with language. For the reminiscence activity the mother asked the child to talk about a past event at which the mother was not present. The quality of the mothers' book reading and the reminiscence activity were measured by the extent to which she asked open-ended questions that encouraged the child to elaborate on a topic in the book, or the remembered event. Mothers were also asked to estimate how often they read to their child in a typical week. The study found that neither the frequency nor quality of book reading related to children's phonological awareness once results controlled for the child's vocabulary awareness and phonological skills at the commencement of the study. On other hand, a positive relationship was found between phonological awareness and the quality of the reminiscing activity. One possible explanation for the findings is the complexity of language needed to describe past events: it requires change of syntax, diverse verb forms, and speakers' perspectives. These challenges are likely to stimulate higher-order thinking which is in turn associated with phonological awareness. It is also possible that mothers engaged in high-quality reminiscence activity were improving their children's phonological awareness in other contexts not captured by the study.
Subject HeadingsParent and child
United States of America (USA)
Training to teach physical education in an opposite-sex secondary school: a qualitative analysis of trainee teachers' experiences
Volume 18 Number 3, October 2012; Pages 346–360
The historical development of school physical education (PE) has been heavily gendered. In England, training for PE teachers traditionally took place at sex-segregated colleges, with different programs such as army drill for boys and callisthenics for girls. This has been reflected in secondary schools where sex-specific activities, such as different games for boys and girls, differ in philosophy and teaching methods. This is particularly so in single-sex schools. In the past decade these divisions have been reinforced by 'consumer-conscious' school governors and parents influenced by 'cultural nostalgia'. As a result of such issues, it may be considered 'professional suicide' for a secondary PE teacher to take the subject at an opposite-sex school. Recent research has investigated this issue through a study of the experiences of three preservice teachers – two females and one male – at opposite-sex schools, during 15 weeks of school placement. The trainees were all aged 21–25 and had each completed one previous placement in the third year of their courses, at mixed-sex schools. Evidence was obtained from online diaries completed by the three participants, documenting their day-to-day experiences. They were asked to document 'critical incidents' as they arose, and explain their significance. All three participants indicated that they had experienced a number of 'compromising personal dilemmas'. One was change-room supervision. For each of them the problem was overcome through help of support staff. Physical contact with students was an issue for the male teacher, but this problem was reduced by his second role as form tutor, which allowed him to provide pastoral support without the need for any physical contact. The issue of physical contact with students can also be resolved by providing activities that do not require such contact, or by having another staff member present during any contact incident. Classroom management and discipline were considered potential issues for the two female teachers, but both felt able to deal with them through suitable pedagogy and behavioural strategies. The need to teach unfamiliar games was a third problem, particularly given the short time frame; each participant reported having to 'work hard' to gain students' respect in this area. The three participants all enjoyed the benefit of supportive opposite-sex mentors. However, they also spoke of the need for a teacher to have the personal resolve to address challenging situations. All mentioned the benefits of this demanding situation for their own professional development.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsMale teachers
Experiences and identities: preservice elementary classroom teachers being and becoming teachers of physical education
Volume 18 Number 3, October 2012; Pages 380–395
Preservice primary classroom teachers often have difficulty taking physical education (PE) classes, even while most of them accept the educational value of the subject. A researcher has examined case studies of two preservice primary classroom teachers in the USA to explore their emerging identities as teachers of physical education. Evidence was obtained from three interviews with each participant, before and during their teacher education program, and after the second of their two field placements. Both participants had had negative experiences of PE during their own schooling and described those experiences in emotive language. Natasha, in her early 20s, had undertaken no teacher coursework related to health or movement. She described herself as a 'thinking' rather than an 'athletic' person. She felt that during her school years PE lessons made her feel that her body was fat and that this had hindered her performance during lessons. She initially expected that she would have to teach PE as it had been taught to her. Following her teacher education course she felt she would be able to provide more positive messages to her own future students, with regard to their skill development and teamwork. She approved of the way that she was allowed to develop her own learning goals for future school students during her course. She became more comfortable with her body in the context of PE, as she saw other preservice teachers facing similar issues. Julia was in her late 30s and had worked for over 20 years as a dance instructor. While seeing herself as a 'physical person' she had been demoralised by the competitiveness of school sports and by her poor performance with ball sports. The dance environment had improved her self-confidence but had also made her very sensitive to others' judgements of her body when publicly displayed. She felt that her teacher education course had equipped her to take fun activities with students but not to develop their social or cognitive skills. Both Natasha and Julia felt dissatisfied with their PE placement activities. In Natasha's case this was because she was not allowed to take classes herself, which continued to be taken by school staff members. Julia, on the other hand, was able to take classes but felt that she had not received quality feedback from her supervising teacher. The case studies point to the importance of the teacher education course as an opportunity for preservice teachers to revise their self-image in relation to PE and to empower them to provide positive experiences for their future students. The case studies also highlight the importance of giving preservice teachers direct experience of teaching PE during practicum, under quality supervision.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Creativity in the primary science classroom
Volume 30 Number 2, 2013; Pages 6–10
The Australian Curriculum calls for all young people to become ‘confident and creative individuals'; creativity is recognised in the curriculum as a general capability. Creativity refers to the development of ‘new, useful and original ideas and products’. While partially innate it can also be taught and strengthened through practice. Cultivating children’s creativity is a key way to prepare them for an unpredictable future. There are several levels of creativity. Creativity can be expressed as eminent accomplishments but can also take the form of everyday improvisations undertaken while solving a problem. There is also an even more basic, ‘mini-c’ creativity: initial creative interpretations only within small groups of students or even within one student’s mind, which may nevertheless seed later hypotheses or inventions. It is important for teachers to nurture these simpler forms of creativity. To facilitate creativity teachers need to model it themselves and develop students’ sense of their own creative capacities. Basic techniques to cultivate it include encouraging students to question assumptions; define and redefine problems; and generate and cross-fertilise ideas. Teachers should allow time for creative thinking, and reward creative ideas and products. Creativity should also be assessed. The atmosphere in the classroom should encourage sensible risk, tolerate ambiguity, and accept mistakes. At a more complex level students should be encouraged to take responsibility, self-regulate, and accept delayed gratification. Other ways to encourage creativity include using the profiles of creative people, encourage creative collaborations, and the imagining of alternative viewpoints.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Primary science. A paradigm approach
Volume 30 Number 2, 2013; Pages 11–14
Primary science aims to help students adjust their ideas to make better sense of the world, preparing the way for scientific literacy. This means encouraging young primary students to confront and move beyond initial assumptions, eg the notion that all orange things float because orange floatation aids in a swimming pool do so, or the notion that clouds are the source of the sky’s light. Primary science also helps students learn to work scientifically: after the 'guesswork' during which ideas are created comes all the ‘check work’ such as using equipment, communicating results, thinking how to collect required evidence and establishing its credibility to others. As teachers try to achieve these aims they should consider the teaching styles they use. A ‘process approach’ involves children in activities in which they apply the concepts and generalisations they have been exposed to. Through an ‘interactive’ approach the teacher works alongside the student to co-construct learning. The 'transmission' approach places the student as the recipient of instruction from the teacher, a 'passive container'. A 'discovery' approach engages the students in learning through discovery, usually the aims of promoting deep learning, metacognitive skills such as problem-solving, and student engagement.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Teaching and learning
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