Volume 83 Number 2, June 2013; Pages 163–195
For some students, reading difficulties persist into the upper primary years. Difficulties may even intensify, as schools reduce the level of instruction they provide in how to read, contributing to the 'fourth-grade slump'. The authors report on a synthesis of 19 studies published 1995-2011, examining interventions for students whose reading difficulties have persisted in years 4–12. The article complements an earlier study covering the K–3 years. Ten of the studies met criteria for a meta-analysis; findings from the other nine studies were subsequently compared to these results. The meta-analysis found 'a small effect for extensive interventions on reading comprehension, reading fluency, word reading, word reading fluency, and spelling outcomes'. The quality of data in the meta-analysis 'was high, increasing confidence in the results'. Findings therefore suggest that extensive interventions produce small but definite improvements for struggling readers across these year levels. However, the most rigorous studies were also the ones indicating the most modest results from interventions. The meta-analysis also found that shorter interventions appeared to produce greater reading improvements than longer ones, perhaps reflecting the stimulating effect of an intervention's initial novelty, which is lost as time goes on. There was little difference in the interventions’ effectiveness across 'reading fluency, word reading, word reading fluency, and spelling'. The effectiveness of the interventions did not appear to be influenced by the number of hours involved, or the year level of the students. Nor was it influenced by the size of student groups: perhaps the size of the smaller groups had not been reduced sufficiently to have an impact; perhaps the teachers involved had not sufficiently differentiated instruction so as to make use of a smaller class size. Overall, the modest effects of even sustained interventions may reflect the depth of the problems faced by struggling readers after grade 3. It may also indicate that results of K–3 interventions have been artificially inflated by false positives: students whose reading improvement was credited to an intervention, when it would have occurred anyway.
Subject HeadingsReading comprehension
Volume 50 Number 3, 2013; Pages 10–13
Victoria is 'in the process of coming to terms with a new curriculum, known as AusVELS, based on the new Australian Curriculum'. The change from Victoria’s earlier VELS curriculum 'is smaller than a similar change in most other states'. However, one clear difference in the mathematics curriculum is the pairing of number with algebra, geometry with measurement, and statistics with probability. The AusVELS mathematics curriculum also situates certain topics at different year levels than was the case in VELS, and adds more content on some topics, such as financial maths. The Working Mathematically strand in VELS has been replaced by four 'all-pervasive' proficiency strands, which 'define the core of what mathematics teaching is about'. The proficiency of Understanding underpins skill development in all areas. Understanding cannot be developed by practice alone, which leads only to rote learning; useful in some contexts, rote learning does not provide foundations for future learning in mathematics. Fluency involves the swift and reliable recall of earlier learning, as well as a ready grasp of procedures and when to apply them. Problem solving involves pulling together skills and knowledge to solve realistic problems; these problems go beyond mere exercises. Care is needed to set problems at the right level of challenge for students. Problem solving is best done in pairs or small groups. Reasoning involves the ability to provide a satisfactory case as to why something is true. One major change is the addition of extension topics in all content strands within level 10A, which will require schools to consider how best to differentiate content for more advanced students. This relates to the more general need to allow for uneven academic development between students. One way to address this problem is to set interesting mathematical problems to mixed-ability groups of students. This encourages initiative, leadership and teamwork, and provides opportunities for struggling students to learn from more advanced peers. Such problems may be obtained from resources such as Maths300 and RIME. A second, complementary, approach is to group students at the same level of development, who can all respond to the same level of challenge. The article also describes a learning package available to members of the Mathematics Association of Victoria.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Sustainability education: slow growing
August 2013; Pages 25–27
Education for sustainability (EfS) is one of the cross-curriculum priorities of the Australian Curriculum. Research has commenced on a project to examine the take-up of sustainability education amongst Australian schools. The study is funded by the Australian Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations and managed by the Australian Conservation Foundation on behalf of the Australian Education for Sustainability Alliance (AESA). Survey responses have been received from 3466 teachers, including 331 head teachers and 187 principals. Early results indicate 'a lack of support and comprehension among teachers and principals as to what EfS is'. When teachers have introduced EfS it has usually been 'at their own expense and on their own time'. Obstacles to the adoption of EfS include the pressure of a crowded curriculum and the priority assigned to literacy and numeracy. However, schools and individual teachers wishing to introduce EfS can seek support from local branches of the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI), the Australian Association for Environmental Education (AAEE), Scootle or Landcare Australia. Schools that have adopted EfS successfully include Immanuel Lutheran School Gawler (ILSG) and Fulham North Primary School, both in South Australia, and Coolbinia Primary School in Perth. (Note: this edition of Education Review contains a related article, 'Sustainability teaching tips', by Kellie Bollard. Among her tips, she recommends that schools wishing to adopt EfS consult and engage with their school community; form a committed and enthusiastic 'green team' or club; start with small, manageable, steps, and with clear but modest goals; embed EfS plans into the curriculum, across different subjects areas; connect to 'green dates' such as National Recycling Week; and link to other schools implementing sustainability intiatives.)
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
iPads in the classroom: worth doing right
24 June 2013
The author warns of potential pitfalls for schools when adopting iPads as devices to assist student learning. There is a significant danger of schools adopting iPads as 'technology for technology's sake'. For example, schools may feel pressure to adopt them when other schools do, or they may be swayed by the chance to take up a generous funding opportunity. It is crucial that when schools adopt iPads they have clear plans on how they are to be used to enhance learning, and how their contribution may be measured over time. At the classroom level teachers may feel pressure to incorporate iPads more than they think necessary for pedagogical purposes, to satisfy 'bosses'. It should be recognised that iPads do not in themselves improve the capacities of underperforming teachers; rather, they may undermine performance further, especially if learning goals are unclear. The iPads will also be of little value if the teachers are not committed to their use, or have not received adequate training in how to use them in their teaching. A further set of problems relate to students' use of iPads in class. The 'siren song of the Internet' is a powerful distraction for students, even when they are offered high quality teaching. Another obstacle arises if iPads are shared between students: iPads are primarily designed for individual use and are likely to be most effective if students can customise them for their own learning. Coping with technical problems is a further issue. Even when effective IT support is available, it is very easy for teachers' in-class time to be consumed with individual students' technical problems. Infrastructure must also be considered. As the number of iPads in use grows so do the demands they place on the school's wireless network. The iPads' connections to other devices, such as printers, also needs to be planned for. Policies are required as to who pays for damage to devices. If the students use the iPads at home they will rely on home wireless networks, and equity issues arise if not all students have access to such networks.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Fine-tuning teacher evaluation
Volume 70 Number 3, 21 November 2012; Pages 50–53
The three key components of effective teacher evaluation are classroom observations, student achievement and student feedback, according to a large-scale study undertaken by the USA's Measures of Effective Teaching Project (MET), funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. However, the effectiveness of this approach depends on how each of its three elements are implemented. The MET study proposes that teachers' classroom performances are observed by a principal or administrator four times a year. However, four visits are inadequate to capture students’ experiences. Also, the measure is distorted if teachers and students are aware of the evaluator's visit beforehand. The MET study calls for evaluators to complete elaborate rubrics after each visit, which the author considers an 'impossible workload'. A more promising alternative is for the evaluator to conduct ten brief unannounced visits per year, observing different phases of the lesson each time, and different subjects or classes. Rather than taking elaborate notes, the evaluator should walk around the room, taking in what students are doing. On the second issue, student achievement, the MET study recognises the inadequacy of measuring teachers' performance by students' test scores alone, and therefore proposes a 'sophisticated combination of assessments'. However, faced with daily real-world pressures, schools may default to using student performance on standardised tests to measure teacher performance. An alternative is to allow teams of teachers to select their own tools for evaluating their performance, to be approved by the school principal. The teacher team would set annual goals for their members, and the results measured against these goals would contribute to each teacher's individual evaluation. Underperforming teachers would receive assistance and encouragement from other members of the team. In terms of the third measure, student input, there is evidence that students' opinions are valuable guides to their teachers' performance, if students' views are sought through questions in 'kid-friendly' language, eg if they are asked whether 'our class stays busy and does not waste time'. One drawback of this approach is that students may not be aware of the value of their teacher's work until later years. The author suggests that teachers examine student feedback together with their principal, which may help the teachers to see areas in which they might improve; the teachers could be evaluated on the extent to which they change their teaching to accommodate these suggestions.
Subject HeadingsTeacher evaluation
United States of America (USA)
Pedagogy, ipadology, netbookology: learning with mobile devices
Volume 35 Number 1, July 2013; Pages 11–17
Mobile devices have attracted interest from schools, due to their affordability and wireless capability that reduces demand for costly network infrastructure. A recent Victorian study has examined two schools' experiences implementing mobile technology in the classroom. Both schools had introduced a mobile device across a year level in 2011: school 'N' adopted netbooks for year 9 and school 'I' iPads for year 7. School N is coeducational, school I a boys' school; both are in the Catholic sector. Evidence was obtained through questionnaires returned from 51 students and 55 parents, and from interviews with 14 teachers and school leaders. Issues of cost and infrastructure significantly shaped the planning process at both schools. School N had previously relied on computer labs to meet students' needs for ICT. The school selected netbooks for their size, weight and affordability. The netbooks were purchased through government funding, but since there was no guarantee of ongoing financial support, the school made only short term plans for their use. School I already had a 1:1 laptop program for senior school students, but its extension to the junior school would have required a costly upgrade of the electricity supply. The iPads were considered relatively cheap, and light for year 7 boys to carry. The ten hour battery life was another advantage. In terms of student learning, it was evident at both schools that clear curriculum planning and a clear pedagogical strategy were the key drivers of change, and that having 'engaged, supportive and prepared teachers' was a more significant factor than the introduction of a mobile device, or the choice of device. Within that context, the authors note the impact of the mobile technology at each school. At school N the year 9 students used netbooks for research, email communications, written work and presentations. Teachers reported that the netbooks added opportunities for student-directed learning, and some teachers also reported that the devices created more opportunities for collaboration and team teaching. At school I the iPads were selected as a way to support a cross-curriculum project covering science, art and ICT; their portability also facilitated the outdoor component of the project. Parents bought each device through the school, which also organised bulk purchases of school books loaded onto the iPads. The interactivity afforded by the iPads was considered particularly useful for languages study, where students were encouraged to seek out potentially helpful apps. The iPads helped to facilitate a learner-centred classroom, encouraging students to experiment, and improving literacy by scaffolding writing tasks, and helping group work by connecting to interactive white boards. The iPads were used for interactive tasks, such as virtual experiments, more than was the case for the netbooks at school N.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
What teachers want: supporting primary school teachers in teaching science
Volume 59 Number 2, June 2013; Pages 7–10
Primary teachers are often seen as reluctant to teach science, due to limited knowledge of the subject, a crowded curriculum, and lack of space and facilities. Researchers at a Victorian university have undertaken a study to learn how primary schools want to be supported to teach science. They invited participation from local primary schools, across all three sectors. Of the 33 schools approached, three agreed to take part, all of them government schools. The article summarises evidence from interview data with one primary teacher from each school, undertaken in term three 2011. The teachers believed that primary students can learn science without access to complex materials and resources. The time teachers need to spend on maintaining and preparing scientific materials may be reduced by having larger classes. The likely operational success of equipment during a lesson can be improved by making time to trial it beforehand. Resource kits may be maintained for repeated use later. The science coordinator plays a key role in resourcing and sharing ideas about how to use them. Teachers also need time to plan lessons, deepen their knowledge of science content, and experiment with technologies and resources. Time can be saved by adopting an integrated approach to teaching: for example, a unit on dinosaurs or on the human body provides a chance to develop literacy skills such as procedural writing or argumentation using scientific concepts. An alternative approach is to seize teachable moments to introduce scientific knowledge, if the teacher possesses enough scientific knowledge and feels able to identify and grasp such moments. Space is also a consideration. A dedicated science room would be ideal. If ordinary rooms are used, the teacher should save themselves time by assigning some preparatory or clean-up work to students. Another issue is professional learning. Previously teachers benefited from the support of curriculum consultants who visited schools. Teachers may now seek support from network meetings, however the ideas exchanged at these meetings may not be new or innovative. When teachers are unable to answer scientific questions asked by students, they should respond by working with students to seek the correct answers to them.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Family literacy in response to local contexts
Volume 36 Number 1, 2013; Pages 48–55
Three programs in South Australia have sought to strengthen literacy of children and infants from low-SES backgrounds, while also building links between their parents and their school. One program, Parents as Partners, involved children in their first year of school, from families where English was spoken as a second language. The program had several components. In one, the children’s teachers created play-based activities, supported by props and books, to develop the children’s English language skills. Parents and teachers took part in the activities, in imagined situations such as a visit to a restaurant or doctor's surgery. Such play stimulates 'symbolic thinking, narrative and oral language to inform, hypothesise and imagine'. Picture books were read aloud to children to develop vocabulary. Another component of the program was a series of workshops for parents, showing them literacy teaching strategies used in the classroom, covering topics such as comprehension and descriptive writing. Following presentations from the teachers, parents were given games and other support materials to use in the home environment. The final component was an invitation to families to construct written and photographic accounts of their own cultural heritage. The two other programs described relate to younger children: the Lap-Sit program for infants up to the age of three, and the Dads' program for children three to five. In all three programs parents were keen to support their children and held high aspirations for them.
Parent and child
Parent and teacher
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