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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Reconstructing science curricula through student voice and choice

Volume 45 Number 3, May 2013; Pages 362–384
Gale Seiler

The author offers a biology curriculum, and also a model for designing a curriculum, based on ‘student voice and choice’, intended to engage non-mainstream students while also preparing them effectively for standardised tests. Evidence was obtained from three years of qualitative data from an inner-city secondary school in Philadelphia. The curriculum consists of six units of work, developed with student input. Each unit is centred on a ‘driving question’ to be addressed by students. The students collaborate in inquiry groups. During their work the students and teacher generate ‘subquestions’ that drive daily and weekly plans; students gather and evaluate information as they attempt to answer these subquestions. The curriculum also contains teacher resources, including possible lesson plans, activities, readings and assessments for each driving question, as well as matrices aligning the driving questions and resources to state and federal biology standards. Other resources include tips on lesson planning and sequencing and how to implement inquiry groups. The author had previously been ‘part of a group engaged in research with teachers and students’ at a nearby school over several years. During this time she identified four ‘best practices’. First, students connect science to their own lives; these connections are evident in the key questions that drive each of the six units of the curriculum. Earlier research suggests that such connections are far more authentic, and likely to succeed, when topics are chosen by students themselves rather than well-meaning teachers. However, during informal discussion with students the teacher can play a key role in drawing out the science associated with student-chosen topics. Second, students pose their own questions. These questions, drawn out and clarified in discussion with the teacher, may emerge in semi-formal situations such as a science lunch group. The questions may also emerge from things seen by the students on film or television rather than from their own direct experience. The third practice is student choice, which works as a powerful mechanism to promote engagement. The fourth is student voice: students choose how they will participate. For example, they are free to use their own colloquial speech patterns as they work together. As their scientific vocabulary and content knowledge develops, ‘their repertoires of practice are changed and new forms of science culture are produced’. The author suggests steps for schools wishing to apply this approach at their own schools. Learn about and from the students, through informal discussion and or more formal research. Identify students’ own bodies of knowledge, evident in their personal interests, activities and concerns. On this basis, identify points at which these interests intersect with the content area or interdisciplinary topics at the school. Work with the students to develop driving questions. Assemble resources such as activities, readings and assignments. Provide professional development to teachers, particularly on the running of inquiry groups.

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Social life and customs
Socially disadvantaged
Teaching and learning
Science teaching
United States of America (USA)

Getting beyond "I hate math!"

September 2013
Lisa Medoff

The author suggests eight ways to assist the mathematical learning of students who are anxious about maths, particularly students with learning difficulties or emotional problems. These eight approaches are options from which the teacher may select, and revise over time, depending on the individual student and context. The first strategy is to cultivate the capacity to empathise with struggling students. While maths teachers may not have struggled with the subject themselves at school, they can draw on their difficulties in other areas of learning to identify with the experiences of struggling maths students. Secondly, teachers need to deepen their own mathematical knowledge. By doing so they reduce the temptation to gloss over topics that challenge them, or to give way to hostility in the face of student questions. Thirdly teachers should employ a variety of activities and supports. They can promote the idea that there are many ways to be good at maths by choosing mathematical problems that may be solved in varied ways. Group work is a particularly valuable option for promoting mathematical learning. Group work reduces struggling students’ anxiety about answering questions before the whole class; provides a less threatening environment for raising their own questions; and reduces the risk of disruptive behaviour. Peers within the group are sometimes better placed than the teacher to understand a struggling student’s difficulties. However, teachers need to provide direction for students’ group work, eg by assigning different roles to each student, and explaining what the roles involve. Teachers can also strengthen students’ ability to help peers. The fourth way teachers can help struggling students is to take care how they talk about maths, avoiding signals that mathematical ability is inherent and fixed. Fifthly, teachers should answer all questions respectfully. The sixth is to ensure that set homework has a suitable number of tasks, at suitable levels of difficulty. The teacher should also provide guides to students on what they should do when they cannot answer a question. The seventh approach is to reduce anxiety about tests, by explaining that their purpose is to guide learning rather than judge the student, and by offering the choice of different test questions. Finally, students should be praised for what they do achieve, while their mistakes should be explained as temporary obstacles rather than a sign of inherently low capacity for maths.

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Mathematics teaching
Learning problems
Teaching and learning

A narrative review of problem-based learning with school-aged children: implementation and outcomes

Volume 65 Number 2, 23 October 2013; Pages 206–218
Gabi Jerzembek, Simon Murphy

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a practical, learner-centred approach in which ‘a problem stimulates information retrieval and the application of reasoning mechanisms’, as the learner applies existing knowledge and experience to new situations. In the school context the teacher calls on students to solve a problem as the central component of a lesson; students solve the problem rather than answering predetermined questions. For example, the problem of improving the school’s meal service might call on students to apply or develop their knowledge of mathematics and nutrition, woven together with their skills in communication and negotiation. PBL has been supported as a form of learning for pre-school, primary and middle school students. The article reports on a literature review of six papers discussing PBL in schools, involving groups of between 14 and 187 students, aged between 11 and 18. All six studies involved students in group work and group discussion around problem-solving, and were at the same time designed to develop each student’s sense of individual agency, and a sense of ownership over their work. The PBL sessions were ‘in the main’ incorporated into the standard curriculum. The studies broadly supported the effectiveness of PBL as a form of learning. The studies also identified a range of factors important for the success of PBL. Effective facilitators are essential for both teachers and students, to help them get used to this unfamiliar form of learning. Students need age-appropriate self-monitoring tools. Low-achievers need particular attention, if they are not to fall behind. Teachers need to pay close attention to students’ varying levels of engagement and students’ different preferences with regard to the resources they use while problem solving. The studies also have implications for future research on school-based PBL. Future studies need more rigorous evaluation mechanisms, including the use of randomised comparison groups. Among the studies considered in this article, the longest follow-up period was five weeks; results of future studies need to be evaluated over a more extended time frame. Studies should attempt to measure the effectiveness of different components of PBL, rather than simply the overall impact.


Subject Headings

Problem based learning
Educational evaluation
Secondary education

Meaning-making from wordless (or nearly wordless) picturebooks: what educational research expects and what readers have to say

Volume 43 Number 2,  2013; Pages 163–176
Evelyn Arizipe

Wordless or nearly wordless picture books have proliferated since the 1960s and since the 1990s have been recognised as a contemporary trend in publishing. They are popular across all age groups. While some are targeted to adult readers, this genre is often valued for its applicability to the young reader: these books tend to be brief, often with child-friendly themes; and they spare the young reader from the anxieties of decoding, and therefore do not disadvantage struggling readers. In the wordless picturebook, images carry ‘the weight of the meaning’. The absence of words contributes to the meaning of the book, signifying something about its content, although words embedded in the images are likely to be significant. It is important to understand that the reader is not generally required to make their own meanings from wordless books; rather, the illustrators have told a story which is there to be identified, through pictures. Nevertheless, wordless books do make significant demands on the reader, who must, for example, establish or hypothesise connections between the images, and accept the fact that there are multiple interpretations and ambiguities in the book. For this reason readers are called on to engage more actively with the wordless book. Studies of young readers’ interactions with wordless books highlights children’s surprise, and initial uneasiness at the absence of words; these readers tend to rely heavily on the few words available to establish the meanings in these books. It takes time for the young reader to accustom themselves to a new form of meaning-making. Sometimes teachers too find the wordless books confronting at first. It is important that teachers allow students ample time to familiarise themselves with wordless books, before being asked to draw meanings from them. Undue pressure on young readers to find meanings tends to spur them to assign arbitrary meanings of their own to the books, which does not develop their literacy. The article also discusses the Visual Journeys project, in which readers from immigrant communities in different countries read and respond to two wordless books: The Arrival by Shaun Tan and Flotsam by David Wiesner.


Subject Headings

Visual literacy
Picture books

What is recognised as ability in physical education? A systematic appraisal of how ability and ability differences are socially constructed within mainstream secondary school physical education

Volume 19 Number 2,  2013; Pages 147–164
Shaun Wilkinson, David Littlefair, Linda Barlow-Meade

Researchers undertook a systematic appraisal of nine studies covering secondary school physical education (PE); the data from the studies is drawn mainly from Queensland and Sweden. In both Queensland and Sweden ‘performance-based sport and competitive team games invariably constitute much of the provision in PE’. Students able to meet this model have high levels of ‘physical capital’; this capital may be derived from performance within PE classes or carried over from success in other environments such as extra-curricular team sports. Students unable to meet this model are likely to be marginalised. The tendency to be marginalised is reinforced by the widespread belief that ability in PE is inherent and immutable. The attributes needed to perform well in this environment are closely aligned to ‘conventional masculine dispositions of competition and aggression’. For girls this creates a difficult choice as to whether to identify with this model, and thus risk denigration for being unfeminine, or to reject it, and accept marginalised status within the PE environment. Whether female or male, marginalised students tend to resort to coping strategies such as off-task behaviour, feigned injury, or other forms of withdrawal from participation. These strategies tend to be perceived as a poor work ethic, reinforcing their marginalised status. An alternative strategy for marginalised students is compliance and conformity and efforts to build positive relationships with teachers. However, the prevailing view of PE also ignores elements of the PE curricula that might offer more scope for participation by marginalised students, such as knowledge about the workings of the human body, or the grace and poise that can be developed from gymnastics. The article draws on Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, social field, and cultural capital.

Key Learning Areas

Health and Physical Education

Subject Headings

Physical education

Secondary school students' attitudes to nanotechnology

Volume 59 Number 3, September 2013; Pages 15–21
Karen Murcia

Nanotechnology is permeating the economy and society, with come commentators predicting that it will usher in a new technological revolution. However, research has revealed limited public understanding of and support for nanotechnology. Secondary school science students need opportunities to learn about nanotechnology as part of the wider development of their scientific literacy. It is also a suitable topic to cover while teaching about science as a human endeavour. At the same time nanotechnology is interdisciplinary in nature and offers opportunities to draw together knowledge from a range of subject areas. The Australian Curriculum specifically refers to emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology. To explore this issue further, researchers surveyed 125 lower secondary students in years 8 and 9 (113 girls and 12 boys) at two independent schools in Western Australia. The schools were selected as having interest in nanotechnology education. However, approximately one in four participants reported no knowledge of nanotechnology. Most could provide only superficial examples of nanotechnology, mainly related to phones and computers; 38 per cent could not provide any examples. On average students showed a low level of interest in nanotechnology as a career. The study suggests that the addition of nanotechnology to the Australian Curriculum is timely, given participants’ poor knowledge of nanotechnology, and lack of interest in this area of science. In a more positive sense, nanotechnology offers opportunities to make science relevant and engaging to students’ lives, with teachers drawing on examples of the use of nanotechnology in socially relevant contexts.

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Technology teaching
Science teaching
Science literacy

Using graphic organisers effectively: an approach to teaching expository text

Volume 17 Number 3, October 2013; Pages 22–23
Naomi Timms

Early years classrooms in Australia are usually well supplied with narrative texts, but young students may need more support to prepare them for the more abstract expository texts they will encounter in the later primary years. Students should be explicitly shown how to identify expository texts, eg by the presence of charts or graphs, and shown how to locate important components such as the contents page. After this point, graphic organisers can be used to help students understand expository texts. Expository texts may be categorised into five text structures, with different graphic organisers suitable for each type. If the text structure compares and contrasts ideas, students might benefit from the use of Venn diagrams. Students might be helped to understand a problem-solution text through the use of a ‘fishbone-thinking tool’. When working with text devoted to description students might use a concept map to bring out central concepts, while a sequence of events text can be elucidated by a ‘chain of events or sequence circle’. When the purpose of the text is to explain cause and effect a ‘webbing organiser’ might be used. The effectiveness of graphic organisers may be improved by having students use coloured pencils or pens, which are more stimulating and allow personalisation; by providing large blank paper to accommodate young children’s handwriting; and by allowing struggling readers to present ideas in picture form. Children might find it easier to work in pairs when familiarising themselves new graphic organisers. Students with dyslexia might benefit from the use of slightly coloured paper rather than black on white.


Subject Headings

Reading comprehension
Primary education
Teaching and learning
Thought and thinking

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