Working towards a 'thirdspace' in the teaching of writing
Volume 21 Number 3, October 2013; Pages 71–81
In Australian schools, teachers of writing must prepare students for standardised tests while also improving their writing more generally. Both requirements may be addressed through programs that develop students’ technical writing skills and also encourage them to draw upon and express their personal identities. The article discusses these issues while reporting on a study that examined the successes and limitations of writing programs for students in years 5 to 7 at two NSW schools. Both schools cater to diverse student populations. ‘Mountain Gully School’ (MGS) serves 270 students from predominantly low-SES backgrounds. ‘Willow Edge School' (WES) has 700 students, mainly high-SES. Evidence was obtained from questionnaires to 40 students at MGS and 42 students at WES concerning their writing and attitudes towards it; a second questionnaire to four teachers at MGS and three at WES asked about their writing practices and pedagogies. Interviews were undertaken with 12 students, who provided writing samples, and with the writing coordinator or Head of Curriculum at each school, who discussed their schools’ approaches to student writing. The MGS writing program was centred on genre. NAPLAN tests were the focus for students’ writing tasks and also for teacher professional development on writing. This approach allowed limited scope for ‘deep and rich writing practices’. The students generally undertook writing only because it was required, and wrote according to formula; this ‘disables any identity building’ that would generate enthusiasm by connecting the writing to students’ own lives. At WES a new writing program was introduced following concern at the school’s below-average performance on NAPLAN writing tests. The new writing program was designed to engage students, using terminology they would easily understand. While it used NAPLAN tests as a starting point, students also studied genres and aspects of writing not covered in these tests. Teachers prepared students for writing tasks by offering extensive vocabulary development. This and other preparatory work was undertaken orally, making it easier for ESL students to articulate meanings that could later be taken up in written work. Teachers also encouraged students to reflect on their writing, to develop metacognitive knowledge. The WES approach was also heavily skills-based. These skills were evident in students’ writing, for example ‘sizzling starts’ and a capacity to build tension. However, the program lacked social or socio-political dimensions. Perhaps as a result, some students made little connection to reader or subject matter, and showed little personal connection to the stories they wrote. The most successful writers did make such connections, by going beyond what been taught to them to draw on their social experiences and opinions. Findings are interpreted with reference to Henri Lefebvre’s theory of spatiality. Real or perceived space refers to daily practices, locations and relationships; ideal or conceived space refers to idealised representations of how society should be, advanced for example by policy makers and the media. Teachers need to develop a ‘third space’ where they can ‘resist, subvert and re-imagine everyday realities’ – for example, by encouraging students to write in ways that recognise ‘government agendas’ but also move beyond them to draw on students’ lived experiences.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
Teaching and learning
Inquiry pedagogy and the Australian Curriculum
Volume 11 Number 2, 2013; Pages 23–29
The article discusses inquiry learning for school students and teachers, then examines how it relates to the inquiry skills described in the Australian Curriculum. Inquiry learning has three elements. Inquiry is centred on the asking of explicit questions, and the first element of inquiry is the ‘questioning framework’ used. The questions may be structural, ie teacher-directed; open, or student-directed; or guided, a mix of both. The teacher may for example introduce an overarching question for students, from which the students develop subordinate questions, related, perhaps, to their own interests. Some forms of inquiry learning call on students to consider the ‘big questions’, such as the causes of war or humanity’s relationship to nature. Inquiry learning calls on students to use evidence to support their answers, and to draw on their prior learning and their life experiences. Frameworks for questioning may be generative – setting out ways to identify and refine questions – or productive and evaluative, used to interrogate sources. The second element in inquiry learning is information literacy, and information seeking processes. Various models are available to help students achieve information literacy. They all involve ‘seeking/gathering, selecting, evaluating, analysing, organising and presenting data and information’. The third element is the action research cycle. Students move through the stages of ‘planning, acting, observing, and evaluating. Such research prepares students for tasks they will encounter during higher education and in the workplace. Action research may also be undertaken by teachers themselves, where it contrasts to research undertaken on teachers’ behalf by government or consultants. In the Australian Curriculum, inquiry learning appears in the closely related form of ‘inquiry skills’. These skills overlap with information literacy processes. The author discusses the application of inquiry skills in year 5 geography, year 7 history and year 9 science. The author also calls for closer alignment between subject areas in terms of inquiry skills and the terminology used to describe inquiry learning. The article includes tables setting out different models available for conducting inquiry learning.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Inquiry based learning
Volume 61 Number 1, April 2013; Pages 80–96
A case study has explored the beliefs and practices of five music teachers, with regard to developing the musical expressivity of their students. Evidence was obtained from interviews held with teachers and students, from observation of lessons, and records of each teacher’s studio practice. The participants were based in a midwestern university town in the USA in which a large music school was based. All the teachers saw expressiveness as a combination of technical skill, interpretation and creativity/spontaneity. Technical skill referred to ‘the ability to sing or play with good tone, in tune, and with correct notes’, but also involved physical flexibility and ‘connection to the instrument'. Interpretation referred to individual shaping of a piece according to the performer’s own ideas, while creativity involved personal decision making and imagination. The participating teachers applied a range of strategies. Modelling was the most important and most consistently applied, eg through singing, playing the instrument, or physical gesture. Other strategies included verbal instruction and physically guiding the student, as well as the use of qualities such as metaphor and humour. The central element in developing expressiveness was connection to the musical instrument. Repertoire was also vital: teachers chose the students' repertoire to develop technical skills, knowledge of musical theory, and to encourage children to practise. They focused on developing children’s expressiveness where ‘expressive gestures were the most obvious’, rather than attempting to sensitise them prematurely to more subtle passages. Visual expressiveness before the audience was also considered essential. The teachers taught children to be expressive through connection between their bodies and their instruments, and then through connection to the musical structure and lyrics, to emotion, and to the audience.
Key Learning AreasThe Arts
Teaching and learning
The effects of summer reading on low-income children's literacy achievement from kindergarten to grade 8: a meta-analysis of classroom and home interventions
Volume 83 Number 3, September 2013; Pages 386–431
During the primary and middle school years, children’s book reading out of school is an important predictor of how their comprehension skills and vocabulary develop. Interventions to encourage reading over the summer break ‘may be critical’ to improving K–8 reading, particularly for low-SES children. Interventions may be based in the classroom or the home. Classroom interventions are usually designed to assist struggling readers or to introduce students to concepts and skills they will encounter in the forthcoming academic year. Home interventions are a low-cost strategy to improve the reading skills of disadvantaged children by broadening their exposure to narrative and informational texts of high quality. They also aim to encourage students to instigate their own reading. Teachers may support home-based summer reading in lessons just before the summer break. Teachers may assist students by offering them texts appropriate to their reading level, and by encouraging parental participation. A meta-analysis has reviewed 41 summer interventions in the USA and Canada undertaken 1998–2011. It found that summer reading interventions were significantly more effective in improving reading comprehension and decoding ability than in improving vocabulary. This finding had not emerged during two previous meta-analyses by Cooper et al. 2000 and Lauer et al. 2006, which both relied on composite measures of reading achievement. The low impact on vocabulary may be due to the nature of the interventions studied. Of the 12 studies that reported on children’s vocabulary growth, only three reported that specific measures had been undertaken to improve children’s vocabulary. It may also be that disadvantaged children need repeated interventions, covering several summers, to achieve gains in their vocabularies. A second finding of the meta-analysis was that research-based interventions had a more positive impact than other interventions. A third finding was that interventions reported higher results when targeted to low-income rather than children of mixed-income families. The authors recommend interventions that integrate classroom and home-based activities, including literacy events held just prior to the summer break, which equip parents and children with skills to improve children’s reading abilities. The article includes a table setting out details of the 41 interventions analysed.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
United States of America (USA)
Volume 83 Number 3, September 2013; Pages 357–385
The authors summarise results from a review of school climate research based on 206 studies and previous reviews. Five themes emerged. The first was safety. In schools that lack ‘supportive norms, structures and relationships’, students are likely to face violence or victimisation from peers, and punitive discipline. These problems are usually associated with high levels of absenteeism and poor academic performance. Most students are not exposed to physical violence, except in some disadvantaged areas, but emotional violence and bullying is far more widespread. Homophobia is one of the most common causes. Significant numbers of teachers are also threatened with violence by students. Schools with low rates of violence, delinquency and victimisation tend to have clear and consistent policies against bullying. These schools also tend to encourage bystanders and observers to become ‘upstanders’ who resist the bullying in some way. The late primary years appear to be a crucial time for the establishment of norms against bullying. The second theme in school climate research is relationships. Student behaviour, self-esteem and academic accomplishment tend to be more positive overall when students perceive discipline to be fair, and see positive relationships between teachers and students and among students themselves. Another sign of a good school climate is supportive, inclusive and respectful relationships between teachers. A positive atmosphere between ethnic groups in the school is associated with better academic performance. The third theme is teaching and learning. A number of correlational studies point to the link between school climate and academic performance. The existence of educational programs devoted to character, ethics and civic participation also correlate to higher academic performance. Community service programs have been found to strengthen students’ peer relationships. Another aspect of teaching and learning concerns the relative perceptions of teachers – who tend to focus on classroom climate – and students, who tend to focus on the overall social climate of the school. The fourth of the themes is the institutional environment, which covers school connectedness and engagement, and also the physical layout of the school. Smaller schools tend to have higher levels of connectedness, and, for the middle years, higher academic performance. The final element of school climate is the school improvement process. Teachers’ views of school climate ‘influence their ability to implement school-based character and development programs’. Schools in which there is a relatively high level of trust among their members are also more likely to make changes that improve student performance.
Subject HeadingsSchool councils
Teaching and learning
Volume 83 Number 3, September 2013; Pages 432–479
Student engagement needs to be understood as a process. Within the school environment itself, positive early experiences encourage students to participate and thus identify more closely with the school, but negative experiences create ‘a cumulative cycle of student frustration, low self-efficacy, and low self-esteem’. However, many of these processes play out beyond the formal school environment, where students live most of their lives. Student engagement is therefore best understood as ‘extra-classroom energy in action, observable and measurable in school-sponsored activities and tasks’. In extra-curricular activities students are exposed to adult role models and have opportunities to forge close links with peers. They have a chance to develop social connections and social competencies, including time management and self-regulation. Activities in the surrounding community are thought to be particularly promising for developing ‘competence, confidence, connection, character, caring and compassion’. The benefits students derive feed back into academic success. However, the success of such external programs is influenced by the quality of adult staff, by the quality of bonds formed with peers, and by the frequency, intensity and duration of participation. The importance of the ‘family, peer and neighbourhood ecologies’ means that even the best teachers may not be able to engage disaffected students by themselves. There is a need for place-based interventions in other areas of disengaged students’ lives. The authors also discuss implications for future research.
Subject HeadingsStudent engagement
School and community
Ducks to water
Number 8, November 2013; Page 6
The Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (ACARA) has trialled the use of online assessment for NAPLAN, with sample assessments for Civics and Citizenship. The trial tests for Civics and Citizenship were designed to test students’ knowledge of past and current practices in government, the rights and responsibilities of citizens, attitudes toward diversity and levels of trust in civic institutions. Various benefits are anticipated from online assessment, including greater student engagement, swifter return of student results, and more efficient and flexible reporting. Online assessment should also allow more flexibility in the timetable for taking the tests, and easier access for students with a disability. Tests could also be tailored to both high and low performing students, increasing engagement, reducing test anxiety and helping to provide more information about factors hindering some students’ learning. The article includes comments from various teachers. The Ministerial Council for Education agreed to the trial tests for Civics and Citizenship as a way to inform the future delivery of NAPLAN.
Subject HeadingsCivics education
2 November 2013; Pages 51–52
The international PISA tests are used to measure and compare reading, maths and science proficiency of 15-year-olds in different countries. In terms of PISA results, Sweden has moved from well above average in 2000 to below average in 2009. Meanwhile, universities and employers have complained at the poor academic preparedness of school leavers. School funding is ‘not the problem’: Sweden is one of the world’s highest spenders on public education, and provides free education from kindergarten to university. However, the salaries of teachers have fallen well behind other professions and demand for teaching degrees is now so low that ‘almost anyone applying will be accepted’. At the same time the gap between schools is widening, in terms of their perceived quality. For the last 20 years parents have been free to choose the schools that their children attend. The policy was intended to encourage competition between schools and thereby improve their academic quality, and continues to enjoy public support in polls. The result however has been to concentrate high-performing students in the same schools. The policy has been criticised as a threat to academic quality. The involvement of private, for-profit companies in schools has been questioned following bankruptcies of several companies.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
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