Volume 45 Number 3, July 2013; Pages 295–324
Researchers report on an intervention designed to increase middle years’ science students’ digital literacy when using the internet. The intervention aimed to develop students’ strategies for finding, evaluating, synthesising and communicating internet science resources, during inquiry learning activities. It involved 48 students in two year 7 all-girl science classes at an academically high-performing school in the south-eastern USA. The research involved interviews with the teacher and with students, classroom observations, and a student survey. Over the first eight weeks of the intervention, the researchers taught students foundational skills and strategies for internet-based research. Over the second eight weeks the researchers observed classes in which students undertook inquiry learning. The intervention identified three significant obstacles to the students’ integration of effective internet research strategies. One related to the teacher’s role during the inquiry process. If students did not locate required information from the first one or two websites they visited, they quickly turned to their teacher for help, and lacked motivation to continue searching on their own. The teacher – concerned to maintain motivation, follow state standards and prepare students for future state tests – tended to provide the required information herself, reducing students’ drive to continue on their own. When prompted, students were able to articulate strategies for evaluating websites that they had learnt from the researchers, but rarely applied them during their independent work. More small-group work was introduced, in the hope that students might feel less pressured to come up with answers quickly, and might reinforce each other’s willingness to undertake sustained research. However, the groups tended to allocate responsibility for searching to one student, resulting in added pressure for a quick result. A second obstacle was the structure of inquiry projects used by the classes. Questions ‘were framed to accommodate a single correct answer’. Students rarely explored a site’s links to further resources, nor did they ‘attend strategically to the organization of an accessed website’, or cross-check information on other sites. The projects were later modified to become less structured and more open-ended, stimulating students to use some of the strategies recommended by the researchers. However, there was ‘no evidence’ that students later applied these strategies in other settings. A third obstacle was students’ previous experiences of using the internet, in which they had ‘established personal, idiosyncratic skills, strategies and dispositions’ for their research. Students soon reverted to these strategies, even after more reliable ones had been introduced and practised. Post-intervention interviews with students indicated that they remembered the strategies that had been taught to them, and were aware they should be using them, but ‘they did not internalize them to use them spontaneously’ – the ‘acid test’ of an intervention’s success. For the success of this type of intervention, teachers may need to strive against their instinct to provide information promptly to their students, and provide strategic search suggestions instead of answers. More work may be needed at primary school level, to instil strategic approaches to the internet as a research tool before less helpful habits become ingrained.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsInformation literacy
Inquiry based learning
Teaching and learning
The class who kicked the hornet's nest: teaching 'controversial' topics in social studies
Volume 56 Number 2, February 2014; Pages 1, 4–6
Some educators are drawing upon controversial topics to engage students, create inclusive classrooms and provide situations for students to practise critical thinking. In Alabama, for example, Year 10–11 history teacher Beth Sanders not only covers the state’s history of conflicts over issues of race and civil rights, but applies them to politically sensitive current debates around Alabama’s immigration law. As a teacher, Bill Bigelow – now curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine – highlighted the fact that Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America is almost invariably discussed without reference to the indigenous tribe whom he encountered, the Tainos. His classes made use of role-play including mock trials to decide ‘who was to blame’ for the death of the Tainos. Brown University’s non-profit Choices Program provides curriculum resources and training for teachers around current and historical issues, emphasising the need for different perspectives; its role-play activities provide space for students with unpopular viewpoints. Younger students should encounter controversial issues in age-appropriate ways, eg via stories. A number of steps should be taken prior to the introduction of sensitive issues in class. One is to build a culture of mutual respect amongst students. Students should understand that discussions should focus on ideas, not the people holding them, and that opinion should be based on evidence and an understanding of the issues involved. Teachers should discuss the proposed curriculum with parents ‘to uncover the roots of their concerns’ and to explain that resources to be used are ‘credible and fact-based’. It may be helpful for teachers to cite any existing models that they are following. Teachers should also draw on support from like-minded colleagues. The article includes a discussion of the role of civics education as a means to address political polarisation in the USA.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Social life and customs
United States of America (USA)
Volume 18 Number 1, February 2014
Time management, communication and delegation are three skills worth further development over the coming year. For a leader, time management involves a focus on strategic issues, rather than the tactical issues that dominate the work of middle level leaders such as heads of department, or the operational concerns of classroom teachers. To check whether they are indeed focusing on strategic issues, principals should could keep a record of tasks completed, and categorise them as strategic, tactical or operational. Principals should also note how many tasks they initiate or have simply reacted to, tasks completed or left unfinished, and tasks overtaken by events. Principals need to distinguish truly important tasks from urgent ones that might be delegated. Time allocated for key tasks may be protected, in various ways. These include physical methods such as closed door or sign; having the PA field queries; 'strategic quitting', ie limiting the time spent on a secondary task, regardless of outcome; avoidance of multi-tasking, which has been found to be inefficient; and 'spending in order to save it', by setting up procedures for repetitive tasks, perhaps by learning to use time-saving technologies. Communication is another key skill for principals. Communication means more than disseminating information. In fact, information that is simply disseminated is often overlooked by busy staff and parents. Key messages are best delivered face-to-face, perhaps with written follow-up. Emails are best used for quick notices and updates. Websites work well as archives to be sourced as needed by members of the school community. Paper communications can be used to signal importance of a message. Communications about initiatives and changes should be linked to the school vision, and to the resulting priorities for the school, to highlight their importance. Linked in this way, communications about initiatiatives and changes also help to concretise the vision itself, as opposed to messages such as 'we care for all students' when they are left as generalities. However, there should not be too many 'top priorities', so they are not diluted, nor should parents and staff be flooded by detail. A clear communication chain is needed for policies and procedures. Communication needs to include genuine consultation and scope for feedback. The principal can often seem remote to parents: storytelling and anecdote can be a way for principals to show their human side. Delegation is a third key skill for principals. Principals sometimes avoid delegation due to fears of overburdening busy staff, but it may also be due to perfectionism, fear of being upstaged by high-performing subordinates, or the belief that it is quicker to do a job themselves rather than delegate it. However, delegation allows focus on key tasks, helps to avoid burnout, and involves and engages staff. It is important that delegated actions are at the right level of challenge, and assigned to suitable people, who should be allowed scope to do it themselves, but given adequate guidance. Delegation is as much about staff development as time-saving.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
The article summarises research on teacher induction, and teacher retention and mobility, with particular reference to middle schooling. Teacher induction may be defined as ‘in-service support for beginning teachers’. It is often used to socialise teachers into the profession, develop their teaching practice, and assess their effectiveness. Ideally it forms a bridge between pre-service education and in-service professional learning. Induction usually involves general orientation, workshops, collaboration with peers, mentoring, and some form of classroom support. Effective induction programs improve new teachers’ understanding of their role and sense of their effectiveness, and thus encourage their retention in the profession. These outcomes harder to achieve in schools serving low-SES communities; however, such schools tend to retain good teachers when they achieve well academically, ‘which indicates that teacher turnover is more closely connected to the environment and the support that teachers receive rather than socioeconomic and ethnic status of the students'. Comprehensive induction programs allow new teachers to collaborate in small learning communities, network with peers, observe experienced teachers’ classes, and have their own classes observed by such teachers. Comprehensive induction programs typically include a number of features. The new teacher has a mentor from the same subject area. This mentoring involves collaborative planning, inquiry-based questioning, and individualised goal-setting. The new teacher experiences their instructional leader’s monitoring as supportive. The school environment supports their sense of being ‘valued, trusted and empowered’. Beginning teachers in the middle school – years 5 to 9 – face the distinctive challenge of teaching young adolescents. Induction should give these teachers strategies to meet the social, emotional and developmental needs of these students.
Subject HeadingsBeginning teachers
Volume 97 Number 4, December 2013; Pages 350–377
The article reports on a qualitative meta-analysis of findings from ten major empirical studies of the implementation and effectiveness of teacher induction programs, published 2004–2010. Ten years ago a major US report attributed high rates of attrition in the teaching workforce to a lack of teacher induction. Partly for this reason, the practice of teacher induction is now popular and continues to spread. However, induction programs have been built on sparse, inconclusive, unsubstantiated or conflicting reports as to their effectiveness. Many evaluations are self-reported case studies, and based only on short term findings. Induction programs are hard to compare since their components vary widely. Research has not identified clear links between induction and student achievement. A further problem is that literature on induction often fails to distinguish it clearly from mentoring. Mentoring is usually cost-free and is relatively easily to organise, and some research strongly supports its value. However, other research findings are less positive. The value of mentoring may be undermined by unsuitable matching of mentor and mentee, by irregular meetings, or by limited follow up. The induction process might help to address the issue of attrition if it includes opportunities for achievement and recognition, if it allows new teachers to take suitable levels of responsibility, and leads to promotional opportunities. A crucial element in successful induction is a supportive school culture, with the tone set by the principal, who should be active building connections, relationships, and community. Standardised definitions of induction should be established, to assist measurement and evaluation. Research on induction has tended to neglect the important issue of how induction might motivate teachers to remain in the profession: future research should address this issue. While teachers are ‘out on a limb’ without suitable induction, principals are also vulnerable without an adequate evidence base from which to plan induction processes at their schools.
Subject HeadingsTeacher induction
Volume 11 Number 9, 21 June 2013
The first year of teaching is notoriously difficult. Many clever and committed beginning teachers find that they cannot endure their early experiences in the classroom, and simply drop out. This attrition not only reflects considerable personal distress for the individuals involved, it also represents a waste of time and money for schools and education systems. Addressing this problem means developing beginning teachers' resilience. However, 'resilience' is too often associated with the idea of purely personal coping strategies and suggests that when individuals don't or can't cope, they themselves are to blame. In reality there are important social, cultural and political influences contributing to attrition and to teachers' capacity for resilience. To lower attrition rates means recognising these influences and reshaping them to guide and support these professionals in the early stages of their careers. Early Career Teachers: Stories of Resilience describes findings from a study into early career teachers and threats to their wellbeing, reporting on research which sought to provide an evidence base for interventions that will increase teacher commitment and reduce attrition.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
Volume 10 Number 7, 16 April 2012
Principals and new teachers in Victoria and Queensland are participating in a longitudinal study designed to investigate teacher preparation and induction into the profession. The project, known as Studying the Effectiveness of Teacher Education (SETE), is focusing on how well new teachers feel prepared for the variety of school settings in which they are employed, and also analyses graduate employment destinations, pathways into the profession and teacher attrition and retention. The project is expected to involve up to 15,000 early career teachers and 1,600 principals. Its results will inform policies and practices for effective pre-service teacher education and induction into the profession. SETE is being conducted concurrently with the national Longitudinal Teacher Workforce Main Study (LTWMS), which is tracking all 2011 teacher education graduates in other states and territories across Australia. The project is scheduled to conclude December 2014.
Subject HeadingsTeacher evaluation
Tracking effects depend on tracking type: an international comparison of students' mathematics self-concept
Volume 50 Number 5, October 2013; Pages 925–957
Tracking, also known as streaming or grouping, is the practice of separating students on the basis of academic achievement. It can occur within a particular course, or across all subject areas at the school, or between schools. Tracking is promoted as a means to teach a group of students according to their common needs. However, critics argue that it leads to unequal learning opportunities for students, and some studies have found that lower-tracked students have diminished learning opportunties due to a less challenging curriculum, lower expectations, poorer instruction and less adequate resources. A further concern is that tracking might impact on students' self-concept as learners. A recent study has investigated this concern, using data from the PISA 2003 survey of mathematics achievement amongst 15 year old students. In particular, it examined the impact of two opposing effects. A 'contrast effect' refers to students' tendencies to measure themselves against peers within their tracked group; it has a potentially negative impact on the student who performs at less than average rates in these groups, even if the student performs higher than average amongst students across all the tracked groups. An 'assimilation effect' occurs when students take their self-concept from peers within their own tracked group. The study found that assimilation effects dominate over contrast effects when students are tracked at the level of individual courses, where they are exposed day-by-day to the existence of tracking. Contrast effects dominate, however, when students are tracked across all subjects at the school, or the school itself serves a particular academic layer of students; in these contexts the existence of tracking is less obvious.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Ways to differentiate mathematics
Volume 29 Number 1, 2014; Pages 18–19
Students vary in their existing knowledge, readiness to learn, interests and learning styles. Effective teachers commonly differentiate their teaching, to allow for these variations. One way to differentiate, described by Sullivan et al., is to use of 'enabling prompts' for struggling learners, and 'extending prompts' for advanced students. Enabling prompts reduce the demands of the tasks, such as the number of steps in a mathematical task, or the number of variables involved. Enabling prompts may for example simplify the presentation of results, make tasks more concrete, or reduce the language demands involved. Prompts to extend students, on the other hand, may call on them to develop generalisations from their work, set out clear explanations of their strategies for completing tasks, or develop similar tasks themselves. The work given to advanced students should not simply be more of the same, or make them feel that they are being punished for completing work early. The author, a mathematics leader at her school, describes her use of both types of prompt. The article includes a table of sample tasks, consisting of enabling prompts and extending prompts, used by the author at her school.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
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