Formal and informal mentoring: complementary, compensatory, or consistent?
Volume 65 Number 2, 2013; Pages 88–110
A study has examined the roles of formal and informal mentoring in the professional life of first year maths teachers in the USA. The study involved survey and interview data from 57 teachers based in 11 different education districts. Mentor-mentee relationships, in general, have several success factors. One is an adequate time for interactions, estimated at between 20 and 40 hours in total each year, sustained over the course of the year, to allow for 'feedback, follow-up, experimentation, and trial and error'. A second factor is the mentor's content knowledge, and pedagogical content knowledge, or grasp of how to teach the relevant subject matter. Subject expertise allows the teachers to present 'multiple and unconventional' solutions to problems, explain concepts more clearly, and set out the connections between different areas of mathematics: mentors with strong subject knowledge can develop these skills in the new teacher. Thirdly, the relationship must allow the new teacher an active role, with opportunities to 'explore ideas, ask questions, try out strategies and receive feedback'. The study examined, and contrasted, the effectiveness of formal and informal mentoring relationships with regard to these factors. Respondents were surveyed at the outset of the study, and twice more during its course. Formal mentors were found to be more likely to involve novice teachers in active learning. They also provided more observation and feedback, and were more likely to initiate questions to novice teachers, and follow up on previously discussed issues – both important for novice teachers, who may hesitate to reveal their problems and struggles. On the other hand, informal mentors were more likely to provide 'in the moment' feedback. Novice teachers preferred to discuss managerial and emotional issues with informal mentors, who were not officially evaluating them. Informal mentors also spent more time than formal mentors on non-instructional issues such as dealing with parents. The findings suggest the need for both formal and informal mentors. It may be helpful for mentor coordinators to assist novice teachers in finding, and building relationships with, informal mentors who would be likely to fill gaps left by formal mentoring arrangements.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Teaching and learning
The continuing decline of science and mathematics enrolments in Australian high schools
Volume 60 Number 2, June 2014; Pages 34–46
Declining enrolments in senior secondary science and maths subjects have generated ongoing concern amongst media commentators, prominent scientists and politicians. In view of these concerns the authors have analysed enrolment data 1992-2014, from each Australian state and territory, in an attempt to identify the magnitude and pattern of these declines. Participation in all year 12 maths and science courses has been ‘declining in real terms for the greater part of the past two decades and continued to do so in 2012’, although the rate of decline has lessened. The only exceptions to this trend are the rising participation rate in Entry Mathematics, and stable enrolments in Biology. Evidence suggests that the growth in Entry Mathematics comes from students who might previously have chosen Intermediate or Advanced Mathematics, rather than from students being drawn towards mathematics as such. When gender is considered, the overall result could suggest a trend for both males and females to abandon Advanced Mathematics, for male students to move from Intermediate to Entry maths, and for female students to move away from maths altogether. The decline in science enrolments also displays distinct gender-based patterns in certain subjects. More males and fewer females are studying biology, while more females are studying Earth Science. In Multidisciplinary Science enrolments are falling amongst females and even more sharply amongst males. In Physics the fall is higher amongst females. One likely factor in the decline for both maths and science subjects is students’ decision to focus on the immediate need to maximise university entrance score, rather than on potential value of subjects later in their lives. Other likely reasons include the widening range of subject choices, students’ self-perceptions of ability, perceptions of subject difficulty, and interest and liking of the subjects.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
School enrolment levels
'Have a Rice Day!' Japanese language and sustainability curriculum innovation
Volume 12 Number 1, 2014; Pages 17–25
Year 7 students at a Cairns school have grown rice as part of their Japanese language studies. The ‘Have a Rice Day’ project, based at a Catholic P-12 college, was a rich curriculum innovation that combined learning of Japanese language and culture, local history, sustainability, biodiversity, inquiry and ICT. While the project allowed less time for the usual language work of repetition and practice, students quickly expanded their Japanese vocabulary through more naturalistic learning, as they sought for Japanese words to express what they had done and seen as they planted and tended the rice. In the classroom they learned about the significance of rice growing in Japanese history and culture. Links could also be made to the local area, as Cairns has a history of rice cultivation. At the same time, students from Asian or Pacific backgrounds were able to bring out their prior knowledge of the topic – unusual in a Japanese class. Students’ direct personal experience of rice cultivation also built bridges to environmental learning: they discovered how rice growing supports biodiversity and sustainability. For example, frogs and fireflies are found in rice paddies in both Japan and Queensland, and students learned how these creatures both require and symbolise ‘clean nature’ in both settings. In the classroom, technology allowed students to relate their outside activity to Japanese culture. The author, the teacher of Japanese at the school, sets out her learning process and preparations, the process for designing the curriculum, and lesson implementation. Last year the MLTAQ gave her, and a colleague at the school, an award for their work on the project.
Subject HeadingsLanguage and languages
Social life and customs
Parents as writing partners
Volume 71 Number 7, April 2014; Pages 22–27
School leaders can play an important role in helping parents support their children’s development as writers. One basic step is for school leaders to convey some of their own key ideas about the development of writing skills, eg the need for students to write a lot to develop stamina, and the distinctive benefits that children will gain, in their future lives, from having skills in narrative, persuasive, informational and poetic writing. Another step for the leader is to ensure they understand what is currently happening with regard to writing at the school, particularly in terms of the approaches being taken by writing teachers. School leaders should also establish what teachers, parents and students believe that they need to improve student writing. In the case of students, these needs may be quite simple fundamental, eg finding time or a quiet space to write. Alongside these general issues, the school leader can deliver specific tips to parents. They may explain to parents how to help children plan their writing, or how to elaborate on their text. They may suggest that parents go to teachers to ask for exemplar texts, or suggest that they encourage their children to take responsibility for doing so themselves. They need to ensure that teachers are aware of sources for such exemplars. A workshop for parents might be held on how to use exemplar texts. Another important way to help students improve their writing is to cultivate a peer culture among students, that supports academic achievement. The author helps to lead the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. (To purchase this article, go to the ASCD home page and type the title into the search box.)
Parent and child
Making the most of language resources (CLJ archived article)
Volume 11 Number 8, 7 June 2013
About 16 per cent of Australians speak a language other than English, many from immigrant backgrounds. Young people in these communities are potentially well placed to become proficient in these languages, but at present they have very limited opportunities to develop their linguistic skills through academic study. A group of researchers is examining ways in which language-education initiatives might draw on local language resources. They are looking at the pattern of existing programs and how future programs may meet particular local needs. The latest stage of the project includes ethnographic case studies in government, Catholic, independent and community languages schools, with the aim of identifying factors that contribute to or detract from the effectiveness of language programs. Researchers will be talking with school staff, interviewing students and parents, and observing classes in about 20 primary and secondary schools.
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
Language and languages
High school students - complexity change and chance: do the key concepts of the Chaos Theory of Careers apply?
Volume 23 Number 1, 2014; Pages 22–28
The ‘Chaos Theory of Careers’ emphasises the importance of chance events in deciding career trajectories. A study has examined the impact of unpredicted events on the career paths of 55 school graduates from the same year level of a NSW secondary school. Females made up 65% of the group, which, overall, represented 90% of the graduates, ‘from the full range of the school’s demographics, academic achievement and career aspirations’. The participants were interviewed 18 months after graduation from school. This self-reported evidence indicated that 26% were working; 36% studying at university, with a further 9% at now university after having initially deferred; 11% were in traineeships, 9% in apprenticeships, and 9% in TAFE. A total of 71% of respondents indicated reported having experienced a significant unexpected change in their career trajectory to date. Just over half the total number of respondents had changed career interest since term 3 in year 12, either changing their tertiary course or swapping between categories of study, eg between university and trade studies. Of the university students, one third were taking an entirely different degree to the one they had expected to take while in year 12; a further 17% had changed majors within their degree. One quarter of those changing study plans indicated that they had not adequately understood the content of the course, or job opportunities likely to arise from it, at the time of application. One in five of the apprentices had changed employer, a significant figure ‘given the administrative barriers in changing an apprenticeship’. Of the respondents who sought work straight after school, only half had obtained a permanent job, an outcome that often left them surprised or shocked. Over half the respondents in some kind of employment were working part-time with the same employer they had worked for when at school: none of these respondents reported having planned for or expected this to happen. When asked about how schools could improve careers advice, the respondents suggested that schools could stress to their students the need for back-up plans, to keep a wide range of career options open, to alert students that ‘things change’, to provide more subject information about university courses, and to offer current students more feedback from recent graduates.
Technical and Further Education (TAFE)
Effective consultants: a conceptual framework for helping school systems achieve systemic reform
Volume 34 Number 2, 2014; Pages 156–178
Efforts to improve schooling now involve a wide range of organisations beyond school systems themselves. Universities are sometimes engaged for professional development of teachers, sometimes in collaboration with government. Universities may be involved through a partnership arrangement or as fee-for-service consultants. Schools and school systems may also partner with community organisations, including ‘parent groups, faith-based institutions, non-profit organisations or businesses’. Many of the partnerships are supported by government funding. Effective consulting partners are distinguished by a number of characteristics. One is content expertise. For example, they may possess knowledge, skills and technologies unavailable within the client organisation. Another characteristic is ‘process expertise’, to help guide and influence the collaborative process. The consultant may for example have skills in facilitating challenging conversations, encouraging deep reflection about goals, and developing trust. To play their part in these collaborations, schools and school systems also need several key characteristics. Their senior executives must be committed to the partnership, and give it visible support. They must prepare the culture of the organisation for the impending changes. Beside the senior executive, the new initiative needs a ‘champion’ within the organisation. The education organisation’s structure can facilitate change, through effective teams and also through ‘clearly defined roles, responsibilities and expectations’. Another feature of successful partnerships, particularly in the education sector, is a sense of shared ownership amongst all involved, including individual teachers. (To purchase this article, go to the Taylor & Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Subject HeadingsConsultants, educational
School and community
Seeking new perspectives on the development of teacher education: a study of the Finnish context
Volume 65 Number 1, January 2014; Pages 39–52
There a 'general consensus' on the need to change teacher education, arising from the pressures of global competition and the belief that the world is shifting from an industrial to a knowledge-based society. The change is currently taking place through market-based reforms, and through centrally-imposed standards and new systems of monitoring and evaluation. This approach is accompanied by demands for greater productivity, including greater output of published research, as well as continuous professional learning to reshape work practices and renegotiate professional identities. However, 'teacher educators can be – and arguably should be – the prime actors in enhancing the quality of education': the most promising way forward for teacher education is neither to hold fast to traditional practices nor to implement market-oriented reforms, but to develop the agency of, and collaboration among, teacher educators themselves. These issues are explored through a study of how teacher educators in one Finnish university are renegotiating their professional identities. The study examined how reforms are 'resourced and constrained', and how the organisation of teacher education is adapting to new imperatives. The investigation involved a re-examination of four of the authors' previous, empirical studies. The researchers found that teachers educators were 'extremely satisfied' with resourcing within their department and the university overall, which allowed them to pursue their own learning and their own projects. This support was a major contributor to their commitment to their work. The finding was in line with the wider trend towards integration of professional learning into everyday work practices. The major obstacle they reported was the 'limited, or even non-existent' collaboration with other teacher educators in the department, which occurred between individuals, between subject areas, and between subject areas as whole and educational science. The educators indicated that they were unable to share their expertise 'safely' with colleagues, but also that they strongly desired the chance to collaborate. They described feeling a strong sense of agency with regard to their teaching work, but lacked a similar sense of agency with regard to research work, which was disconnected from their teaching. In terms of organisational issues, support for professional learning was heavily individualised. Educators found it hard to cooperate due to barriers between subject groupings. To overcome these obstacles, there is a need to encourage 'boundary-crossing' between subject groups, sharing perspectives and resources. The research competencies of teacher educators should be bolstered, and integrated into everyday practice. The concept of research should not be restricted to the production of academic papers, but broadened to include group work, action research, involvement in national and international research projects, and writing of teaching materials.
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