Understanding the need for fine-grained assessment
Volume 36 Number 3, 2014; Pages 6–9
Fine-grained assessment examines very specific aspects of learning. Examples include ‘in the moment’ observations of one or more students; and challenging students with an on-the-spot question during class. Fine-grained assessment is used as a type of formative assessment, but can also be used for summative purposes. When used normatively, to rank students’ performances against peers, fine-grained assessment helps differentiate students in the middle range of outcomes, where many students’ results are closely bunched. It can also be used to distinguish a student’s performance in different aspects of a subject area. Fine-grained assessment applies to both objective learning areas such as mathematics and subjective ones such as drama. It can also be used to evaluate testing instruments: normative results may be expected to follow a bell curve, and major variations from this pattern suggest problems in the testing model. An understanding of fine-grained assessment will help K-10 teachers in Western Australia meet the requirements of the West Australian Curriculum and Assessment Outline, which will be introduced across all three sectors next year.
Subject HeadingsAssessment for learning (formative assessment)
Western Australia (WA)
Snakes or ladders? An examination of the experiences of two teacher leaders returning to classroom teaching
Number 160, July 2014
A ‘teacher leader’ may occupy a formal position – such as a department head or a curriculum specialist – or may be a teacher who plays an informal leadership role with colleagues, functioning as a coach, role model, educational visionary, or resource provider. In either case, there is a tension between the role of trusted colleague and the role of leader, with its implication of hierarchy. The teacher leader needs ‘sensitivity and finesse’ to navigate this terrain. A further challenge is introduced if somone in a formal leadership role opts to return to a mainstream classroom teaching position. Using the image of a game of snakes and ladders, this transition may be experienced as a 'ladder' to a new, richer experience of classroom life, or a 'snake', if the former leader slides back into a less fulfilling role. Earlier research has found that former leaders experience culture shock at the resumption of their former roles, as well as frustration and disappointment at their inability to apply their recently acquired expertise once back in the classroom. A recent Canadian study has examined the experiences of two teacher leaders returning to classroom teaching roles. Evidence was obtained from individual interviews with each participant. Both ‘Susan’ and ‘Debbie’ had taken curriculum leadership roles outside their schools. After 16 years as a primary school teacher, Susan had spent two years in a team providing workshops and other support to teachers of struggling schools within her school district, then spent another two years in a higher level of the education system, helping to develop a new English Language Arts curriculum. After that she had returned to a classroom to work once again with children, at school where she had not worked before. She declined an offer to work on a leadership team within the school, in order to ‘fit in’ and immerse herself in the culture of the school. She had expected, however to be able to apply her leadership expertise informally. However, she had far fewer opportunities to apply this expertise than she had imagined. Her wish to accommodate to the existing culture heavily restricted her ability to apply her leadership knowledge, leaving her confused and frustrated. When she did have opportunities to lead, she found time constraints prevented her from following through. The fact that she had not worked at the school before was a further source of stress. Debbie, by contrast, returned to a role where classroom teaching was combined with a formal leadership role. This role allowed her considerably more opportunity and time than Susan for leadership interventions. She had worked at the school before, which made it easier to come to terms with the school leadership. Both participants commented on how little opportunity exists for classroom teachers to hold professional conversations with colleagues.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Extensive reading interventions for students with reading difficulties after grade 3
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. (Originally published in Curriculum & Leadership Journal 23 August 2013)
Subject HeadingsReading comprehension
Obstacles to developing digital literacy on the internet in middle school science instruction
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. (Originally published in Curriculum & Leadership Journal 28 February 2014)
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsInformation literacy
Inquiry based learning
Teaching and learning
Digital literacy across the curriculum (CLJ archived article)
Volume 9 Number 10, 8 April 2011
Technology is playing an increasing role in culture generally and particularly in the lives of young people. To negotiate this environment effectively, young people need digital literacy, which consists of the skills, knowledge and understanding that enable critical, creative, discerning and safe practices with digital technologies. This article summarises Digital Literacy Across The Curriculum, a handbook prepared by Britain’s Futurelab organisation. The handbook addresses a range of issues faced by school leaders and teachers, in both primary and secondary schools, who are interested in creative and critical uses of technology in the classroom. It is a result of a project in which Futurelab researchers worked with eight primary school and six secondary school teachers to co-develop ways to foster digital literacy in the classroom.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Thought and thinking
The fall of literature
Classic works of Western literature are currently neglected in most Australian schools and curricula. ‘Classics’ refer to written or performed works with long-term appeal to readers or audiences, and long-term impact on subsequent works: their influence reaches beyond their immediate time and place, entering into common words and phrases, and they are referenced and adapted in later literature. Their value is not restricted to a ‘cultural elite’: they have much to offer everyone, particularly people interested in reading and writing. This was recognised in school curricula for many decades. However, after the 1970s the value of the Western classics was challenged, by two schools of thought. One was postmodernism, ‘characterised by extreme subjectivism and suspicion of societal norms’. The other was child-centred learning, which subordinated subject content to the concern to engage students to and promote their ethical development. Due to the impact of these two trends, Australian states except New South Wales have ‘all but abandoned the mandated study of classic literature in schools’. The focus of English curricula turned to the cultivation of abstract learning skills and social studies. This approach is reflected in, but not particular to, the Australian Curriculum. The problem needs to be tackled ‘at its root’; it cannot be addressed simply through reviews of curricula.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Social life and customs
English language teaching
Find the time online
3 July 2014
It is widely accepted that teachers need ongoing professional development, and from 2016, full time teachers in Australia will be required to complete 20 hours of professional development in order to maintain registration. Currently, however, most professional development is of poor quality, and often simply updates teachers about changes in education policy and regulations, rather than offering ways to improve teaching and learning. A related problem, noted in the report Making Time for Great Teaching, is that schools struggle to find time to allow their teachers to pursue professional learning. One solution to these challenges is to provide professional development opportunities online. Some undergraduate and postgraduate education courses have already demonstrated the potential of online channels for professional learning. At present, however, online professional development for in-service teachers is only starting to be explored. Swinburne University of Technology is one tertiary institution exploring professional development programs for teachers. It offers a short course for those teachers who are mentoring pre-service teachers during their practicum; the course runs concurrently with these work placements.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
Enhancing reading skills and reading self-concept of children with reading difficulties: adopting a dual approach intervention
Volume 14, October 2014; Pages 131–143
Reading for life (R4L) is an intervention to assist children with reading difficulties. It combines training in reading skills with measures to improve the children’s self-concept as readers. Children are offered one-to-one intensive support as they work through activities designed to develop sight word identification, phonological awareness, reading accuracy and comprehension. For the program, classroom teachers select struggling readers who do not, however, have ‘significant cognitive, behavioural, or mental health issues’. The children are in years 2 to 4 in NSW, but may be in years 3 to 5 in other Australian education systems, or in New Zealand. Children are assigned adult volunteers, called 'buddies'. The volunteers are matched with the children by gender and by personal interests. The volunteers are trained to assist with each activity in the program, and are able to call on a reading teacher or educational psychologist for support. A staff member from the school may attend the training. The volunteers also receive a manual and activity materials. The educational attainment of the children is measured before and after the intervention, via standardised tests of reading skills and reading self-concept. The intervention was evaluated by a study involving interviews with 52 children, 15 parents, 28 teachers and 31 reading volunteers. The intervention was found to have benefited children’s skills in decoding and sounding out words, and in independent reading. It was also found to have improved the students’ self-confidence as readers. The article recommends however that future research should ‘adopt a more empirical evaluation of the program, including the use of a control group’.
Subject HeadingsReading difficulties
Teaching and learning
Identifying teacher needs for promoting Education through Science as a paradigm shift in Science Education
Volume 25 Number 2, 2014; Pages 133–171
The article discusses Education through Science as an approach to the teaching and learning of secondary school science, and considers the professional development needs of teachers who apply this approach. Education through Science is an approach adopted within the PROFILES project, and is part of an international tendency to focus on the need for students to acquire key competencies rather than narrowly-defined content knowledge. Education through Science fosters skills in scientific problem-solving, knowledge about the nature of science, and understandings of how science interacts with culture and society, and how scientific knowledge can be communicated. It also aims to foster a range of employability attributes, personal initiative, and responsible citizenship. When taking this approach teachers need to accomplish several goals. One is to motivate students. In part, this can be achieved by steering away from traditional, highly abstract coverage of scientific topics, towards topics that provide meaningful contexts for students. Students may also be motivated when they are offered a level of challenge that is stimulating but manageable. Another goal of Education through Science is to convey scientific knowledge as inherently tentative, based on reasoning and the application of suitable methods, rather than as ‘unbiased truth’. It also conveys science as a human endeavour, influenced by inference as well as by observation; it recognises that scientific observations are themselves influenced by pre-existing ideas. A recent study has sought ways to prepare and promote professional development for teachers who use the Education through Science approach. A professional learning program was developed, designed to equip teachers to cover apply Education through Science in the classroom. The program was also designed to give teachers skills and confidence in the use of formative assessment, inquiry-based learning, and inter-disciplinary learning. The program encouraged teachers to reflect on what they have learnt, which is seen as a way to reinforce this learning, and maintain the education through science approach rather than return to former instructional methods. The program was developed from results of a questionnaire administered to 27 teachers of secondary science subjects in Estonia. (free download, requires Dropbox software)
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Learning engagement and environmental education for sustainability
Volume 12 Number 2, 2014; Pages 14–23
The article discusses the place of environmental education for sustainability (EEfS) in Australian schools, examining its relationship to learning engagement, and how EEfS can be effectively incorporated into the curriculum. The study of EEfS helps to equip students with the knowledge and capacity to work towards a sustainable future. There are several engaging ways to learn EEfS. One is through experiential learning, as students acquire information via their own senses, and then reflect upon it. Another is via inquiry based learning, through which students learn to develop probing questions about the environment, think through an issue, collect and analyse data, draw conclusions and decide on action. It may also be covered through problem based learning, as students work through authentic problems; action-oriented learning, collaborative and cooperative learning, and multi-stakeholder social learning.
Subject HeadingsStudent engagement
Teaching and learning
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