Number 240, November 2014
The international PISA tests, undertaken by the OECD, emerged from a concern to provide regular, high-quality, common educational measurements of education performance in its member countries. Over time a range of non-OECD countries have opted into the tests. The tests focus on reading, mathematics and science, and also measure students’ capacities for ‘real-life’ skills such as communication, analysis and problem solving. In addition, PISA gathers information on students’ socio-economic background, their learning beyond school, and their ‘learning habits and attitudes’. Schools provide contextual information about students' learning environments. PISA’s influence on government schooling policy is so strong that PISA indicators have become ‘the lens through which we come to understand our systems’. However, this influence has generated three tensions. Firstly, PISA’s credentials as a proxy for all education performance focuses intense policy and media attention on each country’s ranking on the international ‘league table’ of results – particularly when the ranking is low, or falling. This can distort the process of education reform, by forcing the pace of change and/or by an undue focus on PISA results rather than more general, rounded reform efforts needed for ‘coherent and sustainable reform’. This relates to the second tension: PISA indicators ‘simplify and quantify the policy problems to be solved’, excluding many of the complexities of education performance, including issues of educational equity. By focusing on a county’s PISA ranking, education policy is also at odds with modern assessment practice, which is standards-based. As generalised measures, PISA indicators distract attention from cultural and language differences between countries. When examining other countries’ performances, policy makers are therefore at risk of ignoring these countries’ contexts, fostering the illusion that it is possible to ‘cherry-pick’ some of the individual policies of high performing countries. To reduce these problems, education systems may wish to re-examine what they see as the overall goals for and purposes of education, to integrate goals related to economic and human capital with ethical, humanistic aims, such as the encouragement of democratic participation. Systems may also wish to support further research on how to measure students’ resilience and mental flexibility, as well as students’ well-being and social engagement. This work will involve qualitative as well as quantitative research, and will distinguish correlation from causation in findings. Policy makers and the media should themselves be educated on the need to contextualise, and not unduly generalise, particular test results or research findings.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
Open plan classrooms are becoming more common in Australian primary schools. These classes are thought to facilitate group work and social development, and to provide a 'less authoritarian, more secure and "home-like"' environment. However, a question arises as to whether open classrooms expose students and teachers to undue noise. Classrooms should have little background noise, to enable teachers and students to speak and hear each other easily, to guard against undue stress from noise, and to avoid teachers developing hoarse throats. A study has compared the background noise levels of one open and one closed classroom for kindergarten children at a Sydney primary school. The open classroom contained 91 students in three classes, while the closed classroom had 25 students. Noise levels were measured in each room during periods of whole-class teaching, where one person spoke at a time, and during group work, where there were many discussions at once. In the enclosed classroom, the noise from adjacent classes remained within recommended levels when the other classes was engaged in similar activities, and was just above recommended levels when those other classes were engaged in group work. However, background noise generated from within the class was well above recommended levels during group work. In the open classes, during quiet listening activities, intrusive noise from other open classes was above recommended levels when the other classes were engaged in quiet activities, and was further above recommended levels when the other classes were engaged group work. In classes engaged in quiet work, the impact of intrusive noise was particularly felt by students at the back of the class. The findings point to shortcomings in open class design and also suggest the need to group students close to the teacher when exposed to intrusive noise.
A guide for educators to move beyond conventional school playgrounds: the RE-AIM evaluation of the Lunchtime Enjoyment Activity and Play (LEAP) intervention
Volume 39 Number 1
Primary students’ opportunities for physical activity at school are limited by factors such as a crowded curriculum, teacher workload, limited play facilities, crowded play spaces, and, in some cases, restrictive play policies. This has generated interest in the provision of natural environments for students, however these features may be expensive, and may restrict play areas during the implementation period. An alternative approach is offered by LEAP (Lunchtime Enjoyment Activity and Play). LEAP is a ‘simple, low cost, low burden school playground intervention’ to help schools encourage student’s physical activity and promote social and personal development. The article reports on the implementation of LEAP at a Catholic primary school in Sydney. The intervention involved introducing movable, recycled equipment with no fixed recreational purpose, such as milk crates and tyre tubes, onto a grassed area of the school grounds. The intervention’s effects were evaluated at intervals over two and a half years, via direct observation of the 123 students taking part. Evidence was also obtained via a focus group discussion involving nine teachers, nine months after implementation. The evaluation identified a significant shift from sedentary behaviour to moderate or vigorous physical activity, as students lifted or carried materials, balanced on planks, or jumped off hay bales. Teachers also observed that students were excited by and engaged with the play equipment, which they used creatively, solving problems as they emerged. Student used the materials for the imaginative construction of cubbies, space ships and boats. The rise in girls’ levels of physical activity was particularly remarked on by the teachers. The unstructured nature of the play allowed graduated opportunities for shy children to ease into activities with other students. In general, teachers observed the play to be cooperative and increasingly inclusive, with issues resolved by negotiation. At the start of the intervention most students were engaged either in soccer or ‘no observable activity’; by the end, most were playing with the LEAP materials. The most successful materials were found to be the solid and durable items. The article discusses measures used by teachers to ensure maintenance of equipment, safety, and equity of access. The intervention was evaluated using the RE-AIM framework. The study’s findings could be used in teacher education courses to alert students to the extra-curricular potential of play breaks.
Struggling reader or emerging biliterate student? Reevaluating the criteria for labeling emerging bilingual students as low achieving
Volume 46 Number 1, March 2014; Pages 68–89
The US state of Colorado provides individual literacy plans (ILPs) for students deemed at risk of failing to meet third grade literacy standards. This policy is ‘admirable’ in itself: children who have fallen behind on reading at grade three tend not catch up in later years. The policy also allows for the needs of some Spanish-speaking English language learners, inasmuch as it gives children one year’s exemption from the test if they are new to the USA and are identified as lacking English proficiency. Apart from these new arrivals, however, biliterate third grade students must demonstrate reading proficiency in English alone, so biliterate students with limited English are effectively grouped with monolingual English speaking students who struggle with reading. A further problem is that the state’s policies for assessment of reading, and for remediation of struggling readers, make no allowance for the holistic nature of biliterate students’ development of literacy. In fact, ‘knowledge acquired in one language is always available to help make sense of input provided in second or additional languages’. The authors have been developing and testing a framework for understanding ‘paired’ Spanish-English literacy acquisition, in which lessons are coordinated across both language environments. The model calls on teachers to attend equally to ‘oracy, reading, writing, and metalanguage’. Tests of the model have been undertaken, involving 200 teachers and nearly 4000 students. An associated longitudinal study has assessed the reading and writing of participating students, in Spanish and English, from kindergarten to grade five. The article reports on the authors’ analysis of a subset of this data, involving 268 grade 3 students, all ‘emerging bilinguals’, in 2007-08. The authors analysed these students’ literacy performance on three sets of assessments. On the basis of English-only tests, 224 students (84%) would be deemed to need ILPs. On Spanish-only tests, the figure was 148 (55%). When assessed according to the authors’ holistic Spanish-English model of literacy development, only 106 students (40%) required ILPs. These findings have led one Colorado school district to consider both the English and Spanish literacy development of a student, when judging whether an emerging biliterate student needs an ILP.
Language and languages
English language teaching
United States of America (USA)
Student disengagement in the science classroom
Volume 58 Number 4, 2014; Pages 6–9
Enrolments in year 12 science subjects have declined substantially in recent decades. This can be attributed, in part, to students’ increasing disengagement with science, which commences before students have reached secondary school. One likely reason for this disengagement is an over-reliance on textbooks for science learning. Textbooks are ‘dense, and full of new and difficult vocabulary and concepts’, beyond the capacities of low-literacy readers. A wider variety of texts should be made available to students, such as ‘reference books, explanation books, field guides, how to books, narrative expository books, biographies and journals’. These sources are less demanding on readers, and accessible to a much wider range of students. The door should be left open to allow fiction a place in scientific teaching as well. More generally, science teachers should cultivate a love of reading in students. Reading for pleasure has been shown to have a positive correlation to ‘educational wellbeing’ and academic achievement. The article recommends a number of ways to help engage students in scientific reading. They include catering to students’ different academic levels and cultural backgrounds, providing opportunities for students to collaborate and share reading experiences, and urging a whole-school approach to literacy as an explicit priority in the school’s strategic plan.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsReading difficulties
Volume 46 Number 2, June 2014; Pages 157–193
Conducted in 2009, this study sought to examine ‘the language choices teens make when they write digitally and engage in digitalk.’ The researchers set out to discover the conventions of 'digitalk' and why teenagers make such language choices. It explores how digital language has evolved in response to technology and the skills of the users, and whether the use of digitalk ‘may actually be a mark of growth and proficiency in literacy’. It goes on to explore whether users knowingly use digitalk over Standard Written English (SWE) as a choice or due to a lack of knowledge of SWE. For the study the researcher examined instant messages and social media posts from 81 students in grades 7-12, from a variety of schools in a large metropolitan area in the northeastern USA. Evidence was also obtained in a survey completed by 75 students, and from interviews with nine of the participants. The results did not support some of the stereotypes surrounding digitalk. For example, students deviated from SWE by choice, to reduce typing, or to create a personalised voice, rather than due to lack of knowledge of SWE. Students were seen to switch from digitalk to SWE when using technology to talk with people other than their peers, such as teachers or grandparents. Participants from different geographical areas were likely to understand and accept digitalk conventions used by other groups of teens. The participants were also adept at infusing personal voice into digitalk, for example through the use of alternative spellings. The article includes a table detailing the survey results.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
Interpreting the relationships among prosody, automaticity, accuracy, and silent reading comprehension in secondary students
Volume 46 Number 2, June 2014; Pages 123–156
A study has examined the factors affecting the reading comprehension of 108 year 9 students, based in a disadvantaged, low-performing school in the USA. The study examined the contribution to comprehension made by prosody, accuracy and automaticity of word recognition. Word recognition accuracy is the ability to decode written words into their oral form. Automaticity is the ability to perform this decoding with minimal cognitive effort; it is usually measured by the speed of reading, and includes the ability to interpret low-frequency words. Prosody is reading with expression. Prosody is a characteristic of silent as well as oral reading. It includes correct use of pitch and stress, use of phrasing and insertion of pauses appropriate to the meaning of the text. Accuracy, automaticity and prosody are the elements of reading fluency. The findings highlighted the importance of prosody as a contributor to reading comprehension of the students in the study. Automaticity of word recognition was not found to contribute to reading comprehension.
Reading time with goals in mind
September 2014; Pages 54–59
Strong reading skills benefit student’s learning across their entire education. However, students do not become strong readers simply by reading: teachers should also set clear reading goals for students, such as improving comprehension or engaging more deeply with story, character, and plot. Teachers should work with students to set these goals, based on students’ current reading patterns and styles. Teachers should also develop their awareness of students’ reading patterns during class reading time, taking note students’ reactions when they are reading, who sits quietly, who is obviously interacting with what they are reading, and who fidgets or looks away. Teachers can also look for longer term patterns in students’ behaviour, and what opportunities this raises assisting reading comprehension or setting reading goals. Teachers should allow students to choose what they read, in the hope that they will pick something that they engage with. This must still be supervised, as students who are reading above their comprehension level will not engage with a text, no matter how interesting they may find the content, and students who are not challenged by the books they read will also lose focus and, once again, disengage. It is vital that students are committed to improving their reading skills. However, do not allow students to set their goals unaided, else they may set superficial or unreachable goals that will hinder rather than help. The article includes a guide on meeting with students to set goals. Included is a list of questions and prompts to help set clear and helpful tasks. At the end of the each meeting, give students tangible reminders of the goals decided on as well as a clear strategy for achieving them. The teacher should keep their own records of these goals and strategies. The article contains an example of these ideas successfully put into action. (To access this article, go to the ASCD home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsReading difficulties
English language teaching
Volume 96 Number 1, September 2014; Pages 53–58
The world is changing rapidly and there are one billion children in the world who need to be taught how best to adapt to these changes. Knowing how to learn, unlearn, and relearn skills optimises the chance of success when someone is faced with change. Since 'learning is best acquired through a process of action, reflection, and adaptation', teaching students these ideas via a hands-on, practical approach is vital for their future. Using this cycle, the Centre for Creative Leadership, in conjunction with schools, teach students the skills they require to become leaders within their communities. Ravenscroft, a school in Raleigh, North Carolina, has developed an initiative called Lead From Here which is designed to teach students how to engage in self-reflective study as well as develop a sense of identity by involving them in their community. Students develop skills that they will need overcome future challenges and become local leaders. In Johannesburg, South Africa, the African Leadership Academy is a private boarding school that recruits 15-19 year olds. They are creating a 6,000 strong network of young leaders across Africa. Regular self-reflection along with peer and community feedback is used in an attempt to ensure that they continually work to address relevant regional issues. Riverside School, in Ahmedabad, India, has pioneered a model designed to prepare students to enact positive change. Using their skills to reflect, solve problems, and think critically, students will be able to make life better for their communities.
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