Vocabulary instruction in fifth grade and beyond: sources of word learning and productive contexts for development
Volume 85 Number 1, March 2015; Pages 50–91
The article describes findings from a review of 33 research reports, covering the types of instruction that best help vocabulary learning in years 5-12. Vocabulary instruction in most 5-12 classrooms relies on methods that research has proved to be inefficient: ‘dictionary searches, definitions and sentence writing’. These methods detach words from oral language and from meaningful contexts. By contrast, wide reading has the potential to develop vocabulary: wide reading presents words in meaningful contexts and in relation to a body of relevant general knowledge. However, these benefits only emerge from the reading of challenging texts offering new, more complex material; research indicates that many adolescents do not challenge themselves in this way. Another rider is that the benefits of wide reading only emerge once students already have a strong foundation in reading skills. Students without this foundation need teachers' help to develop their vocabulary. Students need to see a target word in multiple contexts, in order to develop a rich understanding of the word and its connections to a range of meanings and concepts. Students may also need to explore the meanings of words in discipline-specific contexts. Students should be taught how to infer the meaning of a target word from the words and sentences that precede or follow it. Students need to be able to understand the morphological structure of words, and apply this knowledge to the interpretation of words with similar structure: this skill becomes increasingly valuable for the understanding of discipline-specific language. Target words should be ‘conceptually rich and commonly found in students’ learning environments’. Teachers need to introduce students to the polysemous nature of many words. More broadly teachers should encourage students ‘to become conscious of and interested in words all around them’. Many of these opportunities for vocabulary development arise during teachers’ interactions with students, where the teacher discusses word meanings as part of more general instruction. Such interventions from the teacher require deep knowledge of ‘a repertoire of talk moves’, and also an awareness of a teacher’s key role in adolescent students’ vocabulary development. The article includes tables listing research reports related to vocabulary development and instruction, and reports related to teachers' ability to orchestrate productive discussions of word meanings.
Teaching and learning
The Biggest Loser
Volume 52 Number 1, 2015; Pages 5–7
In Victoria, four per cent of adolescents are now ‘problem gamblers’, according to the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. The greatest losses from gambling occur in low-SES areas. Internationally, Australia ‘leads the way in gambling losses per adult’. Such facts point to the need for secondary students to understand the issues that surround gambling. Six Victorian schools are currently trialling The Biggest Loser, a cross-curricular unit designed to help year 9 students understand the nature and impact of gambling. The unit offers teachers a way to cover a number of topics in the Australian Curriculum, in the subject areas of English, social education, health education and mathematics. Students have the opportunity to learn about gamblers’ personal stories; to examine relevant economic, political and legal considerations; and to express their personal responses to the issue. The unit also examines students’ attitudes to gambling, via pre- and post-unit questionnaires. The unit relates to the year 9 mathematics curriculum through the topics of probability and statistics. Three key mathematical concepts are addressed, in meaningful contexts. One concept is independence: students are encouraged to understand that ‘chance has no memory’, and that the likelihood of success on a given poker machine is not influenced by the outcome of prior games played on it. Another concept is expectation: students ‘deal with the confusion surrounding bookies’ odds, payouts and probabilities’, and learn to ‘evaluate and explain long term expected return in a gambling game’. The third concept is variability, through which students can learn that the hope of recouping losses diminishes as a game goes on. Mathematics teachers can use either worksheet-based or more open ended teaching methods. Gambling is heavily promoted through media advertising. The best chance of countering this intense message is via an integrated response from teachers in different subject areas, as encouraged in this unit. The unit was developed for the Mathematical Association of Victoria (MAV), with funding from the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. Other schools interested in taking part in the trial should contact email@example.com.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Health and Physical Education
Teaching and learning
Instructional expectations: patterns of principal leadership for middle school mathematics
Volume 12 Number 4, 2013; Pages 337–373
Effective instructional leadership by principals typically involves two functions. One is to promote a shared vision throughout the school, focusing on the need to give students academically challenging and meaningful work. The second function is to supervise teachers' instruction, guiding teachers toward particular, effective instructional strategies, and helping them overcome obstacles to the implementation of these strategies. A study has examined how principals have performed these functions in relation to the leadership of middle school mathematics teachers, in four US school districts. System leaders in these districts were implementing an initiative to provide high quality, standards-based instruction in mathematics. Schools were expected to provide intellectually demanding content and pedagogy for all students, in terms of the nature of tasks undertaken by students, and the quality of classroom discussion and student-teacher interactions. Students were to be offered problems-solving activities that called on them to undertake independent, content-rich tasks, and to ‘develop, discuss and defend mathematical arguments’. However, there is a danger that implementation of such initiatives stops at superficial, formal changes. For example a school might see the introduction of group work as successful implementation of an initiative, without bringing about the rich, independent thinking amongst students that group work is intended to accomplish. Evidence for the study was obtained from 30 principals or assistant principals and 122 middle school maths teachers. It included interviews with system leaders, principals, assistant principals and teachers, surveys of teachers, and observational data. During interviews, system leaders articulated a clear understanding of the goals of the initiative. However, most teachers indicated that the visions which their principals had articulated to them related to ‘outward patterns of instruction’, such as ‘the use of group work or hands-on activities’. By contrast, in cases where principals did articulate goals that captured the deeper purposes of the reform initiative, their teachers were also likely to articulate these goals. Some principals were also involved in supervision to guide teachers toward reform-aligned instructional practices. However, the research indicated that such supervision did not make it more likely that their teachers would articulate reform-oriented goals. The author offers possible explanations for this unexpected result. (To access this article, go to the Taylor and Francis home page and type the article title into the search box.)
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
Teaching and learning
Volume 58 Number 2; Pages 195–217
With the move towards large-scale student assessment programs it is vital that teachers are able to understand the reports that the testing produces. In an attempt to discover how well this information is understood by teachers, the authors conducted an online survey of Victorian government school teachers. The survey received 704 responses; analysis of the sample confirmed that it was ‘generally representative of the broader population of government school teachers’. The survey asked respondents to view, identify, and comment on data represented in various tables, graphs, and box plots, similar to those received by teachers after NAPLAN testing. The responses received were then put through a scoring rubric to measure and report on teachers’ understanding of the data. In total, 653 teachers completed every question and these respondents scored an average of 23 out of a possible 40 points, with 40 indicating a perfect interpretation of the data. There was a standard deviation of 8, indicating wide variation between teachers in terms of their ability to understand and apply the data. The most common score was 27, however, the distribution was negatively skewed: the results showed a long 'tail' of low-scoring teachers, rather than a standard distribution. The highest score was 38 while lowest score was 0. The results showed no significant statistical difference between the understandings of primary and secondary teachers. The results also showed no correlation between the results and the length of time participants had been teaching. Teachers who had attended relevant professional development scored more highly than their peers. Teachers' scores closely correlated to the level of statistics they had studied at school and university. The average score for a male teacher was 10% higher than the average score for a female teacher. The research shows the need for further development of teachers’ statistical literacy skills, to provide them with a deeper understanding of reports from large-scale student assessment programs such as NAPLAN. These programs ‘will need to promote relevance, and boost confidence as well as statistical knowledge’. This article includes the survey questions in an appendix.
Subject HeadingsTeaching profession
The power of creativity: supporting the learning of highly capable students
Volume 30 Number 1, 2015; Pages 14–16
Students who are highly capable or gifted in mathematics should be assisted not only through challenging tasks, but also by challenging their existing expectations of themselves. In general, the mathematical tasks a teacher sets for students may be seen to involve three stages. The first stage is the actual completion of the task, which may or may not need to be differentiated for gifted students. The second is for the students to explain and justify their solutions, orally and then in writing: written explanations are an important skill to develop over time. However, explanations may prove challenging for gifted students: the efficiency of their thinking may make it hard for them to tease out all the separate logical steps they have used while problems-solving. They may therefore resist this step, and may require teacher support to help them through it. A third, potential, phase of a task is to explore the mathematics of the task further, through subsequent activities. When gifted students finish a task ahead of most class members they should be taught to generate their own follow-up activities, eg by working out alternative solutions to the task, developing a more complicated version of it, or, in the case of games, improving the rules or developing efficient strategies for winning it. They should also be taught appropriate habits of mind. These include an acceptance that hard thinking is ‘a good thing’ not a sign of failure; that the process of solving a task is often more important that a speedy correct answer; and that ‘there is always something more to explore’. The habit of digging deeper into concepts and issues is one that the teacher will need to model to students.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsGifted and talented (GAT) children
Teaching and learning
Problem based learning
Mash-up tasks: a real classroom story about differentiation
Volume 30 Number 1, 2015; Pages 20–21
Differentiating instruction is often difficult and demanding for teachers. However, students’ questions and comments in class can sometimes offer opportunities for differentiation: students may raise concepts, and call for tasks, that are within the capacities of only the more advanced students, or that are of interest to only a minority of students. In these situations the teacher may create lesson ‘mash-ups’, in which the original task set for the class is blended, for some students, with new tasks emerging from student contributions to class discussion. The author describes an example, from a maths class for students in years 3 and 4. The focus of the lesson was to help students learn about volume, and was also linked to the topic of multiplication. The lesson called on students to work out how many boxes, differently shaped but of the same volume, could be created from a given set of numbers. Questions and comments from students led to differentiated tasks for two sub-groups of students, one task relating to the uniqueness of prime numbers and the other to the properties of cube numbers. Other, similar, approaches to differentiation might be to make a note of students’ questions and use them to differentiate instruction in a subsequent class, or to create ‘maths busters’ class, in which students attempt to prove or disprove mathematical ideas suggested by students themselves.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
The use of ethical frameworks for implementing Science as a Human Endeavour in year 10 biology
Volume 60 Number 4, December 2014; Pages 17–33
The article explores research into the use of ethical frameworks while implementing the Australian Curriculum: Science in year 10 biology, with particular reference to the curriculum strand Science as a Human Endeavour (SHE). The research involved two mixed-ability classes at a non-denominational Christian college in Perth. The aim of the research was to compare the effectiveness of two approaches to ethics, both designed to improve students’ ability to reason analytically and make decisions about ethical issues. The classes undertook a ten week unit on ethics in science. Topics included genetically modified food, in-vitro fertilization, cloning, and a range of questions about the ideas expressed in the film My Sister’s Keeper, based on the novel of the same title by Jodie Picoult. The classes were taught different approaches to these ethical issues. One class was taken through a ‘simple framework’: students were asked to consider the ethics involved in a range of situations, from the viewpoints of the various parties involved. The other class considered each situation using five different ethical frameworks: deontological, where citizens’ duties and associated rights are discussed; utilitarian, where the common good is prioritised and risk verses cost is considered; autonomy, where individuals have the right to make their own informed decisions; virtuousness, where the moral outcomes of right and wrong were looked at; and Christian morals. This final framework was added to incorporate ‘a Christian perspective’ so as to study ‘a particular religious moral outlook and its varying degree of expression in a predominantly religious institution’. Before and after the course the students completed surveys covering ethical scenarios relevant to science. The research showed that students who had completed the simple framework course could ‘think about options and alternatives they normally would not think of themselves’ and that it created a ‘notable attitude change… and greater awareness of the benefits of biotechnology.’ Students who had completed the five ethical frameworks course showed a ’more distinct use of scientific knowledge’ and a capacity for more complex argumentation. The use of ethical framework was found to be a viable tool for use in the SHE strand of the Australian Curriculum: Science with students who used the five ethical frameworks showing a greater improvement in learning outcomes.
Key Learning AreasScience
Volume 96 Number 1, September 2015; Pages 28–29
One extracurricular way for teachers to create lasting change is through the writing of opinion pieces. They are a great way to give ideas a broader reach. Being ‘short, punchy, and easy to read’ they are often seen by the wider community, unlike most peer-reviewed journals. As opinion pieces need to be written quickly, read news and social media to stay on top of what is being discussed. If a suitable subject is making the rounds, it is a great time to write about it. Try to ‘fit your brilliant ideas into 800 words or less’ as a shorter and tighter style is what most publications look for. Use accessible language and avoid terminology that requires prior knowledge. The more accessible a piece is, the more likely it is to reach a broader audience. Write an ‘introduction that grabs the reader’ and a ‘conclusion that takes a stand’. When taking such a stand be prepared for backlash. People will disagree with some views and will be vocal in their disagreement. This article suggests way of interacting with, or avoiding, such reactions.
Subject HeadingsMass media
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