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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Who's using the language? Supporting middle school students with content area academic language

Volume 58 Number 5, February 2015; Pages 376–387
Dianna Townsend

In secondary school each subject area is accompanied by its own academic language, distinctive to the discipline. Students need the skills and knowledge to access and apply this language. However, helping students acquire this academic language base is a significant challenge for subject area teachers. The Developing Content Area Academic Language (DCAAL) project aimed to help teachers meet this challenge. DCAAL was a professional development study involving eight teachers, eight university facilitators, and 304 students in grades 7 or 8. The project, which took place over one academic year, covered the subject areas of mathematics, science, social studies, and English language arts. The students were all from the same, disadvantaged school. Most spoke Spanish as their first language, but they were diverse in their countries of origin. The students’ teachers varied widely in their levels of experience and subject specialisms. Over the course of the project the faciltators and teachers discussed functional language analysis, drawing on key works that considered the language demands of science textbooks and other disciplines, including maths and history. They also considered the distinctive demands on students imposed by listening and reading (‘receptive’ language) and writing and speaking (‘productive’ language). A third area of study related to academic vocabulary, and in particular, the important role played by morphology in different disciplinary contexts. This included teaching students to break words down into root, prefix or suffix, and identify their syntactic and semantic meanings, and also – particularly in the context of science – to understand the use of nominalisation. Evidence to evaluate the project was obtained from teachers’ entry interviews, a teacher exit survey, three professional development workshops, and classroom observations which were videotaped and discussed with teachers. Issues for discussion included students’ developing use of academic language with the teacher or peers; the aspects of academic language that the students found easiest or hardest; and the techniques that teachers found most helpful for developing students’ academic language in class. One of the most valuable exercises was found to be very short activities, ‘such as quick-writes or pair shares’, which could be smoothly integrated at several points into the lesson: these exercises gave students practice with academic language and challenged them to make sense of the language, while also serving formative assessment roles for the teacher. Another valuable exercise given to students was a 10-20 minute task targeted to academic language use. The strategies teachers used to build students' morphological awareness varied by subject area. In science, a key strategy revolved around helping students unpack dense, technical sentences, while in social studies the teacher sought to develop students’ use of evocative adjectives, which the students could then apply in writings about historical events. Students were tested at the start and end of the project. Overall, the students made ‘statistically and practically significant gains on spelling and morphology in academic language’. Students who had a DCAAL teacher for more than one subject made greater gains than other participants with regard to their ability to ‘generate morphologically complex academic words’. A free author podcast about the article is available.

Key Learning Areas

Studies of Society and Environment

Subject Headings

Language and languages
Science teaching
Mathematics teaching
English as an additional language
English language teaching

Web-mediated knowledge synthesis for educators

Volume 58 Number 5, February 2015; Pages 388–396
Michael DeSchryver

Online information is rapidly changing, in terms of bandwidth, storage capacities, and processing speeds, along with storage systems and the algorithms used to retrieve information from them. ‘Web mediated knowledge synthesis’ is an approach that helps teachers prepare students for the literacy demands of this evolving online world. A core principle of the approach is to use web services to perform the simpler types of work with information, in order to free up the student’s time and energy for higher-order, creative work and thinking. The article describes the stages of the web mediated knowledge synthesis process. Almost all web research commences with key word searches on search engines. Students are often content to use a single search term, but should instead be encouraged to try a diverse range of search words and phrases. Students should store the search terms they have used, and the sites they lead to, on an online word processing document. The second stage of the process is for students to synthesise knowledge from various sources and media types. This activity may eventually be undertaken by literacy robots, or 'litbots', but for now it is a ‘difficult and complex activity' for students, which involves 'a variety of skills and strategies'. Students should be asked to provide a synthesis of knowledge obtained, and try to articulate what they learned about the research topic. From this point onwards students should move to more creative construction of new knowledge. For example, if the topic is online plagiarism the student might make a conceptual leap to address this issue within the broader theme of digital citizenship. During this phase of the work it ‘may take time and heavy scaffolding to achieve even small gains’. Students are likely to explore a range of text types and different reading strategies. It is also important for students to have periods of time to think offline, away from the distractions of the web. After this stage students should learn to repurpose the ideas they have found, ie adapt the ideas to new contexts, where they may be applied on different scales, perhaps blended with other ideas, a process already widespread due to the ‘remix culture’ of the web. Ideas may be repurposed to pursue goals antithetical to those in the original sources. Another useful activity is for students to search the web for material to reinforce their ideas: the new material they find is likely to deepen or adapt their understanding. Note-taking is an important part of literacy that needs to be adapted to the online world. While offline note-taking remains useful for exploratory, temporary sketches of ideas, online note-taking services, or apps, such as Diigo, allow notes to be added to, tagged, and integrated with other material, serving once again as the basis for generative thinking. The capacities of these apps is considerable; they should be introduced to students slowly, so as not to overwhelm them. A free author podcast about the article is available.


Subject Headings

Secondary education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Information literacy
Information services
Information management

The Australian National Curriculum: an early childhood perspective

Volume 14 Number 1, February 2015; Pages 11–13
Anna Marie Shin

Early years curricula, for children aged up to eight years old, have been increasingly systematised as governments around the world focus on their economic and social importance of the early years of education. However, several tensions underlie these curricula, and impact on children’s transition to school. The ‘school readiness’ approach used in English speaking countries contrasts to the social pedagogy tradition used in Scandinavia and Central Europe. Another tension exists between the relative emphasis to be given to process and content within curricula. Within Australia, the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), for children aged up to five years, emphasises process, in terms such as ‘interactions, experiences, activities and events’ that children experience; it does not specify content to be covered or content knowledge that children are to acquire. In contrast, the Australian Curriculum specifies content in terms of learning areas, general capabilities and cross curriculum priorities, but does not set out any particular pedagogical processes for educators to employ. And while the EYLF takes a holistic approach, the Australian Curriculum quantifies learning through standardised national tests. The difference of approach between the two curricula ‘sets the scene for miscommunication and misunderstanding’. It is crucial to address these problems, by creating effective lines of communication between before-school and school contexts, and by integrating process and content. For example, educators who start from children’s interests and experiences should nevertheless have an understanding of the content that is available and useful for helping young children learn.


Subject Headings

Early childhood education
Curriculum planning
Primary education

Is this cheap kitsch art? Analyzing what aesthetic value is

Volume 61 Number 1, 13 March 2014
Cindy Hasio

Kitsch items in low-price, 'dollar' stores can be used in the classroom to examine the nature of aesthetic value within contemporary culture. The term ‘kitsch’ derives from the German word ‘kitschen’, meaning ‘to cheapen or make do’. It emerged with the rise of mass produced artworks, within the budgets of members of the working and middle classes. Often, the term also connotes 'low' or 'bad' art, in the sense of it being fake, overdone, tacky, poorly executed, and lacking originality: art that does not require high levels of training, skill or creativity to create, and does little to stimulate critical thought in the consumer. Nevertheless, kitsch art offers value as an object of academic study. Students may be encouraged to look beyond the objects in isolation, to consider their production and marketing, contrasted to that of traditional art. Kitsch objects may also be studied in terms of form and technique; changing ideals of beauty; the relationship of art to personal identity; symbolism; metaphor; and irony. The article includes high school students’ descriptions of two kitsch objects from dollar stores. By offering students ‘the tools of contemporary aesthetic investigation’ students can explore ‘the aesthetic and conceptual questions that lie embedded in art and artefacts’.

Key Learning Areas

The Arts

Subject Headings

Social life and customs
Visual arts
Visual literacy
Arts in education

Keep an eye on surveillance

Number 2, March 2015; Pages 32–33
Antonia Maiolo

Surveillance technology is starting to enter Australian schools. The article presents an interview with Andrew Hope, a criminologist at the University of Adelaide, who discusses ways in which surveillance technologies are employed within schools, and the issues they raise. In England Scotland and Wales, closed-circuit television cameras record information on over 1.28 million students. In the USA surveillance includes drug and alcohol testing and compulsory pedometers to record students’ daily exercise levels. Games used in schools, such as Xbox Fitness and Wii Fit, also have surveillance capabilities. Other intrusive measures include fingerprinting and palm and iris scanning, to achieve efficiencies such as faster registration. At some schools within Australia, ID cards have started to be used. Students are required to ‘swipe’ into and out of school each day; emails are then automatically sent to parents recording their childrens’ time of arrival and departure. These measures raise significant issues in terms of students’ privacy. They also threaten to erode trust within a school culture. A further concern is the potential for stigmatisation of students who must, for example, report use of prescription drugs, or body piercings. The effectiveness of surveillance in meeting its stated purposes needs to be examined. For instance, while many US schools use metal detectors, the number of school shootings has continued to rise. A further issue to consider is the commercial interest of private security providers in extending the use of intrusive technologies. As these technologies are not limited to schools, they have broad implications for modern society.


Subject Headings

School equipment
School culture

Personal learning networks: a new way to learn

Volume 19 Number 1, Summer 2015; Pages 9–18
Kelly Gardiner

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are formal or informal groups of people, usually in a professional context, who share information and support one another, providing professional development. Online technologies have greatly extended the capacities and value of PLNs. Online platforms allow members to share a rich range of resources covering literature, news,  and current discussion and debates in the wider profession. At the same time, relying on trusted colleagues within PLNs to supply high quality material also acts as a filter to the vast amount of information potentially available on the web, reducing the danger of information overload. Online PLNs are also valuable in  breaking down geographical, hierarchical, institutional, and disciplinary boundaries. Individuals can easily create online PLNs, by inviting participation from close colleagues, as well as from experts or other prominent individuals who contribute to one’s area of interest. Links may also be established with relevant organisations, such as AITSL, or existing networks, such as OzTL-Net. A key step is to choose a technological platform on which to collaborate. An email newsletter offers a simple platform. Twitter is easy to manage, while Facebook ‘pages’ are used by a range of professional organisations. The article discusses the work of a particular learning network, VicPLN, which was set up by the State Library of Victoria (SLV) and the School Library Association of Victoria (SLAV), which runs online courses and webinars. These courses have evolved over time. For example, they place growing emphasis on concepts, such as online publishing, rather than tools, such as a specific publishing option: this helps members cope with ongoing change. The #VicPLN hashtag on Twitter, originally used to help members collaborate, is now used more widely for communication between educators. Surveys of those participating in VicPLN courses have revealed ‘incredible shifts in confidence and transformation of practice’.


Subject Headings

Professional development
Teacher training

Developing media literacy: managing fear and moving beyond

Volume 6 Number 3,  2015; Pages 65–70
Katherine Fry

Historically, new media technologies have tended to generate fear. This was true of both film and television, and is even more the case with regard to the new digital environment. A strong feature of these fears is the tendency to view particular media issues in isolation. The media literacy movement has attempted to ease undue public fears about the new media environment, and, as part of this work, to look at media holistically. The article describes two instances of public fears about digital technology, and the response from one media literacy organisation, The Learning About Multimedia Project (LAMP). The first instance concerned internet safety. Public worries over this issue initially focused on internet predators, but these later became subordinated to fears about issues such as cyberbullying and sexting. In this particular case, a school student used a mobile phone to threaten classmates, leading the principal to involve local police and also to meet with LAMP, as a provider of education about multimedia. At the meeting, LAMP representatives proposed an education program in which internet safety was integrated into broader coverage of issues including ‘privacy, creativity, playing with identity, evaluating sources’ and other topics. This was vehemently rejected by the police and the principal, who both wanted the school to run an intensive, narrowly focused scare campaign about the dangers of the internet. The second case involved LAMP’s contribution to a news literacy summit for high school students. LAMP proposed a workshop on the economics of news, including discussion of the constraints imposed on news coverage by advertisers. This was vehemently rejected due to the organisers’ narrow focus on traditional news journalism, and the threats made to it from informal news sources of unregulated quality, such as blogs. As a compromise, LAMP gave a workshop on the way that sound, text and image contributed to news on radio, TV and newspapers. These two experiences illustrate the wider issues confronting the media literacy movement.

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Mass media study and teaching
Social life and customs

On the persistence and attrition of women in mathematics

Volume 5 Number 1

A researcher has interviewed female undergraduates planning to embark on mathematics teaching or other mathematics careers, to establish factors influencing their career decisions. The study covered six teaching and six non-teaching undergraduates. In terms of earlier influences on their career decisions, eight of the participants referred to the influence of a family member, and six of these referred to their father. All 12 participants had been recognised as mathematically talented by their teachers, and given enrichment activities. When asked about what they appreciated from learning mathematics, nine of the women spoke of its real-world applications. All of the teaching students intended to become teachers; the others’ career intentions were disparate or unformed. Ten of the 12 said they wanted careers where they could help people. When asked about obstacles to maths careers, the six non-teachers and one of the teaching students mentioned lack of knowledge about potential mathematically-related careers. While a number of the participants had been encouraged to go on with maths specifically because they were women, four reported being teased for being interested in maths, or having other negative gender-related experiences. These negative experiences tapered off in more senior years of school. For both teachers and non-teachers, the main reasons for persisting in the study of maths were enjoyment of the subject, and having consolidated strong mathematical identities. It is important for educators and parents not only to encourage girls’ interest in maths, but also to make them aware of potential mathematically-related careers, as suggested, for example, by the Mathematical Association of America and the Americal Mathematical Society.

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Teaching profession

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