Socioeconomic status and the career aspirations of Australian school students: testing enduring assumptions
Volume 42 Number 2, April 2015; Pages 155–177
Governments and universities are seeking to widen participation in tertiary education amongst students from under-represented social groups. Efforts to do so frequently focus on raising the educational and vocational aspirations of these students, with secondary school seen as the most suitable time to target them. A study in NSW has examined the career aspirations of over 3500 students, across years 4, 6, 8 and 10. The study aimed to identify the sources and strength of students’ career aspirations, how they develop over time, and how they are influenced by their prior academic achievement, and by demographic variables such as SES, gender, and location. The students were based in 59 schools, city and provincial, all public schools apart from one Catholic secondary; in terms of SES the schools were representative of Australian schools generally. The research was part of a four year longitudinal study. Evidence was obtained from a survey of the students and from NAPLAN results and demographic data. It is commonly thought that younger students have less realistic career aspirations, and that careers education should therefore be targeted at higher year levels. However, the study found that younger and older students had similar career preferences and a similar balance of altruistic and financial motivations. Year 10 students were the most tentative about their career choices. While this may suggest the need to emphasise career planning at this year level, ‘it is not clear that students are either ready to make firm decisions or need to’ at this age. A more promising approach is to help students clarify what they want from future careers, and show them how their interests and capacities might suit a range of careers, including ones that they had not yet considered. The study measured students’ career aspirations in terms of their degree of certainty over career choice, the prestige of the occupation they chose, and their justification for choosing it. Students from high-SES backgrounds were only slightly more likely than others to aspire to high-prestige occupations; high levels of prior academic achievement were a stronger predictor of high career aspirations. The finding suggests that efforts to increase equity in higher education should focus on improving the academic results of lower-SES students, rather than trying to raise their career aspirations.
Contemplative education: a systematic, evidence-based review of the effect of meditation interventions in schools
Volume 27 Number 1, 2015; Pages 103–134
A literature review has examined how school meditation programs contribute to students’ well-being and social competence. Meditation ‘refers to the deliberate act of regulating attention through the observation of thoughts, emotions and body states’. It focuses attention on an ‘anchor’ such as one’s own breathing, an external object, or the thought of a loved one or deity. During meditation one considers interruptions dispassionately, and repeatedly disengages from them, refocusing on the object of contemplation. The article includes a table describing different types of meditation, including mindfulness, Zen, and transcendental meditation. Schools are a promising channel to impart the value of meditation, due to their reach and the regularity of their contact with young people. In schools, ‘contemplative education’ (CE) may be used to promote deeper awareness of, and compassion for, oneself and others; CE has been found to help students to process information and to understand the connections between thoughts and feelings. The literature review reported in the article covered 15 studies of meditation in schools, summarised in a nine-page table. Overall results suggest that meditation generates small improvements in students’ well-being and social competence, with benefit more pronounced in reducing negative outcomes for students, rather than in enhancing positive ones. The most effective programs were those that ran over relatively long periods, and that were held daily rather than weekly. The impact of courses tended to rise with students’ year levels. The largest single success factor was having the meditation classes conducted by the students’ teachers, rather than other instructors. The authors discuss the comparative effectiveness of different styles of meditation for enhancing wellbeing and social competence, but warn of ‘significant confounding across the variables’. For example, while transcendental meditation programs produced the strongest overall benefits for students, these programs were also conducted most frequently and for the longest duration. The impact of meditation programs on academic achievement received relatively little attention in the literature; research on this issue is 'still in its infancy'.
Personal and social capability
Show me what you know
Volume 68 Number 5, February 2015; Pages 388–392
Project work in kindergarten is a means to fulfil two of the key roles of early years’ educators: building the foundations for literacy and numeracy, while also nurturing children’s curiosity, confidence and social skills. The article follows project work in the class of one kindergarten teacher. Roles, rituals and routines were used to prepare the ground for collaboration, effective use of classroom materials, and approaches to problem-solving. Projects were drawn from students’ own expressed interests rather than topics pre-determined by the teacher; the teacher recorded the children’s ‘wonderings’ and guided the children towards ways to investigate them, aligned to the curriculum. Project work overlapped with another element of the classroom: the use of subject-related workstations, dedicated, for example, to maths, art, building or literacy. The workstations were places for open-ended, imaginative exploration by the students. One project emerged from the building workstation, and children’s interest in learning about and creating a model zoo. The teacher took the children through non-fiction texts, including features such as a table of contents and maps, pointing out how the children could incorporate such features into their own books. The children also created model buildings and signposting. The teacher then encouraged students to connect with the wider community, for example by writing letters to experts at the local zoo. The teacher was influenced by the Reggio Emilia philosophy of child learning.
Inquiry based learning
Lively minds: distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children
9 April 2015
One major debate in early childhood education is when and how to introduce academic learning to kindergarten or preschool children. Typical academic knowledge covered at this age level includes the alphabet, days of the week, and counting. In these debates, academic learning is usually counterposed to activities such as free play, building with blocks, or listening to stories. This is an unhelpful dichotomy that obscures the key need for informal but intellectually stimulating experiences for young children. Academic goals relate to ‘small discrete elements of disembodied information’: they involve drills, worksheets, memorisation, formulae, and the provision of a single correct answer to a question. By contrast, intellectual goals relate to the wider life of the mind, and cover reasoning, analysis, and aesthetic and moral sensibilities. Intellectual activities might involve, for example, children predicting the outcome of investigations. This form of learning draws on children’s innate dispositions and inclinations. While undertaking intellectual activities, children will tend to draw on their early knowledge of mathematics and literacy, and come to appreciate its relevance to their lives. Intellectual activities potentially allow equal participation from children whose homes offer no academic or literary resources. These environments are often ‘precarious’ for children, and present ‘substantial and often complex’ cognitive challenges for them. However, these challenges generate their own forms of intellectual development, which these children can express and apply in class, if given the chance. The intellectual dispositions of children may be weakened or damaged by premature exposure to academic drills; at the same time, children are poorly served by trivial, banal activities common in child care and preschool settings. Children should instead ‘conduct investigations of significant objects and events around them’. An intellectually-based approach provides the best long-term preparation for school; an academically focused approach may produce good short term outcomes on tests, but this may mask longer term problems. Premature academic instruction has been found to be particularly unhelpful for boys in early learning environments, possibly due to their slightly slower neurological development, or perhaps because girls have already been habituated to the passive roles required for academic learning.
Subject HeadingsTransitions in schooling
Child care centres
Early childhood education
Teaching and learning
What school movies and TFA teach us about who should teach urban youth: dominant narratives as public pedagogy
Volume 50 Number 3, 2015; Pages 288–315
Teach for America (TFA) is an alternative teacher credentialing program, placing graduates from top-ranking universities and colleges into schools serving disadvantaged, minority communities. Over 60% of TFA participants are white, while 90% of their students are black or Latino. The article compares the images of teaching created by the TFA to those generated by recent films about teachers, and assesses both against research evidence on effective ways to promote learning within disadvantaged communities. The TFA’s messages to its participants emphasise the value of their individual contributions to the disadvantaged children they teach, and their potential as TFA members to be future leaders of the country. By implication the program challenges the need for mainstream teacher training. Elements of the TFA’s approach to teaching are reinforced, in sensationalised terms, by films about teachers distributed in the last ten years. The article describes four such films, all major releases in the USA: Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, The Substitute and The Substitute II: School’s Out. Each film includes at least two scenes of the protagonist teaching. The four protagonists are presented as ‘white saviours’ who are better able to educate students than their bureaucratic, burnt-out colleagues with mainstream teacher training. Disadvantaged school communities are portrayed as something for students to fear and to escape from. However research indicates that students achieve more highly when taught by teachers who have graduated from mainstream teaching courses, and teachers with extensive experience. Research also highlights the fact that students from disadvantaged ethnic minorities learn best through culturally relevant pedagogy, in which the teachers see themselves as part of the student’s community, learn from it, and value what students bring from it. The TFA works as a ‘resume builder’ and networking opportunity for participants; for government it reduces costs while generating a sense of ‘doing something’ for the disadvantaged. Like the recent spate of teacher films, the TFA approach implies ‘that no amount of money will create alternative outcomes for Black and Brown, low-income youth’. The article also describes emerging opposition to the TFA at state government level, and from bodies such as the Free Minds, Free People.
Subject HeadingsEthnic groups
Teaching and learning
United States of America (USA)
Sweet sisters in the UAE
Number 2, March 2015; Pages 13–14
Many independent schools around the world are setting up sister sites in the Middle East, catering to a strong demand for high-quality educational infrastructure. Australian education has a strong reputation, giving local independent schools attractive opportunities to expand. Of particular interest is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In two of the UAE’s emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, systems are in place to allow international schools to set up local sites with varying degrees of support from its international partner. In 2014 Dubai introduced two partnership models for international schools looking to expand. Under the ‘branch model’ a Dubai-based partner purchases and builds the school and its facilities, which it continues to manage; it receives rent and overhead payments from the international partner. The international partner then operates all other aspects of the school independently. This is an attractive option for schools who wish to remain in direct control of their name and standards of educational provision. Under the ‘shared management model’ a local partner once again builds the campus, but also operates the school, and may not use the international partner's name. This option poses less risk to the international partner but is also less profitable, and has proved desireable to local providers. There is room for other forms of partnership arrangements, but they require approval from the relevant regulatory authority. Abu Dhabi has similar systems set in place but has more flexible options, which are also outlined in the article. There are risks and rewards in exploring international education markets and each school should carefully consider both before attempting to expand internationally.
Subject HeadingsInternational education
The real life application of pulleys in a competitive environment
Volume 61 Number 1, March 2015; Pages 18–26
The topics taught in school physics are relevant to everyday life, but for students their relevance is often obscured by the abstract way in which the subject is taught. Students gain more sense of the relevance of physics, and are more motivated to study it, when they experience its application in real-life settings, and when they are involved in group work. A recent study has explored this idea by gathering 24 students in year 7 and placing them into six groups to complete various pulley construction scenarios in a competitive environment. Evidence was obtained from observation of the group’s activities and from interviews with students after the completion of the tasks. Six months before the study, the students had been taught about pulleys at a broad theoretical level, which did not, however, factor in practical contextual issues influencing pulleys' operation, such as friction. Participants who relied purely on the theoretical method they had been taught were unable to complete the tasks, in contrast to students who adapted and improved the theoretical model by trial-and-error. The study supports findings of previous research in suggesting that students who are taught physics only at an abstract theoretical level have difficulty applying their knowledge in practical situations at a later date. It is much more helpful to have them apply theoretical concepts in practical contexts as they learn them, so that they can develop and refine what they are learning under the impact of immediate experience.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Passive, active or both
Volume 61 Number 1, March 2015; Pages 50–51
In scientific writing the passive voice has been the convention since the 1920s. The passive voice is used to distance the researcher from their experiments and focus the attention on the research as being replicable. This can be seen when using verbs in relation to the research being completed: verbs such as 'examine', 'observe', 'measure' and 'record' all work well in the passive voice. However, the active voice may be more suitable when the author is discussing their own thinking or writing, as verbs such as 'cite', 'show' and 'inquire' work best in the active voice: this is referred to as meta-discourse, and is used by writers to announce the goals of their research or when writing their results.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
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