20 September 2005
A civic education is vital for building informed and responsible future citizens, who can competently participate in and shape their communities. However, civic education is often neglected in the USA, due to the focus on core subjects and high-stakes testing. To be effective, a civic education program must have allocated class time across all year levels; have explicit civics content; use relevant teaching approaches and be actively taught through both the formal and informal curriculum. Models provided by a school and teachers should be analysed to ensure they augment fundamental values, and send appropriate messages through the informal curriculum. Teachers must be well versed in the subjects of political science and democracy, political philosophy, history and law, and avoid teaching to their own beliefs. Lessons should develop participatory skills and avoid rote-learning, with research pointing to the importance of discussing current events and with students encouraged to develop and express their own opinions. Civics knowledge should be applied through community service and extra-curricular activities which are meaningful, student-chosen, project-based, and involve reflection. Student governments and legislative, negotiation, compromise and lobbying simulations are also valuable. Effective civic education has been shown to produce students who are knowledgeable, interested, active and able to critically analyse politics. It has also been shown to develop commitment to community-specific values and moral capabilities such as tolerance for others.
Subject HeadingsCivics education
United States of America (USA)
Social justice in the classroom
Volume 63 Number 1, September 2005; Pages 48–52
In the USA, an intense focus on high-stakes testing and pressure to adopt a narrow academic curriculum are decreasing teachers’ willingness to discuss social issues introduced by student questions. As a result, students absorb the message that controversial issues are unacceptable in class. Teaching strategies can also be limited by teachers' own unexamined beliefs. While education which excludes social issues can limit all students’ development, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds who rely on school for exposure and variety in learning tend to suffer most. These students are further disadvantaged when their ‘cultural capital’ is not acknowledged as a source of learning opportunity. Teachers can exclude social justice issues from class discussion in a range of ways. They may simply ignore what students say; rephrase students' comments to remove key elements of meaning from them; or marginalise student comments as being unrelated to the topic discussed, as the teacher wishes to present it. As a result, learning opportunities are neglected and students can lose confidence in their beliefs. A constructivist approach favours open-minded reaction to student input, relating this back to the lesson. Research suggests that the constructivist skills of investigation, reasoning, developing social relationships and dealing with complex issues are highly effective in fostering complex cognition and analytical skills.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Thought and thinking
Teaching and learning
3 October 2005; Page 12
A number of commentators have argued that the reduction in the number of books studied for the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) represents ‘English Lite’, a ‘dumbing down’ of the curriculum. In fact, the number of texts studied does not determine the quality of the course. The debate ignores the real decline in the Victorian curriculum over the past 30 years. In 1964 the Year 12 examination demanded knowledge not only of two texts but of skills in composition, precis, comprehension, clear thinking and vocabulary. This model of English produced strong communication skills. Since then these skills have been neglected. Current English teachers, in public or private schools, may struggle to teach the 1960s English curriculum. Computer spell-checkers and grammar-checkers are unreliable. Tertiary English educators in Australia and overseas are finding that students require remedial teaching in school-level English skills. Current study designs of English ‘at times read like a half-baked mish-mash of partially understood concepts from linguistics, critical theory and cultural studies’. To teach popular current concepts such ‘text types, registers and genres’ without sound grammatical foundation is like teaching calculus without prior training in arithmetic. A foundation of grammar and other basic supports are needed in Years 10, 11 or 12. There needs to be more integration of English teaching in primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational levels, backed up by human and material resources. English teachers probably need their skills upgraded, eg to reinstate the technical vocabulary available in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite its strengths, much of the 1960s curriculum and teaching was boring and pedantic. Material from the curriculum and teaching models of the 1960s should be reincluded in English classes, in a way that is ‘relevant, interesting, motivating and enriching for students of the 21st century’.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsTertiary education
Mass media study and teaching
English language teaching
3 October 2005; Pages 6–7
Coverage of classical literature is dwindling in the tertiary English curriculum. Dr Kerry Hempenstall, educational psychologist and Senior Lecturer at RMIT, argues that learning the classics improves literacy skills needed in the workforce, but blames students’ primary and secondary education for not training them in ‘the grammar and the capacity to understand a constructed argument’ needed to grasp the classics. He also blames the ‘outrageous notion’ of constructivism in school teaching methods, ‘when children construct their knowledge and they pick and choose from their own sources’. Educators adopting this method ‘wouldn't see The Simpsons or Buffy as less worthy than Shakespeare'. Federal Education Minister, Dr Brendan Nelson, has also been reported as saying that secondary students are increasingly studying 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Big Brother instead of Jane Austen and Emily Bronte’. Dr Peter Groves, a lecturer in Renaissance literature at Monash University, supports the need for students to be challenged by the classics and to go beyond contemporary texts, but suggests that even senior secondary students are not yet ready to learn classics, and will be put off by them if they are not well taught. Dr Catherine Beavis, Associate Professor at Deakin University’s Faculty of Education, says that VCE literature has recently been expanded to provide greater diversity of texts, and now includes multimedia texts that encourage links to other subject areas. She notes debate over criteria for selection of classic literature, eg its contemporary relevance, and that the English classroom is now expected to include wider school issues such as values education. She says literature teachers encourage active exploration of classic texts, eg by comparing Romeo and Juliet to their experiences or trying to write in period style. Greg Houghton, president of the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English (VATE), says that classics teaching is compatible with the adoption of other content.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsTertiary education
Mass media study and teaching
English language teaching
Do teachers need a code of ethics?
Volume 37 Number 4, August 2005; Pages 16–17
The Australian Education Union (South Australia) has been considering the adoption of a code of ethics along the lines of that which was adopted by the Third World Congress of Education International in 2001. The Declaration on Professional Ethics, formulated and adopted by that body, seeks a series of commitments from teachers to the profession, students, colleagues, management personnel and parents. In this article, Larsen defines what is meant by the term ethic, stating that it involves questions of right and wrong, and considerations of human good and human harm. He sees the adoption of a code of ethics as an opportunity for teachers to arrive at an agreed position of important beliefs and behaviours regarding the profession, and a rationale for those beliefs and behaviours, but warns against the formulation of hollow and ambiguous statements that provide no clear guide for action or behaviour. The values outlined in the Australian Government’s Values Education Study, as well as the provisions of the Declaration on Professional Ethics, are considered in this vein.
Ironing out the Blueprint
Volume 11 Number 5, August 2005; Pages 22–24
The Blueprint for Government Schools, a Victorian Government initiative launched in 2003, is aimed at comprehensive reform of the education system in Victoria, and its wide-ranging scope includes school leadership and culture, resource allocation, and curriculum and learning from P–10. Burgess considers the implementation of the Blueprint over the last eighteen months, and canvasses the opinion of senior personnel from the Department of Education and Training, school principals and union officials on its impact on the education system in Victoria. The government initiatives in teacher professional development and teaching and learning have been well received, as have the increased levels of autonomy for schools, but some of those interviewed suggested that the reforms should have extended to Years 11 and 12, and should have been better funded.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
Education and state
What’s work – and what works? Work education and young women’s pathways to securing a viable future
Volume 14 Number 1, April 2005; Pages 10–16
Boulden describes the inequalities, vulnerabilities and disadvantages that women, as a collective, endure in the workplace, and outlines specific issues that primary and secondary schools should address in order to change the gendered nature of work. Schools should be cognisant of the gendered choices of subject selection, and the impacts of these choices should be pointed out to students. For instance, Boulden observes that while there is a perception that girls are achieving at higher levels than boys across the disciplines, this achievement is not consolidated in girls' post-school pathways because of the subject choices they make. This is also true of VET, where young women ‘are overrepresented in lower level apprenticeships’. Career education in schools needs to be revamped to include the preparation of students for the circumstances of a working life and the realities of work, and schools have to play a part in changing students’ attitudes to unpaid work and responsibilities within the household. The article contains specific proposals on how these issues can be addressed in schools.
Subject HeadingsCareer education
Education aims and objectives
Vocational education and training
Young women and employment in the 21st century
Volume 14 Number 1, April 2005; Pages 2–5
Lisa Heap outlines the gender discriminatory practices that persist in Australian workplaces, draws attention to the inequity of women’s earnings as opposed to males', and ponders why schools are not doing more to educate young women for workplaces which are structured around their inequality to men. While women comprise a large and growing proportion of the Australian workforce, they still have to contend with working conditions that are, historically, centred on the male breadwinner model, and with domestic arrangements which continue to see them carry a disproportionate share of household work. The latter has seen many women (44 per cent of Australian women) opt for the inferior conditions and remuneration of part-time employment, a choice which curtails their careers and increases their vulnerability to labour market changes. Employers have consistently resisted changes to working conditions that would recognise the role that women play in families and households by maintaining an expectation of a 48-week year, and not allowing women to make easy transitions from work to either start families or care for children. While schools have produced young women who subscribe to a ‘you can have it all’ philosophy, they should also take responsibility for preparing them for this kind of systemic inequality, as well as for educating all students in values and behaviours which will enable them to resist gender inequality.
Questioning our patterns of questioning
Volume 10 Number 9, May 2005; Pages 484–489
Using open questions in classroom contexts is important for fostering students’ higher order thinking skills, but it is also important for their valuing their ideas and prior knowledge, and creating student-centred classroom environments. However, according to the authors of this article, merely using open questions is not sufficient. Teachers need to pay attention to their pattern of questioning and the arrangement of their questions, and to stimulate student thinking and help to make that thinking visible. In order to demonstrate their assertion, the authors describe a series of examples from mathematics lessons, in which the common technique of ‘funnelling’ student responses is juxtaposed with the less common ‘focusing’ of responses. The former induces students to copy the teacher’s thinking strategies and helps them along the path to a predetermined solution, while the latter attempts to uncover students’ divergent thinking and prompts them to articulate it. Teachers are encouraged to transform their questioning patterns so that they encourage the 'focusing' of student responses, and the authors describe and illustrate techniques by which this transformation can be accomplished.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Year 8 attitudes to language learning: a focus on boys
Volume 39 Number 3, Autumn 2005; Pages 17–24
The poor educational outcomes of boys when compared to girls', generally, have been of concern to researchers and policy makers in recent times. A concomitant of this concern about boys’ underachievement has been their participation and attainment in learning languages other than English. A Commonwealth parliamentary committee found in 1997 that almost twice as many girls as boys study languages other than English, a finding which led to research to explain this occurrence. While aware of the research into boys’ alienation from learning languages, a school in regional Victoria decided to conduct a study among its own students to explain boys’ participation in language learning. Their findings, reported in this article, uncovered some factors affecting language learning which were at odds with established research on the issue, but, more importantly, gave a more immediate focus to catering to students’ learning needs, motivations and learning styles, and have informed teacher professional development at the school. Hajdu explains the context of the school, the research methodology and the findings in the article.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsBoys' education
Languages other than English (LOTE)
Language and languages
Going beyond criteria for judging performance
Volume 39 Number 3, Autumn 2005; Pages 8–16
Criteria are an accepted and essential, if sometimes unquestioned, aspect of assessment. Positivist notions of assessment hold that criteria are objective and fixed, and afford the assessment process fairness and validity. An interpretivist position on assessment criteria, however, posits that they are reliant on the professional judgement of assessors for their construction, definition and application, and therefore they cannot transcend the social, cultural and political context from which they were derived. Scarino dissects the assessment process – theoretically and via a case study on moderation – to demonstrate the multiplicity of intersections between teachers’ professional judgements and their formulation, interpretation and application of assessment criteria, asserting that research into assessment would yield much if it concentrated on uncovering the assumptions that underpin teachers’ professional judgement and their influence on marking and assessment. Furthermore, teachers’ professional practice would also benefit from their coming to terms with the interaction of their values and beliefs on the assessment process.
Dimensions of teaching
Volume 20 Number 1, 2005; Pages 5–14
Teachers’ professional identity is a complex and problematic concept. In this article Brady posits five dimensions of teachers’ practice as a contribution to the continuing discussion about the professional practices, attributes and knowledge required of teachers. The five dimensions include acknowledging the relational aspect of teachers’ work, an ability to engage students through a variety of teaching strategies, accepting assessment as integral to learning, examining practice in context, and reflecting on practice. According to Brady, the relational aspect of teachers should be foremost in teaching practice, and it should not be limited to interpersonal skills, as emotional security, which includes self-awareness and self-acceptance, is essential in valuing and leading learners.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
26 September 2005; Page 24
The Australian Government's new industrial relations reforms will impact directly on the pay, training and supply of apprentices. The new Australian Fair Pay Commission will set minimum wages for young workers 'at levels that ensure they are competitive in the labour market'. This move is likely to result in lower real training wages, with apprentices shouldering more of the cost of their training. The reforms also give employers more flexibility to train apprentices in more company-specific skills, and to reduce the duration of training. The reforms will help to overcome the shortage of apprentices, which seems to be due to the unwillingness of employers to provide places rather than lack of candidates. Vocational training can best be seen as an investment, with returns in the form of higher productivity and increased earnings. Costs should be borne by parties in proportion to the returns they enjoy. Until now labour market regulation has distorted this process, mirroring the situation in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s when trade unions successfully resisted the replacement of skilled adults by young trainees.
Subject HeadingsEconomic trends
VET (Vocational Education and Training)
Practices that support data use in urban high schools
Volume 10 Number 3; Pages 333–349
A range of problems limit schools’ use of data for internal reform. Data may not be timely, or in suitable categories or formats. Schools and teachers may try to use data of a type, or in a form, that is not suited to their needs. Technology that allows data to be usefully disaggregated is required. Teachers and school leaders need skills in obtaining and managing data, and in using it effectively and ethically. School staff may also resist using data for school reform, if it is alien to the school culture and/or seen as a threat to them. School staff also need the time and organisational structures to aid data use. Once data is used, however, it can help to change school culture, eg in teacher attitudes towards particular student populations. A longitudinal case study by the Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory (LAB) in the USA is examining data use by five disadvantaged, low-performing urban secondary schools, as they attempt to implement government-driven accountability requirements. The four year study is examining school reform documents, notes of data analysis meetings, archived school data, and records of interviews with school leaders, teachers and school design teams and data teams. A ‘data coach’ has been involved both in the research process and in helping schools to change their use of data for internal reform. So far the study found that the reform process in the schools, in driving staff to use data more rigorously, has helped to expose problems in the schools’ existing information systems, eg where the data has gaps and inaccuracies or is out of date. District-level personnel were not always informed about why or when the data was needed. A new database system created for each school provided more capacity to disaggregate data. It allowed teachers to make more targeted use of data. It allowed them to discover that attendance levels and academic performance varied independently of each other, and identified a gap between school grades and statewide assessments. School leadership was found to be crucial to the adoption of greater data use, particularly in terms of modelling the improved use of data. By the third year of the study, schools’ use of data was significantly more effective.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Number 162, September 2005; Pages 26–27
A survey conducted last year highlights a need for university content to be more closely linked to school experiences within teacher training. The survey was carried out in March 2004 for the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). Researchers found that recent teacher graduates felt unprepared due to a lack of professional, school-based knowledge. This knowledge includes pedagogical skill, classroom management, working effectively with parents and creating a positive learning environment. It also includes assessing student learning and planning curriculum units, which less than twenty per cent felt their studies had prepared them for. The survey suggests that stronger links between course content and school experiences be created rather than increasing the amount of school experience. Students also highlighted that more timely and useful feedback from lecturers and teachers was needed, along with greater care in selecting and preparing supervising teachers. Students who felt most prepared for practice found their courses enabled a deep understanding of both subject content knowledge and related teaching methodology, taught them how to probe and build lessons on students' current understandings, and make clear links between theoretical and practical aspects of teaching. Four-year undergraduate degrees rated more highly than shorter post-graduate degrees, according to the survey.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
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