How networked learning communities work
Number 155, 2006
The paper reviews the development of school networking in Britain. A major finding of one recent analysis of how networked school communities learn is that 'nothing really changes for students unless there are changes in the hearts and minds of the adults in schools who work with them', and that networked learning communities are a major enabler of such changes. The participation of formal school leaders is of great importance to networks. School leaders and principals can stimulate vision and focus, provide both intellectual and instrumental support, monitor developments, disseminate information and buffer schools and networks from external challenges. School leaders are currently involved in about half of the networks operating in Britain. The involvement of more leaders is one way to increase the impact of networks. This can be done by supporting and coaching existing and prospective leaders. The strength of engagement in the network is also important. Only networks exhibiting extensive and strong links are able to influence changes in schools and student learning. The more staff involved in active networking, the greater the potential for change. Networking relationships differed within and between schools. Across schools, relationships that embody trust, shared understandings and collective responsibility are seen as more important, while within a school, comfortable relationships and working together are important. Rigorous and challenging joint work at the network level is the critical core of collaboration. The capacity for collaborative enquiry has emerged as an important new, potentially high leverage skill. This requires the questioning of ineffective teaching routines, examination of new concepts, acknowledging and responding to differences and conflict and supporting one another. Students and families are important to networks, and students are currently involved in a majority of networks, but largely in a superficial manner. Students and their families are potentially important contributors to learning networks. Policy makers should work to embed networked learning communities into government initiatives, drawing upon 'the ingenuity that exists at the local level'.
Subject HeadingsGreat Britain
Creating a culture of innovation
Spring 2006; Pages 27–30
The Australian School Innovation in Science, Technology and Mathematics (ASISTM) Project funds projects aimed at improving teaching and learning, and to fostering a culture of innovation in Australian schools. ASISTM funding is provided by the Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) and is administered by Curriculum Corporation on DEST's behalf. Each ASISTM project is quite different. Projects often take the form of new pedagogical approaches, and may include the development of new support materials for schools. Other possible goals include improving coordination between schools, or improving the attraction and retention of quality teachers in science, technology and maths. Each project is implemented by a group of schools and non-school organisations, known as a cluster. Clusters may include collaboration between schools at primary and secondary level or across education sectors, and may be geographically close or widely dispersed. Each cluster is led by a nominated project coordinator based at the cluster’s lead organisation, which may be a school, university, education authority, or science, maths or technology organisation. A university-based critical friend is also assigned to each funded cluster to provide guidance and support. Teacher associates are included in most ASISTM projects as a unique and innovative aspect of the ASISTM cluster model. They bring expertise in science, technology, maths or education from beyond the school context, to support teachers and inspire and motivate students. Teacher associates may be sourced from a diverse range of backgrounds, such as student teachers, other tertiary students in relevant courses, tradespeople or Indigenous elders. Information about successful ASISTM projects is posted on the ASISTM website or disseminated as part of the projects themselves. Project outcomes may be measured in a variety of ways, including the completion of products or programs, or cluster surveys. ASISTM projects are usually carried out over 12–18 months. It is expected that around 500 projects will be funded over the seven-year life of ASISTM.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Real teaching in real settings
Spring 2006; Pages 13–14
This year ten student teachers at the Australian Catholic University are taking part in the trial of an immersion program at St Kevin’s College in the Melbourne suburb of Toorak. The trainee teachers spend one and half days of most weeks at the school’s Year 9 campus. They take part in a wide range of activities such as meetings, assemblies and excursions where they are able to develop connections with staff and students. The campus offers the student teachers a less stressful learning environment than a full secondary college, and a chance to take part in almost all campus activities. During the first semester the trainees shadow mentor teachers before being gradually introduced to team teaching. In the second semester they play a stronger role in the team teaching and supervise excursions and other off-campus activities, with continued background support from mentors. The university’s lecture schedule is designed to accommodate the needs of the trainees based at the school. The participants have found the trial very useful as a way to link their academic study to school-based practice, and to set directions for themselves in their future teaching careers. St Kevin's has benefited from the trial by gaining greater exposure to the latest trends in teaching. The school has provided a separate space for the student teachers, as well as enabling them to mix with staff during breaks.
Forward to New Basics
Spring 2006; Pages 11–12
The New Basics Project is an innovative teaching and learning framework for Years 1–10 operating in approximately 60 public schools in Queensland. Curriculum and assessment are centred on project-based activities known as rich tasks. The tasks are accompanied by an approach to teaching and learning called productive pedagogies. The New Basics requires a high degree of collaboration between teachers. The interdisciplinary nature of the framework introduces the need for cooperation between subject areas that is likely to be unfamiliar to most teachers at secondary level. Teachers at different year levels must also work closely together to ensure the cumulative development of students’ skills and knowledge required for the rich tasks. As the tasks are designed to be relevant to real-world situations teachers must also find ways to collaborate with communities beyond the school, sometimes in distant locations. Student work is moderated at meetings between participating schools. The meetings generate intense discussion, and have considerably advanced teachers’ ability to assess and report on students’ work against required standards. Education Queensland’s rich tasks team supports participating schools, for example by conducting courses in productive pedagogies and by creating a template for mapping the pedagogies against the tasks. Schools have had to adjust their timetables to accommodate the project-based work. The New Basics ‘continues to survive and sometimes flourish in schools’ and has inspired similar approaches interstate and internationally.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Project based learning
Building information literacy: an action research approach
Volume 25 Number 4, November 2006; Pages 24–29
Three non-government girls’ schools in New South Wales have taken part in an evaluation of their students’ literacy skills. The evaluation first took place as a school-based initiative at ‘Independent Girls School North’ (IGSN), a K–12 Christian day school. One of the authors was assigned to conduct professional learning in information literacy for teaching staff as part of a move to enhance student skills in this area. The school had no tradition of pedagogical interventions by library staff, and information literacy had been seen by many teachers as additional rather than integral to the learning process, so for the project to succeed a climate of cooperation and trust first had to be developed. To further this goal, faculty-based action research projects were set up in response to previously identified ‘learning dilemmas’ at the school. During 2004 the project became part of a wider project involving several non-government schools, funded under the Australian Government Quality Teacher Program, to develop an online test designed to measure students’ skills in information literacy. The test measured the six recognised steps in information literacy: ‘define, locate, select, organise, present, and evaluate and assess’ information. The test was administered at the IGSN to 150 Year 7 students. Results highlighted the difficulty students had in defining a task, and in selecting and organising information. As a result the teachers and teacher librarian prepared a series of curriculum activities for the students, with scaffolds set up at each stage of the information process. Students were assessed at each stage through a detailed rubric. The students reported that the scaffolds significantly reduced their anxiety during the most challenging steps of their tasks, and improved their learning. The results were later replicated in 2006. The action research has significantly increased the teachers’ understanding of the role of information literacy in the learning process. The results were used to inform the application of the test at the other two schools where it was further refined, with similarly positive results.
New South Wales (NSW)
Moving schools: antecedents, impact on students and interventions
Volume 50 Number 3, 2006; Pages 227–241
Australia has one of the most mobile populations in the western world. Mobility is highest among students from low-income families and from ethnic minority groups, including Indigenous populations. A group of parents and school staff from five regional Queensland schools with high student mobility were interviewed about the causes and effects of such mobility, and their strategies for minimising adverse consequences. Family breakdown was a strongly reported reason for moving, sometimes with the implication that one parent was ‘hiding’ from the other. Cultural issues, including protracted family visits and cultural celebrations, were also frequently mentioned, as were difficulties at a particular school. School-based problems included breakdowns in the relationship between parents and teachers, or student behavioural problems. The reported consequences of mobility were largely negative, including the dissolution of friendships with other students or teachers, or academic difficulties due to gaps in learning. Some teachers reported that parents enrolling mobile children sometimes ‘don’t give the full story’, concealing learning or behavioural difficulties in the hope of ‘making a fresh start’. By the time these special needs were re-identified, the child was often moving again. Positive aspects of the move to a new school included the removal of negative peer influences and the introduction of special knowledge the child brought from elsewhere. Interventions to mitigate the negative impact of student mobility were mostly left to the goodwill of the teacher and the school. Although remedial programs existed in all schools, they were not targeted specifically at mobile students. Broader interventions suggested by teachers included strengthening relationships between schools and families, and establishing a centralised database to facilitate the transfer of student records between schools. In general, however, school staff regarded student mobility as a problem to be avoided wherever possible, sometimes working with families to discourage a possible move. Being perceived as problematic may further increase the isolation of mobile students, and decrease the likelihood of interventions being undertaken to mitigate the negative affects of relocation.
Subject HeadingsTransitions in schooling
Vocational subject-making and the work of schools: a case study
Volume 50 Number 3, 2006; Pages 281–296
Current Australian education policy discourse expects schools to become more vocationally oriented, but the meaning of vocational education remains contested. On one hand, policy makers and education administrators use the rhetoric of ‘new vocationalism’, conceptualising the modern worker as an enterprising, flexible, lifelong learner. By this definition, vocational education is no longer the domain of less academically able students, but rather a set of skills to be instilled in all students, regardless of academic ability. For most schools, on the other hand, the ‘mental versus manual’ differentiation of academic and vocational education persists. A case study of two vocational classes in Hospitality Operations and Information Technology (IT) in a NSW secondary school demonstrates the different ways in which policy ideals can be translated into practice. Both classes used dual assessment models, incorporating both Higher School Certificate, a traditional written university entrance exam, and the Australian Qualifications Framework Certificate II, a competency-based assessment designed to grade skill levels for job placement. The hospitality students were primarily low academic achievers. Their teacher emphasised the technical skills and attributes they would need to enter the hospitality industry at the lowest level, and took pride in the fact that many of her students received job offers at the end of the course. She was passionate about the hospitality industry, and in her disapproval of bringing formal HSC examinations into what she felt was a predominantly practical subject. Students in the IT class were more academically able. Their teacher had not worked in the IT industry and focused heavily on preparing her students for the HSC exam. The researchers’ initial concerns about this approach were put to rest when they read the HSC paper, which indeed required a specific rhetoric and abstracted answers largely unrelated to students’ real-life experience. Tensions clearly remain between various approaches to vocational education. Teachers’ and students’ backgrounds and philosophies can create vastly different understandings of what kind of knowledge is valued in VET classrooms. Many kinds of VET initiatives exist around Australia, but these two case studies are sufficient to demonstrate why the rhetorical demands of policy makers are not easily achieved in practice.
Subject HeadingsVET (Vocational Education and Training)
New South Wales (NSW)
Volume 26 Number 4, September 2006; Pages 371–395
The article describes two sets of case studies of successful principal leadership undertaken in Tasmania and Victoria, respectively. Although conducted separately the two sets of studies came to similar conclusions about the qualities of effective principals. The studies formed part of the International Successful School Principalship Project (ISSPP), conducted in eight countries. The ISSPP was concerned to broaden the research base for school leadership, which has been concentrated in North America and Britain, and which has typically relied on principals as the source of evidence. The studies covered primary and secondary schools. They spanned the public and Catholic school sectors, and the Victorian group of studies included one independent school. Schools were selected on the basis of high levels of success and were judged on a wide range of measures including staff and parent opinion, examination results on State-wide testing, and statistics on retention, attendance, other dimensions of students’ involvement and patterns in students’ post-school transitions. For both groups of studies, successful principals were found to demonstrate strong commitment to beliefs and values involving honesty, a commitment to equity, respect for students’ potential and a passion for the job. They promoted a culture of mutual support and trust that encouraged risk taking and innovation. They challenged unfavourable school cultures through specific interventions. For example, one principal confronted the practice of putting ‘naughty kids’ in front of a computer. The principals shared decision making with other staff. Characteristically they were ‘hands-on’ and kept in touch with the curriculum. However, they also shaped their work to the context of the school. For example one principal implemented constructivist teaching methods for disadvantaged children who had a record of resistance to traditional, ‘didactic' teaching. As part of this process of contextualisation the principals set locally relevant agendas, such as temporarily giving greater attention to action against poor class attendance than to the curriculum. They involved the school with the wider community. They encouraged ongoing reflection and evaluation through measures such as professional learning and highlighting relevant departmental policies. They also set high expectations of students and staff.
Models of policy development in Aboriginal education: issues and discourse
Volume 50 Number 3, 2006; Pages 265–280
Seven discrete models can be identified in current policies and programs for Aboriginal education. The social justice model takes into account the multiple social disadvantages which impede the progress of Aboriginal students. Despite its strong theoretical grounds, the inherent complexity of this model means it has received little attention in policy discourse. The more prevalent community development model rests on an emerging consensus among policy developers that Aboriginal education can best be improved through partnerships between schools and their communities. However, this model presupposes that communities will have the capacity and inclination to address educational problems. In actual fact, it may exacerbate inequalities between schools in more or less capable communities. The third model focuses on improving coordination between government and non-government services. This model has yet to be comprehensively implemented in any State, and critics suggest that the considerable costs of fully integrating policies and programs may outweigh the potential benefits. The cultural recognition model prioritises access to Aboriginal languages, learning styles, and culturally relevant curriculum. Policy reviews in some States have been scathing about the lack of progress in this area, largely due to insufficient cultural training and awareness on the part of teachers. The fifth model relies on strengthening relationships between schools and Aboriginal students, but may be insufficient to overcome the ‘deeper forces’ that often underlie Aboriginal students’ disengagement with schooling. Western Australia is currently pursuing an elitist model, providing extra support to Aboriginal students who demonstrate a benchmark level of ability. Although elitism seems at odds with education’s egalitarian ideals, a strategic concentration of resources may be a necessary first step in overcoming the severe disadvantage of Aboriginal students. The seventh model is the compensatory skills approach, which targets basic literacy and numeracy for Aboriginal students. Official discourse on Aboriginal education policy across Australia reflects limited understanding of these seven discrete but potentially complementary approaches. More explicit systematisation of various program delivery models is necessary to enable more rigorous analysis of how different models might be most effectively integrated. The current ad hoc approach to Aboriginal education policy cannot be sustained.
Subject HeadingsEducational planning
'Like an iceberg floating alone': a case study of teacher stress at a Victorian primary school
Volume 50 Number 3, 2006; Pages 312–327
A case study of a unique Victorian primary school has explored the causes of teacher stress, and the school’s responses. The school has unusually high levels of students from non-English-speaking backgrounds (NESB), and from backgrounds of significant socioeconomic disadvantage. Many students are refugees from war-torn countries, suffering from trauma or disabilities which affect their learning and behaviour. The school’s triennial reviews have consistently revealed higher than average levels of teacher stress. The unique student population was clearly one major contributing factor. Students enter the school with very different cultural and linguistic needs and are less capable of independent work than students in most mainstream classes. Secondly, teachers experienced stress in meeting state reporting requirements. The higher than average level of student need results in increased reporting; for example the school reports five times more accidents than the state average. The third major stressor for teachers was inadequate resourcing. State resource allocation formulas categorise the school with ‘like-schools’ having at least twenty-six per cent NESB student populations, but ‘twenty-six per cent and ninety-eight per cent are very different’. A further cause of teacher stress was an apparent incongruence of values between school staff and education system administration. Teachers felt that the unique characteristics of their school were not acknowledged at a system level. The progress students made in relation to their low initial skill levels was repeatedly eclipsed by their low achievement in standardised state assessments, undermining teachers’ sense of self-efficacy. The school has introduced some strategic initiatives to reduce teacher stress and boost morale, including a behaviour modification program, and a School Support Group of health and psychology specialists. Participation in community initiatives and professional development opportunities has helped the school raise its profile and share its achievements and expertise. Teachers spoke highly of the principal’s ‘consistency and care’ in solving problems and providing support. Their practical, achievement-oriented attitudes demonstrated remarkable personal resilience and considerable pride in their school despite its uniquely challenging circumstances.
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
English as an additional language
Teaching and learning
Sexuality education and desire: still missing after all these years
Volume 76 Number 3, Autumn 2006; Pages 297–338
The US Government's support for youth sex education is increasingly focused on ‘Abstinence Only Until Marriage’ (AOUM) programs and the Community Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program. Virtually all growth in federal funding of sex education since 2001 has gone towards these programs. Under Title V of the Social Security Act, these programs must have the 'exclusive purpose’ of explaining the benefits that young unmarried people receive by abstaining from all forms of sexual activity. The programs are also ‘explicitly restricted from providing young people with information about contraception or safer-sex practices’. Thirty-five per cent of public education districts in the USA now limit sex education to AOUM programs. Their effect is to discourage young people from raising sexuality-related concerns with professionals in health and education. This outcome may be particularly dangerous for disabled youth, who have less chance than other young people to learn from peers or through casual observation. A systematic review of AOUM curriculums in 2004 by a US Congressman found that two-thirds of the programs contained basic scientific errors or blurred religious and scientific concepts. The programs overlook dangers posed by early marriage, which in statistical terms is associated with high levels of violence and low likelihood that the mother will later return to education. The AOUM programs also sideline the danger of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases within marriage. The accountability measures for AOUM programs have been reduced this year. The programs no longer have to demonstrate any health or behavioural outcomes for participants. The significance of this diminished accountability is evident in the results of an independent evaluation of ‘virginity pledges’, required under some AOUM programs. The evaluation found that the great majority of high school student ‘pledgers’ went on to have unprotected sex. The SIECUS organisation, among other bodies, continues to provide broad-ranging sex education curriculums. The proposed Responsible Education about Life (REAL) law, which calls for wider sex education, has been supported by many organisations including the American Medical Association. While many teachers report ‘sexual vigilantism’ against instruction in wider sex education, there are efforts to resist this pressure. For example a group of scientists and educators in Texas is now campaigning against censorship of sex education textbooks.
Subject HeadingsGirls' education
Reviewing newspaper articles as a technique for enhancing the scientific literacy of student teachers
Volume 28 Number 11, September 2006; Pages 1245–1265
The media is a key factor when considering scientific literacy, since most people encounter scientific issues in the form of media reports on socio-scientific topics. Media reports also offer material that can be used in the classroom to promote scientific literacy. A recent study has examined the use of newspapers in teaching scientific literacy. The participants, 19 primary student teachers with science backgrounds, were pre-tested for knowledge of concepts included in the study. They were asked to examine newspaper articles about social-scientific topics, analyse them in detail and propose a suitable year level for their use in class. The participants were asked to comment on the headline, newsworthiness, source, scientific content, portrayal of scientists, illustrations, balance and bias as well as any attached editorial comment and any other interesting features of the reports. To facilitate this process, they were given an exemplar annotated article and a second article to annotate as a trial. The participants' final task was to find, select and analyse further articles by themselves, using a variety of print and online sources. Many of the responses suggested even these science specialist student teachers had not previously spent much time thinking about science news reports, or perhaps even reading them, which makes an even stronger case for introducing newspaper article-based scientific literacy for students. Overall, the student teachers performed well and found the task to be interesting, potentially effective and useful in their future classes. They suggested that younger students would need assistance with the scientific vocabulary used in most articles.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsMass media
Understanding the questions: a community-centred approach to the teaching of multicultural literature
Volume 13 Number 3, March 2006; Pages 15–19
Education students tend to define multicultural literature as books written by non-white authors about non-white characters. In doing so, they inadvertently marginalise the very groups they are trying to include by conceptualising non-white cultures as separate from the norm. A better understanding of multicultural literature looks at the overlaps and interdependencies between different groups in society. In a novel about a non-white culture, for example, this involves looking at the white characters as well, and how their values and actions affect those of others. Even in novels contained within a single culture, it is important to explore the cultures that are absent, to identify the cultural norms to which the novel is ‘talking back’. Culture is not a fixed concept, and the ways in which it might affect a character’s actions are highly context-specific. If students examine the specific circumstances of the community that a character inhabits, they are less likely to create cultural stereotypes and generalisations. Students can be encouraged to adopt this perspective through a scaffolded series of community-based questions, examples of which are provided in the article. The questions begin by focusing on the novel’s protagonist, and move towards a close analysis of the communities (racial or religious, for example) to which they belong. The communities to which they do not belong are then examined, and power relationships between these communities are explored. Only then does questioning return to the protagonist, to investigate how these relationships have affected their actions. Proceeding slowly through these levels prevents students from jumping to simplistic cultural causalities. Students are also more likely to understand how their own experiences are similarly layered, and to identify areas of overlap between their communities and the character’s. In doing so, they become better able to confront and challenge the intercultural power differentials that affect their own lives.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Social life and customs
Zoom: a review of the literature on marginalised adolescent readers, literacy theory and policy implications
Volume 76 Number 2, Summer 2006; Pages 209–248
Adolescent literacy achievement has become a topic of significant interest in educational research and policy. A review of
Key Learning AreasEnglish
United States of America (USA)
Curriculum reform in the secondary school: the voices of experienced biology teachers
Over recent years reforms have been introduced to the secondary biology curriculum in New South Wales, reflecting a wave of reform interstate and overseas in the past decade. The article describes feedback from interviews with two experienced biology teachers about their experience in teaching the new Stage 6 Biology syllabus for Years 11 and 12. The new syllabus emphasised the need for students to plan and carry out investigations, communicate results, work individually and in teams, and use ICT. ‘Teacher K’ taught in a senior high school that was difficult to staff and had high numbers of recent NESB immigrants and other struggling students. ‘Teacher W’ worked at a comprehensive secondary school in western Sydney. Both teachers welcomed the updating of syllabus content and saw the need to incorporate current research findings in both science and teaching and learning. They described the way the new syllabus impacted on their student groups, and the steps they took to manage that impact. They stressed the high demands that the new syllabus placed on their students in terms of literacy, numeracy and grasp of scientific concepts, and the substantial work that they undertook, or planned to adopt, to address these gaps. Both teachers felt that the introduction of the syllabus had been rushed, without sufficient provision of new texts and supportive programs. Teacher K felt that the new syllabus placed heavy demands on her in terms of subject content and assessment, which was forcing her back into a ‘chalk and talk’ approach to get through all the material. Her major concern was to help her students overcome their extremely low levels of English literacy, scientific understanding and knowledge of Australian life forms. Teacher W believed that only the most advanced students would be able to make the leap to the new approach, unless she intervened to provide substantial scaffolding. She felt disoriented by the change from norm-referenced to standards-referenced assessment and struggled to keep up with the increase in the number of assessment tasks demanded of her. Nevertheless, she believed that the new syllabus had prompted students adopt a more questioning approach and to explore topics raised in the media.
Key Learning AreasScience
Senior secondary education