Education Matters - News impacting schools, teachers and students
Child and blackboard

Study: Pattern learning underlies language development

New research shows how a child’s grasp of language is learned, while also being ‘inextricably’ linked to his or her ability to recognise patterns.

The study, produced by researchers from the University of Sydney and from Australian National University (ANU), found children who were better at identifying non-verbal patterns also tended to have a batter knowledge of grammar.

The researchers also used controls in order to take intelligence and memory into account, and still pattern recognition was strongly associated with language development.

This is of interest as the question of how some children learn faster than others has been hotly debated for centuries.

Evan Kidd is Associate Professor at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. He says the findings counter traditional theories of that aptitude for grammar in language is innate, not learnt.

“For a long time people thought of grammar as some sort of special cognitive system, like a box in our brain that we are born with, but our study shows that language proficiency is associated with learning – which helps to explain why some people pick it up faster than others,” said Professor Kidd.

“These findings are exciting because in the long-term they could help us develop strategies to assist children who may not be typically developing for their age.”

The study included a sample of 68 children aged six to eight years, assessing them with two separate tests. One test evaluated grammatical knowledge while the other was a visual pattern learning task.

“The study tells us that we have a whole lot of little statisticians running around,” said Associate Professor Joanne Arciuli, co-author of the study and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow.

“Unbeknownst to children themselves their brains are constantly computing these patterns or statistics – for example which words co-occur regularly, which words follow others, and different contexts in which words are used.”

As a result of the study, the Australian Research Council has provided funding for a further three-year study to be undertaken in order to investigate the underlying cognitive mechanisms of language development in children.

The findings are published in the journal, Child Development.


Federal budget 2016

Budget 2016: Mixed bag for education spending

The Federal Government has released its budget for the year ahead, announcing a total spend in education of $33.7 billion, yet not all areas of education are set to benefit.

Despite the spending, the government announced cuts of $152.2 million over four years to the Higher Education Participation Program, as well as $20.9 million over four years from the Promotions of Excellence in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Program.

By comparison the $33.7 billion in spending includes an increase of $1.2 billion of school funding, to be delivered between 2018 and 2020, as well as $118.2 million over the next two years going towards students with a disability.

As pointed our by Senior Lecturer in Education Policy at the University of Melbourne, Glenn Savage, the increase in funds falls ‘short of the $4.5 billion promised by Labor between 2018-19 as part of the Gonski reform model’.

However, the increase is nevertheless likely to be warmly received by educators who have been fearing cuts, with the government previously hinting it might cease all funding to public schools altogether.

‘The funding increase is out of step with education minister Simon Birmingham’s repeated claim that funding does not matter as much as other features of schooling such as curriculum or quality teachers. If this were truly the case, then why the funding increase?’ Savage questions in a brief letter to SBS News.

What funding does exist for schools is expected to be delivered on a needs-based plan. which may require students as young as five or six facing tests in order to determine whether they qualify for extra assistance.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said these changes have been introduced to improve student performance.

‘It is completely unacceptable that the performance of our students in fundamental skills like literacy and numeracy continues to slip even while our funding continues to significantly increase,’ Birmingham told the Sunday Telegraph.

The changes also include minimum standards for students to pass Year 12, as well as changes to teacher pay structure, with performance set to be rewarded over length of service.

Several issues have also been deferred in this budget, with higher education reform pushed back one year and little to be seen for early learning.

Treehouse design for Golden Square Primary

See a primary school campus designed by students

At Golden Square Primary School, the students can take satisfaction in knowing they had a hand in the design of their surrounds.

Following the 2009 merger of Maple Street Primary School and the original Golden Square Primary School, K2LD Architects were commissioned to design a new campus that would help bring the two student bodies together in a seamless transition.

To come up with the right concept, the architects decided to turn to the students for inspiration and, after a lot of sketching, it was collectively decided the new school should resemble a treehouse.

Situated on Maple Street in Bendigo, the new school campus was completed in June last year, with a formal opening ceremony performed last Friday.

Golden Square Bendigo
The new Golden Square Primary took its design cues from its students’ imaginations. Click to enlarge.

“Children are particularly sensitive to change, so we felt involving them in this process from the beginning would ease the transition and foster a sense of ownership over their new school,” said Golden Square Primary Principal, Barry Goode.

For K2LD Architects, this meant extensive consultation with the school community in order to create an environment in which the two former schools could be united.

“Our sessions with the students, teachers, parents and wider community allowed us to gain an appreciation for the internal dynamics at play and tailor a solution in which each group’s specific concerns were addressed and priorities met in a single expression that is at once practical and playful,” said K2LD Principal, Tisha Lee.

“We were amazed at the intensity and passion of the children; their ideas blew us away and the resulting ‘treehouse’ theme didn’t require any art of suggestion from our end, it was absolutely their own concept.”

The new school’s masterplan consists of a central administration and specialist building that houses reception, office, art, library and staff facilitiies, which is then flanked by two double storey buildings, containing four ‘learning communities’.

These learning communities includes four homerooms clustered around a central collaborative space, with additional staff resources and meeting rooms in each.

The two storey nature of the school buildings allows for a greater student capacity than was available previously, and also plays into the treehouse concept envisaged by the students.

“The added height feeds into our treehouse concept, allowing us to get creative with ‘trunk’ and ‘canopy’ inspired levels, whilst the withdrawal spaces offered an opportunity to create play ‘cubby’ spaces,” Lee said.

Coding matters for primary students

Coding matters: Core concepts for digital learning

Coding is just one part of the new Australian Digital Technologies curriculum that allows students to develop an understanding of being able to use, and create with, digital technologies. Bec Spink reports.

Read more

School Shades

School Shades: One teacher's initiative for student eye health

Education Matters in a recent interview. “My son had an eye disease that was treated by a paediatric ophthalmologist who advised by that under Australia’s harsh UV rays, my son (and all children) should wear a pair of sunglasses to protect their eyesight. “As a primary teacher of 10 years, I wondered why we sent our students out to play only with a hat but as teachers, we wore a hat and sunglasses when supervising playground duty. If adults saw the need to wear sunglasses, why not provide them for children was their eye is more susceptible to damage from UV rays during its development?” Recent research shows that children require a minimum exposure to natural light of around two hours per day to reduce the risk of developing myopia. But if children aren’t protected from harmful UV radiation during those times, severe damage can take place, leading to problems with eye health that may not become prevalent until years later. It was this problem Mr Whetton hoped to solve, yet after dozens of meetings and emails with existing sunglasses suppliers, he realised that if he was to provide affordable eye wear to students around the country, he would have to start his own line of products. “I created the School Shades brand and product, found a manufacturer, and eventually found the pathway to addressing Principals at their area meetings. I have met with state politicians and I have leaned on my Masters research skills and been featured at University.” Now, Mr Whetton has addressed 25 Principals’ conferences across Australia, speaking to thousands of primary school leaders regarding their responsibilities to promote sun safety and, more specifically, eye health. As a result, 100 schools from around the country have partnered with School Shades to provide approximately 20,000 students with sunglasses. And while the sunglasses do cost money to produce and distribute, Mr Whetton said the project has been “funded and energised by [his] zeal to make this change for the health of Australian kids”, and was never intended to be an exercise in generating profits. “The sponsorship of Principals’ meetings and the running of the business is expensive,” he said. “I do not draw a salary from this initiative.” Instead, either the school or the school’s P&C Association funds the purchases of the products for their students, with that money being used to produce and market more pairs of sunglasses. Each student is then assigned a pair to keep and label, which they are expected to wear during breaks, particularly during peak UV times in the middle of the day between 10am and 2pm. “Our shades are branded and colour-matched to the school, so it becomes part of their school uniform. Students clip the included carry case onto their bag and wear them every day,” Mr Whetton said. You can learn more about this initiative via the School Shades website.  ]]>