Reforming languages education in Australian schools: beware the quick fix!
Volume 12 Number 1, 2008; Pages 38–39
The MLTAV welcomes the Australian Government’s commitment to re-establish a national strategy for the teaching of Asian languages, ‘but not if this strategy is introduced as a “quick fix” solution’, and especially not if it comes at the expense of existing language programs. To focus policy on the teaching of a few ‘priority languages’ would be to forego the social and economic benefits offered by Australia’s diverse cultural heritage, including the country's Indigenous heritage and numerous Indigenous languages. Teaching the range of languages spoken in Australia is a direct acknowledgement of the cultures associated with them, and is therefore important in promoting social cohesion. Economically, it is unrealistic to target only a few countries because the importance of Australia’s main individual trading partners will continue to fluctuate over time and because Australia trades with a wide range of nations. Truly valuable preparation consists of encouraging students to become skilled, flexible and motivated learners of languages in general. In this way they will be able to learn the languages they need, which are unknowable in advance, they will gain the recognised cognitive development that derives from learning any additional language, and they will be aided in the learning of English. It is significant that the notion of ‘priority’ languages does not feature in two major documents on Australian language education, The Future of Schooling in Australia and the Blueprint for Education and Training published April 2007 by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI). At K–10 level languages education should be delivered by a qualified LOTE teacher for 150 minutes per week. Language courses should be coordinated between primary and secondary schools. Wide-ranging language education will prepare students for life in a globalised society where they are likely to deal, in Australia and elsewhere, with speakers of other languages. The position paper is available on the MLTAV website.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsLanguage and languages
How should we teach early reading?
Summer 2008; Pages 12–13
In England, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum is to become mandatory from September 2008. The goals that the curriculum sets out for reading emphasise the need for children to develop skills related to phonics. However, the authoritative report Teaching Children to Read from the USA’s National Reading Panel (NRP) concluded that ‘systematic phonics instruction should be integrated with other reading instruction to create a balanced reading program’ and that phonics ‘should not become the dominant component in a reading program’. Other studies have also found a range of teaching approaches effective, including those where systematic phonics instruction is integrated with whole language or literature-based teaching, whole word teaching or with comprehension work. The EYFS website includes a link to the Rose Report, a government-sponsored report which strongly and specifically recommends synthetic phonics as a teaching method. However, another government-sponsored report by Torgerson et al, also noted on the EYFS website, found that no one form of systematic phonics instruction was more effective than any other. England ‘is alone in its imposition of synthetic phonics’. Mandating the teaching of synthetic phonics represents ‘state interference and micro management’. Children who enter school already able to read should be able to focus on skills such as comprehension rather than decoding. Intentionally or not, official policy is promoting the notion that there is ‘one correct way’ to teach reading, an idea likely to be taken up by many parents. However, previous attempts to impose systematic phonics instruction in England antagonised teachers. Assessment of children’s reading should be evaluated not only in terms of phonics skills but also in relation to their interest in books and their comprehension, according to the NRP report. More generally, research findings have challenged the validity of statutory tests as a measure of instructional effectiveness. Policy should be developed in collaboration between practitioners, academics and policy makers. The timing of its introduction should reflect the magnitude of the task in developing it, rather than ‘political imperatives fuelled by the media’. We need ‘professional and societal debate with those we elect to serve us, not to control us’.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Early childhood education
Incorporating phonics within a New Zealand whole language program
Volume 42 Number 1&2, 2007; Pages 143–159
The teaching of reading and writing in New Zealand primary schools is usually taught using the whole language approach through which children listen to stories and engage in shared, individual, guided and independent reading and writing tasks. However, an experienced New Zealand primary teacher, ‘Mary’, found that her students’ results improved after she incorporated a component of synthetic phonics within her whole language program. She applied synthetic phonics to a Grade 1 class of 24 children and a Grade 2 class of 22 children the following year. Neither class had previous experience of phonics-based instruction. New Zealand curriculum guidelines recommend the application of phonics at incidental teaching moments, rather than as a pre-planned activity, but this approach is too haphazard to guarantee it is applied to all children who would benefit from it. Mary adapted the Jolly Phonics program. The Grade 1 class was taught letter sounds, introduced according to their frequency and usefulness in word building using the program's Phonics Handbook. In the second half of the year the children progressed to the Grammar Handbook 1 which called on children to focus on one spelling pattern and one grammatical feature. Phonics in the Grade 2 class included revisions of letter sounds and spelling at the start of lessons, followed by reinforcement of these connections through various exercises such as class singing. Once basic knowledge of letter sounds was established, the teaching emphasis moved to words with irregular spelling. Shared writing exercises were linked to the sounds and spelling patterns covered earlier in the program. Assessment through running records and Burt test scores showed that students in both classes made ‘at least twice the amount of progress than would be expected’. The school’s high-SES context is unlikely to explain this increase, given earlier research on correlations between SES and Burt reading scores, and given the children’s rapid rate of progress. The article includes timetables describing the literacy components within typical school days for each class. The author also describes the balance between whole class and individualised instruction in Mary’s classes.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Creating culturally-safe schools for Maori students
Volume 36, 2007; Pages 65–76
Four scholars in the field of multicultural education have collaborated to propose ideas for helping Māori students feel free to express their own language and culture in
Social life and customs
Climbing the educational mountain: a metaphor for real culture change for Indigenous students in remote schools
Volume 36, 9 August 2007; Pages 6–20
Remote school education in the
Subject HeadingsAboriginal students
Where do we look now? The future of research in Indigenous Australian education
Volume 36, 2007; Pages 1–4
The paradigm governing current research on Indigenous education in
Subject HeadingsEducation research
Are assessment data really driving middle school reading instruction? What we can learn from one student's experience
Volume 51 Number 7, 2008; Pages 578–587
The growth of standardised high-stakes testing in the
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Literacy as a complex activity: deconstructing the simple view of reading
Volume 42 Number 2, July 2008; Pages 59–66
The Rose Review that investigated the teaching of early reading recommended that the Searchlights model be replaced by the Simple View of Reading. Some researchers have argued that this amounts to a simplification of the process of becoming literate; however, the Simple View’s straightforward formulation contains substantial complexity and depth. The Searchlights model stated that reading a text requires the use of four sources of information: content knowledge, phonic skills to do with sound and spelling, written word recognition, and grammatical knowledge. However, this model introduced a confound between the skills needed to read single words and those needed for general text comprehension. Text comprehension inevitably involves the prediction of word meaning from surrounding words in the text as well as the interpretation of textual elements in a broader cultural sense. Skilled word reading, on the contrary, should not require guessing from context. Students must learn to recognise words fluently before they begin to infer meanings from context. This does not mean that comprehension strategies should not be taught alongside word recognition. In the Simple View, the two aspects are seen as interdependent. Language comprehension processes are represented as an axis perpendicular to word recognition processes, with both axes ranging from poor to good. In addition, all important aspects of the Searchlights model are represented in the Simple View. The four phases in Ehri’s theory of word reading, pre-, partial, full, and consolidated alphabetic, describe children’s development of word recognition skills. For progression in text comprehension, it should be recognised that listening and reading comprehension most likely draw on a single underlying capacity. Switching to the Simple View of Reading will allow teachers to organise their teaching around a straightforward but powerful principle.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Volume 51 Number 7, April 2008; Pages 564–576
The links between text-based literacy study and improved metacognition are well established. It has been suggested that poetry is particularly effective in opening up students to different perspectives and enhancing self-knowledge, two fundamental components of metacognition. A recent study has shown a direct link between one particular method of studying poetry and students’ increased use of a variety of metacognitive comprehension strategies. Forty-one Year 11 American Literature students at a suburban high school in the
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Thought and thinking
Sensitivity to speech rhythm explains individual differences in reading ability independently of phonological awareness
Volume 26 Number 3, September 2008; Pages 357–367
A recent study has drawn attention to the role of speech rhythm perception in reading development. Forty-four 5- and 6-year-olds at a primary school in England completed a series of six tests that covered phoneme deletion, rhyme detection, the British Ability Scales (BAS) word reading test, nonword reading, vocabulary and stress manipulation. The stress manipulation task involved children listening to spoken words to identify 16 objects in a line drawing of a house. All of the object names had two syllables with primary lexical stress on the first syllable and a reduced vowel in the second syllable, for example ‘sofa’. After demonstrating that they could identify all of the objects, children were asked to point to the object after hearing the word with its stress patterning reversed, with ‘sofa’ pronounced ‘s’far’. They received one practice item before commencing the test to make the task clear. As expected, the average score on this task was generally low, averaging 6.3 objects correctly located out of the possible 16. It was found that stress manipulation was significantly correlated with phonological awareness and with the two measures of reading ability, BAS score and nonword reading. After age and vocabulary were taken into account, phoneme deletion accounted for 11.2 per cent of the variance in reading level, and rhyme detection accounted for an additional 5.7 per cent. Metrical stress sensitivity was also a statistically significant contributor, accounting for an additional 3.8 per cent of the variance. This suggests that stress sensitivity has a connection with reading ability that is independent of its association with phonological awareness. It is therefore argued that stress sensitivity must be included as an additional route, outside of phonological awareness, in current theories of reading development.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Starting out in teaching: surviving or thriving as a new teacher
Volume 3, 2007; Pages 32–37
Teachers’ experiences in their first year of teaching are critical. A five-year study of promising first-year New Zealand teachers has identified the aspects of teacher induction programs which are most influential in helping new teachers to feel positive and successful in their work. The 57 teachers in the study had all been nominated by their teacher educators as someone likely to make a significant contribution to teaching. Thirty-five per cent were male and 63 per cent were below 30 years of age. Twenty-five were currently teaching in primary schools, 11 in intermediate schools, and 21 in secondary schools. The teachers identified three categories of induction experiences as most helpful. A difference was found between primary and secondary school environments, with primary school teachers tending to work in the most encouraging schools and most secondary teachers working in less encouraging school environments. Beneficial leadership and organisational practices included assigning smaller and more manageable classes to beginning teachers and limiting their classes to subjects they were qualified to teach. Organisational practices providing emotional support for beginning teachers are extremely important but often neglected. Beginning teachers felt most comfortable in schools where mistakes were seen as normal, and where it was recognised that being a new teacher is difficult. Teachers in the study appreciated principals and mentors who reminded them to look after their health and protected them from overwork. Collective approaches to teaching were more common in primary schools, but some secondary schools fostered a supportive environment through experienced colleagues’ open-door practices and openness to questions. The new teachers also valued opportunities to participate in collaborative teaching activities. Having an experienced and committed tutor teacher, or mentor, was also seen as important. Good mentoring practice involved modelling classroom practices and observing the new teacher as they tried them, and allowing regular, substantial ‘quality time’ with the new teacher. The activity identified as most helpful was watching other teachers teach. Formal observations and the resulting formative feedback were also seen as valuable.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Can computers tutor students as effectively as teachers?
March 2008; Pages 8–9
In this Point/Counterpoint column, Ken Luterbach argues the ‘Yes’ case and Jeanie Cole the ‘No’ case. Luterbach cites research that has continually found that computer-aided instruction and teacher-led instruction are equally effective in terms of student achievement. For students who are struggling, computer-based instruction may even help more. Computer instruction is often motivating for students, particularly if it is well designed. Software should be designed and selected according to Keller’s ARCS model, so that it draws student attention, is relevant, progressively increases the confidence of learners, and provides students with satisfaction. Computer instruction cannot replace teachers, since human attention is needed for managing groups of children. However, it does allow individual attention, instant feedback and inexhaustible patience. Computer training can be likened to surgical simulation software and pilot training programs, which offer undeniable benefits beyond human instruction. For the No case, Cole argues that while computer software should be part of a toolkit of motivating instructional strategies, teachers add a fundamental human element. They teach children to make connections with people, challenge and extend them and can adapt to personalities and learning preferences. She refers to her experience in an at-risk classroom in which she got to know students and their parents, took an interest in them, and encouraged and praised them in areas outside the classroom. Students responded to this human support and made significant progress. Teachers can also arrange classes into groups for collaborative projects and provide materials for tactile, visual and kinaesthetic learners. Computers are an important classroom resource but cannot provide a complete learning system.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Teaching and learning
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