Curriculum needs to drop jargon and embrace phonics | #teacher | #children | #kids | #parenting | #parenting | #kids

When reviews into initial teacher education and the national curriculum were announced, I thought of my young friend Maryanne, the kind of teacher you would want for your child.

Her training covered sociology, arts, and critical thinking, whereas my earlier teaching course focused on children’s psychological, linguistic, and cognitive development, including teaching reading. When Maryanne felt unprepared to teach, her lecturers advised: “Follow the teacher in the next room.”

But she told me “the teacher in the next room does not know what to do either and we can’t make sense of the curriculum”. I re-assured her that teachers who knew how to teach reading could also not make sense of it; pages of esoteric jargon promoting nonsensical strategies like ‘look at pictures to guess words’, ‘guess words by prediction’ and ‘teach spelling by meaning’; ideology that has no evidence.

Will a review of the national curriculum move to prioritise teaching phonics?Credit:Simon Schluter

Initially, I was not as effective a classroom teacher as later, but with my past curriculum, I knew what to do from the start. The foundational three years covered direct teaching of the alphabet, phonological awareness of 44 sounds, how they are represented by letters in words (phonics), then meaning. Oral language sounds out every word.

Initially young children learnt vowel-consonant and consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words. In grade 1 CVCC/CCVC words with one syllable, then words with consonant digraphs and in grade 2, words with vowel digraphs, then words with two syllables in grade 3, always with vocabulary. Three ability levels allowed every child to learn. Reading practice books matched classroom learning and much literature was read to children until they could read themselves.

In her classes, Maryanne found large numbers of anxious, misbehaved children who could not read. Staff explained, “some children can’t read because their parents have not read to them, so nothing can be done now”, which she knew was untrue. She taught for five years before resigning, tired and frustrated, potentially a great teacher, a loss to education.

Since 2005, all reviews find evidence-based foundation literacy instruction is to teach explicit, systematic, synthetic phonics, sequentially from simple to complex.

So far, recommendations are blocked by advocates’ whole language or balanced literacy theories in teacher unions and universities, using misinformation and intimidation. They blame illiteracy on furphies like lack of funding, low salaries, large classes of 20, bad parenting, poor diet, lack of sleep, lazy and/or anxious children, excessive screen time, society’s ills; anything but the truth of their ineffective ideologies.

With 41 per cent illiteracy of 15-year-olds (PISA 2019), too many hundreds of thousands of illiterate children and potentially good teachers have been casualties of these ideologies for far too long.

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