March.2.2015

This is how Australian teachers are taught how to teach children to read: not just phonics

By Eileen Honan

There is a lot of misinformation out there, as well as ill informed commentary, about how we prepare teachers to teach reading and writing in Australian schools today

Of course you have heard the argument that teachers do not teach phonics any more and worse, that many early career teachers do not even know how to teach phonics.

So as a teacher of preservice teachers I will start by telling you for at least the past 15 years there has been overwhelming advice from probably hundreds of research projects and inquiries that a comprehensive approach to the teaching of reading should be taken. Rest assured this approach very emphatically includes the explicit teaching of phonics. However phonics are just part of the picture.

National Inquiry into the Teaching of Readin in 2005 recommended:

that teachers provide systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction so that children master the essential alphabetic code-breaking skills required for foundational reading proficiency. Equally, that teachers provide an integrated approach to reading that supports the development of oral language, vocabulary, grammar, reading fluency, comprehension and the literacies of new technologies.

While the evidence indicates that some teaching strategies are more effective than others, no one approach of itself can address the complex nature of reading difficulties. An integrated approach requires that teachers have a thorough understanding of a range of effective strategies, as well as knowing when and why to apply them.

Our teaching of literacy education to preservice teachers across Australia is based on this approach.

We teach preservice teachers how to teach students:-

  • phonological awareness through the reading and writing of meaningful text
  • to write persuasive texts, and narratives, as required by NAPLAN.
  • to understand the grammatical structures of our language.
  • to read between the lines so they can infer and interpret hidden meanings in texts.

What annoys me about the tired old argument of ‘whole language versus phonics’ is it is framed as a “them versus us” battle. A whole language approach is presented as “modern, progressive and child centred” and phonics is seen as “old-fashioned, reactionary and teacher-centred.”

In the classrooms where we teach Australia’s future teachers we don’t waste time on such nonsense. Instead we spend our time teaching our preservice teachers to teach a range of students using a range of strategies that will work in today’s complex and demanding world.

We teach them about critical literacy, the use of new technologies in literacy classrooms, the importance of grammar, the use of literature, multiple literacies and multimodality, and the importance of teachers doing classroom based research.

Teachers today must be able to cope with a diverse range of abilities and experiences.

Imagine this classroom of six year olds (it would not be uncommon):

  • Some are skilled in using touch pad technologies, all have their own iPads
  • Some have never read a traditional fairy tale, but can tell you who is winning on The Block or MKR
  • Some have been read to every night since they were in the womb, have their own bedroom libraries, and bring new books to school regularly to share
  • Some are newly arrived in Australia. Not only do they not speak English, their parents have limited English, and they have spent so much time in refugee camps they cannot read and write in their own languages either.

It is our job to provide teachers with the skills, knowledge and understanding to develop lessons that help all these children learn to read.

This is not simple work, and cannot be achieved through a ‘magic bullet’ approach.

Though many commercial ‘synthetic phonics’ programs (programs that offer a set way to teach phonics) promise exactly that these days. They are sold as quick fixes to teaching children to read. But mostly they ignore issues related to catering for a wide range of student abilities in one class and are often written by people who have never worked as trained teachers.

I promise you we don’t encourage our nation’s future teachers to grab a program off the shelf in the hope it will work for them. We teach our preservice teachers the elements of ‘systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction’, but we refuse to endorse, promote or market commercial programs.

That said, many advocates of ‘synthetic phonics’ have links to particular programs that are sold to schools, teachers, and parents.

For example, Dr Norman Swan often reports on problems with current approaches to literacy education in his health report forum on the ABC.

He also endorses programs such as Phonica

One of the authors of a recent article in The Conversation  pushing a synthetic phonics approach is also the developer of materials called spelfabet   that she sells to teachers and parents to support this approach. This association was acknowledged by the publisher.

Above all, as teachers of teachers, my colleagues and I strive to provide future teachers with strategies based on “findings from rigorous, evidence-based research that are shown to be effective in enhancing the literacy development of all children”

We do this not only because we ourselves are passionately committed to high quality research, but because government accreditation processes for teacher education courses demand it of us. Put simply if we presented ideas packaged in a commercial program as the “right” way to teach reading our courses would not be ( and should not be) accredited as providing quality teacher education.

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) has set standards and procedures for teacher education. It tells us

Standards and Procedures reflect high expectations of initial teacher education. The stakeholders are united in their belief that the teaching profession and the Australian community deserve nothing less. There is an expectation that those entering teaching will be a diverse group of highly literate and numerate individuals with a professional platform from which to develop as high quality teachers.

Our high expectations of the teaching profession stop us from selling commercial programs, or teaching teachers to believe there is one “right” way to teach reading. We believe our children deserve much more.

 

Acknowledgement – The ideas in this paper were produced in consultation and discussion with members of the Literacy Educators Coalition. For further information about this group please go to their website at http://www.literacyeducators.com.au/.

 

Eileen-Honan

 

 

Dr Eileen Honan is a Senior Lecturer in Literacy and English Education at The University of Queensland.

 

25 thoughts on “This is how Australian teachers are taught how to teach children to read: not just phonics

  1. Darren says:

    I am in my third year at UQ in a Dual Degree in Arts and Education (Secondary). My arts degree is in Ancient History/History and Religion. None of the Education courses I have taken include:

    – phonological awareness through the reading and writing of meaningful text
    – to write persuasive texts, and narratives, as required by NAPLAN.
    – to understand the grammatical structures of our language.
    – to read between the lines so they can infer and interpret hidden meanings in texts.

    I would be very much interested in doing a course on this subject as during one of my field experiences I was placed into a remedial reading class. I did not really understand the methodology being used to assist the student I was with.

  2. Eileen Honan says:

    Hi Darren, it is great to see preservice teachers engaging with these debates so thanks for your response. I should have been clear that my piece was specifically about the teaching of preservice primary school teachers. I can’t really give you advice about the structure of UQ’s secondary education programs especially the more complicated dual degrees, but I encourage you to contact the program director who will be able to help you find courses that may help you. Of course you also raise the interesting and difficult issue that plagues secondary education – that of teaching ‘outside area’. Unfortunately there is no preservice education program that can prepare you for those situations. However, reading in the area, and joining a professional association can help. Thanks again for your contribution.

  3. Hi Eileen, I’m the Speech Pathologist who runs the Spelfabet website you mention in this post, just wanting to explain that the phonics materials on my website were designed for a comparatively small population of children with severe speech and/or language impairment, but since few children are currently taught systematic synthetic phonics in their early years classrooms, and since few teachers are equipped to teach in this way (teachers tell me this constantly), my materials are being taken up as a kind of bandaid by a wider audience, for children who urgently need more systematic explicit phonics. I can’t give the workbooks away as I do not own the copyright on the pictures, and keeping an informational website going takes time so sale of my materials pay for a small proportion of that. But nobody will be happier than me when this is rendered unnecessary by better-equipped teachers and classrooms, so I hope we can all contribute to making this happen, in the interests of children.

  4. Eileen Honan says:

    Hello Alison, thanks for your comment. It is great that you are able to produce these materials for a specific group of students who require specific types of help. My concern is that sometimes the debate is changed from helping specific groups of students, to a one-size-fits all kind of approach. I am pleased to see that you do not agree with that argument. Best wishes Eileen

  5. Darren Stops says:

    The logical errors, contradictions and fallacies in this article are too numerous to address individually, but perhaps these quotes might summarise the core issues:

    “There is a lot of misinformation out there, as well as ill informed commentary, about how we prepare teachers to teach reading and writing in Australian schools today”
    “Rest assured this approach very emphatically includes the explicit teaching of phonics.”

    (Phew, great!)

    “National Inquiry into the Teaching of Reading in 2005 recommended:
    that teachers provide systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction so that children master the essential alphabetic code-breaking skills required for foundational reading proficiency.”

    (Absolutely – and in the UK and the US – explicit, structured synthetic phonics is the foundation of reading – there is no scientific dispute over this – hasn’t been for decades)

    “We teach preservice teachers how to teach students:- phonological awareness through the reading and writing of meaningful text”

    (Ah, what? This isn’t what you just said – it’s the opposite?)

    …and then this – perhaps the final nail in the coffin for Australian literacy levels:

    “Acknowledgement – The ideas in this paper were produced in consultation and discussion with members of the Literacy Educators Coalition. For further information about this group please go to their website at http://www.literacyeducators.com.au/.”

    Oh dear. Now, that’s a worry.

  6. Eileen Honan says:

    Hello Darren, thanks for your comments. I am not sure how to respond though. Perhaps you could list some specific questions that you have? Thanks and best wishes Eileen

  7. Juliet Vanyai says:

    Hi Eileen,
    In your article you state that:

    “We teach preservice teachers how to teach students:-

    phonological awareness through the reading and writing of meaningful text”

    By this do you mean that you teach preservice teachers to teach students to blend and segment phonemes when reading and writing meaningful text?

    The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (that you quote in your article ) recommends that student teachers are provided with “…instruction on how to teach phonemic awareness…”(page 52). I’m confused about what preservice teachers are being taught to do. Can you clarify this please?

  8. Eileen Honan says:

    Hello Juliet, thanks for your comment. In the preservice primary education degree that I teach at UQ we (my colleagues and I) teach our preservice teachers:
    1. the concepts of phonemic and phonological awareness and knowledge
    2. an understanding of general codebreaking skills including an understanding of the ways in which our English language works
    3. how the three cueing systems are used together to make meaning when reading
    4. how to create a classroom environment that encourages motivation and engagement in reading and writing activities
    3. how to plan a balanced literacy program that includes activities and learning experiences that help students break the codes of the text (including at the word and sentence level), make meaning of the text (including literal and inferential comprehension), understand how different types of contexts affect the way texts are written and understood (for eg the difference between writing a letter to an editor and writing a letter to grandparents), and be critical of what they read and view (for example, how to understand how television advertisements use colour, words, music and camera angles to persuade you to buy a product)-
    And much more! How to choose quality children’s literature, how to incorporate digital texts into classroom teaching, how to be a critical consumer of educational resources, how to use the australian curriculum, how to….. etc etc. I hope you can see that we try to follow the recommendations of the National Inquiry that I quoted above.
    “Equally, that teachers provide an integrated approach to reading that supports the development of oral language, vocabulary, grammar, reading fluency, comprehension and the literacies of new technologies.
    While the evidence indicates that some teaching strategies are more effective than others, no one approach of itself can address the complex nature of reading difficulties. An integrated approach requires that teachers have a thorough understanding of a range of effective strategies, as well as knowing when and why to apply them”.
    I hope you also understand that our courses must also teach preservice teachers how to teach writing and speaking and listening, and I haven’t even touched on those aspects of literacy education.
    I hope that begins to answer your question. Thanks and best wishes Eileen

  9. Eileen Honan says:

    Below is my response to Pamela Snow’s comment that she has published on her own blog
    The Snow Report: My response to Dr. Eileen Honan’s AARE blogpost on “how teachers are taught to teach reading”

    Hello Pamela, Thank you for your response and I am sorry that it appears technical difficulties have stopped you publishing it on the AARE blog piece. I will respond specifically to three points:
    1. I wrote this piece in consultation with other colleagues who work in preservice primary teacher education programs in Qld (3 universities), NSW (4 universities) and Victoria (2 universities). The piece does not cover an “idealized image” of our course content but a summary of the course content delivered in our programs. I have responded with some more detail about our course content to a comment on the original piece today. I am happy to share with you the course outlines of all our literacy/English education courses offered at UQ.
    2. Your original piece made some sweeping generalisations about teacher education including: They’re often taught at university by academics whose careers, publication records and reputations are based on whole-language teaching approaches, considered modern, progressive and child-centred.
    and, Graduates are taught to read and understand the language of rigorous research and to turn to peer-reviewed academic journals and properly controlled experimental designs as the best sources of evidence. This doesn’t happen nearly enough in education.
    While my “generalisations” were based on reading, reviewing and discussing the course content from 9 university teacher education programs, I cannot see how you came to your conclusions?
    3. I was not trying to ‘discredit’ your colleague’s work. Indeed I think speech pathologists do a great job. They are skilled, highly trained professionals who do amazing work in helping young children with speech problems. I just do not see why their opinion on the teaching of literacy in primary classrooms is more important or valuable than those of us who have studied teacher education, completed higher education degrees in education, completed PhDs in education, and undertaken empirical research in education.
    Finally I note that you are helping “student doctors learn to master the art and craft of interacting with patients in ways that optimise clinical outcomes”. What an interesting research focus! There is no way that I could begin to comment expertly on that work. I keep my opinions about research to that area of work that I am an expert in. Thanks again for allowing me to respond to your comment

  10. Maralyn Parker says:

    (Following is Pamela’s comment that Eileen’s above reply is referring to. There were problems with formatting in the original that prevented it getting through. Ed)

    Eileen no-one, least of all me or Alison Clarke, is suggesting that phonics is a “magic bullet”. Phonological and phonemic awareness are, however, necessary, though not sufficient elements in good reading instruction. The key point in our piece on The Conversation recently was that in spite of recommendations made in the 2005 National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, teachers are not being taught how to approach this aspect of literacy instruction in a systematic way. Some very fortunate children seem to be able to skip over the bridge to literacy in a fairly seamless manner, while others need much more in the way of systematised support.
    I really don’t think it’s possible for you to make authentic generalisations about “how Australian teachers are taught”, because (as far as I am aware, please correct me if I’m wrong) we don’t have national audit data that maps this. Recently, however, in NSW, a report was released that indicated that this needs to be done better: http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/news-media/media-release.html
    The work of Australian teacher educator Ruth Fielding Barnsely also shows poor teacher grasp of key metalinguistic knowledge in pre-service and inservice teachers – see http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1359866052000341133#.VPQHuyuUd8E. Being passionate is a great start, but having some real knowledge and skills is what gains traction with respect to high quality instruction. This raises the issue of the “Peter Effect” in teaching – that “one cannot teach what one does not know” See: https://www.cis.org.au/images/stories/policy-magazine/2013-spring/29-3-13-jennifer-buckingham.pdf
    It’s ironic that you refer to Dr Norman Swan, of ABC Radio National’s Health Report, as “endorsing” a phonics-based program, as he is one of Australia’s biggest champions of evidence-based practice. As such, he has a keen eye for unsubstantiated claims and holds researchers and practitioners to account for their claims.
    I note too, your attempt to discredit my colleague Alison Clarke, a highly regarded Melbourne Speech Pathologist who does a huge amount of probono work to promote improved classroom practices and afford more children the opportunity to exit primary school as skilled readers. In addition to her hours and hours of honorary work, Alison provides resources and ideas free of charge via her website. As a clinician who specialises in working with children with reading difficulties, she should be receiving only a small number of referrals from surrounding schools.
    Until Australia is performing much more strongly on objective measures such as PIRLS, clinicians such as Alison will have to struggle to see as many instructional casualties as they can. Sadly, there’s just not enough Alison Clarkes to go around.
    In addition to PIRLS (http://www.acer.edu.au/files/TIMSS-PIRLS_Australian-Highlights.pdf) , we also have Australian Bureau of Statistics data on poor literacy rates in this country (http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4228.0Main+Features202011-12), and a damning 2011 report from the Industry Skills Council of Australia (http://www.voced.edu.au/print/content/ngv45623) .
    If you can present compelling evidence that we’re actually doing well with respect to how we teach our children to read, I’m all ears.

  11. Maralyn Parker says:

    (Pamela Snow is still having problems getting her comments through. This is a second reply to Eileen. Ed)

    Eileen it’s great that students at UQ are exposed to coverage pertaining to the importance of decoding skills, though I am less enthused about the reference to “three cueing systems”, as that is a Whole Language-based strategy that places decoding LAST rather than as a first-line strategy. Problems associated with the three-cueing strategy have been described here:

    http://nifdi.org/news-latest-2/blog-hempenstall/402-the-three-cueing-system-in-reading-will-it-ever-go-away
    Here’s just a few sources that describe the Whole Language hold on teacher education in Australia, as well as referring to problems with the ways in which evidence is applied in teacher education:
    Kerry Hempenstall (2009) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19404150609546811#.VPfI1SuUd8E

    Prior & Coltheart (2007) http://readaustralia.com.au/LearningToReadInAustralia_Coltheart_Prior.pdf

    Buckingham et al. (2013) https://www.cis.org.au/images/stories/policy-magazine/2013-spring/29-3-13-jennifer-buckingham.pdf

    I infer a suggestion in your response that I don’t have a remit to be commenting on literacy education or practices. In addition to years of research on language skills of vulnerable young people, I have published on this area and am currently a CI on an ARC Linkage Grant that is working across 87 Victorian schools, using an RCT methodology in an effort to influence teacher knowledge and practices around early oral language development and literacy education. In due course, we will publish our findings on teacher knowledge regarding phonics/phonemic awareness, morphology etc. I think the findings will be of interest to you.

    I am sure that everyone whose work brings them into contact with beginning and/or struggling readers sets out to “do a great job”. However, the evidence tells us we need to be doing much BETTER job, so we have fewer instructional casualties and greater numbers of children are afforded opportunities to be part of the social and economic mainstream across their lifespan. Being able to read is critical in order for this to occur.

    Best wishes
    Pam

  12. Eileen Honan says:

    Hello again Pamela. The three papers you refer to are written by people like you who are judging what is taught in preservice teacher education from observations of practising teachers, from anecdotal evidence provided by teachers and parents, and from their own personal opinions. Once again I am writing on this issue drawing on the actual evidence provided in course materials. So please stop continuing this false argument about the stranglehold of whole language in teacher education. It is simply wrong.

  13. Pamela Snow says:

    Eileen sadly your “people like you” response was exactly what I expected.
    I note however that I provided public domain documents, not merely vague reference to “…reading, reviewing and discussing the course content from 9 university teacher education programs”. Readers will have to judge for themselves which is the more open to external scrutiny.
    You might like to bear in mind too, the findings of the 2005 National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy. Can you point me to publications in the decade since that demonstrate that any of its recommendations have been systematically implemented in teacher education?
    I am very open to continuing this discussion, but if it is going to be reduced to ad hominem comments like “people like you” I’m afraid I don’t see much point.
    Best wishes
    Pam

  14. I declare from the outset of my message that I am the author of the phonics programme, Phonics International, and the phonics consultant for the Oxford Reading Tree Floppy’s Phonics Sounds and Letters programme. I have been invited by others to contribute to this discussion.

    Much of the description of the course content sounds fine to me. My main concern is how readers of the course content might interpret the wording of a ‘range of strategies’ and ‘no one way’ which implies (if I may be so bold to say) that teachers should, or can, pick and choose what to teach to whom. This is where the description of the course content wanders into potentially misleading territory which leads at least some people to think there may be a whole language ethos underpinning the course. Sir Jim Rose addressed such wording and ideas in his historic independent review in England (Final Report, March 2006). I selected some helpful extracts from his report which might be of interest here:

    http://www.syntheticphonics.com/pdf%20files/Extracts%20from%20the%20Final%20Rose%20Report%20March%202006.pdf

    These extracts also include reference to the, then, ‘searchlights multi-cueing reading strategies’ as, in England, the past and current governments have paid heed to the findings in research of the dangers of multi-cueing strategies when these amount to guessing words from cues such as picture, context and initial letters. In your training content above, I note that you refer to gaining meaning from a range of strategies, not guessing words, but sadly many people simply do not understand these differences or do not believe that multi-cueing guessing strategies for word-guessing are damaging. Thus, there is a danger of ambiguity in your course description as your wording opens itself up to misinterpretation. Or, is this misinterpretation at all?

    Further, it is very worrying that the description of course contents reflects an undercurrent of disapproval of commercial or ready-made phonics programmes and practices or people’s views associated with them, and you clearly felt the need to explain why you do not promote them per se. You refer specifically to Alison Clarke and her programme. Anyone visiting Alison’s site might note that Alison does indeed give generously, including actual knowledge and information which is generic, and she also provides links to other people’s programmes and work. This is because Alison’s ethos is not about Alison, it is about children’s learning – and she recognises that other people’s work is supportive of teachers, parents and learners – and that the work involved is based on research-informed principles.

    Surely an academic institution should have at its core, and include in its description of course contents, something related to equipping teachers with the ability to evaluate and compare programmes and practices based on the international findings of research on reading? Any ‘commerciality’ is a red-herring unless a few unofficial payments or advantages are happening behind the scenes. Of course I am not presuming that evaluation of programmes is not part of your course, but I have to say that your apparent bias against commercial phonics programmes is rather worrying because some of them, at least, will be hugely supportive of teaching and learning as some of them at least are heavily informed by research or researched in their own right, and designed and tested by teachers, headteachers, and researchers and may be incredibly invaluable in practical terms. Indeed, a good programme should be a substantial body of work that generalist teachers in the classroom may not be able to replicate well enough to match, or better, the material and guidance.

    In terms of addressing the individuality of children and their needs, do you know how the leading-edge phonics and literacy programmes plus guidance do this? It seems to me that your trainers themselves should have considerable knowledge and expertise of evaluating and comparing what is already available to teachers as this might prevent them from considerable hardship in trying to reinvent the wheel which is also in danger of learners themselves not getting the very best of what is available.

    Finally, I do hope that you will consider the idea of promoting international use of the Year One Phonics Screening Check in England. A baseline of several years’ of results has already been established in England – and then teachers in other English-teaching scenarios can gain a steer of what is possible and being achieved elsewhere. The Department for Education in England does all the hard work of producing the check and then makes it available online soon after it has been undertaken in England.

    Thus, if teachers in Australia are well-trained and teaching by research-informed approaches in their classrooms, we shall be able to see an indication of this if everyone was to use the same phonics check. I acknowledge that this is only a phonics check – nevertheless, phonics is foundational for all learners – whatever their individuality.

    Kind regards,

    Debbie Hepplewhite

  15. Here is a report from the Department for Education in England which is truly ‘hot off the press’ at the time of this posting.

    You will see an entirely different attitude towards phonics in contrast to the ‘not just phonics’ approach. The DfE acknowledges and promotes the need for systematic synthetic phonics strongly whilst at the same time also acknowledges and promotes the need for encouraging a love of reading and steeping learners in literature.

    The DfE published a ‘core criteria’ to support in the evaluation of phonics programmes and highlighted the need to scrutinise content and quality of programmes, including commercial programmes, informed by research-findings:

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/409409/Reading_the_next_steps.pdf

  16. Petra Cole says:

    Thanks for this piece, Eileen. I have taught for twenty years, including time as a Literacy Support Teacher, a Learning Support Teacher, a lecturer at ACU, and I am now back in the classroom. Although I can only offer anecdotal comments here, I’m happy to report that my pre-service teaching students also had opportunities to investigate phonological and phonemic awareness, and phonics instruction. I did not advocate use of any off-the-shelf programs as their only resource. This would certainly be an indication of lowered self-efficacy for reading instruction. Instead, they were encouraged to consult the research every step-of-the-way, and to adjust their use of strategies according to student need. Happily, I now work side-by-side with a number of my former students. They are life-long learners – as are most educators. Those that have found themselves teaching the early years undertake professional learning in many forms to ensure they’re addressing the needs of all of the students in their class. They have built upon the foundational knowledge provided at university to ensure that they are addressing phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension and phonemic awareness. I walk past their classrooms every day, and engage regularly with them in professional dialogue. I am confident in their abilities to see through these debates, and to get on with the job of successfully teaching reading and writing.

  17. Stewart Riddle says:

    An interesting discussion on a topic that many people are very passionate about. There are a couple of points that I’d like to make:
    1) Generalisations about teachers, teacher education and teaching are often inaccurate and unhelpful. I take the point from Eileen that the criticisms levelled at preservice literacy education actually misses the complexity of what literacy involves and the range of strategies, skills and processes that need to be engaged in. One of my biggest worries about the fixation on phonics is that we’re really only talking about formal instruction in beginning reading (i.e. 5 – 7 year olds). What do we do after that? Is that the end for literacy education once a student gets to Year 3? Of course it isn’t, so there’s much more that needs to be covered than SSP in a preservice literacy program. We are faced with multiple competing pressures in preservice education, including large periods of practicum where we don’t have students on campus, complex life-situations where students are juggling jobs, families and study, and then we have a limited amount of time (13 week semesters, minus a few weeks for prac) in which to try to cover an enormous range of stuff. Add to this that teaching involves much more than teaching literacy in primary schools, so there isn’t room in the program to force in more literacy without doing it at the expense of something else. I, for one, would welcome folk like Pamela or Alison to come and visit me at USQ, work with my students, and see what we actually do. I think that otherwise the throwing arguments across the Internet is largely a waste of our collective energy.
    2) The construction of a discourse of crisis around literacy is neither new, nor again, helpful. The use of any blunt measurement of literacy, whether it’s NAPLAN scores, PISA, PIACC, PIRLS, or so on, comes with a whole host of issues in comparative analysis, pragmatic application, and so on. Tests are limited by the logic of the test design, and as such should always be taken with some caution. For example, the simple leagues-table approach that is taken with PISA results (e.g. Australia is 12th in reading and Shanghai is 1st) reduces the complexity of the picture to something that might appeal to a sense of moral panic for readers of The Australian, but it is largely meaningless in any useful sense. By way of example, if we were to disaggregate the data from 2012 PISA and take out the ACT (like China does with Shanghai), then the ACT would be amongst the top performers. Similarly, if we took out the long-tail of underperformance, which from memory is something like the lowest 17% (most of whom include Indigenous students and other students from disadvantaged backgrounds), Australia’s overall ranking would shoot right up to the top. Not that I would advocate that we game the system at all, but I want to illustrate how problematic it quickly becomes to take such things as “the” picture. Further, there are some real issues with trying to compare tests such as PISA and NAPLAN (see http://rd.acer.edu.au/article/questioning-the-standards-of-literacy-and-numeracy for a good discussion of this).
    3) Claiming that balanced literacy is a euphemism for whole language is inaccurate and I am yet to read anything that presents a convincing case for this. The argument that balanced literacy means a mess of methods, chaos, or simply obfuscation once again completely misses the point. Literacy is much more than learning how to read; teachers do what needs to be done to help the kids they have. Do we have a literacy crisis? No. Do we have some kids who aren’t successfully learning how to read? Yes. Will phonics ‘cure’ this problem? For some children, absolutely. But here’s the rub: it won’t work in the same way, at the same time, for all children in all learning situations. The expectation that there is some kind of cure-all for illiteracy is ridiculous and phonics is not a magic bullet. A balanced approach takes a contextualised approach to literacy teaching across all areas of learning, not just initial reading, and uses appropriate strategies for literacy learning.

  18. Pamela Snow says:

    This item in The Australian by Justine Ferrari re the current speaking tour of Dr Louisa Moats (author of “Teaching Reading IS Rocket Science”) may be of interest to readers of this blog.

    I’m hoping to meet up with teacher educators when I go along to listen to Louisa in Melbourne on 21/3.

  19. Petra, that is excellent news and feedback.

    Would you consider promoting the trialling of England’s Year One Phonics Screening Check on a voluntary basis to give an indication of how effectively infant teachers are teaching phonics? It is just a snapshot of course, but it would enable us to look at phonics teaching in Australia compared to England. Would you be up for that? Are you curious as to what this might show?

    Kind regards,

    Debbie

  20. Frank says:

    You have to learn to read before you can read to learn.
    We believe that both phonetics and whole language are vital in development of reading and writing for all students. Phonetics in the earlier years should be used to assist students in decoding the English language, so that in their middle and later years of schooling they are able to make meaning in different contexts because they already have those fundamental skills. As preservice teachers we feel that we have been taught insufficient information about phonetics and how valuable this style of learning is for students. This is an area that we believe would benefit preservice teachers so that we feel more equipped to give students the skills they need to learn to read and write.

  21. Bane Cat says:

    There are conflicting viewpoints talked about/discussed in the article. One viewpoint pushes the use of phonics programs as a quick fix and the other the use of whole language teaching as a springboard for comprehensive learning. However, the comments section is emphatically divided as some of the comments contended that the article gave an inaccurate picture of how teacher training programs are conducted in terms of content. We tend to agree with some of the concerns raised in the comments section: specifically that while phonics falls under a code-breaking umbrella, which includes letter sound relationships and phonemic awareness, there’s no particular training with regards to the education of explicitly teaching phonics, which is well recognised as an effective methodology. We also recognise that phonics is only one of many useful language and/or literacy learning skills and therefore agree that it is important that a variety of sets of skills are taught at university. Given there is limited time within teaching degrees, we have come to a consensus that it would be beneficial for schools to run professional development programs based on the specific needs of the students within the schools in question.

  22. Phonics teaching is not only ‘useful’ but foundational and amazingly successful. It provides lifelong code knowledge and skills for reading and spelling new and more challenging words. Literate adults use a form of phonics for reading and spelling but often don’t even realise this. No phonics proponent ever, ever says that only phonics is required – but teacher after teacher who changes their provision to include high-quality systematic synthetic phonics teaching would never go back to muddling along without the systematic phonics.

  23. Sue Muspratt says:

    Hi Eileen, fancy talking to you here!
    I’d like to add fuel to the discussion from a Learning Support perspective if I may.
    Firstly, with prep children and therefore pre-service teachers going into prep classes, a thorough understanding of Phonemic Awareness and Phonological Awareness is essential, as are diagnostic testing methods for these – all prior to any direct reading instruction. Hence your comment about teaching “•phonological awareness through the reading and writing of meaningful text” seems problematic to me.
    I’ve always found Martha Cummins “Language to Literacy” Model very helpful. (2002) Old I know, but still useful.
    Secondly, for children who are not experiencing success in the classroom, a thorough understanding of the place for ‘synthetic phonics’ instruction would be a great advantage for pre-service teachers. Of course it’s presentation would be only one component, often provide through intervention, of good practice in the classroom and schools. Cheers Sue

  24. Janice Ryder says:

    As educators, I believe we we have a responsibility to stay informed regarding current research and implementing evidence-based research practices in our schools. We trust that organisations such as Australia Association for Research in Education will assist with this. My question is: Where is the research associated with the effectiveness of the Three Cueing Systems, or is this just an educational practice that has been handed down for years without question? I would sincerely like someone out there to find some peer-reviewed research on this…please!

    Also, in defence of Speech Pathologists, they are the members of our school community that have the greatest knowledge of how the linguistic structure of our language works. Most reading difficulties/disabilities are language-based. If we as teachers don’t have knowledge in this area, then how can we be expected to teach it to others?

  25. VRPL says:

    Dr. Honan,
    Please add to your bullet pointed list in your article, as well as to training of your undergraduates:
    – Some live in remote and very remote locations in Australia, for example, remote indigenous communities, where English is an additional language or dialect (EAL/D);sometimes even a third or fourth language where English is not the first language spoken at home. Many parents and carers have limited English, and as their first language is an oral language with no naturally occurring written form other than that developed by linguistic experts, are technically illiterate (cannot read and write) in their first language, and live in households that don’t own a book or a television, or the means to obtain a SAT dish, if they did happen to have a television.

    It is important for emerging teachers to know that indigenous 6 year olds in remote and very remote communities are a significant part of the “all”.

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