Archive for the ‘rights and justice’ Category

Robert Putnam: When Did Poor Kids Stop Being ‘Our Kids’?

March 14, 2015

Robert Putnam: When Did Poor Kids Stop Being ‘Our Kids’?.

Teachers forced to equip schools at own expense as austerity bites West Bank

January 24, 2015

Teachers forced to equip schools at own expense as austerity bites West Bank.

23 January 2015

Budgets are so tight that many Palestinian Authority schools cannot afford paper and pencils. Hard-pressed teachers must spend their own stagnating wages on supplies.

Ghadeer Rabi cannot remember a time during her five-year career as a high school teacher that her salary was enough to support her family. Without her husband’s income, the thirty-year-old says she would not be able to survive.

Rabi’s monthly paychecks are inconsistent, often coming as partial payments or none at all. The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority “keeps promising us a lot, like raises, but we haven’t seen anything,” she told The Electronic Intifada.

Rabi’s situation is not unique: the PA and public servants in the occupied West Bank have been at loggerheads for years.

These problems show no sign of letting up, especially since Israel began withholding taxes it is supposed to transfer to the PA as part of the Oslo accords.

Israel is withholding $127 million worth of tax funds and customs duties on goods that pass through present-day Israel before being exported, as reported by Al Jazeera English earlier this month. The Israeli move has been taken in retaliation for the PA’s decision to join the International Criminal Court.

Withholding Palestinian tax transfers, which Israel has done as a punitive measure many times in the past, intensifies the already difficult economic situation for public and civil servants, among them teachers. In response to Israel’s withholding of tax money, Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, said that “Western governments should refuse to follow suit [by imposing] their own sanctions” on the PA.

Wages stagnate

Living with her husband and infant daughter in Ramallah, Rabi teaches at the local Deir Jarir Girls High School and Mughtarabe Elementary School in the neighboring area of al-Bireh. The schools’ classrooms — which are overcrowded with upwards of forty students each period — lack heating, air-conditioning and most basic supplies.

Due to severe budgetary limitations, the twenty-eight teachers at Deir Jarir are often made to foot the bill for their own supplies, though more than 600 students attend the school. “We don’t even bother asking for additional supplies at this point,” said Rabi. “We know what the response will be.”

Aside from a one-time hourly wage increase of twenty shekels ($6) for the cost of living, “I have worked for five years and haven’t received a single raise,” Rabi said.

While the PA formally bans teachers from working a second job, Rabi said that most are forced to work elsewhere part-time.

Nidal Afafneh, a fourth-year English teacher at Anata Primary School in the West Bank, is one of those searching for a second job to supplement his income. “Some of my colleagues have even taken third jobs,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “This isn’t allowed, but they have to feed their kids.”

Afafneh, 26, said that teachers are demanding their basic rights, such as the school providing paper, pencils, and an annual salary increase to reflect the soaring cost of living, particularly in the Ramallah area. “Sometimes we don’t have electricity or water in our school for days at a time,” he added.

Israel’s harsh restrictions translate into stagnation for the Palestinian economy. In 2013, the World Bank estimated that Israeli control of the West Bank costs Palestinians some $3.4 billion each year. These restrictions have also created a dependency on foreign aid.

PA “dependent and fragile”

But critics also accuse the PA of rampant corruption. The lack of accountability within public institutions has led to widespread “embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, and exploitation of position for personal gain,” states a 2012 report by the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability, a Ramallah-based anti-corruption watchdog. “Those involved in these crimes were high-level employees, such as heads of government divisions, who were conspiring with lower and intermediate level employees.”

Alaa Tartir, program director of Al-Shabaka, a group that monitors Palestinian social and economic policies, explained that the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization “created an inherently dependent and fragile Palestinian ‘authority.’”

After years of building up its public sector, the PA today has around 150,000 public servants, Tartir told The Electronic Intifada. “When Israel decides to withhold Palestinian taxes or when the PA passes through a financial crisis — which is recurrent — those monthly salaries get majorly delayed or paid in installments over months,” he said.

“When Israel withholds taxes it does indeed commit another form of ‘collective punishment’ because it does not only punish the civil servants but also their families [and] we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people that are affected,” Tartir continued.

Yet, the PA’s neoliberal economic policies have only worsened the situation. A Western-backed agenda “entrenched the structural deficiencies in the Palestinian economy and created further distortion,” said Tartir. “It increased inequalities, poverty and unemployment. It created a status of individual wealth for some but national poverty for all.”

Harming the poor

The PA “created a capitalist class that are benefiting from the status quo and arguably from the mere existence of the occupation,” he noted, adding that “entrenching the neoliberal policies will only help Israel’s occupation directly and indirectly through adding another layer of repression that particularly harm the poor and [hinders] their process of liberation.”

As the costs of housing, food and utilities continue to increase, the Palestinian economy remains largely stagnant. According to a World Bank report published in September 2014, unemployment in the West Bank sat at 16 percent during the first quarter of that year.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 23.1 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza worked in the public sector during 2013. Of those, 16.4 percent were in the West Bank.

In addition to the punitive measures taken by the Israeli authorities, the constant disputes between the PA and teachers have resulted in several strikes over the last five years. Most of the more than one million students across the West Bank are affected, creating a difficult learning environment.

Citing the fall 2013 semester as an example, Ghadeer Rabi, the teacher, explained that there were several strikes, “making the actual class time very thin.”

“Strikes have made it a very difficult learning environment. Teachers go through the lessons really fast to catch up with what they miss,” she said. “And students aren’t motivated to be in class.”

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor to The Electronic Intifada. His website is www.postrickland.com. Follow him on Twitter: @P_Strickland_.

“Schools in Context”: The Full Text of a Major Study Comparing the U.S. to Eight Other Nations

January 21, 2015

“Schools in Context”: The Full Text of a Major Study Comparing the U.S. to Eight Other Nations.

What are the aims and purposes of human life? Who am I to become as an early childhood professional?

January 5, 2015

Thinking about Life and education with a focus on early Childhood

“This is one view of the nature of education, based on a conception of human nature … According to this conception, the child has an intrinsic nature, and central to it is a creative impulse … the goal of education should be to provide the soil and the freedom required for growth of this creative impulse … a complex and challenging environment that the child can imaginatively explore and, in this way, quicken his intrinsic creative impulse and so enrich his life in ways that may be quite varied and unique … governed, as Russell said, by a spirit of reverence and humility: reverence for the precious, varied, individual, indeterminate growing principle of life; and humility with regard to the aims and with regard to the degree of insight and understanding of the practitioners.” Noam Chomsky reflecting on philosopher Bertrand Russell’s humanist conception of education. (Chomsky, Otero 2003)

As an educator it would seem inevitable, given that we engage in a practice, a vocation, that demands we adopt a position that places children first. To take an ethical position means that we have to affirm that we are doing all we can to provide the best environmental circumstances to allow wholistic sensory and cognitive growth.

This is affirmed by the OECD (2006) report Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education And Care proposing that the ‘social pedagogy tradition’ is one that best defines positively, a humanist approach within education systems,

“…The social approach is inherently holistic. The pedagogue sets out to address the whole child, the child with body, mind, emotions, creativity, history and social identity. This is not the child only of emotions – the psycho-therapeutical approach; nor only of the body – the medical or health approach; nor only of the mind – the traditional teaching approach. For the pedagogue, working with the whole child, learning, care and, more generally, upbringing … pedagogues seek to respect the natural learning strategies of young children, that is, learning through play, interaction, activity, and personal investigation. Co-operative project work is much employed to give children a taste for working together and to build up shared and more complex understandings of chosen themes. The belief is widespread that encouraging the initiatives and meaning-making of children strongly supports cognitive development.”

My Story

My journey toward early childhood education began with a significant personal event, the birth of my daughter – born in the month of December in 1990 – a decade which opened with the USA governments initiation of a new wave of invasion and war in Iraq. The latter decades and years of this century were marked by global shifts in power most significantly by the collapse of the all the former communist states. I did not know then just how profound the effect these events were to have on the struggle for social equality, and social welfare. After two decades one effect of collapsing Communist Parties is the significant absence of struggles for improved social wellbeing which has also boosted the neo-liberal, small government, market rule economists.

I remain an active socialist in the communist tradition and regard myself a Marxist. My ideas about class and socialism had found some purchase in my mind after a few years in the Royal Australian Navy. The hierarchical character of the armed forces was a rapid introduction to the larger issues of class and oppression that run through our societies. Decades latter a friend who was then an army intelligence officer, and an anarchist, articulated for me something I had understood but had not fully appreciated, the armed services in many ways is able to function because it relies on socialistic methods of organisation.

What has this to do with Early Childhood and education?

The collapse of communism and the influences of the Reagan and Thatcher era have been very disorientating politically as governments all over the globe sold-off our welfare to the corporations and so further concentrated ‘self-regulatory’ control and profits into fewer hands. As a labour movement activists I had to make sense of all this and seek new and different arguments and methods of organising. It was at this time that I came across the book ’Children First’ by Penelope Leach the British psychologist and child development and parenting expert. I vaguely knew of her, and was excited to see that someone who was a respected authority could write about the problems of capitalist society and its ill effects on children and human development generally.

“For our societies money is god, the market place is its temple and mass communications – from TV advertising to ‘motivational speakers’ – ensure that its creed is an inescapable driving force not just in corporate lives but in the lives of everyone of us.

With societies’ attention, energy and excitement focused on the marketplace, areas of human endeavour that cannot be directly bought with money and sold for profit tend to be regarded as peripheral. It may be thought worthy to work at personal relationships (as parents work to relate to their children and each other), but it will be usually considered more interesting to work at professional ones (as day care workers and marriage counsellors) – and get paid for it.”

“Children are a special case. Like the very old, the very young do not earn and therefore play little direct part in the marketplace. Indeed children are doubly unproductive because their maintenance and education cost money they cannot earn for themselves, and their care absorbs adult time that otherwise would be spent producing it. But because children are the producer-consumer units of tomorrow rather than yesterday, no economy can disregard them.” (Leach 1994)

Schooling and skills, is it education?

Preparing my daughter for school had a disturbing effect upon me that I had not expected. There were many good things about my school years but school itself was an indifferent experience. School had not built my confidence, if not undermining it, we sat in isolation while were encouraged not to speak unless spoken to, or asked a question, something to be avoided as it usually ended in humiliation. All said and done fertile ground for a sense of failure, as a teacher I vowed to improve on my experiences by not repeating them on the children in my care.

Studying and completing my degrees in Philosophy and Cinema Studies I then moved on into teaching. My semester in Philosophy with Children and the method of the community of inquiry, building out of Dewey’s conception of scientific inquiry, had given me fresh insights. This philosophical approach is a fine tool for facilitating children’s dialogue, engaging with each other in thinking about themselves and the world around them.

I have never had a desire to return to school, and this remains the case. I distinguish between schooling and education and I am sure I speak for many teachers who acknowledge their enjoyment of teaching as such, but find ‘the system’ vexing. Regulation enforcing minimum standards generally works to the detriment of improving and achieving best professional practice. Fenech, Sumsion, & Goodfellow (2006) used one educator’s description of regulation through the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System (QIAS) as “a double edged sword” because “notions of professional decision-making and practical wisdom are not readily identifiable in either QIAS or the NSW Children’s Services Regulation.

The chief concern I believe is the problem of regulations impinging on, or driving our pedagogical practice that is detrimental to children and is therefore not best practice. Pedagogues should begin with the question, who educates the educator? Any dialogue concerning the needs of children should begin here; what are the social, community and public needs of children generally, and the children with whom I work directly?

Love and learning

What can I do to develop their ‘Love of Learning’ that I believe that they initially come to me with? The mantras of ‘Life long learning’ and ‘learning readiness’ – within our formal institutions –suggests a view of learning that is knowledge transmitted down from the teacher, in contrast to the view that we have an innate predisposition to learn. How can we overcome or transcend the economic reductionism of the Corporate State that narrows the definition, purpose and possibilities of education?

To begin by asking, what do I have to do to be accountable to The State, is to unwittingly enforce the status quo and consequently the interests of the ruling class and the nation-market-state? Considering my position as an early childhood educator is one that needs to be regarded in terms of the real politic of education played out in each school under the auspice of education departments. As Bruer (1999) observes, politicians use ‘knowledge’ and ‘science’ to spin their gloss-over of practices detrimental to wholistic conceptions of early childhood education.

“Julia Gillard, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion, discussed ‘new’ knowledge…The new thinking that I’m talking about…is the new scientific research about the way children’s brains develop. …Gillard’s statement demonstrates how politicians can play a key role in framing and/or determining policy content and outcomes… Crucially, the quality of formal ECEC provisions for children also rests, to a considerable extent, on the policy decisions of politicians.

The problem is not so much one of science or developmental models opposing post modernist and humanist conceptions of education, but rather a crudely defined ‘medical model’ imposed on teachers and enforced through their practice. My experience of some school administrators is that they use counter reforming government demands, the use of regulations, and public service acts to enforce the medical model of testing, teaching to predetermined outcomes, and collecting quantifiable data as ‘evidence’ of ‘value adding’ to children.

Questions, questions, and more questions

The questions we should ask, how do educators defend best practice and research while they maybe dealing with draconian methods imposed by hierarchies, and unreasonable authoritarian methods at the departmental and school level? Who and what are educating the educator while they are being disciplined and undermined by those in authority? How do humanistic approaches that rely on qualitative means to measure personal achievements and growth flourish in this current period of reactionary politics?

Progressive approaches understand young children as ‘already human beings, with desires and powers of their own, and not as units of production and consumption, to be improved – potentially – for the benefit of the corporate profit-and-war machine. Part of the answer lies within ourselves as professional educators, by organising power into our collegiate and collective hands, so to build our profession and thereby serve the best qualities of all human kind.

References

Bruer, J.T. (1999) In Search of … Brain-Based Education, Phi Delta Kappan, 80(9), pp. 648-657, quoted in Brown, K., Sumsion, J., Press, F., Influences on Politicians’ Decision Making for Early Childhood Education and Care Policy: what do we know? What don’t we know?

Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood Volume 10 Number 3 2009, http://www.words.co.uk/CIEC

Chomsky, N. & Otero C. (2003) Chomsky on Democracy and Education Routledge pp. 163-4

Fenech, M., Sumison, J., Goodfellow, J., (2006) The Regulatory Environment in Long Day Care: A ‘double edged sword’ for early childhood professional practice, Australian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 31, No.3 September 2006.

Leach, P. (1994) People, Profits and Parenting, Children First: What society must do – and is not dong – for children today, Penguin, pp. 4-6

OECD (2006) A unified approach to learning: The social pedagogy tradition, Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education And Care, p59

Words 17

An end to the Queensland Acts

January 5, 2015

Minister Katter said the legislation, intended to protect sacred sites and other places of significance, was ‘socially divisive’, ‘simplistic’, would ‘freeze development’ and gave too much power to the Commonwealth. Detailed responses from each government department were shown to support this view. A submission to repeal the Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act was withdrawn in October (Dec. 44456).

[PN: A little over a year after the Commonwealth Games Protests of 1982 the Qld Government made extensive changes to what was known as the Queensland Acts which had kept a kind of apartheid in place in Queensland since the 1890s – here is a report of those changes using newly released Cabinet Minutes as their source]

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs

Grants totalling $1.5m for religious organisations running Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were approved by Cabinet members, with $1m allocated to the Lutheran Church (for Hopevale and Wujal Wujal) and $115,000 for the Brethren Church at Doomadgee (Dec. 42170, Dec. 42302, Dec. 44383). New community services legislation, to provide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, was approved (Dec. 42644, Dec. 42821, Dec. 44013). Provisions for liquor sales and other administrative functions were included.

Members considered the issue of award wages for Aboriginal and Torres Strait…

View original post 726 more words

What Drives Human Behavior?

January 3, 2015

This is a very thoughtful piece. As a teacher it is something that is most misunderstood by many of my profession. I do not make any great claims to understanding but it is something we need to do more work on.

Social Health

What drives behavior

Human behavior is shaped by a combination of cognitive, social, and biological forces. Although there are various theories of behavior, my own research into psychological and sociological forces had lead to me to the following simple but often neglected insight:
We are driven by our desire to feel significant.

Driven by our desire for significance, it can be achieved in two ways:
1) a sense of belonging and contribution; 2) a sense of winning and dominating

The former operates through communal integration, where individuals are valued as part of a community or team, whereas the latter operates through communal disintegration where individuals are valued based on their individual wealth or power.

Mental stories about our place in the world informs our sense of significance by pointing to families, occupations, or organizations we belong or contribute to. Our behavior is then driven by our internal assessment of this state of…

View original post 582 more words

Pride review – power in an unlikely union

January 3, 2015

A wonderful film that at times had me in tears not because I am sentimental but because of the reminder about the ground we have lost.

Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and George MacKay sparkle in this tale of lesbian and gay activists’ support for the miners’ strike

Paddy Considine in Pride Left to right: Freddie Fox, Ben Schnetzer, Faye Marsay, Joseph Gilgun, Paddy Considine and George MacKay forge unity between lesbian and gay activists and striking miners in Pride.

Cards on the table: having been actively involved in the banner-carrying, badge-wearing, internecine bickering of student politics in the early 80s, I am predisposed to embrace any movie that celebrates the rag-tag allegiances that sprang up across class and gender boundaries during the miners’ strike. A fondness for cute quiffs, turn-ups, and Dexys hats helps too, along with nostalgia for the time when playing Bronski Beat records really loudly could be interpreted as a political act. Add to this an enduring love of British films such as Brassed Off and Made in Dagenham, which blend hard fact with sentimental fiction…

View original post 745 more words

Literacy And Numeracy: Literacy and personal and social power are all intimately connected

January 2, 2015

 Literacy And Numeracy

Preamble

Literacy and personal and social power are all intimately connected. The word ‘literacy’ stems from the Latin word littera, meaning ‘letter’ and from there to literatus which means having knowledge of letters, which is what gives meaning to the connection between being literate and educated or learned.

The meaning of, ‘to be literate’, and ‘literacy’ is to describe skills that go beyond the functional ability to read and write. While reading and writing are critical and essential foundations for becoming ‘consciously literate’, there are many other ways that we ‘read the world’. In this sense numeracy and becoming numerate; appreciating and creating, and communicating through The Arts and The Sciences need to be regarded equally, as essential elements of literacy.

The concept of ‘multiple intelligences’ as developed by Howard Gardner is one framework that helps to explain the complex of skills and knowledge that describes a literate or educated person. The description of multiple intelligences acknowledges the complexities, and the difficulties, of defining and explaining human cognition. Therefore, to use the word ‘intelligences’ in relation to ‘literacies’ is useful.

Equally valid, when thinking about literacy and education and the cultivation of thought, and thinking about thinking, are all the following: Cognitive intelligence – thinking about thinking and learning to learn, by inquiring into the cultural, social and historical creations that define our lives so we thereby find meaning and purpose for life. Our emotional, visual, dramatic, and musical intelligences are as much a part of thinking and literacy as any other aspect. The challenge is, how to connect deeper understanding of these, with our day-to-day practice.

What are the implications for learners and teachers in the inquiry learning mini-school? Making connections with Early Years learning Framework and Every Chance to Learn.

Literacy means having the ability and knowledge to reflect on the meanings of symbols, our feelings and actions in relation to them, and the affect they have on others. Ability and knowledge give us the power to use languages to interpret and transform worlds. Each element or discipline represents a form of power; namely the power to identify things, ideas and actions and to be able to communicate effectively with, and about them.

The word ‘power’ has positive and negative connotations, however what concerns us as teachers and learners are the ‘innate’ powers that we understand as human behaviour. While these are difficult to define and encapsulate, their absence is noticeable. Student involvement and engagement with learning and school, and society at large, are essentially about questions of power.

Power comes from the Latin posse, ‘to be able’ and the French word povoir, ‘the ability to do things’. The words ‘possible’ and ‘potent’ are derived from these roots too; this allows a more powerful or meaningful interpretation of ‘possibility’ and ‘potential’ when we speak about students ‘realising possibilities’, ‘creating futures’ and ‘reaching, or realising their full potential’.

Power can be abused; and especially when it is not understood we can use it to serve selfish and anti-social ends. We hope that our philosophy with children program, in conjunction with the children’s involvement in exploring their connections with our natural environment, and expressing and interpreting their knowledge through the arts, will also provide a rich learning environment as well as the content for much of their literacy activities.

We hope too, that our code of conduct, which is founded on the principles of restorative justice or practice, will also assist in preventing irrational, unreasonable or thoughtless actions. The formation of a student council and the ongoing development of avenues and opportunities for student participation in the daily life of the school will also provide meaningful and purposeful contexts for their literacy activities.

The literacy and numeracy ‘program’.

Teachers are also inquirers who are endeavouring to fulfill our obligation to provide sound, evidence based assessment and evaluation of our profession, and our teaching and learning. The democratic school is a ‘school that learns’ in which – the ‘political life’ of transforming ourselves through the things we do in our public lives. Collective and community responsibility is emphasised through our classroom programs and whole school activities. We expect our students to question therefore the expectation is that we as teachers do so too.

  • What then does accountability mean? If we accept the assumption that schools, like the society that produces it, is a site of ‘power’ in which there are both mutual and competing interests.
  • How do we create a school that is genuinely democratic, child centred, and acts in children’s best interests?

Critical pedagogy and dialogue; the Inquiry Learning Framework and Philosophy with Children; the Community of Inquiry: dialogue and language, speaking and thinking.

A framework is not a silo standing entirely alone, while a framework acts a guide it is inevitable that frameworks will overlap and morph or as we describe it, the silos or disciplines are integrated with each other. While at the same time as providing opportunities to look through different ‘windows onto worlds’ and share and appreciate ‘points of view’, we can explore different ways of thinking and communicating or sharing our experiences and purposes. All this is only possible through the process of inquiry learning.

The aim should be to provide in a straightforward way what will be common across all year levels – from Preschool, Kindergarten to Grade 6 and beyond. It is not intended to be in anyway prescriptive but rather provide some common assumptions that are founded in well-regarded research into children’s biological and cultural development. All theories or more accurately hypotheses, are contestable, which is why evidence, grounded in the good practice of scientific inquiry, that is to say, having the capacity for self-correction, is another hallmark of the theoretical material that supports our teaching and learning practice.

1.0 Teaching literacy for the needs of children: Literacy as Social Practice

1.1 What does the research tell us?

1.2 Essential Ingredients of the literacy ‘toolkit’

1.3 How will we teach?

1.4 What do we need to teach? Planning and teaching a balanced Literacy Program

Developing a P-6, Scope and Sequence.

1.5 Literacy and Numeracy as Social Practice: The Literacy ‘Toolkit’

1.6 The 4 Resource Literacy ‘Toolkit’:

The Code-Breaker, Meaning-Maker, Text-User, and Text-Analyst.

1.9 Proforma of The Four Resources ‘Toolkit’:

1.10 Literacy Teaching and Learning: Some inquiry questions.

2.0 Literacy Interview: A tool of assessment.

3.0 Building the Foundations: Teaching and Learning Reading and Writing

3.1 Writing systems: Learning to be a code breaker

3.2 Alphabet writing systems

3.2.1The code nature of writing systems are difficult to understand;

3.2.2 How writing systems work and why we need them

3.4 The Phono-graphic approach and the Alphabet Code: The sound-picture code.

Learning to read. Phono-graphics or whole word. Why not teach whole words as an ‘initial sight vocabulary?

The flaws of the Whole Word approach; How our writing system works.

3.4.1 Teaching the alphabet code

3.4.2 The transparent alphabetic code:

3.4.3 Encoding and decoding – A code is defined by the fact that it is reversible.

3.4.4 For teachers: The best approach to introducing the alphabetic code.

3.5 Instructional Framework for teachers.

3.5.1 The Basic Code: Consonant Vowel Consonant (CVC) words.

3.5.2 The teaching goals of the Basic Code

3.5.3 Introducing adjacent consonants

3.5.4 Teaching the advanced code

Sub-skills necessary to reading

Sub-skills necessary to reading with the advanced code

3.6 Multi-syllable management

Bridging the gap between single syllable and multi-syllabic words

Background to an instructional method based on the realities of the written language.

Features of multi-syllabic words

Teacher language for developing management strategies

3.6.1 Activities to support reading and spelling processes

4.0 Professional Practice: Following developments in the teaching of reading.

Key resources used

4.0.1 Letter/s-sound order and speed of introduction

5.0 Networks; professional networks – global and local.

Making the global local – Making the local global.

Useful websites Further Reading and Key Resources

5.1.References

6.0 For the parents: Reading at home.

Literacy And Numeracy

1.Teaching literacy for the needs of children: Literacy as Social Practice

Children’s literacy is shaped through and by their social and physical interactions with the world around them. Children bring to school ‘knowledge’ formed by these social experiences that have shaped them from the time they were born. However it is through their ‘reconstructing’ of experiences that rich cognitive activity is achieved. Literacy is essential to any inquiry.

Being literate includes the capacity to recognise the ways in which language and texts shape our thoughts, judgements and values. We want our children to grow up being able to resist exploitation by commercial and political interests. Literacy is critical in learning to understand, accept or acknowledge differences in language, ethnicity, gender, age and political views and is therefore essential for acting effectively in the world.

“Teaching literacy requires highly skilled teachers who have the knowledge, sensitivity and capacity to adapt their teaching methodologies to the differing contexts and conditions in which children grow up. This needs to be done in such a way that children are not ‘turned off’, so that those tenuous early steps towards literacy do not become the focus of competing interests or tedious and repetitious activities.”

“In order to survive in an ever increasingly complex world, where literacy not only focuses on written texts, but also visual, computer and internet texts, students will need to develop a ‘literacy toolkit’ which enables them to:

  • Make meanings of and compose a range of different forms and modes of texts, including multi-modal texts
  • Decode and encode effectively, including the icons and symbols of technology
  • Read and write fluently and cogently
  • Critically analyse texts to recognise whose views are being presented
  • Adapt reading and writing processes to the many different text forms used by different subject areas and the differing text modes; poetry, drama, fiction, non fiction; as well as the written, the visual in all the arts and the moving image, computer, and internet texts.

1.1 What does the research tell us?

Over the last thirty years, a strong and consistent body of knowledge has been established. (Heath, 1983; Wells, 1983; Freebody, Ludwig and Gunn, 1995; Cairney et al., 1995; Snow, Burns and Griffin, 1998; Stanovich, 1998; Luke, 1998; and Hill et al., 1998) This research leads to the following conclusions:

  • Children who become literate with ease have had a great deal of experience with numerous written texts from the time that they are very young. They have been read to frequently, and they have been given the opportunity to examine the nature of a range of texts and have been able to explore the meanings of those texts with a supportive mentor.
  • Children’s literacy development is strongly linked to knowledge of how words are made up of different sounds and of how these sounds can be mapped onto written symbols. That is, successful literacy learners have phonological awareness, as well as code breaking skills, and they can use the alphabetic principle (the idea that written spellings systematically represent the sounds of spoken words) in reading and writing. *(See 3.0, Building the Foundations: Teaching and Learning Reading and Writing)
  • Reading and writing of texts involves understanding linguistic and symbolic codes specific to the written language. Texts have specific attributes that learners must consciously understand if they are to become effective literacy learners. Unlike talking, which most children will learn to do so long as they are provided with human interaction, effective literacy learning requires the conscious awareness of sounds, letters and words, and the ways in which texts provide meaning and knowledge about forms of text.
  • Children’s literacy development is dependent on the fluency of their comprehension and composing strategies to get meanings from texts and to create their own texts. Without fluency children cannot cope with the cognitive demands of complex texts.
  • Children’s literacy practices are shaped by the social interactions of those around them. The different experiences children take with them when they go to school are mediated by the literacy and social experiences they have from the time they are born.
  • Literacy learning also includes the capacity to recognise the ways in which texts shape particular values about topics. This is necessary because we want our children to grow up learning how to resist exploitation by commercial and political propaganda and to accept differences in race, language, ethnicity, gender, age and political views.

1.2 Essential Ingredients of the literacy ‘toolkit’

It is relatively easy to describe the ‘toolkit’ that students need to develop in order to become literate. It is much more difficult to describe exactly how teachers might enact this balanced literacy curriculum in their different classrooms.

Unless students are engaged in cognitively demanding activities (Vygotsky, 1978) they are unlikely, for a range of reasons, to develop these literacy resources.

The challenge is to plan ways of implementing a balanced literacy program that both engages the children and cognitively challenges them, while at the same time providing them with sufficient practice to facilitate the fluency and reading reflexes achieved by effective literacy learners.

The history of teaching literacy over the last fifty years tells us that there has been a continual search for the ‘right’ methodology. Looking back over what we have learned from this extensively researched area, it appears that we are unlikely to find a single ‘right’ methodology or even to be able to define ‘good practice’.

Teaching literacy requires highly skilled teachers who have the knowledge, sensitivity and capacity to adapt their teaching methods to different contexts and conditions. Teachers need to be able to help children learn to be literate in ways that are joyous, significant and engaging for all children. This needs to be done in such a way that children are not ‘turned off’, so that those tenuous early steps towards literacy do not become tedious and repetitious activities and then fall victim to competing interests.

In discussing how we might find an appropriate balance for teaching literacy over the next decade, I wish to focus on what we have learned about literacy development in the last 100 years. Despite the ongoing debate about the teaching of literacy, there has been a convergence of research, upon which we can draw. Before looking at what this research is telling us, it is important to focus on current understandings of literacy.

These understandings go far beyond the narrow view of literacy provided by the National Benchmarks. Rather they focus on a literacy that will open up possibilities for children who will grow up in a multi-modal world. Literacy experiences must provide children with the resources or a ‘toolkit’ to break the code of written, visual or multi-modal texts, which focuses on the meanings of these texts and which will provide children with the social understandings and critical awareness to make use of these texts within appropriate contexts.

1.3 How will we teach?

How we go about planning for and teaching literacy will be likely to change according to the needs of the children we teach and the literacy experiences they bring to school with them. We know that almost all children participate in meaningful oral and written language interactions in their homes. However, we also know that these home literacy practices are likely to privilege some children over others when they begin participating in the ways of talking and thinking required by school contexts (Gee, 1990).

Particular home practices are necessarily better than others and we must be careful not to interpret information or data in such a way that personal preferences or judgments cloud our interpretations. Rather, we need to be alert to giving all children access literacy practices and ways of talking that allow them to participate successfully in school learning.

At the same time we must be careful not to devalue the different ways of talking which some children bring to school with them. Helping children learn how to move between the different ways of talking and doing literacy required by different contexts is critical if we are serious about providing any sort of equity in the opportunities that children have to access literacy and power in the world outside.

Most importantly, we will need to know as much as possible about the children we teach. If they come to us without a great deal of experience of written texts, much of our time will be spent in providing such children with the experiences, texts, analysis, practice and discussions that occur in the homes of other children.

These precepts mean that teachers must use what the students know and engage with, in order to move them to reading, writing and critically evaluating the variety of texts that will give them access to a range of opportunities. We can open the window to all of the cultural texts of the past, only if we plan for them with these understandings in mind.

We need to help children read and write about a range of texts using the social knowledge they have. Selected television shows and drama texts can provide the opportunity for students to meet challenging issues about race and gender because the discussion of delicate issues can be confronted without identifying any particular individuals or groups in Australian society.

From such an analysis, teachers can plan to move to a similar discussion of some of the cultural texts that are part of our heritage. Similarly, we would also want to see students going to the internet to access a range of views about social issues of concern; views that may differ from the ones represented by the mass media.

1.4 What do we need to teach? Planning and teaching a balanced Literacy Program:

Developing a P-6, Scope and Sequence.

What children need to be able to do to become effective literacy learners can provide a guide for what it is we need to consider when planning for a systematically balanced literacy program. Planning should provide opportunities for children to participate in activities that engage their interest while ensuring:

  • Regular sustained time for inquiring into, and learning of knowledge about the word and the world and connecting this to their literacy and numeracy learning
  • Teacher talk which is clear and precise enough to focus children on what is being learned
  • Explicit instruction in code-breaking techniques, which include sound-letter-sound correspondences, phonological awareness and letter recognition.
  • Develop understanding of phonemes, phonemic segmentation and spelling relationships, while using ‘invented’ phonetic spelling to help children understand spelling strategies to support their transition to conventional spelling
  • Oral language and inquiry activities that develop awareness of sounds, listening, speaking, complex oral language structures, vocabulary and knowledge about the world
  • Systematic practice of inquiry through engagement with a variety of oral, written and multi-modal texts using a range of instructional strategies
  • Comprehension and composition of a range of text forms through teacher instruction and co-inquiry, modelling, scaffolding and philosophy
  • Frequent practice, in reading aloud to develop fluency in reading and writing
  • Games and computer activities that provide practice to support the development of children’s ‘literacy toolkit’
  • Regular analysis of a range of texts to help support children’s understanding of how texts are written
  • Critical analysis of texts to look at whose interests are being served by those texts
  • Regular assessment to monitor the progress of children, and to help make decisions about ongoing teaching

The content of the preceding material has been provided from, ‘Finding a balance for the year 2000 and beyond’, Associate Professor Judith Rivalland, Chair of Primary and Early Childhood Studies Programs Edith Cowan University, Perth WA

1.5 Literacy and Numeracy as Social Practice: The Literacy ‘Toolkit’

Literacy is recognised as social practice, integrated or embedded in the social context (Fairclough, 1989; Gee, 1990, 1996,1999; Lankshear and McLaren, 1993; Street, 1995; Barton and Hamilton, 1998 and Baynham, 1996). The multiplicity of facets and literacy content is known under the heading of multiliteracy (Cope and Kalantzis, 2000). Perceptions of numeracy parallel those of literacy. Varying numeracy skills are required to deal systematically with problems of concern in everyday life and to better understand the physical, economic and social environment in which we live (Crowther, 1959, quoted in Cumming, 1996, p. 11). Freebody and Luke (1990) and Luke and Freebody (1998) make the point that literate people adopt four resource roles.

1.6 The 4 Resource Literacy ‘Toolkit’:

The Code-Breaker, Meaning-Maker, Text-User, and Text-Analyst.

The four resource model is a ‘toolkit’ to break the code of written, visual or multi-modal texts, which focuses on the meanings of these texts and provides children with the social understandings and critical awareness to make use of these texts within appropriate contexts.

  1. The Code-breaker role includes basic skills associated with knowing the technology of the written symbols of the language, and understanding the relationship between spoken and written symbols. Reading, spelling, writing
  2. The Meaning-maker role involves learners bringing their techniques of code breaking to the different structures of the various types of texts they encounter and the experiences portrayed in those texts. This means matching up the learner’s own knowledge of the topic with knowledge of textual structures.
  3. The Text-user role means that, in addition to participating in texts, learners must also assume the role of using texts in a variety of situations, each with a different socio-cultural purpose.
  4. The Text-analyst role involves learning how to examine texts critically in order to gain understandings about sub-surface influences and themes and to find out why texts are written in particular ways to achieve particular effects.

This material has been provided from the article, ‘Addressing The Literacy And Numeracy Needs Of Workers Through Training Packages: Training Packages: A Case Study In Delivery’. Pat Millar and Ian Falk, Centre for Research and Learning in Regional Australia (CRLRA), University of Tasmania.

Code breaking – Decoding and encoding the codes and symbols of written, spoken and visual texts, for example:•     using appropriate technical terms during shared reading activities

•     recognising pronouns that refer to preceding nouns

•     using voice and body language

•     using camera angle and viewer position in a visual text

•     recognising linking words that express logical relationships

•     recognising symbolic use of music or sound effects.

Text participant Comprehending and composing written, spoken and visual texts, for example:•     describing distinguishing characteristics of a scene, animal, person in a broad description

•     interpreting causes and effects in an explanation

•     interpreting imaginative relationships through imagery

•     interpreting features that indicate personal opinions about issues

•     narrating real or imagined events in logical sequence attending to the main elements of storyline

•     comparing and contrasting to argue for or against an issue in a written discussion.

Text user – Understanding the purposes of different written, spoken and visual texts, and using texts in different ways for different cultural and social functions, for example:

•     constructing timelines, story-maps, semantic webs or flowcharts to represent events or the organisation of information in printed and visual texts

•     using narratives, e.g. to write an imaginative story with a storyline in which interrelated events can clearly solve a problem

•     using transactions, e.g. to negotiate goods and services through print media advertising

•     using procedures, e.g. to follow a series of interrelated steps according to written and visual instructions such as a cooking video or a recipe

•     using reports, e.g. to follow an accident report that requires close attention to sequence and detail

•     using expositions, e.g. to synthesise information from different sources and to express points of view.

Text analyst – Understanding how texts differentially position readers, viewers and listeners, for example:•     discussing varying reactions to narrative texts in which male and female roles are reversed

•     differentiating the emotive effects and cultural meanings of images and symbols in commercial advertising

•     considering the interests, needs and backgrounds of potential readers

•     comparing political allegiance evident in a speech or an interview

•     analysing divergent interpretations of the same facts presented in different texts

•     discussing the various ways that people may be represented in texts.

1.10 Literacy Teaching and Learning: Some inquiry questions.

The following points have been lifted from the previous text to stimulate discussion.

  1. Children’s literacy is shaped through their social and physical interactions with the world around them. Children bring to school ‘knowledge’ formed by these social experiences that have shaped them from the time they were born. What are the implications of this statement for understanding how we learn and for our psychological development?
  2. Being literate includes the capacity to recognise the ways in which language and texts shape our thoughts, judgements and values. We want our children to grow up being able to resist exploitation by commercial and political interests and propaganda. Literacy is critical in learning to understand, accept or acknowledge differences in language, ethnicity, gender, age and political views and is therefore essential for acting effectively in the world. What are the implications of this statement for teachers and their practice? What are the implications of this statement for teachers and their professional development? How does inquiry learning correspond to literacy?
  3. Home literacy practices are likely to privilege some children over others when they begin participating in the ways of talking and thinking required by school contexts. Why and if so in what ways and how?
  4. We know that almost all children participate in meaningful oral and written language interactions in their homes. How do we know this? And what does ‘meaningful’ mean in this context?
  5. To change teaching according to the needs of the children we teach and the literacy experiences they bring to school. How can we achieve this? Are there problems associated with this?
  6. Particular home practices are better than others and we must be very watchful not to interpret this information in such a way. What does this mean?
  7. Be careful not to devalue the different ways of talking which some children bring to school with them. Why should we be careful?
  8. Helping children learn how to move between the different ways of talking and doing literacy required by different contexts, is critical, if we are serious about providing any sort of equity in the opportunities children have to access literacy and power in the world outside. Why should this be an issue for schools?
  9. Teaching literacy requires highly skilled teachers who have the knowledge, sensitivity and capacity to adapt their teaching methodologies to the differing contexts and conditions in which children grow up. This needs to be done in such a way that children are not ‘turned off’, so that those tenuous early steps towards literacy do not become the focus of competing interests or tedious and repetitious activities. What issues arise from this proposition?
  10. Looking back over what we have learned from this extensively researched area, it appears that we are unlikely to find a ‘right’ methodology or even to be able to define ‘good practice’. What could we use as a term; ‘better practice’?
  11. Encouragement of invented spelling to help children’s strategies to support the move to transitional and conventional spelling. What is ‘invented’ spelling? Does invented spelling need ‘encouragement’? Is invented spelling a useful term? Is it truly “invented” or is it working with available knowledge? Can appreciating children’s invented spelling provide useful insights?

2.0 Literacy Interview: A tool of assessment

Recording, what we do: Collecting, describing, analysing, and interpreting. To find what the child can do as a listener, teller, writer, composer, and ability to read and comprehend we look at the; Literal levels: to know the content of a book: Inferential or semantic understanding; to be able to read between the lines.

Ways of extracting meaning and recognising different levels of meaning.

  1. Literal meaning – The bare-bones information.
  2. Inferential – What can we say from and about the context?
  3. Critical – What can we say about it?
  4. Creative – What could I change and how?
  1. Ways to locate the child through oracy, writing continuum, spelling, and reading benchmarks and progression points.
  2. Writing, three draft pieces. Copying something in front of you, write something from yourself, describe a person, each other, or a game etc.
  3. When (if) they write on the computer what do they do?
  4. What films, TV, computer games do they watch or play?
  5. Read and retell. Select a novel; enlarge a page, times 2. Errors are a window to understanding. Prediction, what do you think story is about?
  6. Inference. What do they do to gain meaning beyond the text?
  7. Your questions should be literal, inferential, critical, and creative. Did they ask for help?
  8. Include the selected passage of writing and the questions you asked.
  9. ‘Cloze’ activities
  10. Forms of punctuation.
  11. Be prepared allow the child to use their initiative.

3.0 Building the Foundations: Teaching and Learning Reading and Writing

3.1 Writing systems: Learning to be a code breaker

A writing system is a code in which elements of language are systematically mapped to graphic signs or symbols. (See ‘Reading Reflex’ for schematic approach to Phonographic development of reading skills and associated goals)

  • Some examples of codes are; number and quantity/size, musical notation and pitch/duration/meter/stress, computer codes and binary logic/0s and 1s.
  • A fundamental feature of a code is the elements being encoded are logically distinct from the symbols of the code.
  • To understand a code is to master it and use it efficiently. This means to be made aware, indirectly or explicitly of what is being encoded and what the code is.

3.2 Alphabet writing systems

  • Letter symbols represent phonemes (sounds). Phonemes are the basis for the code and the letters are the code.
  • Letters do not “have” or “make” sounds; people make sounds.
  • This logic needs to be made clear to beginning readers otherwise the code will lose one of its essential features, its reversibility.
  • Without this understanding children will try to use one logic to read (decode) and a different logic to spell (encode).

3.2.1 The code nature of writing systems are difficult to understand;

  • They are imperfect graphic representations of both semantic (meaning-based) and phonological (sound-based) aspects of spoken language.
  • Codes for spoken language are complex, which needs to be taken into account when thinking about reading instruction.

3.2.2 How writing systems work and why we need them

  • Function – writing systems encode spoken language into a permanent form so to transcend time and space.
  • Purpose – its most important feature. Makes life better by helping civilisation work by permanently recording important things that are hard to remember and recording events of importance to everyone such as rules and laws and historical events and disasters.
  • Structure – a true writing system must represent the entire language, and to do so it has to meet certain fundamental requirements. These are economy, simplicity, unequivocality, and comprehensiveness. These characteristics are defined below.
  • Economy – the number of symbols used must be complete and small as possible. It is essential to keep memory load for symbols manageable. Alphabets have the fewest symbols and are therefore the most economical. The conclusion that every writing system should be an alphabetic is an erroneous assumption – Morse code is extremely economical but this is not sufficient reason for it to replace the alphabet.
  • Simplicity – the mapping relationships between what is being encoded (elements of speech) are straightforward, in the sense that there is only one way to write a particular word not half a dozen.
  • Unequivocality – dictates that its form determines the meaning of a written expression. That is, what you read must mean one thing, not many things. While ambiguity creates confusion that is more of a problem in writing than speech, where context – facial expressions, tone of voice, knowledge of personal history of speaker/writer – are present. However ambiguity is essential too.
  • Comprehensiveness – all words, names, and any possible new words in the future can be represented by the writing system with relative ease; e.g. computer, hardware, software, Internet, website, hacker, nerd.

McGuiness D, Early Reading Instruction; What Science Really Tells us about How to Teach Reading, MIT Press, 2004, p14.

3.4 The Phonographic approach and the Alphabet Code: The sound to picture code.

Learning to read. Phonographic or whole word, Why not teach whole words as an initial sight vocabulary?

The flaws of the Whole Word approach; how our writing system works.

The hypothesis beneath the whole word approach is developmental gradualism. Its proponents argue that children become more phonologically aware as they grow older. Children begin by learning whole words by sight, then move onto syllables (clapping or beats), then to word families (words with rhyming endings like might, fight, sight), with goals of easing into phonemes, a process taking a year or two, if completed at all.

The assumption that writing systems evolved by mirroring the developmental sequence of speech perception – moving from larger to smaller phonological (sound) units (whole words, syllables, phonemes) helped explain differences in children phonological awareness and provided an explanation for dyslexia as well. The evidence suggests otherwise; that we become less phonologically aware as we grow older.

This does not mean that young children know that speech consists of sound units and that alphabet-writing systems represent sounds. This connection needs to be explicitly taught. Even fluent readers are not conscious of this relationship as this analytical activity operates below the level of conscious awareness.

McGuiness D, Early Reading Instruction; What Science Really Tells us about How to Teach Reading, MIT Press, 2004, p5-6, 153.

Words are not ‘whole shapes’ which represent a spoken word; this is not how our writing system works. It is an inaccurate and flawed approach to teaching children how to read. Researchers have demonstrated that a very high percentage of children are failed by the very approach that is commonplace as a first step. Guard against the argument that some children manage it. Yes, some children do, but this random result is not good enough. (Researchers have revealed that 70% of readers make it through despite the teaching methods.) There are also many children who appear to do well with their reading, writing and comprehension but who have many inaccuracies in their decoding of individual words and inaccuracies with spelling which are likely to have been caused or exacerbated by teaching words as whole shapes in the beginning. It is not desirable for any reader to guess at words from their shape alone. This is simply to cause the wrong reading reflex and is to be avoided at all costs. This WARNING about guessing words (from various clues or cues) features heavily in the Phonographic teaching approach.

3.4.1 Teaching the alphabet code

The alphabetic code has 42 speech sounds with corresponding letters and letter combinations:

Teach the sound to letter/s to sound correspondences of the transparent alphabetic code first and quickly. That is, the alphabetic code without complexities; the extended code is described as opaque.

3.4.2 The transparent alphabetic code:

  • The Basic Code. The basic code is an artificial, transparent alphabet using the most probable spelling for each phoneme. The code patterns (consonants and vowels) are cvc, vcc, ccvc, ccvcc,

3.4.3 Encoding and decoding – A code is defined by the fact that it is reversible.

Emphasis the spelling routine in teaching early literacy, going from sound to print. Then, emphasise the reading routine, going from print to sound.

What is important is to teach that there are 40 to 44 sounds in our speech (the English language) and that there are letters and combinations of letters (ch, sh, er, ai, igh, ng) – known as digraphs, trigraphs etc. rather than emphasising the 26 single letter names alone

Teaching of consonants together (ccvc, cvcc) as consonant blends leads to confusion. ‘Consonant blends’ consist of two or three distinct sounds (cr, spr, -lk, -nt etc.) These should be taught as individual sounds. Further more there are too many ‘blends’ to remember to have any strategic use in pronunciation and spelling.

3.4.4 For teachers: The best approach to introducing the alphabetic code.

There is some confusion about the best approach to introducing the alphabetic code. Some people think that going from sound to print is the essential way to introduce early literacy. They take this position because the written code was derived in the first instance through a speech-to-letter process. Clearly, we had speech before a written code. This argument may seem an unnecessary because beginning readers need to be able to understand and be skilled in both the reading and spelling processes, it is important that the sound to letter relationship is emphasised. A code is by definition reversible. We are explicitly teaching the sound to letter, and letter to sound correspondence.

3.5 Instructional Framework for teachers.

3.5.1 The Basic Code: Consonant Vowel Consonant (CVC) words.

  • The Basic Code means teaching the most common sounds that are represented by one letter. Teaching the mechanics of the basic code will establish the way a reader responds to all future texts. *Many children fail to understand that letters are pictures of sounds; a common misconception is that letters make sounds. This supposition is confusing because it implies that the letter has meaning in and of itself.
  • The Basic code is a critical first step to all future understandings.

3.5.2 The teaching goals of the Basic Code

Goal # 1 – It is understood that letters are pictures of sounds. The nature of our written code is that symbols represent sounds. When children see the symbol the teacher encourages them to say or think of the sound that it represents. With this understanding readers can make way through the word and find the meaning.

Teaching language: (Recall memory) Do you remember what we say when we see that/this letter/s.

Goal # 2That the correspondence between all the letter-sounds and sound pictures that make up the basic code is known. Young children have difficulty learning sound distinctions between many of the sound pictures – some common ones are: confusion between /a/, /i/, /e/ and /u/ and /a/ and /a/ and /o/ and /u/; /th/ and /f/; Left to right written orientation such as <b> and <d>. * It is important that sound-to-sound picture (the letter/s) correspondence is taught within the context of words; this emphasises that letters are components of words. This assists in seeing relevance and how letters work to build words.

Teaching language: Avoid ‘long’ and ‘short’ sound as descriptors as they are confusing. Children tend to think of length not time duration. It is not a useful distinction, e.g. /a/ as in ‘hat’ and ­‘a’, ‘a-e’ as in ‘rain’. Key word strategies – such ‘Ay’…for ‘apple’…/a/ – add cognitive/memory load. So there is the risk that only the first sound seems important; a common problem is guessing words that start with the first letter sound. Give direct instruction when the letter sound information is misinterpreted or guessed at, do not just say, “No, incorrect”. To encourage children to think for themselves about what they need to do to find the meaning, ask them, “What sound is this a picture of?” This question reinforces sound-to-letter, letter-to-sound correspondence. If they do not know, tell them.

Goal # 3That spoken words are made up of sounds; to understand written language we need to understand spoken language. Written language is a visual representation of spoken language.

Teacher language: Learning readers and the use of sound games such as “I hear with my little ear something beginning with…, ask “What is the first thing you hear” in a number of different words; start with short words of two or three sounds and also, “How many sounds can your hear in the word ‘rat’, fat, … ?” * Emphasise is on what they hear not what they see.

­Goal #4That written words are made up of sound pictures that represent sounds in words. Fulfilling our needs drives much of our language. Our desire to get what we want requires that from a very young age we label, sort and categorise things.

Teacher language: To appreciate and understand particular and general misconceptions and difficulties that children have with pronunciation, we must hear them read. Correct pronunciation and teaching children to be aware of the relationship between pronunciation of words and their written representation, as letters and words are critical for teaching and learning reading. Taking the time to sensitise children to oral language but not introduce them to the code, is a misuse of effort. While it may help pronunciation it will not help them learn to read. Obvious speech/sound confusions are easily detected; often there are subtle, and generalised confusions due to mispronunciation of sounds that can only be detected by hearing them read. The sooner these confusions are resolved the better, lest they become reflex habits that later become obstacles to developing and adapting best reading, spelling and writing strategies.

Goal #5Understands that sound pictures in written words occur in a left to right sequence. There is no natural law that determines we read left to right. Like reading, spelling and writing are learnt. Internal awareness of this side or that is not present in young children; top to bottom is established at approximately 5 years, left to right takes a little longer. Letter reversals are common to approx age 8, but children should be able to write on an even plane at approximately age 7.

Teacher language: Patience and explicit acknowledgment that language is acquired and learnt. It is important to understand physical and psychological development when gathering data and making judgments.

Goal #6Able to segment sounds in spoken words. This is the ability to unglue and separate the smallest units of sound – cat /c/ – /a/ – /t/ or train /t/ – /r/ – /ai/ – /n/. A good activity is to count the sounds and then the number of letters; this brings attention to the ‘ai’ diagraph in this case. Two (or more) letters can be a picture of one sound and the picture does not always correspond to the sound. The difficulty of English is the opaque alphabet where a direct sound-to-letter relationship is not possible. By contrast the Spanish or Italian have a more phonetic alphabet system.

Teacher language: Clear modelling of segmenting – No chunking or overlapping; do not allow overlapping in segmenting – ‘sip’ should be /s/ – /i/ – /p/, not ‘si – /p/ or ‘si – /i/ – /p/, and so on.

Goal #7Able to blend sounds (through the word) into words. Accomplished adult readers tend to take this notion of ‘blending’ for granted. For many it is a difficult to understand and perform. Under approximately 6 years, children can have difficulty in remembering, or recalling, three sounds in a letter/word sequence.

Teacher language: Do it, do not explain it (unless ready for this inquiry); segment the letter to sound then say the word – /c/ – /a/ – /t/ cat. Blend the first two sounds then the last letter and then into a unit. Do not teach ‘ca’ as a new sound as some phonics programs do as ‘chunking’ or ‘blending’. A common mistake is to segment and then guess the word. Point out the letter and ask what letter would be there if the three symbols read ‘tap’ rather than ‘map’.

Allow time for practice of these skills. Another important aspect of hearing children read is to ensure that they are using the best decoding strategies. Many children will use picture drawings (and often encouraged) as a cue to a new or difficult word and then guess rather than look at the letters printed on the page – for example they know the word green and there is green roof in the picture, so they select roof as the word whereas the word was grass, and the story is about a garden. Often there are too many clues to select from.

Celebrate successful segmenting and ‘blending’ or ‘saying through the word’ – Allow time for practise and success. New readers should be told that adults read quickly because they practised slowly as children.

Repetition is the key when moving on. Be sure to address previous learning and accomplished skills. Accuracy is a good indicator of when to move on.

3.5.3 Introducing adjacent consonants

Goal # 1 – perform the basic reading skills while articulating adjacent consonant sounds.

Goal # 2 – recall all the sounds in longer words when blending.

Goal # 3 – avoid the tendency to add sounds to words.

3.5.4 Teaching the advanced code

Summary of the sub-skills necessary for reading

  • ability to scan left to right
  • match visual symbols to auditory sounds
  • segment sounds in words
  • blend discreet sound units into words

Sub-skills necessary for reading the advanced code

Goal # 1 Ability to understand that sometimes two or more letters represent one sound, e.g. sh i p

Goal # 2 Ability to understand that most sounds can be represented in more than one way, e.g. the sound ‘a-e’ can be spelt in several ways … train, play, paper, and more.

Goal # 3 Ability to understand that there is overlap in the code, that some components of the code can represent more than one sound, e.g. /o/ can spell ‘o’ as in ‘hot’ or ‘oe’ as in ‘most’.

Multi-syllable management

You need to be able to have

  • Ability to understand that sometimes two or more letters represent a sound, e.g. sh i p
  • Ability to understand that most sounds can be represented in more than one way, e.g. the sound ‘a-e’ can be spelled in several ways … train, play, paper, and more.
  • Ability to understand that there is overlap in the code, that some components of the code can represent more than one sound, e.g. /o/ can spell ‘o’ as in ‘hot’ or ‘oe’ as in ‘most’.

Bridging the gap between single syllable and multi-syllabic words

Background to an instructional method based on the realities of the written language.

Understanding the nature of the written language will help us support understanding of it. Children need to understand words to be units of meaning that contain sub units, or groups of letter symbols, which have no meaning, but are the building blocks of the complete word. Our written language is not a syllabary like many oriental languages in which each symbol represents a syllable. The English language is a sound to symbol code and syllables are the result of sounds being blended together. It is the sounds that are the raw material of written words, not the syllables. Multi-syllabic words are more than a mouthful. They are quantitatively different from most single syllable words as they are longer and contain more sounds. They are qualitatively different because the large number of sounds cannot be articulated in one continuous flow. This forces us to stop the natural flow of bended sounds, and to start again with another set of blended sounds.

Features of multi-syllabic words

  • Each set of blended sounds has a vowel sound
  • sometimes a syllable is a vowel sound with no consonants
  • if children are not aware of these features or phenomena they cannot be given or develop a strategy for managing them. Often they will attempt to push all the sounds into one neat little blended unit, this does not work. Usually it is the vowel sound which gets eliminated, e.g. ‘p o l i sh’ becomes plish, polsh

Teacher language for developing management strategies

  • segmenting – the need to know that words break down into units of sound
  • need to recognise sound units within a syllable
  • from the parts to the whole, phoneme/syllable/word – reiterate that we build words from smaller units to larger units – from sounds – to syllables – to the meaning, the word.
  • establish this logical understanding with other processes such as making a cake – the raw material – to the parts – to the whole.

Goal # 1 Understand that sometimes words have “chunks” (syllables) of blended sounds

Goal # 2 Understand that chunks of sound in words are determined by linguistics, not orthography

Goal # 3 Understand that we can read multi-syllable words by blending sounds into chunks and then chunks into meaningful words

Goal # 4 Understand that we can spell multi-syllable words by building the sounds into chunks and then the chunks into words

Goal # 5 Understand that multi-syllable words contain a dominant chunk

Goal # 6 Understand that many multi-syllable words contain a strong and weak vowel sound, e.g. button – buttun – buttin, the ‘u’ is strong and the ‘o’ is weak.

Goal # 7 Understand that many multi-syllable words have “special endings”. These endings are syllable chunks that cannot be decoded phonetically according to the English writing code, e.g. ‘occupation’ – derived from ‘occupy’, a verb; the act of taking up space, the ‘tion’ (Latin, to take form) changes the meaning to a ‘thing’, a noun referring to taking up space.

3.5.4 Activities to support reading and spelling processes

  • It is essential that children be taught in both processes from the beginning so that they are knowledgeable and adept at both reading and spelling.
  • Be aware of some of the dangers from following programs slavishly without thinking of the effects on their pupils’ knowledge and skills.
  • Teachers also need to be aware of the dangers of deviating from programmes that are evidence-based, as tinkering too much could spoil the outcome.

We do need to look carefully about the weighting of activities to support reading and spelling processes. It is worrying that children can become more skilled in either the spelling process, or the reading process simply because of the dominant activities provided by the teacher.

It is essential that children be taught in both processes from the beginning so that they are knowledgeable and adept at both reading and spelling. Teachers, therefore, need to be aware of some of the dangers from following programmes slavishly without thinking of the effects on their pupils’ knowledge and skills.

Paraphrased from, Reading Reflex: The foolproof Phono-Graphix Method for Teaching Your Child to Read, McGuinness C & G, Fireside, 1998

4.0 Professional Practice: Following developments in the teaching of reading

Key resources used

McGuinness C & G, Reading Reflex: The Foolproof Phono-Graphix Method for Teaching Your Child to Read, A Fireside Book, 1998.

Snowball D & Bolton F, Spelling K – 8: Planning and Teaching, Stenhouse Publishers, 1999.

McGuiness D, Early Reading Instruction: What Science Really Tells Us about How to Teach Reading, MIT Press, 2004

McGuiness D, Why Our Children Can’t Read: And What We Can do about It, Free Press, 1997

McGuiness D, Growing a reader from birth: your child’s path from language to literacy, W.W. Norton and Co, 2004

4.0.1 Letter/s-sound order and speed of introduction: This is a distinct approach to that of Phono-Graphix© but has important commonalities.

  • Teach up to six sound-letter-sound correspondences a week and include both vowels and consonants.
  • Fast-paced introduction including vowels and consonants allows the beginner to put the letter-sound correspondences to use immediately showing how the alphabetic code works.
  • The children are taught to sound out and blend the letter-sounds all-through-the-word and to ‘hear’ the target word from this blending process.

This is the synthesising process from which Synthetic Phonics derives its name. Synthetic Phonics teaching, however, involves both the teaching of reading and spelling from the outset.

We talk about ‘blending for reading’ and ‘segmenting the spoken word’ for spelling. Some people, however, describe the blending process as ‘segmenting the printed word first (to derive the sound units which could include digraphs or trigraphs etc.), then blending the sound units all-through-the-word’ – all of which is the reading process.

Different programmes have different letter/s-sound orders, but what is important is to cover a comprehensive range of letter/s-sound correspondences quickly to avoid children guessing words simply because they do not have a wide-enough knowledge of the letter/s-sounds.

This is the case for both reading and spelling purposes. Teachers need to think carefully about what they are expecting children to do (e.g. independent writing when they have insufficient knowledge and skills including competent independent handwriting).

  • There is renewed emphasis on developmental learning with the latest ‘learning through play’ ethos in the English Foundation Stage. Whilst not arguing about the value of children playing, it is worrying that this issue has become muddled with teaching children explicit knowledge and skills directly (which is in danger of being demoted as this can be considered too formal) as opposed to incidental teaching and learning (which research on reading does not advise).
  • No teacher should have to feel uncomfortable to teach knowledge and skills directly, even with young children.
  • When and how does explicit instruction in knowledge and skills fit in the inquiry-based learning?
  • Play based ‘educational’ play and direct instruction in skills, reflex/automaticity, and habits.

For further see, ‘Classroom research findings and the Nutshell Programme’ (Dr. Bonnie Macmillan, RRF newsletter no. 46)

How is Phono-Graphix different than Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness is ONLY letters are pictures of sounds. So it is not different to PG, only a small part of it. Reading requires several things. They are: SKILLS; 1. The ability to segment 2. To blend. 3. To manipulate phonemes; CONCEPT knowledge of the nature of the code which is … 1. Letters are pictures of sounds 2. A sound can be shown with one or more than one letter 3. There is variation in our code (more than one way to show most sounds) 4. There is overlap in our code (some of the ways to show one sound can also represent another sound).

5.0 Networks; professional networks – global and local.

Making the global local – Making the local global.

  • Encourage people to keep their finger on the pulse of the reading debate and to consider joining in with the debate through forums such as the Reading Reform Foundationhttp://www.rrf.org.uk
  • Fostering a culture where teachers voluntarily used the same standardised tests from Prep onwards (starting with word-level tests) sharing and comparing their results to see what is possible and what works best – not on a ‘high stakes’ basis and not for public humiliation.
  • Teachers learn best respectfully sharing ideas, and giving suggestions and advice to one another.

The irony is that they also need to be aware of the dangers of deviating from programmes that are evidence-based as tinkering too much could affect the outcome! That is why I encourage people to keep their finger on the pulse of the reading debate and to consider joining in with the debate through forums such as the Reading Reform Foundation and the Times Educational Supplement (TES) online staffroom forum where the archives (particularly on the TES early years forum) will give a feel for developments in the teaching of reading amongst at least some schools and early years settings.

5.1 Useful websites

www.rrf.org.uk The Reading Reform Foundation promotes the use of evidence-based synthetic phonics for teaching reading, spelling and writing in the English language.

  1. ‘Reading Instruction in Australian Schools’: an open letter to the Australian Federal Minister for Education, Dr. Brendan Nelson, signed by 26 leading authorities. This letter was published in the Australian Higher Education Supplement (21 April 2004). Interestingly, the editing excluded any reference to Reading Recovery (included in this, the original version).
  2. Explanatory notes for above open letter with extracts from RRF Newsletter/Website.

http://www.dest.gov.au/sectors/school_education/policy_initiatives_reviews/key_issues/literacy_numeracy/national_inquiry/documents/rtf2/Sub_313_Australian_Education_Union_rtf.htm.

http://202.14.81.34/hansard/senate/commttee/s1377.pdf.

5.2 Further Reading and Key Resources.

Language that supports explicit teaching of and building/construction of knowledge and understanding

Vygotsky and the Zone of Proximal Development. Paulo Freire on The word and The world – socially constructed beliefs, values and knowledge.

5.3 References

Finding a balance for the year 2000 and beyond Associate Professor Judith Rivalland Chair of Primary and Early Childhood Studies Programs Edith Cowan University, Perth WA

Cairney, T. H., Ruge, J., Lowe, K., and Munsie, L. (1995) Developing Partnerships: The Home, School and Community Interface. (Vols.. 1-3), Canberra: DEETYA.

Freebody, P., Ludwig, C., and Gunn, S. (1995) Everyday literacy practices in and out of schools in low socio-economic urban communities. Griffith University: DEETYA.

Gee, J. (1990) Social Linguistics And Literacies. Hampshire, UK: Falmer Press.

Heath, S.B. (1983) Ways with Words. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hill, S., Comber, B., Louden, W., Rivalland, J., & Reid, J. (1998) 100 Children Go To School: Connections and Disconnections in Literacy Development in the Year Prior to School and the First Year at School. Australian Language and Literacy National Literacy Project Report. DETYA: South Australia.

Luke, A. (1992) ‘The body literate: Discourse and inscription in early literacy training’, Linguistics and Education, 4 (1).

Rohl, M., House, H., Louden, W., Milton, M., & Rivalland, J. (2000) Successful Programs and Strategies for Children with Learning Difficulties. National Language and Literacy Project Brochure. DETYA: Western Australia.

Stanovich, K. (1998) Recovering Our Research Foundations: The Current Convergence of Research on the Reading Process. Reading Key to the Future: Key to Success. 43rd Annual Convention of the International Reading Association. Florida: USA..

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) Mind in Society: the development of higher psychological processes. Edited by

M.Cole, S. Scribner, V. John-Steiner & E. Souderman. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Wells, G. (1986). The Meaning Makers: Children Learning Language and Using Language to Learn. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann.

Literacy and Numeracy as Social Practice. Literacy is recognised as social practice (Fairclough, 1989; Gee, 1990, 1996,1999; Lankshear and McLaren, 1993; Street, 1995; Barton and Hamilton, 1998), integrated or embedded in the social context (Baynham, 1996). The multiplicity of facets and literacy content, for different purposes in different contexts has come to be known under the heading of multi-literacy (Cope and Kalantzis, 2000). The workplace involves its own particular kind of literacy. Like other literacy practices, those of the workplace change, and new workplace literacies are acquired through processes of formal and informal learning and sense making (Barton and Hamilton, 1998). Perceptions of numeracy parallel those of literacy. Varying numeracy skills are required to deal systematically [with] problems of concern in everyday life and [to] better understand the physical, economic and social environment in which we live (Crowther, 1959, quoted in Cumming, 1996, p. 11). Freebody and Luke (1990) and Luke and Freebody (1998) make the point that literate people adopt four resource roles.

Barton, D and Hamilton, M (1998), Local literacies: Reading and writing in one community, Routledge, London.

Baynham, M (1996), Literacy practices: Investigating literacy in social contexts, Longman, London and New York.

Cope, B and Kalantzis, M (2000), Multiliteracies, Routledge, New York and London.

Fairclough, N (1989), Language and power, Longman, London.

Fitzpatrick, L and Roberts, A (1997), Workplace communication in national training packages: A practical guide, Language Australia, Melbourne.

Freebody, P and Luke, A (1990), Literacy programs: Debates and demands in cultural context, in Prospect (5) 3, pp. 7-16.

Gee, J (1990), Social linguistics and literacies, Falmer, London.

Gee, J (1996), Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses, Taylor Francis, London and New York.

Gee, J (1999), An introduction to discourse analysis, Routledge, London.

Hull, G (1993), Hearing other voices: A critical assessment of popular views on literacy and work, in Harvard Educational Review, vol. 63, no. 1, pp. 20ñ50.

Hull, G (ed) (1997), Changing work, changing workers: Critical perspectives on language, literacy, and skills, State University of New York Press, Albany NY.

Hull, G (1999), Literacy and labelling, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, April, pp. 540ñ 545.

Hull, G (2000), Critical literacy at work, in Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 43, no. 7, pp. 648ñ653.

Lankshear, C and McLaren, P (eds) (1993), Critical literacy: Politics, praxis, and the post-modern, State University of New York Press, Albany NY.

Lincoln, YS and Guba, EG (1985), Naturalistic inquiry, Sage, Beverly Hills.

Luke, A and Freebody, P (1998), The social practices of reading in Muspratt, S, Luke, A and Freebody, P (eds) Constructing critical literacies, Hampton Press, Creskill

6.0 For the parents: Reading at home.

It is important that children read at home. Your involvement is very important in developing confident readers who enjoy books.

What is our home reading program?

Children learn to read by reading. Children learn to love story and literature by being read to.

Enjoying stories with your child.

Making listening to them read, and reading to them, a special time for your child.

  • Learning to read is learning that understanding is finding out the meaning of words and sentences. It is a problem solving activity.
  • When we read we are actively looking and thinking to find the message or meaning of writing. If we are not doing this we are not reading.

A letter is a picture of a sound.

  • We made sounds first then came the alphabet system. Letters do not make sounds, we do. A letter is a picture we have created to represent a sound. We combine letters to represent particular sounds. Words are made up of units of sound.
  • Phonics helps build this understanding. These are called letter sounds. Most of us spell words using the alphabet letter name. They will need these too, but this is what they usually know. The letter sounds are the ones that do not often use actively as they try to make sense of a word by segmenting letters, which are pictures of sounds, into sounds.
  • Phonemic awareness. Phonetics or individual sounds is only useful with three letter words such as, cat, dog and so on. We combine letters and vowels to create new pictures or words. Think of the sounds in the word p ou r. As children develop they will need to understand that there are various ways of writing the same sound picture. For example pour, poor, and paw.

What can you do to help?

Reinforcing activities carried out in the classroom.

  • The child reads both independently and reading to and with you.
  • Get to know the book: look and talk about the title, author and illustrator.
  • Browse through the book and talk about the pictures and what the story might be about.
  • Ask questions like: What do you think the book might be about? What is happening now? What might happen next? What do you think might happen in the end? Have you read a book or story like this one before?

Hearing reading

  • Always give your close attention and display interest in the story.
  • When they are stuck on a word use the initial letter as a clue, read on to the end of the sentence and then start again and read the whole sentence.
  • When children self correct or have success in working out a word, give PRAISE!
  • If they lose meaning of what is being read ask questions to get them focused again.
  • BE PATIENT – reading is difficult, there is a lot to remember for a young child. Anxiety ruins the enjoyment, which is paramount. Allow them time to work out strategies for understanding the text.
  • PRAISE with ENTHUSIAM attempts to make sense of words and stories. For example, “I like the way you had a go at that word well done!

Remember

Home reading is a sharing time. Sometimes your child will have a book that they will want to read themselves. Other times your child will bring home a book for you to read and share

Murdoch and other billionaires run the country and want to dictate how to standardise public schools

January 2, 2015

Murdoch and other billionaires run the country and want to dictate how to standardise public schools… So what!

Rupert Murdoch a self proclaimed expert on hacking into public schools and education; “We know the old answer- simply throwing money at the problem – doesn’t work…his reason? More money has fed a system that is no longer designed to educate – it’s become a jobs program for teachers and administrators.”

He our wants kids ‘taught’ online. ‘News Educational’ run by Joel Klein and ex-head of NY schools, is seeking the rights to provide online instruction that’s worth $500 billion dollars to the US corporations alone. Other transnational corporations have their eyes on this prize too. Walmart run schools in the US – why not here as well?

Murdoch also praises Sweden’s IKEA schools, whose head honcho says, “If we’re religious about anything, it’s standardisation. We tell our teachers it’s more important to do things the same way, than to do them well.”

US Cruise Missile manufacturer Raytheon Industries, which helps run the Pine Gap US spy base near Alice Springs, already operates programs within South Australian state schools.

We do have a choice. Do we want an education that encourages us to question and think so we can stand up for each other, or just life long training for one job after another? The choice is for us to make.

For the wealthy, the lives of working people and public education are expendable. Current, and future wage slaves are and will be casuals, underemployed, and unemployed. There will always a majority working in low wage jobs. The wealthy and their political minders in the parliament conspire to talk up ‘the problem’ of public education. The rich for-profit schools, which get the lion’s share of taxpayer supported funding are all OK – thank you very much.

The world’s wealthy are dictating their needs to us – they want to train us, to do as we’re told. We are told to buy a computer and connect, but if you cannot afford to run and maintain it they do not want to know you. They cannot make profits they need and then line their own pockets from people like that!

Why do ALP politicians and their fellow travellers seek out and listen to billionaires and corporate heads like Murdoch, and then implement education and social policies that are harmful to public students and teachers alike? Is it because the ‘Murdoch solution’ is in the long run cheaper for them and their ideal corporate state? No public schools, TAFES or universities would mean even fewer places for troublesome students and teachers to congregate, educate, and organise!

We deserve a whole lot better. We need an education to make a better future. An education that enables us to collectively determine what our democracy might be in a truly independent country, run for the benefit, of those of us who create the wealth and hand over the profits.

Do we really want to work and sacrifice our own and our children’s lives to maintain a political and economic system that ultimately only benefit the billionaire owners and managers of giant corporations? What is the cost to our future generations and those of us today? This is our fight now and we have a country and a world to win.            

… So what can we do!

Our land’s resources are finite – Relying on false hope and the ‘good luck’ of the wealthy is no way to pay for the present and prepare for the future.

The wealthiest people pay the least amount of tax. While we work and pay our taxes the vast proportion of this countries mineral and energy wealth disappears into corporate bank accounts and private trust funds. Reinhardt has never worked a day in her life; she has never owned or managed a mine! BHP-Billiton, Rio Tinto, Xstrata, Chevron and other giant mining and energy multinationals make massive profits and send most of it off-shore, out of the country.

These giant corporations can afford to return some of their massive wealth back to our communities. But they will not do it out of their own good will.

Billionaires avoid taxes only to squander the efforts of our labours on multi-million dollar birthday parties held in super-sized mansions and then lounge around on multimillion-dollar pleasure craft competing for exotic locations. Meanwhile already time poor teachers’ and their overworked union organisers have to run a begging campaign to convince the powers that be to better fund the nation’s public schools. While student’s parents have to find people with the time to run sausage sizzles just to pay for a few more already scant resources.

Minerals and energy are finite. The millions made cannot go on forever, however their profits have increased by more than 900% in the past 10 years. If they continue to plunder our land and its wealth what will be left for our future generations, miserable people, a decimated environment and some huge holes in the ground and vast warehouses of nuclear waste?

We must organise to demand that they pay a whole lot more by taxing mining companies’s super-profits

From where will the money come to pay for our welfare today and all our children’s futures?

Increasing taxes on company and private wealth would assist to provide for the needs and welfare of all our country’s working families by;

  • Creating jobs by building local sustainable manufacturing, processing and agricultural industries to secure our sovereignty and independence;
  • Funding public education, health, housing, pensions, welfare, community services and public transport;
  • Reintroducing a death tax would assist to capture billions of dollars from unpaid taxes over a lifetime and held as family inheritances. We need it for the living.

Karl Marx and informal education by Barry Burke

January 2, 2015

How to cite this article:  (2000) ‘Karl Marx and informal education’, the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/thinkers/et-marx.htm. Last update: May 29, 2012

Karl Marx on the class struggle

So what was it that made Karl Marx so important? At the cornerstone of his thinking is the concept of the class struggle. He was not unique in discovering the existence of classes. Others had done this before him. What Marx did that was new was to recognize that the existence of classes was bound up with particular modes of production or economic structure and that the proletariat, the new working class that Capitalism had created, had a historical potential leading to the abolition of all classes and to the creation of a classless society. He maintained that “the history of all existing society is a history of class struggle”. Each society, whether it was tribal, feudal or capitalist was characterized by the way its individuals produced their means of subsistence, their material means of life, how they went about producing the goods and services they needed to live. Each society created a ruling class and a subordinate class as a result of their mode of production or economy. By their very nature the relationship between these two was antagonistic. Marx referred to this as the relations of production. Their interests were not the same. The feudal economy was characterized by the existence of a small group of lords and barons that later developed into a landed aristocracy and a large group of landless peasants. The capitalist economy that superseded it was characterized by a small group of property owners who owned the means of production i.e. the factories, the mines and the mills and all the machinery within them. This group was also referred to as the bourgeoisie or capitalist class. Alongside them was a large and growing working class. He saw the emergence of this new propertyless working class as the agent of its own self emancipation. It was precisely the working class, created and organized into industrial armies, that would destroy its creator and usher in a new society free from exploitation and oppression. “What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers”.

Karl Marx’s relevance to knowledge and education

Karl Marx made it clear that “life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” and what he meant by life was actual living everyday material activity. Human thought or consciousness was rooted in human activity not the other way round as a number of philosophers felt at the time. What this meant was the way we went about our business, the way we were organized in our daily life was reflected in the way we thought about things and the sort of world we created. The institutions we built, the philosophies we adhered to, the prevailing ideas of the time, the culture of society, were all determined to some extent or another by the economic structure of society. This did not mean that they were totally determined but were quite clearly a spin-off from the economic base of society. The political system, the legal system, the family, the press, the education system were all rooted, in the final analysis, to the class nature of society, which in turn was a reflection of the economic base. Marx maintained that the economic base or infrastructure generated or had built upon it a superstructure that kept it functioning. The education system, as part of the superstructure, therefore, was a reflection of the economic base and served to reproduce it. This did not mean that education and teaching was a sinister plot by the ruling class to ensure that it kept its privileges and its domination over the rest of the population. There were no conspirators hatching devious schemes. It simply meant that the institutions of society, like education, were reflections of the world created by human activity and that ideas arose from and reflected the material conditions and circumstances in which they were generated.

This relationship between base and superstructure has been the subject of fierce debate between Marxists for many years. To what extent is the superstructure determined by the economic base? How much of a reflection is it? Do the institutions that make up the superstructure have any autonomy at all? If they are not autonomous, can we talk about relative autonomy when we speak about the institutions of society? There have been furious debates on the subject and whole forests have been decimated as a result of the need to publish contributions to the debate.

I now want to turn to Marx’s contribution to the theory of knowledge and to the problem of ideology. In his book, The German Ideology, Marx maintained that “the class which is the dominant material force in society is at the same time its dominant intellectual force”. What he meant by that is that the individuals who make up the ruling class of any age determine the agenda. They rule as thinkers, as producers of ideas that get noticed. They control what goes by the name “common sense”. Ideas that are taken as natural, as part of human nature, as universal concepts are given a veneer of neutrality when, in fact, they are part of the superstructure of a class-ridden society. Marx explained that “each new class which puts itself in the place of the one ruling before it, is compelled, simply in order to achieve its aims, to represent its interest as the common interest of all members of society i.e.  ..to give its ideas the form of universality and to represent them as the only rational and universally valid ones”. Ideas become presented as if they are universal, neutral, common sense. However, more subtly, we find concepts such as freedom, democracy, liberty or phrases such as “a fair days work for a fair days pay” being banded around by opinion makers as if they were not contentious. They are, in Marxist terms, ideological constructs, in so far as they are ideas serving as weapons for social interests. They are put forward for people to accept in order to prop up the system.

What Marx and Marxists would say is that ideas are not neutral; they are determined by the existing relations of production, by the economic structure of society. Ideas change according to the interests of the dominant class in society. Antonio Gramsci coined the phrase “ideological hegemony” to describe the influence the ruling class has over what counts as knowledge. For Marxists, this hegemony is exercised through institutions such as education, or the media, which the Marxist philosopher and sociologist, Louis Althusser referred to as being part of what he called the Ideological State Apparatus. The important thing to note about this is that it is not to be regarded as part of a conspiracy by the ruling class. It is a natural effect of the way in which what we count as knowledge is socially constructed. The ideology of democracy and liberty, beliefs about freedom of the individual and competition are generated historically by the mode of production through the agency of the dominant class. They are not neutral ideas serving the common good but ruling class ideas accepted by everyone as if they were for the common good.

This brings us back to the notion of education as part of the super-structural support for the economic status quo. If this is the case, there are a number of questions that need to be asked. The first is can society be changed by education? If not, why not? Secondly, can education be changed and if so, how?


%d bloggers like this: