Posts Tagged ‘Inquiry learning’

Oracy and Reading

January 2, 2015

  1. Learning to read begins at birth as family members read aloud to their infants.
  2. Family members have an important role to play in their children’s literacy development by talking with them and demonstrating how print is used at home and out in the community.
  3. The only reason for reading is to construct meaning. (Reading does not require the production of sound, but it may.)
  4. Readers use a range of strategies to construct meaning. They draw upon the symbols (letters, signs, numbers, icons, etc) and the associated sounds of the language, the grammar of the language and the meanings of the language.
  5. Without meaning, the associations between letters and sounds can not be known. Meaning is required to make these associations clear. (For example,  no-one can read the word ‘lead’ using phonics alone.  Is it ‘leed’ or ‘led’?  The word must be in text which gives it meaning.)
  6. The teaching of phonics is closely related to the teaching of writing; and the teaching of writing is closely related to the teaching of reading.
  7. Reading and writing are inter-related and occur in every-day life practices. Readers read for many purposes: to be informed, delighted, challenged, amused, comforted, entertained and enlightened. In our teaching of literacy, the reasons for reading are highlighted, not forgotten.
  8. Reading and writing help children to understand their own world, but also introduce them to wider worlds, both real and imaginary.
  9. Real texts invite children to want to read.  They foster curiosity, passion, joy and wonder.
  10. Real texts include print-based materials and texts on-screen (eg computers, mobile phones, automatic tellers). Print-based materials may include signs in the environment, greeting cards and many other forms of print as well as traditional books. On-screen texts may include still and moving images, voice and music as well as printed words.
  11. Reading requires an understanding that no text is neutral in its opinions.  When authors create a text, their biases, points of view and prejudices are embedded.  Readers need to be aware of how a text positions them or persuades them to the writer’s point of view.  We call this critical literacy. (It is not ‘literary criticism’ with which it is sometimes confused.)
  12. Ready access to real texts in classrooms, school libraries and community libraries is crucial.  We believe it’s essential for school libraries to be staffed by trained teacher-librarians.
  13. Decisions about classroom literacy programs and assessment are best made on site by those working with the students.  Only then can literacy instruction be tailored to students with different needs.  Students learn in different ways  –  one size does not fit all.
  14. Valid, reliable assessment is a continuous process;  not a single event. The main purpose of continuous assessment is to inform teaching and improve learning.  It is the basis of the most effective communication with parents about their children’s progress.
  15. Teachers need to be involved in continuous professional learning. They need to be able to articulate their beliefs and explain their practices to parents and the wider community.

Tips for early and sustained oracy and literacy development

  • Children being expected to answer questions in developed phrases rather than just monosyllables, from nursery onwards.
  • Teachers giving more time for children to develop fuller oral responses to questions posed.
  • Teachers enabling children to pose questions of one another, in order once again that the children practise their sounds and speech patterns.
  • Direct and regular intervention/correction from staff in how children speak and pronounce their letters.
  • Volunteer staff and governors giving time to small groups of children in order to develop their conversation, vocabulary and basic social skills.
  • The development of structured and regular drama/acting opportunities in which children are expected to project their voice and practise speaking at length, with good eye contact.
  • The use of more music and rhyme to consolidate how children are hearing and repeating sounds.
  • The use of established EAL techniques (pattern, repetition, consolidation, elaboration) with children, particularly boys, whose first language is English.
  • The regular use of short dictations, across the curriculum, and with an emphasis on keen listening and high quality presentation of writing.
  • A focus on how children are actually holding a pencil/crayon and how they are forming their letters on a consistent basis.
  • The regular use of limericks/couplets/verses/short poems being set to be   learned by heart and for recitation in class groups; parents can be involved creatively in this.
  • Every opportunity taken by teachers and support staff to model and promote interesting vocabulary, orally and in writing/photos/images, to match age and needs of children.
  • An unashamed ambition and affirmative timetabling to increase the numbers of children in Year 2 achieving level 3, and level 5 in Year 6, in reading and writing – having fun with this, as with everything else!

Roy Blatchford. National Education Trust 2012.

Shared Reading: An Effective Instructional Model

Basis for Shared Reading Model

The shared reading model was developed by Holdaway (1979). It builds from the research that indicates that storybook reading is a critically important factor in young children’s reading development (Wells, 1986). The storybook reading done by parents in a home setting is particularly effective (Strickland & Taylor, 1989). However, in school, in most cases, a teacher reads to a group of children rather than to a single child. The shared reading model allows a group of children to experience many of the benefits that are part of storybook reading done for one or two children at home (Ferreiro & Teberosky, 1982; Schickendanz, 1978).

The shared reading model often uses oversized books (referred to as big books) with enlarged print and illustrations. As the teacher reads the book aloud, all of the children who are being read to can see and appreciate the print and illustrations.

Repeated Readings

In the shared reading model there are multiple readings of the books over several days. Throughout, children are actively involved in the reading (Yaden, 1988). The teacher may pause in the reading and ask for predictions as to what will happen next. Because many of the books include predictable text, the children often chime in with a word or phrase. Groups of children or individual children might volunteer or be invited to read parts of the story. Through repeated readings and the predictable text, children become familiar with word forms and begin to recognize words and phrases (Bridge, Winograd, & Haley, 1983; Pikulski & Kellner, 1992).

Purposes for Rereading

The repeated readings of the same story serve various purposes. The first reading is for enjoyment; the second may focus on building and extending comprehension of the selection; a third might focus attention on the interesting language and vocabulary; a fourth might focus on decoding, using the words in the selection as a starting point for teaching word identification skills (Yaden, 1989).

Benefits of Shared Reading:

  • Rich, authentic, interesting literature can be used, even in the earliest phases of a reading program, with children whose word-identification skills would not otherwise allow them access to this quality literature.
  • Each reading of a selection provides opportunities for the teacher to model reading for the children.
  • Opportunities for concept and language expansion exist that would not be possible if instruction relied only on selections that students could read independently.
  • Awareness of the functions of print, familiarity with language patterns, and word-recognition skills grow as children interact several times with the same selection.
  • Individual needs of students can be more adequately met. Accelerated readers are challenged by the interesting, natural language of selections. Because of the support offered by the teacher, students who are more slowly acquiring reading skills experience success.
  • Concepts, Strategies and Skills Needed to Become Effective Readers
  • Functions and Value of Print
  • Perhaps the most important concept that children need to develop is what is frequently referred to as the functions of print. When children understand this concept, they have begun to understand that printed language is related to oral language, that print is a form of communication, and that print and books are sources of enjoyment and information (Brown, 1991; Heath, 1982; Schicken- danz, 1978; Teale & Sulzby, 1989). Children who do not understand the functions and value of reading are unlikely to become successful readers.
  • Oral Language and Listening Skills
  • Oral language is the critical foundation upon which reading and writing build. Glazer (1989), Strickland (1991), and Teale and Sulzby (1989) have all discussed the critical importance of oral language as it relates to beginning reading and writing. Learning the meanings of thousands of words and developing an understanding of the way words are ordered to make sense (syntax) are extremely complex processes that take place in oral language development and transfer to reading and writing. Cognitive activities, such as understanding cause-and-effect relationships or chronological order, that are established through listening and communicated through speaking are the same cognitive processes used in reading.
  • All children who enter kindergarten have some foundation of oral language skills that can serve as a foundation for their reading and writing. Oral language skills can be expanded and further developed through listening activities, especially the reading aloud of stories, and eventually through reading experiences (Galda & Cullinan, 1991; Glazer, 1989).
  • There is a strong, significant relationship between listening comprehension and reading comprehension. Listening to stories is an excellent vehicle for expanding oral language patterns, for extending thinking skills, and for building vocabulary (Eller, Pappas, & Brown, 1988; Ellery, 1989; Leung & Pikulski, 1990).
  • Understandings About Language
  • To grow as readers and writers, young children must develop other understandings about language, often referred to as metalinguistic awareness. They must, for example, develop a concept of what a word is, both printed and spoken, and know how it is different from numbers, letters, sounds, and sentences. They must learn that print is read from left to right and from top to bottom (Downing, 1989; Yaden, 1989).
  • Learning Letter-Sound Associations
  • To grow as readers and writers, children must also develop an understanding of what Adams (1990) refers to as the alphabetic principle. When first introduced to print, children often think that the printed word is a concrete representation of an object. For example, they expect cat to be a longer word than mouse because cats are bigger and longer than mice (Ferreiro & Teberosky, 1982; Schickendanz, 1989). Instead, they need to develop the idea that spoken words are composed of identifiable sounds and, further, the idea that letters of the alphabet represent those sounds. In order to develop an understanding of the alphabetic principle, they must become familiar with letter forms (Adams, 1990; Barr, 1984; Schickendanz, 1989) and with the idea that spoken words have identifiable sounds in them — referred to as the concept of phonemic awareness (Adams, 1990; Griffith & Olson, 1992; Lundberg, Frost, & Peterson, 1988; Tunmer & Nesdale, 1985).
  • Importance of a Rich Literacy Environment
  • All of these understandings and skills need to develop in classrooms that present a rich literacy environment, one filled with books, posters, art, children’s work, and so forth (Morrow, 1989).
  • How Young Children Become Readers and Writers
  • The research in the area of emergent literacy suggests that the roots of both reading and writing are established in the oral language experiences of very young children (Glazer, 1989; Strickland & Feeley, 1991).
  • Home Experiences
  • Children learn much about reading and writing as pre-schoolers by observing the reading and writing that occurs in their families. They then begin to reading and writing as part of their home experiences (Heath, 1983; Taylor, 1983). They come to realize that the print that is part of their environment communicates messages that fulfill a variety of important functions.
  • Modeling Through Storybook Reading
  • Recent research clarifies the extreme importance of reading storybooks to young children both at home and in school. Very early, children begin to imitate that reading — at first by relying exclusively on picture clues and memory. With increased experience they begin to focus on the information that print conveys (Snow, 1983; Sulzby, 1985; Teale, 1987).
  • Early Writing Forms
  • Research has also shown that young children are strategic in early forms of writing. They begin by using scribbles and progress through increasingly accurate representations of the relationship between letters and the sounds for which they stand. As children think about how to represent the sounds of words through their writing, they are building skills that will be useful for reading as well (Barnhart, 1986; Dyson, 1985; Teale & Sulzby, 1986

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

Brains are bodies: Brain research and understanding brain function and the brain itself.

January 2, 2015

There can be no doubting the importance of brain research and the understanding we have of brain function and the nature of the brain itself. What is worth noting though is that the research support what many have argued for years and decades about the importance of social equity and distribution of wealth and services to human happiness and its correlation to wellbeing. What is most disconcerting is the refusal by successive governments to seriously address the issues with policies that acknowledge the research. Far from it in fact the emphasis on relying on market forces to address concerns of equity have been proven to be failing.

Dr Mustard and Professor Stanley argue the importance of “investing in early childhood development if we want to encourage a healthier, fitter population, and provide opportunities for children to achieve their potential”. As with Cuba’s example, the central aspect for improving outcomes is caring, responsive communities; only then can we provide safety, quality care, and schools that genuinely support families. Professor Stanley speaks of “causal pathways” which are a set of factors that interact over time to create an outcome. If we wish to see responsible communities and “resilient” adults then we need to provide the circumstances that allow for the development of responsible, thoughtful and resilient children.

 Dr Fiona Stanley in 2003 outlined some key critical issues that policy makers have yet to seriously address. As she has stated in other interviews one has to wonder what the point of research is if we fail to act on it.

The questions she asked seven years ago are these;

  • Are outcomes for children and youth improving in Australia? As so many outcomes are related to social disadvantage, surely as economic prosperity and living conditions improved, so have the health, educational, behavioural and general status of our children?
  • Is there any evidence more recently of a levelling of social gradients, that is fewer differences between the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’?       Are all in society winners from the dramatic economic and social changes in our society?
  • What has been the impact of services? (Mostly focussed on treatments not preventions).
  • Why have so many of the problems in children and youth not improved? Are there some common explanations?
  • What do we know about the causes and possible prevention of them?
  • What should Australia do?

Professor Stanley argues that a multidisciplinary approach is required if we are to address in any systematic way these pressing social issues. We know that the problems that will impact negatively on children, family and society begin in the womb; in reality they begin before then if we consider the circumstances of the women and men who will become parents.

An outstanding and obvious example is the issue of insufficient and inadequate housing and related homelessness. We know that instability and relocation is extremely stressful on children especially, and of course for the adults. We know about stress response and that the detrimental effects can be overcome when there is stability and consistency within caring environments which in turn improve children’s learning and wellbeing. We can easily assume that this issue alone will have to be resolved before serious in roads can be made to addressing the concerns raised by Professor Stanley.

The current debate on Health Reform is a case in point, so little of what is being proposed has to do with prevention of illness and providing social solutions. The head of the Queanbeyan Hospital suggested to PM Rudd that he should look to Cuba’s example for solutions, as did Dr Mustard who lived and worked in South Australia as Thinker in Residence in 2006 and 2007. He asked the question, why is Cuba leading the world in Early Childhood development?

As much as it may upset some people on ideological grounds, an important part of the answer is that Cuba leads the world in the practice of socialised medicine and care. Health and wellbeing are community concerns; they are not commodities to be used for the social advancement of a few. There are many other examples but another is bound up with the question of diet. Cuba went through an oil shock and import crisis when the former Soviet Union collapsed. Since the 1970s Australian permaculturalists have been assisting in improving food production and the Cuban diet which has been high in meat and carbohydrates and low in fibres. Today up to 70% of Cuba’s domestic food production occurs in urban areas. That a society was able to respond to a crisis of this proportion is due to the way fundamental social values and needs were redefined after the social and economic revolution of 1959. Cuba for this reason has been regarded as the Jewel of Central America in relation to social wellbeing ad literacy.

Thinking about what is necessary here today in this country and what should and needs to be done makes all the rhetoric of an education revolution ring very hollow. We should remind ourselves that governments do little to change anything fundamentally. Profound and lasting changes in the early childhood and education have been the consequence of the combined forces of thorough research and enlightened practitioners and educators.

As educators and practitioners we must pay attention to the current research about brain development. One aspect that does concern me is that we could be in danger of losing site of the person. While it is important to appreciate brain development and pedagogy that enhances this development, especially so for those who are living in conditions that mitigate against providing an enriched learning environment whether it be informal or formal. As we strive for informed data as evidence it would be an error to end up where we have in the compulsory sector. Schools in the public system are narrowing the curriculum, losing sight of the whole child. I have heard it said even, that we need big schools so that the data is reliable!

Dr Mustard and Professor Stanley argue the importance of “investing in early childhood development if we want to encourage a healthier, fitter population, and provide opportunities for children to achieve their potential”. As with Cuba’s example, the central aspect for improving outcomes is caring, responsive communities; only then can we provide safety, quality care, and schools that genuinely support families. Professor Stanley speaks of “causal pathways” which are a set of factors that interact over time to create an outcome. If we wish to see responsible communities and “resilient” adults then we need to provide the circumstances that allow for the development of responsible, thoughtful and resilient children.

(Fiona Stanley AC

  • Founding Director and Patron
  • Distinguished Research Professor, The University of Western Australia
  • Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, and Director – 2013 Festival of Ideas, The University of Melbourne
  • Australian of the Year 2003
  • Established the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth in 2002
  • UNICEF Australia Ambassador for Early Childhood Development
  • The Fiona Stanley Hospital named in her honour)

(Dr Mustard is involved with governments in Canada and Australia, with the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, UNICEF and the Aga Khan University In Pakistan.  He also leads The Founders Network, a virtual research organisation that proposes practical solutions to the complex problems facing society and seeks to put research findings and ideas into action in communities worldwide. Dr Mustard has received numerous awards for his work including the Companion of the Order of Canada. Most recently he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

See more at: http://www.thinkers.sa.gov.au/thinkers/mustard/who.aspx#sthash.0kg36rd3.dpuf)

Education ‘reform’ another wrong diagnosis: union protectionism and the conventional wisdom

January 2, 2015

 I found this article in Washington Post, 12-17-09 but I omitted to save the authors name so my apologies to that person. It remains pertinent in 2015 especially here in Australia as our politicians and bureaucrats are hellbent on following one bad example after another in the name of ‘reform’. I think the article represents the opinion of many good and committed teachers. I am a committed teacher union activist however my criticisms of our unions are similar to those of the author.

The standards and accountability fad is an intellect-gutting, society-destroying myth

“Good teachers are the key to good schools. A major obstacle to staffing America’s school with good teachers is union protectionism.” So goes the conventional wisdom. I’m no fan of education unions. I fault them for not taking the lead in education reform, for misplaced priorities, and for a willingness to support bad legislation just to keep a seat at the federal education reform table. I was hammering union leadership on those issues decades before I could do it with the click of a mouse. That said, when it comes to education reform, teacher unions get an undeserved bad rap. No way are they the major obstacle to school improvement. Mark that problem up to institutional inertia, innovation-stifling bureaucracy, and misguided state and federal policy. Trace union bad press back to its origins and it’s clear that much of it comes from ideologues and organizations less interested in improving education than in destroying union political clout and privatizing public schools.

No, the main opposition to the education reform effort set in motion about twenty years ago by corporate heads and Congress isn’t coming from go-along-to-get-along unions. The sustained and blistering attacks come from professional educators like Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian, Stephen Krashen, Ken and Yetta Goodman, and dozens of others I could name. And me. Retired or otherwise independent, we can say what we think without fear of retribution or being accused of being self-serving. Most importantly, unlike the architects of No Child Left Behind and its gestating offspring, the Race to the Top, we’ve spent thousands of hours in real classrooms working directly with real students.

What do we think about Washington-dictated education reforms? We think they’re sufficiently abusive, counterproductive, and downright stupid to warrant a massive class action suit by parents and grandparents against those responsible. What explains the radically different views of experienced teachers and the suits in corporate suites and Congress who’re now running the education show? A sign that hung in Albert Einstein’s Princeton University office sums it up: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Data-enamoured, spreadsheet-studying, educationally clueless policymakers think Einstein was wrong. What is it, exactly, that can’t be counted? Most people think babies are born with minds like blank paper. Parents, teachers, and others, “write” on that paper, filling it with advice, information, explanations, and interpretations. Schools organize and compress the process with textbooks and teacher talk, and tests check how much kids can remember long enough to pencil in the “right” oval on a standardized test. It’s that simple. Except it isn’t. Not even close. Kids’ minds are never, ever, like blank pages. To matters they consider important, they attach explanatory theories. When a teacher or other explainer dumps information on them that doesn’t match their theories, they reject it. They may play the school game-may store the explainer’s theory in short-term memory until the test is over and the pressure is off-but rarely do they adopt it.

Kids don’t change their theories because doing so would be too traumatic. Their beliefs-about themselves, about others, about how the world works-are their most valued possessions (just as they are for the rest of us). Their theories are “who they are.” Casually exchanging them for someone else’s ideas would undermine their identities, their individuality, their confidence in their ability to make sense of experience. I learned the hard way-from thousands of adolescents-that I couldn’t teach them anything important. All I could do was try to get them to think about a particular matter, then ask them a question or give them something to do that their theories couldn’t handle and let them struggle to work it out. Changing their minds had to be their doing, not mine. Bottom line: It’s impossible to count how much kids really know. Period. Standardized tests are an appalling, monumental waste of time, money, and brains. Especially brains.

To the “standards and accountability” cheerleaders-the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Governors Association, the US Department of Education, newspaper editorial boards, syndicated columnists, and so on-the complex, counterintuitive, kid-controlled, impossible-to-measure learning process I’m describing is alien. But that process lies at the very heart of teaching and learning. Trying to shield it from destruction is why older, experienced teachers are the most vocal, determined opponents of the present reform fiasco. They know the “blank paper,” count-the-right-answers theory propelling the standards and accountability fad is an intellect-gutting, society-destroying myth. And they know that adopting national standards and tests will lock that myth in place far, far into the future.

Towards an expression of the spiritual in a secular curriculum by Monica Bini

January 1, 2015

Dealing with the issue of ‘spirituality’ is a very current concern for many people. The concerns raised and the difficulties identified still make this article worth reading today.

This article was written as a contribution to the now extant Australian Curriculum. However the author tackles the question of spirituality and what that might mean in a school curriculum. “The curriculum must allow for the kind of delivery that will support its intentions. The awakening and development of the spiritual is often going to be something that is difficult to plan for, and teachers need to be free to capture the teaching moment and be given flexibility to work with individual student needs. And it is an area which is an investment in students’ life journeys, where seeds planted during experiences at school may for some, only really begin to bear fruit at an unexpected time in the future. But with the support of this particular quality of education students may be lucky enough to have a relatively greater proportion of their lives that is fulfilling.”

Monica Bini – Curriculum Manager (Humanities), Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. July 2009.

Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008)

The Melbourne Declaration claims a place for spiritual wellbeing in education for all Australianswhen it declares that “confident and creative individuals have a sense of self-worth, self-awareness and personal identity that enables them to manage their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing”. How can the development and management of spiritual wellbeing be expressed in curriculum beyond faith based settings, so that it is indeed supported for all Australians? This paper outlines and then uses a way of articulating the spiritual that is independent of adherence to religious tradition or belief in the divine, to inform themes of secular spirituality that could be manifested in secular curriculum, and the skills and capacities that can be brought to these themes. In doing so, it aims to capture what is distinctive about the spiritual in the context of curriculum.

The Melbourne Declaration goes some way to articulating a secular spirituality when it links spiritual wellbeing to self worth, self awareness and personal identity. It takes a position that there is something distinct from the emotional, mental and physical in what it is to be human. If secular curriculum wants to claim education of the whole person, then the curriculum needs to address this aspect of being human.

Developing the themes of secular spirituality

Stating what might be further said about the spiritual in a secular sense will inform how curriculum can give expression to this goal. Some of the literature avoids defining the spiritual, as it is not only complex, but partly an experience and therefore partly ineffable. However for the secular to stake a claim in the spiritual it is necessary to show how it can be conceived without an appeal to religion or the divine. For educators, it gives them the language needed to understand the thinking behind any spiritual themes in the curriculum and to support them in engaging in discourse on the spiritual.

The spiritual is something that is perhaps better experienced than explained. It is a particular quality of consciousness that responds to the awesome in nature and the awesome in human creation or expression, where paradoxically in the experience we are drawn out of ourselves and yet deeper within ourselves. It is that part of ourselves that we are not happy with characterizing as emotion. It is, at times, linked rather with a deep sense of satisfaction or fulfillment. This sense of satisfaction is often linked to goals that are in fact unattainable, for example perfect wisdom. And yet it responds to meaning and purpose and can create meaning and purpose. The spiritual is associated with a detachment, that is, a separation from the egotistical aspects of the self, rather than the world or the other.

The Melbourne goal speaks of having a sense of self that enables management of wellbeing, including spiritual. The term ‘management’ suggests cultivating a certain kind of discrimination or discernment that in the first instance begins to recognize the spiritual in the self, in response to particular kinds of experiences and then is ultimately used to make choices that support wellbeing and in turn refine the self. One of the most important contributions that curriculum can make is to assist students as they develop and attend to this faculty or key skill, in what is for most, a lifelong journey.

What follows links the broad conception of spirituality introduced above with ways that this may be manifest in the curriculum. It should be recognized that many of the areas overlap and that somewhat artificial distinctions have been made to draw out distinguishing characteristics of each area.

Themes of secular spirituality that could be manifested in the curriculum:

Awe and wonder:

– providing for engagement with the beautiful in nature and human endeavour, including the bigger or more profound stories, that may resonate, inspire or allow for moments of gratitude and appreciation.

– giving permission to wonder, not only intellectually but a deeper, reflective wonder.

Meaning and purpose:

– providing opportunities to serve something larger than oneself. By isolating such service from material gain, students have a chance to notice a different kind of satisfaction.

– enabling the development and expression of vision.

– engaging students with concepts such as truth, courage, including moral courage, honour and so on, and recognizing their contentious nature yet central role in human endeavour .

– allowing for meaningful self expression. In a wider sense this may be personal meaning realized in public contexts.

Being and Knowing:

– providing opportunities for students to integrate knowledge with action; to ethically bring both considered rational judgment and intuitive insight to bear on practical problems.

– engaging with concepts such as justice, compassion and other areas of ethics.

– assisting students to be aware of and attune the quality of their consciousness in action and thought, for example the level of integrity.

– supporting human dignity by for example valuing the welfare, learning journeys and stories of the students and giving them a voice in their education.

Developing the skills or capacities that can be brought to these themes

What the student brings to the opportunities for awe and wonder, meaning and purpose and exploring being and knowing is important. For example, being presented with the beautiful is enriched with a capacity to notice and attend to the response of the self. Students can build skills to assist in the interpretation of experience. The key skill here is a kind of discernment or discrimination. Developing the ability to discern or discriminate in the context of secular spirituality is particularly related to the following elements of the curriculum:

– building the capacity to notice and attend to the self and how it engages with and responds to certain experiences. For example, noticing different levels of fulfillment. This can occur not only through quiet reflection and silence but through dialogue.

– developing students’ capacity to engage with and express the ineffable, for example in powerful literary and visual metaphors and other non-verbal means of expression such as dance, or design and creative process.

– assisting students in developing the language to express to others and themselves what can be said about secular spiritual experiences.

– allowing the creation and expression of what is deeply satisfying for the student, for example in athletics, woodwork or social activism. Here the student can practice and test their developing discrimination. This may ultimately impact on their choice of life pursuits as well as in a more generic way.

Disciplinary or Interdisciplinary?

Spirituality can be triggered and nurtured by different things for different people and in this sense is interdisciplinary, where students are given the chance to widely explore and test where spiritual wellbeing may lie for them. Students can be invited to engage with facets of the spiritual in the context of a discipline or learning area. For example, service learning in Civics, aesthetics in Mathematics, ethics in Philosophy, or vision in History or Science. Key skills can also be developed in this way, for example through the study of poetry in English or participating in the design process in Technology. The extent to which the spiritual is brought in will be linked closely to pedagogy.

Bringing spirituality into the curriculum in this sense need not be so much about an addition to the curriculum but rather involves considering the disciplines through a particular qualitative lens. The nature of this qualitative lens does need separate documentation however, and this paper attempts to go some way towards supporting educators in this.

Early years learning framework (2009)

The themes of secular spirituality in this paper were used to inform the definition of spirituality in the national Early Years Learning Framework. The framework is built around the concepts of Being, Belonging and Becoming, recognizing that life is more than transactional. A range of groups gave strong feedback that spiritual aspects of young children’s lives should be recognized. In particular it was thought that the play experience for a child had a spiritual dimension. The groups identified a need to capture in a secular way the spiritual dimension of what it is to be human.

Recognition of the spiritual is not unusual at a higher policy level – for example both the 2008 Melbourne and the 1999 Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling, or the 1957 NSW Wyndham Report (naming spiritual values as one of eight key aims for the education of the individual). These high level statements aim at all sectors including faith based, but this aspect of the goals of schooling has not traditionally been picked up by the government sector in particular. One significant gap has been the lack of translation of this part of the goals into formal curriculum structures. This is a necessary part of the mechanism by which high level documents ultimately get delivered in the classroom. Creating a key definition of spirituality began to close the gap.

A definition of spirituality was proposed and welcomed :   “Spirituality refers to a range of human experiences including a sense of awe and wonder, a search for purpose and meaning, and the exploration of being and knowing.” A paper underpinning this definition was a valuable part of the process as it supported decision-makers in understanding that an interpretation of the definition compatible with the secular was possible. At the same time the definition does not exclude the faith based sector, while acknowledging that these settings may bring elements of their different religious traditions into how they interpret it.

Challenges

National Curriculum

The national curriculum will be accountable to the goals for schooling. ACARA’s Curriculum Design paper states at 4.2b that “the national curriculum documents will indicate how much learning in each area contributes to the national goals.” Articulating themes of secular spirituality may assist in the mapping of this aspect of the goals to the curriculum. Curriculum writers have been given some discretion beyond literacy, numeracy, creativity and ICT in how other general capabilities and indigenous, sustainability and Asia related cross curriculum perspectives will be embedded into the curriculum.

The spiritual is a qualitative aspect of the curriculum that cuts across disciplines, general capabilities and cross curriculum perspectives. In this sense it is likely to be more clearly expressed in content elaboration rather than content description, although content description sets the framework that allows particular teaching and learning activities to be developed. For example if students will learn to analyse indigenous history in Australia (as a content descriptor) then content elaboration could include learning about vision and Aboriginal people of vision in this context. In Science a content description derived from the content organizer of science as a human endeavour could be something like ‘students will learn to analyse and evaluate the role of science in human endeavour’ which in turn could lead to content elaboration regarding discussion of meaning and purpose within science or what concepts like moral courage might mean in scientific contexts. The curriculum has many demands placed upon it and selection of more overtly spiritual aspects needs to be not only well informed but judicious.

Spirituality is a personal journey and teachers must be given the flexibility to work with student needs and to allow time for and response to the student voice. A curriculum dense with prescriptive content would work against this.

Assessment

The question of the assessment of spiritual development in students is more broadly related to the question of assessment of those aspects of the curriculum concerned with dispositions, values and attitudes. Curriculum is tending more towards the provision of a holistic education while at the same time there is a growing assessment culture. Are there limits to what a teacher can confidently assess? Dr. Ruth Deakin Crick identifies four stations in the learning journey that are useful to consider:

“Using the metaphor of ‘learning as a journey’ there are four ‘stations’ which learners and their mentors attend to in the process of learning. The first is the learning self, with its particular identity, nested sets of relationships, stories and aspirations. The second is the personal qualities, values, attitudes and dispositions for learning….The third is the acquisition of publicly assessed knowledge, skills and understanding. The fourth is the achievement of publicly assessed and valued competence in a particular domain – such as being a competent citizen, or artisan, or carer.” (Deakin Crick, 2009, p.78)

The spiritual is clearly related to the first and second stations but there is interplay with the third and fourth as spiritual development occurs and is expressed. Deakin Crick has developed a self assessment tool of values, dispositions and attitudes of effective lifelong learners. The rationale for this being a self assessment tool is relevant to spiritual development too:

the first two stations are personal and unique to the learner, and although formed in the context of community and participation, and thus not necessarily private, the authority to create and make judgments in these domains rests with the learners themselves.”(Deakin Crick, 2009, p. 78)

Assessment of learning belongs in the 3rd and 4th stations of the learning journey where authority to make judgments lies outside the self. This kind of learning is accountable in a public way that spirituality is not. It is fair to set achievement standards for these stations of the learning journey but somehow unfair, if not absurd, to grade students on their spiritual development. The difficulty in gathering direct evidence would also make this attempt invalid and unreliable and could indeed be counterproductive. It would be more coherent to undertake assessment of the educator’s provision of opportunities for deep learning and expression.

A partnership is necessary between all the stages of the learning journey to result in a holistic education. Deep engagement with learning is not guaranteed and neither should it be demanded, but rather invited. But it is important that the educator at least present the opportunity not only through good curriculum but also good pedagogy. Spiritual development is thus a well supported ‘hope’ of the curriculum rather than a demand. (Rossiter, 2006).

Conclusion

The curriculum must allow for the kind of delivery that will support its intentions. The awakening and development of the spiritual is often going to be something that is difficult to plan for, and teachers need to be free to capture the teaching moment and be given flexibility to work with individual student needs. And it is an area which is an investment in students’ life journeys, where seeds planted during experiences at school may for some, only really begin to bear fruit at an unexpected time in the future. But with the support of this particular quality of education students may be lucky enough to have a relatively greater proportion of their lives that is fulfilling.

References

NSW Government 1957, Report of the Committee Appointed to Survey Secondary Education in New South Wales (the Wyndham Report), p.40

Bigger, Secular Spiritual Education?, e-journal of the British Education Studies Association, Vol 1(1) August, 2008

Crawford and G. Rossiter, Reasons for living – education and young people’s search for meaning, identity and spirituality, ACER Press, 2006

Deakin Crick, Inquiry-based learning: reconciling the personal with the public in a democratic and archeological pedagogy, The Curriculum Journal, Vol. 20, No. 1, March 2009, 73-92

Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory (ELLI), owned by the University of Bristol and the Lifelong Learning Federation, at http://www.ellionline.co.uk

Thomas and V. Lockwood, Nurturing the spiritual child: compassion, connection and a sense of self, Early Childhood Australia Inc., Research in Practice Series, Vol. 16., No. 2 2009

http://www.acsa.edu.au/pages/images/Monica%20Bini%20-%20secular%20spirituality.p

Education is thinking and Thinking is education

January 1, 2015

Education is thinking; Thinking is education

The best child protection is a community that is engaged with providing a safe and stimulating place to facilitate holistic approaches to pedagogical practice that provides the best opportunities for people exercising their powers. This means mutually recognising and respecting our rights as adults to actively defend the right of children to be in a safe place. Mutual respect is made possible when the community’s members share a safe space to communicate with each other about the meaning and purpose of learning and teaching, and defining the place as a safe place for evolving and productive pedagogical practice.

Learning to be powerful; Powerful to be learning

To empower others implies that those who facilitate this historical and epistemological process are themselves exercising power. A highly engaging curriculum can only by provided by highly engaged teachers and learners. Highly engaged and knowledgeable learners and teachers are powerful people.

A highly engaging curriculum acknowledges human being as a species being – Nature, an objective, global, scientific view; and as an historical and epistemologically organised social construction – Second Nature, the subjective and particular cultural window with a landscape defined partially by the objective window of a global scientific view.

Appropriately localised curriculum content provides sequentially organised and integrated content that is meaningful and procedurally purposeful. This is achieved by defining essential concepts or Big Ideas that persist as from that are metaphorically intertwining, as expanding flux, that spirals out from beginning to end – K to 6.

Theory and practice.

It is worth noting that the key theorists associated with early childhood are not early childhood theorists as such. Rather there are theorists who most influence the practice of early childhood educators primarily because as theorists they have a cogent view of human cognitive and social development from birth to adult. There is a danger that others who were or are not directly engaged with early childhood and the compulsory years of education have less to offer. For example, Paulo Freire’s development of learning and teaching methods for adult literacy provided extraordinary insights into the social and political dimensions and purposes of education per se. Given his profound impact on pedagogy and practice it would be mistaken to exclude such figures from the early years ‘pantheon’. The same can be said for Malaguzzie of Reggio Emilia and Penelope Leach.

Developing empathetic systems.

As an approach that is both exemplary and comprehensive the Reggio Emilia experience has overwhelmingly the most to contribute to hypotheses and practices of Early Childhood practitioners and educators. The approach developed in Reggio Emilia for early childhood education can be defined as exemplary because as practitioners they have a system with a clearly defined purposes and goals, are able to operate and develop practice according to the needs of children, rather than the overt interference of any politician’s whim, and most significantly, out of reach of powerful social and economic forces that are antithetical to the interests of good child development and childhood.

This is most evident when here in Australia our current Minister of Education has expressed her government’s belief that education is to provide the means for the corporations’s single-minded pursuit of profits. In essence the approach developed by Reggio Emilia, while not a blueprint, provides an example of what it means to pay close attention to providing a safe place for pedagogical practice and in so doing demonstrating the provision of a child-centred antidote relatively free from the economic imperatives of corporate-mass-media-culture.

The social and cultural contexts of learning and teaching.

Understanding human activity as social and cultural provides the ‘philosophical’ foundation for child-centred pedagogical approaches to learning and teaching. Education ideally is a partnership between, educators, children, and parents all of whom are acting in the best interests of all children. Educators particularly take the greater share of this responsibility because they are to provide for needs and develop relationships not only within their own pedagogical space but those too of their immediate community and ultimately the system.

All good learning is driven by curiosity. Sharing, discovering and applying mutual concerns in regards to pedagogy assists to organise the curriculum and pedagogical activities, and ipso facto our learning community. Children too learn by asking questions about their relationships with others and their place within The World around them. As soon as they can speak coherently this curiosity is articulated as questions, Who, What, Where, When, How and Why? We know that children come to school with their own experiences and knowledge. Parents, and particularly early years educators should recognise and account for this in their pedagogical practice.

Valuing curiosity and imagination

Learning proceeds from experience and inquiry thereby providing the foundations for the ongoing development of intelligent cognitive and social behaviours, or habits, for the transition into the compulsory the middle to upper primary years.

Key Assumptions of Experiential and Inquiry learning. The place of Dialogue with Children and building strong foundations for good habits.

Education is essentially learning to think. Young children live imaginatively and have ideas largely unburdened by facts. It is critical to keep curiosity and the desire to learn from this curiosity alive. The desire to know, ask questions and seek answers underlies the key purpose of all our learning.

Educational play-based -productive (cognitive) activity is an important element of our classrooms. A ‘play-based’ approach provides for the use of the arts in all aspects of their learning wether it is literacy, numeracy or imaginative play. The Philosophy with Children program adds an equally important ingredient to all aspects of their learning and our teaching.

By encouraging the skills of respectful and sincere dialogue between children and their teachers, and the teachers themselves, the importance of dialogue, questioning and thinking are emphasised and explicitly stated and connected. Equally there are profound connections between inquiry, philosophy, the arts, the natural environment and becoming literate. Education is essential for active citizenship and productive democracy.

The Development of children: there are two distinct lines of development:

the Natural and Cultural.

  • Natural – biological growth and maturation of physical and mental structures.
  • Cultural – learning to use cultural tools and development of human consciousness that emerges through cultural activity.
  • Children’s cultural development occurs first as social or interpersonal plane and then on the individual or psychological plane.
  • People are social-beings and the creations and makers of their social, cultural, and historical contexts.
  • Social interaction and participation in authentic cultural activities are necessary for development to occur.

The place and role of language and dialogue in human culture

The acquisition of language is the most significant milestone in children’s cognitive development.

  • Language is the primary cultural tool used to mediate activities and is instrumental in restructuring the mind and informing higher order and self-regulating thought processes.
  • Language plays a crucial role in forming minds as it is the primary means of communication and mental contact with others.
  • Language is the major means for representing social experience and is an indispensable part of our thoughts.
  • Language is the bridge between our social-cultural worlds and individual mental function.
  • Mental abilities develop out of the need to communicate and function as a collective.
  • The development of the individual and complex, higher mental functions occur through social interaction

Education, Development and Sociability

  • Formal education and other cultural forms of socialisation are key to developmental pathways toward adulthood
  • Thinking is contextualised and collaborative – it emerges from particular activities and social experiences. Forms of thinking are products of specific contexts and cultural conditions. Higher forms of thinking are socially and culturally contextual – members of these contexts share them.
  • To understand the development of individuals it is necessary to understand the social relations of which the individual is a part.
  • Social influences are ever-present in cognitive skill development.
  • Social engagement is a powerful force in transforming children’s thinking.
  • School and associated literacy and numeracy activities are a powerful context for shaping and developing thinking and action.
  • Mastery of academic tasks assist in transformations of memory, concept formation, reasoning, problematising and problem solving.

Zone of Proximal Development or Scaffolding and other minds.

  • The social and cognitive are essential aspects of each other.
  • Ways of understanding reality are similar across human beings we all have the same biological equipment for interpreting experience: The human brain and body.
  • Thinking is not bounded by the individual brain or mind and body inseparably joined (intertwined) with other minds.
  • Thinking is a profoundly social phenomenon. Social experiences shape the ways we interpret and think about the world.

Challenging assumptions about play

January 1, 2015

 In the book Play and Pedagogy in Early Childhood: Bending the Rules, authors Sue Docket and Marilyn Fleer challenge four assumptions about play.

The assumptions they challenge are:

  • Play is a characteristic of childhood (Play is a characteristic of childhood. However, thinking of play only in this way may result in a view of play as immature and childish. p.107)
  • Play is carefree and free of constraints (Play is rarely free of constraints. Adults constrain play through the environment they create and the time, space and resources they commit to play as well as though their attitudes towards play. Children place constraints on play when they follow social obligations, set and enforce rules or adhere to patterns displayed by their peers. In addition, adult’s expectations of children, derived from a conceptualisation of childhood as innocent and relatively ignorant, constrain play. p110)
  • Play is pleasant (Many play experiences are pleasant for the players. However, if we are serious in our study of play, we need to recognise the potential negative effects, as well as the positive effects, and to consider what this means for our promotion of play as a universally positive experience for all young children. p.112)
  • Play is characterised by stages of development (Understanding children’s development may provide some useful guidance to understanding children’s play and planning suitable play environments. However, we need to be wary of expecting to see particular patterns of play and then fitting our observations in with our expectations, and wary of ignoring the great diversity among children. p.114)

What evidence supports these assumptions?

What evidence contradicts these assumptions?

Can you identify any other assumptions about play?   What evidence do you find to support your assumptions? What evidence contradicts your assumptions?

Reference:

Dockett, S., & Fleer, M. (1999) Play and Pedagogy in Early Childhood: Bending the Rules. Harcourt Brace. Australia.

Some thoughts on challenging assumptions about play

Is play only a characteristic of childhood or is it indicative of a fundamental human trait? Something childlike does not mean it is immature because that would depend on the child and where our particular observation corresponded to a general schema to guide our understanding of human development.

I am immediately reminded of a quote from Pablo Picasso, “Every child is an artist; the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”. I take this to mean that an artist would equate play with intellectual activity, imagination, discovering, and enjoyment of the journey even when it requires effort. To describe play this way is to remove it from notions of immaturity. To think of play in this way is to think of ourselves as an artist and the inextricable link between defining an educator as an artist, as a creator, rather than simply a transmitter and technician.

Play is not carefree and free of constraints; it is an aspect of human behaviour that allows is to appreciate that there are limits that impinge on us whether they be naturally or socially imposed limits. Limitations are a fact of life. Most of what makes us human is culturally communicated and transmitted. Play for children is one of the ways they explore their personal and social world but within an environment that is relatively safe. In this world limits can be tested other children and adults. It is the world of play that allows adults to observe and appreciate the imaginative and social development and maturation of children without the direct imposition or immediate constraints of an adult perspective.

Should play be pleasant; should it be a universally positive experience for young children? The question is begged, what is a ‘positive experience’? A negative or unpleasant experience can be a positive for children’s development. We know that an important aspect of educating is to develop personal resilience and the social understanding that the world is not the pleasant place we might like it, or expect it, to be. One of the roles of the educator, at any stage of development, is to assist this appreciation of the world around us. This is important for developing human agency, and equally, it informs our ideas about the causes of injustices and our need for establishing rights. So, play does not have to be pleasant or positive in the sense that we try to avoid conflict. Through meeting resistance and understanding conflicts we are provoked to ask questions and learn from mistakes.

Play provides the context for observing indicators of social and cognitive development. Professionals have used these indicators to characterise stages of development, and observe behaviours that may indicate that a child has a problem that may need to be addressed if it is to be happy and flourish. The environment for productive play is not one that is imposed by the adults but rather one that supports the understanding that education is communicating, and participating in a dialogue with children. What we consequently discover can assist us to realise opportunities for extending children’s understanding.

Response to Challenging Assumptions about Play and Changing Childhoods: A Changing World.

As the economic world changes so does the social world. This may be stating the obvious but it is important to keep that in mind as it can be seen very clearly in the super- politicised world of the compulsory years of education. There are tendencies within society that can support both positive and negative conceptualisations of childhood. It is not unreasonable to say that to work with children in a supportive and constructive way means to challenge the status quo.

The status quo can be broadly defined as that which is defined by pro-corporate capitalist economic models and pro-corporate formal political systems both of which do not encourage reasonable and sensitive attitudes toward children, and provide their particular construction of childhood. This has been clearly stated by the current federal government in the EYLF which states that the intention is to provide for a more productive nation. Given the prevailing dominance of the free market economy this means maximizing corporate profits. Concurrently the corporatisation (popularly misnamed ‘privatisation’) of childcare puts profit making at the centre of their concerns and the mass media culture assists in the commodification of children and childhood which all impinge on families, children, and practitioners and educators.

The changing patterns of work and life remind us that they are increasingly fragmented or atomized. More mothers and fathers, single and coupled, are participating in part-time and full time work, the absence of child care places, and the cost of childcare create particular expectations of what early childhood education is and should provide. The anxieties of adult social life impact on children and our adult expectations. Many parents understandably see education as a race up the rungs of the ladder of opportunity, and feel that their child must receive appropriate preparation for this race. This is particularly evident in North America where the pressure on children to ‘succeed’ and for testing for that success is virulent. This view negatively impacts on the playful practice of early childhood education.

Play is not a ‘free-for-all’ as non-practitioners, and educators who work beyond the early years often suggest. Play in early childhood allows the practitioner to work with the individual child, and as well, their combined or collective interests. Children bring with them their particular construction of the world, which by virtue of being a social being correspond in many ways with the constructions of others.

Play provides opportunities for children to explore and build on their own interests at their own emotional, and cognitive pace. That is, when there is a readiness to move beyond where they may currently be at any moment in those respects. It is this idea that informs the Zone of Proximal Development suggested by Vygotsky. This approach also corresponds with the Reggio Approach developed with Loris Malaguzzi. Equally this play approach is a critical teacher for the educator. Careful observation and critical regard of children’s emerging ideas and activity informs practice and where the direction of content, mindful of their playful environment, should proceed.

Reggio Emilia Principles, Philosophy with Children, and Inquiry Learning.

January 1, 2015

An introduction to Reggio Emilia Principles and Approaches and Philosophy with Children and Inquiry Learning.

Schooling is a partnership between the teacher, children, and parents all working in the best interests of children. Teachers also share this responsibility they are also aware of the needs and relationships within the whole classroom and the larger school community. By discovering and sharing our mutual concerns in these regards our activities as a school community can only be strengthened.

What is Learning? Valuing curiosity and imagination

Education is essentially learning to think. Young children live imaginatively and have ideas largely unburdened by facts. It is critical to keep the desire to learn from their curiosity alive. The desire to know, ask questions and seek answers underlies the key purpose of all our learning. All learning, regardless of age, is driven by curiosity and doubt. Very early on, as soon as children can speak with any coherence, they constantly ask, Why? Children come to school bringing with them their own knowledge and experiences. Building on this apparently innate desire to learn the early years – Prep to Grade 4 – provides the foundations for the continuing development of intelligent behaviours or habits in the middle to upper primary years and establishing the capacity for independent learning and self-regulation in secondary and post-compulsory education.

By building strong foundations good habits are developed

Formal, school based learning requires a period of transition for young children. Play and game based approaches to learning is an important aspect of the classroom. Many aspects of our culture ignore the authentic needs of children. Specifically our culture tends to define all of us as consumers rather than creators. This is also perhaps best explained by understanding that young children should not feel pressured to perform to predetermined standards and outcomes but rather encouraged to appreciate a love of learning. Consequently the emphasis is on building understanding and meaning by using their own activity, thoughts and reflections on their everyday experiences.

Reggio Emilia principles and approaches seek to build on children’s strengths and understand children as they are rather than what we want them to be or think they should be thereby acknowledging that personality and character are developed by social interactions and the relationships between themselves and adult co-inquirers. Reggio teachers equally regard themselves in this way too; we do not walk in front or behind but alongside students as co-inquirers. Such an approach explicitly acknowledges children’s personal and collective intellectual efforts to make sense of their world and the place of learning within it.

Reggio Emilia educational theory and practice is informed by many years of international collective research based on observing and listening to children in early years settings. While it is very influential in preschool settings we believe that the principles and approaches can be, and should be, extended into primary education. While the emphases may shift The arts are at the center of all aspects of their learning whether it is literacy, numeracy or imaginative exploration and discovery. Philosophy with Children has a similar approach to Reggio Emilia and describes its model as a process of creating a community of inquirers where the object is “thinking about thinking” or meta-cognition.

The combination of these approaches makes possible a powerful foundation for what is commonly defined as Inquiry learning. By encouraging the skills of respectful dialogue between the children themselves and their teacher the importance of questioning and thinking is also emphasised along with direct instruction of ‘thinking tools’ and processes that the discipline of philosophy provides. These two approaches also provide for learning that is slow and deep.

Creating a community of learners

Learning to get along with each other, developing routines and responding to a variety of situations is an important aspect of early years education. Learning how to be with others and value them is a significant theme throughout the early years.

Understanding who they are and where they belong in the world begins to develop in a self-conscious way through the awareness of others as they move from a predominantly egocentric view of the world.

Children are encouraged to actively make, and think, about their world. By exchanging their own stories, speaking and listening, reading and exchanging opinions, and questioning each other’s stories they are encouraged to be critical self-conscious thinkers.

Creating a sense of common purpose and cooperation.

A multi-age classroom offers many opportunities for formal and informal peer learning and teaching. Relationships between adults and children are nurtured. The quality of this relationship is an important element of the children’s self-understanding and development as a learner and teacher. For this reason the active participation of parents and other significant adults in the classroom is encouraged across all programs.

Teacher judgment.

The teacher is the authoritative adult who acts with the best interests of the individual child and the children as a whole. Learning and teaching in this environment expects to encourage dispositions that assist independent and cooperative learning. A self-critical or self-reflexive attitude that does not rely on rewards and punishment is encouraged at all times.

In Conclusion.

It is not possible to do justice to these approaches on paper other than to reiterate that other than their own intrinsic worth these approaches significantly support learning in all areas of the curriculum. The thinking and manipulative skills developed positively impact on literacy – language, reading and writing, story telling, drama – feelings, emotions, other points of view, numeracy and mathematics – quantifying, recognising patterns and their expression in mathematical language.

Equally it provides the basis for significant and profound approaches to the social nature of learning and knowledge by using explicit strategies to build behaviour that is appropriate to sharing and exchanging opinions and knowledge with those around them. In this way children are not merely the passive recipients of values but actively participate in developing and understanding our shared expectations as individuals, and as a community.

 

How have political events shaped education policy and the production of regulatory and quality frameworks in Australia?

December 30, 2014

How have political events shaped education policy and the production of regulatory and quality frameworks in Australia? What effects may this have on how and who you can ‘become’ as an early childhood professional?

Political events will always shape our society and culture generally. Politics is the activity of organising people and society to achieve purposeful collective outcomes. What these outcomes may be, and how they will be achieved, and who for, is defined as ideology. Politics per se should not be defined primarily by political parties and parliamentary participation; organised people, community members, trade unions, involved in extra-parliamentary activity have and can also significantly shaped early childhood policy and regulatory outcomes.

The State (the rule of law, parliaments and local government, the military and paramilitary) mediates the expressed interests of the contending parties. The State is the product of the means to achieving said social organisation which is partly defined by policy and regulations

Policy as quality and regulation while expressed through the transactions of The State machinery is shaped by the relative power of contending forces that work under and within its mandates. While the current federal government works to protect the market and the needs of corporate business and power it must, as an emperor sans culottes, must attempt to disguise prevarication and counter reforms as an ‘Education Revolution’.

Current ALP policy is a reminder that policy rhetoric and actual practice need to be interrogated if we are to make sense of the political landscape; what political and departmental representatives say they mean and what they do should never be taken at face value.

‘Productivity’, the business person’s and politician’s euphemism for ‘corporate profits’, informs the direction of ALP policy for children and education. The former deputy prime minister in addressing corporate business groups says it as it really is;

‘In today’s world’, she told a gathering of the Australian Industry Group, ‘the areas covered by my portfolios – early childhood education and childcare, schooling, training, universities, social inclusion, employment participation and workplace cooperation – are all ultimately about the same thing: productivity’. …. Further to the point ‘I’m going to be ignoring the old battles between unions and employers, public and private schools (taxpayer-funded-non-government-schools), the trades and universities and welfare and work’ … ‘Instead, I’m going to be measuring policies against the all-important criteria of how effectively they increase national productivity.’ (Dusevic 2009)

The question now is what should be done and by whom? For advocates and activists the real questions are; what are Australian governments hiding; where are the support and resources for; children who are having social, emotional or academic difficulties; school libraries and librarians; science and art rooms; maintaining and cleaning schools and care for gardens; to incorporate the creative arts, music, and dance? Why are essentially human activities regarded as distinct to literacy and numeracy, and good learning generally? These questions tell us quite a deal about what quality may mean. Is there a connection between the absences and regulation?

The view of education implied by the likes of PM Gillard is a default setting for a second-rate, standardised mass education for the mass of the people, the working class. Are Australian governments (COAG) the best advocates for school improvement? Do they assists to raise the sights and standards of teacher moral and professional learning. How does the Ministerial Council’s (MCEETYA) ‘Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians’ compare to the past two declarations?

How do we argue for, and provide a choice between an education worthy us of us all, as creative citizens, rather than a mass education suitable only for entraining teachers, students and the masses for the needs of corporations? For these choices to be made there needs to be a voice alerting our communities to other possibilities. This is the role of the early childhood teacher who regards themselves as an activist and advocate.

Dusevic, T. 2009, The Great Gillard Experiment, The Best Australian Political Writing 2009, MUP.

The Classroom as a Community for Inquiry

July 18, 2009

The classroom as a community of inquirers and learners.

Inquiry learning begins from the premise that we are, by nature, inquirers and thinkers. The Community of Inquiry is an approach which develops the practice of the Socratic method: this means that a stimulus or a provocation is provided to the community which then stimulates thought and dialogue. Dialogue identifies for the community those concepts that are central and common to us all, such as fairness and beauty; while we take for granted a common belief or definition, we also find that they are contestable concepts. Socratic dialogue assists to build the skills of thinking about thinking, argument and reflection. Dialogue allows students and the teacher the space to explore our own and other minds. Developing these skills is the intention of the philosophical community of inquiry as promoted internationally and nationally, by the various associations of Philosophy with Children in Schools.

Children’s psychological and cognitive development

Even though we still know very little of children’s psychological and cognitive development, our understanding has grown over the past few decades. In regards to education there is a large body of work that discusses how children construct and reconstruct knowledge. This approach is known as constructivism and it is a dominant theory that informs learning and teaching today and it is generally associated with the appreciation of child development as a continuum, a spiral, rather than a series of independent stages of development. Holding the metaphor of the developmental spiral, imagine also that our embodied minds travel through four-dimensional space, and, as we do so, we encounter resistance with nature and each other. We therefore seek solutions by asking questions, we imagine other possibilities, we try to change the circumstances that cause us discomfit.

•    One question for me is, can we assume that curiosity, and wonder, awareness, consciousness, and thinking, and a general desire for understanding are present in the baby to the grave? If so, the elements that change along the continuum of development supply the ‘complexity’ of conceptual understanding and knowledge.

Essentially, constructivism understands that knowledge is socially constructed and defined by our relationships. Consequently, there is an emphasis on the quality of the relationships between students, teachers and peers. I like to describe this collaborative thinking as the ‘meeting of minds’. Classroom instruction is not only defined by the teacher transmitting facts but by all members of the classroom thinking and communicating together: thereby learning by thinking; imagining possibilities; seeking opportunities; the means for a particular end; evaluating and reflecting; thinking about their thinking and coming to a common understanding. This approach requires a classroom environment which is safe for all to express their thoughts, explore their concerns and questions, and learn what it means to take responsibility for and manage their own and each other’s learning. Such a classroom is often defined as a  ‘democratic classroom’.

Learning to be a learner: Maturity and imagination.

An important aspect of children’s development is developing our mutual understanding of the importance of collaborative thinking and learning. Engaging with each other’s minds in dialogue assists in constructing our personal and social experience and gathering knowledge of the world around us in a meaning and purposeful way. This approach is based or modeled on the conception, and development, of a community of scientists as a community of inquirers. A community of inquiry pays as much attention to cognitive development, that is, thinking and related skills, dispositions, habits and ‘thinking tools’ as to physiological development and tool use. My engagement with children in the classroom in all its variety is about getting to know each other as ‘people’, as ‘humans’ and as learners learning together. I think understanding our ‘human-ess’ is essential to making sense of ourselves, and each other.

A critical aspect of effective teaching and learning is respectful relationships.

Assessment in such a classroom environment involves a matrix of ‘objectives’ broadly categorised into three parts, Assessment OF learning, Assessment FOR learning, and Assessment AS learning. Assessment AS learning is the dominant field and is intimately connected to our human, and personal, social and cultural relationships. It is about imagination, thinking, and reflection.
When assessing children’s performance, it is important to consider the learning environment, and as well have an understanding of our psychological and physical development and their interrelationships.
Ten assumptions about children’s development when thinking about assessment and reporting:
•    Students are always watching and observing what is going on around them.
•     Have inquisitive minds.
•     Grow and develop at varying rates.
•     Learn best when they engage in meaningful activities.
•     Need to be exposed to a variety of experiences to allow learning outcomes to be achieved.
•     Need a supportive environment to develop self-understanding and to understand others.
•     Respond to praise and recognition.
•    Engage in individual, and collective experiences involving ‘risk-taking’ and problem-solving.
•    Develop the means of making their own and collective connections, conclusions and judgements.
•    Need to repeat activities so as to explore possibilities refine skills and reinforce learning.

The following is an account of of my classroom practice over one year.

Sociability – interpersonal and Personal relationships  – Civics and Citizenship.

Grandparents Day was a great morning. The day just buzzed as children proudly talked about their work and the different things they do at school. From observation, there is a real affinity between these two generational groups. Initially, our morning ran much as we would do on any other day. Our guests joined in, keen to ask questions of the children and contribute themselves. There was no shortage of willing presenters to explain the various projects we have pursued over the year. Our grandparents were very impressed with the combined talent and maturity demonstrated by all the children. It would be great to see grandparents even more involved in the school in the future.

We have investigated how we can contribute to improving water quality. A major focus throughout the year has been around our concerns about water. We have begun exploring the natural water cycle and system of Transpiration and as well, the way we transport and use water. These understandings have been developed by applying their knowledge to understanding our connections to the local Plenty River and along with experiences of meeting with engaged adults, the Friends of Plenty River and the local councils Water Watch officer who is also a participant in the local Teacher’s Environment Network.

Guardians of the River is how the class defines itself in relation to their explorations of the Plenty River. Other literacy and numeracy strategies have been developed through the Litter Campaign and by reading the Jennie Baker story “Where the Forest Meets the Sea”, and researching, sharing experiences, writing songs and planning and developing an animated story about litter and the Plenty River. Others began writing a story using the structure of “One Drop and a Million More” which describes nature’s water cycle.

Numeracy and Literacy

Ukulele and the formation of the ‘BUGs’, the “Briar Hill Ukulele Group”. There is clearly much musical talent and a desire to perform, which I hope will be developed over the coming years. The children had great fun designing their bugs and transferring their designs to their T-shirt. Their debut concert at the Spring Fair was a cause for delight and was one of the highlights of the year. Learning the ukulele has stimulated discussion about how we learn and the need for practice, effort and motivation. Apart from the challenge of learning a musical instrument, the program supported our learning and singing of the song “Botany Bay”, which provided the stimulus for an exploration of child convicts and transportation, and the occupation of land and settlement of the early colonies. This theme arose out of a story about the gold rush and the Ballarat diggings. We also explored the different media used to tell stories: in this case we watched the Australian children’s animation, ‘The Little Convict’ by Yoram Gross, and we read, compared and exchanged ideas about the book of the same name.

Creating an animated story using the stop-motion software on the Mac computers has been a literacy focus over the semester for some Children. Rachel Bishop introduced the Jeannie Baker story, ‘Where the Forest Meets the Sea’ and the story structure provided a model for the class to create their own story about the Plenty River litterers. Planning for the story introduced concerns about plot, character, and sequence. The children had to develop their ideas, organise their storyboards and come to agreement about how each idea would connect to make the overall story, truly a team effort. Discussing and making their own animation was also supported by our visit to the Pixar exhibition at the Australian Center for the Moving Image (ACMI). This visit assisted in our appreciation of constructing stories and story telling, and as well supported their process in creating their own animated story. Earlier in the year we had read the Judith Wright novel ‘The Dingo King’. Supporting activities around this story explored how writers used descriptive words to ‘paint’ pictures for us to imagine. In their reading and writing activities we have looked at how our choices of words and character are important elements of a good story.

Environmental Education for Sustainability activities have connected to literacy and numeracy in the classroom. Numerical understandings have been applied and reinforced by collecting rubbish, sorting into categories, and counting rubbish in the playground. The rubbish was later washed and used to make dramatic symbols supporting their ‘put litter in the bin’ message. Children wrote and performed songs that further promoted this message. In the classroom, they have used their graphing knowledge to develop comparative data. Their anti-litter campaign and the Plenty River and water use will continue to be a focus next year. Our visit to the Rethink Center (Banyule Council’s recycling centre) allowed us to see how these ideas are used in recycling rubbish where it is sorted ready for the manufacture of different products. The continued drought and the difficulties of growing plants and maintaining a garden in these conditions have been recurring themes. The children have planted gourds, pumpkins, zucchinis and corn and sunflowers as well.  In the classroom, we have been observing and recording the conditions and variables that affect the growth of moulds.

Scientific and philosophical understandings.

Scientific and philosophical understandings allow fascinating comparisons to be made between different forms of living things and their own mutability of form. I hope to continue this line of investigation next year as one of our big ideas. The development and application of these understandings will inform their environmental studies as they apply this knowledge to the science and lore of cooking, and their work of cultivating the garden, and as well, to the natural cycles of the garden.

Weighing, measuring, supermarkets and commercial packaging. It is important to see literacy in all its dimensions, such as imaginative, speculative and historical writing and as well the use of non-fiction, informational and commercial texts. Our visit to the supermarket was a stimulus for a number of different activities and projects in numeracy and literacy. They have begun looking at type-faces, choices of colours, size and placement of words and the relationship those things have to imparting a message. Explorations of packaging and nutritional content lead us to look at weighing and measuring. I would hope to continue these activities as part of their health program. Another emphasis this year has been the practising of the structure of algorithms and process. We have been developing our understanding of multiplication and multiplicity concepts, beginning with repeated addition. We have also been revising adding and summing, the relationship with subtraction, which is finding the difference between two numbers. Division, fractions and time have also been introduced.

Spelling strategies have been a particular focus especially as the students grapple with words that are not obviously phonetic in the way many three-letter nouns are. There has been a focus on the different ways of writing the same sound and how two or more vowels clustered together are used to denote one sound but also indicate a change in meaning and use. Everyone received a spelling journal for use in the classroom and as an element of their home reading activity. The purpose has been to encourage them to focus on the increasing complexity of English words and spelling.

Words and their meaning have been an element in our literacy and numeracy studies. We have been using reference materials such as atlases and dictionaries to connect language to the comparing of size and measurement and the understandings we need to make meaningful comparisons. Examples of these included the very tiny baby, born premature weighing only 318 grams – or, as the children discovered, 1½ cups of dry rice. The news story about the squid that was washed up on a Tasmanian beach was used as a stimulus for a measuring and comparing activity. By measuring themselves, they worked out how many of their body lengths were equal to one giant squid of seven meters. These stimuli were taken from newspapers where the same information is often presented in a variety of ways – text, photographs and a comparative diagram. Each element introduces new information that can be comprehended only according to its form, that is, the written, the visual and the diagrammatic. This layering is an element in what is called ‘multiliteracy’, which explores the connections between the different modes of delivering stories and supplying information.

In these ways, we have experienced how numeracy depends on language capacities.  Inquiry learning encourages their acquisition by establishing a classroom grounded in mutual respect sustained by shared knowledge. During 2007, we set out to achieve a love of learning. This letter locates the formal report in the ethical and pedagogical environments that make sense of assessments.
Peter Curtis, 19/12/07


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