Posts Tagged ‘learners’

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

January 5, 2015

Thinking about Life and education with a focus on early Childhood

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

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

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

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

My Story

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

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

What has this to do with Early Childhood and education?

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

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

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

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

Schooling and skills, is it education?

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

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

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

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

Love and learning

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

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

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

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

Questions, questions, and more questions

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

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


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

Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood Volume 10 Number 3 2009,

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

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

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

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

Words 17

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


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


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 Foundation
  • 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 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.

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!


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

To test or not to test? That’s still the question by Scott Prasser

January 2, 2015

‘Government policies that rely on assessing what is easy to measure, ignoring other important dimensions of schooling, are damaging. No one questions the importance of basic skills proficiency, but schools should be supported and held accountable for achieving quality in much broader terms. The objective of a quality education policy should be to provide a well-rounded education for all…’

Professor Scott Prasser is the executive director of the Public Policy Institute at the Australian Catholic University. February 5, 2013

A recent Whitlam Institute study of high-stakes tests in schools showed that the federal government’s annual literacy and numeracy tests placed undue pressure on children, causing stress and even illness. While these effects are concerning, the more important issue is how this narrow focus and overemphasis on basic skills testing is distorting Australia’s education policies, undermining quality and, in particular, doing little to help disadvantaged students.

As the Commonwealth continues to negotiate with the states and territories over the Gonski funding model and a national school improvement plan, the results of the national assessment program – literacy and numeracy (better known as NAPLAN) are becoming more deeply embedded into education policy. They are the proxy measure of school quality and the very basis of the Gonski funding model: the high-performing schools whose costs will determine the level of the new schooling resource standard are selected on the basis of their test results. In other words, achievements in literacy and numeracy now define school quality. The attainment of basic skills has become the main steering mechanism of schooling.

The overemphasis on basic proficiency testing disadvantages all students, but especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In following this path, Australia is out of step with the evidence of effective education policies. While Britain and the United States are stepping back from overemphasising narrow skills tests, Australia is charging ahead, taking their role to an extreme. We are committed to using the tests to make funding and accountability decisions that go well beyond the capacity of the tests to support, ignoring evidence that the tests may be unreliable, are partial, constrict the school curriculum, limit teachers’ capacity to innovate and to cater to individual students’ needs, and are subject to manipulation, if not corruption. The higher the stakes, the bigger the temptation.

This is not to say that tests are without benefits, to students, teachers and schools. As originally conceived in the 1990s, national testing was a diagnostic tool for teachers, giving them a clearer conception of the performance standards expected, allowing them to assess individual students’ progress against a common standard for their age cohort and to adapt their teaching to meet a student’s particular needs. However, the tests do not work this way for individual students. The results are too late arriving back in the classroom and, according to the NSW Education Department’s director-general, teachers have lost the ability to use the results for their original diagnostic purpose and lack the skills to analyse the data.

As critical professionals, teachers have an array of other assessment practices to cater for individual students’ needs, as long as the demands of NAPLAN allow them the scope and time. British and American experiences shows that over-reliance on basic skills testing means too much teaching time is wasted on test preparation and the scope of teaching is limited by the imperative to teach to the test. In some cases, teaching practice is distorted by the triage effect, where students are categorised as non-urgent, suitable for treatment or hopeless cases; teachers focus on students who are on the cusp of passing. Very low achievers and very high achievers miss out.

As a benchmark, the tests act more as an incentive for avoiding poor performance than for aiming high. They contain no incentive for strong performance and distract attention from the pursuit of high academic achievement. Current education policies do not reward education excellence, despite the rhetoric. As long as basic skills tests dominate education policy, other important subjects, abilities, skills and talents are marginalised. So much time, energy and resources are devoted to mastering basic skills in reading and mathematics that students are deprived of opportunities to fully develop the content knowledge and skills they need to succeed in work, further study and life in the 21st century. Neglecting the broad range of less tangible, less testable and less quantifiable skills is detrimental to a quality education system, students and society.

This overemphasis on basic proficiency testing disadvantages all students, but especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, because their families are least able to provide them with wider educational experiences beyond the school gates. Having high expectations of all students, setting ambitious standards, believing that it is possible for all students to achieve at high levels and necessary that they do so, are the underpinnings of a quality education. The rhetoric of excellence needs to be reflected in the substance of education policy.

Government policies that rely on assessing what is easy to measure, ignoring other important dimensions of schooling, are damaging. No one questions the importance of basic skills proficiency, but schools should be supported and held accountable for achieving quality in much broader terms. The objective of a quality education policy should be to provide a well-rounded education for all and to achieve the range of high-level skills needed in the modern economy and society. The result of such a policy may be a richer, more intelligent approach to testing across a wider range of areas, closely linked to the broad national curriculum. Only then will testing be worthwhile.
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Worth a note: you cannot legislate to find good teachers by Robyn Ewing

January 2, 2015

Robyn Ewing is professor of teacher education at the University of Sydney. March 13, 2013

“A capacity to teach is something you either have in your heart or you don’t”.

One of the best teachers I ever had was Miss Greenlees, my fourth grade teacher at Harbord Primary School. She believed in me, understood me as a person, engaged me in the learning process and had high expectations of what I could achieve. Nearly everyone has a favourite teacher in their lives. Just as everyone has an opinion on what makes a good teacher, largely because it’s a profession to which we’ve all had some exposure: whether or not we have children.

Over the course of my schooling as a primary, high school and university student – and later as a teacher and teacher educator – I’ve been fortunate to encounter many exemplary teachers. I have learnt that a good teacher can change lives and have a profound influence long after their students have left the schoolroom. Indeed, good teachers touch eternity.

How sad it is, then, that many in our community seem neither to value nor understand this. How else do you explain the falling status of educators, the relatively low pay for experienced teachers and the constant deskilling of the profession through over-emphasis on high-stakes testing?

I have no issue with the notion teachers should have a strong intellectual capability, along with well-developed literacy and numeracy skills. But that is only one part of the story. Even these skills cannot be effectively measured by a one-size-fits-all test before graduation. While there are many positive features of both the state and federal announcements about attracting high-quality pre-service teachers into the profession, a good teacher must be more than a high school graduate who achieves a high Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank.

Why are we placing all our emphasis on entry scores when pre-service teachers go on to do a degree? And if intending teachers have to score in the top one-fifth of students – a band 5 – why another test before they graduate? All good questions, but did any education policymaker ask us – the teacher educators – our thoughts? And the biggest question of all is, where will the funding come from? Every year I have been in teacher education there have been real cuts to funding and increased costs to absorb.

If a test before graduation on literacy and numeracy is instituted, it will not ensure a teacher knows how to establish real relationships with individual learners to teach them how to spell or add. Or to plan lessons that are motivating and fun, that challenge students and encourage them to take risks. Such a test will not discern whether a teacher is a lifelong learner. Or whether they are imaginative and can motivate those learners who are highly anxious or do not see any point in school. Or if they can ask challenging questions and encourage children to think creatively. Or will work well with colleagues, parents, the community and others. A test cannot measure aptitude, compassion, enthusiasm, flexibility, problem solving or dedication to teaching. A capacity to teach is something you either have in your heart or you don’t. You can’t legislate it into to practice.

Like anything there are skills you can improve, but you’ve got to start with a predisposition for patience and kindness, and throw in a touch of fun (none of that is revealed in an HSC mark). When learning is fun, magic occurs in a classroom and children’s lives are changed forever. We should not impose further rules on a profession that is already underpaid and overworked. Where is the recognition for existing teacher quality? Where in the debate about teacher quality is the undertaking to improve salaries to a level commensurate with other professions that require high ATARs for university admission? Where is the discussion about responsibility for educational outcomes that depend on parental engagement?

It’s also important to remember that it’s not just about attracting high-quality people to the profession, it’s also about retaining them and finding a way to mentor and support them in our most challenging contexts. Where is the funding for ongoing professional development of teachers? In the finest Socratic tradition, to solve the education problem we need to break it down into a series of questions.

Before politicians issue their edicts, I wonder why they don’t consult the profession itself – why not ask teachers what they need to do their job? When’s the last time one of these policymakers came into a classroom? Other than for a photo opportunity? Governments should look first at the strengths of a profession already under huge pressure through lack of resourcing. Or perhaps everyone could sit down and ask themselves the question: ”Who was my favourite teacher and why?”
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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.

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A critical discussion about the current concerns in the public education system

January 1, 2015

The purpose of this document is to encourage a critical discussion about the current concerns that teachers are dealing with in the public education system. I am a practicing primary school teacher in a state system so consequently the emphasis is on early childhood and primary education; however I am sure that many of the issues raised have implications for the middle years of compulsory education – Grade 5 to year 9. While the concerns outlined below are mainly those of teachers I also encourage anyone who has an interest in public education and pedagogy to participate with their comments.

Any discussion about education and attempting to define its meaning and purpose for our children and society proposes the need to provide an analysis of our society. That we live in an age of mass production should be a given but what then are the implications for our educations within a mass-culture? Presumably we must also talk about education generally as mass-education for the masses. I have an idea that an educator’s aim is to encourage each other to be autodidacts. Where we are able to learn for ourselves and learn from each other. Who educates the educator?

Finally, before you proceed a point needs to be emphasised.

The following article is informed by the following assumptions.

  • That the primary objective of public education is to promote and foster wholistic human development of the individual while understanding that human beings are fundamentally social animals.
  • That there should be a constant focus on understanding how we learn. How we learn is a question we should always keep asking and attempting to define. In this regard we need to ask who is asking and for whom? We know something about human cognition from a scientific point of view but there is increased interest in a holistic understanding of learning and teaching, and consequently that good personal relationships make a significant contribution to effective teaching and learning.
  • That ‘life long learning’ is an essential characteristic of human beings’ development. That education should be directed toward developing our capacities to educate each other and ourselves in the manner of the autodidact. It should not be seen in the negative sense of constant retraining to meet the changing demands of the corporate economic and political system.
  • The role of the teacher is then not to reproduce the next generation of ‘wage slaves’ ready to provide their labour power for the benefit of capitalists and their ‘enterprises’. We need to be able to critically appraise the prevailing industrial model and the corresponding transference of its ‘values’ into the public education system.
  • Standardisation through systemetised testing; terms such as value adding; line managers; classroom management are contrary to the previously stated aims of education in that they are management tools which have little to contribute to teachers’ pedagogical concerns or the social and emotional development of children and adolescents in the positive sense. overtly about building cooperative caring teams are an – language such as communities – communities of inquirers
  • That Citizenship – benign and abstracted from contemporary circumstances- for what a parliamentary democracy a participatory democracy? – what does empowerment, taking action, making a difference mean? Service charity etc
  • The Victorian Governments Blueprints for Victorian Government Schools, The Victorian Essential Learning Standards and the Principles of Learning and Teaching provide the framework for effective teachers, and teaching and learning. The Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority supports integrated and inquiry approaches that supports this holistic understanding of learning, education, and our purpose as teachers.
  • In addition to the Victorian Essential Learning Standards and the Principles of Teaching and Learning the approach provided within the series Primary Connections produced in collaboration with the Academy of Science: Linking Science with Literacy using the ‘5Es’ teaching and learning model; Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate, supports the understanding that we learn best when we are allowed to work out explanations for ourselves over time, through a variety of learning experiences structured by both learners and the teacher. Making sense and meaning of our experiences and connections between new information and our prior knowledge in relation to the natural and cultural worlds is the intention of this content framework.

Teaching is most rewarding when there are opportunities to provide for, and participate in learning experiences with students. Younger children particularly enjoy time in the garden when they are digging, collecting and sharing their observations with their peers and teachers. Older students can be more difficult to engage when they have not had the opportunity of these early playful foundational experiences.

My observations and experiences with children in such learning environments convince me that when we allow possibilities for exploration, experiment, observation and questions students generally become, and are, actively engaged in learning. A young third grade boy, unsettled and made anxious by his first two years of ‘schooling’ elsewhere, remarked to his mother, “It doesn’t feel like work because it is fun”. Described as experiential learning, this approach provides the means for serious but ‘playful’ engagement in the learning process and the childrens’ self-development and self-understanding as active learners with an emphasis on the social context. Emergent and integrated inquiry learning and teaching relies on an ongoing, evolving dialogue, a narrative constructed over time by the collective, or community of students and their teachers.

Accepting that knowledge is socially constructed means that purposeful, and meaningful engagement with ideas and concepts is only possible when they connected to, and are built out of our own experiences. If we accept that learning is the struggle for knowledge then we need to then accept that teachers need to provide a learning environment and situations that provide students’ with the possibilities, and the means, to construct knowledge for themselves. Because knowledge is socially produced childrens’ ideas become particularly meaningful when they are shared with others and have arisen out of common events and shared experiences.

Because knowledge is socially constructed and reconstructed the way we learn, and gain knowledge of the world does not change fundamentally as we progress from infant to adult. What does change is the degree of sophistication of our understanding of elements, processes, and the complexity of our conceptual descriptions. Our subjective commonsense, everyday beliefs and opinions are invalidated or validated as we seek to discriminate by finding evidence for objective judgments.

This is also the case for teachers’ professional development. Leading the evolution of a program that provided for students’ participation in a kitchen garden, and developed their appreciation and involvement in the surrounding natural environment, was key to fruitful and meaningful engagement with these learning process precisely because they were central and common experiences for both students and teachers.

Understanding teaching practice as an imagined continuum, as an evolving project, benefits from being alert to opportunities provided by the It has been through of an inquiry approach for the evolution of a student-centred, emergent, and integrated curriculum that evolved Given the many demands of classroom teachers’ time and other issues around ‘covering the curriculum’, careful attention must be given to building connections between concepts and activity in all these areas by demonstrating how they can be developed in an integrated way and arts program

An example of this was the evolution of my students’ mould project. During one of our forays into the garden we had plucked from it a very large squash. The children were amazed by its size and we set to weighing, measuring, drawing and writing about it. We had also noticed that the skin had been punctured. Over the following weeks we observed that mould had begun to grow over the puncture mark. The children continued to observe and record the changes that were taking place over time. Many weeks later our large squash had been reduced to a small, hard, and unrecognisable disc about the size of a fifty-cent piece. These observations provided no end of discussion and speculation. Questions and hypotheses abounded as we struggled for plausible explanations. This all lead to further mould experiments and back into the garden of course to discover even more about life within a compost bin.

For teachers’ creating interest in the mundane, everyday world, could at first appear uninteresting. However this story alerts us to what it actually means to ‘localise’ the curriculum, and as well provide meaningful learning that connects to, and builds on childrens’ experiences. The complexity of any curriculum framework can be made manageable by uncovering the interrelationship of knowledge and skills across the three strands and sixteen domains in regard to VELS. It is critical to appreciate that the development of any program that involves cultural change within a community takes time. It requires bringing everyone involved on the journey with you.

Understanding the intention of any curriculum framework as defined by education departments is an absolute given, but the significant challenge is the interpretation of that ‘abstract’ framework into one that is localised and gives meaning to the term authentic learning and teaching for both students and teachers.

A ‘localised curriculum’ must meet both the education department’s and the school community’s expectations. It is necessary to continually remind ourselves that the purpose of the teacher, and teaching, is primarily to provide opportunities for meaningful experiences, and carefully introduce and develop substantive content in an engaging way for students. It is difficult to improve teaching practice personally and generally when it is compromised by misinformed parental expectations, and demands to satisfy political and commercial agendas that have little to do with the welfare and education of students.

Negotiating the daily demands of creating a productive and engaging classroom program with the students’ involvement provides the educator with rich learning experiences too. My ongoing participation in subject associations, the Teacher Environment Network and the Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools have all reinforced for me the evolving nature of the educational process for both students and educators, and the importance of collegiate teams and peer-to-peer learning in this regard.

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?


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.

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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