Friday, March 6, 2015

Jumping through hoops and barking at print.

Sometimes you just feel like pulling your hair out in complete bewilderment. This morning I was reading an article: "Pyne takes swipe at educators 'weird' attitude to spelling" (Weekend Australian, March 7-8, 2015). However, it is not surprising that the Australian (a prominent Murdock Press news paper with a national circulation) should promote the views in this article by Natasha Bita. In the past  the views of Kevin Donnelly, with his emphasis on direct teaching and synthetic phonics as the be-all and end-all of expert teaching, have been vigorously promoted. This equates to teaching a dog to jump through hoops. You can teach a dog to jump through hoops and measure the success of jumping through hoops but how meaningful is this?

Bita quotes Pyne as saying "For decades the advocates of phonics have been pushed to the back of the stage and in some cases treated as slightly eccentric." This is simply not true. Over the last few decades phonics has made a decisive comeback but has NOT had an impact on our literacy standards. Our declining world rankings in literacy as measured by the international PISA test results demonstrate this.

Another quote by Pyne on spelling is even more bewildering, "The view that children should be able to spell however they want to, and that requiring them to spell a certain way was oppressive."  In my 40 years of teaching I have never heard teachers expressing this type of view. There may be the odd one here or their but this is certainly not typical of the teaching profession. It would appear that some people are pushing a particular agenda but the outcome is that these unfounded assumptions merely add to the low esteem that teachers have to endure in our society and muddy the waters. In countries such as Finland teachers are more highly esteemed and the children do well on literacy tests in the international arena.

The only light at the end of the tunnel in the article is Brita's quote from Professor Ewing, "if children learn to decode words but do not know what these words mean, they will be merely 'barking at print' and... (not) comprehending the meaning of the text."

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