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Aus: Prof Max Coltheart's Open Letter reviewing the revised Australian Curriculum by ACARA

Posted: Tue May 04, 2021 11:26 pm
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Congratulations to Max Coltheart for writing an excellent 'open letter' via his website - do follow the link:

https://maxcoltheart.wordpress.com/letter-to-acara/

Letter to ACARA

This week the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) released its revised Australian Curriculum for consultation. The many proponents of evidence-based early literacy instruction around the country had hoped that the revised curriculum for English would reflect and support the significant progress that has been made in our knowledge (and, in some Australian states, our practice) of the way early reading should be taught. The proposed curriculum fails in a critical aspect of this enterprise when it comes to the teaching of reading as part of the English curriculum document.

We draw particular attention to the continued inclusion of methods that reflect the ‘whole language’ approach to teaching reading – the approach that has led to thousands of Australian children not acquiring the all-important skill of reading in the first few years of school. The direction to teach phonics is obviously welcome but it is not credible to mandate this approach while retaining elements of instruction that undermine the most effective and efficient method of teaching reading – that is, a method firmly based on phonics in the first couple of years of schooling. Phonics instruction is an essential foundational element in the early teaching of reading and this should be done explicitly, systematically and synthetically. An amalgam of strategies intended to represent a ‘balanced’ approach to teaching reading is letting our young children down. If this is an attempt by ACARA to keep everyone moving forward together, it is a failure of leadership by the national body.

For example, the continuing inclusion of the use of ‘predictable’ texts in the early teaching of reading in the Foundation Year and in Year 1 is particularly troubling. As the revised curriculum document for English F-6 provides scope for using “texts that may be decodable and/or predictable” [emphasis added] it provides no clear direction to teachers in how the early phonic skills they are teaching should be consolidated in text reading. There is the problem; an ‘and/or’ approach is weak and misinformed. It leaves teachers potentially unsure about the most appropriate text to consolidate the phonic skills they are teaching. Not only is this confusing for teachers; worse, it is confusing for young children.

When students are learning to read they should be given a text type that matches the instruction in the classroom. If we agree that teaching phonics is the way to go (and the scientific research evidence overwhelmingly supports this approach) then providing decodable texts to students for the early stages of learning to read is not optional, it is essential. Conversely, predictable texts rely on the discredited ‘three-cueing method’ of reading, the language of which is also reflected in the curriculum as using “contextual, semantic, grammatical knowledge” to read words. This is not what we should be teaching. In fact, we know from research that it is the poorer readers who are most likely to resort to the methods advocated in the three-cueing method; it is the strategy of those who are struggling.

The Australian Curriculum is a very important document. While education is a state responsibility in our federated system, all states have to meet the standards of the national Curriculum as a minimum in the design of their own curricula. In this sense it is a master plan for what and how we teach in this country.

We have no wish to pour fuel on the fires of the ‘reading wars’. There is absolutely no need to revisit this well-trodden ground. The science is in on effective reading instruction. ACARA must not set this country back in its attempts to ensure that young children are given the very best start in learning to read. Federal Minister Tudge and a growing number of state education ministers and their departments are promoting evidence-based instruction. ACARA must not slow down the momentum that is building in this country to ensure that every child learns to read in the first few years of school.

We draw your attention to, and unequivocally support, the article written by Dr Jennifer Buckingham that was published in The Australian on April 30, 2021 and which we append to this letter.


Please contact Nicola.bell@multilit.com to sign the letter in support.

Re: Aus: Prof Max Coltheart's Open Letter reviewing the revised Australian Curriculum by ACARA

Posted: Wed May 12, 2021 12:53 am
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Here is a piece featuring Max's Open Letter by the EducationHQ News Team:


'Misinformed': experts protest revised curriculum's approach to reading instruction

By EducationHQ News Team
Published May 6, 2021

A group of language and literacy experts have taken aim at ACARA, accusing the authority of turning away from the evidence and taking a "weak and misinformed" stance on early reading instruction in the revised Australian Curriculum.


ACARA CEO David de Carvalho said that the authority consulted with a range of experts in developing the proposed revisions to the English curriculum.
In an open letter that has attracted hundreds of signatures, the Developmental Disorders of Language and Literacy Network (DDOLL), convened by cognitive scientist Max Coltheart, argue the continued inclusion of a ‘whole language’ approach to teaching reading flies in the face of science and is a "failure of leadership" on the part of the national curriculum body.

“The direction to teach phonics is obviously welcome but it is not credible to mandate this approach while retaining elements of instruction that undermine the most effective and efficient method of teaching reading – that is, a method firmly based on phonics in the first couple of years of schooling,” the letter reads.

“Phonics instruction is an essential foundational element in the early teaching of reading and this should be done explicitly, systematically and synthetically. An amalgam of strategies intended to represent a ‘balanced’ approach to teaching reading is letting our young children down.”

The network point towards what it deems the "particularly troubling" scope to use ‘decodable and/or predictable’ texts in the early teaching of reading in Prep and Year 1 – an inclusion it says offers no clear direction to teachers in how students’ early phonic skills should be consolidated.

“Not only is this confusing for teachers; worse, it is confusing for young children.

“When students are learning to read they should be given a text type that matches the instruction in the classroom. If we agree that teaching phonics is the way to go (and the scientific research evidence overwhelmingly supports this approach) then providing decodable texts to students for the early stages of learning to read is not optional, it is essential,” the letter reads.

DDOLL contend that predictable texts rely on the discredited three-cueing method of reading, which research shows is the strategy that poorer readers are most likely to resort to.

The group maintain they have no interest in fanning the fires of the ‘reading wars’.

“There is absolutely no need to revisit this well-trodden ground. The science is in on effective reading instruction. ACARA must not set this country back in its attempts to ensure that young children are given the very best start in learning to read.

“Federal Minister Tudge and a growing number of state education ministers and their departments are promoting evidence-based instruction. ACARA must not slow down the momentum that is building in this country to ensure that every child learns to read in the first few years of school,” the letter states.

ACARA CEO David de Carvalho told EducationHQ that the authority consulted with a range of experts in developing the proposed revisions to the English curriculum.

“…They included subject matter experts in reading and national associations such as ALEA, PETAA, Australian Association for the Teaching of English and the Australian Council of TESOL Associations, along with curriculum experts and teachers in the reference groups,” he said.

Dr Pauline Jones, president of the Primary English Teaching Association (PETAA) and associate professor at the University of Wollongong, said curriculum renewal presented a challenge.

“PETAA is pleased to have participated in the consultations around the review and drafting of the revised Australian Curriculum: English,” Jones noted.

“Curriculum renewal is a process of aspiration and challenge; because it is at once an opportunity to record what a nation imagines for its young people, a challenge because it must accommodate the interests and perspectives of many.

“Like all of those who have contributed to the drafting of the English curriculum, PETAA looks forward to this next stage of consultation and to helping ensure our curriculum is world class and fit for our young people’s futures.”

Pamela Snow, Professor of Cognitive Psychology at La Trobe University, endorsed her support of the protest letter.

“We have learned so much in the past 50 yrs [sic] about what reading is, how best to teach it and how best to identify and support struggling readers. Scientific advances in other fields are enthusiastically translated into practice for the good of humankind. Let’s do that here as well,” she tweeted.

The Australian Curriculum Review runs until July 8, and members of the public are encouraged to give feedback via australiancurriculum.edu.au/consultation.