State and territory education ministers must consider adopting the recommendation that phonemic awareness and phonics should be included in the early years’ literacy curriculum when they meet to discuss the review of the Australian curriculum today, says CIS Research Fellow Dr Jennifer Buckingham.
“These essential components of reading instruction tend to be taught badly, if at all,” Dr Buckingham says. However she adds it would be a mistake to see the review of the Australian curriculum as simply ‘back to basics’ proposal that reignites the ‘reading wars’.
The federal government has endorsed the review’s recommendations for a stronger focus on developing the foundation skills of literacy and numeracy in the early years of school, but this does not necessarily mean the curriculum must be ‘narrow’ or devoid of critical or creative thinking.
“High quality literacy programs include skill-based elements such as decoding or ‘phonics’ as well as good quality children’s books – both fiction and non-fiction. Comprehension of texts depends on developing vocabulary and general knowledge of the world in which children live. Content and skills are interconnected,” Dr Buckingham says. “Furthermore, writing is fundamentally a creative process and a core literacy skill.”
Overcrowding in the primary school curriculum is widely acknowledged, with the result that student learning can be shallow and superficial rather than achieving mastery and deep understanding. This problem must be addressed, but it is not just a question of the classroom time devoted to a subject. Children need not be denied exposure to arts and other important facets of their education.
“The problem is not so much that too little time is devoted to literacy and numeracy in the classroom, it is more that the teaching methods used are often not the most effective. Explicit, systematic teaching methods, and early and appropriate interventions for struggling learners, are crucial,” Dr Buckingham says.
Dr Jennifer Buckingham is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies. She is author of Why Jaydon Can’t Read: The Triumph of Ideology over Evidence in Teaching Reading (2013) and School Funding on a Budget(2014).