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‘Plood, pove, moul’: teachers push back against year 1 phonics test

Feb 14, 2018 by

By Pallavi Singhal –

About 150 primary school teachers sat in a lecture theatre at the University of Sydney on Saturday morning, struggling to read three words: plood, pove and moul.

Some thought plood should rhyme with blood, while others said it should rhyme with food.

Does plood rhyme with flood or food?

The bigger question, though, was how year 1 students could pass a new literacy test that will require them to read “nonsense words” like the three given to the teachers.

The new test, which has been proposed by Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham and could be in schools by next year, will focus on phonics, a branch of literacy teaching that involves decoding words by sounding out letters.

The test is modelled on the UK’s phonics screening check, which asks children to read aloud 40 real and made-up words, and received the strong support of an expert panel that was asked to provide advice to the government on the development and implementation of the test.

The South Australian government, which trialled the check in about 50 primary schools last year, is now preparing to roll it out across the state, Mr Birmingham said.

Mr Birmingham said he is hoping other states and territories will follow South Australia.

“We are not suggesting that phonics instruction or a skills check are the sole answer to boosting reading and literacy skills but evidence clearly shows that better instruction and early identification can help many children,” Mr Birmingham said.

However, many teachers and academics have criticised the test for taking a narrow view of literacy teaching and wasting resources.

Former primary school principal David Hornsby said that meaning and context are critical, even in phonics.

“Take ‘lead’ in ‘the lead singer who writes music with a lead pencil’,” Mr Hornsby said.

“If some real words are problematic in isolation, how can we possibly decode nonsense words?”

Senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Wollongong Jessica Mantei said: “Primary school teachers are sick of being told how to teach by non-educators.”

Professor of teacher education and the arts at the University of Sydney Robyn Ewing said two sessions on phonics and literacy teaching held at Sydney University were booked out almost as soon as they were announced, and she is looking to organise similar sessions across the country in coming weeks.

“Teaching children to read is a hugely complex process that is not solved by one single recipe,” Professor Ewing said.

“We have to educate parents, the community and policy-makers because we don’t want another test.

“We know another test is going to be detrimental, particularly to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged students because so much around learning to read for children is about their socioeconomic context.

“Resources should be directed to those we know are most vulnerable.”

Head of La Trobe Rural Health School and registered psychologist Pamela Snow, who was a member of the advisory panel, said the phonics check “is not a silver bullet” but is necessary to help the high number of children who are failing to reach NAPLAN benchmarks.

“At the moment, there’s no information on what proportion of children are able to decode words by a certain age,” Professor Snow said.

“Phonics needs to be embedded within a broad language-based approach to teaching reading but if we’re going to lift performance we need to be lifting the children at the bottom.”

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes last year said he looked “forward to seeing the detail of the federal government’s proposed national year 1 literacy and numeracy check and working with them on its implementation”.

The NSW Department of Education did not respond to questions about whether it would introduce the test but a spokesman said the year 1 checks “have not yet been developed for use in Australian schools”.

Meanwhile, Queensland’s then-education minister Kate Jones rejected the tests, saying that “no parent wants more exams for their children”.

Source: ‘Plood, pove, moul’: teachers push back against year 1 phonics test

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1 Comment

  1. Stop This Reading War In Australia!

    Below is the comment I made, 14th Feb ’18, to the newspaper, The Age, which carried this story about resistance to phonics in Australia:

    Stop this Reading War in Australia!

    I am from Canada and see by this story that the dreaded Reading War still rages in Australia. I am not an educator but a bystander grandparent very concerned about the discrepancy between fact and fiction in education. These political wars in education are damaging our children and society everywhere.

    On Jan 7 an American report —The Effectiveness of Direct Instruction Curricula: A Meta-Analysis of a Half Century of Research — shows that Direct Instruction is a method that produces great results in reading, math, spelling, language, and other academic subjects. Teaching students to read using phonics programs is direct instruction. For the quickest catch-up on the significance of this study please read

    Now, this is what I’m getting from this AU news story. The government seeks to improve reading scores in Australia and is initiating an approach that is evidence-based and working well in the UK. This would entail teaching students in year 1 to read via the phonics approach, with a short (like 10 minutes) phonics screening check at the end to determine which students need further instruction.

    The phonics screening check is not a test or exam and should not alarm parents or teachers about testing anxiety. For our children we SHOULD want proper education decisions to be made, that is, pedagogic decisions, not “ideological” decisions, which cater more to fads and beliefs and self-serving autonomy myths. A doctor, for example, uses checks like the knee-jerk or blood pressure as standard procedure. Why is education so immune to using proven standard practices that work — that overwhelming research like the above-mentioned proves over and over again?

    We need a more thorough examination of this issue in Australia and more experts need to come forward to stand up for the children who are denied the best programs available. The way it stands there is too much mischief afoot while the current reading war continues to harm many young students.

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