Deconstructing literary texts

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 23 February 2017

The following letter was submitted in response to an editorial in The Australian for possible publication on Thursday 23 February 2017 but it failed to make it into print. The editorial had been prompted by changes to Years 11 and 12 syllabuses in NSW.

Deconstructing literary texts

Your editorial urged that, in senior secondary English classes, students should be taught to enjoy, appreciate and study literary texts (or pieces of literature if the word "texts" is upsetting) rather than to deconstruct them ("Tackling school reform from first principles", Feb 22).

It is certainly to be hoped that enjoyment and appreciation are routine aspects of the process in English classrooms. However, if "deconstruct" is a synonym for "analyse", it is difficult to see how novels, plays and poems can be properly studied, or indeed fully appreciated, without an element of deconstruction being involved.

Apart from that, the paper is to be commended for not lazily resorting to the tired cliché of "back to basics" in this leader.

Posted in: Curriculum matters   27 Comments

Digital texts in English

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 19 February 2017

The following letter was submitted for possible publication in The Sunday Mail of 12 February 2017 but it did not make it into print. It was in response to an opinion piece in the previous week's edition by the education reporter for The Courier-Mail and The Sunday Mail.

Digital texts in high school English

Lauren Martyn-Jones is certainly correct in stating that great literature has the capacity to be life changing ("Students are being short-changed in world of SMS keystrokes", Feb 5). She is, however, a little confused about some other aspects of high school English teaching and the NAPLAN tests.

ACARA's NAPLAN tests are intended to assess literacy and numeracy. While the subject areas of English and maths might reasonably be expected to take a leading role, these two capabilities are meant to be developed across the curriculum. And literacy does not just relate to major works of literature.

High school English should have students improve their powers of literacy across a range of text types. Just because a Shakespearean play like Romeo and Juliet and some SMS messages might both be touched on in the same course does not mean that they are ascribed equal worth in the big scheme of things.

I agree with Martyn-Jones that Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is a great novel, but if she were seeking directions to assemble a flat-pack furniture item, she would find it no help at all.

Posted in: Curriculum matters   0 Comments

Texts taught in English

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 3 February 2017

An edited version of the letter below was published in The Courier-Mail of Thursday 2 February 2017. Underlined words were deleted and the bracketed ones inserted. The paper's heading for two letters on school education was "Education not all textbook choices".

School English teaching

Kevin Donnelly points out (Kevin Donnelly's opinion piece pointed out) that in the OECD's 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment  (PISA) a number of countries including Canada and Finland outperformed Australia ("Classic text beats dumb txt", Feb 1).

Donnelly regularly argues strongly in favour of school choice and the alleged superiority of private schools.

It should be noted that neither of these two countries has a significant private school sector and school choice is pretty much a non-issue.

(And) Neither has a standardised testing system like NAPLAN either.

My 35 years of teaching high school English (about twice as long as Donnelly managed) tells me that he (Donnelly) misrepresents the range of texts currently taught in schools. Donnelly (He) argues for "complex, challenging and enriching literary texts". Certainly there should be such texts, but they need to be carefully selected to suit particular groups of students. Interestingly, the novel foremost in the image accompanying the article is D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" which I think was still banned in this country when I went to high school. Is Donnelly or this paper suggesting this book should be studied in schools?

Dr Donnelly is identified as a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University. It would be interesting to know what original research he had done in recent years, the sort that qualifies for publication in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. I doubt there is any.

Garry Collins

Posted in: Curriculum matters   1 Comments

External exams and school autonomy

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 8 January 2017

An edited version of the letter below was published in The Australian of Thursday 29 December 2016. It had been submitted in response to an opinion piece by Kevin Donnelly. The letter was grouped with another under a heading not directly related to the subject matter of mine. Underlined words were deleted and bracketed ones were inserted. The quotation marks that I used for the pieces cited from Donnelly's article were also removed.

Educational commentator inconsistent

The latest opinion piece from educational commentator Kevin Donnelly is internally contradictory ("Here's why non-government schools work better", Dec 28).

Citing Brian Caldwell, he (Donnelly) argues that schools should have greater autonomy in relation to "curriculum, teaching and assessment". At the same time however, he repeats his regularly expressed support for "high-risk examinations".

These two positions don't really fit together. In educational regimes that feature high stakes external examinations, preparation for what is anticipated in the exam effectively becomes the curriculum irrespective of what any syllabus document might say. And by their very nature, external exams like the NSW HSC (HSC in NSW) are necessarily "one-size-fits-all" arrangements with all students across the state sitting for the same test. Donnelly regularly uses this phrase to criticise what he likes to call (calls) "command-and-control" management of schooling. Logically, he can't have it both ways.

Posted in: Assessment   0 Comments

The cost of NAPLAN and My School

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 26 September 2016

The following letter was submitted to The Australian for possible publication on Monday 26 September 2016 but, alas, it did not make it into print.

Education reforms and money

Friday's editorial claimed that some of Julia Gillard's most effective education reforms were not about money, specifically citing the My School website and greater transparency ("School funding is no panacea", Sep 23).

This inaccurately implies that NAPLAN and the My School website cost taxpayers nothing. This is simply not true, although the relevant authority always seems unwilling to talk about the cost.

It is also worth noting that no proper cost-benefit analysis was done before these measures were instituted and many who work in education are still not convinced that they represent the best use of the money involved. Scarce funds would be better spent on feeding the pig rather than on weighing it.

Posted in: General news   1 Comments
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Deconstructing literary texts

Feb 23 2017
The following letter was submitted in respon...

Digital texts in English

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