An edited version of the letter below was published in The Australian of Friday 6 March 2015. It was in response to a news report (an "exclusive") by Justine Ferrari in the previous day's edition. The underlined words were deleted and the bracketed ones inserted. As always, the editing is interesting. The paper did not identify me as AATE president. Perhaps space demands did not allow that extra line.
The paper combined my paragraphs into three.
Dichotomies unhelpful in discussing teaching (my heading)
Of meaning and reading (the paper's heading)
It was heartening to see Dr Louisa Moats, apparently a US educational expert, reported as saying that "the evidence was very strong that a multi-component approach worked best in teaching reading, not just phonics or comprehension" ("'Tide of disregard' for language kills reading", 5/3). Too often in these pages the teaching of reading is inaccurately presented as a simple either-or alternative, phonics vs (versus) whole language.
Dr Moats was further reported as sensibly describing debate over (on) the role of phonics in teaching reading as often presenting "a false dichotomy".
She also mentioned some other unhelpful dichotomies. She described as a lax approach the belief that making meaning is more important than reading words correctly. It is important not to deduce from this that making meaning is irrelevant. If no appropriate meaning has been made, can reading really be said to have occurred, as opposed to just uncomprehendingly barking at print?
According to Moats, another lax approach is to consider that expressing ideas is more important than grammatically correct sentences. Here again, surely both are required. What use are grammatically correct sentences if no intelligible ideas are expressed?
Though I will never be a professor of education, I currently tutor part-time in teacher education courses at The University of Queensland and, in case you're wondering, I already knew what morphemes are. In fact, I was discussing them with my students in class on Tuesday.
President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English
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On that page you'll also find links to a fact sheet and the federal government's response.
The following two letters commenting on aspects of the recommendations were submitted for possible publication on Monday 16 February 2015, the first in The Australian and the second in The Courier-Mail. Alas, neither made it into print.
University courses and workforce requirements
One of the recommendations of the recently released review of teacher education is that universities should "take into account national workforce needs, in consultation with employers, when making decisions about student intake to better respond to market demand". Should this principle also be applied to other professional degrees such as law? Aren't many more lawyers trained than can be employed in the legal profession?
It could be argued that a place in a law course was wasted on Christopher Pyne because he worked as a solicitor for only a few years before embarking on a career as a political staffer and politician.
Teacher education and red tape
Based on the recently released review of teacher education, the federal government intends to "increase the rigour of course accreditation". On top of what is currently required, universities will need to provide evidence that their courses will ensure that "teacher education students possess the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the classroom".
Whether or not this is a good idea, it does seem like increased red tape to which the government has often claimed to be opposed.
It is also interesting that the Australian Education Union has called for higher academic entry standards to teacher preparation courses while Education Minister Christopher Pyne dismisses this idea as a "shiny bauble" ("Don't send us dummies", 14/2). This is a curious reversal of what some might have expected.
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The letter shown in the post below this attracted three letters in response in The Courier-Mail of Tuesday 10 February. A little to my surprise, the paper published my riposte as shown below on the following day, Wednesday 11 February, 2015. Underlined words were deleted. The paper's heading was "School assessment views misinterpreted".
I think that the difference in meaning between misinterpret and misrepresent is quite interesting in this context.
Misrepresentation in school assessment debate
I suggest it is telling that respondents to my letter on school assessment (C-M, Feb 9) felt a need to misrepresent what I wrote.
Professor Peter Ridd (Letters, Feb 10) implies that I said that "only internal assessment is tolerable". In fact, I wrote that "if the Core Skills Test is to be abandoned, it would be appropriate to substitute an alternative external assessment".
Tempe Harvey (also Letters, Feb 10) claims that I want "external assessment limited to pet topics favoured by bureaucrats". My letter said nothing at all about topics but focused instead on the conditions under which students would demonstrate their learning.
An important issue not touched on by any of these letters is that part of the previous government's response to the review of senior assessment was that some of the proposed new procedures be trialled in maths and science subjects. It is imperative that any trial also involves some humanities and social science subjects as well. Otherwise, we could end up with a system that does not suit a large chunk of the curriculum.
Garry Collins,Immediate Past President, English Teachers Association of Queensland
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An edited version of the following letter was published in The Courier-Mail of Monday 9 February 2015. Underlined words were deleted and bracketed ones inserted. The paper's heading was "School-based tests better".
1950s style exams don't suit 21st century
Norman Hunter (Letters, Feb 6) is to be commended for sensibly reminding readers that it would be unwise to update Queensland's tertiary entrance system by a knee-jerk reversion (reverting) to an outmoded past in the form of external examinations (exams).
If the Core Skills Test is to abandoned, it would be appropriate to substitute some alternative form of external assessment but this should be a minor component, worth no more than 25% (per cent).
External exams are high pressure, one-off activities while school-based assessment involves tasks done under a variety of conditions at several points in the academic year.
In the digital age, pen and paper handwriting marathons are not the appropriate way to measure student learning in quite a few subject areas.
And if there is to be any scaling, external results should be scaled against moderated school-based assessment, not the other way around.
Part of the previous government's response to the report of the Australian Council for Educational Research review was that some of the proposed new procedures be trialled in maths and science subjects. It is imperative that any trial also involves some humanities and social science subjects as well. Otherwise, we could end up with a system that does not suit a large chunk of the curriculum.
Immediate Past President, English Teachers Association of Queensland
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The following letter-to-the-editor was submitted to The Courier-Mail for possible inclusion in the edition of Friday 6 February 2015 but it was not selected for publication.
Senior high school assessment
Matthew Dean (Letters, 5 Feb) argues that school-based assessments at Year 12 level should be scaled against performance in proposed external examinations.
Why not the other way around? External exams are high pressure, one-off activities while school based assessment involves tasks done under a variety of conditions at several points in the academic year. It can be argued that the latter provides a more valid measure of students' ability.
Ignoring the state's well-established moderation system intended to achieve comparability, Dean also suggests that teachers cannot agree on standards. It should be remembered that some of these same teachers would be recruited to mark external exams.
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