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

Professional development

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 20 September 2016

An edited version of the letter below was published in The Courier-Mail on Tuesday 20 September 2016. It had been submitted in response to a news report in the previous day's edition. The underlined words were deleted and those in square brackets added. The paper's heading was "Education has broad interests". The paper also reorganized the letter into a single paragraph.

Teacher professional development

The Federal Government's chief scientist, [AlanFinkel], is reported as claiming that [claims] teachers are wasting [waste] professional development time on irrelevant topics ("Odd subjects ticked off as teacher aids", Sep 19). If true to any significant extent, this would be indeed a matter of concern.

However, from extensive personal involvement as an attendee, organizer and presenter, I can attest that valuable professional development directly relevant to the curriculum is regularly conducted by subject professional associations.

And I do wonder about the quality of the data on which the chief scientist's claim is based. The topics cited may not be relevant to his [Dr Finkel's] area of interest in STEM subjects, but school education is broader than that, important though it is.

African drumming may sound bizarre to some, but it would be relevant to the teaching of music.

Treating teachers as professionals should include acknowledgement that they are the best judges of their own professional development needs.

Garry Collins
Immediate Past President, English Teachers Association of Queensland

Posted in: General news   0 Comments

Australian Curriculum: English and C2C

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 14 September 2016

An edited version of the letter below was published in The Courier-Mail on Wednesday 14 September 2016. The paper's heading was "Confusion with curriculum". Underlined words were deleted and those in square brackets inserted.

Curriculum confusion

Your editorial incorrectly implies [implied] that the English component of the Australian Curriculum currently contains eight units which are about to be reduced to six ("Curriculum changes a lesson in core learning", Sep 13).

This confuses the actual Australian Curriculum issued by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) with support materials produced by Education Queensland. The latter go under the name Curriculum to Classroom or C2C.

The ACARA document is not organized into units at all. For each year, it provides an overview called a level description, content descriptions and achievement standards. Arrangement of this information into units of work is left to systems, schools and teachers.

One of the problems with the way the national curriculum has been implemented in Queensland is that some teachers apparently think that the C2C units are the Australian Curriculum itself, rather than being just one possible set of support materials.

Garry Collins
Immediate Past President, English Teachers Association of Queensland

Posted in: Curriculum matters   0 Comments

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