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Grammar and literature in the national English curriculum

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 6 June 2014
  • An edited version of the following letter was published in The Australian of Friday 6 June 2014. The underlined words were deleted and the bracketed ones inserted. The paper's heading was "Good on grammar". The IPA is the Institute of Public Affairs. Information about Stephanie Forrest can be found here.

Grammar and literature in the national English curriculum

IPA research scholar Stephanie Forrest writes that the coverage of grammar in the Foundation to Year 10 national English curriculum is “sketchy” (“Who put the Ramayana, not Dickens, in curriculums”, 5/6). I can only conclude that she must have been looking at a different document from the one on the website of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.

Most people familiar with the curriculum agree that one of its notable features is the degree of detail on grammar to be found in the Language strand. And it is a sensible approach to grammar that focuses on how different choices from the language system produce different kinds of meaning.

Later in the piece, Forrest asks where writers like (such as) Shakespeare, Milton and Dickens are to be found in the curriculum. My observation is that plays like (such as) Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are often taught with (in) junior secondary English classes. Most works by Milton or Dickens would be best left to Years 11 and 12 and even there they need to be carefully chosen. I’m currently participating in a book club reading of Dickens’s novel Dombey and Son but 35 years in high school English classrooms tells me that I could never have successfully sold it to the majority of teenagers.

Perhaps Forrest knows better, but her biographical details on the IPA website indicate that her 2013 BA Honours degree was (is) in classics and history and there is no mention of her ever having been a high school (an) English teacher.

Garry Collins
President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE)

Author: Garry Collins, AATE President
About: Garry Collins is the Immediate Past President of ETAQ and began a 2 year term as AATE President on 1 January 2014. A retired high school English teacher, he now works in the School of Education at the University of Queensland as a sessional tutor in English curriculum courses.
Tags: Curriculum matters

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