Barry Spurr's contribution to the Australian Curriculum review

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 22 December 2014

Under the heading "English expertise", a version of the letter below appeared in The Australian on Monday 22 December 2014. Underlined words were deleted and the bracketed ones inserted.  They also rearranged my four paragraphs into three and removed the quotation marks. Having deleted the words "about whom there have been no allegations of racism" in the final paragraph, the paper failed to remove the now unnecessary preceding comma.

Barry Spurr and the review of the Australian English Curriculum

Ivan Kennedy (Letters, 20-21/12) avers that, from his personal experience, academic Barry Spurr is not a racist, and that therefore there is no need to "revisit" his contribution to the review of the English component of the Australian Curriculum. Kennedy (This) misses the point.

The publication of some of Spurr's emails served to focus public attention on his involvement in the curriculum review as a commissioned "subject specialist". But, whatever people may think of their content and whether they were serious or not, those emails are not the real reason that Spurr's recommendations about the school English curriculum should be accorded little weight.

The review report contains no detail about the process by which Spurr and Dr Fiona Mueller were chosen out of all those in the country who could legitimately be considered to be experts on the content and teaching of English in primary and secondary schools.

In addition, there is no evidence to indicate that the views of Spurr and Mueller, about whom there have been no allegations of racism, can be regarded as generally representative of the views of the many others in the country who have a similar degree of expertise. Spurr and Mueller are perfectly entitled to their opinions, but those individual opinions should have little influence.

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

Posted in: Curriculum matters   0 Comments

A grammar peeve for some

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 13 December 2014

The letter below was submitted for possible publication in The Australian on Wednesday 10 December 2014 but, alas, it did not make it into print.

Verbalising nouns

John Riley (Letters, 9/12) registers his dismay at one aspect of language change, the process by which some words which have hitherto functioned only as nouns are now used also as verbs.

To underline his argument, he wonders how long it will be before the neologism camerise appears. But of course we have long used the associated word photograph as both noun and verb as well as in an adjectival function in a phrase like a photograph album.

Rather than portending the end of civilization as we know it, I suggest this sort of flexibility with vocabulary in fact enriches the language.

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

Posted in: Discussions   0 Comments

The teaching of grammar

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 12 December 2014

The letter below was written in response to an article in The Australian and submitted for possible inclusion in the edition of Monday 8 December. It was not, however, selected for publication.

The teaching of grammar

I completely agree with Richard King on a couple of points: that the teaching of grammar is important; and that ideas and language skills are not mutually exclusive alternatives (Strictly speaking, grammar nuts have a point, 6-7/12).

However, some notes of caution need to be sounded. He reports that even his brightest students at the University of Notre Dame display far too many grammatical errors in their writing. That is not the case with the prospective secondary English teachers that I have as students at the University of Queensland. Perhaps variation in entry standards for different institutions is a relevant factor here.

King makes the rather sweeping generalisation that a whole generation of teachers - possibly even two - have no idea of how to teach grammar. The more moderate claim that some teachers would benefit from a greater understanding of grammar would probably have been closer to reality.

He attributes this state of affairs to policy decisions made as long ago as the 1970s. Given that King was apparently not born until 1971, I wonder how he acquired his knowledge of grammar if all of his own teachers were as ignorant as his statement suggests.

The English component of the Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum has an appropriate focus on grammar but it does not invite an uncritical return to the generally ineffective ways of teaching grammar that prevailed in schools prior to the 1970s.

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

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Writing and the review of the Australian Curriculum

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 2 December 2014

The letter below was prompted by a front page story (continued on Page 8) in The Australian for Saturday 29 November 2014. It might have appeared in the paper on Monday 1 December but, alas, it was not selected for publication.

Teaching writing is important

Education consultant Dr Peter Knapp sensibly suggests that a systematic and explicit approach to teaching writing should start from the early years of primary school (“Writing’s on the wall: kids failing basic literacy”, 29-30/11).

This contrasts with one of the recommendations of literary studies academic Professor Barry Spurr who was commissioned as one of two “subject specialists” to contribute to the evaluation of the English component of the Australian Curriculum as part of the review conducted by Professor Kenneth Wiltshire and Dr Kevin Donnelly.

Spurr argued that primary school students should spend less time on producing writing of their own in favour of a greater focus on the analysis and appreciation of pieces of classic literature.

I wonder whether Dr Knapp was considered for appointment as one of the “subject specialists” for English.

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

Posted in: Curriculum matters   0 Comments

AATE response to the Australian Curriculum review

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 26 November 2014

AATE summary response to the review of the Australian Curriculum

25 November 2014

  • The following summary response, agreed by the AATE national council, is being sent to: the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, state and federal ministers for education and shadow ministers, ACARA and the curriculum authorities in the various states and territories (in Queensland's case, QCAA). As indicated in the final paragraph where the link will be found, a more detailed document is now available on the AATE website.

1. This message outlines the response of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE) to the recommendations arising from the review of the Australian Curriculum conducted by Professor Kenneth Wiltshire and Dr Kevin Donnelly.

2. AATE is the national umbrella organisation unifying autonomous state and territory professional associations for teachers of school subject English. Established in 1964, the association has a current membership of approximately 5000 including both individuals (teachers and academics) and institutions (mainly secondary school English departments).

3. AATE has serious concerns about the influence on the final report by invited contributions from selected individuals deemed by Wiltshire and Donnelly to be “subject specialists”.

4. The report contains no detail about the selection criteria or the process by which two individuals were chosen out of all those in the country who could legitimately be considered to be experts on the content and teaching of school subject English.

5. In addition, views about school subjects and how they should be taught can be expected to vary, even amongst those who can genuinely be considered to have expert status.

6. As far as AATE can see, there is no evidence to indicate that the views of Professor Barry Spurr and Dr Fiona Mueller can be regarded as generally representative of the views of the many others in the country who have similar or greater degrees of expertise on teaching English in schools.

7. Professor Spurr is apparently a recognised authority on early modern English poetry (including Donne and Milton) and on modernist poets, especially T.S. Eliot. This highly specialised scholarly knowledge is not equivalent to expertise in teaching subject English at primary and secondary school level.

8. The vast majority of experts in the field of English education in Australia understand that our national curriculum has an ethical obligation to meets the needs of all Australian children. This requires English teachers having both literary knowledge and a culturally and linguistically inclusive curriculum in which to teach it.

9. AATE considers that, without further supporting evidence, the personal views of Professor Spurr and Dr Mueller should be given little weight when the relevant authorities at state and federal level decide how they will respond to the recommendations related to English in the report arising from the review of the Australian Curriculum

10. As we argued in our submission to the review, AATE considers that the current version of the Australian Curriculum should have been implemented for a longer period before the first of its periodic reviews should have been conducted. For this reason, we think that any changes at this stage should be minimal.

11. A longer document with specific comment on most of the review’s recommendations can be found on our website at http://www.aate.org.au/newsmenu/aate-submissions-recent.

Garry Collins

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

 

Posted in: Curriculum matters   0 Comments

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