Grammar teaching

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 17 April 2014
  • The following letter to the editor was submitted to The Australian for possible inclusion on Wednesday 16 April 2014 but it was not selected for publication.
  • Also on the topic of grammar, a recent article in The Conversation is recommended to ETAQ members. It can be found here.

Textbooks covering grammar

As your editorial suggests, textbooks that deal effectively with grammar would be a useful resource for teachers in schools (“A lesson learnt from Singapore”, 15/4).

It needs to be clearly understood, however, that grammar textbooks from the 1950s or 60s dusted off and tarted up with some colour print would not suffice. To be genuinely useful, new textbooks dealing with grammar would need to be properly aligned with the sensible approach to knowledge about language to be found in the English component of the Australian Curriculum.

In addition, the grammatical patterns of the language should be learnt in the process of working with texts that have value in their own right, both the ones that students read and those that they compose in response to them.

There is an overwhelming body of research evidence that shows that the way grammar was generally taught in schools prior to the 1970s did not really work well for the majority of students. Then, grammar was disconnected from other areas of the curriculum and students were often bored by arid exercises with deliberately faulty sentences that had no meaningful connection to any genuine writing.

Let’s have useful resources by all means, but we should be careful about unproductively trying to turn back the clock.

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

Posted in: Curriculum matters   1 Comments

A view on poetry teaching from our newest Life Member

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 21 March 2014

This post is made on behalf of Paul Sherman OAM, ETAQ's newest Life Member. Like an earlier post, it is a letter to The Australian in response to an opinion piece by Christopher Bantick. The paper did not choose to publish it.

Paul was elected a Life Member at this year's Annuanl General Meeting on 15 March and it is planned that the award be formally conferred at this year's State Conference on Saturday 16 August.

Poetry Lives in Schools

As an 80-year-old retired actor and teacher, who is still invited to schools to perform plays and poems, I question Christopher Bantick (The Australian, l5-16/3/14 "Dying Light of Poetry") on his statement that few schools teach poetry. I also wonder at the basis for his claim that poetry (“is badly taught, or not taught at all." lf few schools teach it, how does he know it is badly taught?

I'm now preparing for a visit to Ouyen P-12 College in Victoria's Mallee, where I've been asked to present poems of John Kinsella to Year 12's. Last year at Tully State High School in North Qld I shared with keen Grade 8's poems of Oodgeroo Noonuccal (formerly Kath Walker), whom I had the honour of once knowing on her Qld island of Minjerribah ("Stradbroke").

Last year in Brisbane schools I had sessions ranging from England's Keats to America's Robert Frost to our own Judith Wright, Bruce Dawe and others. A couple of years ago in England's Lincolnshire I found students very responsive to our Banjo Paterson. I can't share Christopher's view that the Banjo and Henry Lawson "have not stood the test of time." Sadly, Henry was at times "the drunk" that Christopher calls him, but I'm glad that in his sober sessions he wrote poems that the good old Sydney Bulletin was proud to print.

Paul Sherman
Wooloowin QLD

In his letter to the paper, Paul noted that:

  • For identification: your paper published my name among this year's Australia Day awards for OAM, "for services to the Arts as poet and playwright, and to Education." In your Australian Literary Review of March, 2009, you published my poem, "Three Sisters Still."
Posted in: Curriculum matters   1 Comments

A Life Member's view of the review of the Australian Curriculum

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 20 March 2014
  • John Carr is a former President of ETAQ and one of its Life Members. He has generously agreed to the publication of his submission to the current review of the Australian Curriculum which I felt sure many members would be interested in reading.

Perennial Curriculum Problems: Instability and Polarisation

John Carr MA

I am a retired educator, with almost 60 years’ experience, ‘man and boy’, in educational institutions. After four years as a teacher in primary schools, I spent almost 20 years as a high school teacher and subject master, followed by 14 years as a curriculum developer and ten years in teacher education. My career involved all three ‘systems’ – state, catholic and independent, and I also had some experience in England and the Pacific. I was heavily involved in relevant professional organisations, including some years as an office bearer at state and national levels.  My main areas of curriculum expertise were in language education, particularly in teaching English as a mother tongue.

As I retired from full-time employment some years ago, I shall not attempt to provide detailed comments on any of the current issues that dominate professional, media and political discussion. Those educators now working in the field are far better qualified than I to provide advice on these. However, my lifetime’s work in a range of educational settings has given me deep insight into some of the major factors that continually impact negatively on the education of pupils in primary and secondary schools. It is a scandal that these factors never seem to get acknowledged, let alone addressed. Any teachers with long experience will confirm that they repeatedly suffer a sense of dejà vu when hearing about the latest educational proposals or controversies. The ignorance and naivety of those in powerful positions and the fatuousness of the commentaries are sometimes hard to bear.

There are two overlapping factors that usually stand outside the specific terms of debate: (1) the lack of stability of curriculum and pedagogy in the classroom caused by the constant conflict between rival parties and ideologies; and (2) the over-simplification and polarisation of debate, sometimes to the point where it is mere sloganeering.

1. The lack of stability and continuity   This, in turn, has two causes, one potentially constructive, the other almost always destructive. (a) Instability can arise from the legitimate changes to school organisation, curriculum content and recommended approaches to classroom practice that arise from evidence-based research. Such changes are often incremental and cumulative, and may take many years to be implemented and even more years to achieve their intended outcomes. The benefits of these kinds of changes are best seen by taking a long term view of schooling. No one would want to go back to the huge class sizes; narrow, rigid curriculum; rote learning; arid exercises; abysmal retention rates; and corporal punishment common in schools in the distant past. (In my early years as a teacher during the Baby-boom Fifties, I had classes with up to 65 pupils, most of whom left school with less than 10 years’ schooling; only two kinds of writing were taught, the story and the literary essay; many children left school without ever reading a novel on their own; and there was virtually no time for the development of children’s spoken language.) In English, as in other subject areas, thanks to decades of massive, worldwide research and development, we now have a much wider, more functional curriculum and have a much better understanding of how learners learn.

(b) The second cause cannot be justified and has often been extremely deleterious to good classroom practice. This is the continual interruption of whole education systems by politically-driven campaigns, often supported by the media, to ‘reform’ schooling in some way. These are sometimes driven by the need of new governments and ministers to be seen to be doing something and ‘get their name’ on a project. Some campaigns are perennial, conducted by inveterate activists and lobby-groups who reappear again and again with the same, often simplistic one-note ‘solution’ to a perceived problem. The impact of the frequency of such reviewing and reforming is that few of the ‘reforms’ ever have a chance to achieve their goals, even if the measures are well-conceived. At some time in the late 1980s, a scan of curriculum and professional development projects in the language area being conducted in the Queensland Department of Education showed that there were hundreds ‘on the books’, most potentially constructive, but some probably not. Many of them were in fact dead or dormant, because either they had been overtaken by new, ‘more urgent’ projects or they had failed to obtain on-going funding. Few education projects and programs, however good, are ever carried to full implementation. Fewer still are implemented long enough to allow legitimate evaluation. The waste of money and teachers’ and administrators’ time by the continual addition and premature abandonment of curriculum development projects is enormous. The resulting confusion and alienation of long-suffering classroom teachers and principals are a major source of professional dissatisfaction.

2. Oversimplification and polarisation of debate   I now come to the second factor common to most debates on education – the over-simplification of what are quite complex issues. Most of the commentators with access to the media – politicians, journalists, selected academics and lobby-group spokespersons – adopt an adversarial stance in support of what is often an extreme position. In language education, as in other curriculum areas, the two extreme positions can often be characterised as ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ or as ‘back to basics’ and ‘child-centred’. In the primary school sector, the sole options are usually presented as either ‘phonics’ or ‘whole language’; in secondary schooling, the equivalent oppositions are, on the one hand, ‘grammar’ and ‘classic literature’, and, on the other, ‘creativity’ and ‘wider critical reading’. In the end, no English curriculum in Australia has ever put all its eggs in one of these baskets; curricula may lean towards one end of the spectrum, but all have sensibly promoted at least some semblance of compromise and balance. It should never be a matter of ‘either/or’, but of ‘not only/but also’. Over the last 40 years, State English syllabuses have generally become much richer and more balanced. The range of speaking, reading and writing activities that I experienced as a pupil in the 40s and 50s, and as a teacher in the 50s and 60s, was impoverished by today’s standards. Furthermore, in terms of outcomes, those were not halcyon days; in my early years as a teacher, I inherited upper primary and junior secondary classes in which many pupils were barely literate.

Fortunately, a degree of balance eventually ensues after the campaigns have run their course. However, the simplistic, polarised debate; the hasty legislation; the hasty documentation; the inadequate professional development; and the premature abandonment of programs leave a legacy of further confusion and despair in the teaching community. I submit that the current ‘Students First Review of the Australian Curriculum’ is itself a case in point. It is yet another politically-motivated, high profile but superficial review of curriculum set up with apparently little regard for the countless earlier reviews, studies, programs and projects languishing unfinished, unimplemented and unevaluated. It comes at a time when two other major high profile education initiatives, ‘Gonski’ and the National Curriculum, are yet to reach completion. I predict that this review, too, will never be fully completed, its findings will never be fully implemented and it, too, will eventually fade from memory. It will, however, have added another layer of misinformation and confusion in the minds of teachers and the public.

Posted in: Curriculum matters   0 Comments

Poetry teaching in schools

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 17 March 2014
Poetry teaching in schools
  • The following letter was submitted to The Australian for the edition of Monday 17 March but was not selected for publication. It was written in response to an opinion piece by Christopher Bantick who regularly writes for the paper. He is described as: "a writer and senior literature teacher at a Melbourne boys Anglican grammar school". The paper did publish a letter from a teacher at Eynesbury Senior College in Adelaide which countered Bantick's claims saying that "poetry is alive and well" at her school.

Poetry teaching in schools

Christopher Bantick’s interest in promoting the teaching of poetry in schools is to be commended (“Dying light of poetry”, 15-16/3). Some of his sweeping generalisations, however, must be challenged.

He claims that teacher training institutions - presumably all of them since he offers no qualification – “do not teach poetry as part of an English teaching degree”. I can tell him that I regularly use poems in courses for prospective secondary English teachers that I teach at the University of Queensland where I work as a sessional academic.

He also claims that teacher professional development never has anything to do with poetry. This weekend just past I presented a workshop as part of a mini conference run in Brisbane by the English Teachers Association of Queensland. The session was entitled “Grammar and poetry: Integrating the language and literature strands of the Australian English Curriculum”. The teachers who gave up half their Saturday to participate certainly thought it dealt with poetry.

It is to be hoped that Bantick reminds his own students that sweeping generalisations are often wrong and that claims should be moderated to accord with the available evidence.

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

Posted in: Curriculum matters   0 Comments

Research survey re English teacher knowledge about language

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ President on 12 March 2014
  • The message below is about an important research project relevant to contemporary English teaching.
  • ETAQ members are strongly urged to participate in the survey.

A national survey for English teachers of their knowledge about language

No one doubts that teachers of English need to know how language works and to teach this to their students. Benchmarking teacher knowledge and know-how is crucial if we are to provide build a strong knowledge base in the profession, including English, literacy and EAL/D teachers. The problem is that we don’t know enough yet about what teachers know about language; nor do we know what kinds of professional support teachers need if they are to build students’ language knowledge in coherent and cumulative ways through the years of school English.

Mary Macken-Horarik of the University of New England, in collaboration with Kristina Love, Len Unsworth and Carmel Sandiford of the Australian Catholic University, have developed a short online survey designed to help appreciate what understandings teachers have about language (including grammar). It is part of a large-scale project investigating grammar and praxis in 21st century school English and has been funded by the Australian Research Council from 2011-2014 (DP110104309).

The online survey is open from Monday March 17 until Friday 16 May 2014. It is covered by ethical clearance at UNE (HE11/062) and should take no more than 20 minutes to complete. All responses will remain anonymous but our findings will be shared with colleagues through professional associations like PETAA, ALEA and AATE (and state affiliates). If you have any questions about it, please feel free to contact Mary Macken-Horarik (02 6773-3562), Len Unsworth and Kristina Love (03 9953 3507) or Carmel Sandiford (03 9953 3573).

Click on this link to find out more about the larger grammar and praxis project and then to do the survey:

http://www.une.edu.au/about-une/academic-schools/school-of-education/research/arc-funded-projects#item0

Posted in: General news   0 Comments

Upcoming Events

An Afternoon with Christine Hills

The Darling Downs Branch will present an Afternoon with Christine Hills and the Collins Writing Program on Wednesday, 26 February, 2020. Afternoon tea will be served from 3:15 to 3:45 pm. This workshop will allow teachers and school leaders an opportunity to: Explore elements of grammar that are central to good writing and align w...

Category:   Seminar
Start Time:   3:15 PM
Date:   Wednesday 26th February 2020
Venue:   St Ursula's - Toowoomba
Email Enquiries:   trish.purcell@bigpond.com


March Seminar 2020: Diving Deep into Story

Literature is the lifeblood of the English classroom and we all endeavour to make our classrooms creative spaces, helping students to experience the pleasures of responding to and creating literature. This seminar will explore diverse ideas related to creativity in English. The keynote address What is now proved was once only imagined&nbs...

Category:   Seminar
Start Time:   8:10 AM
Date:   Saturday 21st March 2020
Venue:   Brisbane Grammar School
Venue Address:   Corner Gregory Terrace andCollege Road
Phone Enquiries:   0455464000
Email Enquiries:   trish.purcell@bigpond.com


Diving into Analytical Writing

ETAQ will present a session on how to write an 'analytical essay' on Tuesday 28 April, at Aquinas College, Edmund Rice Drive, ASHMORE. In 2020, students will be required to write an 'analytical essay' in the external exam for General English. However, the term 'essay' is not used consistently across subject areas a...

Category:   Professional Development
Start Time:   3:15 PM
Date:   Tuesday 28th April 2020
Venue:   Aquinas College
Email Enquiries:   adminofficer@etaq.org.au


Tony Hytch presents

Tony will present a session entitled  "Getting students assessment ready for Essential English" at Pimlico State High School, Townsville on Saturday 2nd May, 2020. Teachers will explore teh possible options for assessment in Units 1 and 2. In particular how to develop an assessment program which best prepares students for the t...

Category:   Seminar
Start Time:   9:00 AM
Date:   Saturday 2nd May 2020
Venue:   Pimlico High School
Email Enquiries:   adminofficer@etaq.org.au


Early Career Conference 2020: Diving Deep into Teaching

This event for teachers in their first firve years of teaching and those who are new to the teaching of English will submerge you in a new, colourful, and enchanting world where you can engage with your peers. it is also a 'not to be missed' event for preservice teachers.  For those who are interested in offering a presentati...

Category:   Seminar
Start Time:   9:00 AM
Date:   Saturday 9th May 2020
Venue:   Griffith University, Mt Gravatt campus
Venue Address:   176 Messines Ridge Rd, Mount Gravatt QLD 4122


< Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | Next >
View all

Latest News

View all

Blog Feed

Grammar myths

Sep 12 2017
An edited version of the letter below was pu...

Impact on learning

Sep 12 2017
The following letter was submitted to The Au...
Read all

Testimonials

Read All

This is the first time I have been to an ETAQ conference and it was really sensational to get so much at all of the sessions.

ETAQ conferences always have sessions that make me excited to be a teacher.

I know that ETAQ conferences in the past have never disappointed - valuable, relevant, practical, inspiring so I came again.

Read All

Newsletter

Receive updates
from ETAQ

PO Box 3375, STAFFORD,
Queensland, Australia, 4053
(07) 3284 3718
ABN: 17 689 278 512

Connect to a great range of people who are passionate about English and have their finger on the pulse.

Be Connected