Kevin Donnelly's contribution to education

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 6 April 2015

The following letter was submitted to The Australian for possible publication on 4 April 2015 but it did not make it into print.

Irony in Kevin Donnelly's concerns about history textbooks

In his opinion piece in last weekend's edition, Kevin Donnelly complained that "Christianity is often misrepresented and undermined" in school history books currently on the market ("The school textbooks that gloss over jihad and leave Christianity smouldering at the stake", 28-29/3).

I'm not familiar with the history books he cited so I have no particular response to that.

There is, however, an element of irony in his comment as quite a few people who teach in schools and in teacher education around the country consider that Donnelly's articles often misrepresent and undermine the work that they do.

Garry Collins
President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English

Posted in: General news   0 Comments

Use of the word 'reticent'

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 6 April 2015

Rory Gibson is a journalist who has a regular column entitled "You've got male" which appears in the U on Sunday magazine that come comes with The Sunday Mail. After reading his column on Sunday 5 April 2015, I had the following email exchange:

Collins to Gibson

Dear Rory

I regularly enjoy your column and this weekend's offering about a fishing trip to New Zealand was no exception.

However, I wish to draw a vocabulary issue to your attention. In this week's column you wrote: "it made me reticent to venture out".

The online Macquarie Dictionary gives the following meaning for reticent: "adjective disposed to be silent; not inclined to speak freely; reserved". Further, the entry offers this usage advice: "The word reticent should not be confused with reluctant which means 'unwilling' or 'disinclined'."

I submit that reticent is a very useful word but its meaning is being eroded by being inaccurately used. The job of English teachers in schools is tough enough without having professional writers unintentionally setting unhelpful examples.

Regards

Garry Collins
Retired English teacher

Gibson's reply (which was unexpectedly prompt)

Quite right Garry. My apologies.

I wouldn't worry about any students being corrupted by my misuse of the word though. They don't read newspapers!

Regards,

Rory

Posted in: General news   0 Comments

Agreeing and disagreeing with Kevin Donnelly

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 25 March 2015

The following letter was submitted to The Australian for possible inclusion in the edition of Monday 23 March 2015 but it was not selected for publication. It was probably a tad too long.

Fads in education

I find I'm able to agree with a fair bit of what Kevin Donnelly has to say in his latest comment ("Tide is turning in education as traditional forms of teaching make a welcome comeback", 21-22/3).

At Gladstone State High School in central Queensland in the late 1970s we received a much needed new classroom block. Either side of a central courtyard it had a large barn-like space consisting of three classroom areas with no dividing walls. The head office people called it a flexible learning space but I can't recall any of the teachers who worked in it finding it flexible at all.

There will probably always be fads. The main one that we are contending with at present is an obsession with standardised testing in the form of NAPLAN.

As to explicit teaching, it is central to the work that I currently do in teacher preparation courses for prospective secondary English teachers at The University of Queensland.

It was strange, however, to see Donnelly attacking some description of a Victorian Education Department program at the end of the article. The language might have been a tad inflated but is Donnelly really opposed to the development of skills that would enable lifelong learning? Effective reading would be a key part of that. He also takes issue with the program seeking to develop "creative, connected and collaborative problem solvers". This sounds to me like the workplace competencies that employers have been exhorting the school system to deliver for at least a quarter of a century.

Garry Collins
President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English

Posted in: General news   0 Comments

The cost-benefit of NAPLAN

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 11 March 2015

The following letter was submitted to The Australian for possible inclusion in the edition of Monday 9 March 2015 but, alas, it was not selected for publication.

NAPLAN may be useful but is it worth the cost?

Your national education correspondent provides an account of some NAPLAN success stories from schools around the country ("With educators held to account, national learning improvement project is going to NAPLAN", 7-8/3). With continued effort, perhaps the country can become like Garrison Keillor's fictional Lake Wobegon. There, all the children are above average.

However, given that balancing the budget is a major problem confronting the nation, it is disappointing that readers were not told what the NAPLAN tests cost each year.

We are often assured that the average citizen is sufficiently well informed to sensibly interpret data derived from a single point-in-time test of performance in a narrow slice of the whole school curriculum. If this is so, then surely they are also capable of deciding whether it is the best way to spend a proportion of the finite funds available for education. As far as I am aware, no proper cost-benefit analysis of the program has ever been done.

Garry Collins
President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English

Posted in: Assessment   0 Comments

Teaching reading and writing

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 6 March 2015

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.

Garry Collins
President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English

Posted in: Curriculum matters   0 Comments

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