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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

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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