Open letter to ACARA about the revised Australian Curriculum: English

Emeritus Professor Max Coltheart has prepared a letter to ACARA on behalf of the members of the Developmental Disorders of Language and Literacy (DDoLL) network, a group of reading researchers, cognitive scientists, teachers, principals, speech pathologists, linguists, and specialist practitioners who are concerned about effective instruction and intervention for all students.

The letter is published here and reproduced below. If you would like to support this letter by adding your name to the list of signatories, please send an email to <>

Other organisations and networks have distributed similar letters or encouraged their members to support the DDoLL letter. Please sign only one version.

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Curriculum takes backward step on the path to literacy

By Jennifer Buckingham

In the same week that federal education minister Alan Tudge reiterated his aspiration to take Australia back to the top of the international school education rankings, pointing to improved results in the United Kingdom and Poland for inspiration, the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has drawn its inspiration from elsewhere and released a proposed revision of the Australian Curriculum that doesn’t seem likely to move Australian schools in the desired direction of travel.

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Education needs to be informed by evidence

Innovation is always on the agenda in education but the COVID pandemic in 2020 made it a top priority. Many schools made a swift and more or less successful transition to online teaching. The schools that did this most successfully were largely those that were already high functioning schools, with strong collaborative teaching cultures and robust systems in place. The widespread adoption of technology for teaching was not a ‘disruptive’ force that changed the traditional stratifications in education systems.

This means that while much of the innovation during the COVID crisis was born out of the urgency to do something rather than nothing, over the longer term we need to think about innovation in a more analytical way. Most importantly, we must draw a distinction between innovation and experimentation. Not all seemingly bright ideas are good ideas – open plan classrooms and seating arrangements where students can’t see the teacher come to mind.

Education still needs to be evidence informed. Innovation is not an excuse to disregard everything we know about effective teaching and learning. Otherwise, doing something is not better than doing nothing.

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Print-to-Speech vs. Speech-to-Print: What these terms mean and why we need both when teaching reading

Two sides of a single coin – speech-to-print, print-to-speech – let’s not devalue the currency.

By Anna Desjardins

In the world of reading instruction, the terms print-to-speech and speech-to-print have become confusing and unnecessarily divisive. This is because they have been used to categorise both the composite skills required for competent reading and spelling, and whole frameworks within which these composite skills can be taught.

When referring to the composite skills involved in spelling and reading (at the word level):

  • Print-to-speech skills are those required for decoding. To read words, graphemes (letters and letter combinations) must be translated into speech sounds, then blended together to produce spoken words in our vocabulary.
  • Speech-to-print skills are those required for encoding. To write words, spoken words must be segmented into speech sounds and these sounds must then be translated into graphemes.

Both of these skills rely on a knowledge of phonics (how speech sounds correspond to graphemes) and, consequently, phonics instruction is one of the crucial elements required in any comprehensive approach to teaching literacy (alongside explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension).

So far, so good. We know children need to be able to translate from print-to-speech when reading, and from speech-to-print when writing. We can help them develop these skills by teaching them phonics. However, now we hit a snag, because phonics can be taught in different ways and, unhelpfully, a dichotomy has developed between phonics instruction categorised as ‘print-to-speech’ versus instruction categorised as ‘speech-to-print’.

What do these labels mean in the context of instruction? Given the definitions above, you could be forgiven for thinking that in one approach children are taught only how to decode or read, while in the other they are taught only how to encode or spell. But this is not what is intended.

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