Grattan report is on the right track but could be even better

The latest report from Julie Sonneman and Peter Goss at the Grattan Institute was published on Monday. The Grattan report didn’t get a lot of media attention because the more obviously newsworthy part of the report – estimates of learning losses — was gazumped by a CIS report a few weeks ago.

Estimates of learning losses necessarily make a lot of assumptions that make it hard to know how accurate they are but it is fair to say that many children will have made less progress in their literacy learning in the past few months than they usually would have in school, and in some cases will have lost progress they had made since the beginning of the school year. This is not reason to panic, but it is reason to have a comprehensive plan to help these children catch up.

The Grattan report has a characteristically measured set of proposals for schools to regain some of the academic ground lost during the Covid crisis. The fact that Sonneman and Goss understand that children’s literacy learning will recover only by providing high quality literacy instruction is a welcome antidote to some of the other ideas floating around.

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Children lost between the lines long before high school

At the start of last year, 17,000 ­­12- and 13-year-olds walked into high school classrooms all across the country unable to read even at a minimal level. They achieved scores below the minimum standard in the Year 7 National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy reading test. A further 35,000 students achieved only the minimum standard, in which they can barely find basic information in simple written text.

Similar numbers of students achieved at and below the minimum standard in Year 5 in 2017 and in Year 3 in 2015, indicating their literacy difficulties had been identified but never remediated.

For these students the challenge of remote learning without the support of their teachers and peers would have been frustrating and probably futile.

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A failed attempt to discredit direct instruction

Update: A slightly revised version of this post has been published in the Australian Journal of Indigenous Education https://doi.org/10.1017/jie.2020.18

 

The ‘Flexible Learning for Remote Primary Schools’ (FLRPS) program was funded by the Australian Government in 2014 for the implementation of Direct Instruction (DI) and Explicit Direct Instruction in 34 remote and very remote schools in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. The programme was funded on the basis of extensive research showing DI’s effectiveness in improving academic outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged and minority children in the US. The FLRPS program was delivered by Good to Great Schools Australia with an initial implementation period of three years which was subsequently extended to 2019.

Direct Instruction is a specific program of explicit instruction with a sequenced curriculum and scripted model for teaching. It is sometimes referred to as ‘big D.I.’. The teaching model known as direct instruction, or ‘little d.i.’, is a general set of principles that can be applied to any lesson in any curriculum. The FLRPS program used ‘big D.I.’.

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The grass is not greener on Jeffrey Bowers’ side of the fence: Systematic phonics belongs in evidence-based reading programs

Note: A revised version of this post has been published in The Educational and Developmental Psychologist https://doi.org/10.1017/edp.2020.12

 

A rejoinder to Bowers, J. S. (2020). Reconsidering the evidence that systematic phonics is more effective than alternative methods of reading instruction. Educational Psychology Review, Online first. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-019-09515-y

There is strong agreement among reading scientists that learning the phonological connections between speech and print is an essential element of early reading acquisition. Meta-analyses of reading research have consistently found that methods of reading instruction that include systematic phonics instruction are more effective than methods that do not. This article critiques a recent paper by Jeffrey S. Bowers that attempts to challenge the robustness of the research on systematic phonics instruction. On this basis, Bowers proposes that teachers and researchers consider using alternative methods. This article finds that even with a revisionist and conservative analysis of the research literature, the strongest available evidence shows systematic phonics instruction to be more effective than any existing alternative. While it is fair to argue that researchers should investigate new practices, it is irresponsible to suggest that classroom teachers use anything other than methods based on the best evidence to date, and that evidence favours systematic phonics.

Dr Jennifer Buckingham

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