Pretty much how it seems to me as I read yet another story in today’s Sydey Morning Herald: ‘We can use the word illiterate’: The writing crisis in Australian schools. Perhaps aside from being a CRISIS it is UNPRECEDENTED?
Most year 9 students are structuring sentences at a level expected of those two years their junior and are using punctuation like children in year 3, which leaves them struggling to meet curriculum standards and unprepared for senior high school or life beyond it….
Year 3: Students should use capital letters to start a sentence and a full stop or question mark at the end. They may be able to use commas and apostrophes.
Year 9: Students should be able to use complex punctuation such as colons, semicolons and dashes to clarify meaning.
Students were better at punctuation in pen-and-paper tests and better at paragraphing in online tests.
I have never been a fan of the nitpicking that passes for writing assessment in NAPLAN and similar bureaucratic pursuits of the measurable. For example in my South Sydney Herald days I wrote:
Former Rosebery resident Jim Belshaw draws in his blog on his years high up in the Australian public service at the level of policy and administration. Jim notes: “One major sub-text in the My School debate is the old question of performance measurement and the linked question of key performance indicators. I have been banging away at this one for a number of years in both my public policy and management writing. Indicators are not bad in themselves, but they can become quite pernicious when they become the central objective, crowding out other things.”
Be honest; when did you last use a semicolon? And was my use of one just then correct or not? Does this make me more or less literate in any meaningful way? How about looking at what I wrote? Is it perfectly punctuated crap, with really cool paragraphs, and does it matter what I said?
I have been banging on about literacy and the teaching of writing for decades now — at least five of them! As I said in this 1998 essay I submitted as part of my Grad Cert TESOL at UTS:
LITERACY OR LITERACIES? THIRTY YEARS AT THE CHALK-FACE
My mind and my teaching practice are archaeological sites. Some exploration of those sites seems a good way to focus the development of my present approach to literacy education, primarily but not exclusively in English in secondary schools. So far as this article has a thesis it is this: that, despite the sometimes combative rhetoric of those advocating one model or pedagogy or another (as when Martin [1993:159] pillories whole language approaches as ‘benevolent neglect’), an informed, dynamic eclecticism is a viable stance. (Compare Anstey and Bull 1996:52-53, Brock 1998:11 on the ‘either/or myth’.)
Thirty years have deposited approaches beginning with the very traditional mainstream English teaching of 1966, not much changed from the 1950s.
THE ETERNAL CRISIS
Throughout these thirty years literacy has apparently been in a state of crisis. In the late 1950s and early 60s certain Science professors at the University of Sydney lamented the ‘illiteracy’ of their students. In the 1970s, even before any rational person could have detected any impact on school leavers of the various ‘progressive’ developments of the early 70s, many commentators (such as Professor Crisp of the Australian National University) discerned a rapid decline in literacy and numeracy between 1970 and 1975 (Watson 1994:1).
And see also this 2011 post: “NAPLAN risks ‘repeating US mistakes’”–The Australian. And this one also from 2011: Everything old is new again.
Perhaps a sure sign one is getting old is when the latest debates – in this case on education – are so eerily similar to the debates of thirty and forty years ago that one constantly experiences deja vu!
In 1979 I was the main organiser of a residential conference at Ranelagh House in Robertson. The topic was “English into the 80s!”
Now of course we didn’t anticipate IT, about which see this: “Australia and New Zealand have come equal second to Korea in digital literacy among 15-year-olds, according to a new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report examining how students use computers and the internet to learn…” But we were contemplating CCTV as a teaching tool, and video, and of course OHP – overhead projectors, in case you’ve forgotten already….
So there was an outbreak on my Facebook feed in the past few days, starting on Sunday night. in response to a proposal to alleviate teacher workloads through a bank of resources, or as one report put it “shared lesson plans”. I bridled somewhat at that:
To quote one of my first mentors at Cronulla High in 1965 when I was a student teacher: “I take professional pride in my unplanned lessons!” And I will confess — I would put a lot of time into prepping a unit of work but extremely rarely in all my years teaching ever did a detailed lesson plan. Too many variables to predict. Sure I would have my materials — text, handouts, and so on — but the lesson was always something of a happening.
What happened was not just dependent on me after all. Up to 30 other people were (hopefully) involved. And if they were not I would goad them one way or another until they were, Or I would employ group work — often did.
I always had a hard time conforming to requirements to write up lesson or unit plans, or keep lesson registers. I am afraid they were ofren works of fiction really, though lessons did in fact take place and quite a lot of the time kids learned and even passed exams…
I am not sure about the ideas proposed here. There is something just a bit chilling and neat about it.
Some of my best lesson ideas at SBHS came to me while smoking a cigarette or two (sadly) out in Moore Park, or while half-awake in the morning…. Or even in dreams…
That still applies (but not the cigarette part) to blogging, come to think of it…
The next day I softened a little when I read another report on The Conversation: ‘I feel guilty about not being good enough’: why all Australian schools need teaching material banks. My Facebook comment led to an interesting dialogue with 1970s colleague Rosemary.
Me: I posted at some length on this last night and should point out that it applied to native speaker English classes mostly where over-prescriptiveness and zany definitions of accountability can be a curse! Freewheeling and bouncing off one another is often the best pedagogy there. But in my experience not only there but in other subjects. And in ESL/EFL situations too.
However a BANK of teaching materials would indeed be useful…. As long as what the teacher does with them is open.
Rosemary: I can see some merit in a bank of teaching materials as a potential resource. However I have real concerns and reservations about formulaic lesson plans even though the pressures, the expectations and demands have all increased exponentially in recent years and teachers are finding less time to devote their energy and enthusiasm to accessing and sourcing materials. I always had difficulty with the idea of formalised lesson plans as much I struggled with the writing up of registers at the end of each term. Ideas for lessons were gleaned from staff room chats,random thoughts, dreams, a walk on the beach, whilst cooking dinner, watching tv…….and even then actual lessons could take a direction tangential to a plan but end up in some wonderful incidental learnings and insights enjoyed by both students and teacher. Whilst there can be benefits from a commonality of materials available to schools unless there is a dynamic connection between a teacherand a class lessons from a teaching materials bank are not worth a hill of beans. Such lesson plans and materials cannot be prescriptive. To be of value they should remain as a resource that teachers can modify or adapt to meet the diverse needs of their students.
Me: Pretty much what I said last night. I may make a blog post of all this tomorrow, Too tired or too much Shiraz at the moment….
I had lunch at the Club yesterday you see….
PS or P.S. if you prefer
Twitter has been active. This one attracted my notice:
When was the last time you or your students submitted an unedited, unproofed, 1st attempt at writing created in a limited amount of time ANYWHERE? A: Never.We always revise.
‘We can use the word illiterate’: The writing crisis in Australian schools
That is by Katina Zammit, Deputy Dean and a Senior Lecturer in English K-6 pedagogy and curriculum with research interests in creation of texts – written and multimodal, using a rap get of technologies to support student engagement in learning and improve literacy outcomes for students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. She is on a number of editorial boards for international journals. She has worked in primary schools, as a literacy consultant and provided advice on literacy and mulitliteracies to ACARA.
See this 2017 post: NAPLAN only tells part of the story of student achievement.
NAPLAN cannot measure creativity or engagement
Despite all that NAPLAN can measure, it only tells part of the story of literacy and numeracy achievement. Results may not show growth of learning in schools with students from low socio-economic backgrounds or culturally and linguistically diverse students, because it only measures a narrow skill set on one particular day of the year. It does not represent student achievements across the year, nor across the breadth of the curriculum which schools use to evaluate their programs.
BTW this is the 18th revision of this post, mostly correcting typos….