The quantitatives are launching a nationwide attack on early reading. The ministry’s aim is to displace the ‘SEMO Picking up the Pace’ findings that have been largely unchallenged, but just as largely officially ignored.
As this education tragedy in the making is followed, readers will be reminded of a major series I wrote a number of years ago ‘The battle for primary school reading: is the phoneme on the wall?’ in which I predicted this fight back: that it would occur in association with a right-wing government, that it would be old phonics in new packaging, that it would be justified by flaky and short-term range research, and that it would continue the downward reading spiral already occurring as a result of phonics creeping back into classrooms from review office urging and a lack of proper advisory support.
Quantitatives, based on their supposed scientific research and the certainty with which they declare their findings, gain their powerful position by presenting themselves as experts. The formal, highly structured teaching methods they advocate appeal to those in power structures. Quantitatives, as academic elitists, in advancing their case for the supremacy of their ideas, understandably feel most comfortable associating themselves with power structure elitists. In this case I suspect Bill Tunmer and James Chapman (our old foes) have approached Hekia Parata with a case for phonics being the structural basis for New Zealand children’s reading (it isn’t, it is words working with children’s sense of their world). Hekia would have been a sucker for the pitch. The attraction for her being that it was a formal way to take reading, ideal for delivery to clusters, and would raise the ire of those in education she detests. As well, quantitatives rarely discomfit their power structure allies with requests for improved staffing ratios or anything along those lines. On the whole, as long as quantitatives have sufficient funding for their own vocational purposes that is sufficient. (I know you might think that an outrageous generalisation – well you prove me wrong.)
The phonics programmes to be undertaken by quantitatives, readers will note, began with an approach to the government, over the top of teacher organisations and teachers. A lot of secretive preliminary work having been undertaken, including an adviser on phonics and one on dyslexia. (If the two are combined in reducing dyslexia, it will be another setback to a group of children who need our very best attention. A posting on dyslexia on this website sets a powerful argument for focusing on the holistic.)
I am mainly working from two media releases: one from Tunmer and Chapman (Massey), and one from Gail Gillon (Canterbury). Gillon is more to the point and I will quote her: ‘… a pilot study indicated teaching new entrants about the sounds of word and how to break words down, something known as phonological awareness, could have a dramatic impact.’
There it is in a sentence. An education tragedy in the making. We have already slipped to 13th in reading as a result of ignoring SEMO and, in the resulting vacuum, moving to phonics, and now the process of decline is to be sped up by having phonics officially imposed. There we will be much binding in the marsh with the reading approach that has dominated reading in America dominating us. Led I must say by a North American quantitative academic who from his first conference in New Zealand assailed our way and then proceeded to conduct a vendetta against Marie Clay and our holistic way that continues to the present day.
If phonological awareness was a corrective for children coming to school struggling with their early reading and writing experiences, the correction would already have occurred. Children are getting phonological awareness in bucket-loads as a result of the growing emphasis on phonics from schools of education, professional advisory services, and publishing initiatives (for instance, one coming with a loose relation to Massey – Quick60 – and others from what I call the Grandma Moses syndrome, that is programmes being sold to schools by those with no training in education, but who have suddenly seen the light and the light was phonics).
Gillon quotes a doctoral student who found improvement in children’s reading as a result of structured phonics and the programme to be based on that.
Look! I have read that research hundreds of times from dozens of countries, over five decades, but the research is quantitative research, that is horse feathers, anyone with half an education mind could drive a bus through the innumerable research gaps on offer. The research is always limited in scope, focused on laughable particulars, tested soon after the teaching, taught in circumstances that don’t replicate classrooms, off the point, and never long term. It is rubbish – Hattie-type rubbish.
Of course, the structured phonics will be a ‘success’, it is structured to be so, then it will be officially sanctioned for the review office near you to insist on; courses on it abounding in clusters – and another unholy Hekia of a mess.
More from me to come – much more.