New year, same crappy old Education Department advice20 Replies
In 2018, my state’s Department of Education and Training (DET) produced a brochure for parents called “Literacy and numeracy tips to help your child every day”.
Its top recommendation for “Helping your child work out difficult words” was to tell them, “Look at the picture. What word makes sense?”
Its authors clearly weren’t across the scientific research on how the brain learns to read, which shows that strong readers read (surprise!) the written words in books. Guessing words from pictures or context is only the strategy of 1. weak readers, and 2. learners trying to read books containing spelling patterns they’ve never been taught (e.g. predictable texts, still sadly widely used in schools).
I wrote a cranky blog post about the DET brochure at the time. Then, as my hands were still itching to tear my hair out, I made a free phonics workbook with the same teaching sequence as affordable decodable books, to give parents without much cash a better alternative.
Three years later, parents of five-year-olds have once again been given the same crappy advice in the same brochure, in the 2022 Prep bags. This is the Australian state with the car number-plate slogan “The Education State“, I kid you not.
The brochure only contains the word ‘phonics’ in a section called “Making the most of screen time”, but doesn’t help parents find quality early literacy programs, or consider the difference between them and Reading Eggs, as I have here and here.
There are five nice story books in the Prep bags, suitable for parents to read to children, but not a single decodable book suitable for young beginners to read themselves (unless the book “Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee!” is different from “It’s Me, Ruby Lee!” in the Education Minister’s media release).
For a calm, thorough discussion of the difference between the approach recommended by the DET in this brochure, and the approach recommended by reading scientists, see this article: Balanced Literacy or Systematic Reading Instruction? by Prof Pamela Snow.
There has been lots of media discussion about the importance of evidence-based teaching in the early years – recent examples are here, here, and here – and so many wonderful schools and teachers are enthusiastically embracing reading science, that I’d imagined further taxpayer-funded distribution of bad advice to parents wasn’t possible.
Our system not only fails many children with language-based learning difficulties at the start of their education, it bizarrely offers non-evidence-based “Colour Themes” during NAPLAN tests, and this year is making life even harder for the ones who battle on to Year 12, by adding a literacy assessment to the General Achievement Test. The result will be recorded on their graduating certificate for potential employers to see.
Instead of going back to tearing my hair out, I’ve made my January 2019 free Letters and Sounds workbook available again. If you can afford something better, use it instead. If not, and if your child is being taught to read and spell by memorising and guessing words, I hope it helps get them decoding and encoding. The leaflet size Pocket Rockets follow the same phonics teaching sequence, and I think they’re still the cheapest printed decodable books for beginners around.
I look forward to the day when the Victorian DET provides more solidly evidence-based early literacy information and resources to children and parents.