New curriculum to boost phonics focus
Education ministers want a greater focus on phonics in teaching reading but it remains to be seen how it will trickle down to the classroom.
The revised and 'rebalanced' national curriculum will be unveiled in mid-October after education ministers from all jurisdictions agreed to its release.
It includes streamlining subjects taught in primary schools, strengthening references to Western influences on Australian history, and boosting the teaching of phonics.
Ministers also agreed to teacher training changes to make sure all educators are well-prepared to teach phonics.
But it will be up to each state and territory how and when to integrate the national curriculum into their individual syllabus.
New South Wales, for example, has indicated it won't be making changes immediately, curriculum expert Stewart Riddle says.
The State Government released a new guide just two weeks ago, which Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said gave every NSW teacher the tools to teach students to read using phonics.
"What's in the curriculum isn't necessarily what's happening in classrooms anyway," Riddle, from the University of Southern Queensland, told AAP on Tuesday.
"We have a really diverse range of approaches that are going on and some of them don't work as well as others."
There is already a strong emphasis on phonics in the national curriculum and Dr Riddle says it's hard to say how much is enough.
He advocates a balanced approach to teaching reading, where phonics is combined with understanding how words are formed, syntax and grammar.
"If you think about it like reading is a puzzle, it's about getting all the pieces together," he says.
"If you privilege one aspect of that over the others, then what does that do in the long run?"
Riddle is worried a bigger problem is not the initial teaching of reading, but how to help older primary and high school students who are still struggling.
Their difficulty is in comprehension and phonics won't fix that.
"It isn't just the nuts and bolts of getting words off the page, it's understanding them," he says.
WHAT IS PHONICS?
- "Phonics" covers a range of methods for teaching reading by looking at the sounds that make up words
- Broadly speaking, it can be divided in synthetic or analytic phonics
- Currently more emphasis in national curriculum on synthetic phonics
- Synthetic phonics is construction of words - first you learn the sounds of letters and groupings of letters then recognise those in words and build them up
- Analytic phonics is more deconstruction of words by recognising sounds within them.