[lg policy] New Zealand teachers defy policy with push for phonics

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Thu May 17 10:25:16 EDT 2018


 New Zealand teachers defy policy with push for phonics
[image: researchers from New Zealand’s Massey University found that 90 per
cent of more than 660 primary school teachers reported employing
phonics-style methods in their literacy instruction. Picture: iStock]
<https://cdn.newsapi.com.au/image/v1/1663242868732071eda73333dfd36e3a>researchers
from New Zealand’s Massey University found that 90 per cent of more than
660 primary school teachers reported employing phonics-style methods in
their literacy instruction. Picture: iStock

   - The Australian
   - 12:00AM May 17, 2018
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   - Rebecca Urban <https://www.theaustralian.com.au/author/Rebecca+Urban>
   <https://www.theaustralian.com.au/author/Rebecca+Urban>
   NATIONAL EDUCATION CORRESPONDENT
   Melbourne
   @RurbsOz <http://twitter.com/RurbsOz>

Teachers in New Zealand are defying longstanding education policy on
literacy and using phonics programs to teach children how to read, with a
vast majority of converts reporting more confident and capable readers as a
­result.

In a first of its kind study, to be published today in the *Australian
Journal of Learning Difficulties*, researchers from New Zealand’s Massey
University found that 90 per cent of more than 660 primary school teachers
reported employing phonics-style methods in their literacy instruction.

And of the teachers surveyed, 84 per cent reported considerable benefits,
such as improved reading ability, increased confidence in reading and
writing, and a boost to literacy achievement across the classroom as a
whole.

The study, which was funded in part by the New Zealand Ministry of
Education, could have ­implications for education policy in Australia,
which, like New Zealand, has seen reading proficiency among primary-aged
students fall over recent years.

The federal government is currently pushing the states and territories to
introduce a mandatory test of phonics skills for Year 1 students in a bid
to arrest the ­decline. Education Minister Simon Birmingham is expected to
use upcoming funding negotiations to press his case for the tests.

Massey University professor James Chapman, who led the study, said
anecdotal evidence had suggested that, despite New Zealand education policy
favouring a whole-language approach to literacy instruction, teachers were
increasingly resorting to using varying degrees of phonics. And while the
study confirmed this, finding that 68 per cent had embedded it in all
literacy lessons, a related survey also found teachers had a mixed
understanding of the literacy-related language structures required for
effective teaching, meaning for many their ability to teach phonics
effectively was constrained.

More than 50 different commercial phonics programs were found to be in use
across the public schools surveyed; many of them lacking sound research to
support them.

“Teachers know they should be using phonics and they are doing their best,”
Professor Chapman said. “The system has been letting them down.”

Centre for Independent Studies senior research fellow Jennifer Buckingham
said the study was relevant to Australia, where, ­although phonics was
embedded in the curriculum, how well it was taught varied across the
country.

She said many studies had found graduate teachers were emerging from
training with a weak knowledge of the structures of the English language,
while a large proportion of Australian early primary school teachers were
not familiar with basic linguistic concepts.

“That’s one of the aims of the phonics check; to investigate if there is a
weakness there and, if so, identify where those weaknesses are,” Dr
Buckingham said.

Professor Chapman said Australia’s bid to introduce phonics screening was a
“good move”, having worked well in Britain.

He said despite teachers’ best intentions, literacy levels in New Zealand
were unlikely to improve unless teachers were given more support to
increase their knowledge and skills in literacy instruction.


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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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