Teachers look at phonics anew after training

NSW this week became the second state after South Australia to introduce compulsory phonics screening for Year 1 students. Picture: Kerris Berrington

A recent article in the Australian Newspaper raised two points on the teaching of reading skills in schools:

  • States in Australia are increasing testing the phonic skills of students

“NSW this week became the second state after South Australia to introduce compulsory phonics screening for Year 1 students, and will also ensure phonics becomes a key component of early reading instruction from next year.”

  • Teacher beliefs are still strong about the need to teach meaning cue

“training did not substantially alter the views of participants who believed that meaning cues, rather than phonics knowledge, should be emphasised during children’s early experiences with reading.”

Rather than engage in the whole phonics vs whole language or meaning based debate on teaching reading I think both approaches or rather sets of skills are needed by students to effectively read in the 21st century. Most teachers do! Rather the issue for teachers might be time. Time in the curriculum to effectively teach both sets of cues.

There are 25 instruction hrs in a school week and the curriculum is expected to be taught in 80% of that time (20 hrs) allowing 20% for local priorities (5 hrs). In the Years F-2 where most phonic reading skills are expected to be learned you teach 10 hrs of English and the standard 5 hrs of Maths. Then you have the other weekly mandates: Physical Education / Sport 2 hrs, Science 1.5 hrs and Languages (expected is 90 min but reality is 1 hr). I haven’t yet added in Arts (1.5 hrs reality is 2 hrs in most schools which I suppose is the local priority????), Humanities (2 hrs) and Health 0.5 hrs. What is left is 1 hr a week in which we fit library skills, technology, weekly assemblies and I could add more. I won’t add in if there are additional needs: e.g. speech therapy or counselling.

Then of course there is the unaccounted for time – marking the attendance rolls, collecting student expenses and permission notes, changing home reading texts or books, dealing with playground disputes, correcting homework with students (lets not set so much) travelling time between classes etc….. . As a Principal I used to work hard on reducing these unaccounted for times but its an ongoing issue.

I know its an age old debate which has spurred other debates that include extending the school instructional day (9am – 5.00 pm some suggest). Principals and teachers are creative when it comes to juggling hrs in a school day – thank goodness.

So in summary if a teacher needs to take an extra hour a week teaching English and not so much Humanities or a little less Science lets not be so judgemental and leave them to their professional judgement.

I’ll jump off my hobby horse now.

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