What I consider a balanced article to the issues around learning to read and reading to learn.

Why we’re failing to build the knowledge students need

Age Newspaper 15/12/2023.

In the early years of school, teaching should focus on systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics, exposure to rich literature through read-alouds, and explicit teaching to build vocabulary, fluency, and background knowledge.

Hardly a controversial comment and from my experience most primary school teachers do this.

As students master the ability to decode new words, they can switch from learning to read to reading to learn. But they still need explicit teaching that deepens their knowledge and vocabulary, so they can comprehend what they read – the ultimate goal of reading.

Again accepted by most teachers I know.

The best way to prepare young people for the reading challenges they will face in the real world is to teach them using knowledge-rich and well-sequenced curriculum materials, from Prep to Year 12. But Australia still largely leaves this to chance.

The Australian Curriculum is surprisingly vague about the specific content teachers must cover (and) is left for the teacher to decide. As a result, we end up with a lesson lottery: some teachers and students cover a lot while others do not.

Here the argument starts to weaken a little with this idea of a lesson lottery. Most schools I visit, and I do visit lots through my work at two different universities, have curriculums developed by teachers that match the needs of their students and allow some depth of inquiry on topics that range from chemical science to environmental sustainability. The call for knowledge to be separated by individual year levels (in fact 13 year levels) goes against genuine topics of inquiry and is what I fought so hard against – I recall teachers saying I cannot teach that despite student interest because its on the year …. curriculum – really.

What we need is a responsive curriculum that maps the skills, understandings and knowledge that students learn (backward mapping if you like) through a process of inquiry and the teaching or curriculum space over consecutive years to ensure all areas of the curriculum are covered.

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