Debbie: I was so delighted to read about this achievement via Emma Rutherford’s Facebook page. Hearty congratulations to Emma, Bree and Rebecca for all the pioneering and hard work of these ladies – and for the hard work of their colleagues who implemented changes in the schools involved. I feel very honoured to have received a mention in Emma’s post so I asked her if I could copy and paste her description of what led to the ‘Diocese of Ballarat Catholic Education Partnership Award 2022’. Here is what Emma wrote via Facebook on 30th May 2022:
Bec, Bree and I have been heading up a project for two Catholic primary schools, that saw them transition from a “Balanced Literacy” approach to a “Structured Literacy” approach. We were nominated for, and won, the Diocese of Ballarat Catholic Education Partnership Award 2022 for this work, which is very exciting and lovely. For the past 20+ years, Balanced Literacy (a reworking of Whole Language) has been the dominant approach to primary Literacy instruction in Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK. Speaking very broadly, national and international studies have shown this approach to work for around 2/3 of students, which you’ll no doubt agree, isn’t good enough. About ten years ago, the Australian, UK and US governments undertook separate reviews of Literacy teaching and all found, without exception, that explicit and systematic teaching of phonics was “crucial for some, helpful for all and harmful for none”.
Effective phonics instruction was overwhelmingly determined to be the missing piece in most Balanced Literacy classrooms. Since then, the fields of neurology, psychology, speech pathology, linguistics and education have taken great strides towards understanding how literacy learning occurs. We now know that an explicit, cumulative and systematic approach to teaching phonology, phonics, syllables, morphology, syntax and semantics is the most effective way of ensuring all kids learn to read and write. This approach has come to be known as “Structured Literacy”. (I think it was the International Dyslexia Association who first coined the phrase.) The teachers, tutors and learning support officers at our schools have undertaken a great deal of new learning in the past three years and, following a tightly planned transition, we are now in the first year of full implementation of Structured Literacy.
We teach the alphabetic code in all its glory, from day one of school, as a matter of priority. We teach handwriting, vocabulary, idioms, syllable division rules, morphology, etymology and the rules of syntax in a tightly planned, sequential order using agreed and consistent strategies and a wide bank of assessment tools to track progress. Our students work at sound, letter, word, phrase and sentence level long before they are ever expected to independently read or write at length.
We no longer teach or assess using debunked “multi-cueing” strategies and we waste no time on the arbitrary “levelling” or “benchmarking” provided by commercial products. We no longer instruct children to “have a go” at reading by looking at an illustration and making their best guess, or by “getting your mouth ready to say the word”. We teach them the code.
We no longer expect children to produce whole texts of varying genres before they are able to form letters correctly or select appropriate suffix forms. We don’t ask them to “add more detail” to their writing without teaching them about the appositives and other devices that enable them to do so. We now know the crucial importance of content knowledge, and rather than teaching “comprehension strategies”, we teach content.
All our Literacy instruction is connected to our learning in other areas of the curriculum. For example, students who are learning about the science of light and sound, will be reading and writing about this very topic. Hopefully it goes without saying that we still read picture books and novels. Our kids still visit the library, borrow books to take home and are encouraged to read and write for pleasure.
As Bec, Bree and I said in our acceptance speech, we are only at the beginning of this change. We’ve been helped enormously by Debbie Hepplewhite and her No Nonsense Phonics program, as well as The Writing Revolution (Hochman Method). We’re continually inspired by the work of Pamela Snow and the Solar Lab at LaTrobe, Jennifer Buckingham of MultiLit and Emina McLean. These resources and researchers are worth looking up if you’re interested in finding out more. You might also consider joining the Reading Science in Schools Facebook Group. I hope that’s been useful for a few people who have been asking about this work. Thanks so much for the messages of congratulations on the award.
* When we know better, we do better. (Dr Maya Angelou).
* Cut the fluff and teach the stuff. (Dr Anita Archer).”
Well done all concerned!
PLEASE NOTE: From June 2022, The No Nonsense Phonics Skills resources are published by Phonics International Ltd and not Raintree Publishers. Thank you to the Raintree team for supporting with the development of the No Nonsense Phonics Skills Starter Kit resource. This will remain available and provided by Phonics International Ltd as originally described and sold. Full information and free training for the No Nonsense Phonics Skills resources are available via the ‘About No Nonsense Phonics‘ page HERE.