Teaching, Learning and the National Literacy Strategy

  • Published on
    22-Feb-2017

  • View
    212

  • Download
    0

Embed Size (px)

Transcript

  • This article was downloaded by: [University of California Santa Cruz]On: 10 October 2014, At: 20:00Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Changing English: Studies in Cultureand EducationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ccen20

    Teaching, Learning and the NationalLiteracy StrategyJudith GrahamPublished online: 06 Jul 2006.

    To cite this article: Judith Graham (1998) Teaching, Learning and the National LiteracyStrategy, Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education, 5:2, 115-121, DOI:10.1080/1358684980050203

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1358684980050203

    PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE

    Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information(the Content) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor& Francis, our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warrantieswhatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of theContent. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions andviews of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. Theaccuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should be independentlyverified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liablefor any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages,and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly inconnection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content.

    This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes.Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expresslyforbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

    http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ccen20http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/1358684980050203http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1358684980050203http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • Changing English, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1998 115

    Teaching, Learning and theNational Literacy StrategyJUDITH GRAHAM

    The DfEE's National Literacy Strategy, Framework for Teaching (NLS) believes inteaching. Its key sentence, which governs every one of its eight hundred oddinstructions to teachers, is 'Pupils must be taught'. In this it differs from theNational Curriculum which, whilst it also enjoins teachers to teach, works with awider and altogether gentler set of commandments: 'Pupils should be given ...';'pupils should be introduced to ...'; 'pupils should be given opportunities to ...';'pupils should be helped to ...'; pupils should be accumulating ...'; pupils shouldhave extensive experience of ...'. The NLS's fixation on direct teaching is restatedin the introduction to the Framework, on more than one occasion. No one candoubt the emphasis: 'The Literacy Hour is intended to promote literacy instruc-tion ... ' (p. 8); 'The Literacy Hour offers a structure of classroom management,designed to maximise the time teachers spend directly teaching their class' (p. 10);'The Literacy Hour is intended to be a time for the explicit teaching of reading andwriting' (p. 14).

    This shift in focus, which is essentially a shift from encouraging learning to directteaching, derived originally from a desire to emulate the intensive teaching methodsperceived as successful in countries such as South Korea. Literacy programmes inAustralia and New Zealand were also admired for their structure, although thedifferent contexts in which these approaches and programmes operated seem not tohave been fully considered. The shift was also propelled by the conviction that,whilst teachers were happily creating contexts for literacy learning, they were notteaching literacy. This has been a long-standing and widely held suspicion aboutteachers, exemplified by Margaret Donaldson: 'The notion has recently gained somecurrency that reading scarcely needs to be taught at all ... Some people have cometo believe that what has traditionally been known as teaching is seriously damagingin its effects' (Donaldson, 1989).

    At exactly the time when teachers were being accused (unjustly, I believe) ofopting out of teaching, along came research findings (such as those of Goswami >CBryant, 1990) demonstrating the importance of phonemic awareness in children'sdeveloping literacy. Although distorted by the time it reached the 'termly objectives'of the NLS, it is presumably this research to which the NLS obliquely refers in thestatement: 'Research evidence shows that pupils do not learn to distinguish betweenthe different sounds of words simply by being exposed to books' (p. 4). Thenegative view of teachers (have teachers really ever 'simply' exposed children tobooks? HMI reports never discovered such practice) and these research findingsgave just the impetus needed to put quantifiable teaching content into the 'word'level imperatives in the framework.

    1358-684X/98/020115-07 1998 The editors of Changing English

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Uni

    vers

    ity o

    f C

    alif

    orni

    a Sa

    nta

    Cru

    z] a

    t 20:

    00 1

    0 O

    ctob

    er 2

    014

  • 116 /. Graham

    The search for teaching content does not stop at phonics, however. Bothestablished and recent theories proposed by linguists, genre theorists and narratol-ogists have been selected and harnessed to provide content for the 'sentence' and'text' level work, so that we find, for instance, five-year-olds taught to use the term'sentence' (p. 22) (a concept notoriously challenging to linguists), eight-year-oldstaught to discuss the impact of adverbs on the meaning of sentences (p. 38) andeleven-year-olds taught to examine why legal language is necessarily highly for-malised (p. 53). Some, but not all, of these requirements are also present in theNational Curriculum, but there they appear in less specific detail and are lessprecisely tied to age. The focus on process that guides much of the NationalCurriculum (so that in KS2 Writing, for instance, there are requirements for pupilsto plan, draft, revise, proofread and present) is largely absent in the NLS, revealingthat much of the 'process' research that has been influential in shaping literacyteaching in the past has been ignored in favour of what close analysis of 'endproducts' can tell us.

    At this point it would be useful to take stock of the quite extraordinary impactthat an initial reading of the NLS framework produces. It is hard not to beimpressed by the sheer volume of collected knowledge that has been amassed hereand moulded into a curriculum for 4 to 11-year-olds. Several thoughts come tomind, starting from the basic: 'How did anyone ever learn to read and write beforethey knew all of this?'. This thought is rapidly followed by: 'What evidence do theyhave that all this works?', 'Can I become the expert in phonic analysis, linguistics,grammar, genre theory, narratology that would enable me to teach all this?' and,hard on this is the anxious thought: 'Assuming that I can conquer all of this, howdo I make it accessible to my class?' This last question brings us back to the wholedirection of the NLS, which is to do with teaching. Importantly, however, we nowrealise that the assurance given by the NLS that at last teachers will know whatshould be taught in the literacy hour is a hollow assurance, because there is noillumination on just how these facts are to be taught or how they will come to belearned. As a manoeuvre, the NLS has all the cunning of any strategy that leavesopen the opportunity to denounce the implementor when the scheme fails.

    Will it fail? On one level, of course, it will not be allowed to fail. Tests will testwhat is taught, teachers will not want their children to fail the tests, so will do theirbest to prepare their classes, and test results will prove a rise in standards. But realliteracy? The jettisoning of understandings, developed in the last twenty or thirtyyears, of the conditions in which literacy is acquired rather than taught (under-standings that are reflected in part in the National Curriculum), means, I think, thatwe should steel ourselves for a fall in real literacy levels such as has often beenprophesied but never actually witnessed. Small children are going to be inundatedwith technical terms and analytic explanations that will unnecessarily complicatetheir reading and writing; older children will be spending time every day onmaterial they have grown out of or which is irrelevant.

    Three examples of current practices will make my point. I am watching a studenttrying, conscientiously, to implement the literacy hour with a Year 1 class. Sheholds up the story book. 'Now who can tell me how this book starts?' she asks.'Once upon a time,' they chorus. I am really pleased by her question and theiranswerbut not for long. That was not what she had in mind at all. 'No,' she says.'Look at the first word.' 'Once,' they say. 'No, what does the story start with?' she

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Uni

    vers

    ity o

    f C

    alif

    orni

    a Sa

    nta

    Cru

    z] a

    t 20:

    00 1

    0 O

    ctob

    er 2

    014

  • Teaching, Learning and the National Literacy Strategy 117

    repeats. 'O,' they say. 'No,' she says. 'I'll have to tell you. It's a capital letter. Everystory starts with a capital letter.' Not surprisingly, because she went on like this,the student had a disaffected class within minutes and any interest in the story wasextinguished. This student believes she is implementing the literacy hourwhichshe isto the letter. She believes she is teaching readingwhich she is not.

    My second example is perhaps more worryingat least my student has time tomend her ways. An experienced teacher is implementing the literacy hour at KS2.She is using a big book, despite the fact that all her class reads well. She has been'trained'; she will only read the first page as there is so much to analyse (as ofcourse there is: any linguist could write a book on one page of text). In any case,the book must last until Friday. Any curiosity aroused in the class by the openingpage will have to wait because she needs to ask them what is the effect of the authorhaving put the word 'stealthily' at the beginning of his sentence rather than at theend. The children's ideas are interesting but not what she had in mind; I find herexplanations incomprehensible, and the class does not look convinced either. (Howgood are any of us at lucid explanations of formidably subtle effects?) There arechildren in this class who are reading independently books such as Philip Pullman'sNorthern Lights and writing poetry which they work on tirelessly. Are we reallypromoting their literacy by dwelling on the fine grain of texts which are chosen lessfor their power to create readers than for their yielding copy for low-level analysis?

    My third example comes from a scheme of work on Rose Blanche, a picture booksuitable for older readers with a text by Ian McEwan, based on a story byChristopher Gallaz and illustrated by Roberto Innocenti. The poignant story is ofa young girl who helps Jewish children imprisoned in a concentration camp nearher home. At the end, as the liberating troops enter their town, she becomesseparated from her mother. In the confusion a shot rings out and Rose Blanche isnever found. On to this sad, beautiful book, the (experienced and hithertorespected) teacher heaps all manner of sentence and word level work. So, we areinvited to consider the ways in which sentences are begun and formed by therelationship between main and subordinate clauses, and then we are allowed toidentify how particular punctuation marks are used to shape the meaning ofsentences and paragraphs. There are some sensitive ideas for text level work, butthe book will have crumbled to dust long before they are reached.

    Mercifully, we have teachers in schools, parents at home and intelligent, thinkingstudents in training who understand the processes by which children becomeliterate. They will continue to create climates for literacy acquisition. But it is arisky moment, nevertheless, as these gloomy examples indicate, and all of us arevulnerable to being infected by counter-productive, mechanical tasks as it is thosethat are officially endorsed.

    It is time to elaborate on that 'climate for literacy acquisition'. Of all the areasthat teachers and parents should relinquish least willingly^ reading aloud to childrenshould top the bill. It is quite astounding that reading aloud to children is not partof the NLS. Admittedly, it is awkward to fit it in under the mantra 'Pupils shouldbe taught', but it could have been included as a high priority in the introduction.What do we have there instead? Right at the end, there is a cautious 'additionaltime may be needed (outside the literacy hour) for continuing the practice ofreading to the class'. Not 'will' be needed, only 'may'. No guidance given, nosuggestion that it is critically important. Surely then, reading aloud to children is a

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Uni

    vers

    ity o

    f C

    alif

    orni

    a Sa

    nta

    Cru

    z] a

    t 20:

    00 1

    0 O

    ctob

    er 2

    014

  • 118 / . Graham

    central ingredient and taken for granted in the daily fifteen minutes allotted towhole class shared reading and writing? But, once again, there is no suggestion thatgiving yourself up to a secondary world created by a book is an essential part ofbecoming a reader or that having a personal response to what you have heard ispart of the process. Even though we have got another fifteen minutes later on whichis ear-marked for word and sentence level work, that fifteen minutes' shared readingis to be used at KS1 'to read with the class, focusing on comprehension and onspecific features, e.g. word-building and spelling patterns, punctuation, the layoutand purpose, the structure and organisation of sentences' and at KS2 'for teachingand reinforcing grammar, punctuation and vocabulary work' (p. 11). It is clearlynot the intention that this period be used for anything like a traditional story-time.And to suggest rather unemphatically that this might appear at another time in theday, when in fact not much of the day will be left after the numeracy hour isinstituted next year, is shifty if not shoddy. The message is clear: reading aloud tochildren is not direct teaching and therefore it no longer counts.

    Of all the research that the anonymous compilers of the NLS might haveconsulted, the research on the value of reading aloud to children is the mostcopious, the most sustained over time, the most incontrovertible. William Tealewrites: 'the belief that the practice of reading to young children is beneficial isaccepted by researchers as well as by the educational community and, to a largedegree, by the general public' (Goelman, Oberg & Smith, 1984). Teale refer...

Recommended

View more >