New phonics test will do nothing to improve Australian children’s literacy



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Research in England has found that the proposed test was no more accurate than the teacher’s judgement in identifying children with reading difficulties.
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Misty Adoniou, University of Canberra

Minister Birmingham released a report today recommending that all Year 1 students in Australia complete a phonics test. The panel responsible for the report has recommended that Australia adopt the Year 1 phonics screening check that has been used in England since 2011.

What is phonics?

Phonics is the process of matching sounds to letters. It is an important skill when learning to read and write in English. There are two main approaches to teaching children phonics – synthetic phonics and analytic phonics.

Analytic phonics starts with taking a word that children know the meaning of, and then analysing it to see how the sounds in the word match the letters we see within the word. So five-year-old Emma will learn that her name starts with the sound “e” which is represented by the capital letter E, followed by the sound “m” which is represented by the two letters “mm”, and ends with the sound “u”, which is represented by the letter a.

Synthetic phonics starts with letters which the children learn to match with sounds. The meaning of the words are irrelevant, and indeed, inconsequential. The theory is that the children should master letter/sound matches first before trying to attend to meaning.

Which phonics method is better?

There is no evidence that one phonics approach is better than the other. In England, the US and Australia, there have been major inquiries into reading and all have concluded that systematic and explicit phonics teaching is a crucial part of effective reading instruction. But none have found any evidence that synthetic phonics approaches are better than analytic phonics approaches, or vice versa.

All inquiries have concluded that whatever phonic instruction method is chosen, it should be one part of a suite of skills children should have when learning to read.

What is the phonics test?

The phonics test is based on synthetic phonics. The children are given 40 words on a computer screen, with no context. The words are not put in a sentence, or given any meaning. This is deliberate, and an important feature of a synthetic phonics approach, as the children must show they are not relying on meaning or prior experience with the word in order to successfully decode it.

To this end, 20 of the words the children are given are nonsense words, like “thrand”, “poth” and “froom”, to ensure they are not using meaning to decode the words.

Why are we introducing it?

Minister Birmingham is concerned about the numbers of students in Australia who are struggling with literacy. The decline in literacy standards of Year 9 students is very concerning, and he is right to be looking for solutions. But the solution will not be found in this phonics test for six-year-olds.

As the test has been has already been in use for six years in England we are fortunate to be able to learn from their experience. A major evaluation of the test conducted by the Department for Education in England found that the test is not delivering improvements in literacy capabilities, and in fact, is delivering some unwanted side effects, like class time being spent learning to read nonsense words rather than real words.

Numerous other recent studies of the implementation of the phonics test in England provide valuable information that allow us to test the claims for the test against research evidence.

What does the research say?

Claim: The phonics test has improved reading results in England since its introduction.

Evidence: Year 1 children in England are certainly getting better at passing the phonics test. Over the past six years, pass rates have increased by 23%. This means around 90% of Year 1 children in England can now successfully read nonsense words like “yune” and “thrand”.

However research has found that the ability to read nonsense words is an unreliable predictor of later reading success.

And so far, the phonics test in England has not improved reading comprehension scores.

As the test only tests single syllable words with regular phonic patterns, it is not possible to know how many English children can read words like “one”, “was”, “two”, “love”, “what”, “who”, or “because”, as such words are not included in the test. This is unfortunate because these are amongst the 100 most common words in the English language, which in turn make up 50% of the words we read everyday – whether in a novel, a newspaper article or a government form.

“Yune”, “thrand” and “poth”, on the other hand, make 0% of the words we read.

Claim: The phonics test will pick up children who are having reading difficulties. Birmingham has stated “the idea behind these checks is to ensure students don’t slip through the cracks”.

Evidence: Research in England has found that the test was no more accurate than the teacher’s judgement in identifying children with reading difficulties. Teachers already know which children struggle. As researchers, teachers and principals
have all said – teachers need more support in knowing how to support those struggling children.

Claim: The phonics test will provide detailed diagnostics to support teachers to make effective interventions. The chair of the panel recommending the test says that the phonics test will drill into the detail of phonics to establish what children know.

Evidence: A thorough analysis of the test’s components found it fails to test some of the most common sound/letter matches in English, and indeed screens for a very limited number of the hundreds of sound/letter matches in English. They found that children can achieve the pass grade of 32 from 40 with only limited phonic knowledge.

Other research found the test fails to give any information about what the specific phonic struggles of a child might be , or whether the struggles are indeed with phonics.

These limitations mean the check has negligible diagnostic or instructional use for classroom teachers.

Learning lessons

Australia is in the fortunate position of being able to learn from the research that has been conducted since the implementation of the phonics test and mandatory synthetic phonics teaching in England. The lesson is clear. The test is unable to deliver what was hoped. Australia should look elsewhere for answers to its literacy challenges.

Already state Education Ministers have begun to let Birmingham know that they will not be taking up the offer of the national phonics test.

The ConversationThis may be an issue where Australia is able to overcome its intellectual cringe, and act on the research evidence rather than old colonial ties.

Misty Adoniou, Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Book Review: Collapse, by Richard Stephenson


Collapse‘Collapse’ by Richard Stephenson is book one in the ‘New America’ series and I believe Stephenson’s first novel. The novel is set in the year 2027, with the USA falling apart. It is in the grip of the 2nd Great Depression and is at war with the Great Empire of Iran. The state of Florida has been devastated by a hurricane that has left over 1 million people dead and Texas is about to face the same fate. The government is about to fall. The people are descending into anarchy. What will become of the USA?

Though a first novel, the suspense and action of the novel is first rate. It is very easy to read and carries you along quite easily. However, there are serious issues with the grammar and spelling, as well as some fairly obvious errors in the actual text of the story. A good proof reader should have picked up on these mistakes and that would have resulted in a far more polished and professional  product.

There is also a short sex scene tacked onto the end of the story which I thought was somewhat tacky and unnecessary. It did nothing for the story as a whole and was completely out of place in the overall development of the novel.

If you can see past these obvious flaws without too much prejudice, the novel is a very good read and I do look forward to picking up the story when the next book in the series is released in 2013.

Buy this book at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Collapse-Richard-Stephenson/dp/1477654631/

Article: LendInk Site Suspended


The link below is to an article that reports on how the ebook lending site Lendlnk was suspended while doing nothing illegal.

For more visit:
http://www.geekosystem.com/ebook-lendink-shuttered/

Book Review: Killing Calvinism – How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside, by Greg Dutcher


Killing CalvinismI have started reading ‘Killing Calvinism – How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside,’ by Greg Dutcher. This book was released by Cruciform Press in June 2012, so I have been reading a new book for a change. Generally I read books that were written many years ago, often several centuries ago, so this was a bit unusual for me. It was however the title of the book, along with a review that I had read somewhere, that drew my attention to it and so I decided to buy it at Amazon in Kindle format.

So reading the book I quickly discovered that it was a very easy book to read, even though it dealt with a subject that was indeed crucial, timely and weighty. Calvinism is the behemoth of Christian theology, being a system of truth that epitomises the teaching of Scripture. It has produced great works of theology, some very technical and verbose in nature. Yet here was a book looking at this system of truth that was easy to read and speaking straight to the heart with great warmth and even humour (yes humour).

However, it would be a mistake to think that this book dealt with Calvinism in a detached manner, somehow separated from the adherent to it. Indeed, this book seeks to penetrate the hearts of the adherents of Calvinism and to strike at the heart of the matter. This is not a book that somehow produces a barren formalism, rather it smashes through formalism and seeks the real Calvinism, one that comes from the inner person regenerated by the spirit of God and transforms the lives of those that profess it. It is a living Calvinism that this book seeks and challenges everything else that claims to be Calvinism, but yet has nothing of its soul. This book is a clarion call for a Calvinism that ignited the hearts of a Calvin, of a Spurgeon and of a Bunyan and desires a turning away from all that is not. I love Calvinism – it leads me to God and the way of life he wishes me to lead and live. This book reminds me of this and for that I am thankful to Him for allowing me to read it. It is as Dutcher describes it, the windscreen of truth that allows me to see God and how he wants me to live for Him.

Buy this book at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Calvinism-Perfectly-Theology-ebook/dp/B0088PBC5G

This Little Church Went to Market – The Church in the Age of Entertainment, by Gary Gilley


I have decided to start reading this book again. I have mentioned ‘This Little Church Went to Market’ in an earlier post in At the BookShelf and this is linked to below:

https://atthebookshelf.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/this-little-church-went-to-market-by-gary-gilley/

Back in October 2010 when I started to read this book I put it aside for some reason – I may have gone on holiday and forgot about it on my return. Anyhow, I decided to take it up again and then to read the two other books that come after it as per my original post. So that is my plan over the next few weeks and months.

This Little Church Went to Market, by Gary Gilley, was first published in 2002 by Xulon Press (ISBN: 1 5916 0049 9). The edition I have is that published as a paperback by Evangelical Press in 2010 (ISBN: 0-85234-596-8 & ISBN-13 978-085234-596-2). The book was revised and updated in 2006. My edition has 142 pages, so it isn’t a large book by any means.

So about to start reading the book – feel free to read it also and join in the discussion on it.

 

Book Group

I have added this book to read at the book group at BookClubIt. Please join in the discussion at the book group or add your thoughts here on the Blog.

At the BookShelf (book reading group at BookClubIt):
http://www.bookclubit.com/bookclub.php?id=404

 

The Book – Get a Copy

At Goodreads:
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2275230.This_Little_Church_Went_to_Market

At Shelfari:
http://www.shelfari.com/books/6229162/This-Little-Church-Went-to-Market-The-Church-in-the-Age-of-Enter

Purchase a copy of the book at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/This-Little-Church-Went-Market/dp/1591600499
http://www.amazon.com/This-Little-Church-Went-Market/dp/0852345968/

Or Visit:
http://www.monergismbooks.com/This-Little-Church-Went-to-Market-p-16471.html

 

Note: This is a completely independent review – I have received nothing for it.