A National Curriculum: What’s in Store?
A national curriculum: What’s in store? Will this be the beginning of the end to play based learning?
Welcome to March. We’re in full swing and most of us can barely recall the recent holiday.
The new draft national curriculum was released on March 1 this year for a three month public consultation period. On reviewing the draft, it’s all great in theory. We are all working towards the best possible outcome for every student. And Australian experts have looked locally and abroad to identify the common elements of best practice.
The national curriculum will make teaching goals explicit to teachers. It will ensure a continuity of learning. It should ensure consistent practices within and across schools. It will require teachers to look more deeply at texts, developing what Professor Peter Freebody describes as “a coherent and cumulative body of (student) knowledge”. I just love the sound of that!
But what does it all really mean? From where I stand, isn’t this already happening? Queensland teachers have been using the work of Freebody and Luke for years. The four practices of the literate person do develop a coherent and cumulative body of knowledge. They provide an intelligent, workable, comprehensive and user friendly model to support and guide literacy learning across reading and viewing, designing and recording a range of texts.
And what’s in store for students in Kinder and Prep? Does the new curriculum suggest an end to play-based instruction?
Already, the transition from Preschool to Prep saw significant changes to the traditional play based model in many Queensland schools. I’m sure that many will argue that the new program can and should continue with discovery learning and play based instruction. In reality, however, are we likely to see formal literacy instruction infiltrating and in some cases, replacing, the teaching for skills and knowledge which form the very foundation of successful literacy learning.
The lack of detail around the teaching for expressive and receptive language, phonemic awareness and phonological knowledge in some existing curriculums is clearly evident. Current guidelines which state only to ‘consolidate phonological knowledge’ fail to highlight and emphasise the importance of oral language as a prerequisite to formal literacy development. How well does a comment like this inform early educators about the specific knowledge and skills to be acquired by young children in readiness for formal literacy instruction?
In this era, we accept and understand the critical link which exists between oral language and success in reading and writing. There is little argument that if you can’t say it, you are unlikely to read it or write it. That said will teachers feel they need to take valuable time away from oral language programs, in order to provide formal literacy instruction under the new curriculum?
Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not advocating that young children are not ready to develop formal skills. We are professionals and must be guided by our observations. We must offer differentiated instruction based around formal and informal data and relevant curriculum guides. What I am suggesting is that not all children will be ready for formal literacy instruction at the same time. And for those Kinder and Prep children needing clear, ongoing, explicit attention to developing, enhancing and extending their oral language skills and phonological knowledge, what can be gained from putting the cart before the horse.
We know not to build a house on an unstable foundation and we know that language precedes literacy. Many children underperforming on NAPLAN literacy tasks owe their struggles in literacy to poor oral language.
Can we protect the integrity of a play based program, if we impose formal instruction across literacy and numeracy on all students?
Will imposing formal literacy instruction replace, to some degree, oral language instruction? I’m interested to hear your thoughts on what the new curriculum means for literacy in our schools.