Returning the balance to literacy teaching

Returning the balance to literacy teaching

Reports show that reading and writing outcomes among Australian students have been on the decline, suggesting a rethink is needed on how schools are working to improve students’ literacy.

The latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), run by the OECD, show Australia has dropped to equal 12th place in reading, behind nations including New Zealand, Poland and Slovenia.

Similarly, the most recent NAPLAN data reveals a further decline in the proportion of students meeting the National Minimum Standard (NMS) in writing.

In August, the THRASS Conference 2019 (TC19) will address this issue, showcasing the journeys and successes of everyday teachers, principals and support staff across Australia.

The conference, which is being held 2-3 August, will include case studies and practical demonstrations exploring many of the political and ideological issues that currently surround literacy teaching in Australia.

The event’s multiple streams include Professional Learning, Evidence Based Teaching, Early Years Teaching, Learning Differences, EALD and THRASS as a whole-school literacy model.

TC19 Conference Theme: Returning the balance to literacy teaching – the role of practice informed evidence in affecting pedagogical change.

Keynote speakers include Denyse Ritchie, principal and Co-Developer at The THRASS Institute; Brendan Mitchell, C21 Teaching and ClickView in NSW; Vanessa Browning, Head of Junior School at Seymour College in South Australia; and Katharyn Cullen, academic leader of Curriculum at Seymour College.

Below, one of the guest speakers at the conference, THRASS Trainer and Classroom Teacher, Frances Duffy, tells The Educator about the importance of professional development in the teaching of literacy, and the practical benefits of THRASS’ methodology.

TE: Can you tell us what you will be speaking about at the conference?
At the conference I will be speaking about the skills for teaching spelling. There are many teachers who either do not have the knowledge and understanding of the English language sufficient to teach the mechanics of spelling or simply rely quite uncritically on a commercially produced text. I believe that teachers need a thorough understanding of the orthography of the English language to be able to adequately and meaningfully teach spelling. Spelling is multifaceted and we need to carefully teach each of those aspects in manageable parts for our learners. It is one of the tools required to be able to communicate in the written word. If we equip our students with the most common spelling patterns and other information about what occurs in English language they will be better able to spell more accurately and meaningfully.

TE: What are some of the most valuable things that you’ve learnt as a THRASS Trainer and classroom teacher?
Training other adults in the use of the THRASS methodology has broadened my knowledge and understanding of the mechanics of the English language. I have always believed in the teaching of phonics to early learners. The THRASS methodology provides a systematic and sustainable way of doing this so that the all aspects of word level work are in a meaningful context for the learners. One of the most valuable aspects of THRASS for me is to have the THRASS chart of English phonemes set out in an easily accessible manner. I had always been a poor speller, and this has allowed me to understand our spelling system/orthography so much better and consequently improved both my spelling and equipped me with tools to be a better teacher of spelling.

TE: You’ve said: “The THRASS charts are to literacy what the times tables are to Maths”. Can you elaborate on this?
All primary teachers know the importance of students’ understanding and knowing their times tables with automaticity in order to complete mathematical computations. The times tables are an organised set of algorithms that equip students in multiplying and dividing numbers. The THRASS chart also provides an organised set of data that will equip students in spelling words. The chart provides all the phonemes we use when speaking English, it provides the most frequently used graphemes that we use for spelling words and it also provides a word example of the use of particular graphemes representing phonemes in words. BUT then the tool kit opens, and we are able to clearly and adequately explain/teach syllables, blends as well as explain less common spelling choices all using a metalanguage that levels the playing field for all learners.  The Times Tables is not a program just as THRASS is not a program. They are both methodologies for instilling important facts in our learners.