Wednesday, 4 March 2015

My response to Dr. Eileen Honan's AARE blogpost on "how teachers are taught to teach reading"

I have now made two attempts, two days apart to post the following in response to a blogpost by Dr Eileen Honan (University of Queensland) on the Australian Association for Research in Education website
Dr Honan was writing in response to this piece by me and Alison Clarke, published on The Conversation site on February 6:The way we teach most children to read sets them up to fail
I don't know why my response has not been published, but here it is:
Eileen no-one, least of all me or Alison Clarke, is suggesting that phonics is a “magic bullet”. Phonological and phonemic awareness are, however, necessary, though not sufficient elements in good reading instruction. The key point in our piece on The Conversation recently was that in spite of recommendations made in the 2005 National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy,  teachers are not being taught how to approach this aspect of literacy instruction in a systematic way. Some very fortunate children seem to be able to skip over the bridge to literacy in a fairly seamless manner, while others need much more in the way of systematised support.
I really don’t think it’s possible for you to make authentic generalisations about “how Australian teachers are taught”, because (as far as I am aware, please correct me if I’m wrong) we don’t have national audit data that maps this.  Recently, however, in NSW, a report was released that indicated that this needs to be done better:  
The work of Australian teacher educator Ruth Fielding Barnsely also shows poor teacher grasp of key metalinguistic knowledge in pre-service and inservice teachers – see Being passionate is a great start, but having some real knowledge and skills is what gains traction with respect to high quality instruction. This raises the issue of the "Peter Effect" in teaching – that “one cannot teach what one does not know” See:
It’s ironic that you refer to Dr Norman Swan, of ABC Radio National’s Health Report, as “endorsing” a phonics-based program, as he is one of Australia’s biggest champions of evidence-based practice. As such, he has a keen eye for unsubstantiated claims and holds researchers and practitioners to account for their claims. 
I note too, your attempt to discredit my colleague Alison Clarke, a highly regarded Melbourne Speech Pathologist who does a huge amount of probono work to promote improved classroom practices and afford more children the opportunity to exit primary school as skilled readers. In addition to her hours and hours of honorary work, Alison provides resources and ideas free of charge via her website.  As a clinician who specialises in working with children with reading difficulties, she should be receiving only a small number of referrals from surrounding schools.
Until Australia is performing much more strongly on objective measures such as PIRLS, clinicians such as Alison will have to struggle to see as many instructional casualties as they can. Sadly, there’s just not enough Alison Clarkes to go around.
In addition to PIRLS ( , we also have Australian Bureau of Statistics data on poor literacy rates in this country (, and a damning 2011 report from the Industry Skills Council of Australia ( .
If you can present compelling evidence that we’re actually doing well with respect to how we teach our children to read, I’m all ears.  
(c) Pamela Snow 2015


  1. Oh, my. The Reading Wars do go on, don't they In the present skirmish, Whole Language continues to win by saying "What War? We don't see no war. Of course, we teach Phonics. We've always taught it. But we don't limit ourselves to that. We're the well informed, 'for the kids good guys,' not the narrow-minded, 'for themselves' bad guys."

    As the comments to date on Honan's blogpost (and your rejected comment) indicate, her idealized image of how she would like teachers to be taught bears little resemblance to the facts on the ground. But it doesn't have to. All it has to do is "sound good," and "sound good, it does.

    The thing is, in looking to PIRLS and to other such "evidence," we're looking at data that reliably measure anything but students capability to handle the Language Code in whatever language they are being instructed. In English-speaking countries the tests are a reliable measure of socioeconomic status, but at the item level they have little-or-nothing to do with the instruction students are receiving. I don't ordinarily cite my own research, but in this case I don't know of anything else to reference
    (The publication hasn't made the slightest dent in re-forming educational testing, but I had no expectation that anyone would give the time of day to the "evidence.")

    Ooops. I do have more to say. Too much more, as it turned out, because the comment exceeded the drop dead cut-off of 4096 characters the little person inside WordPress has set. The number 4096 is an uncommon number, but I'm sure it has a technical rationale, and it's a sound rule for blog Comments.

    1. Thanks Dick - I agree with your comments re appearances Vs realities. Thanks for the link to your article too - will read with interest.


    2. PS - Dick that URL link doesn't seem to work. Are you able to re-post or to email the paper to me -

      many thanks :)

  2. Hi Pamela,
    I am the editor of the AARE blog. I moderate all comments. I have not seen any comments by you and certainly have not deliberately not published them.
    We love long comments and would welcome yours very much !
    Obviously something has gone wrong.
    Would you like to have another go attempt today and i will keep watch.
    Maralyn Parker

  3. Hi Maralyn
    Thanks for this message and for your email. Please feel free to copy and paste from the above, as my attempts to do so are not working for some reason.

    best wishes

  4. a systematic way. Some very fortunate children seem to be able to skip over the bridge to literacy in a fairly seamless manner, while others need much more in the way of systematised support his response