Observation about English in the National Curriculum

I have posted a few times already about the draft Australian National Curriculum and have promised more. This is just a note, but an important one.

I had thought conservatives and progressives were wetting themselves about the grammar strand somewhat prematurely, even if for rather different reasons. My awareness of the approaches to literacy developed in recent years, in which Peter Freebody has been an important player, led me to say a few days back “Anyone who thinks that means we’ll be doing parsing and analysis again is dreaming.”

Anna Patty rather confirms this in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

The leading adviser for the new national English curriculum has dismissed assumptions that the back-to-basics approach to grammar is a return to a so-called golden era of education.

Peter Freebody, who wrote the English curriculum ”shape” paper, on which the draft national curriculum was based, said literacy standards were poorer two generations ago, when grammar was taught more intensively in schools. He said the back-to-basics approach to grammar was not about returning to ”a golden age where everyone was literate”.

”What evidence there is indicates that Australians are more literate now than they were when grammar was taught intensively, but in isolation from language use and literary studies,” he said. ”This notion of the basics has to be separated from longing for an age that never existed. We are more literate now than we have ever been.”

But what had not improved over the years was the literacy levels of disadvantaged groups…

Professor Freebody and Professor Anthony Welch examined evidence of literacy levels in Australia 17 years ago, including media reports from 1915, 1917 and 1930, and curriculum documents from the 1940s and 1950s. One Sydney study in the mid-1970s by a Macquarie University researcher concluded that to find substantial levels of low literacy performance in Australian society, you needed to turn to the over-60 age group.

”Twenty-five years ago, Graeme Little drew the available evidence together from all Australian literacy surveys and concluded that the surveys show either improvement or no significant change," Professor Freebody said.

”The lower overall standard of two generations ago was not the fault so much of the teaching of grammar but rather of lower school retention rates and the less pervasive and complex use of literacy in society at large.”…

I concur with Professor Freebody’s remarks.

Schools related: Web 2 in education – paradoxical in NSW

9.7 Your professional relationship may be compromised if you:

vi. invite students to join your personal electronic social networking site or accept students’ invitations to join theirs
vii. attend parties or socialise with students
viii. invite a student or students back to your home or attend theirs without an appropriate professional reason and
without the consent of their parent or carer
ix. transport a school student in your car without prior approval from a supervisor and a parent or carer.

10.1 You must, therefore, comply with the Department’s Employer Communication Devices Acceptable Use Guidelines, and:

– exercise good judgment when using electronic mail, following the principles of ethical behaviour
– use appropriate language in electronic mail messages
– be aware that if an issue addressed in an email becomes the subject of a legal dispute, then those emails would be discoverable: that is, the court and all parties to the dispute would be entitled to see them
– not send messages that are harassing, defamatory, threatening, abusive or obscene
not invite students into your personal social network site, if it contains personal information or inappropriate comments or images
– remember transmission, storage, promotion or display of offensive, defamatory, or harassing material is strictly forbidden
report any situations where you become aware of the inappropriate use of electronic communication and social networking sites.

Extracts from the DET Revised Code of Conduct.

There had been a report in The Sunday Telegraph in January headed Teachers warned about befriending students on social websites. That report passed me by, I’m afraid, until I noticed a former colleague “unfriended” a number of people on his Facebook page – not that his page contained anything remotely inappropriate. Still, better safe than sorry. The Telegraph report said:

…Teacher groups say they understand the need to exercise caution on the internet, but argue the policy is yet another attempt to undermine those in the profession.

NSW Teachers Federation senior vice-president Joan Lemaire said the document was an invasion of teachers’ personal space.

Related Coverage

She said it went too far in its attempts to mandate compliance and created a fine line between a teacher’s personal and professional life.

A teacher will be in breach if they identify themselves as a teacher and criticise the NSW Government or the Education Department.

"It concerns us that the code of conduct seems to be aimed at preventing teachers from speaking out on certain issues," Ms Lemaire said. "This document seems to be more aimed at seeking compliance and not actually recognising the need for teachers to be respected in their professional judgment." …

While the matters raised in the Code of Conduct are hardly unexpected, I had wondered how use of Web 2 for legitimate educational purposes might be affected – for example using Twitter for coordinating a class project. See for other examples Twenty-Nine Interesting Ways* to use Twitter in the Classroom.  There are some great ideas there, and it would seem there are uses of social networking sites that would be within the Department’s conduct guidelines.

Except that thanks to the NetNanny you can’t even if you wanted to – not while actually at school anyway.

…DET’s filtering system has two components: a website categorisation engine, SmartFilter, provided by the now McAfee-owned company, Secure Computing; and DET’s whitelist approach to filtering.

A whitelist filter blocks any URL that has not been approved, while a blacklist contains a list of URLs that cannot be accessed. In DET’s case, if a site has not been categorised and approved by DET’s panel of three "educationalist" experts, the site can’t be accessed by students.

DET’s chief information officer, Stephen Wilson, told ZDNet.com.au that of the 100 million or so websites in the world, the department had categorised about 25 million.

Wilson also disagreed with Richardson’s assessment of the impact its filters were having on education. "What we are trying to do is continually improve the experience for kids, so that it is pleasant. That’s one of the reasons why we brought filtering in-house last year, which is now done in our datacentre," he said.

A persistent challenge for the state’s teachers and those managing the filters, not surprisingly, is the vast range of content available on the web. Wilson said that the 500 most popular sites that were blocked due to being uncategorised are each day submitted to SmartFilter for categorisation and assessment by the panel.

But, he added: "I would expect that most of the hits are within the 25 million that are categorised." He did not have exact numbers on how many URL requests were blocked each day.

Not included on that list of approved sites, however, were free web mail services such as Hotmail, and social networks MySpace and Facebook, which Wilson said DET did not consider to be of educational value….

Paradoxical, isn’t it?