Now follow the script…

The idea of scripted lessons would be repugnant to most teachers. Can you imagine a trained professional relying on a “script” published by someone getting megabucks from the package, a script that may well have been created in another country — probably the USA — by people who have never seen the faces in front of you in your class?

Looked at like that it’s pure 1984.

**** SHUDDERS ****

But today we have the Blessed Miranda singing the praises of scripted lessons! This, folks, is the cure for the ills, both real and imagined, of our education system!

But why then have teachers? I’m sure technology could deliver the scripted lessons simultaneously all over Australia. All you would need would be monitors walking up and down the aisles with cattle prods to keep the clients on task — or maybe electric shocks could be fed back from the program itself via a mouse. No need to ask pesky questions, just get on with it…

Now this isn’t exactly what Miranda has in mind. She has again appropriated Noel Pearson’s work in Cape York to push a particular view of education, but it is not about education in the larger sense, but rather about the teaching of reading.

It’s a dreary old debate. The answer my grandfather had in 1910 is just as valid today, and that is that successful reading teaching — and grandfather eminently was — has to do with flexibility and mix of methods tailored where possible to individual needs; it is partly about learning the building blocks, but it is also about enjoyment and comprehension.

One reason the Cape York experience works is that the people are dedicated to their method and students receive a lot of individual attention. On the other hand, when in his Quarterly Essay a while back Pearson enthused about the SRA Reading Laboratory, an earlier ancestor of the programs so loved by him and Miranda, I smiled. I used it at Cronulla High in the 1960s. It was great for last period Friday, because it kept the kids quiet and one’s own efforts were minimal. All you had to do was supervise the taking of the colour coded reading cards.

One student really impressed — it was a class of Year 9 thickies — by working swiftly to the highest level, purple, if I remember correctly, with considerable success. I decided to speak to him about this. “Oh, I don’t read the stories,” he said with candour. “I just answer the multiple choice questions.”

Ever since I’ve had my doubts.

SRA is a promotion overdrive, as this teacher notes.

They work for some kids and not others. They bore all kids senseless. Here we have a group of kids that don’t like reading or math anyway, and we are going to feed them dry, boring stories.

I prefer a literature based program like Success For All, which is research based and had highly entertaining leveled readers. When my whole school used the program, we had amazing results and we were in a ghetto school. One of my boys went from reading at Gr1 to G5 by the end of the year.

Interestingly, when you look at research that is neutral, there are no significant gains using SRA. Almost all of the research that shows wonderful outcomes is somehow related to McGraw Hill, which publishes the program.

People should use the teaching program that fits their personality and skill level. SRA is good for new teachers or teachers who need a scripted approach. I am playful and wildly imaginative and that kind of teaching does not work for me. I want my kids to see how wonderful reading can be and SRA does not get the job done.

However, if you wish to follow up, here’s a couple of suggestions:

  • Revisiting Silent Reading: New Directions for Teachers and Researchers (International Reading Association Institute #6, Chicago 2010): Part One.
  • (Texas)
  • Neither is totally unfriendly to the methods Miranda admires.

    As for Noel Pearson: brilliant, as indeed he often is, in today’s Oz: Promise of Mabo not yet realised.


    From my archives…

    Entry 123: Saturday’s big ticks.

    Fine, except this is the title of a Diary-X entry of mine for 29 May 2004!

    Copy I managed to save to my own computer. Diary-X is long gone.

    …My next big tick is to the committee who awarded this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary Award to Brian Castro’s Shanghai Dancing, which you may recall me praising highly in April as “a most remarkable novel, an amazing labyrinth of a novel. Possibly the best Australian novel I have read in years.” Just shows what good taste I have. 😉

    Finally, for now, a big tick to Supreme Court Justice Peter Hidden for showing common sense and compassion in the case of Izhar ul-Haque, despite the temptations that our paranoid age must have presented.

    Entry 123_ Saturday’s big ticks

    And then I found the guest book link still works!

    Monday, August 2nd 2004 – 09:59:22 AM
    Entry 185 – great entry 🙂
    Tuesday, July 6th 2004 – 10:07:07 PM

    I could not wish for a greater honour, Mister Rabbit 🙂
    Tuesday, July 6th 2004 – 03:17:04 PM

    Mr. Rabbit
    Greetings from a fellow Latham supporter. 🙂 For an old bugger you have so
    much energy. We have decided to make you an honorary rabbit. Cheers, Mr.

    new lines from a floating life guest book