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  • 13 Jun, 2023
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  • 3 Mins Read

Paddy Gower has issues.

Paddy Gower has issues. Yes, Paddy Gower certainly has issues and one of them is his inability to present a balanced view on the best approach for teaching children how to read. Which is ironic considering he didn’t even attempt to present anything on the balanced literacy programme in his quite frankly, embarrassing programme on Three Now on Wednesday 24th.

He led with the statistic that New Zealand’s literacy level has dropped from 13th to 27th since 2021 in the world’s ranking based on the PiRLs study. True. He then went on for the rest of the programme that the Structured Literacy Approach was the answer to lifting the levels back up. Hang on a minute.

If our literacy levels were up at #13 before 2001, wouldn’t that suggest that how we were teaching literacy before then was working? And guess what the approach was? A Balanced Literacy Programme (BLP for ease of typing). Which, believe it or not, does have structure to it . I’d like to insert that emoji with the monkey covering its face right about here, because that’s quite apt.

The Structured Literacy Approach (SLA)  is all about de-coding a word, which is essential for children to learn to read, and IS a  part of a BLP, despite what was reported on Wednesday evening. The SLA misses a lot of other essential elements to learning to read such as reading the context of a story, reading for meaning and using the correct syntax.

In Laura Tupou’s report on the Newshub website the following day had this quote –

“Tony Giles has called it out: “It’s essentially malpractice”. – Well, it wasn’t ‘malpractice over 30 years ago, when NZ ranked at #13 in the world’s literacy stats. So what’s changed?

“Balanced literacy, so-called balanced literacy, has a 30 percent chance of failure,” he said. – So 70% chance of success. And 20+ years, what was the success rate then?

“We need that mandate from the top to ensure that teachers and schools aren’t doing things that are so disruptive to the chances of students.” – There are many, many things that are disruptive for students and a BLA is not one of them.

What needs to be mandated is looking at why the BLA ‘worked’ over 20 years ago, because look! We were ranked #13 in the world when we used that approach, should we not be looking deeper into the factors as to why it’s not working now? Because it is clearly not the approach itself, which has been, and still is successful.

In one SLA programme is this sentence to teach children to spell ‘Tom* busted my blocks” (*I can’t actually remember if the name used was Tom, but it was close and it will do for this example). So children are being taught to spell using grammatically incorrect sentences simply so it fits into the spelling lesson for that day. How can children learn the correct syntax and grammar when it is being presented as correct by a professional? Tony Giles, I suggest that is mal-practice.

Saying that this one thing is the problem (BLA) and this one thing is the solution (SLA) is ill-informed and mis-guided. There are many factors invoked, and they start in early childhood; how much time is spent in an early learning centre, and from what age. How much time is spent speaking to children from a very early age, how often children are read to at home. How much screen time do they spend on a daily basis.

How are teachers being taught to teach these days? Teachers’ colleges merged with universities in 2007 and a lot of approaches have been replaced. Time spent learning how to teach literacy and mathematics have been reduced by at least half. Are beginning teachers equipped to teach literacy effectively?

This has just covered a number of issues as to the reason why children may not be reading as well as they should. And I haven’t even started on how speech affects their ability to learn to read. Put simply, they have to be able to enunciate a letter sound correctly to make it easy for them to read the sound, and write the sound too.

Get in touch if you have any concerns about your child’s speech. On my website are free tips including an ebook, free videos as a preview to the videoed courses. Not to mention the guide on Amazon and You Tube channel. Heaps of resources to help.

Miriam.