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Phonics not the only answer to literacy problems


Brigid Veale
15 December 2005
Taking an extreme phonics approach to literacy education will severely limit the effectiveness of literacy teaching, according to Southern Cross University education lecturer Ruth Anderssen.

Ms Anderssen's comments follow the release of the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Reading by the Federal Minister for Education, Dr Brendan Nelson, which recommends the use of phonics-based teaching methods.

She said simply replacing the "whole of language" approach to teaching with phonics was not the only solution.

"The argument is not one about phonics versus whole-of-language – it is about all teachers understanding both, understanding when they must apply the appropriate teaching methodology to a certain group of children," Ms Anderssen said.

"Phonics on its own is not the appropriate way to teach children to read. It is merely one essential component of any reading program, and it is especially important in the beginning years of school."

Ms Anderssen said no single approach to teaching reading could address the complex nature of reading difficulties.

"An integrated approach requires that teachers have a thorough understanding of a range of effective strategies, as well as knowing when and how to apply them. This is the core professional judgement of teachers."

She said she also opposed a proposal raised by Dr Nelson for a national testing regime for kindergarten children.

"I don't know of any educators who would agree with a testing regime across kindergarten. Children of that age are not ready to be tested like that. The money would be far better put into providing specialised literacy teachers."

Ms Anderssen said there did need to be more emphasises on providing specialised training for teachers at university.

"We will be putting into place many more units of English literacy in SCU's Bachelor of Education (Primary) program. We have also started planning for next year to include grammar and spelling tests for student teachers."

SCU offers Bachelor of Education Primary programs at the Lismore and Coffs Harbour campuses. It also offers secondary teaching programs at Lismore, Coffs and Tweed Gold Coast campuses.