Funny child in eyeglasses standing near school chalkboard  as aI am reading Maxine McKew’s book: CLASS ACT: Ending the education wars.

What a great honest, hopeful look at education. And what fantastic innovations in schools and amazing principals and teachers highlighted!

It is a grittily truthful (sometimes brutally so) book that offers a real look into BEST PRACTICE for education and cuts through so much of the meaningless claptrap that surrounds the whole subject of reforming our schools and giving our children the BEST rather than the cheapest and easiest educational practices!

I am at the JOLLY PHONICS conference at the moment and so read with interest the timely reminder from Canberra academic, Misty Adoniou (Quoted by McKew):
“Australia’s scores in international literacy tests aren’t dropping because he students who sit those tests don’t know their sounds. They are performing poorly because they cannot comprehend what they are reading. They have poor vocabularies and cannot follow sentences that employ more complex language structures. They cannot read between the lines. Our low achieving students share one, very telling characteristic. They don’t speak “school English” or standard Australian English, at home. They may speak a language other than English, Aboriginal English, or a creole, or “bogan” English ……But it’s not school English: it isn’t how the teacher speaks and it certainly isn’t what international tests or NAPLAN reward.”
“Adoniou goes on to make the point that it is the schools job to teach standard English so that everyone can participate in the learning that is meant to take place at school, but she notes that many teachers struggle to help the underperformers because of their own limited training in the fundamentals of linguistics- phonetics, semantics, morphology and syntax”.
This is really important as it points the ever-increasing need to make oral language the lynch-pin for literacy in ALL countries. I think our race to teach decoding and basic phonics might at time cloud our judgements here. We need to get these kids TALKING so all this literacy “stuff” can MEAN something. Time for reflection and meaningful examination of classroom practices?


I have just competed my morning swimming laps in the hotel in Singapore and even though it was only just past dawn there were quite a few parents and kids in the pool- all Aussies! They laughed, shouted, squealed, chatted and generally made a lot of noise! It was great and I thought a lot about teaching oral language as I lazily completed my laps! Oral language underpins all our teaching efforts and without it, vocabulary, comprehension and grammatical understanding will not grow.

We need talk- talk, talk and more talk! I read some scary research a few years ago that stated we are talking so much less to our children: fathers often only using 7 words per day to their children, and these are probably words like, “Will you go to bed right now!”

Holidays of course are great times to increase the communication between family members and get to know each other in a relaxed environment. That is why I feel sad when I see parents texting, chatting on their phones and giving children phones and tablets to play with- rather than talking to them.

Talking takes attention, energy, interest and motivation- the motivation to want to know another human being. It takes the ability to establish eye contact, listen carefully, notice emotions, respond appropriately and empathise. It leads to higher degrees of emotional intelligence and cannot be replicated by text messages, face-book contact etc. As human beings we need to talk and listen to each other. I salute those unknown Aussie parents and their kids- their joy, love for each other and their noisy conversations will happily reverberate in my ears all day and remind me to be optimistic. We CAN all learn to talk to each other and to our kids again.

Today- please talk, talk, talk to everyone!


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