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Inside Teaching : June 2011
Reviews Inside Teaching | June 2011 REVIEWS 50 Primary English Teaching: An introduction to language, literacy and learning Edited by Robyn Cox Published by Sage ISBN 9 781 849 201 964 RRP $39.95 Reviewed by Steve Holden Much discussion of literacy learning in the early and primary years centres on psycholinguistic approaches to reading in terms of contextual clues to do with graphophonic, syntactic and semantic cues, or on what Professor Andrew Lambirth from Greenwich University, London, calls a cognitive-psychological approach that emphasises phonological awareness, decoding, word recognition and comprehension. It would be easy to imagine a teacher who subscribes to the first approach might typically invite lots of reading aloud, frequent opportunity for reading and writing, and lots of ‘real’ books in the classroom; while a teacher who subscribes to the second approach might typically take a staged reading approach with readers rather than ‘real’ books and an emphasis on decoding through word identification. When it comes to literacy learning, apparently, binaries matter, not that the two views just described align neatly with the whole-language and phonics approaches on which the battle lines of the reading wars are usually drawn. Go into many early and primary years classrooms, though, and you’ll find teachers and students whose practices range across those battle lines, using a blend of authentic texts and comprehension activities, phonic decoding skills and games of hangman, using and creating a variety of texts in print and other media. The surprise is that such blending remains apparently persistent, despite the pressure on early and primary years teachers generated by national literacy assessment. As Lambirth observes, a cognitive-psychological approach that breaks literacy into developmental stages and emphasises phonological awareness, decoding, word recognition and comprehension, promises to create competent readers more efficiently and faster, which is a big deal if students’ ‘literacy scores’ matter. No less a big deal, and frequently marginalised in literacy debate, is the teaching of handwriting. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s Shape of the Australian Curriculum: English insists merely that ‘handwriting... should be taught across all years of schooling,’ or, not much more usefully, ‘the production of legible, correctly formed letters by hand.’ As Jane Medwell, from the University of Worcester’s Institute of Education, points out, it’s important to choose a style and teach and model it consistently. Editor Dr Robyn Cox, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Australian Catholic University, has gathered together contributions that address literacy theory and research with practical reference. Although her focus is on English teaching in English schools, primarily addressing those in initial teacher education and graduate teachers, there’s still something here for experienced Australian teachers. Cox and her contributors lean, I think, towards the psycholinguistic approach, while recognising, in the words of Chris Robertson, Professor and Head of the University of Worcester’s Institute of Education, that teaching literacy is an ‘intricate weaving...with children.’