Sunday, March 15, 2009

Different reading methods on trial

This is a fraud. Such a trial was done a few years ago in Scotland with the result that kids taught using phonics ended up two years ahead in reading age compared to the rest. What's so different about us and the Scots? This is just a ploy to delay the inevitable. Leftist teachers WANT kids to be poorly educated. And they succeed. With "whole word" learning, lots of kids end up virtually illiterate. Knowledge is the enemy of Leftism and being unable to read is a major obstacle to acquiring knowledge

The divisive debate over how best to teach children to read has prompted the first trial in Australia comparing phonics-based techniques with other methods. The NSW Government is planning a pilot study assessing a reading program that teaches children letter-sound combinations as the first step in reading. Their progress will be compared with students taught by methods that place less emphasis on phonics and more on "whole language" techniques, such as pictures and sentence structure. It is believed to be the first head-to-head comparison of phonics with other reading programs in the nation.

In an interview with The Weekend Australian, NSW Education Minister Verity Firth said the aim of the trial was to gather evidence of what worked. "Surely all of us can agree we want the best for our kids, and stop arguing about what we believe and start talking about what we know," she said. "As Education Minister, my job isn't to find myself in the middle of internecine debates, but to try to be able to look at how reading is taught with the primary motivation of what's best for our kids."

NSW will run the trial as one of the programs funded through the National Partnership with the commonwealth on literacy and numeracy that was agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments. Ms Firth said the state's aims were in line with the federal Government's objectives, which had called for phonics trials. The NSW study will use the MULTILIT (Making Up Lost Time in Literacy) reading program developed by education researchers at Macquarie University, which places letter-sound relationships or phonemic awareness as the foundation of learning to read. The details of the trial are still being finalised but it is envisaged it will run for at least a year, targeting students in Years 3 and 4 reading well below the level of their peers.

The debate in the reading wars is over the importance of teaching phonics to children learning to read, with "whole language" techniques supplanting the sounding out of words as the first step in learning. The term whole language is no longer used, proponents now call for a "balanced" approach that teaches a range of methods, such as looking at the pictures on the page, the context of the word and the syntax of the sentence, rather than starting with sounding out the letters of the word. As reported in The Weekend Australian last month, the Australian Association for the Teaching of English has criticised the emphasis on phonics in the draft national curriculum, saying it "comes at the expense of the focus on a balanced reading program".

In its submission to the National Curriculum Board, the AATE calls for explicit reference to be made to "all three cueing systems" used to make sense of the written word. Under the three cueing systems model, the sounding of letters is the least important skill, with children first asked to use semantics and guess the word based on the context including using pictures, and then use the sentence syntax to work out the meaning. The third and least important cue is sounding out the letters.

Literacy associate professor Kerry Hempenstall said the three cueing system had been discredited as a method for teaching reading. "It has never been validated that anyone can integrate these three methods," he said.


Fruit-juice drink has sugar in it! Horrors!

Maybe sugar should be banned from restaurants and cafes too. Who needs sugar in their tea or coffee?

It claims it has "no bad stuff" but children are being warned to avoid a new fruit juice drink. One Sydney school has even taken the extraordinary step of hiring a dietitian to talk to parents and experts have slammed the makers of Golden Circle LOL No Bad Stuff for preying on children. Teachers became alarmed after spotting students as young as six drinking the carbonated fruit juice for breakfast.

Bankstown Grammar School is so concerned about the effects on children it is calling on parents to stop allowing the drink in lunch boxes. The private school has already banned Coke and Mars bars but still finds the sugary sweets creeping into students' bags. "We could try banning it (LOL) but we have tried before on other products and kids still end up bringing them in," principal Terry Lidgard said. "I would rather educate the students ... like harm minimisation."

Manufactured by a leading fruit juice company, the cans of drink contain 26gm of sugar. Emblazoned with large smiley faces and colourful labelling, the drinks have come under fire for looking like caffeine energy drinks such as Red Bull and V. The Children's Hospital at Westmead dietitian Susie Burrell criticised Golden Circle for preying on kids. "They have a big enough market, they don't have to target children like this. It is marketed in a way that makes it look healthy," she said. Golden Circle was contacted but did not respond.

US research advises kids should not consume more than two sweetened drinks a week. "Fruit juice contains sugar and this is highly concentrated. It is bad for teeth. It contains no other nutritional value," Ms Burrell said. "Parents should be giving their children flavoured milk [Really? Milk is highly calorific!] or water." At least one in four children in Australia is overweight.


Greenie thugs urge environmental movement to use violence

A thin cover for hatred of other people

People are being urged to break into shops, "disable" four wheel drives and throw pies at people by an extreme environmental group being promoted by the NSW Greens. The group Rising Tide is planning a blockade of the world's biggest coal port in Newcastle, for which Greens MP Lee Rhiannon has held a "direct action and civil disobedience" workshop to prepare protesters. Rising Tide claims the protest will be legal and peaceful, however it also warned participants "there can be no guarantee against arrest". Ms Rhiannon - who will attend the blockade with her staff - yesterday praised Rising Tide but said she was unaware of its support of vandalism and did not condone it.

Rising Tide said people concerned about climate change should also "shut down" petrol stations and blockade power plants. The suggestions are contained in a list of 64 "actions" posted on the group's website. A spokeswoman for Rising Tide stood by the list, saying the actions were "trivial" compared to the threat of climate change. Many of the suggestions are benign but some are clearly illegal and potentially dangerous. They include:

* DISABLE a 4WD. (Letting the tyres down is one way - and doesn't leave you open to "malicious damage" charges, because it doesn't damage the vehicle);

* THROW a pie at chief spin doctor at the NSW Minerals Council;

* SHUT down petrol stations;

* SUBVERTISE - distort the messages on adverts for climate criminals;

* PAINT bike lanes on the road;

* START a campaign against air flights; and

* BLOCKADE or occupy a power station."

Rising Tide spokeswoman Georgina Woods said the group stood by the suggestions, saying they were "on the scale of things, a little bit of inconvenience". "Our group is non-violent but we feel we're facing a wide unprecedented challenge and a little bit of civil disobedience as an expression of community frustration," she said. Green activist Lisette Salkavich, who distributed an email urging people to get involved in the Rising Tide blockade, said that while she had not done it herself damaging property could be morally justified in some circumstances and climate change was an urgent threat.


Amazing: A fair history of Australia on TV

Tomorrow night a program will screen on ABC TV that is doubly strange. First, it is about colonial Sydney, a subject that rarely makes it to television. And second, it's pretty good. Both are causes for celebration. The program is the first part of a documentary mini-series called Rogue Nation. In terms of audience size, this will be the most popular treatment of its subject in many years, and will presumably become an important educational resource on DVD. So the fact that it's good rather than bad matters.

In recent decades, film and book depictions of colonial history have tended to focus on bad-news stories about convicts and Aborigines. Many of these productions have been excellent and important contributions to our history, but taken together they have painted a dark picture that has obscured the fact that much that was good was also happening in the early years of white settlement. The best known example of what I'm referring to is Robert Hughes's The Fatal Shore. Although a ripsnorter of a book, it largely ignored the big thing that occurred in our early decades. And that was the surprisingly quick and successful development of a white society and its economy.

Would the ABC be interested in this, I wondered? The corporation has done some good historical docos (The Navigators, and Don Parham's Riot Or Revolution), but its reputation is mixed. The story of early NSW involves politicians and businessmen, types of whom the national broadcaster has not always demonstrated much understanding. In fact, you'd have to say that over the years it has more often than not reflected a left-wing view of what matters about Australian history.

One recalls the docudrama about the wharf dispute, Bastard Boys, in which the unionists and their supporters were human, even heroic, while those on the other side were knaves or fools. I still have vivid memories of actor Geoff Morrell's depiction of Chris Corrigan. The Patrick's chief was shown as a sort of human string puppet, with a rich assortment of nervous tics. In that case the ABC had heavily loaded the dramatic dice to support a left-wing view of the events being shown.

So it's with pleasure I can report that Rogue Nation is well worth a look. It involves dramatic reconstructions interpolated with narrative by the historian Michael Cathcart. The first episode focuses on the dispute between pioneer John Macarthur and Governor William Bligh. Geoff Morrell plays Macarthur, whom he doesn't much resemble (maybe he's the ABC's idea of a capitalist?) Chubby-cheeked John Wood plays Bligh. Each actor is obviously far too nice a bloke to represent the hard man he's supposed to be, but this is a perennial problem with Australian drama. Less understandable is the fact both characters speak with an Australian accent. Despite such problems, the thing romps along entertainingly and informatively. Although it covers too much ground far too quickly, it's a welcome reminder that early Australian history is richer and much more interesting than suggested by several generations of uninspired teaching. It is good to see more well-made Australian history to stand alongside the many fine series from abroad that the ABC screens.

As with those foreign series, the subject matter of Rogue Nation is well chosen: it covers events that had important implications for a majority of the white inhabitants and their descendants. And the insight on display is grown-up: there is an acknowledgment that powerful people outside the labour movement can contribute to society, even if they're not always honest or likeable. This is refreshing, because too often in history different moral standards are applied to the right and the left. Again and again, in books and lessons and on film, we have seen the left's heroes, such as John Curtin and Lionel Murphy, largely forgiven their faults in order that we might focus on their virtues. It's not that anything wrong is put in most of the time, it's just that some of the bad stuff is left out, or at least minimised. It's a question of balance, and in these cases the balance is tilted by affection.

This would not matter so much if such generosity of spirit was extended to all subjects. But it is not. With conservative leaders, such as Robert Menzies or John Howard, it has usually been the opposite: their virtues and values are played down and their faults exaggerated. Through the repetition of this process over many years, conservatives have been pushed beyond the moral pale and largely out of the historical picture. There is nothing sinister about this most of the time. It is just the outcome of a thousand tiny acts of inclination and personal preference expressed by a predominantly left-wing intellectual culture. At its basis is the simple fact that its members simply don't find conservatives interesting. We saw this with the ABC TV series The Howard Years.

Compared with the equivalent program about the Hawke/Keating years, Labor In Power, it was perfunctory and cliched. You could see the makers had done their best to be fair, but nothing could make them interested in what made their subjects tick. And so the result was uninteresting. Fortunately, the makers of Rogue Nation seem to have been fascinated by their autocratic and prickly subjects, and they have conveyed this on screen. The result reminds us that there's a lot more character to this place than is often realised.


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