So, after a delay due to an assignment in another course and organising a new car, it’s time to catch up on Week 3 of this course. Just as week 4 is starting and the first assignment is due. A few late nights coming up.

Secondary school focus

So, some concrete links to the setting I’ll be teaching in. Am wondering about the structure and content of the course, I don’t feel as if I’m getting much insight from it. Perhaps it says more about me, than the course.

I wish someone would talk to these folk about proportional page width with HTML and Moodle.

Okay, so the point is made about literacy and numeracy in school moving beyond the 3Rs…multimodal, multimedia and – gratuitous Friere quote – “read the words and the worlds”.

If this is the case, then why am I getting such a sense of dissonance between this statement and what I see and hear going on within Australian schools around NAPLAN tests? Perhaps I have the wrong idea of NAPAN?

Literacy after the early years

And onto a reading

Comber, B., Badger, I., Nixon, H. & Pitt, J. (2002). Literacy after the early years: A longitudinal study. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 25 (2), 9-23.

They aimed to produce

  • longitudinal case studies of literacy development among primary-aged kids in 3 low SOE schools.
  • analysis of student development, teacher pedagogies and local application of reforms.
  • resources to extend teachers knowledge.

Findings with 3 focii

  1. What did low SOE students bring to school.
    Students are diverse in the experience, with haves and have nots. Some literacy practices of students not able to used in schools, not recognised.
  2. What did they make of the literacy curriculum .
  3. What is needed to make literacy teaching work.

mmm, I’m not seeing any flashes of brilliance here. A lot of it appears to be known, and I wonder abou the value of such research with a small sample size and that doesn’t give much in the way of evidence/argument about how they reached their conclusions.

In the end the argument is that the following factors make a difference to what children learn

  • recognition – extent to what children do counts and they see that it counts.
  • resources – extent to which schools have resources.
  • curriculum – quality, scope and depth of what is made available.
  • pedagogical – quality of teacher talk, teacher-student relationships and assessment practices
  • take-up – extent to adoption of literate practices by children and what discourses the school authorises
  • translation – extent to which children take practices to new situations.

Am having a sense of “duhh, basically knew that”.

Queensland Education Performance Review

So, getting more practical and examining the state government’s review literacy/numeracy. A review commisioned after 2008 NAPLAN tests and the 2007 TIMSS tests. The review had a focus on primary education.

Mmmm, the last reading was also talking about research at the primary level. I thought this week was focused on secondary schools?

The report emphasised “the importance of high quality teaching and school leadership”.

Mm, much of the report sounds much the same as most of these things in terms of 5 recommendations

  1. primary teachers have to demonstrate through tests literacy/numeracy.
    Government spends money implementing tests, rather than asking why/if existing education practices aren’t sufficient. Nor asking how the new tests will be gamed by student teachers. A bit like the IELTS (english language test) for NESB students. Lots of cramming, pass the test, then revert to practices that contribute to the learning disappearing…..Not to mention the discrepancy between wanting more authentic assessment for students, but inflicting tests on teachers.
  2. More professional development.
    Will it be any better than the old? What are the factors limiting benefits from existing PD?
  3. More funding for specialist literacy advisors.
    Ahh, many targeted at improving NAPLAN performance…..question whether the focus on NAPLAN will impact the quality of the literacy/numeracy skill of students.
  4. Introduce standard science tests at years 4, 6, 8, and 10
    “In principle” support. i.e. too hard for us to do anything, so we won’t.
  5. Review international best practice and importance of leaders.
    New leadership institute….Ahh, talk to Federal government about hosting national leadership development institute.

Australia’s language potential

Another reading

Clyne, M. (2005). Australia’s Language Potential. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press. pp. 143-173.

Moving onto “issues connected with new literacies in the English language”. From this and the next reading we’re being asked to engage in a group discussion around the following

  1. What do you believe to be some of the issues surrounding language and global English(es) as raised in these articles?
    Perhaps most obvious to me in this reading, was the influence of broader societal trends. For example, globalisation, economic rationalism, multiculturalism have all had significant impacts on the question of language. In addition, the idea that this is a dynamic, emerging problem, not something that is pre-defined.
  2. What are the implications of this for notions of literacy and numeracy?
    Is there much in particular? Perhaps that these notions will be influenced by the same trends, that they too will form a dynamic, emerging problem.

It’s late and I probably shouldn’t be doing this now, but you get that.

The reading is the 5th chapter of a book, this chapter looks at policy. Starts with the idea of countries based on languages (e.g. European, France etc) arising from policy, including an EC one on minority languages. Leads to the idea that Australia is trying to balance immigrant languages without “sacrificing national cohesion”. Through “a context of mainstreaming cultural diversity” and “promoting unity within diversity”….the chapter looks at the ups and downs of pluralist language policy.

Various researcher abstractions dividing up the evolution of Australian policy.

UP unto the 70s/80s, assimilation was the policy towards immigrants. Bilingual education prohibited.

English language classes for adults started in 1948, bu ESL in schools only in the 60s. Billy Snedden quote “We must have a single culture…We don’t want cultural pluralism”.

But at around this time various factors including the Suez crisis, Britain joining the EC/EU etc generated ideas of Australia as independent state….Then the Whitlam government…..leading to an Australian identity that included cultural diversity….but not uniform, union movement remained concerned about migrant threat to jobs. Also remained difference between some capital as multi-cultural and some regional areas.

Eventually demands for teaching other languages and cultures in schools. Broader societal trends slower, some move with radio stations, especially with multilingual stations set up to education folk about Medibank. Devolution of curriculum planning to schools also helped introduction of community languages.

Through the early 80s, significant expansion of multiculturalism.

Only in 1976 did the census include a question about language, no (good) numbers before that. Linguists began pushing for national language policy. In 1982 an inquiry was held into the need for a “national language”. It generated four guiding principles

  1. Competence in English.
  2. Maintenance and development of other languages.
  3. Provision of services in other languages.
  4. Opportunities for learning 2nd languages.

Some delay federally, filled in by movement in some states. An SA policy identified language maintenance as a right.

Eventually national policy started to be formulated based on a rationale of social justice, long-term economic strategies and cultural enrichment. Policy formulation was responsibility of Minister for Education, hence education focus.

At this stage, economic rationalism enters the picture and the focus turns to short-term economic goals. Education portfolio joined with employment and training. New top-down policy with a focus on English literacy and languages connected to external trade and tourism.

Aside: Got to love the poor OCR of this scan

social mobility and t h e utilisation of their slulls with

Eventually, language policy re-fragmented: literacy, Asian languages, interpretation, translation…suggested that this was in part because of government antipathy to policy development, especially bottom up. First off the rank was Federal policy around economic importance of Asian languages.

Suggestion that many contextual factors in 90s and 2000s prevent development of language policy, including: funding crisis in universities, more broadly economic rationalism and user pays. i.e. no money for translators and other services…suggesting the idea that economic rationalism is the new assimilation. National language policy is seen as a luxury in times of economic restraint.

This creates issues with demographic changes as services not keeping up due to limited funds. e.g. Sudanese arrivals.

Language policy flows from multi-culturalism, so some thought given to that…including Hanson and Howard and the role of fear, economic crisis etc.

Ethical investment and the case for linguistic diversity

Next reading

Singh, M. and Scanlon, C. (2003). Ethical investment and the case for linguistic diversity. Zadok Perspectives, 81: 18-20.

Another great OCR scanning job, apparently WWII was fought in the Pacific between 1942 and 1745.

The Navajo Indian codetalkers used by the use during WWII are used as the evidence for the value of linguistic diversity. And since we have half the languages we had 500 years ago, things aren’t looking good. And that the majority of current languages will be extinct within 2 generations – only about 600 left.

Language death arises from a range of inter-related: political, economic, cultural and social processes. e.g. the rise of the nation state and subsequent cultural homogeneity.

Rise of transnational or global languages and consumerism.

Destruction of local habitats……community survives by making a living from the local environment and a sustainable economic system.

Mentions a range of reasons why language death might be seen as a good thing.

However, point made that language plays a central role in creation and transmission of knowledge. Different languages, different ways of thinking. Also embody intimate knowledge of local surrounds, knowledge that could be valuable.

Of course, I feel this argument about it being economically valuable to be diverse is a losing one. It has to battle the much easier to understand economic value of everyone talking the same language as opposed to a possible, but yet unknown potential benefit.

Has mentioned the importance of some localisation in the overall push to globalisation, i.e. there are different markets. The idea of “linguistic capital”.

IN terms of new technology, the old style “english is language of IT” has been replaced again by localisation.

Mm, interesting comparison. The previous reading used the example of “English only language groups” as a negative example. i.e. folk in the US and other “english” countries campaigning to outlaw other languages in schools and other areas. This reading is using examples of language groups campaigning against “the world-dominating English language” through the use of multi-lingual IT.


Before I finish, I did author two posts to the course discussion forum. May as well share them here.

Google translate and a tendency to homogeneity

Google translate is a fairly good service that offers translations between one language to another.

But if you try to “round trip” the translation – take it from one language, through various others and back to the original language – you encounter some problems.

I heard about this from some presentations by Dave Snowden and tried it for the first time tonight.

I took the phrase

Hello how are you today. Is it raining there?

and used Google Translate to take it from English to French and then fed the French translation (“Bonjour comment allez-vous aujourd’hui. Est-ce qu’il pleut là-bas?”) into Google Translate to go to German. Then the German into Japanese and finally the Japanese back into English. Here’s the final English output

Hello, you specify how today. Is it raining?

For me, in the context of this course, this example reinforces just how hard language understanding is. This suggests that “global english” – possibly defined as a type of english removed of all contextual/cultural references and idioms – is probably not as simple nor useful as some suggest.

Just as Singh and Scanlon argued that the loss of localised languages represent a loss of knowledge, diversity and insight. The loss of cultural idioms and references in global English may represent a similar loss.

Perhaps global English is just another attempt to remove diversity and complexity from the world rather than put in the hard yards to engage and generate value from that diversity and complexity. I do fear, however, given the general nature of human-beings and the pressures of economic rationalism there will be a tendency to opt for homogeneity.

The odd one out

Which of the following three doesn’t fit?

Chicken A cow Grass
Chicken Cow Grass

Your answer?

Might be fun if you posted your answer as a reply before reading too much further.

The theory is that there will be different answers and the differences in answers will be based on the languages and cultures in which people were raised.

For an explanation take a look at this page which also describes where it comes from.