Updated: Sep 14, 2020
The Australian Curriculum: English
It aims to ensure that students “learn to listen to, read, view, speak, write, create and reflect on increasingly complex and sophisticated spoken, written and multimodal texts across a growing range of contexts with accuracy, fluency and purpose” (Australian Curriculum: English, ACARA, 2017).
I will focus on Foundation and Year 1 to make this post manageable. The Australian Curriculum: English has three strands which are Language, Literature and Literacy. If you are not familiar with the content of each strand, take a few minutes to read them first. You will see that there is inaccuracy or confusion about where things fit. For example, phonemic awareness, and word level reading and spelling appear under Language while some language skills like vocabulary and listening appear under Literacy.
For Foundation and Year 1 there are general descriptions of where students should be by the end of each year, which are called the Achievement Standards. Again, there are some alarm bells regarding the references to predictable texts, using images to support reading, and so on. I suggest reading these too if you are not familiar with them.
The National Literacy Learning Progression
“The National Literacy Learning Progression helps teachers to develop fine-grain understandings of student literacy development in the Australian Curriculum: English, especially in the early years. The progression amplifies the literacy skills in the Australian Curriculum: English, particularly in the Language and Literacy strands, and is organised by modes of communication, which in the Australian Curriculum: English are identified by icons. The progression has not been designed as a checklist and does not replace the Australian Curriculum: English. Each sub-element has been mapped to the year level expectations set by the Australian Curriculum: English.” (ACARA, 2020)
This was a well-intentioned initiative, and to be fair, it does go some way to addressing the nebulous Australian Curriculum, unfortunately not always in the right direction. I have outlined below the elements and sub-elements, but I won’t go through all that it entails as there is simply too much detail for a blog. The most recent version of the National Literacy Learning Progression is here, and the key details can be found on pages 12-64.
Speaking and Listening
- Speaking (crafting ideas and vocabulary)
Reading and Viewing
- Phonological awareness
- Phonic knowledge and word recognition
- Understanding texts (comprehension, vocabulary and processes)
- Creating texts (crafting ideas, text forms and features, vocabulary)
- Grammar (group and word level, sentence level, whole text level, grammatical accuracy)
- Handwriting and keyboarding
Problem or opportunity?
The Australian Curriculum and the Literacy Learning Progressions for Speaking and Listening, Reading and Viewing, and Writing contain a number of inconsistencies and flaws (e.g. the focus on the role of predictable texts in F-1; confusing what is language and literacy concepts), but most importantly, they do not tell us in adequate detail what to teach, when and in what sequence to teach it, or how to teach it. We therefore must figure it out, and how well we do this depends on many individual, team and school factors. Reid Smith will twitch at me mentioning him for the second time in a blogpost, but he has recently and very aptly referred to drawing upon the curriculum to guide lesson planning as “apple bobbing”.
That these instructional guides are so vague is alarming, sure, but it can also be exciting and liberating if teachers and school leaders know their stuff, have time to plan, and have access to some high-quality Direct Instruction programs. You can teach what you want to teach, how you want to teach it, and by that, I mean:
- teach according to The Simple View of Reading (see previous blogposts)
- teach according to The Simple View of Writing (see previous blogposts)
- teach using direct and explicit instruction (or DI programs)
- make what you want to teach fit with the Australian Curriculum: English rather than the reverse
Scope and sequence
Developing a scope and sequence means developing a detailed document that specifies what will be taught and the sequence within which it will be taught. Using the Literacy Learning Progression is hit and miss if you want to be able to design a solid scope and sequence. For example, Writing – Punctuation (pages 57-58) contains a fair amount of detail about what in particular should be taught, as compared to Reading and Viewing – Phonics Knowledge and Word Recognition (pages 24-27) which is written in a way that could suggest incidental instruction may suffice, and lacks detail. You will certainly get some ideas for scope and sequence development, but I would suggest not relying upon it.
Additionally, and unhelpfully, “The amount of time it takes a student to progress through each level is not specified because students progress in literacy development at different rates” (ACARA, 2020). We should always put a time frame on what we are seeking to teach.
We really need to know a lot about what needs to be taught in the domains of language and literacy (i.e. be a content expert) in order to fill the gaps. Every school needs at least a few content experts (leaders) in phonics, phonemic awareness, morphology, vocabulary, reading comprehension, fluency, handwriting, spelling, concepts of print, syntax and text generation (sentence level through to extended text), text types, and writing skills more broadly like revising, editing, organising and planning. This expertise is vital to developing scopes and sequences. Ideally, all teachers of the Australian Curriculum: English have expertise in these domains, but we know that is not the case, due to research translation failures in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and professional development provision to in-service teachers. I frequently meet teachers who do not know how many speech sounds there are in Australian English, and they have not heard of morphology or syntax. I am furious on their behalf because we cannot teach what we do not know.
Scope and sequence details and examples
If we are going to be teaching phonics, for example, we need to ask what needs to be taught. This is the foundation of our scope and sequence. This should include:
- phoneme-grapheme correspondences (we have 26 alphabet letters available to use on their own or in combination to represent our 44 speech sounds in print, resulting in hundreds of PGCs which must be taught systematically and sequentially)
- early morphemes such as plural ‘s’ (usually pronounced /z/) to support reading and spelling
- reading and spelling word shapes with increasing complexity (e.g. CVC, VC, CV, CCVC, CVCC etcetera) and length (introducing polysyllabic words)
- irregular/sight words (not able to be learned through decoding)
- practice/application via reading words and whole texts
- practice/application via spelling words and writing extended text
Ideally, a phonics scope and sequence is completed in the first two years of school. I highly recommend completing training in a program, especially a DI program like Sounds-Write, to reduce planning time. DI programs usually come with a scope and sequence, lesson plans, scripts, error correction and placement tests.
Here are some examples available online for consideration:
Get Reading Right Phonics Scope and Sequence (designed to go with their resources) http://getreadingright.com.au/wp-content/uploads/get-reading-right-aus-pws-scope-and-sequence.pdf
Get Reading Right http://www.getreadingright.com.au/the-phonics-teaching-sequence/
Systematic Instruction in Phoneme Grapheme Correspondence for Students with Reading Disabilities (Table 3) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311528386_Systematic_Instruction_in_Phoneme-Grapheme_Correspondence_for_Students_With_Reading_Disabilities
Let’s use morphology as another example. Again, we need to be clear on what needs to be taught. This should include:
- defining a morpheme
- defining base/root/free morphemes and bound morphemes (affixes)
- defining lexical versus grammatical morphemes
- teaching at least the most common affixes
- teaching subject specific and general affixes and roots (including etymology)
- teaching spelling patterns for bound morphemes
- identifying free and bound morphemes in words
- building word families
- building new words using word matrices
- problem solving word meanings through knowledge of morphology
Morphology is essential for spelling, so it can be helpful to have a combined scope and sequence, that is, a spelling scope and sequence which naturally includes morphology. This scope and sequence can run from F-6. There will always be some overlap between this and a text-generation (sentence level) scope and sequence because there is necessarily some focus on the relationship between words.
As an example, across Foundation and Year 1, I typically suggest schools cover parts or all of the below:
- teaching the plural, possessive and present tense verb -s (e.g. she runs) suffix, noting plural can be -s or -es (e.g. car/cars; bus/buses)
- teaching past tense -ed
- teaching present progressive -ing
- teaching irregular plural (i.e. when -s is not added)
- teaching irregular tense e.g. catch/caught
- teaching some early prefixes e.g. un- in unreal, unusual, unkind
- teaching comparatives (-er) and superlatives (-est)
- teaching double letter rules
- teaching singular/plural subject verb agreement using is/are (once plural -s has been taught)*
*This can also be covered in a text-generation (sentence-level) scope and sequence.
Here is a sample sentence/paragraph writing scope and sequence for K-6 thanks to the hard working educators over at Reading Science in Schools on facebook.
I use an Explicit Direct Instruction lesson structure or a Direct Instruction program. For DI programs, you simply follow the script for each lesson/section within the program. For EDI lessons, the basic structure for me looks like this:
- state the learning intention(s) for the lesson i.e. what I am going to teach them
- active prior knowledge/link to what was previously taught/explain the purpose of this learning why it matters
- I DO: Explain and model the concept/content using worked examples i.e. show them
- check for understanding throughout by asking key questions and reteach if required
- WE DO: Work through examples as a group and feedback is provided
- check for understanding again and conduct more guided practice if required
- YOU DO: Students complete independent practice
- recap what the learning intention was and what was covered, and close the lesson
Less is more in lesson plans. It is better to teach one thing well than many things superficially. It is essential that we have a clear idea of what we want them to know by the end of the lesson, and steps in place to assess whether we got there.
If Stage 1 in a phonics scope and sequence for Foundation students includes learning the phoneme-grapheme correspondences for /s/, /ae/, /t/, /m/, /p/, /f/, /ɪ/ and /n/, that could be done over a many literacy blocks over a number of weeks. What we want students to learn (more or less in this order) is how to:
- identify the grapheme that represents each phoneme in these instances
- identify the phoneme each grapheme is representing in these instances
- blend, segment and manipulate sounds in VC, CV and CVC words in oral and written forms (CCVC and CVCC words might be a suitable step-up for some students)
- read words containing these PGCs with then without support
- spell words containing these PGCs with then without support
- apply their skills when reading a decodable book
- apply their skills in their sentence writing
I cannot stress enough how simple using a DI program makes this. There are very good ones available. Using them means you do not need to create lesson plans. You follow the provided lesson plans (as per the scope and sequence) until the program is complete, differentiating for those who struggle and excel throughout.
Example learning intention for Lesson 1:
Students will learn the graphemes (letters) that are used to represent the following phonemes [ /s/, /ae/, /t/, /m/, /p/, /f/, /ɪ/ and /n/ ] and use this knowledge to build CV, VC and CVC words.
It can be helpful to cut the number of PGCs in half and deliver this initial teaching over a number of lessons.
Creating a detailed, research informed scope and sequence is an essential step between the curriculum and our lesson planning. For language and literacy, expert knowledge in terms of what language and literacy are comprised of, and the sub-skills that require development is necessary.
In order to create detailed scopes and sequences, expert content knowledge is imperative.
In order to create comprehensive lesson plans, expert content and instructional knowledge is imperative.
Incidentally, while I was working on this blogpost, the Federal Government committed $50million to developing a national education evidence institute and agreed to terms of reference for a review of the Australian Curriculum. Watch this space.