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Teaching Reading in Australia


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Publications from the project are provided here in pre-publication form, along with the details of the final publication source.


Reading Pedagogy, “Evidence” and Education Policy: Learning from History?

This paper examines the report of the Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (Department of Education, Science & Training (DEST), 2005) and explores the claims it makes about reading pedagogy and the centrality of particular 'methods' or 'approaches' to teaching backed by 'scientific' evidence. Discourse analysis of the report shows that its logics allow only certain kinds of evidence to count in policy, and that it reduces difficult social and political issues to questions of technique. This allows the report to recommend an approach whereby qualitative insights and practitioners’ experience can be bypassed through valorising methods developed and verified by scientific researchers. The report’s claims are considered genealogically in the light of historical cases from the early nineteenth century, where educational reformers struggled with the issue of how to educate the children of the poor. In one, the monitorial system promoted by Lancaster in England, there was a focus on reading which made teachers or monitors artefacts of a standardised method. By way of contrast, in Scotland, a classroom approach developed by Stow (1854) made the teacher central to the process, as someone who sensitively interpreted and extended students’ experiences with texts. Stow’s approach would form the model for the modern classroom in compulsory state schooling, while the monitorial system would eventually be abandoned as ineffective. The historical cases demonstrate the dangers of approaches to policy that fail to account for the complex interplay between teacher, student and text in the reading lesson.

Reference details:
Cormack, P. (2011). Reading pedagogy, ‘evidence’ and education policy: Learning from history? Australian Educational Researcher, 38(2), 133-148. (117kb)




Reading primers and reading instruction: Historical perspectives

From the late sixteenth century, in response to the problem of how best to teach children to read, a variety of texts such as primers, spellers and readers were produced in England for vernacular instruction. This paper describes how these materials were used by teachers to develop first, a specific religious understanding according to the stricture of the time and second, a moral reading practice that aimed not only to provide instruction in how to read but also in how to conduct oneself provided the child with a guide to secular conduct. The analysis focuses on the use of these texts as a productive means for shaping the child-reader in the context of newly emerging educational spaces which fostered a particular, morally formative relation among teacher, child and text.

Reference details:
Patterson, A., Cormack, P., & Green, B. (2012). The child, the text and the teacher: Reading primers and reading instruction. Paedagogica Historica, 48(2), 165-196. (109kb)




Re-Reading the Reading Lesson: Episodes in the History of Reading Pedagogy

Debates on the teaching of reading, marked in such policy documents as the Rowe Report (2005) in Australia and the Rose Report (2006) in the UK, have a long history and indeed are at least coterminous with schooling itself. However, that history rarely figures in any significant or rigorous way in either the policy or the debate, which are characteristically professional and technical in their orientation, and/or organised around claims and counter-claims regarding the ‘sciences’ of both reading and pedagogy. More needs to be done in the historical investigation of reading pedagogy if a properly informed historical imagination is to be taken seriously in the social field of educational policy and practice.

Drawing on a range of historical sources, the paper looks specifically at what appears in the historical record as a distinctive formulation, or trope: the reading lesson. In our research, this is examined across various accounts, in terms of description, commentary, and materials, to reveal a set of striking features regarding the politico-ethical character of not just reading pedagogy but also, we argue, literacy education more generally. The concept of the ‘reading lesson’ as it has been mobilised historically is introduced here, and traced through a range of key documents with a particular bearing on Australian educational history although the field of reference is much broader than that, with a view to outlining how that trope stands in for reading pedagogy as a distinctive social program.

Reference details:
Cormack, P. (in press, accepted 16/03/2012) Children’s school reading and curriculum innovation at the edge of Empire: The School Paper in late nineteenth-century Australia. History of Education Review.