What's needed is a Literacy Continuum for Dummies

Vince Conlan

Is the Literacy Continuum K–10, the emperor’s new clothes of NSW education? The continuum is not always clear, requires too much subjective teacher judgment and some of the statements are inappropriate for the age level. It’s a great step in the right direction but desperately needs revision.

So what is the continuum’s purpose?

According to An Overview of the English Continuum: K–10, “The Literacy continuum K–10 is a powerful tool which can be used flexibly for a variety of purposes including to: track and monitor student progress, strengthen literacy, communicate clear learning goals, determine ‘where to next’…”

Is the Continuum really such a powerful tool?

Take a look at some of the first statements in Cluster 11 and see the problems.

“Aspects of speaking — Appropriately questions the viewer idea put forward, and expresses disagreement with sensitivity to the perspective of others.”

This is very unclear. What does “the viewer idea put forward” mean? What exactly is appropriate? Social conventions vary across regions, schools, classrooms.

Then we have “Vocabulary knowledge — Makes effective word choices in response to purpose and audience when creating texts”.

This statement requires a subjective judgement. What is effective? Effective word choice depends upon the target audience. How do we measure “effective” without measuring the target audience response?

That could be a great project but is that the purpose of this statement — that we run control studies on the effectiveness of our students’ use of language? Or is it much more banal and requires the teacher to be the actual audience and make a subjective judgement on the effectiveness of the language on the supposed audience?

On to “Reading texts — Reads for sustained periods (20-30 minutes) and sustains understanding in longer texts over time, e.g. reading short novels over several days”.

This statement is nonsensical. Longer is comparative — longer compared to what? The statement is not age-appropriate.

Cluster 11 is meant for the end of year 5. Reading short novels over several days is not an appropriate goal for year 5. It is an appropriate goal for the end of year 2 and an appropriate achievement for a child in year 3. The use of the comparative “longer” does not remediate the problem.

Tracking and recording student progress requires measurement.

Subjective statements such as “effective word choices” are not easily measurable. So-called “longer texts” with no comparative cannot be used as a measure and are of dubious educational value.

Clear learning goals requires simple language: “appropriately questions the viewer idea put forward” is not a clear learning goal. Perhaps the authors mean “debate”, politely.

Determining “where to next” requires very clear and appropriate learning goals. Reading short novels over several days is not an appropriate achievement goal for year 5.

Despite its promise, the continuum is not such a powerful tool. It is merely a guide with many subjective statements requiring many subjective judgments on student progress. This makes consistent teacher judgment almost impossible. The document is flawed. It requires rigorous editing. Provision of work samples at each cluster would immediately make it better.

Perhaps this small snapshot of Cluster 11 is not indicative of the whole continuum. Have a look at the rest of it yourself and see what you think.

Vince Conlan teaches at Griffith East PS.