The draft NSW English K-10 Syllabus: more than a textbook

My new role at CLIC has me engaging daily with the current draft version of the new English K-10 Syllabus. After a couple of weeks of doing not much else but reading and talking about the new and changed content to the syllabus, I reckon I could call myself a bit of an expert. And as a self-proclaimed expert I just want to say this: the syllabus, just like all the others that preceded it, is NOT a textbook! It does not advocate teaching from a textbook, it does not advocate teaching from the front of the classroom, it does not advocate for worksheets and it does not advocate for teachers to use resources created by others. It is a document that is entirely focused on the student. It is a document FOR students – because guess what? They are the reason for our being.

Today I got sent an email from a publisher (not one of my publishers, of course) that invited me and my English teacher colleagues to an evening discussing the new Australian Curriculum: English and their latest series of textbooks. They forced my hand. I had to write this post. You ALL need to know this: we teachers in NSW¬† DO NOT teach the Australian Curriculum! We teach the syllabus of our state – the one written by the Board of Studies! Currently version two of the draft English K-10 Syllabus it is in consultation – you need to read through it and speak up! Go to a consultation event or write an email to the board if you don’t agree with something that is in the current draft. Use the links on the BOS site here to either register for a consultation or complete the survey giving your feedback on the draft. THIS is where YOU are empowered as an English teacher. You should NOT be attending meetings with publishers to discuss the Australian Curriculum – the content of the AC has been carefully embedded into the NSW Syllabus, this content is required content – we have to teach it – but it must NOT be decontextualised.

I really am worried about English teachers rushing out to buy an armful of resources that have been published hastily in response to the Australian Curriculum: English without any engagement with the state Syllabus. This is dangerous, indeed. Who wants their own children (and by that I mean the children you were responsible for bringing into the world) to be sat down in front of a textbook and/or whiteboard (interactive or not, I don’t give a shit) and ‘taught’ the ‘basics’ of grammar, spelling, complex punctuation, word origins and the consolidation of handwriting? No one! But guess what will happen if we desperately snatch up the latest textbook or teacher-manual from the bookshop shelves? You will have your child (yeah, the one with the big smile and the inquiring mind, the one who loves to be challenged by science fiction films and video games, the one who spends half a day burning bugs with a magnifying class or dancing in the sun to no music, yeah – that child) sitting in front of a textbook and/or whiteboard and being ‘taught’ the ‘basics’ of grammar, spelling, complex punctuation, word origins and the consolidation of handwriting. Why? Because that’s the stuff that these writers will pull out of the Australian Curriculum: English. That’s the stuff we English teachers are being sold as the new way to teach English because it is ‘in the curriculum’. Those things are in there, but they don’t make up the bulk of the document. There are so many wonderful new opportunities being presented to use English teachers with the introduction of this new syllabus. So please, look to the Syllabus and think how you can make some cool stuff for your students. Don’t rely on a textbook. By all means, buy them cos nearly all writers have some gems to share with their readers. Just don’t believe the hype that we will be teaching just the Australian Curriculum: English and don’t believe the hype that it’s all about grammar, spelling and punctuation taught in a decontextualised way. It’s not.

NOTE: I am a published author of a number of Excel books. My books are on NAPLAN (yup, that evil test) and the HSC Standard English course (yup, that other evil test). I have recently completed draft chapters for another book for a different publisher that engages with aspects of the new Syllabus – however it will NOT be published until after the final version of the Syllabus has been decided upon. Most importantly, that book treats the new and changed content in the context of responding to and composing texts. This post is NOT an advertisement for my textbooks(s) nor is it an attempt to discredit the super hard work of other writers. I just want you, English teachers, to engage with the NSW English K-10 Syllabus. It really is important.

 

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3 thoughts on “The draft NSW English K-10 Syllabus: more than a textbook

  1. Hi Bianca, I enjoyed reading your passionate blog. I agree with you, I certainly don’t think that any curriculum change/syllabus change should result in teachers returning the ‘old school’ pedagogy of English teaching from the text. The trouble can be, that when there is a mandated curriculum as policy change (the Australian Curriculum), many teachers can feel alienated and anxious about leaping into the unknown. Being from WA I don’t have a lot of info about the NSW syllabus as a response to the Australian Curriculum, so my comments may be more general than useful. As well I think I need to acknowledge the difficult history of mandated curriculum change in WA which may colour my opinions (read here if you want more http://www.platowa.com/documents/noteworthy_2009.html).

    One of the issues with any form of policy and mandated curriculum is that the best intentions can often not be realised because it is at the ‘grass-roots’ that policy is enacted. I think that Stephen Ball made a lot of sense when he suggested that it is at local sites that policy like the Australian Curriculum (maybe NSW syllabus?) will take shape and be enacted (http://books.google.com.au/books/about/Education_reform.html?id=GoomAQAAIAAJ&redir_esc=y). This may be despite the best efforts of policy makers and curriculum writers. Ball argues that expecting that if something is written (policy as text) it will happen as intended is a common problem for ed policy. One of the ways to ensure that the effects of policy match the stated intentions is to promote conversations. I hope your post will enable many of those conversations.

  2. I think this is really important! I have just walked into a faculty that has spent quite a lot of money buying textbooks for the implementation of a curriculum which, as you rightly state, does not have a syllabus yet!!
    I have been madly encouraging staff at my school to attend our local BOS consultation – assuring them that apathy is the devil. It is so important that all NSW English teachers get on board, read the document and discuss the changes they would like to see. It is easy to do nothing and complain later – but it is not nearly as fulfilling!!!

    Keep talking up Bianca – get the message out there!!

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