Sunday, March 26, 2023

Michael Johnston: Critical failure

For a brief moment last year, it looked as if the Ministry of Education was finally going to embrace methods of teaching literacy and numeracy supported by scientific evidence. They published a new literacy and numeracy strategy that made reference to structured teaching methods.

Structured literacy works because it takes account of the nature of human memory and attention, and its limitations. The Ministry has spent more than two decades ignoring mounting evidence in its favour.

To be sure, the new strategy was hardly a full-throated endorsement of structured teaching, nor an especially well-articulated one. Still, I was heartened by their stated intention to develop a Common Practice Model (CPM) incorporating a structured approach to teaching these key skills. As its name implies, a CPM is a guide to teaching methods to be followed by every teacher in the country.

The CPM document was published last week. And it does mention structured literacy. Briefly. Near the end.

The trouble is, the rest of the document constitutes a doubling down on the same failed, and sometimes ludicrous, methods the Ministry has championed for years.

Under those methods, a generation of young New Zealanders has been badly let down. A third of our fifteen-year-olds cannot read at a basic adult standard. Two thirds cannot write at a similar standard and nearly half lack basic numeracy skills.

The CPM should have contained a detailed description of structured literacy and numeracy teaching and nothing else. Instead, the methods we so badly need our teachers to adopt are swamped by such things as ‘critical pedagogies’, ‘culturally responsive pedagogies’ and ‘multiliteracies’.

All of these are distractions and some will actively undermine any attempt to use a structured approach alongside them.

There isn’t the space here to describe all the ways in which these ‘pedagogies’ will harm, rather than foster, sound learning. I will confine myself to one highlight – that of ‘critical maths’.

The CPM asserts that “Ākonga [students] are encouraged to interrogate dominant discourses and assumptions, including that maths is benign, neutral, and culture-free”.

All this before they even know what mathematics is.

There is little enough time as it is during the school years for young people to develop basic mathematical proficiency. I would like to suggest to the Ministry that loading this kind of nonsense on top of that task guarantees further educational failure.

But, once again, the Ministry has shown that it simply isn’t listening.

Dr Michael Johnston has held academic positions at Victoria University of Wellington for the past ten years. He holds a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Melbourne. This article was published HERE


Anonymous said...

I am an avid reader of NZCPR and I keep reading these articles (agog with disbelief) and really appreciate the writers bringing the issues out into the sunlight.
But...I despair that there seems to be no way to challenge or change the direction of this madness.
My hope is that our academics at the forefront of these issues are preparing for, if not instigating, a pressure wave of resistance.
Perhaps we need to have a change of government and the right people standing in the wings ready to restore some order and intelligent restructuring. First of all get rid of Labour, the cancer on our country that is eating us alive!

Anonymous said...

This is worse than bad.
Kids struggle with math. Always have, always will.
Now one smart@&* child can derail math teaching for everyone under the pretext of arguing its legitimacy.
The language in the CPM document is pure Critical Theory.
The attacks on Posey Parker are driven by the same stealth revolution that has taken place in every sphere of New Zealand life whilst we’ve slept.
Karl asked us to speak up.
We need a banner under which to do so.
David Seymour understands what is happening here.
My impression is that he is well read in this area.
The ACT constitution is the antithesis of Woke.
I believe that right here, right now, ACT and its constitution is the only hope we have of being able to stand up and push back en masse.
It is a big enough and established enough force for us not be alone, even if we dive in tomorrow.
ACT’s banner and its constitution would give us a legitmacy Posey Parker lacked. I would take both sauce and abuse if i was doing so under a powerful banner, with a commited team and a constitution worth fighting for.
This is not some campaign to be run three months before the election, this is a push back that will take years but needs to start yesterday.
ACT is frightened it will lose votes if it speaks out too voiciferously on the wrong issues.
Tell everyone you know who wants to be part of a team standing together to fight this to let David Seymour know - the more he openly and repeatedly confronts this the more we will support him and his team.
For the sad truth is, if his party doesn’t lead this fight, no one will.

Gaynor said...

Having been intimately involved in the reading wars for 40 years I can attest to the MoE's perverse resistance to structured literacy(traditional phonic reading) because of their cultist adherence to progressive education. This was evidenced in their refusal to acknowledge failure, covering up,lying and blaming everything and everyone else for their failed experiments, There were decades and mountains of research indicating phonics was the answer to reading even before 2000.
Certain academics also need to have a mea culpa over their support for Marie Clay's Reading Recovery and subsequent Balanced Literacy. Her so called research was dishonest and her novel theory of reading, based on a myth, complete rubbish.
Yet she was exalted in NZ to dizzy heights in academia, the Royal Society and in the honours list here and overseas.
To me she was NZ's worst child abuser.The misery of illiteracy, imposed on thousands if not millions of children here and overseas by her deeply flawed methods cannot be forgotten nor minimized.
I was horrified the MoE are still at it - irresponsible and ghastly experiments on other people's children.Destroying their futures with emotional therapy in place of properly researched learning. Mature educationalists recognize the most mentally stable children are the product of achieving well in literacy and numeracy.
Thank you Michael for warning us of this.

Anonymous said...

So we know the current system is broken, because the evidence is there for all to see. You, and a number of others, know what is needed to turn the outcomes around, but in order to bring this about it's clear we need a change of Government - after all the current PM, the former Education Minister, had more than enough opportunity to fix it. Patently, some high ranking heads also need to roll in the MoE in order that there's no doubt of the public's resolve that they have had enough of this past ideological nonsense. It needs to be eradicated, and it can't happen too soon.