David Staples: Why isn’t the ATA supporting a reading curriculum that works great with students?

The ATA, as well as Notley’s NDP, have now determined that the new curriculum is fundamentally flawed, unsuitable for classrooms, may cause harm, and should not continue.

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It was bad enough for Alberta children and their parents before the pandemic when about 30 percent of elementary school students were reading below grade level.

But now, due to school closings and inefficiencies in online learning, Alberta’s student reading level has plummeted, with about 40 to 50 percent of students in some districts now struggling to read, George said. Georgiou, director of the University of Alberta. JP Das Center on Developmental and Learning Disabilities.

But what if that could be changed? What if there was a way, even in the midst of this current COVID crisis, to reduce that number to less than 10 percent of students who have difficulty reading?

That level of success is achievable, Georgiou said. Alberta schools only need to adopt a language arts curriculum that is already practiced in several of Alberta’s top elementary schools.

Many of these schools follow an instructional program established by Georgiou. The success of this approach, based on research on best practices for teaching children to read, primarily with a strong focus on learning how to pronounce words and understand vocabulary, prompted Rachel Notley’s NDP to engage Georgiou to work in the 2018 draft language arts curriculum.

Just two years ago, the Alberta Teachers Association honored Georgiou with his 2019 ATA Higher Educational Research Award for his “remarkable performance” in turning struggling readers into grade-level readers.


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But all those accolades came before Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s UCP made Georgiou the architect of his government’s K-6 language arts rewrite. The ATA, as well as Notley’s NDP, have now determined that the new curriculum is fundamentally flawed, unsuitable for classrooms, may cause harm, and should not continue.

And indeed, some parts of the new curriculum are a huge mess. But that carpet-bombing approach includes the great new language arts curriculum.

This has left Georgiou frustrated. “I don’t care about the political agendas here,” he said. “I worry about what is good for children.”

The Alberta Teachers Association office in Edmonton.
The Alberta Teachers Association office in Edmonton. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia, archive

This week, the ATA published a report, after consultation with teachers, with a critique of the draft curriculum, including the language arts program.


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While some teachers support the science of reading instructional approach in the new curriculum, the report noted that a large number do not and believe there are other ways to teach reading. “Clearly, the science of reading is not the ‘magic bullet’ for teaching reading, and teachers will still need to continue to use multiple strategies to teach all students to read, including those with diverse learning needs,” he says. The report.

But when it comes to students with diverse learning needs, it is worth noting that Dyslexia Canada has praised the literacy component of Alberta’s draft curriculum: “All provinces and territories require school curriculum updates pertaining to literacy. Congratulations to Alberta for leading the way. “


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Without an updated program, Alberta’s tens of thousands of children with dyslexia will continue to suffer greatly. “They are often bullied, treated as stupid and marginalized due to their literacy difficulties. Parents don’t know what to do. Teachers are not adequately trained. “

Georgiou is not impressed with the ATA’s change of direction regarding his work. “It is a very regrettable report,” he said.

“Why don’t the ATA or school divisions analyze the success stories of their own schools?” he continues. “I was awarded an award two years ago for producing the best literacy results in the world. They never bothered to ask, ‘What was that intervention like? What did you do with the teachers that produced such phenomenal results? It is no different from what is in the (proposed) curriculum, what current research tells us to do in teaching English reading. “


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I ask Georgiou what he’s dealing with with the ATA right now.

“It is completely political,” he says. “It is not based on research evidence.”

Some will reject Georgiou’s position as him simply defending his own work in the curriculum. But the ATA itself not only defended Georgiou’s work before he led the UCP effort, they praised him to the skies.

It cannot be denied that the leaders of the ATA and the Kenney government have become increasingly bitter enemies.

I see political consideration in the ATA’s approach, particularly in its insistence that the entire new curriculum is bad and should be scrapped.

The ATA would be more credible if it moved away from its scorched earth mentality. You should rethink the parts of the curriculum that will greatly enhance children’s learning, with reading instruction near the top of the list.

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