Programming for the NSW syllabus for the Australian curriculum English

Portrait photo of Catherine Thomson
Catherine Thomson, English Advisor K–6, Learning and Leadership – Early Learning and Primary Education

Key considerations for programming

Many teachers are trialling, planning and programming using the NSW syllabus for the Australian curriculum English K-10.For primary teachers there are some key considerations for programming with the new document.

Programming is a process of harnessing outcomes and content in an organised and systematic way. Currently teachers may harness the outcomes by the strands — reading, writing, talking and listening. They may also program around text types, or perhaps even program via links to other key learning area (KLAs). On close inspection of the new English syllabus, teachers will see that using strands or texts types as a basis for planning would be difficult, as the syllabus organisation and types of text are quite different from the current English K–6 syllabus(Figure 1).

Figure 1 English K-10 syllabus organisation includes interpretation and reflection
Figure 1 English K-10 syllabus organisation includes interpretation and reflection

Interpret and reflect

In the NSW syllabus for the Australian curriculum English K10(hereby referred to as English K-10 syllabus), English is defined as ‘the study and use of the English language in its various textual forms’(Board of Studies (BOS) NSW, 2012). The rationale goes on to state that the study of English encompasses ‘spoken, written and visual texts of varying complexity through which meaning is shaped, conveyed, interpreted and reflected’(BOS NSW, 2012). This statement makes it clear to teachers that the English K-10 syllabushas a greater intent than just the acquisition of literacy skills. Interpreting textual meaning and reflecting upon the subject matter, play a greater role in the study of English in a primary setting than ever before.

Where do I start?

When planning and programming with the English K-10 syllabus, start by closely reading the content for the particular stage of learning being planned. Highlight any words or ideas that seem to be recursive or that stand out, as in the Early Stage 1 Objective C example (Figure 2).

Figure 2 Early Stage 1 Think imaginatively and creatively with highlighted words for programming
Figure 2 Early Stage 1 Think imaginatively and creatively with highlighted words for programming

Upon reading the syllabus, teachers will understand that English K–10 has its own unique content. When teaching the English KLA, teachers are teaching more than just a list of skills and strategies needed to communicate effectively. Through the close study of texts they are teaching students to:

  • think in ways that are imaginative, creative, interpretive and critical (Objective C)
  • express themselves and their relationship with others and their world (Objective D)
  • learn and reflect on their learning through their study of English (Objective E).

From this close reading of the content teachers will begin to identify key concepts that build from Early Stage 1 to Stage 5. In the primary years, the concepts of representation and connections are like a tree trunk, from which everything else stems.

What is a concept?

A concept is a:

… significant notion that reflects the core ideas of the content being taught and enables students to comprehend and create meaning.

Yager, 2013, p.17

Why are concepts important?

Teachers in NSW government schools are familiar with the Quality teaching framework(NSW DET, 2003) which is a pedagogical research based teaching model. The Quality teaching framework is based upon promoting high levels of intellectual quality in classroom practice.

This is important for teachers because high levels of intellectual quality have been shown to increase learning outcomes for students from all backgrounds. With a new syllabus about to be implemented in NSW, it is a chance for teachers to take the opportunity to refresh programming and adapt it for the English K-10 syllabus.

When translating NSW syllabuses into specific classroom programs, lessons and learning activities, the first thing teachers will need to do is select and organise the essential knowledge, understandings, skills and values from the syllabus around central concepts or ideas.

NSW Department of Education and Training, 2003, p. 10

Where to next?

Think about the essential learning that springs from a concept for that stage of schooling.

For example, characterisation is a concept that builds from Early Stage 1 to Stage 5. In Early Stage 1 it begins by identifying that characters exist and that they are represented by nouns and noun groups. By Stage 5 students are expected to use and critically assess aspects of texts such as characterisation.

Once the essential learning has been identified it is time it identify the key skills and understandings the students need.

Key skills and understandings

This is the point in time where teachers may ask themselves,

Where are my students now?

Review student learning to date and decide on what the students in the class need to learn at that particular point in time.

Consult the outcomes and content of the English K-10 syllabusto select the skills and knowledge across all the objectives that your students need at that point in time.

Plot the focus outcomes and content. Differentiate according to student need. Follow the Program builder link at the end of the article to see an example.

Text selection

While deciding on the concept, the essential learning, and the key skills, it is also time to select the texts that will form the core of the learning.

Selecting texts that contain good examples of the concept being taught is imperative for the study of English. Students need to study a variety of texts (spoken, written, visual multimedia and digital) and types of texts (informative, persuasive and imaginative) to make the learning deep.

Informative, imaginative and persuasive texts can intermingle by having multiple purposes (Figure 3). Digital texts such as websites often have more than one purpose as they are specifically designed to inform and persuade concurrently.

Figure 3 Intermingle types of text
Figure 3 Intermingle types of text

The English K-10 syllabusconstantly uses terms such as compare, connect, share and respond, highlighting the idea that texts are only as rich as the reader/ viewer’s knowledge. The more texts that have been experienced and studied, the richer each reading or viewing will be.

When selecting texts it is important to remember that it is not the text that is being taught specifically, rather the English content that exists within the text.

Sample text
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Students could then compare this understanding with a text such as Pamela Allen’s ‘I Wish I had a Pirate Suit’, which represents imagination in a similar way. The representation of imagination through text is the English learning, rather than a study of pirate clothing and behaviour. Students need to be able to transfer the content knowledge from and between texts. This is why using English concepts as a driver for planning brings about deep knowledge.

Teaching/assessment strategies

After defining the concept, the essential learning from within the concept, the key skills and understandings, and the texts, it is time to plan the teaching/assessment strategies. In a primary classroom teaching strategies can also be used as assessment strategies if planned carefully.

At this point in time a teacher may consider:

How will my students get there?

How do I know when my students get there?

These two questions need to be considered in tandem to allow the teacher to carefully monitor and assess the learning that is taking place.

Give it a go

Programming for the English KLA in a primary classroom often seems to feel like juggling many balls. As soon as attention is diverted from one ball everything can fall over. Balancing all the outcomes to create a sustainable, stimulating and authentic textual study can be daunting.

Fortunately, the arrival of a new syllabus provides an opportunity to reflect upon our own classroom practice, keep what is exceptional and tweak what may be tired or a bit dusty. Think about these three points:

1. English is a KLA in its own right and has unique content.

2. Identifying concepts from the English K-10 syllabusenables the English outcomes and content to be harnessed in a systematic way.

3. Teaching students about the textual concepts enables them to transfer their knowledge in ways that are imaginative, creative, interpretive and critical.

Why not follow this pathway next time you program with the English K-10 syllabus?

A graphic of a pathway for programming with the English K-10 syllabus
Pathway for programming with the English K-10 syllabus

References and further reading

Allen, P. 1991, I wish I had a pirate suit, Penguin, Ringwood, Vic.

Board of Studies (BOS) NSW 2012, English K-10 syllabus, NSW syllabuses for the Australian curriculum, accessed 20 January 2018 at NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA).

NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) 2003, Quality teaching in NSW public schools:discussion paper, Professional Support and Curriculum Directorate, Sydney.

Sendak, M. 1984, Where the wild things are, HarperTrophy, USA.

Yager, K. 2013, Designing conceptual units of work, UNSW, accessed 20 January 2018.

Keywords: pathways; English textual concepts

How to cite this article: Thomson, C. 2013, ‘Programming for the NSW syllabus for the Australian curriculum English’, Scan 32(3)

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