E. Three new curriculum programs from Good to Great Schools Australia
The work of my organisation – Good to Great Schools Australia – is focused on
developing primary school and early childhood curricula to support effective teaching
in schools. Our work was first motivated by the needs of indigenous students from
remote schools, but this necessarily overlaps with the needs of all Australian students.
After all, effective teaching is effective teaching.
Whilst delivering federal government programs supporting remote schools we have
built a significant store of curriculum and professional development resources that are
available online on our website: www.goodtogreatschools.com.
These resources are constantly revised and reissued based on feedback from
teachers and students results. We have curriculum writers working virtually for our
Cairns-based organisation, from locations across the country and internationally. Our
teams are well-versed in the research on the practices of effective teaching. We have
been a leading advocate for Direct and Explicit Instruction for more than 15 years.
When we started there was not much support (and a lot of opposition) to teacher-led
direct and explicit instruction. This has changed, both here, in the United Kingdom
and North America. More educators are onto the Science of Reading and the Science
of Learning. And ever since John Hattie’s Visible Learning in 2009, the evidence in
favour of direct instruction and its associated practices, is now clear.
This year my organisation took the decision to offer all of our curriculum resources to
Australian schools for free. Teachers, school leaders, instructional coaches and
teaching assistants can sign up as members and access resources of their own
choosing. When school leaders become members then their school has access to all
of our resources.
Since January members from more than 1000 Australian schools have signed up to
access our resources. They come from the full gamut of Australian schools: remote,
regional and urban; private, Catholic and independent; disadvantaged, middle class
and elite; across all states and territories; all faiths – Christian, Islamic, Jewish and
Ecumenical; all denominations – Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist
and evangelical schools. Every week members from new schools access our
programs. As of this week, we have members from over 10 per cent of Australian
schools. And 100 of them are full members who access all of our resources.
For me this is one of the most rewarding things to have happened in my life. To have
so many teachers and schools using effective teaching resources and choosing to
access professional development in effective teaching practices – and the students in their classrooms who are taking the benefit from their teachers – is just priceless
reward for our work.
We are constantly working to fill resources gaps in schools. I am contemplating a
primary maths program based on explicit instruction – but I am daunted by the large,
multi-year development challenge and the resources needed to do it. I am also
contemplating a Bible Literacy program that would equip every child with the
comprehensive knowledge of the Judaeo-Christian tradition that will serve them so
well in later schooling and life. Again, this too is a multi-year undertaking, requiring us
to find the resources to employ the team of developers to write the program.
When I say program, I mean full powerpoint lessons for every day of the week or
however many lessons are required in the school timetable for a particular subject,
including teacher guides, student workbooks and curriculum mapping of the subjects.
Let me tell you of three smaller projects under development in my organisation:
1. Symbol imaging in learning automaticity in multiplication and division facts: 9
The first is simply the best and most efficient way I have ever come across for teaching
the times (and division) tables to primary students. Two years ago I came across Dr
David Berg’s Making Math Real Institute based in California. Having spent a lot of
time reading and web-surfing math instruction in elementary education, I found Berg’s
MMR approach to be the most convincing. I signed up for his online courses, to which
he like everyone else, switched with the onset of Covid. Zooming in from Australia it
meant I joined about 50 other mostly American teachers, home-schoolers and random
individuals like myself, between 1.30 am and 6.30 am Australian Eastern Standard
Time, whilst my classmates were enjoying a Californian morning, fully fresh and having
had a good night’s sleep.
Dr Berg was an eccentric genius, the one person I’ve encountered who knew the
mathematical equivalent to the Alphabetic Code for teaching literacy – the Numeric
Code and how to effectively teach maths from manipulatives in kindergarten to Calculus. He had not published his innovations, and had a particular view that his
clinical approach to teaching maths could not be reduced to a program (which he
strenuously abjured). His business model (involving limited course enrolments spread
out over multiple years, and strictly controlled dissemination of course resources) just
did not provide any opportunity for scaling up his math teaching innovations. He alone
delivered his courses, and other than the students who completed his courses, no one
else learned his methods.
I want to tell you about one of his innovations, the course for which I undertook last
year. I had completed about a third of the full course load before commence Pre-
Algebra in early September this year. The Pre-Algebra course coincided with the
campaign for constitutional recognition through September and October – and I tried
valiantly to do it, because the next opportunity I had would be in 2025. I started but it
was impossible to continue, because I was so exhausted from my day job.
Then after two weeks of the two-month long Pre-Algebra course, we received news
Dr Berg had suddenly and unexpectedly died. That was the end of Making Math Real.
The website was closed and somewhere in California the repository of this
extraordinary man’s life’s work is sitting in a family office or garage – with no future as
far as I can tell. If you shared with me awareness of his genius then you would
understand the sheer sadness of his death.
My consciousness that you could devote your entire life for the good of children – to
learn the literacy of maths with the same certainty that a child can learn the literacy of
reading and writing if you teach them properly – and leave no legacy at the end, haunts
me as I contemplate this weekend’s referendum. It is my life’s work and that of so
many others that is at stake here. Will we have wasted our lives on a forlorn mission?
Let me now briefly outline the 9 Lines. The 9 Lines are the most efficient means of
teaching the times and division tables to year 3 students. Unlike the Australian
Curriculum students can learn their entire tables by the end of Year 3, and then simply
practice and apply them in their remaining primary years. One week should be spent
on one of the tables. Between 1 and 6 students can be taught at a time. Introduction
to the 2 times table should take place as prescribed by the curriculum in Year 2. 0 and 10 do not need to be taught separately, as they are easily grasped. Division comes
automatically when multiplication is mastered. Division equations are introduced at
the end of the multiplication lesson. There is no need for explicit teaching of division
when the students have mastered multiplication. Don’t teach beyond 10 when
teaching a table. Save 11 and 12 for their own tables. Always organise the equations
running down the three columns, not across. The neurological key lies in the 9 Lines.
A specific procedure involving the recital of the factors and products of each equation
in order, and then the erasure of particular products in a specific order whilst constantly
referring to the spatial location of the equation – so that students can recall the erased
image – and then the restoration of the image followed by testing using all
permutations of the representation of equations, completes the learning. The student
has now got a permanent visual memory of the table which they will be able to draw
upon as a symbol image for the rest of their lives. This is not skip counting or
calculation, it is drawing on visual memory. 86 per cent of students will master the 9
Lines within a 20 minute lesson, whilst a minority who are poor in symbol imaging will
require further intervention and support.
During a MMR course I saw video of Dr Berg teaching a high school student the 13
times tables, something I and most other people did not learn back when. Exhausted
and unfocused as the morning sun peeped over the coast at my beachshack in Cape
York, I nevertheless found the 13 times table stuck in my head after watching a 20
13 52 91
26 65 104
39 78 117
Dr Berg continually impressed there were two indispensable things primary students
need to succeed in early high school Algebra: multiplication and fractions. The 9 Lines
is the simplest and most effective way to master multiplication tables.
2. Phonics then syllables in novel word decoding: Word Attack
A second program I am developing with my team is called Word Attack. I am a firm
believer in all of the principles associated with decoding in reading, starting with
phonemic awareness and the explicit teaching of phonics. Pronunciation of individual
letters and blending is the crucial starting place, and the DI program we use – Reading
Mastery – is as good as any in teaching early reading. It is remarkably effective. The
Science of Reading should be regarded as settled: the evidence base is large and
I furiously agree on the crucial importance of phonics – sounding out novel words letter
by letter, and then blending. Sound it out: b-l-e-n-d-i-ng. Say it fast: blending.
I think teaching students to identify syllables as a bridging step between sounding out
letters and syllabic pronunciation is actually the key to novel word attack. When the
student has the capacity to sound out and blend letters, and they can break the word
into syllables on sight – then they are actually blending syllable chunks rather than
individual letters. This is what I am conscious of doing myself ever since I was an
Take syllable. Having learned phonics, I am now seeing the syllabic chunks: syll-able.
My pronunciation follows the syllabic chunking: syll-a-ble, using a prosodic
enunciation. Prosodic pronunciation in turn allows for spelling to be immediately
integrated. Syll-a-ble: syll/a/ble. Su-per-cal-a-frag-a-lis-tic-ex-pi-al-a-do-cious.
In my view there is no need to get hung up on how to precsiely chunk the syllables.
The aim is to be practical so that students can discern the chunks on sight. Where
they cut the syllables need not follow the exquisite and consistent rules – it doesn’t
matter because the blending of the chunks in pronunciation obviates the rules.
By teaching students to attack novel words through identifying, pronouncing and
blending syllables – students are able to attack novel words long before they even
know what they mean.
3. Symbol imaging sight words by bringing together pronunciation, spelling and
meaning: Word Power
I am so excited by this work, I am not even sure why I am telling you about it. Having
said that let me tell you about another program we are developing called Word Power.
Once the meaning of the syllable is understood, you then have the three components
which the great reading theorist Dr Linnea Ehri explained is needed to have sight word
mastery of a word: pronunciation, spelling and meaning.
Our Word Power program brings these three things together in order to help build
student vocabulary. It is a strange thing – given Dr Ehri’s point that internalisation of
words into the long-term memory of the novice involves the integration of
pronunciation, spelling and meaning – that reading is taught separately from spelling
from vocabulary – when they should be taught in an integrated way. Pronunciation
follows the procedure outlined in our Word Attack program, and spelling follows the
syllabic chunking method. By learning meaning the student then has the word in her
brain, never needing to decode the word again. These sight words I call symbol
images, relying on visual memory rather than decoding.
Our intention with the Word Power program is to build a love of words through a
growing vocabulary full of beautiful, clever (and yes, smartypants) words. The habits
and courage to use sharp and interesting words is what our Word Power program aims
to develop in students.