Teaching Reading in Australia

Debates about how to teach reading are not new.  The Teaching Reading in Australia research project (funded in 2009-10 by the Australian Research Council DP0987648) has been exploring the history of teaching reading in Australia in the 19th and early 20th centuries to consider the ways reading has been understood and the methods and materials which were promoted.  The Australian debates were not conducted in isolation.  In order to understand the Australian context the Teaching Reading in Australia researchers have connected the Australian history to practices throughout the British Empire and beyond.

Research Objectives

Sketch of woman holding book and 3 children standing in front of her looking at it.

Miss Vaughan teaching children to read at her kindergarten in Walsh Street, South Yarra, Melbourne. (Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil, p. 321, 8/10/1881)

The focus of research has been on the beginner reader stage and how reading was taught in the classroom to young children.  The project has three main objectives:

  • To appreciate how we have arrived at the teaching methods, values and aims that we use in the classroom today;
  • To understand the relationship between the student, the teacher and the text in the classroom; and
  • To investigate whether a deeper understanding of this history can help us inform professional development and classroom practice today.

Note that the researchers on this project are not attempting to find the ‘best’ teaching method, nor to compare different approaches to the teaching of reading.  This project aims to put the current debates into historical context and encourage others to think about current controversies from a historical perspective.

Teaching Reading in Australia Website – A Rich Resource

We have created a website to share some resources which we hope will prove useful to other researchers.  Currently the following information is available on the site:

  • Conference and seminar presentations arising from the Teaching Reading in Australia project;
  • Extensive bibliography of articles and reports relating the historical and contemporary developments in the teaching of reading both international and Australian; and
  • Links to both Australian and international material available online and to significant archives/libraries.

There is a wealth of resources here which we hope researchers will delve into.

Teaching Reading in Australia Researchers

The Chief Investigators are:

Two research assistants worked on the project:

  • Pippa Milroy:  University of South Australia;
  • Yvonne Perkins:  Charles Sturt University and Queensland University of Technology.

Schooling Australia Project

The Teaching Reading in Australia project builds on the work of an earlier research project, Schooling Australia which was also funded by ARC (Large project A00104036).  The Schooling Australia project examined the English curricula in New South Wales, South Australia and other states between 1901 and 1938 and curricula for other states during the 1930s.  Original curriculum documents have been scanned and are available on the Schooling Australia website.  There is an abundance of material available on this website which anyone interested in the history of education in Australia should explore.

Related Blog Posts

There are a series of posts on this blog that discuss this project:

  • History of Teaching Children to Read in Australia: In this post I interview the head researchers and discuss some of the findings of the project.
  • The Transformation of a Word: I discuss my research interest in school readers from the 1870s and 1880s and how they demonstrate the understanding of secular education at this time.
  • Teaching Quality – Discovering the Role of Teachers in Learning:  Is teaching just a matter of following the steps in an instruction book or does the teacher need to draw on professional judgement developed through knowledge and experience?  During the nineteenth century both approaches to education were tried out in schools.  The outcomes of these learning systems had a major impact on the system of teacher training that is used today.
  • Significant Historic Australian Education Collections – Deakin University, Geelong:  This is the first of a series of occasional posts focussing on significant collections for researchers of the history of education in Australia.  The Australian Schools Textbook Collection held by Deakin University has over 20,000 volumes covering a wide variety of subject areas with publication dates extending from the early nineteenth century to the late twentieth century.  This post gives an overview of the collection.

We would love to hear about how you have used the material made available on the Teaching Reading in Australia and Schooling Australia websites.  Please add a comment below.

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