THE ASFLA Conference 2013 wrapped up yesterday with the final key note speakers and presenters presenting their research papers and workshops.
Pauline Jones opened proceedings with her key note address “Learning to teach grammar: orchestral moves and virtuoso moments.” She posed the question: How will teachers enact the Knowledge about Language strand of the Australian Curriculum: English? Jones explored the relationship between teacher’s knowledge about language and their curriculum and pedagogic expertise. She used a case study of primary school teachers to investigate how they enact functionally oriented grammar in their pedagogy through multimodal exchanges. An analysis of these exchanges show that in their teaching of functional grammar, the teachers in this case study follow the process outlined in the diagram below. They complete each step multimodally through the actions identified in red above each phase of the cycle.
This is a cycle which I recognise from my work with Reading to Learn, however Pauline’s session prompted thinking about how that could be further embedded in my teaching in a secondary context.
The first workshop following the key note address explored how Reading to Learn is being implemented in a Danish English as a Foreign Language class. Susanne Karen Jacobsen and Anne Kryger Larsen explained how Anne, a classroom teacher of English was implementing Reading to Learn in her class to improve students’ reading and writing skills in the target language. This was particularly interesting for me as it is something that I am also working on implementing in my Italian classes. Whilst Anne is still in the early phases of the project, the results that she presented from her English class reflected some of the positive outcomes I have also noticed in my Italian students. I was particularly impressed at the level of text that she had her language students working with, which is food for thought about what kinds of texts I could be bringing into my Italian lessons. Discussion after the workshop with Peter Mickan from the University of Adelaide raised many questions about current practice in secondary LOTE classrooms, but also possible solutions that I would like to try in my own language classes.
Britt Johansson’s session immediately after morning tea was also particularly inspiring. Britt has been working on a long-term project in her school in Knutby, Sweden, to close the gap between linguistically and culturally diverse students. Pauline Gibbon’s work on SFL is the foundation of her approach and she has been training teachers in incorporating functional linguistics in their pedagogy. The results have been excellent, with a continual increase in students’ result in national tests affirming that they are on the right track with their literacy program. The greatest lesson Britt’s workshop held for me is that changes such as these are long term projects. Britt has been working on these changes in pedagogy for the benefit of the students at her school since 2003 and it is ongoing. Things do not change overnight.
Kristina Love and Carmel Sandiford from the Australian Catholic University then presented the initial findings of a project which tracked the metalinguistic development of teachers and their students as the teachers undertook professional development based on Halliday’s principles of ‘using grammar to think with.” Teachers were interviewed about an initial persuasive text that students were required to write, before undergoing the training. They were then interviewed again after students wrote a second text that had been taught using SFL. One of the teachers was an early career educator, whilst the other had significant teaching experience. Subjects’ metalinguistic development was mapped against their previous interview and results were positive, demonstrating improvement in knowledge and understanding both of the teachers and the students.
The final workshop of the day for me was Damon Thomas’s presentation “Persuasive writing genres from two theoretical perspectives.” A PhD candidate from the University of Tasmania, Damon explored why so many students reported having difficulty with the persuasive writing component of the 2013 NAPLAN test. He did this by outlining the persuasive writing in schools is grounded in two language theories which complement each other. Firstly, Classical Rhetoric divides persuasive language into judicial discourse, epideictic discourse and deliberative discourse. On the other hand, school-based persuasive genres are often taught from the SFL lens of analytical exposition, horatory exposition and discussion. We can see elements of judicial, epideictic and deliberative discourse within any of the SFL models. Damon suggests that the reason students struggled in 2013, was because they had been prepared for the traditional persuasive text prompt such as “Homework should be banned in schools. Do you agree/disagree?” which focuses more on deliberative discourse. However, this year’s prompt of “Choose someone who you believe is a hero and explain why you think they are so,” called for students to draw more on the epideictic discourse, the function of which is to praise. This was a fascinating and practical workshop, which did also demonstrate that SFL can work with complementary theories of language to improve students’ (and teachers’) understanding of language.
The conference was an intensive but incredibly rewarding four days of professional learning. I certainly leave Melbourne with many questions answered, and even more raised about how we can use approaches to SFL in practical ways in the classroom to improve student literacy and general learning outcomes. As Britt Johansson demonstrated, it is a long journey, but it is for the benefit of our students’ learning. And isn’t that why most of us are here?
Today saw a spike in attendance at the ASFLA Conference as literacy educators, teacher trainers and linguists from across the country converged on the ACU for Teachers Day. Whilst Tuesday had focused much more on academic research into SFL, today was more about its application in educational settings.
Beverly Derewianka opened the day with a key note address titled ‘Developing an informed appreciation of literary texts.’ Her work demonstrated a practical application of some of the work presented by Frances Christie yesterday. The learning acquired from Christie’s presentation about semantic waves, semantic gravity and semantic density was put into practice as Derewianka explored how a Year 4 and Year 6 teacher developed student appreciation and written responses using the picture book ‘The Coat.’ A lot of the work we have been doing in our own school has been based on Derewianka’s book ‘A New Grammar Companion for Teachers’ so it was very reaffirming to clarify and build on previous understandings and applications.
Immediately after the key note it was our turn to present our unit Functional Fiction: developing narrative language in the middle years. Despite some nerves, there was a renewed sense of confidence when we realised our presentation linked so well with Derewianka’s and when we noticed the room begin to fill with people. The workshop ran more smoothly than we could have hoped, and feedback was both positive and constructive.
After morning tea, I attended a workshop run by Sally Humphrey and Tina Sharpe from the ACU, and a number of schools with whom they have been working closely to implement the 4 x 4 Toolkit for teachers to support student in developing written language skills. Feedback from the three Catholic schools and two government schools involved in the program was extremely positive, and it was interesting to hear that many of them had been using Reading to Learn and 4 x 4 in conjunction with each other to develop students’ ability to read for and write with meaning.
Today’s second key note speaker was Mary Macken-Hararik who explored the fact that the Australian Curriculum now requires that all teachers have a knowledge about language that is “portable and cumulative”. This challenges professional expertise in that it is very common for secondary teachers to have little or no training in teaching language and literacy, making it difficult for them to truly address the literacy needs required in their subject areas. Macken-Hararik’s paper focused on a project investigating a shared grammatics for school English and how the teachers involved applied new learning in their classrooms to improve student literacy outcomes.
The final workshop I attended was by Imogene Cochrane, an early career teacher who presented a project on behalf of a small team of educators from Erskineville Public School. She and her colleagues have been teaching grammar to their early primary students using a games-based pedagogy. Cochrane’s approach integrates the language, literacy and literature strands of the Australian Curriculum by helping students to engage with grammar in fun but meaningful ways, building their meta-language to be able to explain and manipulate their language choices, even at a very young age.
Teachers Day concluded with a third key note address from Brian Dare and John Polias from Lexis Education. The writers of “How Language Works” presented a two part discussion demonstrating how knowledge about language can be applied in teaching and learning. Dare and Polias emphasised the importance of an explicit language-based pedagogy across the curriculum in primary and secondary schools using examples from their own mentoring work with teachers both in Australia and in Hong Kong. There was explicit discussion of how we can scaffold the genres students are required to produce in a range of subject areas, before Polias explored how language, visuals and mathematics must work together in equal relationship to form texts in the Science Learning Area.
A jam-packed but stimulating program, Teachers Day provided many practical strategies grounded firmly in SFL that schools and teachers can adapt to their own context. As a teacher, I value PD most when I leave with the sense that I have gained new knowledge, understandings and strategies that I can begin to implement almost straightaway in my classroom or in my general practice as an educator. Today was certainly one of those PD days.
After successful pre-conference workshops yesterday by expert linguists Sally Humphrey, Susan Feez, David Rose and Peter White, the ASFLA Conference was officially opened this morning by Professor Clare Wyatt-Smith, the Executive Dean of Education at the Australian Catholic University.
This was followed by the first key note speaker Emeritus Professor Frances Christie, with a paper titled ‘Seizing the moment: the case of English literature studies.’ Christie unpacked how students are expected to adopt a particular ‘gaze’ or knower code in order to respond to literature. The paper was heavy in systemic functional linguistic terminology such as semantic waves, semantic gravity and semantic density, which are rarely – if ever – used in teacher education or in the classroom. However, as the talk unfolded, it became apparent that as teachers we refer to the same or similar elements of responses to literature that Christie was discussing, but we use different terms that are more accessible in a classroom setting or to those whose training is not in the field of systemic functional linguistics. These new concepts acquired through Christie’s presentation were very useful for coming to a deeper understanding of how students need to create meaning in their responses to texts.
After morning tea, delegates broke off into concurrent sessions. Len Unsworth’s presentation considered ‘visual grammatics’ through a study of student interpretive responses to images in picture books. The data was collected and divided into three kinds of responses:
– tactical – seemed like students were simply tying to find something to say
– mimetic – students were aware of interpersonal meaning but did not technicalize awareness
– semiotic – three levels within this response 1) descriptive of interpersonal meaning, 2) technical naming of interpersonal meaning, 3) interpretive, where students relate interpersonal positioning in an image to thematic concerns of the story
The first round of data collected was simply written responses, and very few students from the sample of Year 4 through to Year 10 managed to go beyond the mimetic or early semiotic responses. Interestingly, however, the second round of data, in which both written and oral responses were collected, showed that students could begin to express the interpretive response verbally even at Year 5, when they struggled to express it on writing. This raises questions for educators in terms of how we help students to express the same meaning in an interpretive way through writing. It’s not that they are not capable of the necessary thinking skills , but they don’t necessarily have the formal written language to express these ideas.
Another fascinating concurrent session was that of Lars Salomonsen and Winnie Østergaard, titled ‘Developing a language-based teaching of Maths in primary school using the mode continuum as a teacher planning tool.’ This paper followed how the presenters worked with trainee Maths and Danish as a Second Language students in Denmark to enhance the learning of Year 1 students through language. The presentation provoked fascinating discussion between linguists and educators of varying backgrounds, but a general understanding was met that language, visuals, and symbols are equally important to student learning in mathematics, reaffirming the importance of a cross-curricular approach to literacy.
More concurrent sessions followed after lunch before the first day concluded with the second key note speaker, Peter White. White spoke about “issues associated with authorial identity or persona.” This identity is often seen as flexible – constructed, produced or performed through language according to the requirements of specific communicative events.
Day One of ASFLA’s Conference was engaging and stimulating. The conference attracts delegates from a range of backgrounds, providing the opportunity for academics, linguists, educational consultants and educators to come together and understand the practicalities of each other’s work. This is crucial given that the work of one does, in fact, impact upon the work of the other. What better opportunity to bridge gaps, come to better understandings, translate academia into practical classroom approaches and celebrate the amazing work that is going on in our universities, education departments and schools.