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.