Tag Archives: functional grammar

When and why do Languages lose their ‘spark’ for students?

This morning I had the pleasure of observing a Year 4/5 Italian class at a local primary school. It was fascinating to witness such a different environment from the language classrooms in a high school.

The lesson began with the students’ class teacher accompanying them to the shared Italian and Science room (perhaps a seemingly odd combination to some but what an opportunity for bilingual learning!). As the children entered the room they immediately greeted their teacher and myself in Italian, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. They also responded immediately to questions with ‘Si” or ‘No.’

The class was beginning work on an information report about Australian animals, constructing language using the functional grammar concepts of participants and processes. They are to be introduced to circumstances next week. I found it fascinating to observe the students’ knowledge of -are verbs in the present tense, and their eagerness to participate in the class discussion and respond to the teacher’s questioning. They were patient and genuinely willing to support each other. Even when they were fidgeting, they were engaged with the lesson activities and a pleasure to talk to about their language learning individually.

The students I observed today were lapping up every word they were able to write or say in Italian. They spoke with beautiful Italian accents when asked to read and were so proud of their achievements in the short lesson. Watching this class made me wonder, where do so many children lose this enthusiasm for language learning? Is it in the late primary school years, or early in high school? When do they become so hesitant to take positive risks with their learning? I know this has a lot to do with the age-group I teach, rather than simply the subject…but it is a challenge for teachers of Languages at high school. Where are the gaps, and how can we better foster this love for learning languages in more of our older students?

Expressing Evaluation through Nominalisation – a Powtoon

I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus this month – but for good reason! I am frantically getting work completed early in preparation for a 17 day study trip to Italy with fourteen of our wonderful Year 10 and 11 students. Anticipation is building, and there are just a few more assignments, exams, reports and administrative jobs to complete.

One of the tasks I set myself this weekend was the completion of an assignment for a course I am participating in through Catholic Education South Australia. This course explores the DECD Language and Literacy Levels for EAL learners at the secondary level, focusing on noun groups and nominalisations, passive voice and sentence structure, foregrounding and evaluative language. Since I wil be absent for the final module on evaluation, the presenter suggested the creation of a multimodal presentation. Below is the finished product, created on the fabulous ICT tool Powtoon.

The work is based on Beverly Derewianka’s A New Grammar Companion for Teachers, and Working Grammar by Sally Humphrey, Kristina Love and Louise Droga.

Reflections on the Effective School Improvement Project so far

Recently, I have blogged about the Curtin University Effective School Improvement Project.  Surveys were completed by students a couple of weeks ago and I am now at the stage where I have reviewed my data and identified areas that I would like to specifically target for improvement. Generally I was very happy with the results – my students were quite positive about our classroom environment.However, the particular areas I decided to focus on for improvement are students’ understanding of what they are assessed on in my classes and collaboration and involvement.

I certainly empathise with my Year 8 students when they say it is difficult to understand precisely what their grades mean. Our assignment coversheets are really designed for teachers and are covered in Australian Curriculum jargon and teacher-speak. So I began my project by creating a short document titled “Your Grade in Plain English.” The information outlined the questions that I ask myself when I assess their English work, but it used a terminology more appropriate to twelve and thirteen year olds. We spent some time going through this together in class before they received their first assessment tasks back. Anonymous feedback collected from the students via an Edmodo poll suggested that the exercise helped them to better understand what their grade meant. Each student now has a copy to refer to whenever they are producing a piece of work in our English class. Now that they understand what the assessment criteria mean and what I am looking for evidence of in their work, they can use it as a checklist when completing tasks.

Another step I have put in place to assist me in my learning is to film or otherwise document some of my lessons. The decision to do this was instigated by a project that a colleague and I are doing on Functional Grammar, but I realised that the exercise also provides a great opportunity to reflect on my teaching for the Curtin Project. One of my very generous colleagues agreed to come into a Year 8 English lesson last week and help me to film. Tonight I finally got time to sit down and view the video. The lesson was one in a series where we look at simple, compound and complex sentences. We then look at these sentence types in the context of a children’s book. This particular lesson began with a Preparation for Reading (from the Reading to Learn pedagogy), before reading Jackie French’s 2011 book Flood. We will follow this with explicit teaching of other elements of Functional Grammar as students simultaneously draft their narrative assessment tasks.


It was quite confronting to see myself on video at first. However, as I became more comfortable with it, it was incredibly interesting. Watching myself teach gave me a very different perspective on the structure of my lessons, the activities I run with students, and what it might be like to be a student in my class. I performed a short Strengths, Weaknesses and Opportunities analysis. Such reflection assisted me in identifying what I feel I do well in my classes, areas I might address in the future, and future planning decisions based on the review of student engagement and feedback. It also allowed me to see particular things going on in the classroom that may need addressing but are much harder to notice when you are busy teaching the lesson.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the lesson. I had been very nervous about having the camera in the room (even though I had asked for it) and I know the students modified their behaviour knowing that the camera was rolling. However, rather than highlighting deficiencies, it was actually very reaffirming. The insights it has provided – both for my professional learning through the Curtin Project and for our Functional Grammar work – are invaluable.

I look forward to implementing further strategies to improve my focus areas and will continue to document my observations and reflections on this blog.

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