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?
I count myself as very fortunate to have been involved in Catholic Education South Australia’s Reading to Learn professional development program over the past two years. Given the fact that it has been at the front of my mind for the past term and going into the ASFLA conference next week, I felt it required a descriptive/reflective post to explain my fervour.
Reading to Learn was developed by Dr David Rose and is based on principles of functional grammar. It aims “to enable all learners at all levels of education to read and write successfully, at levels appropriate to their age, grade and area of study.” (http://www.readingtolearn.com.au/) This provides a key point of access to the Australian Curriculum, which also demands that students of all abilities work with age-appropriate, challenging texts across the curriculum. Whilst Reading to Learn was originally developed with EAL students in mind, the strategies are applicable to mainstream students of all levels.
Having said this, I think David Rose explains the theory behind the strategy best:
My Reading to Learn journey began with my colleague’s encouragement two years ago. Getting involved is the best thing I have done for my teaching. It has strengthened my prior knowledge of linguistics, changed my approach to literacy education, and helped me to develop a lot more empathy with my students and what they experience when learning to cope with complex genres in secondary school.
As well as its application in my English and Religion classes, I have also found the pedagogy successful in my LOTE classroom. Whether in English or Italian, I am seeing my students’ confidence and willingness to attempt challenging genres growing by the week. With this, their reading comprehension and ability to produce quality writing is increasing tenfold. It is hard work and time consuming, but the fantastic results make it worthwhile.
Reading to Learn is being used at an international scale, and my colleagues and I have had opportunities to network with visiting teachers from Denmark, Sweden and Norway, as well as teachers from across South Australia. We are looking forward to continuing to share ideas and learn collaboratively at next week’s Australian Systemic Functional Linguistics Association Conference next week in Melbourne.
Some generous gifts to our school by our Scandinavian Reading to Learn visitors.
This program is not just for English and EAL teachers, either. Literacy is a cross-curricular priority, and as a school we are working with staff to develop a consistent approach across the learning areas. This is an on-going process, which is still in its very nascent stages, however there are some promising signs and I will continue to post as we progress through this stage of our Reading to Learn journey.
I would love to hear from other teachers and schools using this pedagogy. What have been your successes and challenges? How do you implement it in your classroom and across the curriculum?