Monthly Archives: February 2016

ENGL 840 Blog 3 Dissertation

“Explicit and meaningful: an exploration of linguistic tools for supporting Ells’ reading and analytic writing in the English language arts”

Moore’s dissertation examines how systemic functional linguistics (SFL) can be used to support ELL’s understanding of language within meaningful contexts. The dissertation consists of three manuscripts, each focusing on different aspects of a long-term, design-based research project. Chapter two, “Using a Functional Linguistics Metalanguage to Support Academic Development in the English Language Arts,” reports on research where classroom teachers used the SFL metalanguage to supports students’ writing of a character analysis, “a valued type of response genre in the ELA classroom” (31). Students learned options for turning up and turning down meanings and the process types (doing, being, sensing, saying). The students analyzed direct and indirect characterization. Characters’ attitudes are often told through being and sensing processes, while characters’ attitudes are shown through doing and saying processes. The setting was several high poverty elementary school classrooms where the majority of the student population is bilingual, Arabic being most students’ first language. The data gathered included: video, classroom artifacts, teacher logs, and student writing (28). Classroom videos were coded by “participant structure and content during observations” (29). This data was further narrowed down into “episodes of productive talk” within fourteen lessons (29). Moore mainly uses classroom transcripts to present findings. The research suggests the SFL metalanguage helped to foster “rich moments of classroom interaction,” which is atypical for ELLs in traditional instruction. SFL facilitated engagement with meaning as long as SFL was not used to merely identify parts of speech, like in traditional grammar.

The second manuscript focused on the teaching of argument through character analysis. The character analysis response genre was broken into three stages, Character Presentation, Character Description, and Character Judgment. Expanding on Toulmin’s notion of argument, Moore developed the stages of the character analysis genre to include: Claim, Orientation to Evidence, Evidence, Interpretation, and Evaluation (75).  The research also called for more explicit definitions of analysis, dividing this complex writing task into interpretation and evaluation (75). The research took place in a similar setting. Moore used SFL textual and genre analysis to analyze and code the data. The most interesting findings had to do with natural and unnatural constraints upon teaching genre. Some constraints of genre, such as the general stages of a genre to achieve a social purpose, are natural, while imposing arbitrary constraints on genre, such as prescribing two sentences for evaluation are unnatural. Unnatural restraints can lead to confusion and error when writing.

The third manuscript provides insights into design-based research, a relatively unknown research methodology. DBR “uses both qualitative and quantitative methods in an effort to enhance educational innovations through iterative cycles of development, evaluation, and refinement” (125). DBR is very responsive to teacher-research. I find DBR particularly useful because it helps take “grand theories” and “orienting frameworks” and operationalize them into design principles that guide and reiteratively influence research. I would recommend this article to anyone interested in using the SFL metalanguage in the classroom, especially anyone interested in design-based research, as this is one of the first projects using DBR to design and then evaluate the research project.

Works Cited

Moore, Jason P. Explicit and Meaningful: An Exploration of Linguistic Tools for Supporting Ells’ Reading and Analytic Writing in the English Language Arts. Diss. U of Michigan, 2014. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

ENGL 840 Blog #2 Article

“Reading Science: Using Systemic Functional Linguistics to Support Critical Language Awareness”

In the article, O’Halloran, Palincsar, and Schleppegrell discuss a design-based research project meant to raise critical language awareness for teachers and students; specifically, using the systemic functional linguistics (SFL) metalanguage to investigate how authors draw on language resources to convey attitude in informational texts. Unlike narrative texts, informational texts are often viewed as lacking in authorial attitude and opinion; information is presented as a set of unquestionable facts. The authors argue informational texts are, indeed, inscribed with authorial opinions and perspectives and that critical language awareness can help teachers and students see the inherent dialogism in informational texts – that, like narratives, students can become “empowered to speak back” to informational texts, questioning assumptions by drawing awareness to the language resources that clue the reader in to author attitudes (5). The two major ways the researchers draw attention to author attitudes and opinions is through the identification of interpersonal adjuncts such as fortunately and interestingly (7). Interpersonal adjuncts like fortunately or hopefully signal to the reader that the author is expressing an opinion, while adjuncts like interestingly create salience, focusing the reader’s attention on a specific piece of information.

This is part of a greater design-based research project making SFL “useful and usable” for ELL teachers and students. Design-based research “involves multiple iterations of creating, piloting, refining, and then implementing and studying new innovations in authentic contexts of educational focus” (5). The participants consisted of twenty-three primary school teachers and literacy coaches across five schools in a predominantly Arabic community (5). The researchers conducted eight forty-five minute sessions teaching students and teachers how to analyze authorial attitudes in informational texts using SFL. The researchers collected four types of data: teacher responses after the initial training session, lesson transcripts from two third grade classrooms, teacher logs, and teacher discussion in professional development after the unit (5). The data shows students were more likely to develop a critical orientation to informational texts after the unit. Most teachers reported increased knowledge regarding the dialogic and attitudinal nature of informational texts. Several teachers, however, did not see the importance of examining author attitudes in informational texts, as informational texts are thought to convey solely factual information. The researchers concluded they need to provide better materials and support for teachers integrating functional grammar into the classroom.

This article is useful for educators looking to infuse critical language awareness in the classroom with SFL. The article provides practical models for promoting critical literacy when reading texts. Also, the research presents a systematic methodology for investigating functional grammar in the classroom, which is often missing from work on SFL and genre pedagogy. While Martin and Rose’s “Designing Literacy Pedagogy” provides an important overview of genre theory, O’Halloran et. al’s piece narrows down what is often viewed as an unwieldy and overly complicated theory into classroom-based research which is manageable and related to the needs of students, teachers, and researchers while still addressing the important issue of social justice and raising students’ critical language awareness.

O’Hallaron, C. L., et al. Reading science: Using systemic functional linguistics to support critical language awareness. Linguistics and Education (2015),

ENGL 840 Blog #1 Article

Introduction to Research

This semester I plan on researching genre pedagogy in FYC to help all students gain “both control over and a critical orientation to” academic genres (Martin and Rose 2). Specifically, my focus will be on using the teaching/learning cycle to better scaffold classroom interaction while making students aware of explicit genre models for each writing assignment. I am particularly interested in Halliday, Painter, and Rothery’s take on scaffolding, “the notion of guidance through interaction in the context of shared experience” (Martin and Rose 1). I developed a concern for scaffolding classroom interaction last semester when I observed only one segment of my class regularly participated in discussions. Martin and Rose label this sort of classroom dynamic “circles of inclusion and exclusion” and offer the teaching/learning cycle as a method to enlarge this circle. Another aspect of the teaching/learning cycle I want to focus on is joint construction, in which the teacher and students construct a text together to gain experience writing a genre before producing the text independently. Although joint construction is most often used in primary and secondary grades, I think joint construction, and genre pedagogy in general, has immense potential on the college level to help students in advanced literacy. I will also be incorporating exercises in systemic functional linguistics (SFL) to help foster knowledge about language. My framework for this project is participatory action research, helping students gain access to the genres of power, and I would like to maximize student input into the research process.

“Designing Literacy Pedagogy: Scaffolding Democracy in the Classroom” by Martin and Rose

In “Designing Literacy Pedagogy: Scaffolding Democracy in the Classroom,” Martin and Rose outline the Sydney school’s genre pedagogy, specifically, scaffolding classroom interaction using the teaching/learning cycle. Genre pedagogy, based in the work of Halliday and his colleagues working in systemic functional linguistics, began as action research to address growing disparities in education among Australia’s disadvantaged students, especially Australia’s aboriginal population. The progressive pedagogy imported to Australia from the U.S. was not preparing students for the literacy demands of the real world. Halliday’s colleagues, including Rothery, Painter, Martin, and Rose, began developing a visible pedagogy based on teaching genres in an explicit and systematic way. The Sydney school’s work is crystallized in the teaching/learning cycle, scaffolding classroom interaction through three stages: Deconstruction, Joint Construction, and Individual Construction. In Deconstruction, teachers prepare students for reading a particular genre by discussing the topic as well as walking students through the sequence of events. During Joint Construction, the teacher and students construct a text in the target genre together, and in Individual Construction students then create a text independently. The teaching/learning cycle provides students with explicit scaffolding and gives them experience writing a text jointly with an expert before writing independently.

For the teaching/learning cycle framework, Martin and Rose adopt Bernstein’s notion of classification and framing: “classification ‘refers to the degree of boundary maintenance between contents’ and framing ‘to the range of options available to teacher and taught in control of what is transmitted and received in the context of the pedagogical relationship'” (2). Classification and framing relate to the teaching/learning cycle, as the Deconstruction stage has strong classification and framing, while classification and framing are weakened as the teacher transfers control to students in Joint Construction and Independent Construction.

Martin and Rose look at classroom interaction in even more depth using the scaffolding interaction cycle. This sequence – Prepare, Task, Elaborate, Affirm – is meant to help students better comprehend advanced texts. Teachers prepare by translating complex terminology and metaphors into everyday language, task students to identify meanings, elaborate with detailed responses, and always affirm students’ answers positively.

I highly recommend this article to colleagues interested in developing advanced literacy with their students because it succinctly outlines the teaching/learning cycle in a way teachers can understand and begin incorporating into their teaching practices. The article is a distillation of Martin and Rose’s much longer book Learning to Write, Reading to Learn and serves as the best overview for the Sydney school’s teaching/learning cycle for those without the time or patience to read the full-length work. Although the teaching/learning cycle might seem quite basic for some and not applicable to the college level, Martin and Rose’s work contains complex theory based in systemic functional linguistics and the socio-educational theories of Bernstein, Vygotsky, and others. Genre pedagogy holds a lot of promise in tertiary education for helping all students comprehend and write advanced texts. Genre pedagogy provides explicit staging of genres and a functional metalanguage for the classroom focusing on meaning, without the pain and effort of students having to learn formal grammar.

Works Cited

Martin, J. R., and David Rose. “Designing Literacy Pedagogy: Scaffolding Democracy in the Classroom.” Continuing Discourse on Language. Ed. J. Webster, C. Matthiessen, and R. Hasan. London: Continuum, n.d. 1-26. Print.