Monthly Archives: March 2016

Blog 5 Dissertation

“Supporting Elementary English Language Learners’ Argumentative Writing Through a Functional Grammar Approach” by Catherine O’Halloran

O’Halloran’s dissertation looks at how second and fourth graders’ use of argument can be supported by explicit language instruction in systemic functional linguistics (SFL). This research was part of a larger study, The Language and Meaning Project, which focuses on training teachers in SFL to support explicit and meaningful interaction with language among students, especially English Language Learners. The study took place in Michigan public schools, where the majority of students spoke Arabic as their first language” (46). The case study used “(a) two intact classrooms and (b) 10-11 focal students within each of those classes” (48). This research design allowed for one class to be the experimental group, while the other was the control. Students’ arguments were analyzed at the clause-level as well as the broader “stage (e.g. Claim, Evidence, Reason, Counterargument) levels (x). Pre-tests and post-tests were also used to gauge students’ progress and were judged by independent raters. The research found “the arguments of a majority of students in each grade improved after participation in the argument unit” (x). Interestingly, although much research makes a correlation between making sophisticated arguments and age, O’Halloran’s research demonstrates “that even students whose age is typically regarded as an impediment or who may otherwise have difficulties were capable of constructing effective arguments when supported to do so” (xi).

I would recommend this dissertation to anyone interested in SFL, as well as teachers interested in helping students, especially ELLs, create more sophisticated, well-supported, and logical arguments. The research design of this study does an excellent job documenting the impact of SFL on students’ writing by setting up a control and experimental group, using pre-tests and post-tests, and analyzing data using SFL as well as more traditional methods. Data analysis includes T-unit analysis to evaluate the complexity of student writing. Chapter four looks specifically at second grade level writing, while chapter five looks at fourth grade. Though student writing that is unsupported may manifest on developmental lines, students’ writing that is explicitly supported can exhibit sophisticated features of argumentation at an early age. In terms of my own research, this study will be highly influential to my research design, to help establish a causal relationship between instructional interventions and their impacts. The study also provides a number of tools for analyzing student texts at the clause and stage level.

Works Cited

O’Halloran, Catherine. Supporting Elementary English Language Learners’ Argumentative Writing Through a Functional Grammar Approach. Diss. U of Michigan, 2014. Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 2014. Print.

Blog 4 Book

Teaching Multiliteracies Across the Curriculum: Changing Contexts of Text and Image in Classroom Practice by Ken Unsworth

This book explores the theory and practice of teaching multiliteracies in academic contexts. Multiliteracies refers both to the various literacies of multimedia and the diverse language backgrounds of students. Unsworth argues a responsive, twenty-first century literacy pedagogy must address both types of literacy. Chapter one explains the need for multiliteracies pedagogy and frames multiliteracies within an academic context. Chapter two addresses multiliteracies from a functional linguistic perspective, providing an overview of systemic functional linguistics and how teachers can implement functional approaches to language in the classroom. While chapter two provides a functional overview to language, chapter three examines the use of functional linguistics in supporting visual literacies. This chapter borrows from Kress and van Leeuwen’s work on using systemic linguistics to analyze images. Chapter four offers a useful discussion on academic genres, even providing an inventory of the most common genres of schooling. Chapter five examines methods for teaching and analyzing children’s books in the classroom. Chapter six focuses on integrating multiliteracies in primary education, while chapter seven discusses the integration of multiliteracies in secondary content areas. Finally, chapter eight provides a multiliteracies framework for designing curricula.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in functional approaches to academic and visual literacies, as well as teaching English Language Learners. This is the first book I am aware of specifically dealing with the theory and practice of multiliteracies. Multiliteracies in Motion is another book on multiliteracies; however, that is an edited collection that does not cover the theory and practice of multiliteracies in-depth. In terms of my project, which is investigating the bridging of visual and verbal literacies in the classroom, Unsworth’s book is essential, and I wish I had read it sooner. In chapters two and three, Unsworth provides a useful theoretical overview to analyzing verbal and visual texts. Chapter four offers one of the first systematic inventories of the genres of schooling. It has always been my hope that the same kind of inventory could be performed for genres on the college level. At first I had some issues with Unsworth’s discussion of the Literacy Development Cycle. This cycle seems very similar to the Teaching/Learning Cycle discussed by Martin, Rose, and others; however, Unsworth’s adaptation of this cycle does work to specifically address multiliteracies. Finally, Unsworth offers a multiliteracies framework for designing meaningful curricula that integrates visual and verbal literacies while scaffolding literacy instruction for English Language Learners.

Unsworth, Len. Teaching Multiliteracies across the Curriculum: Changing Contexts of Text and Image in Classroom Practice. Buckingham: Open U, 2001. Print.