Moving Beyond the Image: Mapping the Semantics of Visual Ideology Proposal

This article argues that ideology plays a decisive factor in the encoding and decoding of meaning within visual rhetoric. While systemic functional linguistics (SFL) has made some efforts to understand the determining role ideology plays in the construction of meaning in language, this conceptual model has not yet been applied to the visual rhetoric of images. Analyzing images in terms of ideology provides a number of theoretical challenges. While language use in the written and spoken word is predicated on the context of situation in which language is embedded, visual rhetoric such as memes all share the same context—the virtual world—requiring visual rhetoricians to move beyond the image and into the context of culture, which systemic linguists label genre. However, even within the context of Internet culture, memes often share similar genres while construing vastly different ideologies and subjectivities. In this article I will apply SFL’s multi-stratal concept of language to visual texts. I will then use this theoretical framework to map the semantic components of ideology arising through the dialectical relations between text and social context. In particular, the framework will be applied to a popular set of memes conveying a liberal humanist ideology, which I argue, following Basil Bernstein, develops out of a peculiar contradiction within the social structure of the new middle class, leading to potentially misguided forms of social advocacy. The article will provide researchers with a critical tool for mapping visual ideologies, as well as predicting ideological realizations through the encoding and decoding of visual rhetoric.


Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays (M. Holquist & C. Emerson, Eds.). Austin: University of Texas Press.

Bernstein, B. B. (1971). Theoretical studies towards a sociology of language (Vol. 4, Class, codes and control). London: Routledge & K. Paul.

Hasan, R. (2016). Context in the system and process of language (Vol. 4, The collected works of Ruqaiya Hasan) (J. Webster, Ed.). Sheffield, South Yorkshire: Equinox Publishing Ltd.





Visual Rhetoric Artifact #1

Donald A. Norman’s discussion of tea and teapots in Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things made me reflect on my own love of coffee as a cognitive/emotional enhancer, as well as a daily ritual. The Waffle House coffee mug (pictured above) is by far my most treasured coffee cup for a number of reasons. I only just purchased this mug about a month ago from a Goodwill in Easton, Maryland. Having recently regretted passing up a very good find at this thrift store (R. Kelly’s 2003 club anthem “Ignition (Remix)” on vinyl), I knew I had to purchase this coffee mug from the moment I saw it—and then held it in my hand. Norman argues there are three key aspects of design: the visceral (having to do with aesthetic experience), the behavioral (having to do with the pleasure an object brings and its effectiveness), and the reflective (having to do with the intellectualization and rationalization for owning the object). First of all, I am a rabid fan of Waffle House. I view this mug as an extension of the Waffle House experience, eliciting deep interpersonal ties and a sense of nostalgia. As an aesthetic experience, the mug harkens back to 1950s diners. The mug depicts the steam coming from a cup of coffee in the form of a cosmic spiral, alluding to the 1950’s emphasis on rocketry and all things aeronautical. From a behavioral level, or ergonomically, the mug fits the user’s hand perfectly—like a glove. What you cannot see from the picture is the overall thickness of the mug. From a usability perspective, the mug’s thickness does decrease the volume the cup can hold. In a diner, this size is perfect because the customer can keep asking for refill after refill, providing one satisfying experience after another. At home the mug’s thickness can make using the mug somewhat impractical because the user has to keep getting up for refills. However, the overall feel and the reflective aspects of the mug (as a carrier of overall Waffle House-icity) makes this cup one of my most valued trinkets, something I use almost everyday, leading to a more positive attitude and better overall quality of life.

Visual Ideology: Moving Beyond the Image

Visual Ideology Pinterest

In “Rhetoric of the Image” Roland Barthes asks, “How does meaning get into the image? Where does it end? And if it ends, what is there beyond?” (152). It is this question—what is beyond the image—that I am trying to answer in my current research. Moving beyond the image pushes us into the realm of ideology. To help answer this question I will be drawing from scholars in visual rhetoric and functional linguistics. The linguist Ruqaiya Hasan argues that meaning arises out of a dialectical relation between a text and its social context. To study the social construction of ideology, we need not only deal with semiotics, but semantics, the study of meaning, as well. So one of my major research questions is how to map the semantic plane of ideology bridging visual texts and social context.

Take, for instance, a comparison of the visual design of the front pages of Drudge Report and Huffington Post. Both pages, visually, are nearly identical. Drudge did popularize the triptych or three-paneled layout that is now a hallmark of most news websites. Yet, if the websites are so similar, how are they able to construe such different ideologies and be geared to such different subjects? The websites’ denotations are quite similar, yet their connotations could not be more different.

One way ideology is at play here is the complimentarity between text and image. Both sites choose unflattering pictures of their opponents to help discredit their opposition. The sites may use the same image but attach negative or positive textual statements to that image. Yet, even the complimentarity between text and image does not fully explain how ideology is conveyed. Both sites could publish the same image, knowing their viewers would respond differently. So, we need to move beyond the image and begin mapping the semantics that arise out of text and social structure. Using Charles Peirce’s terms, we would have to posit that both sites assume a different interpretant. In other words, each site assumes a different type of reader, from a different social context while simultaneously producing different subjectivities that interpellate the viewer. Huffington Post would appear to have a more narrative structure and editorial stance because Drudge does not produce news content, just aggregates news from other sites. However, Drudge is by no means ideologically transparent. The site is meticulously designed and curated to present a particular ideological view. Lastly, we cannot assume that the connection between signifier and signified is completely arbitrary, as Saussure argues, or we would have no way of analyzing why news sites are designed as they are. There are important ideological and semantic reasons for structuring a news site around a large headline, with less “important” headlines underneath.

Visual Rhetoric Comic Strip

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.

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.

Paper #6 Being a Scholar of SFL


Throughout the semester, I have revised and refined what it means to be a scholar of systemic functional linguistics (SFL). One aspect of my thinking which has been solidified, when putting my viewpoint as a scholar in conversation with other debates and camps in English Studies, is that I consider myself a scholar of rhetoric and composition using SFL as an applied linguistics to solve certain issues of theory and pedagogy. This semester I have focused on two major areas: multimodal composition and literacy pedagogy. In both areas, I have used SFL to supplement traditional approaches to these fields. For me, SFL helps alleviate several cognitive dissonances that have arisen in my research and teaching practices, and possibly within education in general. A functional approach to language requires completely different habits of mind than a traditional teacher/scholar. Acquiring these new habits of mind has not come without some difficulties. Addressing cognitive dissonances has made me think in new, unexpected ways, see my students and their writing in a different light, and even helped my students to begin to see language functionally as well. Learning, or relearning, to see language functionally, which Halliday argues is the way children see language before going to school, seems to make more sense for me as a teacher and for my students (21). A functional approach requires a good deal of theoretical and professional knowledge, working as a generalist in the intersection of a variety of fields – rhet/comp, linguistics, genre pedagogy, semiotics, multimodality, digital rhetoric, English for Academic and Specific Purposes, and English as a Second Language. Currently, I see my contribution to English Studies being helping to develop a metalanguage in first-year and advanced composition that students can use to discuss and analyze texts, print and digital, which also serves to strengthen literacy of all students. To accomplish this, I have been researching SFL as a metalanguage to integrate multimodal discourse analysis (MDA), genre pedagogy, and critical language awareness into the composition classroom.

New Media and Multiliteracies

As educators, I feel we need to constantly reassess the changing world our students and we are living in, especially in terms of literacy and lifeworlds. To better understand the sociocultural impact of new technologies and globalization, I often draw on the work of media theorist Marshal McLuhan and the works of Gunther Kress, Norman Fairclough, David Harvey, and the New London Group (NLG). Two essays, the NLG’s “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” and Kress’s “Gains and Losses: New Forms of Texts, Knowledge, and Learning,” have been particularly useful in helping frame these societal shifts and what it means for literacy pedagogy. Kress discusses this technological shift as a revolution in modes, forms of communications, and mediums, the technological ways of disseminating information, with its concomitant rise of “pessimism … and unwarranted optimism” within education (6). Yet, this shift does not solely have to do with technology but the diversification of local and global cultures as well. The NLG uses the term “multiliteracies” to describe this twofold revolution, a revolution in new media as well as language diversity and lifeworlds. Although I find the term “multiliteracies” vague and problematic, a careful definition of the word does cover what I am trying to do as a scholar, and I think it summarizes the work of the NLG I follow.

The definition of multiliteracies encompasses new media and literacy pedagogy, new media in that digital media has arguably surpassed print as the dominant medium of communication and literacy pedagogy in that educators must teach literacy to a whole new demographic of learners. Although I have not adopted all aspects of the NLG’s work, I do sincerely believe we in comp/rhet need a functional grammar and that composition benefits from being situated within the sociosemiotic realm of design. The NLG writes, “In other words, they [teachers and students] need a metalanguage – a language for talking about language, images, texts, and meaning-making interactions” (77). As a functional metalanguage and grammar, SFL has proven to be the most flexible metalanguage for a multiliteracies project. First, SFL is unlike traditional grammar in that it looks at language as a resource, not a set of prescriptive rules. In a functional approach to grammar, nouns are called participants, verbs are processes, and prepositional and adverbial phrases are circumstances. Functional grammar can work much better for English Language Learners and non-traditional students. Secondly, Kress, van Leeuwen, and others have already adapted the SFL metalanguage to new media. I find current approaches to new media lacking in that most scholars ignore multimodality’s origin in SFL, social semiotics, and design and focus almost exclusively on student production, which does not address the larger issue: the interpretation and analysis of new media, a crucial skill to have in the digital age. My original contribution is tying multimodal analysis to literacy pedagogy. Students can first learn SFL through analyzing new media and then apply what they have learned to an analysis of traditional texts, reinforcing literacy skills in the process.

Genre Pedagogy

Next I want to focus on what it means to be a genre pedagogy scholar and how this differs from the dominant form of instruction in rhet/comp – process pedagogy. As a disclaimer, I find nothing particularly wrong with process pedagogy. I am not looking to replace rhetorical theory or process pedagogy, only supplement them. It is true that rhetoric is already a metalanguage, but not in the grammatical sense. Rhet/comp still uses formal grammar almost exclusively. I think a lot of the backlash against language in English education, especially the reaction against Current Traditionalism, is in fact a reaction against formal grammar, the dictation of “right” and “wrong” ways of writing and speaking, going so far as to view people who do not write “properly” as somehow deficient. In “Ideas About Language,” Halliday argues functional grammar is the language of rhetoric, tracing functional approaches to language all the way back to Ancient Greece and the Sophists (23). Instead of focusing on grammar as a set of rules, functional grammar analyzes how language makes rhetorical meaning within social context. If rhet/comp adopted a functional grammar, there might be less cognitive dissonance in certain areas of praxis and theory.

My issues with process pedagogy are minor, but they do have significant consequences for composition research as well as the way we view students. Halliday, Ken Hyland, J.R. Martin, and Mary Schleppegrell have all helped me see literacy pedagogy in a new light. Besides the insights into process approaches Halliday offers in Language as Social Semiotic. Hyland’s essay “Genre-Based Pedagogies: A Social Response to Process” has been incredibly influential to my work. Hyland writes, “process represents writing as a decontexualized skill by foregrounding the writer as an isolated individual struggling to express personal meanings. Process approaches are what Bizzell (1992) calls ‘inner-directed'” (18). Theorizing writing as an “inner-directed” process is problematic for several reasons. First, there is no way to systematically study language in the shadowy realm of the mind. Rhet/comp studies writing using a cognitivist approach, such as think aloud protocols, which has always struck me as a bit odd. Think aloud protocols do have their merit; however, under this assumption, one would have to be a cognitive scientist, a sub-field of psychology, just to study language and meaning. Instead of analyzing what professional writers have to say about their writing process, why don’t we just study their writing in social context? Secondly, as Hyland and other genre pedagogists point out, process pedagogy’s inner-directed approach of self-discovery is a relic of a bourgeois era in which predominantly white, middle class students came to school already proficient in English and understanding of the implicit demands of their teachers. Amy Delpit argues focusing on process over product “do[es] students no service to suggest, even implicitly, that ‘product’ is not important. In this country students will be judged on their product regardless of the process they utilized to achieve it” (qtd. in Hyland 19). I have seen a focus on process with most teachers, but especially teachers of cultural studies and social justice. Although incredibly well-meaning, and certainly raising students’ awareness of political and sociocultural issues is important, the one thing most teachers do not teach is how to actually write. There is so much confusion over literacy pedagogy, that many argue it is impossible to teach writing, or there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” writing. Indeed, many educators argue students have a right to their own language and should, therefore, not be instructed in academic genres. In genre pedagogy, teaching students to become successful writers is a matter of social justice. Students will continually be assessed throughout their education by their writing, and advanced writing and communication skills are essential to enter professional discourse communities, the only pathway for ELLs and traditionally marginalized students to raise their socioeconomic status.

So how does a teacher go about teaching a literacy pedagogy that addresses the needs of all students, yet which is not formulaic, encouraging rote instruction and conformity? Genre pedagogy was developed by students of Halliday to meet the increasing literacy and population demands in Australia. Australia had adopted process pedagogy from the U.S., but politicians, parents, and educators soon realized an implicit approach to language instruction was not addressing the literacy challenges of Australia’s diverse group of immigrants and Aboriginal population. Halliday and his students very much saw genre pedagogy as a matter of social justice, as marginalized populations were not taught the literacy skills necessary for even menial jobs.

Figure 1 Genre Pedagogy Cycle

Figure 1 Genre Pedagogy Cycle

In “Designing Literacy Pedagogy: Scaffolding Democracy in the Classroom,” Martin and Rose outline a genre-based approach to literacy, an approach that seeks to meet the demands of every student. A major component of genre pedagogy is the teaching/learning cycle. Most teachers know the teaching/learning cycle as modeling – I do, We do, You do. Genre pedagogy develops modeling further. In genre pedagogy, these stages are called Deconstruction, Joint Construction, and Independent Construction (see figure 1) (Martin and Rose 2). Setting the context and building field (topic/genre/social setting) are essential at each stage. In the deconstruction stage, the teacher deconstructs a given genre, for example, the academic essay. In relation to my teaching, I would deconstruct an academic essay by reading the essay with the students and then break the essay down into its stages and even further to the phases of each stage. At each stage I provide explicit instruction in the types of writing and linguistic resources students can draw on given the genre, or field. In the Joint Construction stage students construct a text together in the style and genre of the model. Martin and Rose use a Detailed Reading Interaction Cycle – Prepare, Identify, and Elaborate – for the Joint Construction stage, as a way of engaging with students, eliciting questions and response. Although the Detailed Reading Interaction Cycle might be meant specifically for younger students, I still think it provides a useful model for teacher-student interaction, which works as a form of knowledge, consensus, and field building as well as scaffolding. Also, Joint Construction might not work well with college students. I like to think of group work as Joint Construction. I have never enjoyed assigning group work just to kill time, so I like to think of group work as a Joint Construction stage in which students can work together to understand and engage with new ideas and concepts. Finally, Independent Construction is when students write a paper independently. For major papers I like to provide students comments on a rough draft as well as have students do a peer review. This is where I think the benefits of process pedagogy come into play – the prewriting, writing, peer review, revision process composition teachers know so well. I believe teacher and peer comments not only provide useful feedback, they also provide extra scaffolding that is especially helpful for ELLs and non-traditional students.

A functional approach to language allows teachers to view students and their work in a more positive and accepting light. Instead of looking at students as rule breakers and language deficient, teachers using a functional approach see students as meaning makers. Students’ work is not judged primarily for how well they follow grammatical rules, though genre teachers are always pushing their students to produce the most successful writing they can, but educators are also concerned with what students have to say and how they are saying it. Another aspect of genre that has helped me reach out to my most challenging students is continually reapplying scaffolding and feedback. Challenging students will not reach the desired target the first, second, or even third attempt. Instead of writing these students off, it is essential to keep an open dialog with them, provide extra scaffolding and feedback, and let them try to reach the target goal again. In genre pedagogy, the desired result is not for a few students to be evaluated as successful, but all members of the class to be evaluated as successful by the end of the term.

Bernstein's Four Types of Pedagogy

Figure 2 Bernstein’s Four Types of Pedagogy

I will briefly mention Bernstein’s Types of Pedagogy and the pedagogy I most identify with. Bernstein imagines pedagogy operating on a vertical axis (change from Intra-Individual to Inter-group) and the horizontal axis, a pedagogy based on acquisition and competence to a pedagogy based on transmission and performance, to create four distinct types of pedagogy (see figure 2). Additionally, the left side of this chart deals with invisible pedagogies and the right side visible pedagogies. In this model, all process approaches would be considered invisible pedagogies, as language instruction is not taught explicitly and knowledge is not hierarchical. Personally, I identify with the pedagogy on the right side of this model, visible pedagogy, specifically subversive pedagogy. Subversive pedagogy, unlike what the name might suggest, is concerned with effecting change through explicit instruction of inter-dynamic groups. I believe this is really the only kind of instruction that can effectively address the literacy needs of a all learners.


I have the wonderful opportunity of working in an English department that allows me to try new methods of instruction, integrating SFL, visual analysis, and genre pedagogy into the curriculum. From an administrative perspective, a functional approach to literacy pedagogy can seem like a win-win. First, a functional approach is inexpensive, the only expense being curriculum development if other teachers are going to learn this method. Secondly, a functional approach addresses the literacy needs of all students. ELLs and non-traditional students do particularly well with this method. From a student perspective, my students often tell me that learning multimodal visual analysis is their favorite part of the course and that they have been able to use multimodal analysis in other courses and their daily lives. Students also tell me they feel more confident writing papers. I especially am happy with the progress of ELLs and non-traditional students, as they always leave the course more confident and better writers. A functional perspective allows me to have a slightly different kind of relationship with my students. Many, usually, nontraditional students, say they appreciate the different way I teach and they respond more to this approach. Indeed, like many of my “non-traditional” students, I have developed this approach to language from many years as a frustrated student myself. I hope to continue researching, writing about, and practicing a functional approach to language in the composition classroom, helping students analyze texts of all types while strengthening literacy and critical awareness.

Works Cited

Halliday, M.A.K. “Ideas About Language.” On Language and Linguistics. Ed. Jonathan J. Webster. London: Continuum, 2003. Print.

Kress, Gunther. “Gains and Losses: New Forms of Texts, Knowledge, and Learning.” Computers and Composition 22.1 (2005): 5-22. Web.

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.

The New London Group. “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” Harvard Educational Review 66.1 (1996): 60-93. Web.