This is the place where the Australian genre-pedagogy started, a scaffolding writing instruction approach originally developed to empower marginalized groups of pupils and to help them mastering genres that dominate discourses in society. This is the theory I have focused on in my phd. research on how linguistic theory may be applied in writing instruction in the classroom, and travelling to Sydney to meet the people behind this theory and observe the application of it in different classrooms has been really interesting and inspiring for me.
During my stay, I got to meet with Professor James Martin, or Jim as he is called, the man behind the Australian genre-pedagogy theory. In this theory, genres are understood as “staged, goal-oriented social processes” (Eggins & Martin, 1997), and teaching writing includes identifying these stages in model texts, in order to reproduce these patterns when writing. (To read more about genre-pedagogy, check Cope & Kalantzis, 2012). In the picture, we see Jim in his office at Sydney University. His wife, Sue Hood, organized a seminar where I could present my PhD. research, which is based on the Australian genre-pedagogy.
Visit to Leichhardt Public School
I was also so lucky that I got to visit two schools and observe different genre-pedagogical approaches in practice during my stay in Sydney. In the first school I visited, Leichhardt Public School, I went with another Norwegian colleague working with genre-pedagogy, Anne Charlotte Torvatn, to observe researcher Sally Humphrey carry out a lesson on narrative writing in a second grade (Anne Charlotte to the left and Sally to the right, in the school yard).
In the lesson, Sally co-operated with the teacher of the class, Angela (on the picture), and the lesson was focused on “showing and telling feelings” in stories, as we see from the notes from the lesson in the picture here. Sally received suggestions from the children on how to include evaluative elements in a story they had constructed together based on a plot line consisting of an introduction to setting and characters, followed up by complication and resolution. To observe this lesson was an inspiring experience, and both Anne Charlotte and I were really impressed by how well the children seemed to understand the concepts used by the teacher, and how they contributed in the “joint construction” procedure, adding evaluative elements to a story.
The preparation for the lesson we observed was based on appraisal theory, as developed in SFL (systemic functional linguistics). For a short introduction to appraisal theory, see this blog: (For more information about appraisal theory, check Martin & White, 2005).
It was also interesting to look at the material on the walls, and remember that the context here is first language teaching in second grade. As we can see on the picture here among others, a grammatical aspect is integrated in writing instruction in this class, where the three word groups: 1) verb group, 2) noun group and 3) circumstance are included, focused on the semantic function these types of word groups have in sentences (Under probe questions to the right).
Visit to Blacktown Girls High School
This school participates in David Rose’s project Reading to Learn, a further development of the genre-pedagogy developed in Australia, which has been carried out in different contexts internationally, with a focus on teaching pupils how to read, understand and write texts by using scaffolding strategies. Check the website www.readingtolearn.com.au for more information about this project. David Rose put me in contact with teachers at Blactown Highschool for Girls so that I could come and visit and observe Reading to Learn carried out in practice.
This school was quite different from the first school I visited, as most pupils here came from minority backgrounds, and did not have English as their first language. Many of the pupils where of Aboriginal background, and there was a beautiful murial with Aboriginal art on one of the walls in the school yard, as we can see from the picture here.
I observed one lesson in a group of 9th grade pupils, with the teacher Keith (on the picture), where they carried out the stages “detailed reading” and “note-taking” in the teaching-learning cycle as developed in the Reading to Learn project. This included highlighting important words in a text given by the teachers, and making chains of these words afterwards. The next stage would be rewriting the original text based on the word-chains. The highlighting was done as a joint process based on questions asked by the teacher. In this first group I observed, the pupils worked with a paragraph from a factual text about a book, a type of persuasive text. The second group I observed, 7th graders who had just begun their first semester in a new school, worked with a letter.
The paragraph the 9th grade pupils worked with was constructed according to the PEEL-structure: Point, Example, Explanation, Link. As we see from a poster in the classroom, every paragraph in the body of a persuasive text is expected to follow this structure, and this aspect was included in the lesson. As in the first school I visited, we see here how grammar is integrated in writing instruction, with lists of linking words, modal verbs, persuasive words and thinking words to the right of the text structure explanation in the left column. Also in this categorisation, the semantic functions of words are in focus.
One of the things that struck me when observing the lessons in this school was that this approach is really useful when working with minority pupils. This way of working with a text opened up for including work with developing vocabulary and learning synonyms, as many of the questions were related to this. The explanations and repetitions of central words included throughout the various stages in this process are in general useful scaffolding strategies to support language learners to improve their competence.
The methodology used also engaged many of the pupils in the classes, as the questions asked by the teachers were quite easy to answer, and everybody could manage to find some correct answers. Making the pupils feel that they can succeed is an important aspect of teaching, something that seems to be in focus in this school from what I could read from slogans on the walls around the school as we see in the picture here.
Finally, I want to thank Jim for inviting me, David, Sally and the teachers in the two schools for organizing visits for me, Sue for organizing a seminar for me, and Lingphil, the Norwegian Graduate Researcher School in Linguistics and Philology, for giving financial support to this research stay, making it possible for me to visit Sydney University during my PhD. research.
Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2012). The Powers of Literacy, A Genre Approach to Teaching Writing. London Washington: The Falmer Press.
Eggins, S., & Martin, J. R. (1997). Genres and registers of discourse. In T. van Dijk (Ed.), Discourse as structure and process (pp. 230-256). London: Sage.
Martin, J. R., & White, P. R. R. (2005). The language of evaluation : appraisal in English. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.