Systemic functional linguistics in the Australian Curriculum: English

The Australian Curriculum: English (AC:E) combines traditional Latin-based grammar with Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) theory. The syllabus-supporting material refers to traditional grammar as ‘standard grammatical terminology’, and to SFL as its ‘contextual framework’. Functional grammar is introduced across all three English strands Language, Literature and Literacy starting in the Foundation year. However, the curriculum language and terminology does not always make this explicit (Exley, 2016). This is because a conscious attempt was made to write content descriptors that ‘describe the knowledge, understanding, skills and processes that teachers are expected to teach and students are expected to learn’ in a metalanguage readily accessible to all teachers.

This post assesses the relevance of the functional model of language (SFL) across all 237 AC:E content descriptors for primary schools (Foundation to Year 6). The analysis is based on AC:E (v8.1) content descriptors and elaborations that are thematically grouped by year level, English strand and sub-strand by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). The ‘English: Sequence of content‘ document is annotated using three levels of SFL relevance:

  1. not applicable (red)
  2. somewhat applicable (orange)
  3. very applicable (green).

Here are some examples for how SFL terminology has been translated in the Australian Curriculum (Derewianka, 2012; Exley, 2016):

The Register of language is described in the following words:

  • Field – ‘topics at hand
  • Tenor – ‘relationships between the language users
  • Mode – ‘modalities or channels of communication

Metafunctions of language are specifically addressed in the following Language sub-strands:

  • Expressing and developing ideas unpacks the functions of language, i.e. ideational, interpersonal and textual
  • Text structure and organisation unpacks the thematic structures of text, i.e. how to create coherent and cohesive texts
  • Language for interaction unpacks the ‘Mood system’ and ‘System of Appraisal’ of language (Martin & White, 2005), language functions that establish and maintain relationships, including expressing graduations in feelings, emotions, opinions and judgements (Tenor).

The examples for AC:E language relating to the ‘System of Appraisal’ analysing Attitude, Graduation and Engagement (Martin & White, 2005) are compiled by Beryl Exley (2016):

  • appreciating … the qualities of people’ (ACELA1462) – i.e. expressing ‘judgement’
  • evaluations of characters’ (ACELA1477) – i.e. expressing ‘judgement’
  • judgement about … events’ (ACELA1484) – i.e. expressing ‘appreciation’
  • exploring examples of language which demonstrate a range of … positions’ (ACELA1484)- i.e. expressing ‘appreciation’
  • feelings’ (ACELA1484, ACELA1518) – i.e. expressing ‘affect’
  • engages us emotionally’ (ACELT1606) – i.e. expressing ‘affect’ and ‘engagement’
  • empathy’ (ACELT1610, ACELY1698, ACELA1518) – i.e. expressing ‘affect’ and ‘engagement’
  • identifying the narrative voice’ (ACELT1610, ACELY1698) – i.e. expressing ‘focus’ and ‘engagement’
  • point/s of view’ and ‘viewpoints of others’ (ACELT1603, ACELT1609, ACELY1698, ACELA1518) – i.e. expressing ‘appreciation’
  • concern for their welfare’ (ACELA1518) – i.e. expressing ‘affect’
  • make connections between students’ own experiences and those of characters and events represented in texts’ (ACELT1613) – i.e. expressing ‘engagement’
  • attitudes we may develop towards characters’ (ACELT1613) – i.e. expressing ‘judgement’ and ‘engagement’
  • build emotional connection’ (ACELT1617) – i.e. expressing ‘affect’ and ‘engagement’

Statistical analysis of the 237 annotated AC:E primary school content descriptors (CD) highlights some interesting facts. Teaching and learning opportunities related to the functional model of language increase from Foundation (12 or 33% of all CD) to Year 6 (21 or 67% of all CD). Only half of all AC:E CD in the Foundation year have no links to SFL. This number is gradually reduced to just 13% in Year 6! A more detailed analysis of CD by English strand and sub-strands highlights that SFL teaching and learning is very applicable across all three strands: Language (47%), Literature (62%), and Literacy (44%). However, due to the large number of Language CD (49%), nearly half of all very applicable CD (47%) fall into the Language Strand.

Systematic functional linguistics relevance to Australian Curriculum (v8.1): English content descriptors

Systematic functional linguistics relevance to Australian Curriculum (v8.1): English content descriptors by English strand

Systematic functional linguistics relevance to Australian Curriculum (v8.1): English content descriptors by Sub-strands

The results suggest that SFL, in particular transitivity, system of appraisal, and genre writing approaches, plays a significant role in the teaching and learning of English at Australian primary schools. The functional model of language is particular important in the AC:E Language strand, most prominently in the sub-strands “Expressing and developing ideas“, “Text structure and organisation“, and “Language for interaction“. Beverly Derewianka (2012) explains that the new Language strand, designed to teach and learn specific knowledge about the English language, requires a robust, future-oriented, unifying model of language that can meaningfully link grammatical form with function from the level of discourse (genre) to individual phonemes. This is achieved through the introduction of SFL, as this functional model adequately describes how language is used in social contexts.

References:

  • Derewianka, B. (2012). Knowledge about language in the Australian curriculum: English. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 35(2), 127-146.
  • Exley, B. (2016). Secret squirrel stuff in the Australian curriculum English: The genesis of the ‘new’ grammar. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 39(1), 74.
  • Martin, J.R. & White, P.R.R. (2005). The language of evaluation: Appraisal in English. London: Palgrave.

Very relevant AC:E content descriptors by year level:

Foundation SFL very applicable AC:E content descriptors:

  • Explore how language is used differently at home and school depending on the relationships between people (ACELA1428)
  • Understand that language can be used to explore ways of expressing needs, likes and dislikes (ACELA1429)
  • Understand that some language in written texts is unlike everyday spoken language (ACELA1431)
  • Recognise that sentences are key units for expressing ideas (ACELA1435)
  • Recognise that texts are made up of words and groups of words that make meaning (ACELA1434)
  • Explore the different contribution of words and images to meaning in stories and informative texts (ACELA1786)
  • Share feelings and thoughts about the events and characters in texts (ACELT1783)
  • Identify some features of texts including events and characters and retell events from a text (ACELT1578)
  • Recognise some different types of literary texts and identify some characteristic features of literary texts, for example beginnings and endings of traditional texts and rhyme in poetry (ACELT1785)
  • Identify some familiar texts and the contexts in which they are used (ACELY1645)
  • Identify some differences between imaginative and informative texts (ACELY1648)
  • Use comprehension strategies to understand and discuss texts listened to, viewed or read independently (ACELY1650)

Year 1 SFL very applicable AC:E content descriptors:

  • Understand that there are different ways of asking for information, making offers and giving commands (ACELA1446)
  • Explore different ways of expressing emotions, including verbal, visual, body language and facial expressions (ACELA1787)
  • Understand that the purposes texts serve shape their structure in predictable ways (ACELA1447)
  • Understand patterns of repetition and contrast in simple texts (ACELA1448)
  • Recognise that different types of punctuation, including full stops, question marks and exclamation marks, signal sentences that make statements, ask questions, express emotion or give commands (ACELA1449)
  • Understand concepts about print and screen, including how different types of texts are organised using page numbering, tables of content, headings and titles, navigation buttons, bars and links (ACELA1450)
  • Identify the parts of a simple sentence that represent ‘What’s happening?’, ‘What state is being described?’, ‘Who or what is involved?’ and the surrounding circumstances (ACELA1451)
  • Explore differences in words that represent people, places and things (nouns, including pronouns), happenings and states (verbs), qualities (adjectives) and details such as when, where and how (adverbs) (ACELA1452)
  • Compare different kinds of images in narrative and informative texts and discuss how they contribute to meaning (ACELA1453)
  • Discuss how authors create characters using language and images (ACELT1581)
  • Express preferences for specific texts and authors and listen to the opinions of others (ACELT1583)
  • Discuss features of plot, character and setting in different types of literature and explore some features of characters in different texts (ACELT1584)
  • Describe some differences between imaginative informative and persuasive texts (ACELY1658)
  • Use comprehension strategies to build literal and inferred meaning about key events, ideas and information in texts that they listen to, view and read by drawing on growing knowledge of context, text structures and language features (ACELY1660)
  • Create short imaginative and informative texts that show emerging use of appropriate text structure, sentence-level grammar, word choice, spelling, punctuation and appropriate multimodal elements, for example illustrations and diagrams (ACELY1661)

Year 2 SFL very applicable AC:E content descriptors:

  • Understand that spoken, visual and written forms of language are different modes of communication with different features and their use varies according to the audience, purpose, context and cultural background (ACELA1460)
  • Understand that language varies when people take on different roles in social and classroom interactions and how the use of key interpersonal language resources varies depending on context (ACELA1461)
  • Identify language that can be used for appreciating texts and the qualities of people and things (ACELA1462)
  • Understand that different types of texts have identifiable text structures and language features that help the text serve its purpose (ACELA1463)
  • Understand how texts are made cohesive through language features, including word associations, synonyms, and antonyms (ACELA1464)
  • Understand that simple connections can be made between ideas by using a compound sentence with two or more clauses usually linked by a coordinating conjunction (ACELA1467)
  • Understand that nouns represent people, places, concrete objects and abstract concepts; that there are three types of nouns: common, proper and pronouns; and that noun groups/phrases can be expanded using articles and adjectives (ACELA1468)
  • Identify visual representations of characters’ actions, reactions, speech and thought processes in narratives, and consider how these images add to or contradict or multiply the meaning of accompanying words (ACELA1469)
  • Understand the use of vocabulary about familiar and new topics and experiment with and begin to make conscious choices of vocabulary to suit audience and purpose (ACELA1470)
  • Identify aspects of different types of literary texts that entertain, and give reasons for personal preferences (ACELT1590)
  • Discuss the characters and settings of different texts and explore how language is used to present these features in different ways (ACELT1591)
  • Innovate on familiar texts by experimenting with character, setting or plot (ACELT1833)
  • Discuss different texts on a similar topic, identifying similarities and differences between the texts (ACELY1665)
  • Use comprehension strategies to build literal and inferred meaning and begin to analyse texts by drawing on growing knowledge of context, language and visual features and print and multimodal text structures (ACELY1670)
  • Create short imaginative, informative and persuasive texts using growing knowledge of text structures and language features for familiar and some less familiar audiences, selecting print and multimodal elements appropriate to the audience and purpose (ACELY1671)

Year 3 SFL very applicable AC:E content descriptors:

  • Examine how evaluative language can be varied to be more or less forceful (ACELA1477)
  • Understand how different types of texts vary in use of language choices, depending on their purpose and context (for example, tense and types of sentences) (ACELA1478)
  • Understand that paragraphs are a key organisational feature of written texts (ACELA1479)
  • Understand that a clause is a unit of grammar usually containing a subject and a verb and that these need to be in agreement (ACELA1481)
  • Understand that verbs represent different processes, for example doing, thinking, saying, and relating and that these processes are anchored in time through tense (ACELA1482)
  • Learn extended and technical vocabulary and ways of expressing opinion including modal verbs and adverbs (ACELA1484)
  • Discuss how language is used to describe the settings in texts, and explore how the settings shape the events and influence the mood of the narrative (ACELT1599)
  • Discuss the nature and effects of some language devices used to enhance meaning and shape the reader’s reaction, including rhythm and onomatopoeia in poetry and prose (ACELT1600)
  • settings and events from students’ own and other cultures using visual features, for example perspective, distance and angle (ACELT1601)
  • Create texts that adapt language features and patterns encountered in literary texts, for example characterisation, rhyme, rhythm, mood, music, sound effects and dialogue (ACELT1791)
  • Identify the point of view in a text and suggest alternative points of view (ACELY1675)
  • Read an increasing range of different types of texts by combining contextual, semantic, grammatical and phonic knowledge, using text processing strategies, for example monitoring, predicting, confirming, rereading, reading on and self-correcting (ACELY1679)
  • Use comprehension strategies to build literal and inferred meaning and begin to evaluate texts by drawing on a growing knowledge of context, text structures and language features (ACELY1680)
  • Plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive texts demonstrating increasing control over text structures and language features and selecting print, and multimodal elements appropriate to the audience and purpose (ACELY1682)
  • Re-read and edit texts for meaning, appropriate structure, grammatical choices and punctuation (ACELY1683)

Year 4 SFL very applicable AC:E content descriptors:

  • Understand that social interactions influence the way people engage with ideas and respond to others for example when exploring and clarifying the ideas of others, summarising their own views and reporting them to a larger group (ACELA1488)
  • Understand differences between the language of opinion and feeling and the language of factual reporting or recording (ACELA1489)
  • Understand how texts vary in complexity and technicality depending on the approach to the topic, the purpose and the intended audience (ACELA1490)
  • Understand how texts are made cohesive through the use of linking devices including pronoun reference and text connectives (ACELA1491)
  • Identify features of online texts that enhance readability including text, navigation, links, graphics and layout (ACELA1793)
  • Understand that the meaning of sentences can be enriched through the use of noun groups/phrases and verb groups/phrases and prepositional phrases (ACELA1493)
  • Understand how adverb groups/phrases and prepositional phrases work in different ways to provide circumstantial details about an activity (ACELA1495)
  • Discuss literary experiences with others, sharing responses and expressing a point of view (ACELT1603)
  • Use metalanguage to describe the effects of ideas, text structures and language features of literary texts (ACELT1604)
  • Discuss how authors and illustrators make stories exciting, moving and absorbing and hold readers’ interest by using various techniques, for example character development and plot tension (ACELT1605)
  • Understand, interpret and experiment with a range of devices and deliberate word play in poetry and other literary texts, for example nonsense words, spoonerisms, neologisms and puns (ACELT1606)
  • Create literary texts that explore students’ own experiences and imagining (ACELT1607)
  • Create literary texts by developing storylines, characters and settings (ACELT1794)
  • Identify and explain language features of texts from earlier times and compare with the vocabulary, images, layout and content of contemporary texts (ACELY1686)
  • Interpret ideas and information in spoken texts and listen for key points in order to carry out tasks and use information to share and extend ideas and information (ACELY1687)
  • Identify characteristic features used in imaginative, informative and persuasive texts to meet the purpose of the text (ACELY1690)
  • Use comprehension strategies to build literal and inferred meaning to expand content knowledge, integrating and linking ideas and analysing and evaluating texts (ACELY1692)
  • Plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive texts containing key information and supporting details for a widening range of audiences, demonstrating increasing control over text structures and language features (ACELY1694)
  • Re-read and edit for meaning by adding, deleting or moving words or word groups to improve content and structure (ACELY1695)

Year 5 SFL very applicable AC:E content descriptors:

  • Understand that patterns of language interaction vary across social contexts and types of texts and that they help to signal social roles and relationships (ACELA1501)
  • Understand how to move beyond making bare assertions and take account of differing perspectives and points of view (ACELA1502)
  • Understand how texts vary in purpose, structure and topic as well as the degree of formality (ACELA1504)
  • Understand that the starting point of a sentence gives prominence to the message in the text and allows for prediction of how the text will unfold (ACELA1505)
  • Investigate how the organisation of texts into chapters, headings, subheadings, home pages and sub pages for online texts and according to chronology or topic can be used to predict content and assist navigation (ACELA1797)
  • Understand the difference between main and subordinate clauses and that a complex sentence involves at least one subordinate clause (ACELA1507)
  • Understand how noun groups/phrases and adjective groups/phrases can be expanded in a variety of ways to provide a fuller description of the person, place, thing or idea (ACELA1508)
  • Understand the use of vocabulary to express greater precision of meaning, and know that words can have different meanings in different contexts (ACELA1512)
  •  Present a point of view about particular literary texts using appropriate metalanguage, and reflecting on the viewpoints of others (ACELT1609)
  • Use metalanguage to describe the effects of ideas, text structures and language features on particular audiences (ACELT1795)
  • Recognise that ideas in literary texts can be conveyed from different viewpoints, which can lead to different kinds of interpretations and responses (ACELT1610)
  • Create literary texts using realistic and fantasy settings and characters that draw on the worlds represented in texts students have experienced (ACELT1612)
  • Create literary texts that experiment with structures, ideas and stylistic features of selected authors (ACELT1798)
  • Show how ideas and points of view in texts are conveyed through the use of vocabulary, including idiomatic expressions, objective and subjective language, and that these can change according to context (ACELY1698)
  • Use interaction skills, for example paraphrasing, questioning and interpreting non-verbal cues and choose vocabulary and vocal effects appropriate for different audiences and purposes (ACELY1796)
  • Identify and explain characteristic text structures and language features used in imaginative, informative and persuasive texts to meet the purpose of the text (ACELY1701)
  • Plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive print and multimodal texts, choosing text structures, language features, images and sound appropriate to purpose and audience (ACELY1704)
  • Re-read and edit student’s own and others’ work using agreed criteria for text structures and language features (ACELY1705)
  • Use a range of software including word processing programs with fluency to construct, edit and publish written text, and select, edit and place visual, print and audio elements (ACELY1707)

Year 6 SFL very applicable AC:E content descriptors:

  • Understand the uses of objective and subjective language and bias (ACELA1517)
  • Understand how authors often innovate on text structures and play with language features to achieve particular aesthetic, humorous and persuasive purposes and effects (ACELA1518)
  • Understand that cohesive links can be made in texts by omitting or replacing words (ACELA1520)
  • Investigate how complex sentences can be used in a variety of ways to elaborate, extend and explain ideas (ACELA1522)
  • Understand how ideas can be expanded and sharpened through careful choice of verbs, elaborated tenses and a range of adverb groups/phrases (ACELA1523)
  • Investigate how vocabulary choices, including evaluative language can express shades of meaning, feeling and opinion (ACELA1525)
  • Make connections between students’ own experiences and those of characters and events represented in texts drawn from different historical, social and cultural contexts (ACELT1613)
  • Analyse and evaluate similarities and differences in texts on similar topics, themes or plots (ACELT1614)
  • Identify and explain how choices in language, for example modality, emphasis, repetition and metaphor, influence personal response to different texts (ACELT1615)
  • Identify, describe, and discuss similarities and differences between texts, including those by the same author or illustrator, and evaluate characteristics that define an author’s individual style (ACELT1616)
  • Identify the relationship between words, sounds, imagery and language patterns in narratives and poetry such as ballads, limericks and free verse (ACELT1617)
  • Create literary texts that adapt or combine aspects of texts students have experienced in innovative ways (ACELT1618)
  • Experiment with text structures and language features and their effects in creating literary texts, for example, using imagery, sentence variation, metaphor and word choice (ACELT1800)
  • Compare texts including media texts that represent ideas and events in different ways, explaining the effects of the different approaches (ACELY1708)
  • Participate in and contribute to discussions, clarifying and interrogating ideas, developing and supporting arguments, sharing and evaluating information, experiences and opinions (ACELY1709)
  • Use interaction skills, varying conventions of spoken interactions such as voice volume, tone, pitch and pace, according to group size, formality of interaction and needs and expertise of the audience (ACELY1816)
  • Analyse how text structures and language features work together to meet the purpose of a text (ACELY1711)
  • Select, navigate and read texts for a range of purposes, applying appropriate text processing strategies and interpreting structural features, for example table of contents, glossary, chapters, headings and subheadings (ACELY1712)
  • Analyse strategies authors use to influence readers (ACELY1801)
  • Plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive texts, choosing and experimenting with text structures, language features, images and digital resources appropriate to purpose and audience (ACELY1714)
  • Re-read and edit students’ own and others’ work using agreed criteria and explaining editing choices (ACELY1715)
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