The fundamentals of language learning can be divided into six interrelated communication processes or language macro skills. Listening, reading and viewing are the receptive language macro skills, and speaking, writing and presenting are the productive skills (Barrot, 2016). All six are explicitly addressed in this teaching and learning episode:
Listening is easily overlooked as a passive skill in literacy pedagogies (Bozorgian, 2012), but essential for students to understand and follow explanations and instructions, and to socially participate in the class. The provision of visual support, paralinguistic cues and talking with clear pronunciation and emphasis are important means to support aural language comprehension in literacy learners (Vandergrift, 2015).
Reading is the skill where the reader creates meaning from written text. In the the early primary school years, students are “reading to learn” while in upper primary years are increasingly expected to “read to learn” (Duke et al., 2003). This requires critical literacy skills that go beyond developing decoding competence in what Peter Freebody and Allan Luke refer to as the four roles of the reader (Freebody & Luke, 1990; Luke & Freebody, 1999; Luke, 2000): code breaker, text participant, text user and text analyst.
Viewing is a recent addition to the traditional four language macroskills on account of the increasing importance of visual media (Barrot, 2016). Viewing is making meaning from non-print multimedia and visual images and can be used as tool to develop cultural knowledge. As the receptive mode addressing multi-media and digital literacies, it has been included in a reconceptualised version of the ‘four resources model’ (Serafini, 2012; Hinrichsen & Coombs, 2014).
Speaking is the productive skill in which students convey their ideas and understanding to others. Academic oral communication shares many features with written communication (Barrot, 2016). Oral competency is based on the knowledge and practice of vocabulary, pronunciation and functional grammar (Nation & Newton, 2008). Literacy students need opportunities to develop and practice English phonetic and phonological skills. These include the pronunciation of new words based on speech sounds, sound patterns, word and sentence stress and intonation patterns (Brown, 2014). Further, students need to develop fluency in speaking in applied social contexts by participating and engaging in task-oriented classroom conversations (Williams, 2001; Gibbons, 2008; Gibbons, 2015). In particular mixed-ability group work provides all learners with the opportunity to practise speaking in socially-meaningful task-oriented context (Gibbons, 2015; Im & Martin, 2015).
Writing allows students to capture and document their ideas and understanding. It provides knowledge to both writer and reader (Barrot, 2016), which is why it is often the preferred active mode for summative assessments. For over thirty years, Australian schools have been following the genre-based approach towards teaching writing which informs the Australian Curriculum (Hammond, 1987; Derewianka, 2012).
Question-Answer Relationships (QAR) is an explicit reading comprehension instruction model for teaching students about reciprocal question-answer relationships. Most recently popularised by Sheena Cameron in her book Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies (Cameron, 2009), the QAR model is based on a reading strategy developed by Taffy E. Raphael at the University of Illinois in the early 1980s (Raphael, 1982). The idea of QARs is to engage students in thinking about and discussing what they read, progressing from literal text evidence to text synthesis and inference.
In the original concept, students were taught three types of questions that can be asked about texts and ways to find answers. The students need to locate the response information, which shifts with the type of question from a particular sentence, to multiple passages across a text, to drawing on prior experiences and background knowledge about similar or related texts and genres.
Original QAR model by Taffy E. Raphael (1982, p. 188)
Taffy Raphael called the three type of QAR questions:
Right There: Right There questions are answered by pointing to a literal reference. Students are required to “… find the words used to create the question and look at the other words in that sentence to find the answer” (1982, p.187). The students learn how to find information by looking for key words. I call these questions On the Line questions, because the answers generally require pointing to one line in the text.
Think & Search: Think & Search questions are answered by synthesising different passages of a text. Students are required to integrate literal information “… , so students must skim across text segments to find the question and response information” (1982, p.187). The students learn how to find and integrate information based on their prior knowledge about text structures and by applying reading strategies such as skim reading. I call these questions Across the Lines questions, because answers generally require pointing at multiple paragraphs (or lines) in the text.
On My Own: On My Own questions demand thinking beyond the text and “… require the student to determine what background knowledge can be applied to the question” (1982, p.187). The students learn to think beyond the provided textual information, to question texts and to develop critical literacy skills. I call these questions Beyond the Lines questions, because they can be answered without referring to the text at all.
Taffy Raphael subsequently expanded her original model to include Author & You questions (Raphael, 1986): Author & You questions require inference from the students, who learn that some answers “... must come from the readers’ own knowledge base, but only in connection with information presented by the author” (1986, 519). Students learn how two very different resources of information, those that must e acquired from the text and those that are based on their prior knowledge and understanding, must be considered to answer some questions. These questions support reading strategies such as inference. I call these questions Between the Lines questions, because answers require to “read between the lines” by integrating the author’s text and the readers’ existing knowledge.
The revised QAR taxonomy is divided into two major categories: In the Book with the answer resources Right There and Think & Search, and In My Head with the answer resources Author & Me and On My Own (Raphael, 1986).
Updated conceptual QAR model now including four types of question-answer relationships (Raphael, 1986, p.517)
The QAR model provides a practical literacy resource to develop three comprehension strategies: (1) locating information; (2) determining how text structures convey information and can be synthesised; and (3) determining when inferences are required or invited. Students learn that depending on the type of question, answers may involve both literal and referential comprehension, references to the text as well as their interpretations that rely on their personal knowledge bases.
It is instructive to align the QAR model with the Four Roles of a Reader model, originally developed by Peter Freebody and Allan Luke (1990). This model emphasises the four interrelated essential roles of a reader: (1) decoding text as a ‘code-breaker’; (2) developing semantic meaning as a ‘text-participant’; (3) developing functional meaning as a ‘text-user’; and (4) critically analysing text as a ‘text analyst’.
Right There questions operate at the level of key words and Code Breaking. Think & Search questions require text comprehension strategies that build on knowledge about language and genre conventions required to MakeMeaning. The Author & You questions asks readers to respond and connect to the texts, to bring in their prior knowledge and “communicate” with the text as Text Users. Finally, On My Own questions demand critical engagement from readers in the form of Text Analysis. Readers are asked to draw on other texts or use the text as a stepping stone into inquiries that go well beyond the read text.
Early QAR Resource packages, such as that developed by the Irish National Behaviour Support Service (NBSS) are using four quadrants that are very similar to the Four Roles of a Reader model.
Since, a plethora of teaching resources based on the QAR model have been developed, including such some useful tools that include example questions such as QAR bookmarks by Sheena Cameron (2009). Deb Lawrence from Queensland wrote a useful four-step instructional guide detailing ideas on how to introduce QAR in the classroom (Lawrence, 2015), including:
Introducing the question types
Teaching about clues for identifying the question types
Modelling how to think aloud
Teaching about text organisations
The last step is about unpacking literature genre convention and nicely links with a number of functional grammar-related content descriptors (see below).
Photo copy of QAR bookmark as part of the comprehensive digital resources developed by Sheenan Cameron (2009).
Cameron, S. (2009). Teaching reading comprehension strategies. North Shore: Pearson.
Freebody, P., & Luke, A. (1990). Literacies programs: Debates and demands in cultural context. Prospect: Australian Journal of TESOL, 5(7), 7-16.
Lawrence, D. (2015). Why use Question-Answer Relationships (QAR) as a comprehension strategy?. Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, 23(1), i-vii.
Raphael, T. E. (1982). Question-answering strategies for children. The Reading Teacher, 36(2), 186-190.
Raphael, T. E. (1986). Teaching question answer relationships, revisited. The Reading Teacher, 39(6), 516-522.
Relevance to Australian Curriculum content descriptors:
Foundation: Use comprehension strategies to understand and discuss texts listened to, viewed or read independently (ACELY1650)
Year 1: Understand that the purposes texts serve shape their structure in predictable ways (ACELA1447)
Year 1: 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)
Year 2: 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)
Year 3: Identify the point of view in a text and suggest alternative points of view (ACELY1675)
Year 3: Understand that paragraphs are a key organisational feature of written texts (ACELA1479)
Year 3: 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)
Year 4: Use comprehension strategies to build literal and inferred meaning to expand content knowledge, integrating and linking ideas and analysing and evaluating texts (ACELY1692)
Year 5: Understand how to move beyond making bare assertions and take account of differing perspectives and points of view (ACELA1502)
Year 5: 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)
Year 5: Understand how texts vary in purpose, structure and topic as well as the degree of formality (ACELA1504)
Year 5: Recognise that ideas in literary texts can be conveyed from different viewpoints, which can lead to different kinds of interpretations and responses (ACELT1610)
In 2008, the Australian Education Ministers declared a principal educational goal for young Australians is to be successful learners by developing “. . . the essential skills in literacy and numeracy and [becoming] creative and productive users of technology, [. . .], as a foundation for success in all learning areas” (Barr et al., 2008, p. 8). Consequently, the national English syllabus (AC:E) designed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) defines literacy as “. . . the ability to read, view, listen to, speak, write and create texts for learning and communicating in and out of school”(ACARA, 2017a). These six receptive and productive language macroskills (Barrot, 2016) are emphasised across all key learning areas (KLA) with the general capability ‘Literacy’ as interrelated elements essential for comprehending and composing texts (ACARA, 2017b). The AC:E further draws attention to the social and multimodal nature of language learning (ACARA, 2017a). Consequently, the demands on twenty-first century literacy teaching and learning resources are different to those developed for the twentieth century industrial model of schooling (e.g. Seely Flint, Kitson, Lowe, & Shaw, 2014). Here, the educational app ‘Book Creator for iPad’ (Red Jumper Ltd., 2017a) is critically reviewed in context of the AC:E from multiple perspectives, including literacy development theories, language macroskills, the six guiding principles for teaching reading and writing in the twenty-first century (Seely Flint et al., 2014), and the four-resources model of reading (Luke & Freebody, 1997) as applied to multimodal texts (Serafini, 2012) and creative writing (Heffernan, Lewison, & Henkin, 2003). The author concludes that Book Creator for iPad is versatile and age-appropriate literacy resource that can be employed to teach and learn critical and multiliteracies in Australian primary schools, across KLAs including English.
Book Creator educational app
Book Creator is a best-selling educational software running on Windows, iOS and Android platforms, with a browser extension in development (Kemp, 2017). It was launched in 2011, with the current release version 5.0.2 available on the iTunes app store for iOS 9 and above. The iOS app is priced at AU$ 7.99 per licence, with a 50% discount offered for schools through the Apple’s Volume Purchase Programme (Red Jumper Ltd., 2017a).
Book Creator supported media formats
The Book Creator app is designed for school-aged children to create and publish multimodal ebooks. The core functionality includes widgets that allow adding text, images, drawings, shapes, audio and video to virtual book pages. Individual pages and final ebooks can be read out aloud, supporting twenty-seven languages, including thirteen English speaking voices and four Australia dialects. In reading mode, spoken words can optionally be highlighted and the speech rate adjusted. Book Creator supports publishing ebooks in multiple formats, including ePub, PDF and as as a video file with spoken text. Ebooks can be saved locally, or in the cloud (e.g iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive) to support access-controlled sharing of student work with parents and school community. Alternatively, ebooks can be locally shared in the classroom using the AirDrop iPad functionality. As a result, Book Creator supports distributed content creation, where multiple students can work collaboratively on individual chapters that can be combined at a later stage (Hallett, 2013).
Critical evaluation and discussion
Most educational literacy software is designed with a narrow focus on developing and practicing particular skills such as phonemic awareness (e.g. Oz Phonics (DSP Learning Pty LTd., 2015)), sight words and spelling (e.g. Reading Eggs, (Blake eLearning, 2016)). In contrast, Book Creator is designed to be open-ended and to be used in creative ways across various KLAs to support the development of critical and productive multiliteracies. The developers of Book Creator value creativity, collaboration, cross-curricular integration, and “app-smashing”, i.e. the ability to seamlessly integrate other apps as part of the workflow (Red Jumper Ltd., 2017b). The company also prioritises dialogue with educators by offering free webinars and comprehensive customer support.
Book Creator excels as a top-down literacy development resource. The core intention of the app is to support students in creating ebooks. Multimodal ebooks are a whole-language product. Book Creator supports socially-situated learning through purposeful collaboration and dialogue, editing, and publishing. The app can be used in inquiry-based teaching and learning across all KLAs, for example in activities involving journaling and reflection. Perhaps the greatest value as a literacy resource is the ease-of-use with which all receptive and productive language macroskills (Barrot, 2016) can be meaningfully and seamlessly integrated into a single authentic product. Books are not just written but created, by seamlessly integrating text with images, audio and video recordings. The productive language skills are even expanded into the often neglected aspect of publishing for audiences (Jaakkola, 2015). The student experience between reading, listening (or being read to), and viewing the story as a movie is fluent. The app can be used to explore intertextuality, the links between different texts, personal experiences and outside knowledge. The students are invited to construct meaning by linking multimodal sources and developing the three schema-building connections: text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world (Fountas & Pinnell, 2006).
The app can also be employed for critical literacy development. For example, Book Creator can be used to construct comic books with social justice themes (Stone, 2017), perhaps making use of speech and thought bubbles to explore multiple perspectives.
Basic Book Creator shapes
With the ability to publish in ePub and video formats, Book Creator lends itself as a tool to express opinions and take social action. The four-resources model (Luke & Freebody, 1997) is perhaps the most widespread model based on critical literacy theory in Australian schools. Originally developed by Peter Freebody (1992), it emphasises the socio-cultural practices and four interrelated essential roles of the reader: (1) decoding text as a ‘code-breaker’; (2) making semantic meaning as a ‘text-participant’; (3) making functional meaning as a ‘text-user’; and finally (4) critically analysing the text. This model is aligned with the four language cueing systems (graphophonic, semantic, syntactic, pragmatic) of the whole-language approach (Seely Flint et al., 2014). Frank Serafini (2012) expanded the original print-based model to address multiliteracies. Accordingly, the literate reader-viewer of multimodal texts acts as a :(1) ‘navigator’; (2) ‘interpreter’; (3) ‘designer’, and; (4) ‘interrogator’. Book Creator is designed to develop all four interrelated skills, with a particular focus on productive language skills. Lee Heffernan and co-authors adapted the four-resources model of reading to a four-resources model of writing in a primary school context (Heffernan et al., 2003). This model is used to support students in better communicating ideas, improving text composition, drawing on background experiences to construct meaning, and becoming more explicit and reflective in the representations and positions argued in the text. The simplicity with which students can add their voices (i.e. record audio) and perspectives (i.e. record photos and videos) makes Book Creator a great tool to develop critical and creative writing that addresses all four resources.
Ultimately, Book Creator as literacy resource is not limited to any particular theory of literacy development. Some creative teachers have used the app to support bottom-up literacy development through activities such as multimodal vocabulary practice (e.g. Dodds, 2015).
Another approach towards evaluating Book Creator as literacy resource is to critically assess ways in which this app can be used to address the six guiding principles for teaching reading and writing in the twenty-first century (Seely Flint et al., 2014):
1)Literacy practices are socially and culturally constructed. Book Creator encourages social interaction by offering multiple ways of collaboration between students, teacher, parents and the school community (Hallett, 2013). Cultural and linguistic diversity in the classroom is supported by offering few limits in terms of languages and genre conventions. However, the default page flow from left to right does not support languages that use right-to-left scripts, such as Arabic or Urdu.
2)Literacy practices are purposeful. Writing and publishing books is a purposeful form of literacy practice, in particular if the task design is inclusive and responsive to the students’ lives, and encourages cross-disciplinary learning. The simplicity with which text can be integrated with photos, audio and video recordings provides numerous opportunities for students to express themselves, organise and document their learning through journaling, support design thinking and prototyping (Holland, 2017), even playing interactive learning games (Dodds, 2015). The app can be used to support and complementing reading activities, for example by creating audiobooks of class readers. The sharing and publishing functionality offers opportunities to create ebooks for both enjoyment and assessment.
3) Literacy practices contain ideologies and values. Book Creator supports a range of literacy practices in virtually limitless social and cultural contexts. On the iPad, the app is portable and can even be used outdoors in nature for many hours. Shapes, such as speech and thought bubbles superimposed on images, can be used to communicate perspectives (Baker, 2015) and allow individual book characters to speak and think for themselves, perhaps juxtaposed on facing pages.
4) Literacy practices are learned through inquiry. The starting point of a new Book Creator project is a blank canvas, which can be customised. All content needs to be developed, the ideal starting point for student inquiries. The app is explicitly designed to support students in the drafting, composing and publishing processes. At each stage, students can work individually or in groups, and share their work for discussions, assessment and reflection (Vasinda, Kander, & Redmond-Sanogo, 2015).
5) Literacy practices invite readers and writers to use their background knowledge and cultural understandings to make sense of texts. Book Creator supports multiple ability levels and prior experiences with texts through inbuilt scaffolding tools such as the read-aloud function. Options to adjust the speed and dialect of the voice, and the ability to highlight spoken words make this app a powerful tool for supporting students struggling with unfamiliar aspects and practices around literacy development, e.g. EAL/D students. Emerging writers will enjoy the ability to creatively express themselves through multiple media to complement their writing (Rowe & Miller, 2016).
6) Literacy practices expand to include everyday texts and multimodal texts. Book Creator supports any type of genre and register, and can complement literacy practices across multiple contexts and KLAs. Multimodal texts are the core function of the app, supporting written, visual, auditory and spatial modes in any possible combination.
While all this demonstrates that Book Creator can be applied to a wide range of literacy teaching and learning scenarios, one fundamental question remains: to what extent does the app transform literacy learning compared to traditional, non-technological alternatives such as scrapbooking? A practical framework to critically evaluate educational technology and software is the SAMR model by Ruben Puentedura (Romrell, Kidder, & Wood, 2014).
Accordingly, Book Creator is reviewed in terms of its ability to Substitute, Augment, Modify and Redefine literacy learning experiences compared to traditional scrapbooking. The answer to the question above depends on how the teacher and students are employing the app. Book Creator can be used to simply substitute paper-based story writing through activities that are limited to individual writing exercises, perhaps allowing students to include pre-selected images. However, once students make use of the camera and microphone on their iPads to include spoken words, photos and videos, Book Creator will augment scrapbooking by functionally improving the possibilities. In order to modify the traditional resource, the app will need to be used in unprecedented and novel ways. This is for example the case in the area of collaboration. Book Creator enables easy duplication and sharing of documents, instant contextual feedback through annotations, and process documentation for assessment (e.g. Sample, 2014). Finally, traditional scrapbooking is only truly redefined when the app is used in ways inconceivable without technology. Arguably, workflow integration between Book Creator, other apps and cloud services is the area that establishes Book Creator as a transformative literacy resource. Examples include the ability to import any student-generated content, such as stop-motion movies, student images in front of a customisable backgrounds, and the novel ways that content can be shared and published to reach new audiences (Sample, 2014).
Book Creator comes with a price tag. Although reasonable in comparison to other educational resources and technology, it will require a purchase plan that can limit its appeal for teachers that plan to use the app only for a single project. The software is also limited in terms of editing images, audio and video. Advanced editing functionality will require integration with other apps that often need to be downloaded. Other useful functionality, such as the ability to automatically save the history of drafts, and to protect shared documents with passwords requires integration with a cloud service. Finally, as with any educational software, there is a learning curve for teachers and students involved, especially for lower year levels. All this suggests that the appeal of Book Creator as a literacy resource will depend on the IT environment of the school, and the intention of the class teacher to use the app for multiple projects and across multiple KLAs.
Book Creator for iPad is a literacy resource with the potential to transform traditional writing activities. It designed to enable primary school children to create and share multimodal texts in the form of ebooks and videos. Book Creator can be compared to a digital scrapbook, or a white canvas that can be employed across a range of teaching and learning activities. While primarily useful in supporting top-down and critical literacy approaches, it can also make bottom-up skill development activities more engaging, and support emerging readers and EAL/D learners through scaffolding functionality like text-to-speech. Book Creator is a powerful resource to teach receptive and productive language macroskills. While supporting the creative integration of all forms of media, it remains rooted in the traditional format of a book, thereby emphasising the writing and reading modalities above all others. The app becomes a transformative resource if it is integrated into a broader app environment including cloud services. This aspect, as well as the initial purchase price and the learning curve involved for teachers and students to master the app, make Book Creator a more attractive literacy resource for the sustained use across multiple key learning areas, as opposed to a resources for a single teaching and learning activity.
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:
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.
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:
Linguistic transitivity explores how language is used to interpret and communicate our experience of the world around us. Our experience of reality is translated in terms of Processes. Michael Halliday, the father of systematic functional linguistics, divided the transitivity process in into three components:
the Process itself,
the Participants in the process,
and Circumstances associated with the Process.
As discussed in an earlier post that suggest a colour key for these components, Processes are generally realised by verbs and verbal groups. Processes define the kind of event being described, what is “going on”. They are generally the first thing to look for, when performing functional grammar analysis. This is because participants are identified by the Processes they are involved in.
Halliday differentiates six process types (1976). Leong Ping Alvin, in his blog posts on transitivity, developed a helpful mnemonic that is here applied and expanded into an “M&M VERB” poster as a teaching resource:
What do you see here? M&M talking (VERBalising) with each other – MMVERB
Here is a short description of the M&M VERBs. Examples can be brainstormed with the literacy learners and results compiled as a poster.
process of doing (physical actions)
give, take, write
processes of perception, cognition, affection
like, think, see
processes of communication
say, explain, ask,
processes signalled by there …
exist, there is …
processes of being and having
be, have, become
processes of human behaviour
laugh, cry, breathe
Halliday, M. A. K. (1976). Types of process. Halliday: System and function in language, 159-173.
Lexical selection serves the purpose of isolating and identifying the single most appropriate word or item from a cohort of semantically related words. Semantic gradients are an excellent teaching and learning device to broaden and deepen students’ vocabulary, by developing awareness of the subtle connotations and differences between semantically connected or overlapping words. The fundamental idea of semantic gradients is to develop a continuum of related words between two gradable opposites such as antonyms. All the words are sequenced by order of degree through minimising semantic distances.
The authors also offer cloze activities where students consider “the best word for the job”.
In general words can be arranged along the semantic gradient as an array creating a horizontal “bridge”, or as a vertical “ladder”. A graphic organiser that combines the two approaches in a diagonal can be downloaded here.
The activity is best practiced in small groups, followed by a class-wide comparison of results. This is to encourage discussion around the subtle differences in meaning between the semantically related words.
There are a number of scaffolding approaches, such as providing students with a word bank of related words, establishing the antonyms and most neutral word to be placed in the centre, colouring the words using a colour gradient.
Semantic gradient with colour cues
Semantic gradients are best practiced in an authentic and meaningful context. While this could be choosing “the best verb for the job” in a narrative writing activity in English, the teaching and learning device is also ideal to explicitly teach academic language and connect abstract concepts in other key learning areas.
In Science students can be asked to sequence words describing temperature (e.g. freezing to boiling), rock-forming minerals by density (e.g. Calcite to Pyrite ) or hardness (e.g. Talc to Quartz), alkaline and acid solutions by pH value.
In Maths, Brook Giordarno presented how semantic gradients can be used to practices the terms describing different angles (e.g. acute, right, obtuse, straight).
Other examples could be to sort and name polyhedral by number of vertices, edges, faces and diagonals.
In Humanities, semantic gradients can for example be used to explore power relationships (e.g. Queen, Prime Minister, Premier, Lord Mayor, Mayor, Councillor, …)
History stimulus example: rank in a medieval estate-based society
Below is a step-by-step instruction for how to set up a semantic gradient activity adapted from Reading Rockets:
Create multi-ability groups of maximum four students
Select a pair of gradable opposites, avoiding complementary pairs such as ‘on/off’
Generate at least five synonyms for each antonym
Arrange each set of synonyms from most to least extreme
Combine both sets of synonyms from most to least extreme, with the least extreme words in the middle, and the most extreme words on each end
Discuss choices with a peers. Use reference sources to help settle any disputes.
Make adjustments to your arrangement based on your discussion.
Blachowicz, C. L. (1986). Making connections: Alternatives to the vocabulary notebook. Journal of Reading, 29(7), 643-649.
Greenwood, S. C., & Flanigan, K. (2007). Overlapping vocabulary and comprehension: Context clues complement semantic gradients. The Reading Teacher, 61(3), 249-254.
In researching the conventions in functional grammar colour-coding, I came across Montessori’s grammar pedagogy. Montessori associated geometric shapes and colours with the building blocks of traditional grammar creating semiotically-rich classroom manipulatives.
In 1923, Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky created a questionnaire that asks participants to fill out three geometric shapes (triangle, square, circle) with one of three primary colours yellow, red and blue. While concerns can be raised about presenting the “correct” order of answers, the primary colour-geometry relationship that came out proved very influential and can be found in all of Kandinsky’s paintings.
Kandinsky’s questionnaire. 1923. Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin
Kandinsky’s student Monica Ullmann‐Broner took a step further in 1931 and associated additional “secondary” geometrical forms with secondary colours.
Monica Ullman-Broner’s secondary form-colour associations. 1931. Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin
Inspired by his contemporaries in Weimar, Maria Montessori designed objects to recontextualise formal grammar for pedagogic discourse. She came up with nine grammar symbols still used today in Montessori schools to represent “nine parts of speech” (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, article, pronoun, conjunction, preposition and interjection). Montessori further groups these into four “functional families” (‘noun family’ – noun, adjective, article, pronoun; ‘verb family’ -verb, adverb; ‘the servants’ – conjunction, preposition, and ‘special case’ – interjection). The system uses three variables: colour, shape and size. The resulting grammar symbols can be compiled into a chart. Differently-sized sets of grammar symbols can further be combined into advanced grammar symbols that facilitate semiotic discussion of more complex grammatical concepts.
Verbs are depicted in red as circles or spheres. The verb is considered to be the central word (latin verbum) and to depict movement, actions, like a ball or the planets.
Nouns are depicted in black-blue as triangles or pyramids. The noun is considered stable like a pyramid. The pronoun is purple because it links the noun (blue-black) with the verb (red) (see Feez, 2007, p.361).
Modifiers reflect the shape and colour of their “parent element”, but are lighter in colours (blue for adjectives, orange for adverbs) and smaller in size.
Conjunctions are depicted as pink rectangles. The shape is considered to symbolise a hyphen.
Prepositions are depicted as green crescents. The shape is considered to symbolises a bridge.
Interjections are the special case, combining circle and square in golden colour.
It is fascinating to realise how much didactic thought Maria Montessori put into recontextualising abstract formal grammar into pedagogical manipulatives. One might ask why SFL did not adopt these semiotic colours in their transitivity system, making Processes red, Participants blue, and Circumstances … well I guess yellow/golden because they make situations special? However, as Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen conclude in their seminal analysis of colour as a semiotic mode: “Colour does what people do with it” (2002, p.350). So, perhaps it is then best to have children invest into their own grammar symbols and colours?
Feez, S. (2007). Montessori’s mediation of meaning: a social semiotic perspective. Learning to read with grammatics. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Sydney, 312-366.
Kress, G., & Van Leeuwen, T. (2002). Colour as a semiotic mode: notes for a grammar of colour. Visual communication, 1(3), 343-368.
Popplet is an interactive app designed for the iPad and web browser and can be used by students to capture and organise ideas. Popplet offers an exciting information and communications technology (ICT) alternative to highlighting functional “chunk of meaning” as explored in previous print-based and kinesthetic activities.
In Popplet, the teacher can write a few sentences from children’s literature loved by the class (e.g. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, 1957) into boxes that differentiate the functional elements Participants, Attributes, Processes, and Circumstances.
Example of functional grammar Popplet task.
Next, the students on iPads or on the interactive white board are tasked to colour in the frames of the boxes (simple click) using the functional grammar colour key and to explain their choices.
Example of functional grammar Popplet completed task.
The original idea of using Popplet as an ICT approach for students to demonstrate understanding of functional grammar was developed by Krystal Laspas (2014). Krystal goes one step further by asking the students to look for “other words” that can replace those of individual boxes in linked black boxes. An alternative extension idea would be to allow students to change the original text, to ask them to make it more personal while remaining key features such as the rhymes.
Example of functional grammar Popplet extension activity.
Popplet is a great format for this extension activity. The words and phrases can be changed with a single click. At the end, the students are required to review any potential functional changes in their sentences. For example, the last part of the sentence has changed from “the winning-est winner” (Participant) “of all“(Circumstances) to “the most famous” (Attribute) “Australian” (Participant).
In reference to Luke (and Freebody’s) Four Resources Model (2000), this extension activity is designed to provide literacy learners with opportunities to progress from ‘code breakers’ and ‘text participants’ (semantic competence) to become ‘text users’ (pragmatic competence) and ‘text analysts’ (coding competence). In terms of the six guiding principles for teaching reading and writing in the twenty-first century (Seely-Flint, Kitson, Lowe, & Shaw, 2014), the extension activity provides authentic opportunities for students to work with multi-modal texts and student-led inquiry by creating their own meaningful adaptations. In conclusion, the students are asked to work with functional grammar to express themselves.
Any Popplet can be shared by creating a link, by inviting collaborators. Popplets can be duplicated for groups of students to allow for simultaneous and individual work and assessment.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises. (1957). Oh, the places you’ll go! Random House Inc., New York.
Amy Seely-Flint, Lisbeth Kitson, Kaye Lowe and Kylie Shaw set out to define guiding principles for teaching reading and writing in the twenty-first century (2014). The authors take a broad perspective of literacy development in Australia, and conclude with Six Guiding Principles. These principles are used to categorise my blog entries, further complemented by Peter Freebody and Allan Luke’s Four Resources (Luke, 2000) and ACARA’s Six Language Modes (2017).
The six guiding principles are also a useful tool for evaluating the quality of literacy teaching and learning resources. They are therefore summarised below.
Six guiding principles for teaching reading and writing in the twenty-first century (adapted by author from Seely-Flint, Kitson, Lowe, & Shaw, 2014)
1. Literacy practices are socially and culturally constructed
Literacy practices are developed through social interaction in groups of readers and writers. Cultural and linguistic diversity in the classroom is approached as a valuable resource for exploring multi-faceted interpretations of texts. Literacy practices develop skills for social purposes, where situation and group-specific expectations define the genre (social purpose) and register (field, tenor, mode) of language.
2. Literacy practices are purposeful
Literacy practices serve meaningful purposes and goals, in particular the expression and connection of ideas, interaction with others, and writing of cohesive texts. Purposeful literacy practices are inclusive and responsive to literacy learners’ lives. Literacy at school is practiced in a cross-disciplinary context, as emphasised in the Australian Curriculum general capability ‘literacy’. Literacy is required to make meaning from diverse texts, in “reading to learn”. Literacy enables learning experiences beyond the immediate circumstances in which students live. Literacy is a practical skillset that greatly facilitates and enables the organisation and documentation of learning. Finally, literacy is used in communication and for entertainment.
3. Literacy practices contain ideologies and values
Literacy practices are influenced by social and cultural context and practices. They are based on and reflect different axiologies, ontologies and epistemologies. Responsive literacy teaching must acknowledge and build on the values, ideologies and beliefs of the school community. At the same time, critical literacy approaches can empower learners to become responsible global citizens by investigating identity, gender, social and political structures.
4. Literacy practices are learned through inquiry
Literacy practices are developed through student inquiry and problem-solving, where meaning is made from stimulus material and observations, through documentation, text analysis and synthesis. This approach is in alignment with the four-tiered approach to early reading instruction widely practised in Australian schools (Luke, 2000). While literacy learners inquire, student explorations are strategically guided by the teacher and syllabus in ways that expand their knowledge, understanding and skills.
5. Literacy practices invite readers and writers to use their background knowledge and cultural understandings to make sense of texts
Literacy learners bring different funds of knowledge and experience to school, upon which literacy practices draw and build on. Literacy practices must acknowledge the cultural capital of all learners to support them in their process of building on existing knowledge, and to facilitate their engagement with unfamiliar aspects and practices around literacy development.
6. Literacy practices expand to include everyday texts and multimodal texts
Literacy practices makes use of environmental and everyday texts, including visual, auditory and spatial modes, either standalone or in any possible combinations. In the twenty-first century, texts are increasingly digital and interactive in nature and require different literacy skills to print-based texts. Modern literacy practices therefore involves six language modes: listening to, reading, viewing, speaking, writing and creating oral, print, visual and digital texts (ACARA, 2017).
Word People is a kinesthetic teaching and learning activity in which students act out sentence structures. The activity can be particularly popular with students who face difficulties in reading and writing. The original idea of acting out “human sentences” with colour-coded cards was developed to explore simple, compound, and complex sentence structures.
Word people activity exploring formal sentence structures
However, the activity can be easily adapted to functional elements in sentences using subject matter representations through Participants, Attributes, Processes, and Circumstances. Student groups of four could act out their “chunk of meaning”, while holding a colour-coded cards (see previous post for colour key).
This activity is particularly suitable for clauses with action processes,as illustrated by the (traditional grammar) example above. The performing students are encouraged to create their own sentences and think about action process they can easily act out. The audience is asked to guess the sentence.
Humphrey, S., Droga, L., & Feez, S. (2012). Grammar and meaning. Sydney: Primary English Teaching Association Australia. (in particular pages 13-15)
Walter, J. (n.d.). “Word People”. Acting out sentence structure. Presentation
Relevance to Australian Curriculum content descriptors: