8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning – a review

The 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning is a pedagogy framework for embedding Australian Indigenous perspectives into the classroom by emphasising Indigenous learning techniques across all subjects. The framework was developed by the James Cook University School of Indigenous Studies, in collaboration with the Western New South Wales Regional Aboriginal Education Team and DET staff in 2007-2009. It postulates that Indigenous perspectives and knowledges in the classroom are not about introducing “indigenised content”, but rather by practicing a pedagogy informed by “Indigenous processes” of knowledge transmission and identity.

The 8 way learning model explained at the Australian Indigenous College

Dr Karen Martin, a Noonuccal woman, NAIDOC Scholar of the Year 2008 and Associate Professor in the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University unpacks how a culturally-informed pedagogy informed by means by speaking of ways of knowing, ways of doing, ways of being and ways of valuing”.

8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning pedagogical framework

The 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning pedagogical framework highlighting the connections to axiology, ontology, epistemology and methodology.

The 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning therefore is quite a unique approach linking pedagogy with with:

  • axiology – Indigenous ways of valuing, in particular particular cultural protocols, systems and processes
  • ontology – Indigenous ways of being, in particular cultural protocols of behaviour
  • epistemology -Indigenous ways of knowing, in particular cultural protocols such as initiation
  • methodology – Indigenous ways of doing, such knowledge transmission through storytelling

What makes the 8 Ways pedagogical framework so compelling in the Australian main school context is that it is informed by a large overlap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous learning processes. There is much common ground in the value to all students of teachers including:

Story sharing:

Story sharing

 

Great teachers are storytellers that can also teach through narratives and songs. Sharing stories is also an important tool to connect with each other.

Learning maps:

learning maps

The visualisation of pathways of knowledge is also called concept mapping. According to the latest Hattie Effect Size update, there is good evidence that the development of learning maps is among the most effective teaching practice.

Non-verbal learning:

non-verbal

Six out of the seven learning styles are non-verbal and include the kinesthetic and interpersonal approaches. In the words of the 8 Ways pedagogical framework, “we see, think, act, make and share without words“.

Symbols and images:

symbols and images

Providing visual cues, including symbols and colour-codes in learning routines can significantly help students with hearing impairment and social communication difficulties such as Autism Spectrum Disorder. This point addresses that learning is often visual and supported by objects, images, symbols, signs, art and metaphors to explain concepts and content.

Land links:

land links

Great teachers make teaching content relevant by connecting it to the world in which their students live. This includes teaching lessons about the local environmental, highlighting traditional knowledge and connection to the land, including climate, fauna and flora, as well as the history about a place. The aspect of land links is also an important factor for training students’ ability of acute observations as required in Science and often best taught in nature. Land linkst is arguably an important part of teaching Sustainability, one of three cross-curriculum priorities in the Australian Curriculum.

Non-linear:

non-linear

 

Non-linear thinking can be translated as Critical and Creative Thinking, a key general capability to be developed in the Australian Curriculum. This is because lateral thinking or what we also call “thinking outside the box” is the foundation of innovation. In the words of the 8 Ways pedagogical framework, “we put different ideas together and create new knowledge“.

Deconstruct and reconstruct:

deconstruct and reconstruct

On the one hand this pedagogy describes the gradual release of responsibility instructional framework, where teachers first unpack new knowledge with the students by means of modelling and scaffolding, then encourage shared and individual practice. It also emphasises the importance of holistic knowledge, always anchoring new content in prior student knowledge, by “work[ing] from wholes to parts“.

Community links:

community links

 

This pedagogy is an important aspect of social pedagogies that emphasise the importance of community engagement and authentic audiences to bolster student engagement. Arguably, community links goes one step further by applying learning for community benefit, or to paraphrase UNESCO to “empower disadvantaged communities through innovative education“.

The 8 Ways pedagogical framework is hardly radical, allows for broad practical applications in a wide range of local school contexts and does not prescribe any particular or commercial classroom materials and training requirements. It also sidesteps possible constraints in curriculum content choices, which prior to the introduction of the Australian Curriculum and in particular the cross-curriculum priority Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures had the potential to constrain Indigenous education in mainstream schools and classes. It also recognises that every school community and every local Indigenous culture is different, and that one-size-fits-all prescriptions are problematic and limiting. Rather than being explicit about teaching content (e.g. Indigenous lesson units by commercial providers such as sharingculture.com), classroom and school management styles (e.g. Stronger Smarter developed by Chris Sara), particular teaching styles (e.g. Direct Instruction advocated by Noel Pearson), or conceptual frameworks for constructing individual teaching and learning episodes (e.g. Uncle Ernie’s framework), the 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning approach promotes culturally sensitive and informed ways of teaching and learning practically anything in ways that benefit all students.

The challenges with such an open, inclusive, and non-commercial pedagogical framework are in professional adoption and meaningful translation and applications. The 8 Ways is only one of an ever growing number of culturally-informed pedagogical approaches advocated to Australian teachers, and while not necessarily in conflict with the others risks of being only superficially adopted and watered-down in practice to the point where it would make little difference to Indigenous students. Without any specific units, class material, applied recommendations in areas such as EAL/D, it will be easy for teachers to endorse it in theory but not in practice. This is even more likely within the non-commercial context of this framework, as it will not be actively marketed by consultants for professional development to schools.

The AITSL professional teacher standards 1.4 (strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students) and 2.4 (understand and respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians) frame much of the professional classroom practice in relation to Indigenous students, and teaching Indigenous perspectives and understanding. The 8 Ways approach has the potential to directly inform the teaching practice by offering a rich, culturally-informed framework to design teaching and learning episodes and activities. While not supporting this process with specific teaching material or recommendations for lessons on Indigenous people, culture, country/places which would inform teaching about the reconciliation process between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, the 8 Ways framework supports meaningful cross-cultural dialogue and shared learning experiences.

Personally, I find the comprehensive nature and non-prescriptive approach of the eight interconnected pedagogies very appealing, because they can easily be to be applied across all curriculum areas. The are also an excellent starting point for discussing curriculum and pedagogy choices with the local Indigenous and non-Indigenous school community. This flexibility also ensures compatibility to work with any (future) version of the Australian Curriculum, across changing cross-curricular priorities, different whole-school approaches and communities, by offering pedagogical approaches that benefit all students and make real connections to local knowledges and practices.

Gifted and talented students in Australia – resources and services

Gifted and talented children are characterised by outstanding abilities and potential for high performance. The realisation of these talents however requires differentiated educational intervention and support. With 10% of the student population estimated to be gifted (Gagné, 2015), gifted students can be found in most classrooms. However, in the Australian school system, an estimated 50% of gifted students typically remain unidentified and underachieving, with up to 40% preliminary dropping out (Parliament of Victoria, Education and Training Committee, 2012).

This post provides information on how to identify gifted students, recognise their strengths and needs, and respond with responsive curriculum differentiation and teaching strategies.

Identifying Outstanding Student Potential

“High potential will not be realised if it is not identified or if it goes unrecognized”
Merrotsy, P. (2015, p.256).

The identification of gifted students can be heavily biased by race, socio-economic background and gender (Bousnakis, et al. 2012; Coleman & Shah-Coltrane, 2015). Often, bright students who stand out as “teacher pleasers” are misidentified as gifted, while gifted students become either invisible or show challenging behaviours (Merrotsy, 2015). Gifted students are generally identified by performance in academic achievement tests (e.g. Scholastic Aptitude Test) and cognitive tests (i.e. WISC-V, Stanford-Binet 5). A more integrated approach, such as the ‘Coolabah Dynamic Assessment’ (see Resources GERRIC Module 4, Specialisation), is recommended to identify gifted underperformers (Bousnakis, et al. 2012).

Look out for the following typical characteristics in gifted students:

  • Strong reasoning, knowledge retention and fast processing skills
  • Large vocabulary (sometimes multilingual) and advanced reading interests
  • Ask many questions and display broad knowledge and original, often unusual, thinking
  • Heightened emotional sensitivity, advanced ethical and existential reasoning
  • Discrepant achievement pattern across subjects and between school/after school activities
  • Question authority and can be uncooperative, stubborn, cynical and frustrated
  • Can be disorganised, absent minded, and show low interest in detail

Recognising Students Strengths and Needs

Giftedness is characterised by asynchronous development of chronological, mental and emotional age. Heightened intelligence is just one dimension of gifted children. Dabrowski further mentions the common heightened sensitivities and intense behaviours (Alias, et al. 2013).

Recognise the following strengths and needs of your GS :

  • Intellect – drive to want to learn vs. relentless questioning, the need to understand
  • Psychomotor – increased psychomotor awareness vs. need to engage hands, move body
  • Sensory – susceptibility to touch, sound, smell, light vs. overstimulation
  • Imagination – creativity, making connections vs. need to test unusual approaches
  • Emotions – feeling deeply, moral awareness vs. overwhelmed and existentialist angst

Common barriers to the intellectual and psychological well-being of gifted students include a lack of trust in the educational system and teachers, social pressure from family and peers to blend in (‘forced-choice dilemma’), and disengagement. Often gifted students abilities and needs are not recognised, or only within the context of special learning, social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (invisible and twice exceptional gifted students) (Merrotsy, 2015). The development of a positive, multidimensional self concept is often at the heart of gifted education, in order to develop self-efficacy, engagement and persistence (see Resources SENG webinars).

Educational Intervention Strategies

Appropriate educational intervention is required to support gifted students in developing their potential (Gagne´, 2015, Fig. 1). These include the provision of a challenging, enriched and differentiated curriculum, and a supportive learning environment. Maker’s (2005) updated recommendations on gifted education differentiate four dimensions of curriculum modifications:

  1. Content – frame content in integrated, interdisciplinary ways organised around central ideas and the study of people and arts
  2. Process – accelerated curriculum with emphasis on self-directed learning and discovery, variety and choice, metacognition and complex problem solving skills
  3. Product – encourage working on real problems that require information transformation and results in unique products for real audiences
  4. Environment – provide learning environments rich in resources, encouraging difference vs. conformity, independent vs. teacher-centred learning, physical and psychological flexibility

Online resources for teaching gifted and talented students in Australia

GERRIC – Gifted Education Professional Development Packages for Teachers

Six age-differentiated modules by the Gifted Education Research and Resource Centre, University of New South Wales, including on identification, social and emotional development, underachievement, curriculum differentiation and developing programs and provisions for gifted children

SENG – Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted Webinars

A resource of 90-minute webinars on addressing the emotional needs of GS (for purchase)

Australian Curriculum – Student diversity/ Gifted and talented students Overview

The Australian Curriculum (v8.3) official resource on gifted students including curriculum differentiation, personalised learning example and State and Territory Resources

AAEGT – Resources for teachers

The Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented resource list for teachers including a link to the “Night of Notables”, a widely-used program catering for gifted children

References

  • Alias, A., Rahman, S., Majid, R. A., & Yassin, S. F. M. (2013). Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities profile among gifted students. Asian Social Science, 9(16), 120-
  • Bousnakis, M., Burns, T., Donnan, L., Hopper, S., Mugavero, G., & Rogers, K. B. (2011). Achievement Integrated Model: Interventions for Gifted Indigenous Underachievers. Giftedness From An Indigenous Perspective 11, 43-77
  • Coleman, M. R., & Shah-Coltrane, S. (2015). Children of Promise: Dr. James Gallagher’s Thoughts on Underrepresentation within Gifted Education. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 38(1), 70-76.
  • Gagné, F. (2015). Academic talent development programs: a best practices model. Asia Pacific Education Review, 16(2), 281-295.
  • Maker, C. J. (2005). The DISCOVER Project: Improving assessment and curriculum for diverse gifted learners. National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.
  • Merrotsy, P. (2015). Supporting outstanding learners. In A. Ashman (Ed.), Education for inclusion and diversity (pp. 233-264). Pearson Australia.
  • Parliament of Victoria, Education and Training Committee. (2012). Inquiry into the education of gifted and talented students. Parliamentary paper No.108 Session 2010–2012. Victorian Government Printer.

Teaching and learning Maths: learning sequence catering for diversity

This post is addressing the Year 6 content strand ‘measurement and geometry’, substrand ‘using units of measurement’ and content descriptor ACMMG137solve problems involving the comparison of lengths and areas using appropriate units” (ACARA, 2017), which were discussed in the previous posts on Maths unit and lesson planning process, rubric construction, multiple representation of mathematical concepts, and using Math apps. The achievement standards are mapped to the proficiency strands and include:

  • students are to understand and describe properties of surface area and length,
  • develop fluency in measuring using metric units,
  • solve authentic problems, and
  • be able to explain shape transformations

A short learning sequence of comparison of lengths and areas – major steps

Booker et al. detail the conceptual and procedural steps required to master length and area (2015). Applied toACMMG137, these include three major steps:

  1. Perceiving and identifying the attributes ‘area’ and ‘length’
  2. Comparing and ordering areas and lengths (non-standard units => standard units)
  3. Measuring areas and lengths (non-standard units => standard units), including covering surfaces without leaving gaps

This sequence is introduced using multiple representations, progressing from hands-on experiences with manipulatives towards abstract logical thinking and transformation tasks (see examples).

Activities to aid the learning sequence

The steps are mapped to a range activities that cater for diverse classrooms in alignment with the framework of Universal Design of Learning (UDL) (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2001):

  • Students cut their own tangram puzzle (with or without template) and explore how small shapes can create larger shapes
  • Students order tangram shapes by area and perimeter and establish base units: smallest shape (small triangle) as area unit, side of small square and hypotenuse of small triangle as length units
  • Students colour tangram pieces and puzzle range of objects (with and without colour, line clues), exploring how larger geometric shapes can be covered by smaller and making statistical observations on the number of units within each shape and corresponding perimeter. Non-standard units are measured and used for calculations.

(The activities are detailed with examples in the post on multiple representations of mathematical concepts)

Adjustments for a child with learning difficulties

Student with very limited English knowledge (e.g. EAL/D beginning phase). ACARA provides detailed annotated content descriptors (ACARA, 2014). The language and cultural considerations are specifically addressed by keeping discussion relevant to the tasks, offering alternatives to ‘word problems’ in both activities and assessment (as highlighted in the rubric design). Teaching strategy considerations are followed by explicitly teaching the vocabulary, making explicit links between terminology, symbols and visual representations (e.g. by pausing explanatory movie and writing out and illustrating on the whiteboard using colours (e.g. area = blue, equal sides = green, hypotenuse = red, labelling the count of units). The EAL/D student is provided with opportunities to develop cognitive academic language proficiency through mixed-ability group work. All content knowledge can be demonstrated by the student using physical manipulatives, charts and algorithms.

Adjustments for a child with advanced abilities

Children with advanced abilities can only develop their potential if provisions are made to deliver a challenging, enriched and differentiated curriculum, and a supportive learning environment
(Gagné, 2015). Maker’s updated recommendations on the four dimensions of curriculum modifications (2005) are applied as follows:

  • Content – content is framed in an interdisciplinary way, using tangram that connects to Japanese culture and art
  • Process – design emphasises self-directed learning, choice, variety and discovery of underlying patterns by offering a range of tangram puzzle options at multiple levels of difficulty to be explored in abstract terms (i.e. sorting by ratio of area to perimeter)
  • Product – high-ability students are encouraged to work on expert puzzles and transform learned concept knowledge by designing their own tangrams with constraints (e.g. tangrams with identical perimeter, sequence reduced by one length unit, …) and present their products to the class
  • Environment -high-ability students are provided access to spreadsheet software (e.g. for statistical observations, to graph relationships between area and perimeter) and allowed time to work independently

References

Teaching and learning Maths: constructing a rubric

Purpose of a rubric

A rubric is a tabular set of criteria for assessing student knowledge, performance or products, informing the teaching and learning practice. Each line details criteria that are being assessed, each column the expected or achieved quality of learning (depth of understanding, extent of knowledge and sophistication of skill) by the student.

Rubrics are an assessment and reporting tool used to make expectations explicit to students, identify areas that require practice, and for self-assessment purposes (State of Victoria, Department of Education and Training, 2013). Rubrics are used to report learning outcomes to students, parents and carers, and can guide them towards flipped-classroom activities to improve individual results.

Key points in constructing a rubric

Formal grade achievements follow the five letter ratings, where ‘C’ indicates that a student is performing at the standard expected of students in that year group (ACARA, 2012).

Descriptors can be adapted and simplified for formative assessment purposes. The teacher selects aspects that are being assessed (criteria) and describes how achievements will be measured. ‘SMART’ criteria (O’Neill, 2000) (‘S’ – specific, ‘M’ – measurable, ‘A’ – attainable and agreed, ‘R’ – relevant to curriculum, ‘T’ – time-bound which means year-level appropriate) and Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson, Krathwohl, & Bloom, 2001) can guide this process. Rubrics need to be designed and written in a language accessible to students, parents and carers.

Setting SMART goals for your students

Example

This is an example for a 3-criteria, 3-descriptor rubric Year 6 lesson based on content descriptor ACMMG137 “solve problems involving the comparison of lengths and areas using appropriate units“. It is designed for formative teacher assessment, and to provide students with feedback on how they currently meet expectations and what differentiated homework tasks will help them to improve results.

 
excellent satisfactory practice more!
‘Area’ conceptual understanding

Excellent understanding, demonstrated in designing tangram shapes of equal area

Homework: Solve expert puzzles

You can define and explain ‘area’ but need more practice in applying your knowledge

Homework: Watch tangram movie and play more tangram

Your understanding of area needs more practice

Homework: Review area movie and tangram movie

‘Area’ problems with simple units

You are fluent in generalising any tangram puzzle in terms of parts and multiples of units

Homework: Design a tangram puzzle for the class to solve next lesson

You competently calculate basic areas as parts or multiples of tangram triangles. Practice applying this understanding to more creative tangram figures

Homework: Create figures 1, 3 and 4 and write down the number of small triangles required for each animal head

You can describe the shapes but need more practice to calculate how they relate to each other in terms of ‘area’

Homework: Complete worksheet by writing down the number of small triangles required for each shape

‘Area’ problems with metric units

You are fluent in reframing geometric shapes in ways that allow you to calculate their area

Homework: Work on area calculations for more complex shapes in this worksheet

You can calculate areas of simple geometric forms by describing them as parts or multiples of rectangles. Work towards extending your understanding to complex shapes

Homework: Complete area calculation worksheet

You can measure the sides of geometric shapes but need more practice calculating their related ‘areas’

Homework: Review area movie and calculate these areas of shapes

Structuring slides of associated lesson

References

Teaching and learning Maths: unit and lesson planning process

Purpose of mathematics planning

Unit and lesson planning are critical steps in the teaching and learning cycle among assessment, programming, implementation, evaluation and reflection. The objective of the planning process is to provide all students with appropriate learning experiences that meet the demands of the curriculum in terms of expected learning outcomes.

Major steps in the planning process

  1. Relate teaching and learning goals to the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, 2016) relevant year-level descriptions, content and proficiency strands
  2. Check year-level achievement standards and illustrations of graded work sample portfolios to inform assessment criteria guiding planning process
  3. Develop challenging but achievable goals, considering the individual learning needs of all students based on diagnostic and formative assessments
  4. Design sequence of activities, instructional scaffolding and learning extensions that build on existing student knowledge following the ‘gradual release of responsibility’ model (Fisher & Frey, 2007)
  5. Evaluate achieved learning outcomes to inform subsequent lesson planning and to ensure that all students are on a trajectory to achieve best possible outcomes

Personal reflection on the process

The described back-mapping approach makes teaching and learning goals explicit and central to the planning process. By making learning intentions and expected outcomes explicit to the students at the beginning of each lesson and reviewing both at the end, students can develop a clear understanding of expectations and a reflective practice.

Planning is essential to deliver effective lessons that engage all students with appropriate learning activities. These can be informed by Bloom’s taxonomy of learning (Anderson, Krathwohl, & Bloom, 2001), as well as Gardner’s multiple intelligences (Gardner, 2006) to cater for the full spectrum of abilities with group work, targeted teacher aide support, differentiated homework and modifications to assessments.

Blooms taxonomy applied to Maths

Blooms taxonomy applied to teaching and learning Maths (Resource can be downloaded for free on Tes Global Ltd)

References

  • Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2017). Home/ F-10 Curriculum/ Mathematics.
  • Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., & Bloom, B. S. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Allyn & Bacon.
  • Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2007). Scaffolded Writing Instruction: Teaching with a Gradual-Release
    Framework. Education Review//Reseñas Educativas.
  • Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple intelligences: New horizons. Basic books.
  • Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority. (2016). P–10 Mathematics Australian Curriculum and resources.

My Girragundji – quality Aboriginal literature for the Australian classroom

Synopsis

Cover of My Girragundji, written by Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Pryor in 1998

My Girragundji is an 84-page novel written by Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Pryor (McDonald & Pryor, 1998). It tells the story of how a young Aboriginal boy overcomes his fears of visits from the hairyman at night, of approaching his first girl friend Sharyn, of migaloos (white people), and of dealing with the bullies at school. In the course of the story, the boy develops a special relationship with a little tree frog called Girragundji that helps him connect to his Aboriginal ancestors and to build a positive sense of self

Boori Monty Pryor was the Australian Children’s Laureate during 2012-13, along with Alison Lester. Meme McDonald is a founding member and stage director of the WEST Theatre Company, children’s book author and recipient of the 2012 Ros Bower Award  for an outstanding, life-long contribution to community arts and cultural development.

The book trailer above includes paragraphs that describe the first encounter between the first-person narrator and the frog in what is the central transition between paralysis and courage.

Selection criteria and Australian Curriculum connections

In the Australian Curriculum (AC), Literature is one of three inter-related developmental sequences or ‘strands’, together with Language and Literacy. The explicit aim of the Literature strand is to provide students with “access [to] a broad range of literary texts and develop an informed appreciation of literature” (National Curriculum Board, 2009, p.5). In the latest iteration of the AC v8.2, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) describes quality literature as satisfying some of the following criteria and enduring values (ACARA, 2016a):

  1. Artistic value
  2. Personal value
  3. Social value
  4. Cultural value
  5. Aesthetic value
  6. Attract contemporary attention
  7. Potential for enriching students’ lives and expanding scope of experience
  8. Represent effective and interesting features of form and style

These criteria are developed in further detail in the literature companion for teachers published by the Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PEETA) (McDonald & Walsh, 2013).

Enduring artistic value can be defined as the quality that writers develop in their work and how this resonates with readers over time (e.g. Walmsley, 2012). My Girragundji is a popular book with young Australian readers and has recently been turned into a stage play and film script (McDonald, 2013).

Personal values relate to personal resonance, emotional connections, empathy and inspiration developed in the reader by reading a book (e.g. Carnwath & Brown, 2014). Students are likely to be drawn into the first-hand narrative of the boy and main character in My Girrragundji and empathise with his challenges. Students might also become inspired by the idea of developing strength from a relationship with a pet or totem.

Social values relate to social benefits such as civic engagement. The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians states the imperative for all young Australians to become active and informed citizens and to develop reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians (Barr et al., 2008). The cross-curriculum priority (CCP) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures (ACARA, 2016b) applies this contemporary goal by placing attention on advocating and teaching Indigenous perspectives and understanding for all students to engage in reconciliation. In My Girragundji, some passages directly address reconciliation, such as “That’s our special place where the river meets the sea. It’s their place really, my Aunty Joyce and Uncle Arthur’s place. But they reckon it’s our place, and Dad doesn’t argue with that ‘cause he reckons that’s right. They’re white and we’re black and I don’t know whose place the Bohle is, it just is, and they’ll always be our aunty and uncle.” (McDonald & Pryor, 1998, p.43-44). In 2012, Pryor was made the inaugural Australian Children’s Laureate for his stories that “[…] create positive visions of the future for both Indigenous and all Australians” (Australian Children’s Literature Alliance, 2016).

Cultural values relate to the process of producing and negotiating value between different cultural organisations and expressions (Carnwath & Brown, 2014; Agha, 2003). Inclusive teachers must make an effort to embrace diversity and include literature that portrays the full range of ethnicities, cultures, languages/dialects, religions, family structures and socioeconomic statuses within the classroom (Boyd et al. 2015; Harrison, 2016). My Girragundji provides an authentic contemporary window into a socioeconomically disadvantaged Indigenous community, describing the challenges and demands on an age peer in an engaging and at times humorous way that will expand the scope of experience for many mainstream class students. In the face of adversity, the first-person narrator develops resilience and a proud sense of self, based on connection to country and culture. The book provides insight into local Aboriginal culture and helps to build empathy, recognition and support for Indigenous students from similar background in the class. For Indigenous students, My Girragundji can express and reinforce cultural identity and a pride in Aboriginal English, thereby enriching all students’ lives.

Aesthetic value has been described as the “benign capacity” of quality literature to be experienced and appreciated as something cohesive, harmonious in form, content and symbology, and as a capacity to emotionally move the reader (Beardsley, 1981, p.240). My Girragundji is emotionally engaging, the language original and fresh, with photos and illustrations of high standard. The creative use of fonts and Aboriginal English, including terms such as jalbu (young woman or girl), migaloo (white-skinned person), wirrell (shell fish for eating), creates a text with many effective and interesting features of form and style.

The English curriculum advice for every year level is to work with a range of literary texts, including “Australian literature, […] oral narrative traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, as well as the contemporary literature of these two cultural groups, […]” (ACARA, 2016c). The State of Queensland, Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCCA) provides additional guidelines for embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in schools, recommending five criteria for evaluating the quality of a teaching and learning resource (QCCA, 2010):

  1. Authenticity
  2. Balanced nature of the presentation
  3. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander participation
  4. Accuracy and support
  5. Exclusion of content of a secret or sacred nature

My Girragundji is an authentic text, co-authored by Indigenous writer Boori Monty Pryor. Pryor was awarded the Promotion of Indigenous Culture award from the National Aboriginal Islander Observance Committee in 1993. The story is written in the first-narrator perspective of an unnamed ten or eleven year old Aboriginal boy, closely modelled on Pryor’s childhood memories. It can therefore be considered accurate and  balanced in nature of the presentation, illustrating contemporary non-‘exotic’ aspects of Indigenous culture and perspectives other than representations of male adults. By concluding in a chapter ‘How My Girragundji was written’, the authors acknowledge the participation of the Yarrabah community. The acknowledgements make it explicit that the local community was actively involved in taking photographs and reviewing the story, guaranteeing that no content of a secret or sacred nature was included. My Girragundji specifically addresses the CCP organising ideas OI.2, OI.5 and OI.6 (ACARA, 2016b) and focuses on Indigenous perspectives such as ways of valuing, being, doing and knowing, as opposed to potentially problematic indigenised content (Lowe & Yunkaporta, 2013).

The topic and language of the book, as well as the similar age of the main character make My Girragundji most suitable to Years 5 and 6 students. A strong link to the year-level English curriculum description is evident, as readers are to explore a range of non-stereotypical characters and texts including junior and early adolescent novels that explore “themes of interpersonal relationships and ethical dilemmas within real-world and fantasy settings” (ACARA. 2016c).

In Year 5, the most applicable CD from the Literature strand in ‘responding to literature’ is ACELT1609 “present a point of view about particular literary texts using appropriate metalanguage, and reflecting on the viewpoints of others”. The students could reflect on Indigenous viewpoints, experiences and opinions expressed in the book, possibly in a format where they are required to create their own text on a hairyman exploring what keeps them awake at night. Alternatively, students could develop a script for a stage play on episodes of the book presenting one or more perspectives of themes in the book such as growing up, family conflict, friendship, bullying and spirituality (see also link to Literacy CD in ‘creating text’ ACELY1714) (ACARA, 2016).

In Year 6, the most applicable CD from the Literature strand in ‘literature and context’ is ACELT1613 “make connections between students’ own experiences and those of characters and events represented in texts drawn from different historical, social and cultural contexts”. This CD can be applied to build the field knowledge on contemporary Indigenous communities at the beginning of the unit. The ‘responding to literature’ CD ACELT1615 “identify and explain how choices in language, for example modality, emphasis, repetition and metaphor, influence personal response to different texts” is well suited to engage students with the unique style of writing and Aboriginal English, followed up by a closer examination and analysis using ‘examining literature’ CD ACELT1617 “identify the relationship between words, sounds, imagery and language patterns in narratives and poetry such as ballads, limericks and free verse”. Students could extract sad and funny passages from the book and discuss how the authors play with language features to achieve particular purposes and effects (see also link to Language CD in ‘text structure and organisation’ ACELA1518) (ACARA, 2016).

Current debates about the use of quality literature in Australian classrooms

The Australian Curriculum only defines types of texts that need to be studied from Foundation to Year 10 and provides the set of criteria discussed above on what quality literature looks like. The English curriculum recommendations further highlight the importance of incorporating Australian literature, including oral narrative traditions and contemporary literature of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as well as classic and contemporary world literature, in particular texts from and about Asia. As for what makes and who selects the best literature for schools, three debates are particular pertinent to the current situation in Australia:

  1. The extent to which the English curriculum is balanced or distorted by emphasising Indigenous Australian and world literature, and the value of a classical Western literature canon for Australian students
  2. The competition between teachers, schools, states, and commercial publishing houses for the authority to choose classroom literature
  3. The value of print-based literature versus digital media and its impact on reading

In the 2014 review of the Australian Curriculum by the Australian Government, Department of Education and Training (DET), a number of reviewers such as the Institute of Public Affairs objected to the emphasis on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ literature and its literary heritage, calling for a greater focus on Western literature in the English classroom, (DET, 2014a; Riddle & Honana, 2014, Forrest & Schodde, 2014). This view was supported by specialist consultant Spurr, appointed to make recommendations to the federal government’s review of the national English curriculum. Spurr remarked that “[…] in the three points on which all curriculum subjects must be focused – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples; the Asian region, and sustainability – mandating priorities that could be a distraction from the core work of the curriculum, bearing no direct relation to the educational and disciplinary purposes that the curriculum for the study of literature in English is designed to facilitate and fulfil. ” (DET, 2014b, p.4). Spurr has since resigned from his professoral post following the exposure of a series of personal inflammatory emails that included derogatory references to Aboriginals, Asians and women casting doubt on the integrity of the review (Alcorn, 2014). On the other side of the debate, the Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE) supports the CCPs as important issues that need to be addressed in a national school curriculum at this point in the Australian history (AATE, 2014). This view coincides with a progressive understanding of the role of education in a pluralistic society, which affirms students’ understanding of their home and community cultures while helping them to participate in today’s multi-cultural and globalised world (Banks, 2013).

Closely related to the debate on English literature versus world literature is the question about the nature and value of teaching a classic literary canon, and the role that new literature and media should play in the classroom. Kevin Donnelly, the conservative education critic appointed to co-head the 2014 Australian curriculum review, strongly advocates Harald Bloom’s concept of a Western literature canon. He is of the opinion that English as a subject should focus on “enduring literary works that are part of the Western tradition” including “seminal authors such as Shakespeare, Swift, Dickens, Austen, Orwell, Lawson or Malouf”, as opposed to the AC “exploding the definition of literature to include “multi-modal texts”, and suggesting that students should spend time studying “tween mags, avatars, social networking and manga”” (Donnelly, 2010). Harald Bloom’s concept of a Western canon (Bloom, 1994) had sparked “canon wars” in the late ‘80s in which traditionalists advocated a curriculum focusing on classic works of predominantly British literature, while progressive academics promoted teaching an expanding body of works and a focus on modes of inquiry and interpretation (Donadio, 2007). In reference to the current “literacy war” in Australia, Ilana Snyder describes the position of teachers that argue for a dynamic repertoire of literature, reflecting the rapid changes in our society and world of ideas (Snyder, 2008).  This position is supported by the AATE, who advocate that until Year 10 individual schools are in the best position to implement the curriculum with texts that their English teachers assess as most suitable for particular classes and communities. AATE explicitly rejects the idea of a literature canon stating “[…] we consider it would be inappropriate for any specific texts to be mandated for use” (AATE, 2014).

The idea that teachers choose the most appropriate texts can however be undermined by a more prescriptive implementation of the AC at state land school levels, and by schools buying into commercial reading programs. In Queensland, the DET provides state schools with comprehensive electronic curriculum planning and resource materials, referred to as Curriculum into the Classroom or C2C. The English C2C units include digital and print-based texts as teacher resources and classroom sets (DET, 2015). While DET explicitly states that it supports schools in applying flexibility to “adopt or adapt the materials to suit the learning needs of their students and local contexts” (2015), its sample teaching episodes are often implemented with minimal modifications. The C2C writers therefore are in a powerful position to promote particular works of literature. Many schools purchase a core reading program, conveniently packaged as sets of identical books for students, including a teacher’s edition of the book with worksheets and assessment tasks. Some literacy teachers are favourable of basal reader programs, suggesting that these schemes provide a convenient backbone for their lesson planning and free time up to provide better differentiation, including the provision of supplemental reading for more advanced readers (Reisboard & Jay, 2013). On the other side, many academics and educators point out that commercial reading programs have a number of limitations compared to teacher-selected quality literature. These include that the textbooks are often repetitive, less engaging, fail to build on prior student knowledge and do not develop metacognitive thinking (Dewitz & Jones, 2013).

Reading programs are increasingly integrating children’s books with digital multi-media content for computers and iPads, such as the Reading Eggs products (ABC Reading Eggs, 2016). Recent research suggests that in particular struggling readers are more likely to engage in reading on digital platforms that can support their reading experience with rich features, such as multi-modal content, interactive navigation, animated images and adaptable font sizes (Hughes, 2013). Teachers that like to curate their own quality literature for digital devices can face a number of technical challenges and limitations, such as a more limited range of digital children books and small screens (e.g. Mardis & Everhart, 2013).

While literacy teachers are navigating shifting policy directions and experimenting with the promises and limitations of engaging students in digital texts and reading apps (Hutchison et al., 2012), it is perhaps instructive to highlight one aspect of quality literature which is not explicitly stated in the AC criteria and often missing in the public debate: reading enjoyment.  By selecting literature that is interesting, relevant and moderately challenging, students are most likely to engage in reading and develop an intrinsic reading motivation (Gambrell, 2015). If reading enjoyment is one of the strongest predictor for educational success (Kucirkova, Littleton, Cremin, 2015;  Clark & De Zoysa, 2011), debates on classroom literature canons and formats, should perhaps be placed into the hands of the students, coached by their teachers and the school librarian (Strauss, 2014).

References:

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Book Creator for iPad literacy resource review

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.

Resource description

Book Creator educational app

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

References

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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:

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Functional grammar – Processes M&M poster

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:

  1. the Process itself,
  2. the Participants in the process,
  3. 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.

Processes Explanation Examples
Material process of doing (physical actions) give, take, write
Mental processes of perception, cognition, affection like, think, see
Verbal processes of communication say, explain, ask,
Existential processes signalled by there … exist, there is …
Relational processes of being and having  be, have, become
Behavioural  processes of human behaviour  laugh, cry, breathe 

References:

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Developing lexical precision through semantic gradients

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 idea for semantic gradients was developed by Camille Blachowicz in 1986, in her investigation of alternatives to vocabulary notebooks. Blachowicz developed a five-point strategy that stood the test of time:

  1. Prior knowledge activation
  2. Development of predictive connections
  3. Contextual reading
  4. Refining word meaning using cues
  5. Applying learned words in writing, additional reading

Blachowicz initially compared existing innovative strategies such as:

  • exclusion brainstorming – students discuss if stimulus words are likely, unlikely to appear in certain field or genre
  • knowledge rating – students rank words by difficulty or prior knowledge, e.g. can define, can make predictions, previously encountered, unknown
  • semantic mapping – students connect related words, explaining relationships
  • semantic feature analysis – tabular characterisation of words across different dimensions, e.g. shared features
  • concept ladder – relationships of focus word to other words and concepts, e.g. flute is made of wood, used to make music, …
  • predict-o-gram – cloze procedure in which students predict how author will use words from a word bank

It is easy to see how Blachowicz combined these ideas to developed the semantic gradient teaching and learning approach.

Original semantic gradient example by Camille Blachowicz (1986)

More recently, Scott Greenwood and Kevin Flanigan (2007)  picked up the idea of semantic gradients and combined it with context clues for each word, including:

  • formal definitions
  • antonyms
  • synonyms
  • inferences in full sentences

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:

  1. Create multi-ability groups of maximum four students
  2. Select a pair of gradable opposites, avoiding complementary pairs such as ‘on/off’
  3. Generate at least five synonyms for each antonym
  4. Arrange each set of synonyms from most to least extreme
  5. 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
  6. Discuss choices with a peers. Use reference sources to help settle any disputes.
  7. Make adjustments to your arrangement based on your discussion.

References:

  • 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.