Response to: How ‘knowledge about language’ for schools could be so much better, by Michael Rosen

Response to: How ‘knowledge about language’ for schools could be so much better, by Michael Rosen

Michael is right when he says the government and the DfE should have spoken to practitioners like us. Phil and I, for example, are both in the very fortunate position of being applied linguists, teachers and two people who know about writing pedagogy.

Our passion for our work has resulted in our producing materials which we would argue begin to address the idea of teaching ‘knowledge about language.’ Our Real-World Literacy approach is built around the idea that children imitate, investigate, play and repeatedly practise writing and writerly behaviour alongside direct instruction from a sympathetic writer-teacher. We also agree that this kind of ‘knowledge about language’ teaching is helping and always has helped children to write well.

Michael’s first definition of ‘function’ is the one the DfE seem to advocate for. It is a fine description of ‘formal’ grammar teaching, which research tells us does not help improve children’s writing or their writerly behaviours. Michael’s second definition of function is completely in keeping with how we’ve always understood the term ‘functional’ in a Hallidayan sense – that the function of language is utterly related and connected to the social goals of the writing being produced. This is the side of functional grammar that seems neglected. Michael Halliday states that ‘the mastery of language…is not simply the ability to say what one means; rather, it is the ability to mean’.  This is what ‘function’ really means.

It was because of this realisation that Phil and I produced our Functional Grammar Table a few years ago. It was an attempt to persuade ourselves (and eventually other teachers) to move away from the temptations of teaching grammar in a formal way, which we felt was too far removed from the social decisions apprentice writers consider when using grammar for effect.

After considering grammar, we began reflecting on the same issue but on a genre level. From what we’ve observed, teachers, when teaching a form or genre, will often skip straight to the lexical features of a genre. They will focus on word-level items that might be an indicator of a certain type of writing. Sometimes these teachers will drift into some aspects of stylistics – for example types of sentences or sentence length – but it largely stops there.

Our Genre-Booklets are our attempt to counteract such teaching. Taking a top-down approach to teaching about forms/genres, our booklets start with the typical reasons someone might want to write in a certain form; what purpose the form can serve a writer like themselves; what enjoyment or satisfaction it might bring them and what are the potential audiences for such writing. It’s only after this kind of discussion that we even begin to consider what ‘fields’ (meaning topics/themes) can be placed in such a genre by us as a community of writers. Our focus on the tenor (the relationship between writer and reader) of typical genres touches lightly on Michael’s point about narratology, but certainly on reflection this is something we want to think deeper about and is quite an exciting idea. For example, when reading Michael’s reflections on narratology, it reminded me of a girl I taught last year:

She had many difficulties with writing. She found organising the sheer size of her ideas on the page really hard to do and her sentences were often jumbled and hard to follow. However, one day she asked to read the opening of a personal writing project she was working on and it was fascinating. She had decided to address us directly as a Native-American chief. He was speaking to us from beyond the grave and was reflecting on the events that were about to unfold in the story that followed – introducing the narrator at the end of what I can only really describe as a ‘preface’. This kind of understanding and play with narration – something I had certainly never explicitly taught – was a showstopper for the class when they received it.

Anyway, back to our work with our Genre-Booklets. An often justified criticism of genre-theory and the teaching of it is that it can be restrictive. That’s why we always encourage children to consider genre-hybridising and otherwise investigate and play with the genres they know and turn them on their heads. This includes encouraging intertextuality but also ideas like ‘faction‘, ‘fan fiction‘ and ‘metafiction‘.

 

We invite people to contribute to this discussion, and we thank Michael for extending our thinking – as he always does.

**By Phil Ferguson**

***

You can find the article below amongst others in ‘Why Write? Why Read?

Original Article:

How ‘knowledge about language’ for schools could be so much better

By Michael Rosen

 

If you think of language as a whole, then ‘knowledge about language’ is made up of anything and everything that describes language or can explain why and how we use it in the ways that we do.

Over the last few years, ‘knowledge about language’ in the hands of the government, the DfE and Michael Gove has been reduced to ‘grammar’ and ‘grammar’ has been reduced to one model, one form of what ‘grammar’ might be – a so-called ‘structure and function’ model.

This single model of ‘grammar’ (treated as if it’s the only model) and enforced through the Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test, then holds sway over primary education, and primary aged children.

First, to be clear, there are other models of grammar, which, say,  treat that word ‘function’, not as how words ‘function’ inside sentences (e.g. this noun is the subject of the sentence) but as social functions (e.g. why have so many of us started saying ‘So…’ at the beginning of our utterances).

For some reason, this form of grammar was not the one implemented and enforced.

There is, though, an even more important criticism to make. ‘Knowledge about language’ is a massive subject and can’t be reduced to ‘grammar’ of any kind. Since the time of Aristotle, linguists have tried to examine language, describe it and explain it. Aristotle was particularly interested in the ‘effects’ of particular uses of language and did a damned good job of it. We all know, for example, what ‘catharsis’ is, thanks to him, but he did more than that in his book ‘Poetics’.

Over the last 150 years, a huge amount of work has gone into examining how the many different uses of language work and have created disciplines such as narratology, stylistics, pragmatics and intertextuality. Though these are mostly written about in very academic ways, they can be broken down into very accessible (and enjoyable) ways for children and school students to use. To be clear: these are also ‘knowledge about language’, and because they are tied very closely to ‘language in specific uses’ and not ‘abstract ideals’, they are especially useful in helping children speak and write.

Narratology, for example, enables us to examine how stories (or any kind of writing) are ‘told’: e.g. who narrates? how does the narration change? what kind of narrator is narrating? what devices does the narrator use to ‘talk’ to us?

Narratology can help us look at how the narration enables us to know how characters think. There are several very different devices that have grown up, all the way from ‘she thought’ to the ‘free indirect discourse’ favoured by Jane Austen and many writers of children’s books.

Narratology can help us look at ‘foregrounding’ and ‘point of view’ – how these shift, favouring one or more characters and why?

Narratology is very useful at helping us with time frames which often change via flashback, flash forward and invocations of continuous time or continuous existence.

Stylistics can take us into how texts ‘sound’ (prosody) – showing us how repetition of structure and letter sounds make rhythms in texts.

Stylistics can draw attention to sentence length, sentence complexity or simplicity, how paragraphs are constructed across texts, why and how these change as the need to express different things change.

Stylistics can draw attention to ‘register’ – how informal/formal a text is? How much does it draw on modes of text from which sources – does the writing empty speech modes? Are there deliberate attempts to ‘borrow’ language from specific sources e.g. from a field different from the one in the text, e.g. from science in a novel?

Stylistics can draw attention to which class of words are repeated e.g. many adjectives, many adverbs – or none?

Pragmatics can draw attention to how dialogue is structured and where the narrator dialogues with the audience/readership. Dialogue can be structured in many different ways in fiction and pragmatics can help us make distinctions.

Intertextuality can help us with the matter of ‘borrowing’ that I mentioned earlier. In essence, all writing is borrowing in that it borrows the sounds, structures and meanings that have gone before in order to do whatever it does. However, some borrowings are more obvious than others and/or more significant. This can be at the level of a whole genre e.g. Hamlet as ‘revenge tragedy’ or at the level say of using literary motifs or tropes e.g. ‘the pathetic fallacy’. Or again allusion to writing or speech that comes before (as Dickens does in the opening pages of ‘A Christmas Carol’) and so on.

If the government and the DfE had been really interested in a holistic view of language and ‘knowledge about language’ it would have talked to applied linguists about all this, and then got hold of people who know about pedagogy and asked them to produce materials which applied this ‘knowledge about language’ in age-appropriate ways, using imitation, and practice and investigation as much as description and direct instruction, so that this ‘knowledge about language’ could have been applied directly to helping children write well.

But they didn’t.

The main reason why they didn’t is because the Bew Report of 2011 imposed the SPaG test instead. This was because Michael Gove told them to.

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What The EEF’s ‘Improving Literacy in Key Stage Two’ Report Tells Us About Teaching Writing Effectively.

What The Education Endowment Fund’s ‘Improving Literacy in Key Stage Two‘ Report Tells Us About Teaching Writing Effectively. 

Here is a brief outline of the key messages from the Education Endowment Fund’s summary on effective writing at Key Stage Two. The summary produced by the EEF uses a number of meta-analysis based research papers to draw its conclusions. It says:

Reading For Writing

  • Children listening to texts being read aloud is important to both reading and writing development.
  • Children being given time to discuss the books they are reading with others is valuable.
  • Children should have freely available a wide-range of texts to read from.

Teaching The Writing Process

  1. The writing process should be explicitly taught using the ‘gradual release of responsibility’ otherwise known as the ‘repeated practice’ or ‘self-regulated strategy instruction’ model.
  2. Children need regular practice at writing and the writing process to become successful!
  3. To achieve this level of practice children need to be kept motivated and fully engaged in wanting to improve their writing.
  4. Teachers need to be on hand, providing feedback to help pupils focus their effort appropriately.
  5. Schools should focus first on developing core classroom teaching strategies that improve the literacy capabilities of the whole class. With this in place, the need for additional support should decrease.

Teaching Through Genre Topics

Generating Ideas And Planning

  • Children talking through their text with a partner before and during their writing will improve writing outcomes.

Vomit Drafting

  1. Although accurate spelling, grammar and handwriting are important, at this stage they are not the main focus. If these aspects mistakenly become the focus at the drafting stage,  writing becomes slow and effortful and therefore hinders progress in writing composition.
  2. Encouraging children to continuously re-read their texts as they write them can improve writing outcomes.

Revision & Editing

  • Revising should be encouraged and ‘it should be accepted that work may become messy but that at this stage the audience will be limited’. 
  • When editing, spelling and grammar assume greater importance, pupils will need to recognise that their work will need to be accurate if readers are to engage with it and extract the intended information from it.

Publishing

**By Phil Ferguson*

References:

Education Endowment Fund (2017) Improving Literacy In Key Stage Two EEF: London

What Is Writing? Why Do We Write?

Language merely reflects our way of trying to make sense of the world.

– Frank Smith

Writing is the meeting point of experiences, language and society. It is intimately bound up in an individual’s intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual growth. Such patterns are complex and draw on several disciplines (including psychology and sociology) (John Dixon, p.85)

Teachers all have different philosophies on what constitutes writing and therefore will respond differently to: children’s writing, organising instruction and representing children’s development accordingly. Here are some common and influential views on what writing is and why we do it.

  1. Frank Smith (1982) says ‘writing touches every part of our lives‘.
  • One of the first reasons we write is because it is a tool for communication in culture. It gives us the ability to share information over time and space with multiple individuals (explaining, recounting & opinion).
  • It can also be used as a permanent record or as a statement e.g. in history, geography  & science genres.
  • The third cultural aspect for writing is artistry (narrative and poetry).
  • Finally, there is also the personal aspect to writing. Writing allows us all to reflect, express our perceptions of self, to socially dream or to be critical (memoir, diary, recount).

By writing, we find out what we know; what we think. Writing is an extremely efficient way of gaining access to that knowledge that we cannot explore directly. – Frank Smith (1982, p.33)

  1. Ivanic, in Writing & Identity (1998), states that writing is related to:
  • Writing about yourself (for yourself and others),
  • Writing so as to position yourself within an audience,
  • Writing just for yourself,
  • Realising who you are through writing.
  1. Gee (2004) points out that, in literacy, what is important is not merely language, and surely not grammar, but writing the ‘doing-being-valuing-believing combinations‘ which he called discourses. Discourses are the rules and standards of reason that organise:
  • Perceptions,
  • Ways of responding to the world,
  • The conceptions of ‘self, “

4. Kress (1997) & Dyson (1993, 2003) include representations such as:

  • Drawing,
  • Oral storytelling,
  • Model making,

An approach described as the “multimodal perspective”. Children come to writing and composing using an ensemble of resources that they then combine in written and oral forms.

5. Ruth Finnegan (1986, 2002) has looked at communication of all kinds, drawing on the broader conceptions of literacy and language of a variety of cultural groups and thereby questioning dominant literacy and linguistic cultural assumptions.

6. Ingold (2007) has taken writing quite out of the realm of schooled literacies by widening out the lens to things like:

  • Explorations,
  • Looking at lines,
  • Music notation and other entangled forms of inscription.

Included within that was writing within the tangled knitting on boats, within treaded lines on a footpath and within map making and drawn images.

7. Digital Literacy is communicating in digital environments. Digital literacy can include: technical-procedural, cognitive and emotional-social skills. For example:

  • Using a computer program as procedural skill (handling files and editing visuals) and cognitive skills (the ability to read visual messages like GIFs and emojis).
  • Data retrieval on the Internet (working with search engines, evaluating data, sorting out false and biased data, and distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant data).
  • Effective communication on social media platforms and blogs is conceived of as requiring the utilisation of certain social and emotional skills within writing.

7. Fairclough (1989) talks about writing being a tool for the production, maintenance and change of social relations and of power. Writing contributes to the domination of some people by others. Teaching this, according to Fairclough, is the first step to emancipation.

8. Martin & Rose (2008) define writing as the negotiating of different types of ‘meaning’ realised through language and the ways in which these meanings are typically written. They are focused on the genres of writing and the patterns that can appear in them. Learning these patterns gives you access to different types of writing and therefore different opportunities.

The National Curriculum (2013) has this to say about writing:

  • Children write so that they can communicate their ideas and emotions to others.
  • Writing is developed through spoken language and reading.
  • Pupils who do not have opportunity to write fluently and confidently are effectively disenfranchised.
  • Pupils need to understand grammar and linguistic conventions for writing (2013:3)
  • It is essential that teaching develops pupils’ competence in the two dimensions (composition and transcription). In addition, pupils should be taught how to plan, revise and [edit] their writing (DfE, 2013:5).

If you have time, you may want to read our article: What If Almost Everything We Thought About The Teaching Of Writing Was Wrong?

**By Phil Ferguson**

References:

  • Dyson, A.H. (1993). Social worlds of children learning to write in an urban primary school. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Dyson, A.H. (2003). The brothers and sisters learn to write: Popular literacies in childhood and school cultures. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Finnegan, R. (1986). The oral and the written: Doing things with words in Africa. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Finnegan, R. (2002). Communication. London: Routledge.
  • Flairclough, N., (1989) Language & Power Longman Group: Essex
  • Gee, J. K. (2004) Situated Language and Learning London: Routledge
  • Ingold, T. (2007). Lines: A brief history. London: Routledge.
  • Ivanic, R., (1998) Writing & Identity Lonson: John Benjamins Publishing Company
  • Kress, G. (1997). Before writing: Rethinking the paths to literacy. London: Routledge.
  • Martin & Rose (2008) Genre Relations London: Equinox
  • Smith, F., (1982) Writing And The Writer HEB: New York

Trials & Triumphs: Teaching Memoir Writing.

Trials & Triumphs: Teaching Memoir Writing.

Week One

This half term we are focusing on teaching memoir. Memoir differs from what is commonly referred to as recount in a number of profound ways. Recount’s major role is often to ensure that chronological events are described within a conventional time order. However, memoir is very much in the business of storytelling.  A good memoir will have a topic which has meaning not only for you as the writer but also for your reader. This means children finding a subject which rouses emotions in them and which reaches out to their readers, creating the possibility of reflection and empathy. Memoir also affords young writers the opportunity to explore the literary qualities of stories they read through their writing about a personal experience. Memoir is a hugely rewarding genre to teach. It provides the best platform for children to feel they are experts in their topic before they begin writing, and gives them enough scope as a genre to be playful and try out many of the things they like writing best.

We had two objectives for our first week: for children to understand what the genre memoir is and what is required to create a great one, and to give children the resources and opportunity to generate their own memoir idea.  

Day 1

The children, in pairs read and discussed the first page of our Genre-Booklet memoir. I then shared with the class my own attempt at producing a memoir. We gathered in a circle, reading quietly together in pairs. Different children then read a paragraph each aloud,and I did a final reading myself.

No One’s Day But Ours.

chattri3

We’ll explain it and deal with the consequences after,  I thought.

Looking out the window and watching the bright sunshine reflect off my dad’s car and into my eyes, I felt a warm glow. Waving goodbye, I knew today was going to be just perfect. It was no coincidence perhaps that I could see the Chattri from that very same window. The promised land almost teasing me.  

I grabbed my backpack and met my friends by the post-box, just as we had planned. “Have you got the goodies?” I asked Joe excitedly. He assured me he had and from the rustle I could hear as we walked, I believed him with all my heart. Joe always had a way of making you feel reassured. Perhaps it was his height and frame. Joe was taller than the rest of us. He had sharp, almost white messy hair, which made him endearing and trustworthy to parents.

Looking back now, our impatience to get to the Chattri caused our ‘short-cut’ not to be so short at all. Negotiating all the fences and the barbed wire which came with them was trying. The barbed wire seemed, at times, to be like fighting against the ocean’s tide. “Maybe we should have just used the paths?” Dan suggested, sarcastically. Dan was the shortest in the group and at our age that meant something. He was also incredibly skinny and had comically thin, hairless legs. Legs that seemed to protrude from out of his shorts like twigs.

“Where would the adventure be in that?” I said in such a way that I didn’t even believe myself. We still had a way to go and it was cold and lonely in the shade of the valley. The warmth and the light shone on the Chattri – right at the top of the hill – but not on us.

When we finally got there, Joe opened his rucksack to reveal what we had all been waiting for. It was a feast to the eyes for any 11 year old boy. It was all the treasures a boy of that age could dream of: chewy strawberries and snakes by the bundle, the largest cola bottles you could get – and full sugar too! Not to mention what felt like endless packets of Haribos. We held them in our hands and raised them up to the clear blue skies – like savages – like a sacrifice – like a victory cry.

This was it. This was freedom. We were free, free to do what we wanted to do, and what we wanted was to be together and be alone. Alone to scream and shout, to holler and play highjinks and silly-fools. We played together that day like the clock had stopped. Today was our day.

My lasting impression will always be standing at the top of that hill, ripping at a chewy-snake, stretching it away from my back teeth, eyes shut, head back, hearing my friends rolling down the hill into the thick and welcoming grass and feeling king. King of my world, with my comrades there to support me. Soaking up the day, we didn’t need or want for anyone or anything – least of all our parents.

“We’ll explain it and deal with the consequences after,” I whispered into the silk of that afternoon breeze. I wonder where that afternoon breeze is now?

By LiteracyForPleasure


What followed was quite a lengthy and full discussion which included talking about the opening, the quality of the description, linking the characters of Joe and Dan to their physical descriptions (Joe’s hair almost a metaphor or a metonym). Children agreed that it was not a remarkable topic in itself that I had chosen, but that I had made it special and significant through description and feeling, and through making it like a story.
We have emphasised this point every day, and referred to how Michael Rosen does it in his prose poems which we regularly enjoy.

Children found instances of time references, simile and metaphor, repetition, poetic language, exaggeration. We reminded them constantly that they could use all these devices (‘tricks’) in their writing. We also emphasised the need to have one pebble to focus on. The concept of having one pebble is that children will often choose general topics when generating writing ideas, such as When I went to the football, When I went to Spain on holiday, or Our school trip to PGL. What we have had to teach children is that these topics contain almost a beach full of pebbles which they could write about. Each pebble is an idea for a piece of writing. They need to find one pebble – or one idea – from their topic ‘beach’. This has not always been easy but by the end of the week it was a hugely rewarding pursuit.

 

Day 2

I read the long version of Roald Dahl’s memoir – The Great Mouse Plot. Children discussed the description of Mrs Pratchett, found the simile, and the ‘pebble’ in this description i.e. her fingernails. I reminded them that Roald Dahl probably wrote this 30 years after the event, so how did he remember what everyone said? We told children that they can make up speech when they write, and that they can depart from the exact truth of the events, that it can be quite enjoyable to use hyperbole(exaggeration) in your memories and that in fact we do this all the time!

We then moved on to Anne Frank’s diary entry. This was probably the least successful of the memoir examples. I felt it was necessary to talk about the context in order for children to fully appreciate the writing. We looked at how she conveys anxiety, and located the parts that made us feel sad. (It is written in quite, a literary way, which isn’t always the case with diaries. I’ve later discovered that she had revised much of it, with a view to publication.)

 

Day 3

As part of our Genre-Book we included a bad memoir example. Children immediately spotted the lack of description, character development, pebble, story, as well as unexplained references. This confirmed that they have really internalised the essential ingredients of a good memoir. It was an enjoyable lesson to hear them be so critically engaged on a text.  

Some children even began to revise it themselves, writing on the typed copy; all chose to add description. Maybe in the future we could find a way of letting them revise the whole thing, to include events in time order, elements of a story, and a pebble…

After this we checked in with some on their own memoir ideas, and we worried that several had not yet thought of anything, or were coming up with ideas which had no depth at all, or were too general. We decided to put them on the spot the next day, and have everyone share their ideas with the whole class.

 

Day 4

Right at the start of the lesson, children were asked to focus on something with a strong feeling e.g. the happiest or saddest moments of their lives. Hearing other people’s ideas acted as a spark for some. Some changed their topic for a stronger one. Sometimes the class voted if one child couldn’t decide between two ideas. We rejected some ideas. Children had to identify the pebble for their writing. Once I modelled how I went from a general idea to having a one pebble moment it all of a sudden clicked. I discussed how in my writing notebook I had written that I want to write about my childhood holiday with my grandad in Spain, and that the pebble moment I will ‘zoom in on’ will be my grandfather teaching me how to float in the pool on my back, us looking like a couple of otters floating in the pool. I then explained that instead of writing about the PGL trip I could write about how myself and Mr. Green had a secret midnight snack. We ended up feeling far more confident about their topic choice, and so did they. This discussion seemed to turn things around significantly. We asked children to straightaway jot down the revised idea and what the pebble was going to be. There was a real buzz in the classroom and many children wanted the opportunity to use their free-writing time to write about other memoir ideas they were having.

 

In Conclusion

At the end of a week children know that to write a quality memoir they need to:

choose a topic which may be ‘everyday’ or unremarkable in itself, but which can be made memorable both for themselves and the reader by a genuine emotional investment in it; focus on one pebble, and use description, poetic language, feelings, good openings and endings, devices like repetition and a little exaggeration. They are now using literary terminology naturally in their discussions, and are reading the memoir examples like writers.
The memoir examples have been successful. Our own memoir examples were the best, because we conveyed them with enthusiasm and enjoyment well, and because we were able to talk to the children about the topic, how we came to write it, and our writing process. Children were really engaged to know and learn from this. We have the idea of collecting the best memoirs written by the children in our class, and using them as examples next year.

**

This is part of our Real-Word Literacy approach to writing. If you’d like to find out more about how this approach works, you can follow the link here.

If you are interested in knowing more about our Genre-Booklets you can follow the link here.

 

Introducing Our Genre Booklets To The Class & Their Impact.

Introducing Our Genre Booklets To The Class & Their Impact.

Genre-Booklets To Aid Children & Teachers In Writing Across The Curriculum

This article is about how, this year, we introduced little ‘Genre-Booklets’ to our year 5 classroom and how they have changed our writing pedagogy in profound ways.

  • An example of one of these Genre-Booklets can be seen at the bottom of this page.
  • If you’d like to view all of our Genre-Booklets you are welcome to contact us at literacyforpleasure@gmail.com 
  • They are also available for purchase through our TES shop here. However, please get in touch through our email as we can provide them at a far cheaper price.

What Impact Have We Seen?

So far we have introduced just the following booklets:

  • Short Story,
  • Information Text,
  • Persuasive Letter,
  • Book Review,
  • Explaining The Past: Accounting For History,
  • Free-Verse Poetry.

We place these in plastic hanging-baskets on our literacy wall. When children have completed their class-writing, they are welcome to come and take a booklet from the display and write. Children know they have to follow the writing process – as set out here and use the booklet to support them.

We have also had a number of booklets go home – with children asking for additional genres which they feel they need to complete tasks outside of school. For example, a child requested to have the Biography Booklet to write his own footballing history so far. Other children have asked for the Memoir Booklet – so that they can practice it before they are formally taught it after Christmas. Finally, a number of boys have asked for the Match Report Booklet – so as they can formally recount the football matches they attend each weekend.

These Are Our Main Reflections:

  • Children no longer seem to require so much support from us. They write more freely and happily.
  • Children are taking greater care when planning a piece of writing.
  • Children’s writing is purposeful and always demonstrates features of the genre being written.
  • Their writing is genuinely informative or entertaining and is often cohesively produced.
  • Children aren’t so tentative to begin writing.
  • Children don’t want writing sessions to come to an end – it’s hard to get children to pack away.
  • Children’s motivation to write has increased dramatically.
  • Children’s motivation to research and undertake independent study in the foundation subjects has increased dramatically.
  • Children are reading more critically.
  • Children are taking writing in the foundations subjects more seriously.
  • A sharp increase in children taking writing home.
  • A sharp increase in children purchasing writing-notebooks and writing at home.
  • Children’s writing outcomes have so far been impressive across ability ranges.
  • Children are beginning to talk like real writers.

So, What Is Genre And How Did These Booklets Come About?

Genre is about ‘how we use language to live’ and it looks to share the ways in which language can be used functionally to achieve the things we want to achieve through our writing. Our culture has many systems of genres which we enact when we want to achieve something specific. A ‘genre is a staged goal-oriented social process.’ (Martin, 2009, p.13):

  • Staged: You usually have to move through more than one phase to achieve your writing goal.
  • Goal-orientated: There is something that the writing can achieve.
  • Social: Because every genre has an audience in mind.

Genre-based approaches to teaching writing have been widely adopted and have achieved spectacular improvements in student outcomes, from twice to more than four times expected rates of learning’ (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.1) (see also, Culican, 2005, Rose & Acevedo, 2006 & Rose, 2008).

Why Teach Genre?

Teaching genre allows children to understand that:

  • Writing is a social activity.
  • Learning to write is a social activity.
  • Writing fulfils our needs.
  • There are certain outcomes and expectations that come with certain genres of writing.
  • Learning to write involves learning to use language for your own purposes (Hyland, 2007, pp.152-153).

What Actually Are The Genre Booklets?

Genre-Booklets, and the inevitable genre-study that comes along with them, are based on the model of language in context known as Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), as produced by the linguistic Michael Halliday (2004). Halliday sees language as a meaning-making system. The distinctive features of this language system are that it focuses on the following:

  • Grammar as a meaning making resource (as opposed to formal grammar rules)
  • Texts are produced as a result of social context and semantic choices (Martin, 2009, p.11)

Halliday used this concept of ‘grammar having a functional impact on texts’ as a way of analysing texts students were either expected to write or wanted to write. Martin went beyond this and started to teach children the meaning behind certain texts. Our genre-booklets have been able to make this information explicitly available to teachers but most importantly to children. The booklets are about sharing with children the unconscious and hidden rules which govern the types of writing we engage in every day. The booklets cover genres which are learned and taught across the curriculum but also provide children with the tools to write in their own favourite ‘home’ genres. The social goals of this variety of genres are made available for children to peruse, enjoy, refine and maybe even change and develop for their own unique purposes.

How Were The Booklets Made?

The SFL model of language suggests that genres are made up of three interrelated meanings or ‘metafunctions,’ which affect the type of language we use in our writing. These are: the ideational, interpersonal and textual. This language, which aids our writing, is shared with both children and teachers in our genre-booklets.

  • Ideational is interested in expressing a reality or topic (whatever it may be).
  • Interpersonal is about negotiating this topic with others.
  • Textual is about how to best manage and present this information.

How this language impacts a text is through what Halliday terms ‘register’. These are called: field, tenor and mode and relate closely to the above metafunctions. Each genre has its own register which encompasses the field, tenor and mode. These can be seen and understood in every one of our genre-booklets in simple terms.

  • Field is about sharing the type of activity children will be engaging in within their chosen genre. The ‘what is going on’.
  • Tenor is about sharing, with children, their role as the writer and their possible obligations to their readership.
  • Mode is about how best to share their information in terms of structure and organisation.

Children ‘are generally more conscious of the meanings associated with register and genre, once you point them out, [more so than] grammatical meanings’ (Martin, 2010, p.24). We take a top-down perspective on writing, starting with the social functions of texts. So before any of the specifics involving register are discussed with children, the purpose of the genre is communicated and discussed. This helps them better understand the reason for such a type of writing and its potential impacts. Through ‘boxing-up’, a genre-process made available to children by Corbett & Strong (2011), children can see the stages of a specific genre. These are made available to the children in all our genre-booklets. The idea is that children understand that they cannot achieve the purpose of their text ‘all at once’ (Martin, 2009, p.12) but have to move through stages and by the end the process, the text will more or less be where they want it to be.

Here is a summary of how the booklets are organised:

  • Genre – The purpose of the goal-orientated writing.
  • Field – Involves people doing things with their lives and sharing it.
  • Tenor – How to interact with the people you are sharing the writing with.
  • Mode – Making use of ways to channel your writing. (Martin, 2010, p.28)
  • At least one exemplar text of the register features in action
  • A ‘Boxing-Up’ planning sheet, showing the stages the genre goes through.

We have created these booklets to help children negotiate genres that are ‘immensely complex and involve [potentially] thousands of options in multiple systems’ (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.1). Our genre-booklets allow teachers and children to talk ‘holistically about the social purposes of [different] texts and the ways in which different [texts can be used and even manipulated] to achieve their goals’ (Martin, 2009, p.12). We share with them the ‘semantic patterns which can be found in texts’ of a certain genre (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.2)

Genre-booklets and Genre-Study itself prepare children for: ‘learning across the curriculum’, the writing they will be expected to do in specialised subjects in secondary school and perhaps most critically the ‘various community genres they [will] encounter’ in their lives (Martin, 2009, p.11).

We believe that our genre-booklets provide teachers with knowledge about genres that is ‘relatively easy to bring to consciousness’ and does not ‘demand a costly induction’ (Martin, 2009, p.12).

Here Is A List Of Our Current Genre-Booklets:

  • Narrative writing
    • How to write a memoir (recount)
      • How to write a match report
    • How to write a short story
      • How to write a vivid setting
      • How to write an interesting character
      • How to write a memorable and vivid story (advanced)
    • How to write a newspaper article
      • How to write advocacy journalism
  • Non-fiction writing
    • How to write an information text
    • How to write a book review
    • How to write instructions
    • How to write rules
    • How to write an explanation
    • How to write a biography
    • Letter to the editor: responding to a newspaper article.
    • How to write a letter of compliant
    • How to write persuasively
      • How to write a persuasive letter
      • How to write a persuasive leaflet and advert
    • How to write a discussion text
  • How to write a free-verse poem

Book review has a particular important role in bridging reading comprehension to writing because the purpose of a book review is to ‘interpret the message of a literary work and respond to its cultural values’ (Coffin, 2006, p.7). This develops children’s skills in reading for meaning.

How To Use The Genre Booklets

Traditional approaches assume that language must be taught as it is described in school grammars, as a set of decontextualized systems’ but the crucial skills that children actually need are to be able to recognise language patterns ‘at each level as they read real texts’, to discuss its function in relation to the genre’s goals, and to then use these language patterns (or grammar) flexibly and legitimately in their own writing (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.4).

As a result, after exposing children to the genre and its register and engaging in discussion of it, you have reached the point in the children’s apprenticeship that they are likely to understand ‘the basic staging structure of [a] genre’ (Martin, 2009, p.14). At this stage, they can either look at the exemplar texts formally and see how the genre is successful as a result of the register features or formally identify any grammar or language patterns from their Functional Grammar Lessons (see here for more info) or you can allow the children to apply the genre for themselves, for legitimate and productive reasons.

In this way children can use our Genre-Booklets to do the following:

  • Focus on developing their identification skills of both genre and grammar features.
  • See how certain register features make the exemplar text successful
  • Practice using the register features for themselves in a purposeful way.

To be used most successfully by children, these Genre-Booklets should be used as part of our writing approach we are calling Real-Word Literacy. For more details on this approach you can click here.

Reading Like A Writer: The Use Of Exemplars

According to Frank Smith, ‘writing requires an enormous fund of specialised knowledge that cannot possibly be acquired from lectures, drill or even from the exercise of writing itself.’ He goes on to say that ‘much more is required to become a competent and adaptable author of letters, reports, journals, poems or pieces of fiction’. ‘To learn how to write for newspapers you must read newspapers; to write poetry, read it’ (Smith, 1988, p.17-20)

We provide contextualised exemplar texts which make ‘the ground rules [of a genre] visible’. This makes clear to children ‘what the genre requires’ so that they can plan and organise their piece ‘under suitable headings’ (Coffin, 2006, p.13). Exemplars are part of our genre-booklets because we adopt a top-bottom approach to genre-study. We follow ‘the course of natural language learning, in which new language features are encountered in meaningful contexts.’ These exemplars allow children, whether formally or informally, to learn from and discuss a high-quality contextualised example (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.2). Frank Smith (1982, p.201) sums it up beautifully, when he states: ‘the environment in which a child will want to write is an environment of demonstrations, not just of ‘this is the way we do things’ but also ‘these are things that can be done’.

Our Genre-Booklets can also be used as part of giving children pupil-conferences. Teachers can use our booklets as a way to provide guiding questions that can extend children’s text while they are writing it. It’s our opinion that teachers play an important supportive and guiding role in interaction with children. If done intelligently, pupil-conferences can enable children to accomplish more as a result of interaction than they would have been able to on their own (Martin & Rose, p.5). For more information on how to conduct pupil-conferences to improve children’s writing outcomes, see here.

The concept of pupil-conferences is ‘at odds with traditional language teaching methods, in which teachers may demonstrate language features as they show them on a [whiteboard]. Students will often then perform exercises using these features, and teachers evaluate their performance. These methods provide relatively little scaffolding support, leaving a gap between the teacher demonstration and the child’s writing (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.7). Children are often left to bridge this gap on their own. With our Genre-Booklets however, children have a scaffold constantly available to them and this can be further supplemented through the pupil-conferencing we have mentioned.

The use of genre-booklets has resulted in some changes to Martin’s (1999, p.131) Teaching & Learning Model.

teaching-learning-cycle-300x300A Genre-Booklet’s description of field, tenor and mode, its exemplars and using them in genre-study sessions are all an aid for Martin’s ‘deconstruction stage’. The reinvention of this model is in combining the joint construction and individual construction phases. Through process-writing, children can engage in pupil-conferencing about their writing in real time, whilst they are producing their text in the independent phase. During pupil-conferencing, the teacher becomes a scaffold; ‘informer, guide and negotiator. Producing carefully thought out questions and comments that guide the students into constructing an appropriate text’ Coffin, 2006, p.13).

The Genre-Booklets, with their ‘boxing up’ of the stages a genre goes through, will also allow children to move between the joint construction and independent construction stage by themselves. They can refer back to the booklet whenever they feel they need to. This reorganisation makes literacy lessons more efficient, giving children more time to practice the craft of writing through process-writing. Process-writing allows children to ‘revise and re-write their texts according to consultations and advice’, edit their pieces and publish for a wider audience (Coffin, 2006, p.14). To read more on pupil-conferencing go here, for process-writing, go here.

How To Use Genre-Booklets In The Foundation Subjects

Because we believe that process-writing is the best means for children to explore writing and the subjects they care about, so it should be the case for children to use process-writing in the foundation subjects to share the things they have learnt or already know about in a multitude of different ways. But to allow children to write in a multitude of ways they need to be exposed to and understand the different genres which are commonly used to express our meaning in subjects like science, history amongst others. For example, ‘observations and experiments play a major role in school science and this affects the kinds of writing children are expected to undertake’ (Coffin, 2006, p.2). In history, children have to sequence past events and often account for the significance of these events too. ‘School subjects each have their own specialised language’ and we believe that ‘academic disciplines should be re-contextualised’ within school subjects with the help from subject specific genre-booklets (Coffin, 2006, p.2). This is because they are different to the genres written in everyday life. Teachers often complain that their students’ writing in the foundation subjects is not as good as their writing in English. This is because ‘students have not developed control of the kinds of text and linguistics structures that serve the specific purposes’ of the foundation subject areas (Coffin, 2006, p.4). We ourselves are early into this exploration but the potential seems boundless. At present we provide genre-booklets for the following:

  • Science
    • Scientific enquiry report
    • How to explain a piece of science (identification of phenomena, factors of importance (implications, consequences)
    • How to debate a scientific idea (thesis, arguments)(issue, arguments, conclusion)
  • History
    • Recounting the past (public history)
    • How to debate the past
    • How to account for the past
    • How to write a historical biography
  • Geography
    • How to explain a geographical issue
    • How to persuade and discuss a geographic issue

You will have noticed that ‘some of these genres are common to all subject areas’. ‘However it is important to be aware that despite the commonality of some of the texts, aspects of language will often be quite distinct’ (Coffin, 2006, p.9).

It’s our belief that these subject specific genre-booklets could not only ‘improve language work in [foundation subjects]’, where it is currently ‘given little status’ by children, but also improve children’s understanding of what people in the foundation subjects actually do and why they do it (Creese, 2005, p.188). This is because they get to understand the genres these people use and the reasons why they engage in them. ‘Texts [can] become transformed as teachers and children attempt to meet both sets of aims’, that of understanding the foundation subject and learning to write to meet its needs (Creese, 2005, p.188). Creese (2005, p.189) believes that ‘educational success will come as a result of students learning the subject curriculum and associated language skills and literacies simultaneously’. This is what our genre-booklets look to help achieve. Our Real Word Literacy approach along with the use of genre-booklets aims to ‘eliminate the artificial separation between language instruction and subject matter classes which exist’ in most foundation subject topics. Through Real-Word Literacy, teachers will no longer have to ‘carry the linguistic burden of [their] class’ (Creese, 2005, p.191). For more information on our Real World Literacy approach, go here.

In terms of history, could it be that children are exposed to some recounts of the past by the teacher and they are then allowed to decide how they would like to interpret these recounts? Could it be possible that after this subject knowledge has been negotiated between the teacher and the class, the class could be free to choose a historical genre in which to stamp their own perspective on the recounts? Could they be allowed to choose whether they wish to account for or debate the evidence? Could these finished pieces find their way into the class book-stock for others to read and could this lead to further research and debate by the children? Would this not result in children not only learning the disciplines of being a historian but also improve their literacy at the same time? The freedom that is now allowed as a result of the revised National Curriculum (2013) would suggest so.

It is clear that, ‘if students are to make sense of, and survive, secondary school’ and discover what they would like to do as part of their working life, ‘they will need to learn how to access and use the specialised genres and language that construct the different curriculum areas’ (Coffin, 2006, p.11)

Why Were Genre-Booklets Made?

We believe ‘bottom-up teaching programs assume a theory of learning, that language is learnt by studying and remembering lower level components of the language system, before applying them in writing’ (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.3). Skills like ‘recognising, interpreting and using written language patterns from texts are less often taught explicitly in bottom-up teaching programs’ and so these skills often have to be acquired by luck by the most successful students who are already most experienced at reading and writing texts but for those who are less experienced, they are unlikely to learn and apply these skills (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.3). The traditional approach to literacy teaching simply follows other academic traditions, in which the content of the subject (especially grammar) is separated out and given to students in the form of exercises to practice. Children’s memory of these features of our language system are then tested.

Our approach, particularly towards grammar teaching, but also in terms of genre comprehension and writing, believes that these features are best learnt as they are repeatedly experienced in contextualised writing. Children are best served in doing this through learning about and engaging in process-writing. To read more about our approach to ‘Process Writing’ go here.

We believe that genre-study opens up the possibility for teachers to allow their children to write through the act of process-writing because genre-study addresses the main criticism of process writing, that without genre knowledge, children will write in a ‘very narrow range of writing’ (Martin, 2009, p.11). Process writing allows children to write every day. It also shows children that knowledge about language is not useless or harmful to their writing but they can use it to harness and share the things they want to say and they can be successful in doing so. This point needs to be emphasised, because genres are a model for language and social context. It means children will naturally engage in certain types of grammar and language use. As a result, ‘it provides a natural context for learning [many of the word, sentence and tense level] structures and other organisational structures’ (Martin, 2009, p.18) insisted on by The National Curriculum (2013).

Additionally, since both the genre is stable and made explicit to children it allows them ‘considerable freedom in determining just how they are to realise’ their piece of writing (Martin, 2010, p.27). The register is distributed over a whole text and so children only have a few local constraints to abide by. ‘This does not mean that register and genre can be ignored. They cannot’ (Martin, 2010, p.27). The children have to use ‘enough signals of register’ from the booklet to ensure their reader can see where they are coming from. The point we are making here is that our booklets are not a ‘mechanical formulae, which stand in the way of a child’s creativity or self-expression’ (Martin, 2010, p.27). It is true to say that ‘you can’t write if you don’t control the appropriate register’ [of a genre], unfortunately, control of these systems is something that educators too often take for granted’ (Martin, 2010, p.27).

Finally then, it allows children the freedom and support to ‘move from one genre to another without having to take too much on board’ or remember back to a previous year’s teaching (Martin, 2009, p.15). The booklets create a zone of proximal development to support teachers and scaffold children’s need to ‘develop their literacy repertoire’ (Martin, 2009, p.15).

The only reason process-writing fails in schools is because organisers have not ‘clearly articulated [a] model of the relations between’ genre, grammar and contexts (Martin & Rose, 2007, p4). Our Real-World Literacy pedagogy does this.

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To read about our Real World Literacy pedagogy, go here.

If you’d like to see view all of our Genre-Booklets you are welcome to contact us at literacyforpleasure@gmail.com 

They are also available for purchase through our TES shop here. However, if you get in touch through our email, we can provide them at a far cheaper price.

For more updates and resources, please follow us by pressing the follow button at the top right-hand side of this webpage. Alternatively, you may want to follow and contact us through twitter at @Lit4pleasure

References:

  • Coffin, C. (2006) Mapping subject-specific literacies In NALDIC Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 13–26.
  • Corbett, P., Strong, J., (2011) Talk For Writing Across The Curriculum. Maidenhead: Open University Press
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