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Review of  Learning to Write, Reading to Learn

Reviewer: Jon Clenton
Book Title: Learning to Write, Reading to Learn
Book Author: David Rose James R. Martin
Publisher: Equinox Publishing Ltd
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 23.4751

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AUTHOR: David Rose and JR Martin
TITLE: Learning to Write, Reading to Learn
SUBTITLE: Genre, Knowledge and Pedagogy in the Sydney School
SERIES TITLE: Equinox Textbooks and Surveys in Linguistics
YEAR: 2012

Jon Clenton, Faculty of Language and Culture, Osaka University, Japan


This book is intended for educational researchers and practitioners. It covers
literacy theories (genre-based approaches to teaching writing) developed by the
‘Sydney School’ over the past three decades. The volume begins with the social
and educational contexts in which the Sydney School project began, and then
outlines the three broad phases the project has gone through, namely: the
‘Writing Project and Language and Social Project’ (during the 1980s), the ‘Write
it Project’ (during the 1990s, relating to genres students are expected to read
and write across secondary school curricula), and the ‘Reading to Learn’ project
(during the 2000s, which was conducted to design methodology necessary to
integrate reading and writing with learning in schools). Two threads run
throughout the volume: one relates to ‘Knowledge about Language’ which implies
that effective teaching provides learners with explicit knowledge about the
language in which a curriculum is written and negotiated in classrooms; the
other thread relates to ‘Knowledge about Pedagogy’ accumulated throughout the

The volume outlines the work on genre-based literacy pedagogy developed in the
Sydney School. The pedagogy describes teaching strategies designed to guide
students to write within the genres expected throughout schooling, which the
authors describe as ‘genre pedagogy’. The authors’ intention is to build up a
model of how classroom language works, along with the related metalanguage used
for discussing it.

Their first ‘Writing Project’ came about because of a 1979 Language in Education
conference, and was designed to build a classification of the kinds of writing
produced by primary school age students (aged between five and twelve).
Influenced by so-called ‘progressive education’, (constructivist) educators
adopted non-authoritative roles in order to develop supportive nurturing
classroom environments for literacy development and the researchers set about
exploring what they found in such classrooms. Models were then developed in
order to help teachers plan and deliver classes and to, then, help evaluate
student progress. The goal in devising the models was to make the teaching of
language explicit and to, therefore, develop teacher and student ‘Knowledge
about Language’ (KAL). A key element in the design of the models was the
development of descriptions (and their subsequent staging) of what the authors
considered to be the key genres students needed to master by the end of primary
school (i.e. discussion, report, explanation, and so on). In the development of
KAL the authors adopted the fundamental principle that successful language
learning depends on guidance through interaction within the context of shared
experience, leading, subsequently, to curricula development for primary school
students and educators.

The second Sydney School ‘Write to Right’ project, in the 1990s, led to
classification of reading and writing genres for secondary school students. The
researchers developed a taxonomy which organised and named the genres
explicitly, bringing them to consciousness and considered as a first and
necessary step in being able to teach them. Their taxonomy organises texts
primarily into three broad classifications according to whether they engage,
inform or evaluate. The authors note that while any text has multiple purposes
it is their primary purpose that shapes its staging and the family of genres it
belongs to. Their taxonomy further divides the three broad genre families
(engaging, informing, and evaluating). By way of an example, informing genres
are further classified into five classifications including texts that report,
which are then classified according to whether they are descriptive,
classifying, or compositional reports.

The third genre pedagogy, the 'Reading to Learn' project, developed in the
2000s, led to the classification of reading and writing genres across all levels
of school and beyond (although designed initially to meet the needs of the
Indigenous school students from remote communities in central Australia). Much
of the description of the 'Reading to Learn' program is presented in context in
view of the authors’ attempts to make the methodology more functional (rather
than theoretical). They develop theory and practice in dialogue with each other
and include different teaching strategies, sequencing of strategies (e.g. from
the level of social context through patterns of meaning in whole texts, etc.),
variations in strategies according to genre and field being explored or
developmental sequence, and the design of learning activities or classroom
activities necessary to engage students equally to overcome inequalities.

Having outlined their three key stages of development, Rose and Martin then
address two key threads running throughout the book. The first of these threads
relates to ‘Knowledge about Language’ (outlined in chapter five). The second of
these threads relates to ‘Knowledge about Pedagogy’ and this is outlined in the
sixth, final chapter.

In their penultimate chapter the authors outline the thread of ‘Knowledge about
Language’ (KAL) which runs throughout the book. Designed to build up
metalanguage teachers might use in order to analyse texts, KAL is necessary to
plan and teach lessons, to assess student progress, and to examine in detail the
sequence and steps that can be followed in teacher education and in classrooms.
The authors examine the sequences in which KAL is introduced and the ease with
which learners might master it, in terms of the different stages children go
through during their education. The chapter serves to provide a systematic set
of tools arguably necessary to interpret learning interactions. The authors
suggest that the tools might provide educational researchers with a means to
inform interpretations which appear, currently, to be mere ‘commentaries’ as
opposed to rigorous analyses. For teachers, as a means to consciously
re-evaluate dialogue in order to more effectively reach all students, Rose and
Martin suggest that the tools provide a rigorous approach for teacher training
beyond ‘ill-defined’ notions such as ‘teacher-centred/ learner-centred’ or
‘open/closed questioning’ as well as insights into teacher discourse.

In their final chapter Rose and Martin review the thread of ‘Knowledge about
Pedagogy’ accumulated throughout the Sydney School research project and
throughout the volume. They reassert the need for educators to focus on
‘guidance through interaction’ with the aim of empowering otherwise
disenfranchised groups. The approach they propose requires the design of
teaching activities to provide all students, through guided joint practice, with
the skills needed for success, and which can be integrated with curriculum
teaching at all levels of school; they suggest, over time, that repeated joint
practice reduces inequality between students. Rose and Martin claim such
repeated joint practice stems from complex lesson planning which, in turn,
serves to provide meticulous guidance necessary for students to comprehend and
use language effectively. Accordingly, they suggest, each phase of training/
learning revisits practice through guided repetition, enabling students to apply
their growing competence to new texts, and enabling teachers to engage new
strategies and learning systems. As such, Rose and Martin suggest that genre
pedagogy effectively embraces each member of the learning community, and
provides students with access to resources necessary to participate more equally.


Rose and Martin have clearly made a substantive contribution to the study of
genre (based) pedagogy. Their book represents the thirty years’ development of
their approach towards ‘genre pedagogy’ and Rose and Martin should be applauded
for presenting such cutting-edge research which has clear and immediate
relevance for the modern day multi-ethnic classroom.

Their text is very clearly written, in accessible language, and provides
detailed explanations outlining suggested approaches practiced within their
Sydney school. The volume provides a useful reference for the processes the
researchers went through in the development of ‘genre pedagogy’ within the
specific learning context of Australian classrooms. In this particular respect,
it might be revealing for subsequent research to determine how well their
proposed methodologies and practices might be applied to a variety of different
learning cultures beyond the immediate context of Australia. The Australian
learning context they present, however, appears to suggest that their approaches
(and successes) might easily be replicated elsewhere around the world (within
learning communities where there is a perceived lack of equality).

While the book is intended for practitioners, researchers, and students alike,
however, I do not think it ought to be considered as a quick and easy reference
for how to instantly apply ‘genre pedagogy’ per se. The appeal of the book rests
in the proposed shifts in focus, rather than providing specific examples of how
one should approach a particular learning environment. One example of this is
the need for rigorous teacher training specific to particular learning
environments as opposed to reliance on generic approaches such as, for instance,
‘learning centred’ teaching. Alternatively, and by way of an additional
example, the authors propose the repeated training of students to such an extent
that inequality is reduced and the opportunity for success is increased. In
short, the book might appeal most to those involved in educational or curriculum
planning, and who have the means to effect policy change, rather than for those
working at the coalface of teaching reading and writing.

Jon Clenton teaches English and language acquisition at Osaka University's Graduate School of Language and Culture, Japan. His current research focuses on developmental work on vocabulary testing.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781845531430
Pages: 368
Prices: U.K. £ 60

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781845531447
Pages: 368
Prices: U.K. £ 19.99