LINGUIST List 23.4751

Wed Nov 14 2012

Review: Applied Ling; Language Acquisition: Rose & Martin (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 14-Nov-2012
From: Jonathan Clenton <>
Subject: Learning to Write, Reading to Learn
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AUTHOR: David Rose and JR MartinTITLE: Learning to Write, Reading to LearnSUBTITLE: Genre, Knowledge and Pedagogy in the Sydney SchoolSERIES TITLE: Equinox Textbooks and Surveys in LinguisticsPUBLISHER: EquinoxYEAR: 2012

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


This book is intended for educational researchers and practitioners. It coversliteracy theories (genre-based approaches to teaching writing) developed by the‘Sydney School’ over the past three decades. The volume begins with the socialand educational contexts in which the Sydney School project began, and thenoutlines the three broad phases the project has gone through, namely: the‘Writing Project and Language and Social Project’ (during the 1980s), the ‘Writeit Project’ (during the 1990s, relating to genres students are expected to readand write across secondary school curricula), and the ‘Reading to Learn’ project(during the 2000s, which was conducted to design methodology necessary tointegrate reading and writing with learning in schools). Two threads runthroughout the volume: one relates to ‘Knowledge about Language’ which impliesthat effective teaching provides learners with explicit knowledge about thelanguage in which a curriculum is written and negotiated in classrooms; theother thread relates to ‘Knowledge about Pedagogy’ accumulated throughout theproject.

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

Their first ‘Writing Project’ came about because of a 1979 Language in Educationconference, and was designed to build a classification of the kinds of writingproduced by primary school age students (aged between five and twelve).Influenced by so-called ‘progressive education’, (constructivist) educatorsadopted non-authoritative roles in order to develop supportive nurturingclassroom environments for literacy development and the researchers set aboutexploring what they found in such classrooms. Models were then developed inorder to help teachers plan and deliver classes and to, then, help evaluatestudent progress. The goal in devising the models was to make the teaching oflanguage explicit and to, therefore, develop teacher and student ‘Knowledgeabout Language’ (KAL). A key element in the design of the models was thedevelopment of descriptions (and their subsequent staging) of what the authorsconsidered to be the key genres students needed to master by the end of primaryschool (i.e. discussion, report, explanation, and so on). In the development ofKAL the authors adopted the fundamental principle that successful languagelearning depends on guidance through interaction within the context of sharedexperience, leading, subsequently, to curricula development for primary schoolstudents and educators.

The second Sydney School ‘Write to Right’ project, in the 1990s, led toclassification of reading and writing genres for secondary school students. Theresearchers developed a taxonomy which organised and named the genresexplicitly, bringing them to consciousness and considered as a first andnecessary step in being able to teach them. Their taxonomy organises textsprimarily into three broad classifications according to whether they engage,inform or evaluate. The authors note that while any text has multiple purposesit is their primary purpose that shapes its staging and the family of genres itbelongs to. Their taxonomy further divides the three broad genre families(engaging, informing, and evaluating). By way of an example, informing genresare 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 the2000s, led to the classification of reading and writing genres across all levelsof school and beyond (although designed initially to meet the needs of theIndigenous school students from remote communities in central Australia). Muchof the description of the 'Reading to Learn' program is presented in context inview of the authors’ attempts to make the methodology more functional (ratherthan theoretical). They develop theory and practice in dialogue with each otherand include different teaching strategies, sequencing of strategies (e.g. fromthe level of social context through patterns of meaning in whole texts, etc.),variations in strategies according to genre and field being explored ordevelopmental sequence, and the design of learning activities or classroomactivities necessary to engage students equally to overcome inequalities.

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

In their penultimate chapter the authors outline the thread of ‘Knowledge aboutLanguage’ (KAL) which runs throughout the book. Designed to build upmetalanguage teachers might use in order to analyse texts, KAL is necessary toplan and teach lessons, to assess student progress, and to examine in detail thesequence 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 withwhich learners might master it, in terms of the different stages children gothrough during their education. The chapter serves to provide a systematic setof tools arguably necessary to interpret learning interactions. The authorssuggest that the tools might provide educational researchers with a means toinform interpretations which appear, currently, to be mere ‘commentaries’ asopposed to rigorous analyses. For teachers, as a means to consciouslyre-evaluate dialogue in order to more effectively reach all students, Rose andMartin suggest that the tools provide a rigorous approach for teacher trainingbeyond ‘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 aboutPedagogy’ accumulated throughout the Sydney School research project andthroughout the volume. They reassert the need for educators to focus on‘guidance through interaction’ with the aim of empowering otherwisedisenfranchised groups. The approach they propose requires the design ofteaching activities to provide all students, through guided joint practice, withthe skills needed for success, and which can be integrated with curriculumteaching at all levels of school; they suggest, over time, that repeated jointpractice reduces inequality between students. Rose and Martin claim suchrepeated joint practice stems from complex lesson planning which, in turn,serves to provide meticulous guidance necessary for students to comprehend anduse language effectively. Accordingly, they suggest, each phase of training/learning revisits practice through guided repetition, enabling students to applytheir growing competence to new texts, and enabling teachers to engage newstrategies and learning systems. As such, Rose and Martin suggest that genrepedagogy effectively embraces each member of the learning community, andprovides students with access to resources necessary to participate more equally.


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

Their text is very clearly written, in accessible language, and providesdetailed explanations outlining suggested approaches practiced within theirSydney school. The volume provides a useful reference for the processes theresearchers went through in the development of ‘genre pedagogy’ within thespecific learning context of Australian classrooms. In this particular respect,it might be revealing for subsequent research to determine how well theirproposed methodologies and practices might be applied to a variety of differentlearning cultures beyond the immediate context of Australia. The Australianlearning context they present, however, appears to suggest that their approaches(and successes) might easily be replicated elsewhere around the world (withinlearning 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 referencefor how to instantly apply ‘genre pedagogy’ per se. The appeal of the book restsin the proposed shifts in focus, rather than providing specific examples of howone should approach a particular learning environment. One example of this isthe need for rigorous teacher training specific to particular learningenvironments as opposed to reliance on generic approaches such as, for instance,‘learning centred’ teaching. Alternatively, and by way of an additionalexample, the authors propose the repeated training of students to such an extentthat inequality is reduced and the opportunity for success is increased. Inshort, the book might appeal most to those involved in educational or curriculumplanning, and who have the means to effect policy change, rather than for thoseworking 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.

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