Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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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 PUBLISHER: Equinox 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 project.
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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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.