Language is the fundamental resource or tool with which teachers and children work together in schools (Christie, 2005:2).
Students in primary and secondary school use language as a resource for learning. Students also use language to display what they have learned in order for their progress and achievement at school to be assessed. As students progress through the school years, in all areas of the curriculum, the language and literacy demands placed on them increase and this has implications for literacy and learning.
This book presents teachers with an approach for talking about language with students to help them expand the meanings they can make, in other words, to expand their language repertoire. The book encourages teachers to think about language as a system of resources used to make meanings in order to achieve social goals. If we think about language as a resource for making meaning, knowledge about language can be thought of as a 'toolkit' we can use to make our meanings increasingly effective. If teachers are able to share this toolkit with their students, they are equipping them with a powerful means for improving achievement at school, and in the long term, for enhancing social, cultural and vocational opportunities in all areas of their lives.
Chapter 1 presents the following basic principles of this approach to language.
• Language is organised according to its function.
• Language is a rich, multi-layered resource with an unlimited potential for meaning making.
• A text is language used to achieve a specific social purpose. It is a unit of meaning making.
• Grammar is the system of patterns and structures, a set of resources used to organise words into sentences that make the meanings in a text.
• There are many varieties of language use. The variety of language we use at any time is determined by the context in which it is being used.
These same principles inform the Australian Curriculum: English. In this book we consider how the language, literature and literacy strands of the Australian Curriculum: English can be interwoven effectively by using the knowledge about language toolkit to explore and enhance the interpretation and composition of texts across all curriculum areas.
The knowledge about language presented in this book aligns with, and draws on, material presented in A New Grammar Companion for Teachers
(Derewianka, 2011), referred to hereafter as ANGC, using this icon
This book complements ANGC by presenting exercises that apply knowledge about language in the context of authentic texts. Grammar summaries are provided as quick references to material introduced in ANGC. Throughout the book, in sections called 'In the classroom', connections are made to classroom applications of this knowledge, and to its relevance in the development of language, literature and literacy.
Knowledge about grammar
A central feature of the knowledge about language 'toolkit' is knowledge about grammar. Grammar refers to the language resources used to organise words into structural patterns that make the meanings in sentences. Just as carpenters, artists and dentists choose from their toolkits the particular combination of tools they need for each type of job, speakers and writers choose combinations of language resources from their grammar toolkit in order to interpret and compose meaningful sentences.
Sometimes grammar is thought of as a set of rules that must be followed exactly to produce 'correct' sentences. The application of this view to reading and writing has been described as producing 'nice bricks' but 'no plan' because it does not help students comprehend and compose texts designed to achieve specific and relevant purposes (Freebody, Maton & Martin, 2008:193). In contrast, the approach used in this book not only presents knowledge about the grammar resources used to organise word patterns and structures into sentences, but also knowledge about the rhetorical resources used to organise sentences into purposeful stretches of language, or whole texts.
The metaphor of a toolkit foregrounds the fact that knowledge about language in general, and knowledge about grammar in particular, is practical knowledge that helps us use language more effectively. Knowing how language works, however, can also be fascinating, engaging and intriguing. This aspect of learning about grammar resonates with the metaphors used by the Australian author Ursula Dubosarsky to describe grammar. She begins by writing that grammar is 'like a magic toy box – each time you reach into it, you pull out something completely different'. She continues her description of grammar with a different, but equally expressive, metaphor:
Think of yourself as an explorer, going deep into an underground cave. Trying to understand grammar is like shining a torch on the walls and the roof, lighting up all the wonderful colours and rocks and stalagmites and stalactites and underground streams and waterfalls and deep pools – and oops! Be careful you don't slip and fall! (Dubosarsky, 2010: 85–6)
Metaphors work to shift our view of phenomena and to re-energise our thinking. If, as you work through the book, you find yourself becoming excited by your study of grammar and you are able to share that excitement with your students, they too may come to associate knowledge about grammar with reaching for the treasures in a magic toy box or the excitement and challenge of shining a torch on the walls of an underground cave.
Organising knowledge about grammar according to function
Language enables us to get things done. In other words, language is functional. Knowledge about language, and about grammar in particular, enables us to use language with increasing effectiveness to achieve our goals. The description of the functions achieved by the different grammar patterns presented in this book draws on the work of Professor Michael Halliday (for example, Halliday and Matthiessen 2004). Halliday describes language resources in terms of the functions they are structured to achieve. He organises the many functions of language under general headings, which he calls metafunctions. These metafunctions can be thought of as the drawers of the toolkit. The metafunctions of language are:
• representing ideas about our experience of the world using experiential meanings
• connecting these ideas using logical meanings
• interacting with others and expressing attitudes and feelings to make interpersonal meanings
• creating well-organised, cohesive, and coherent spoken, written or multimodal texts using textual meanings.
The organisation of the language toolkit
The metafunctions emerge from the words we choose and the way we organise them in sentences, as well as in the way we structure each text to achieve its purpose.
The concept of metafunctions can be used to organise language, literature and literacy education. This is exemplified in the language strand of the Australian Curriculum: English where the metafunctions are used to organise the knowledge about grammar covered by the curriculum.
Exercise 1.1 Exploring language in the Australian Curriculum: English
Here are some of the content descriptions from the Language, Literature and Literacy strands of the Australian Curriculum: English. In the space beside each description of a language substrand, identify which metafunction the description addresses.
|Australian Curriculum: English language substrands ||Metafunction |
|1 ||Language for interaction e.g. examine how evaluative language can be varied to be more or less forceful (ACELA 1477, Year 3) || |
|2 ||Expressing and developing ideas e.g. understand that simple connections can be made between ideas by using a compound sentence with two or more clauses and coordinating conjunctions (ACELA 1467, Year 2) || |
|3 ||Text structure and organisation e.g. understand that the coherence of more complex texts relies on devices that signal text structure and guide readers, for example overviews, initial and concluding paragraphs and topic sentences, indexes or site maps or breadcrumb trails for online texts (ACELA 1763, Year 7) || |
|4 ||Expressing and developing ideas e.g. understand how adverbials (adverbs and prepositional phrases) work in different ways to provide circumstantial details about an activity (ACELA 1495, Year 4) || |
Language is a multi-layered resource
As well as describing language in terms of metafunctions, we can also describe language in terms of layers, each layer representing a different perspective on language.
• When we view language from the top down, we explore how whole texts are structured to achieve rhetorical purposes in a variety of contexts.
• When we view the middle layer of language, the layer of words and grammar, we explore how words are organised into grammatical patterns in clauses and sentences.
• When we view language from the bottom up, we explore the sounds of language, and the letters and letter combinations for writing down the sounds. The sounds and letters make the meanings real, that is, they make it possible for us to access the meanings using our senses, for example, hearing, sight, and perhaps even touch.
This book focuses on the layer of whole texts and the layer of clauses and sentences. When we study the layer of whole texts, we study how ideas in sentences are connected to compose whole texts. When we study the layer of clauses and sentences, we study the way words are...