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Teaching knowledge about language and curriculum literacies in each key learning area



4.1.4 Teaching knowledge about language and curriculum literacies in each key learning area

Access for all students to literacy-focused teaching, or teaching that focuses explicitly on the language and literacy aspects of the curriculum in all key learning areas is essential for improving students’ literacy and learning outcomes. This requires more than simply using language, but ‘learning language, learning through language and learning about language’

(Christie 1985).

Literacy Focused Teaching in all Key Learning Areas

Teachers need to maximise classroom opportunities, in all key learning areas, for developing students’ knowledge about language and actively making language a focus for discussion, analysis and experimentation. This involves teaching about the ways language works to make meaning, particularly in written text, teaching a language for talking about text and language, teaching text structure and aspects of grammar and analysing the ways the

author’s linguistic choices shape particular meanings. Being more explicit in teaching about the ways language works to make meaning is an essential way of demystifying language and cracking the linguistic and social codes for students in the middle years so that they can develop control of these processes for themselves.

Students need to learn not only new forms of knowledge, but also the ways that these new forms of knowledge are demonstrated, or represented, in texts and language in the different subject disciplines. Therefore, students need to develop understanding of, and control over, the literacy demands and learning expectations associated with different disciplines or fields of knowledge. These are best learned at the same time as the new ‘content’ knowledge is being acquired and at the site where new learning is taking place.

The explosion of curriculum literacies associated with the specialised knowledge of key learning areas also explains why this is beyond the brief of the English teacher. In addition, differences in the literacy knowledge and skills required from one key learning area to another, and from one CSF or year level to another, highlight the need for literacy teaching to be meaningful and contextualised within the specific literacy demands and learning expectations of each key learning area. While Year 5 and 6 teachers and English key learning area teachers may take responsibility for developing foundational knowledge of language and literacy, it is essential that all teachers are teachers of not only the content and subject matter of their field but of the associated literacy demands and learning expectations.

Even though the curriculum in the primary school context may be less specialised, it is important that students in Years 5 and 6 are provided with opportunities to interact with a wide range of texts, and with opportunities for developing knowledge, skills and strategies for reading and writing factual texts independently. This includes developing critical literacy and a language for talking about the ways language and texts work to shape particular meanings and serve particular interests.

Models or Frameworks Informing Literacy Teaching

Using a model or framework to inform literacy teaching assists teachers to plan systematically for the development of curriculum literacies in key learning areas. The four resources model (Section 4.4.2) proposed by Luke and Freebody (1990) addresses the literacy resources or textual practices of the literate person. The model proposed in the professional development program Writing in the Subject Areas (Catholic Education Office, Melbourne & Directorate of School Education, 1994) focuses on preparing students for writing through building field knowledge and supporting students in developing knowledge of the specialised language and genres of different subject disciplines, through modelling and joint construction of text.

Aspects that might be included in literacy-focused teaching in all curriculum areas include the following:

•= text structure and associated linguistic and grammatical features in different text types or genres

•= paragraph organisation and structure

•= syntax or sentence structure

•= visual, spatial and linguistic elements of texts and the interaction between these elements

•= new literacies and texts associated with information and communications technologies

•= word knowledge, usage and specialised terminology.

Learning and assessment in all key learning areas need to provide opportunities for students to develop as readers, writers, listeners, speakers, viewers and critical thinkers, and to support students in transferring new knowledge and skills from one learning context to another.

For English as a Second Language (ESL) students, Indigenous students and students with specific learning disabilities, literacy-focused teaching needs to be informed by specific knowledge about the learner and about the literacy experiences, capabilities and needs the student brings to learning. Where students’ first language is not English, or where it may be a form of English other than standard Australian English, it must be recognised that students require opportunities to development language resources as a basis for developing literacy.

In schools with significant numbers of ESL students, professional development in literacy education needs to include a focus on differences between first and second or subsequent language learning, and strategies for supporting students in developing literacy in English, drawing on first language literacy as a resource.

Teachers require professional development and support in drawing on specific theoretical models and frameworks for literacy, and in becoming informed and critically eclectic in making choices from a repertoire of possible literacy approaches and strategies according to student needs and the learning context.

Research Snapshot #4.1.4

All case study schools were involved in providing literacy-focused teaching within the context of the curriculum literacies required by students to enhance literacy and learning outcomes. In many schools, a critical element in the success of teaching curriculum literacies was the fact that the teaching was delivered

‘at the site’ of the curriculum learning. In other words, teaching the report structure in Science could not have been separated from the teaching and learning of Science content taking place simultaneously in the Science class.

Two schools, School C and School L, trialed approaches which involved teaching explicitly about language, text and grammar. Significantly, both schools were secondary colleges with a high proportion of students from language backgrounds other than English, a percentage of whom were newly or recently arrived in Australia. These schools reported significant gains in students' understanding of the schematic structure of texts and of associated linguistic or grammatical features, evident in the development and use of a language for talking about language (metalanguage) and in improved student writing in the different key learning areas targeted.

In School C, the emphasis was to make teaching explicit and structured in order to scaffold students’

literacy development, to give them a sense of security and confidence in their ability to control language patterns and structures to achieve particular purposes, within meaningful learning contexts. An important

component of learning activity involved the manipulation of sentences by joining, editing, simplifying and rearranging, and on students verbalising their own understanding of grammatical concepts. The aim was to develop students’ metacognitive (or metalinguistic) awareness of language use, to enhance their analytical and reflective skills, and to support them in becoming more independent as learners

In School L, which had a significant history of previous staff professional development in literacy, the focus was on developing teacher and student knowledge about language, with particular emphasis on text structure and aspects of grammar. In this school, the majority of teachers of students in Year 7 were involved in developing and sharing their own knowledge about language as a basis for improving student

writing. After carrying out an audit of writing tasks across the key learning areas, teachers selected particular text types or genres to focus on in teaching within their curriculum area. Teachers used a teaching plan to address the particular writing demands of their key learning areas and to ensure that they focused not only on the content knowledge but also on the associated language and literacy aspects.

4.1.5 Defining clear roles, responsibilities and expectations in the teaching of