Exploring with Grammar in the Primary Years: Learning about Language in the Australian Curriculum: English

Exley, Beryl, Kervin, Lisa, & Mantei, Jessica (2015) Exploring with Grammar in the Primary Years: Learning about Language in the Australian Curriculum: English. Australian Literacy Educators' Association, Norwood, SA.

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This new volume, Exploring with Grammar in the Primary Years (Exley, Kevin & Mantei, 2014), follows on from Playing with Grammar in the Early Years (Exley & Kervin, 2013). We extend our thanks to the ALEA membership for their take up of the first volume and the vibrant conversations around our first attempt at developing a pedagogy for the teaching of grammar in the early years. Your engagement at locally held ALEA events has motivated us to complete this second volume and reassert our interest in the pursuit of socially-just outcomes in the primary years. As noted in Exley and Kervin (2013), we believe that mastering a range of literacy competences includes not only the technical skills for learning, but also the resources for viewing and constructing the world (Freire and Macdeo, 1987). Rather than seeing knowledge about language as the accumulation of technical skills alone, the viewpoint to which we subscribe treats knowledge about language as a dialectic that evolves from, is situated in, and contributes to active participation within a social arena (Halliday, 1978).

We acknowledge that to explore is to engage in processes of discovery as we look closely and examine the opportunities before us. As such, we draw on Janks’ (2000; 2014) critical literacy theory to underpin many of the learning experiences in this text. Janks (2000) argues that effective participation in society requires knowledge about how the power of language promotes views, beliefs and values of certain groups to the exclusion of others. Powerful language users can identify not only how readers are positioned by these views, but also the ways these views are conveyed through the design of the text, that is, the combination of vocabulary, syntax, image, movement and sound. Similarly, powerful designers of texts can make careful modal choices in written and visual design to promote certain perspectives that position readers and viewers in new ways to consider more diverse points of view. As the title of our text suggests, our activities are designed to support learners in exploring the design of texts to achieve certain purposes and to consider the potential for the sharing of their own views through text production.

In Exploring with Grammar in the Primary Years, we focus on the Year 3 to Year 6 grouping in line with the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (hereafter ACARA) advice on the ‘nature of learners’ (ACARA, 2014). Our goal in this publication is to provide a range of highly practical strategies for scaffolding students’ learning through some of the Content Descriptions from the Australian Curriculum: English Version 7.2, hereafter AC:E (ACARA, 2014). We continue to express our belief in the power of using whole texts from a range of authentic sources including high quality children’s literature, the internet, and examples of community-based texts to expose students to the richness of language. Taking time to look at language patterns within actual texts is a pathway to ‘…capture interest, stir the imagination and absorb the [child]’ into the world of language and literacy (Saxby, 1993, p. 55). It is our intention to be more overt this time and send a stronger message that our learning experiences are simply ‘sample’ activities rather than a teachers’ workbook or a program of study to be followed. We’re hoping that teachers and students will continue to explore their bookshelves, the internet and their community for texts that provide powerful opportunities to engage with language-based learning experiences.

In the following three sections, we have tried to remain faithful to our interpretation of the AC:E Content Descriptions without giving an exhaustive explanation of the grammatical terms. This recently released curriculum offers a new theoretical approach to building students’ knowledge about language. The AC:E uses selected traditional terms through an approach developed in systemic functional linguistics (see Halliday and Matthiessen, 2004) to highlight the dynamic forms and functions of multimodal language in texts. For example, the following statement, taken from the ‘Language: Knowing about the English language’ strand states:

English uses standard grammatical terminology within a contextual framework, in which language choices are seen to vary according to the topics at hand, the nature and proximity of the relationships between the language users, and the modalities or channels of communication available (ACARA, 2014).

Put simply, traditional grammar terms are used within a functional framework made up of field, tenor, and mode. An understanding of genre is noted with the reference to a ‘contextual framework’. The ‘topics at hand’ concern the field or subject matter of the text. The ‘relationships between the language users’ is a description of tenor. There is reference to ‘modalities’, such as spoken, written or visual text. We posit that this innovative approach is necessary for working with contemporary multimodal and cross-cultural texts (see Exley & Mills, 2012).

Other excellent tomes, such as Derewianka (2011), Humphrey, Droga and Feez (2012), and Rossbridge and Rushton (2011) provide more comprehensive explanations of this unique metalanguage, as does the AC:E Glossary. We’ve reproduced some of the AC:E Glossary at the end of this publication. We’ve also kept the same layout for our learning experiences, ensuring that our teacher notes are not only succinct but also prudent in their placement. Each learning experience is connected to a Content Description from the AC:E and contains an experience with an identified purpose, suggested resource text and a possible sequence for the experience that always commences with an orientation to text followed by an examination of a particular grammatical resource. Our plans allow for focused discussion, shared exploration and opportunities to revisit the same text for the purpose of enhancing meaning making. Some learning experiences finish with deconstruction of a stimulus text while others invite students to engage in the design of new texts. We encourage you to look for opportunities in your own classrooms to move from text deconstruction to text design. In this way, students can express not only their emerging grammatical understandings, but also the ways they might position readers or viewers through the creation of their own texts.

We expect that each of these learning experiences will vary in the time taken. Some may indeed take a couple if not a few teaching episodes to work through, especially if students are meeting a concept or a pedagogical strategy for the first time. We hope you use as much, or as little, of each experience as is needed for your students. We do not want the teaching of grammar to slip into a crisis of irrelevance or to be seen as a series of worksheet drills with finite answers. We firmly believe that strategies for effective deconstruction and design practice, however, have much portability.

We three are very keen to hear from teachers who are adopting and adapting these learning experiences in their classrooms. Please email us on b.exley@qut.edu.au, lkervin@uow.edu.au or jessicam@ouw.edu.au. We’d love to continue the conversation with you over time.

Beryl Exley, Lisa Kervin & Jessica Mantei

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ID Code: 83682
Item Type: Book
Additional URLs:
Keywords: grammar, primary years, critical language awareness, Australian Curriculum English, pedagogies, teaching activities, children's literature, visual literacy
ISBN: 9780977546848
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > EDUCATION (130000) > CURRICULUM AND PEDAGOGY (130200) > English and Literacy Curriculum and Pedagogy (excl. LOTE ESL and TESOL) (130204)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Children & Youth Research Centre
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Current > Schools > School of Early Childhood & Inclusive Education
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2015 Australian Literacy Educators' Association
Deposited On: 19 Apr 2015 22:36
Last Modified: 19 Apr 2016 14:48

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