Narratives for Novices: Is There a Place for Edgy Texts in Edgy NAPLAN Communities?

By Exley, Beryl | Practically Primary, October 2010 | Go to article overview

Narratives for Novices: Is There a Place for Edgy Texts in Edgy NAPLAN Communities?


Exley, Beryl, Practically Primary


The genre of narratives has become the genre of choice in many classrooms since the introduction of NAPLAN into Australian schools. Yet, Knapp and Watkins (2005) argue that narratives are the least understood of all the genres. Despite widespread acceptance that narratives serve the social purpose of entertaining, they can also be more edgy, offering a powerful social or information role. This paper considers the effects of exposing novices to less standard realms of social discourse and disciplinary knowledge vis-a-vis a more clinical treatment focused on 'standard' narratives. I argue that we should not shy away from the challenges of edgy narratives just because our students are novice readers. The same holds true for our work in communities on the edge, that is where poverty, multiculturalism or multilingualism and systemic failure are the norm. I am part of an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant (LP 0990289) working in such a community. Like many such situations, teachers in these communities are caught in the fray of establishing a dialogue between the culture of federally mandated performance orientated reforms and the cultures and discourses of the lives and future needs of their students (see Exley & Singh, in press).

In contrast, Kress (1993, p. 18) has long advocated for genre pedagogy where 'students move backwards and forwards, through alternate processes of induction and deduction, between language and metalanguage, activity and received knowledge, experience and theory'. Yet very little has been written about social and information narratives for novice readers. This article explores these edgy narratives through the lens of systemic functional linguistics (Hallidy, 1985) with a focus on two popular early childhood texts: Piggybook, written and illustrated by Anthony Browne (1996), and My Place in Space, written by Robin and Sally Hirst and illustrated by Roland Harvey and Joe Levine (2008). Whilst this framework is often used to name the linguistic elements, its power inheres in the way it makes visible disparate textual functions in written and visual texts.

Piggybook, written and illustrated by Anthony Browne (1996)

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Like all of Anthony Browne's texts, Piggybook (Figure 1) is a sophisticated written and visual social commentary. Piggybook is a cautionary tale about Mr Piggott and his two sons who quite literally behave like pigs. A seemingly unemotional Mrs Piggott leaves the family home. Left to fend for themselves, the male Piggotts undergo some curious emotional and physical transformations. The pictures evidence particular details that are integral to the unfolding of the story. The everyday setting of the story allows the students to participate in rich discussions about the social order presented in the text and the students' disparate personal and vicarious experiences. I've presented these lesson suggestions elsewhere (Exley, 2006). What I want to focus on here is the structure of the written and visual text and the functions they serve.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

By way of example, the opening page of Piggybook is presented in Figure 2. The first two sentences can be compared according to the use of processes (happenings), participants (who or what) and circumstances (place, time, manner, reason or accompaniment). This analysis makes visible the social discourses of the written text.

Sentence One: Mr Piggott        Representations
lived with his two sons,
Simon and Patrick, in a
nice house with a nice
garden, and a nice car
in the nice garage.

Process = lived                 * a behavioural process

Participant = Mr Piggott        * a human participant
                                * specifically named as "Mister"
                                  which also denotes his social
                                  position
                                * Mr Piggott is an actor who gets to
                                  undertake a behavioural process

Circumstances = with his        * Mr Piggott is accompanied by his
two sons; Simon and               two sons
Patrick; in a nice house        * two sons have personalised names,
with a nice garden; and a         denoting their humanness
nice car in the nice garage. 

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Narratives for Novices: Is There a Place for Edgy Texts in Edgy NAPLAN Communities?
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