Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Using Halliday's Functional Grammar to Examine Early Years Worded Mathematics Texts

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Using Halliday's Functional Grammar to Examine Early Years Worded Mathematics Texts

Article excerpt


As a pre-service teacher undertaking an undergraduate Bachelor of Education degree at Queensland University of Technology, I was working with a Year 2 class during practicum in Term 4 of 2006. I observed many students struggle with worded maths texts, even students who were considered by their classroom teacher as being 'highly skilled' in maths explorations and in the 'reading and viewing' strand of the Queensland Studies Authority draft English: Years 1-10 Syllabus (QSA, 2005). The worded maths texts required them to make meaning from some sort of written recount about an everyday experience and answer a question that was essentially asking them to perform an addition, subtraction, division or multiplication operation. The worded maths texts also had accompanying visuals to assist the students (see Figure 1).


As detailed in Figure 1, an extension activity required the students to take a 'number story', that is a numerical formulation, and represent it as a recount of an everyday experience with a follow-on question that guided some sort of mathematical computation. A number of students in my class struggled to complete the first six tasks and even more were confounded by the second task. These students all attended an inner-city Education Queensland Primary School located within a middle class suburb. Some of these students would have been considered to be operating at Level One Learning Outcomes of the QSA (2005) draft English Syllabus, while most have transitioned to Level Two Learning Outcomes. Students typically complete Level One Learning Outcomes and commence Level Two Learning Outcomes half way through Year 2 (aged between 6 and 8 years). It is appropriate for students to take eighteen months to master all Level Two Learning Outcomes. Thus students may not complete Level Two Learning Outcomes until the end of Year 3. Seven-year-old Benjamin (pseudonym), who was considered by his teacher to be 'highly competent in maths' and would have been mapped onto Level Two English Syllabus (QSA, 2005) Learning Outcomes, offered the following oral response to the second task. This task required him to construct a recount of an everyday event and follow-on question for computation based on the numerical number story, 20-15.

Benjamin: You had 20 marbles and you shared 5 to each of your 4 friends and then 3 walked away and that person had 1 and the other friend had 5.

This paper is my subsequent reflection of this teaching/learning episode. During the summer of 2006 I undertook an undergraduate vacation research scholarship with Dr Beryl Exley, supplied by the Centre for Learning Innovation at Queensland University of Technology. I was interested in the development of literacies within disparate key learning areas. It was during this experience I met functional grammar for the first time. My reflection, as I present it here, does not delve into operational strategies or pedagogies which are based on systemic functional theory. It does not focus on the role and place of visual support for worded maths texts. Instead I raise questions about the grammatical demands of worded maths texts. More specifically I focus my attention on the six worded maths texts presented in Figure 1 above, and ask the following research questions:

* What mood types, clause structures, and cohesive devices are evident in the six worded maths texts?

* How do these mood types, clause structures, and cohesive devices compare with subject English learning outcomes for these Year Two students operating at Levels One and Two on the QSA (2005) draft English Syllabus?

* What implications might any discontinuity between the mood types, clause structure, and cohesive devices in subject maths and subject English have for teachers of maths?

From here, this paper is presented in three sections. The following section provides a review of relevant literature on the literacy demands of worded maths texts. …

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