Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Knowledge about Language in the Australian Curriculum: English

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Knowledge about Language in the Australian Curriculum: English

Article excerpt

The Shape Paper (ACARA, 2009), that guided the development of The Australian Curriculum: English (ACARA, 2012), characterises English as a coherent body of disciplinary knowledge that students are to develop over the years from foundation through to senior secondary. Three key, interrelated elements are identified: an explicit knowledge about language, an informed appreciation of literature, and expanding repertoires of language use. Of these three, it is the Language Strand--and in particular the approach to grammar--that is arguably least understood. The aim of this paper is to clarify how a 'knowledge about language' is conceived in the English Curriculum and to discuss some of the issues raised by the introduction of the Language Strand in the national Curriculum. This paper also serves as an introduction to the Special Focus Issue in that it provides an overview of the functional approach to language taken up in the subsequent papers. In the absence of a background document from ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority), it is intended that this paper should provide a succinct, accessible account for teachers of the model underpinning the Curriculum.

In the 2009 Shape Paper (ACARA, 2009) the Language Strand was described as a coherent, dynamic, and evolving body of knowledge about the English language and how it works (p. 6). By specifying knowledge about language, the Curriculum is giving language itself a visibility that has often been lacking. Language is thus recognised as an integral part of our lives that is worthy of study in its own right. It is through language that we shape our thinking, create our identities, engage with others, experience the pleasure of good literature, analyse, critique and reason about the world.

The more elaborated Framing Paper (ACARA, 2008) that preceded the Shape Paper stressed the important role that language plays in learners' lives:

All students need to develop their understandings of how language functions to achieve a range of purposes that are critical to success in school. This includes reading, understanding, and writing texts that describe, narrate, analyse, explain, recount, argue, review, and so on. Such an approach aims to:

* extend students' language resources in ways that support increasingly complex learning throughout the school years;

* help students deal with the language demands of the various curriculum areas;

* enable students to move from the interactive spontaneity of oral language towards the denser, more crafted language of the written mode;

* help students, in their speaking and writing, to move to and fro between the general and the specific, the abstract and the concrete, and the argument and the evidence;

* raise students' awareness generally of interpersonal issues such as how to take and support a stand in an argument, how to express considered opinions, how to strengthen or soften statements, how to interact with a variety of audiences, and so on. (p. 10)

To capture the critical role of language envisaged in the Curriculum requires a rich, robust model of language that is powerful enough to deal with all the demands made upon it. These include:

* supporting students' learning from the early years through to late adolescence;

* strengthening language and literacy development across the curriculum;

* encompassing the basic skills as well as a focus on meaning;

* operating at the levels of word, sentence and text and being able to explain how these are interrelated;

* providing a basis for teaching and assessing oral interaction, reading, viewing and composing;

* providing explicit assistance for students with specific language needs (e.g. EAL, Indigenous);

* heightening the appreciation of literary texts;

* contributing to a critical analysis of discourse; and

* fostering in students a curiosity about how language works. …

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