Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Peeling the PEEL: Integrating Language and Literacy in the Middle Years

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Peeling the PEEL: Integrating Language and Literacy in the Middle Years

Article excerpt


Nea Stewart-Dore led the way in Australia in challenging, encouraging and empowering all teachers to be literacy educators. The writers of this paper honour Nea by reporting on how middle years teachers have taken on the challenge of supporting their students' curriculum literacies through engaging in professional learning to expand their own knowledge. Tara, Head Teacher Teaching and Learning of Richmond High School, NSW, and her colleagues have worked closely over the past 18 months with academic partners, Sally and Tina from the Australian Catholic University, on a design based research project called a Metalanguage for Embedding Literacies in the Key Learning Areas (MELK). The stories we present in the paper begin with the challenges Tara and her colleagues experienced in supporting their students' literacies prior to the MELK project. Sally and Tina then share the professional learning resources used to address these challenges, including a shared literacy and language toolkit for core curriculum business and a text-based scaffolding pedagogy for integrating language, literacy and curriculum knowledge. Finally, Tara returns to discuss how she shared her knowledge with her Year 8 English class and to present findings of her students' growth in writing, growth which attests to her own ongoing commitment to professional learning and to the effectiveness of explicit and integrated language instruction.

Tara's story: Teachers' need for a metalanguage

As for many early career English teachers, the introduction of the Australian Curriculum and the subsequent NSW Syllabus has presented me with some major challenges and alerted me to significant gaps in my knowledge. I understand and accept that my core curriculum business includes enabling students 'to understand and use language effectively, appreciate, reflect on and enjoy the English language' (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2013), but the curriculum, with its emphasis on explicit knowledge about language as a resource for literacy development, has made me realise that the instruction about language I had received at school and university was limited. My colleagues in all faculties also recognise the need to expand their knowledge base to better support their students' curriculum literacies.

Prior to beginning the MELK project, teachers at Richmond High School had drawn on a range of resources to help our students use and expand their communicative repertoires. In supporting students to write extended persuasive and interpretative responses, for example, we used an acronym a number of us had learned at school as a guide to structure a paragraph. This is called PEEL:

* P (Point)

* E (Elaboration)

* E (Evidence)

* L (Link)

My knowledge of the PEEL structure has been valuable in helping students who struggle to develop their ideas in writing. Max (pseudonym), whose text is below, is an example of one of my Year 8 boys who was well able to expand his ideas in class discussion but tended to pump them all into one long-winded sentence in writing. Here for example, is his entire response to a question, 'Do you think National Parks are important?', which was provided to practise persuasive writing.

National parks aren't around just for the history they are also used for entertainment, their beauty or even their adventures that you can take while you are in one.

With explicit modelling of the PEEL paragraph structure and following extensive work exploring literary and film techniques, Max produced the following paragraph in an extended response to the question, 'How is the Hero's Journey represented in the final scene of Shrek?'

I have added highlighted annotations to show how Max has effectively used PEEL:

Camera angles have been used in this film, but are mostly used in the final scene (Point). Camera angles have given the characters more personality throughout the final scene (Elaboration). …

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