Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Language Knowledge and Its Application: A Snapshot of Australian Teachers' Views

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Language Knowledge and Its Application: A Snapshot of Australian Teachers' Views

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Language strand of the Australian Curriculum: English (ACARA, 2012) provides stretch for English teachers in a number of directions in terms of their subject knowledge. The first stretch is in their understanding of 'the structures and functions of word and sentence-level grammar and text patterns and the connections between them' (Commonwealth of Australia, 2009, p. 7). This knowledge of grammar as it operates within and between levels of language is further enhanced by a knowledge of how grammatical choices function in a range of contexts. Beverley Derewianka, one of the architects of the AC:E, identifies the model of language underpinning it as 'a unifying model of language in context which (has the potential to) bring together form and function, operating seamlessly from the level of discourse down to the phoneme' (Derewianka, 2012, p. 129). Furthermore, the sub-strands of the Language strand are organised to present language as systems of resources for making meaning. '(t)he choices we make from the language system are constrained by certain features in the context: the social purpose (genre), the field (subject matter), the tenor (roles and relationships), and the mode (channel of communication)' (Derewianka, 2012, p. 139). Knowledge of both the multidimensional and multi-strata features of language may represent significant reach for some teachers.

The second stretch for teachers, in a digital literacies environment, is the expansion of the knowledge base of English to integrate understandings of verbal grammar with new understandings of multimodal texts. One of the content descriptors for Language at Year 5 for example is for students to be able to 'Explain sequences of images in print texts and compare these to the ways hyperlinked digital texts are organised, explaining their effect on viewers' interpretations' (ACELA1511). Do Australian teachers have a confident grasp of the metalanguage required for this and related tasks in English? The third stretch is the systematic building of knowledge, requiring teachers to map knowledge in English progressively across the years of schooling as they develop 'a view across time' (Freebody, 2007). This requires that teachers have necessary knowledge not just to teach the curriculum for their year level but also to understand learning expectations for students in earlier years and to anticipate those in later years of English.

The AC:E thus presumes strong subject knowledge, which, when mobilised confidently, empowers teachers with resources for exploring the often complex and multimodal texts of 21st century English in order to foster cumulative knowledge from Foundation to Year 10. However, the expanded knowledge base required may have stretched teachers beyond their comfort zones. Do teachers' understandings converge with those of the curriculum? How productively are teachers exploiting its affordances? How confident do they feel to implement its requirements? Overall, how are teachers engaging with the expanded demands of English and the increased scope for grammar within this?

This paper addresses these questions as it reports on findings from a national survey of English teachers conducted as part of a large-scale project funded by the Australian Research Council from 2011-2014 (DP110104309). Following three years of case study research with 27 teachers and their students, we developed and disseminated a survey to investigate their views relative to those of English teachers nationwide and across all years of teaching from Foundation to Year 12. The aim of the national, cross sectorial survey was to provide empirical evidence about how ready teachers are to plan for, teach and assess language, even with the 'scope and sequence' of language embedded in the AC:E. The paper documents trends observed in quantitative analysis of teachers' beliefs about what is important in teaching language; levels of confidence in their own knowledge about language and image; and challenges faced in implementing knowledge of language and image in teaching. …

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