Initiating and Sustaining Learning about Literacy and Language across the Curriculum within Secondary Schools

By Fenwick, Lisl | Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, October 2010 | Go to article overview

Initiating and Sustaining Learning about Literacy and Language across the Curriculum within Secondary Schools


Fenwick, Lisl, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy


Introduction

Success within secondary schooling depends partly on a student's capacity to understand and use the formal academic language requirements of specific subjects. Students from socio-economic and family backgrounds that support the language capacities relevant to academic learning contexts will generally be able to access the curriculum and succeed (Teese & Polesel, 2003, pp. 29, 109-110, 136, 166; Schleppegrell, Greer & Taylor, 2008; Macken & Slade, 1993, pp.209-210). Within secondary schooling, there is an emphasis on formal language and factual texts. In addition, each subject area contains certain kinds of texts and language that are favoured and valued (Wray, 2001; Goodwyn & Findlay, 2003). The texts and language that are emphasised within secondary schooling relate to ways of organising and expressing knowledge beyond schooling (Cope & Kalantzis, 1993, pp. 80-81; Christie, p. 155). For example, students within the history classroom learn how to present logical and reasoned extended arguments, using primary and secondary sources to substantiate opinions and conclusions. Within science subjects, students learn how to write about inquiry approaches and use the technical, formal and impersonal language valued within the scientific community. A subject about work skills usually provides students with advice on letters of application and curriculum vitae.

Despite the complex literacy demands of secondary schooling, most teachers working in this context in the United Kingdom would not routinely incorporate explicit literacy teaching into their lessons (Lewis & Wray, 1999; Lewis & Wray, 2000, p. 7). For the majority of teachers within Australia, literacy and language teaching has not been part of their education and many feel that they do not have the knowledge and skills required to teach literacy and language explicitly (Harper & Rennie, 2009; Hammond 2008; Hammond & Macken-Horarik, 2001). Often teachers assume that by the time students have reached secondary schooling they possess the knowledge and skills about literacy and language that are required to access the curriculum or students will acquire appropriate literacy practices without explicit teaching (Wyatt-Smith & Cumming, 2003).

The need for professional development in literacy and language for teachers has been identified within England and Australia. However, provision of professional development alone will not necessarily result in improved student outcomes. Louise Poulson and Elias Avramidis (2003) argue that the professional learning offered must be of a high quality and challenge the participants to try both new content and teaching strategies. In addition, the learning will only be sustained and applied within classrooms if there is ongoing support and opportunities for reflection within a collaborative culture.

The project begun at the high school in Adelaide in 2005 aimed to build the capacity of teachers to support student language and literacy development within the context of specific subjects. A student survey conducted in 2004 revealed that 45.4% of English as a Second Language (ESL) learners did not feel that they gained enough literacy support within mainstream classes. In 2005, 63% of the student population was identified as being from non-English speaking backgrounds. While the needs of ESL students had been identified, the literacy project that began in 2005 aimed to support all students in the school community to gain the literacy skills and understandings required to access the secondary curriculum successfully. The ESL Coordinator initiated the project and searched for a professional learning program that could help teachers and students to identify the literacy and language expectations of assessment tasks, as well as providing teachers with strategies to support student learning about the language and texts of specific discipline areas. The course Language and Literacy: Classroom applications of functional grammar met the needs of the school. …

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