An inquiry into the development of critical text creators: Teaching grammar in the primary years

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Exley, Beryl E

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Willis, Linda-Dianne

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The inaugural Australian Curriculum: English (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], 2010a) included functional grammar as a necessity to account for the increasing number of multimodal texts with which students are engaging. As texts become increasingly multimodal, students continue to require critical literacy skills that allow for the analysis of these texts. Alongside changes in the curriculum, researchers raised concerns about teachers’ knowledge in functional grammar Love and Humphrey (2012); (Love et al., 2015). With limited support for the development of grammar pedagogy, educators have relied more on traditional approaches (Harper & Rennie, 2009; Snyder, 2008). Consequently, there is a need for research on functional grammar pedagogy that accounts for multimodal texts and critical literacy. A qualitative case study methodology with a teacher-researcher was used to investigate the overarching research question How can functional grammar develop students’ critical literacy when creating multimodal texts? This research explored the teaching and learning of functional grammar for critical literacy during multimodal text creation in the primary school. The research consisted of a sequence of twelve lessons, conducted in a Year 5 classroom in the Australian Capital Territory during Terms 3 and 4, 2020. Data were collected through audio and video recordings during the lessons, student work samples and semi-structured interviews following the sequence of lessons. Four students were selected as cases in this study. Student and classroom data were analysed using a Bernsteinian (2000) theorisation of pedagogy and Hallidayan (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014) theorisation of grammar. Bernstein’s (2000) theory of framing was adapted as an analytical tool to explore the selection, sequencing, pacing and criteria used within the sequence of lessons. Halliday’s (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014) functional grammar metalanguage was used to investigate the case study students’ exploration, creation and reflection of multimodal texts during the sequence of lessons. The findings demonstrated that the case study teacher wove across a range of pedagogical frames, moving from open inquiry to explicit instruction. Through these lessons, students engaged in critical literacy through a variety of functional grammar resources. Students enacted functional grammar knowledge in different ways to explore, create and reflect on multimodal texts. Use of functional grammar resources was not equal between the student cases, with some students using resources without evidence of reflection whereas others primarily explored texts using functional grammar resources. Findings reveal some students’ ability to engage with complex multimodal texts using functional grammar. Implications from this research highlight what is possible when a teacher has a high level of functional grammar knowledge for multimodal texts in primary classrooms.

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Thesis (Masters)

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Master of Education and Professional Studies Research (MEdProfStRes)


School Educ & Professional St

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functional grammar

systemic functional linguistics

multimodal texts

critical literacy




primary years

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