Beyond content and literacy: Working, thinking and using language in the subject areas

Year: 2018

Author: Cruickshank, Ken, Sutherland, Louise, Brownlee, Patrick

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Despite the amount of recent work around language and literacy in the subject areas much of the research remains stuck in abstractions of language and static notions of disciplinary learning. Early ‘language across the curriculum’ focused on subject vocabulary and grammar; more recent genre/ text-type approaches rely on abstracted approximations of subject writing and ways of speaking. In both approaches, subject content remains unquestioned. More recently, Maton (2009, 2013, 2014, 2018) has explored knowledge structures and discourse practices in his work on Legitimation Code Theory.
This paper reports on a study of Science and English as an additional language involving teams of experienced teachers in seven low-SES secondary schools. The research question was ‘How do the knowledge, perceptions and pedagogical practices of secondary Science and EALD teachers develop from their participation in a targeted, subject-specific EALD program of professional learning and teacher school-based intervention informed by the professional learning?’ The study worked from a construct of Science learning as dynamic and negotiated with students working towards rich task outcomes and the language and literacy associated with these. Science and EALD teachers collaborated on two cycles of action enquiry teaching Year 8 classes with many EAL students. Teachers underwent four days of professional learning and then in-school planning with support from university Science and EALD researchers. The study took a design-based research approach: Data were collected from pre- and post-intervention teacher surveys, from recordings of teacher planning sessions, from informal teacher interviews and from the teacher action enquiry projects and presentations.
The findings show shifts in teacher ‘epistemic fluency’ (Markauskaite & Goodyear, 2014). The study was too short to make any judgements on improvements in student outcomes but the paper discusses possible impacts of teacher knowledge on these and ways to assess student outcomes in a longer study.