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A Genre-Based Literacy Pedagogy

A Genre-Based Literacy Pedagogy

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07/29/2014

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(forthcoming, Oct 2007)
 English Language Teaching Journal
 
A Genre-Based Literacy Pedagogy: TeachingWriting to Low Proficiency EFL Students
Arthur Firkins
1
, Gail Forey
2
, and Sima Sengupta
2
 
1
TWGH’s Mr and Mrs Kwong Sik Kwan College, Hong Kong
 
2
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
 
Abstract
This paper describes a genre-based literacy pedagogy, which can be used with Englishlanguage learners. The pedagogy discussed involves a combination of two explicitteaching methodologies, a genre-based and activity-based pedagogical approach. Thepedagogy was introduced in anEnglish Club at a local Hong Kong school, as part of acollaborative research project
1
. In this paper, we discuss the approach used and presentexamples of the student’s work. The findings are particularly suitable for educationalcontexts where the students are low proficiency English as a foreign language (EFL)learner.
Keywords
: low proficiency, genre, EFL, activity-based, writing, learning disability.
Introduction
 Teaching low proficiency EFL students to write whole texts is often fraught withdifficulties (Cumming 1989). The student writer has to create a text that is bothrhetorically and linguistically appropriate. Often, the teaching of English to lowproficiency EFL students tends to be taught in a way that focuses at the sentence leveland these learners often have minimal, if any, awareness at the level of complete texts. Inorder to empower students with the consciousness to recognise textual and linguisticfeatures that are used to construct and shape whole texts, there has been a move towardsexplicit teaching of genres in many contexts. Australia has led the way by introducinggenre-based pedagogy in to the school system and other teaching environments (Christie1999; Macken-Horarik 2001; Rothery 1996). Genre-based pedagogy views language asan open dynamic system, where knowledge about language is taught in an explicitmanner; and genres (types of texts) are used as the starting point for modelling,deconstructing and understanding language (Martin, 1999). In this paper, we brieflydescribe the theory of genre-based pedagogy and combine this theory with a verypractical activity-based pedagogy. We discuss how these two approaches were adapted todevelop a contextually appropriate teaching plan and modified to suit the needs of EFLstudents who have a Learning Disability.1
 
(forthcoming, Oct 2007)
 English Language Teaching Journal
 
The teaching plan was developed around the introduction of two specific written genres –procedure and information report (see Macken-Horarik 2001: 21-23). First, we outlinethe activity/ genre-based approach that was applied to the teaching of writing proceduraltexts. Then we evaluate the approach and discuss how it was revised to provide studentswith the essential linguistic tools to scaffold their learning of information report genres.Our aim is to demonstrate how the conceptual level of the genre approach to teachingwriting could be effectively applied within a specific context. In addition, we illustratehow the genre approach could be supported through the incorporation of activity-basedtasks.The genre approach has been tried and tested in a number of different contexts, includingcontexts where children were identified as being disadvantaged (see Christie, 1999).However, very few studies discuss the practical details of how the model could beintroduced by a teacher in a low proficiency EFL context. In this paper, we attempt toshow that this approach is rich enough to be modified to suit low proficiency EFLlearners.
Background: Students with Learning Disabilities (LD)
 The pedagogy described was introduced to students with Learning Disabilities (LD).Learning Disability can be seen as a problem, which affects most areas of literacy.Students with LD typically produce writing samples that are shorter, less coherent andless refined. They have difficulty organising text, generating ideas and applying meta-cognitive skills (McAlister et al. 1999). These are the difficulties the students in our studyexperienced and were identified by English teachers at the school in initial interviews.Teachers frequently express similar concerns in relation to low proficiency L2 students(Cumming 1989; Sasaki and Hirose 1996). These difficulties compel the teacher to findways to reshape learning environments and instructional strategies. This is a difficult task for the English teacher, given the fundamental problems low proficiency students havedue to a lack of linguistic and rhetorical awareness.
Methodology
The study took place in a secondary college, which specialises in the education of students 11-18 years with LD (for more details see, Firkins, 2004). The research teamcomprised two English teachers from the school (one a native English speaker, who is aco-author of this article, the other a Hong Kong, Chinese English teacher), a ResearchAssociate (RA) and two Assistant Professors from a nearby university (also co-authors).Initial interviews were conducted with the principal, four English teachers and a focusgroup of eight parents, and writing was identified for the reasons given above as aparticular area of difficulty. The interviewees reported that students demonstratedconsistent difficulties with both the mechanics and organisation of writing. In additionthe interviewees reported that students obtained poorer results on writing tasks than theirpeers from the wider community in Hong Kong. Thus, the research team decided tofocus on strategies that would enhance the student’s English language writing.2
 
(forthcoming, Oct 2007)
 English Language Teaching Journal
 
All students were in the normal range of intelligence and met the definition of LearningDisability provided in D.S.M. IV (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Studentswere selected using the following criteria. Firstly, all students were diagnosed by aprofessional (usually a psychologist or paediatrician) as having a Learning Disability andwere thus placed in this special school. However, it should be noted, that we were notusing a deficit model of disability and limited information was available about the exactnature of each student’s Learning Disability was available from the school records.Secondly, all students demonstrated consistent low performance in English and Chineseas judged by the class teacher. Thirdly, no participating students had behaviour problemsor an intellectual disability, i.e. students with autism, dyslexia and other intellectualdisabilities were not included. Finally all participating students volunteered to take part.Due to the limitation on the number of participating students, students were selectedthrough file reviews and teacher recommendations.In total, thirty-two secondary students were selected from seventy students whoexpressed an interest in taking part in the project. The students who were not acceptedwere informed that they would have an opportunity to participate at a later date. Therewere two groups of eleven students in the first semester and one group of ten in thesecond semester. The students and the parents were provided with information (in bothEnglish and Chinese) about the project and the consent of the teachers, students and theparents of students involved were sought. Regular interviews with all parties, classroomobservations and close examination of documents such as teaching materials andstudents’ work provide the data for this paper.
The genre-based approach
Following the decision to focus on strategies to enhance student writing, the genre-basedapproach was selected as language was seen in context and was presented to the learnersas part of a complete text and not as unrelated sentences. The approach offered a teachingmethodology enabling teachers to present explicit instruction in a highly systematic andlogical manner, which were factors we believed would assist students with the cognitiveorganisation of information.A genre-based approach is based on a systemic functional theory of language developedby Halliday (1978, 1994), and elaborated by Martin (1992), Christie (1999) and Macken-Horarik (2001) among others. This model of teaching writing has been successful withstudents from disadvantaged backgrounds (Christie 1999; Macken-Horarik 2001; Rothery1996). The approach is based on a teaching-learning cycle where strategies such asmodelling texts and joint construction are promoted. The approach is based on “learningthrough guidance and interaction” (Painter 1986, cited in Macken-Horarik 2001:26). Thelearning-teaching cycle as shown in Figure 1, involves three stages:1.
 
Modelling a text2.
 
Joint construction of a text3.
 
Independent construction of a text3

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