Claire Acevedo on literacy via genre awareness

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Claire Acevedo on literacy via genre awareness -

Claire's presentation was a report on a Europe-wide project for accelerating literacy by making teachers and students more aware of the generic structure of texts. The scope of the talk was not confined to ELT, but education in the broader sense, and the idea of 'learning to read' and 'reading to learn'.

The project was based on work from Australia's Sydney School, with key figures such as Halliday and Martin, and a grounding in systemic functional linguistics. The work has progressed in three generations:

Generation 1 (1980s) - focusing on the writing skill, proposed the teaching cycle of

1. read a model text; 2. deconstruct it; 3. use this analysis to collectively construct a new text; 4. students individually construct their own new texts.

Generation 2 (1990s) - developed a taxonomy of genres for the whole of schooling. This was a very useful identification chart which teachers can use to analyse a text and work out which genre it exemplifies.

Generation 3 (2000s) - reading to learn. In a similar way to CLIL, the premise is that the reading is not just to develop literacy but also the content.

Claire went on to talk about Basil Bernstein's work on how 'Initiation, Response, Feedback' classroom discourse can often be used to exercise social control, and exclude certain of the students. Instead, we should affirm the student's responses and elaborate on them, effectively working from where they are, rather than from where you think they ought to be.

Claire's next point was what for me was the biggest thrust of the talk. She demonstrated a way of working with a primary school reading text in which the students were guided towards an explicit recognition of the generic structure of the text - in the example used, a problem-solution narrative structure. Interestingly, this did not have to be a complete book: the teacher could briefly recount the bigger story to set the context, and then just use a smaller chunk for the students to read in detail. This smaller segment would be, for an embedded problem-solution cycle extracted from the bigger text. Working with this, the teacher would elicit ideas from the students, and then affirm and elaborate, guiding them towards recognizing the author's way of structuring the tale. Claire showed us examples of students work where they had clearly adopted in their own writing the generic structuring of texts they had read, and to remarkable results. Read more about the reading to learn project here:

On the map of ELT, I would locate this talk in the centre-west, on the frontier between linguistics and learning theories.


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