Mind your language – a language based approach to pedagogy

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The most astonishing example of hyperbole ever!

As the chap heading up Literacy at my school, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking around the subject over the past year. I’ve become particularly interested in the need for oral language to develop written language and have been working with subject leaders to determine how students can think, speak and write like subject specialists. Kelly Hawkins, the head of Art at Clevedon School, has been getting her students to ‘think like artists’ for some time and it seemed a natural extension to work with teachers to encourage students to speak like geographers and write like scientists. I’ve written about some of my ideas on oracy here.

But reading about the work of Lee Donaghy at Park View School in Birmingham has highlighted not only that I’m on the right track but just how much further I have to go. I’ve been able to think about little else for the wast week or so and have been playing through teaching sequences in my mind and thinking feverishly about how to develop nominalisations (really!) with my students to improve the quality of their thought. This post is mainly a reblogging of the five blog posts Lee has published so far in an effort to get my head around the concept of genre pedagogy and start using it at my own school PDQ!

His first post is simply called Theory. In it he explains Michael Halliday’s thinking about functional grammar, and the fact that students need to be able to operate in an academic register in order to succeed at school.

The second post is imaginatively titled More Theory, but don’t let that put you off.. This one deals with shifting students from every day to abstract language, and references the work of Pauline Gibbons on Scaffolding Language. (On Lee’s recommendation I’ve bought this book and am currently working my way through it – so far it’s excellent.) Lee explains that the approach his school has adopted is underpinned by Vygotsky’s theory that learning takes place in the zone of proximal development, which leads to conclusion that teachers must temporarily scaffold learning in order that students can achieve independent mastery.

In blog 3, Lee goes on to explain the teaching and learning cycle founded on the theory discussed in the previous two posts. This cycle specifically scaffolds students’ language use to support their independent mastery of academic language.

Firstly, setting the context and building the field (explaining the shoe, what it is and how it works); secondly, modelling and deconstruction (the demonstration of how to do it and the accompanying explanation); thirdly, joint construction (letting them have a go but continuing to give guidance – doing it together); lastly, independent construction (stepping back to let them demonstrate their new skill).

This has caused me to rethink the T&L cycle I use to plan learning sequences in order that we focus more specifically on language use:


Lee then goes on to discuss Genre Pedagogy. This is a methodology of teaching and learning that has language use at its heart, and is based on the work on yet another Australian academic, Jim Martin. (I’ve ordered his book, Learning to Write/Reading to Learn and am eagerly awaiting its arrival.) The theory is that all communication has a specific purpose, or genre, and that the language used in a specific text will be determined by this genre. Excitingly, Martin has already mapped out taxonomies of school genres and identified the types of writing in which student need to become proficient in order to succeed in different subject disciplines. This is fascinating stuff and will require a lot of assimilation before I’ll feel confident about implementing at my school. But assimilate I will.

The fifth post deals with concrete examples of how genre pedagogy works in practice and is an illuminating read. Lee and his team have really blazed a trail and I’m determined to make the most of this pioneering work they’ve done.

I’ve learned so much extraordinarily useful stuff on Twitter but this is (literally) keeping me awake at night considering the impact it will have on my own teaching and the benefit on my students’ development. Great work!

Related posts

Great teaching happens in cycles
Independence vs independent learning



  1. learning design | Pearltrees March 29, 2013 at 7:38 am - Reply

    […] Mind your language – a language based approach to pedagogy The SpeakApps project focuses on creating a free and open source online platform that gathers ICT-based applications and pedagogies to practice oral skills online. The SpeakApps platform would thus serve a community composed of foreign language teachers and their students with: <ol style="padding-left:20px;"><li>Easy access to innovative and interactive online tools for learning and teaching languages.</li><li>Virtual classrooms to carry out pedagogical activities.</li><li>Exercises and tools for managing materials for synchronous tasks.</li><li>Technical and pedagogical guides to assist SpeakApps users. […]

  2. Croix2000 March 29, 2013 at 7:48 am - Reply

    A fantastic post. Great resources and ideas – very inspiring. Thank you. Ceddy.

  3. scjrountree March 29, 2013 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    I’m very interested to read this. I’m an English teacher at a British school abroad and a cohort of our staff has just completed the Australian-based TESMC course which promotes the use of the teaching and learning cycle you outline here. The focus of the course is on equipping teachers to help students with English as Second Language to access the curriculum and make progress within it but, having completed the course, we all agreed that adopting these strategies would benefit all our students in all subject areas, regardless of whether they are second language or native speakers. It’s exciting to see this approach being adopted more widely as a set of key principles that underpin all teaching and learning, rather than simply a niche concept for anyone working internationally or with non-native speakers.

  4. Josie March 29, 2013 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    This looks very similar to the LiLAC course (language in learning across the curriculum) that has been recently running in schools across London. It’s had such an impact on teaching and learning as teachers are so much more aware of teaching language explicitly and are taking a greater ownership of language learning witin each subject. I think it’s necessary to develop oracy within schools as language development is a fundamental aspect to learning. With the paucity of language in some schools this is even more important. I know that iCAN have been working in schools as well on this. Most recently I’ve begun using reciprocal teaching with my year 7s and have seen a massive improvement in their oracy as so much of the learning is driven by their discussions. Thank you so much for your posts David – it’s great being able to reflect on practice this way. I’ll definitely be looking at ordering some more books on this. Good luck with the assimilation.

  5. […] https://learningspy.co.uk/2013/03/29/language-and-pedagogy/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading… This entry was posted in ELA, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  6. Fran April 1, 2013 at 1:17 am - Reply

    Wow. I’ve been waiting for a post like this and was just about ready to give up. I taught a course called Language and Learning in a graduate education for 25+ years where I focused on the relationship between oral and written language, and, in particular, the role of discourse in learning. I’m now curating “Dialogue and Learning” on Scoopit and Pinterest boards to build a blog on Word Press (Dialogue-Thinking-Learning) that I hope will be helpful to teachers.

    I will definitely post your link to my curation sites. http://www.scoop.it/t/dialogue-and-learning

  7. Debaser April 2, 2013 at 10:19 am - Reply


    So, if I understand it correctly, the main innovation here is the ‘joint construction’ phase. It seems to me that most decent teachers perform the rest of that loop as a matter of course (although perhaps the recent overemphasis on independent learning has meant that ‘modelling’ of any sort has gone out of fashion). However, in the past I’ve certainly been guilty of jumping straight from ‘modelling and deconstructing’ to ‘independent learning’ without ensuring that misconceptions are addressed through ‘joint construction’.

    How would the ‘joint construction’ phase work in English? Let’s say I’ve shared a model essay with students and we’ve deconstructed it and analysed its constituent parts (topic sentences, connective phrases, embedded evidence etc). Would I then give each group a scaffold for a paragraph and then go through alternatives on the IWB? Would you get them to rewrite simplistic exemplars (as recommended in the History example)? Is there still a place for PEE?

    I like the idea of giving students a series of statements and getting them to explore them further using a causal connective – I’ll definitely try that.

  8. learningspy April 2, 2013 at 8:11 pm - Reply

    The joint construction phase isn’t really an innovation. Been around at least as long as the Teaching Sequence for Writing. The innovation is that language is the very heart of learning. Your question about PEE totally misses the point – have you read Lee’s original posts? The point (for me at least) is that we should (and can) teach children to think like subject specialists and to transfer this to speech and then to writing. Am now reading Martin’s book – really excellent and highly recommended.

    • April Smith December 1, 2014 at 4:30 pm - Reply

      Where can I find Lee’s original post? I attended this course a number of years ago feel like I have lost my way which it. Particularly glad to see the history examples as a history teacher myself. I used the T&L sequence when approaching key assessments. It is in the ‘ everyday ‘ lessons that I need to improve access for some of my students.

  9. […] blog post from The Learning Spy, looking at language and pedagogy. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like […]

  10. […] But reading about the work of Lee Donaghy at Park View School in Birmingham has highlighted not only that I’m on the right track but just how much further I have to go.  […]

  11. […] Week 8: Learning Spy Posted on April 29, 2013 by Brandon Callaway In the Learing Spy, David Didau discusses the need for a common language in which to communicate through education. We […]

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  13. […] apparent to me over the past year or so, but it wasn’t until hearing about the work Lee Donaghy is engaged in at Park View School in Birmingham that it all clicked into place. Teachers absolutely must talk if students are actually going to […]

  14. […] their own questions, with a view to modelling the sort of language use described by David Didau in his blog post on how teachers use language. The students then pose questions which lead the discussion of the […]

  15. John Polias May 31, 2013 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    To those who referred to TESMC and LiLaC, which are the same course: LiKLaC is simply the last part of the longer title: Teaching ESL Students in Mainstream Classrooms: Language in Learning across the Curriculum. The reason you see similarities is that Lee has done both TESMC:LILAC and How Language Works: Success in Literacy and Learning. Both courses written by myself and Brian Dare and Bronwyn Custance. All the best with your teaching. There is a conference at Aston University in Birmingham 27-28 June in which Prof Ji Martin, Brian Dare and others, such as the teachers and consultants working with Lee will be attending and/or presenting.

  16. […] Mind your language – a language based approach to pedagogy http://t.co/cBwR9H7QEt&nbsp; […]

  17. […] whether students are making progress. One of the areas of PCK that I’m most excited about is genre pedagogy. Understanding the academic language of a subject and explicitly teaching students how to translate […]

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