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